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I support Beckstoffer’s idea to bring more tasting rooms to Napa city



The most interesting thing about the Beckstoffer family’s purchase of the old [1905] historic building in downtown Napa was Andy Beckstoffer’s statement (paraphrased in the Napa Valley Registry’s article) “that Upvalley wine interests should invest in Napa city and build their hospitality facilities there.”

“Upvalley” traditionally refers to the northern parts of Napa Valley—St. Helena and Calistoga, although I imagine you could roll Rutherford into there, and by some stretches of the imagination (and I think this was Andy’s intention) you could even include Oakville and Yountville. For, reading between the lines, Andy is encouraging all wineries to “use Napa city facilities as a major part of their hospitality function.”

This makes sense from multiple points of view. The first, expressly cited by Andy, is that having wineries locate or relocate their tasting rooms, etc. in Napa city will “protect the integrity of the Ag Preserve,” referring to the 1967 act to protect Napa Valley’s agricultural heritage from the threats of population and development. Andy has long been active in supporting the Preserve, for instance in maintaining the lands bordering his Napa Valley vineyards.

There’s another reason why it makes sense for wineries to establish their hospitality centers in downtown Napa. For all the redevelopment that Napa city has undergone the last ten years or so—and it’s been nothing short of amazing to those of us who have watched it—there’s still a weird disconnect between the city and the valley that bears its name. For a long time, there was no reason for visitors to Napa Valley to even bother going to Napa city. There was no there there, aside, perhaps, from COPIA (which proved not to be so good a draw after all.) After the explosion of fine restaurants, hotels and other amenities since 2000 or so, there suddenly was, especially along the waterfront. But Napa city, despite its allures, still feels a little sleepy and rural, with entire blocks of downtown that seem to have hardly changed since the 1950s, and offer little of interest to the casual visitor. Bringing tasting rooms and other tourist draws will help build a bridge between Napa, the city, and Napa, the valley, and make Napa city a more thriving and interesting place.

There’s one other advantage to bringing tasting rooms to Napa: it will mean fewer cars on Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail, including fewer drivers who are drinking. If people can stay in Napa city and do most of their tasting there, Napa Valley will be a safer place for us all.

Not everyone, of course, is happy with Andy’s proposal. Some want to keep Napa city “local” meaning, I suppose, a town of furniture shops and dress stores. Others have pointed out the irony (they would say hypocrisy) of Andy Beckstoffer being for development in the city but against Napa Valley wineries hosting weddings—a distinction so fine I fail to perceive it. And this all occurs against the greater backdrop of where to draw the line between too much development in Napa and not enough; this fast-growth vs. slow-growth battle that’s actually been going on for decades. For instance, in 1960, a city master plan called on expanding Napa’s population to 1.1 million people. (The population currently stands at about 79,000.)

I don’t think uncontrolled development is a good thing, but nothing comes without a cost. Leaving Napa “local” risks losing precious tourist dollars; over-developing it could make it into a wine version of Disneyland. But I think that Napans are smart enough to figure out a balanced approach, which is why I support Andy Beckstoffer’s idea.

  1. A local town for local people…

  2. You really don’t see the hypocrisy of wineries being forced to shut their tasting rooms at, what, 4:30, restricted from hosting events, and otherwise barred from reasonable business operations while simultaneously promoting that they move to downtown where these restrictions won’t exist?

    People visit Napa for wineries. It is the full experience of a winemaking facility, vineyard and hospitality area that is compelling. If you remove the winery and vineyard, then you’ve got a soulless hospitality center between a Starbucks and sushi restaurant. Nice… how about trams that go from tasting room to tasting room and then Grapey the town’s mascot will greet the children before the 11:00 showing of the Beckstoffer Pioneers – a 3D Cinescope presentation of how the land was tamed and saved.

    Ironically, in the move to get the great unwashed masses of tourists off his lawn, Beckstoffer could find that this weakens the notion of the Ag Preserve. I’ve always thought that growers are the true heroes in the wine industry but to be recognized and to build the consumer recognition that provides additional protection, growers’ work needs to be seen first-hand, not in 9pt type lost on a wine label.

    I have no problem with wineries putting tasting rooms downtown but that’s not going to move the needle. More venues like City Winery that bring people in, more activities that are not simply watered down versions of what up-valley does better, and figure out what to do with Copia. Create complementary strengths downtown. But don’t mess up what works to bang your head against something has empirically hasn’t worked so well.

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