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Winding Up and Down the Valley

Author: Christina Julian
March, 2016 Issue

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At times, I've wondered if I'm alone in my nostalgia, but I don't think I am.

 
To change or not to change?
 
Thats the question that dominated 2015 conversations and word space in this column. Three months into the New Year, it seems the stranglehold is set to continue. It began with a boom at the January Board of Supervisors meeting, where the intricacies of winery growth (and all the laundry airing that goes with it) remained hot topics. With continued consideration for APAC recommendations to reel in use permit compliance with a proposed self-certification system, some applauded the notion, while others scoffed. Same goes for trucking water and wastewater in and out of the county. The supervisors agree something needs to be done, its just a question of what. These issues and others are far from being solved.
 
While public comment over these recommendations and other growth-related issues were kept at bay at the meeting, the same could not be said when it came time to raise voices over proposed routing for the Napa Valley Vine Trail. Supervisors were deluged with impassioned and, in some cases, tearful accounts against aspects of both the proposed connector trail from St. Helena to Calistoga and a strip of the trail north of Yountville. Despite the intensity, there was still ample time for attaboys over steps already taken to eradicate urban tumbleweeds, (otherwise known as the unfriendly, not-so-reusable plastic grocery bags).
 
 

Winding up and down

Ive commented frequently on the not-so-glamorous transformation of St. Helena from idyllic small town to a habitat for the hedge fund set and all those eager to make it just another home of many. Further compounding the town s once charming fabric is the monstrosity of an office space complex that replaced the gas/smog station at the corner of Adams and Highway 29.  Lets hope the commerce of it all is worth it.
 
At times, Ive wondered if Im alone in my nostalgia, but I dont think I am, given that once thriving businesses like Toss and Goodmans have fled to set up shop in Calistoga (once viewed as the funky, punky, mud-soaked stepchild, but now enjoying its newfound status as chosen one). Still others, like La Condesa, just leave Napa Valley all together. Meanwhile, after closing in December, the beloved Tra Vigne entertains the idea of a rebirth, this time at the northern end of St. Helena, taking over for the short-lived Farmer and the Fox at the Cairdean compound.
 

D é j à vu

Downtown Napa had its fair share of comings and goings, perhaps the grandest dame of change would be the Napa Valley Opera House. Despite City Winery opting to vacate the property in December, a year and a half into its 10-year contract, the storied Opera House looks no less ready to sing her last song than when she originally opened back in the 1880s. This time, its the famed Blue Note jazz club thats set to sweep in and make the Opera House its next home. The original club, founded by Danny Bensusan in Greenwich Village in 1981, earned its cred by hosting acclaimed performers like Dizzy Gillespie and Ray Charles. Just like City Winery, Blue Note points to other successful franchises as an indicator for success in Napa. There are currently clubs located in Tokyo, Milan and, most recently, Honolulu, with three others set to open in Beijing in 2016.
 
Blue Note Napa Valley would be run by Bensusans son, Steve, and New York producer and promoter, Ken Tesler. Both plan to relocate to the area to ensure successful infiltration into our valley. They aim to attract local and Bay Area audiences along with cultivating domestic and international clientele. The downstairs space that housed the City Winery restaurant is expected to morph into Blue Note Napa Valley, a 150-seat jazz club, with the Margrit Mondavi Theater upstairs housing a variety of programing from theater and comedy to film and community events, operating as a shared space with the Opera House board, which will retain 75 days of usage for its own programing. So just like their overly ambitious predecessor, Blue Note steps through the Opera House revolving door with doe-eyes. Lets hope that eagerness to succeed lasts. Its clear our valley is poised to continue its trend of attracting A-list visitors and businesses, but whether or not we have a strong enough market to keep them beyond the wine biz remains to be seen.


 

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