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Float the Boat

Columnist: Christina Julian
July, 2019 Issue
Columnist

Christina Julian
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I will caveat this rant with the proclamation that I love living in the Napa Valley. There is no place I would rather live and raise my family. That being said, I feel like the area has gotten more overpriced and exclusionary than ever. I have to wonder if in catering to the all mighty tourist, have we overlooked the very people who live in our communities. Those that make the Napa Valley what it is today—one of the most amazing wine regions in the world.


For the first time, I was precluded from attending the Auction Napa Valley barrel auction. The event is produced (and was founded by) the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV), an organization whose mission, according to the website, is to “promote, protect and enhance Napa Valley.” As a local columnist, I make it a point to familiarize myself with the wineries and businesses that shape our county. Special events like the barrel auction can offer a quick way to cover a lot of ground. But access isn’t always an option. I started to wonder how accessible Wine Country events are to the people that live and work here. Those who slog it out in tourist-related traffic, jockey tipsy patrons in tasting rooms and city streets, and pay as much as $10 (or more) for a jug of milk and a muffin at Cal Mart and Sunshine Market.


So, on a beautiful Napa Valley day, I took to the streets and conducted an impromptu poll in the towns of Calistoga, St. Helena and Napa and the results were shocking, though not surprising. Aside from hospitality professionals who pour wine at the barrel auction, not one person I spoke with had ever attended the event. The unanimous reason why: price. Tickets range from $20,000 for the ultimate VIP experience, to $4,000 dollars for a package that includes the live auction at Meadowood, and finally, the barrel auction at $500 a pop.
I get and accept that events such as this are orchestrated to appeal to a worldwide audience. We want our wines to reach the widest consumer base possible, geographic boundaries be damned. Many would say this is prudent and essential to ensure the financial livelihood of Napa Valley, and I’d have to agree. But I would argue that in hosting these high profile (and priced) events in the Napa Valley community, there bears a certain level of responsibility to serve the people that live here, given the toll these types of functions can have on the community. Be that an allotment of more affordable tickets for locals (which years ago was an option at the auction, but has since disappeared), a temporary price drop, buy one-get-one offer, or even some type of lottery system that grants a few lucky locals entrance to the “inner circle.”

Accessibility and escalating prices don’t stop with the auction. Community table events, wine release parties, gas and even fast food meals are overpriced. Up Valley, I dare you to walk out of Gotts Roadside or A&W, for less than $10 dollars. It’s clear this valley no longer caters to the people that live here, instead bowing to fly-by weekenders and vacationers, who have the potential to change the nature of our towns and communities. Yes, tourism feeds our valley, in more ways than one, but is there not a way to offset the exorbitant prices that threaten to drown the average local who lives and works here?

Those who oftentimes dine and shop elsewhere as a means of survival given sky high rents, homeownership rates, and if you live in the city of Calistoga, water prices, which nearly doubled last year. Free corkage, reduced ticket prices, friends and family tasting opportunities, are small concessions that could go a long way towards tipping a hat to the locals who fuel the tourism engine. Call it a consolation prize. There are some organizations and businesses that do this already. The Napa Valley Film Festival offers a locals’ discount on pass purchases and rush movie tickets for those who don’t want or can’t afford to shell out hundreds of dollars for a full pass. The Cameo Cinema keeps prices below market at $8 a seat.

BottleRock gives locals early access on tickets, and a token few restaurants still offer free corkage. Perks such as these are a start, but there is more work to be done throughout the valley.
So, I ask: How do we float the tourism boat without sinking the ship full of locals who live here—and make this valley shine? I’d love to hear what you think.

How do we float the tourism boat without sinking the ship full of locals who live here—and make this valley shine?

I will caveat this rant with the proclamation that I love living in the Napa Valley. There is no place I would rather live and raise my family. That being said, I feel like the area has gotten more overpriced and exclusionary than ever. I have to wonder if in catering to the all mighty tourist, have we overlooked the very people who live in our communities. Those that make the Napa Valley what it is today—one of the most amazing wine regions in the world.

For the first time, I was precluded from attending the Auction Napa Valley barrel auction. The event is produced (and was founded by) the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV), an organization whose mission, according to the website, is to “promote, protect and enhance Napa Valley.” As a local columnist, I make it a point to familiarize myself with the wineries and businesses that shape our county. Special events like the barrel auction can offer a quick way to cover a lot of ground. But access isn’t always an option. I started to wonder how accessible Wine Country events are to the people that live and work here. Those who slog it out in tourist-related traffic, jockey tipsy patrons in tasting rooms and city streets, and pay as much as $10 (or more) for a jug of milk and a muffin at Cal Mart and Sunshine Market.

So, on a beautiful Napa Valley day, I took to the streets and conducted an impromptu poll in the towns of Calistoga, St. Helena and Napa and the results were shocking, though not surprising. Aside from hospitality professionals who pour wine at the barrel auction, not one person I spoke with had ever attended the event. The unanimous reason why: price. Tickets range from $20,000 for the ultimate VIP experience, to $4,000 dollars for a package that includes the live auction at Meadowood, and finally, the barrel auction at $500 a pop.

I get and accept that events such as this are orchestrated to appeal to a worldwide audience. We want our wines to reach the widest consumer base possible, geographic boundaries be damned. Many would say this is prudent and essential to ensure the financial livelihood of Napa Valley, and I’d have to agree. But I would argue that in hosting these high profile (and priced) events in the Napa Valley community, there bears a certain level of responsibility to serve the people that live here, given the toll these types of functions can have on the community. Be that an allotment of more affordable tickets for locals (which years ago was an option at the auction, but has since disappeared), a temporary price drop, buy one-get-one offer, or even some type of lottery system that grants a few lucky locals entrance to the “inner circle.”

Accessibility and escalating prices don’t stop with the auction. Community table events, wine release parties, gas and even fast food meals are overpriced. Up Valley, I dare you to walk out of Gotts Roadside or A&W, for less than $10 dollars. It’s clear this valley no longer caters to the people that live here, instead bowing to fly-by weekenders and vacationers, who have the potential to change the nature of our towns and communities. Yes, tourism feeds our valley, in more ways than one, but is there not a way to offset the exorbitant prices that threaten to drown the average local who lives and works here? Those who oftentimes dine and shop elsewhere as a means of survival given sky high rents, homeownership rates, and if you live in the city of Calistoga, water prices, which nearly doubled last year.

Free corkage, reduced ticket prices, friends and family tasting opportunities, are small concessions that could go a long way towards tipping a hat to the locals who fuel the tourism engine. Call it a consolation prize. There are some organizations and businesses that do this already. The Napa Valley Film Festival offers a locals’ discount on pass purchases and rush movie tickets for those who don’t want or can’t afford to shell out hundreds of dollars for a full pass. The Cameo Cinema keeps prices below market at $8 a seat. BottleRock gives locals early access on tickets, and a token few restaurants still offer free corkage. Perks such as these are a start, but there is more work to be done throughout the valley. So, I ask: How do we float the tourism boat without sinking the ship full of locals who live here—and make this valley shine? I’d love to hear what you think.

 

 

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