By the time this pub goes to print one of our country’s bigger brouhahas will be put to rest, and a new king or queen of our United States castle will be poised to take the helm. The state debate over whether to legalize smoking pot will also be settled. These decisions will feel like vindication for some and nothing short of the apocalypse for others.
For our part, right here in Napa County, townies and wine industry leaders flung their share of dung when it came to defending what is and isn’t considered fair treatment of our grape-strewn land. Picketers all but stoned the ginormous Hall Winery bunny (more formally known as Little Bunny Foo Foo) in protest of the Walt Ranch project that could rob the hillside of 14,000 trees and 1.4 billion gallons of water.
More than 6,300 citizens waged an uprising via a signed petition against this project and others of its ilk by supporting the proposed Napa County Water, Forest and Oak Woodlands Protection Initiative, only to have the measure booted off the November ballot—this despite driving the issue all the way to the California Supreme Court, where the request for an “emergency” ruling was dismissed, thus denying able-bodied voters the opportunity (and right) to vote on this hot button issue. The fact that wine industry powerhouses Napa Valley Vintners, Farm Bureau, Napa Valley Grapegrowers and Winegrowers of Napa County banded together in a stand against the measure all but ensures the carnage around this controversy will persist in 2017. While our national election may be over, the local battle over growth has only just begun.
Despite all the turmoil swirling around the wine industry, our restaurant and hospitality scene soldiered on with the resident slew of openings that seem to come each year (St. Helena’s Two Birds/One Stone, Miminashi and La Taberna) followed by the shuttering of doors for others (Atlas Social and Ninebark). Atlas’ closing was particularly puzzling, given founder Michael Gyetvan’s success with Norman Rose and Azzurro Pizzeria. Ninebark closed for undisclosed reasons despite attaining critics’ darling status right out of the gate. Though perhaps reverse mojo is at play, given the track record at the 813 Main St. space in downtown—once home to Fagiani’s (and the infamous Anita Andrews’ murder) and more recently The Thomas. Or could it be when that, it comes to restaurants (and wineries?) in our valley, there is such a thing of too much of a good thing.
While eateries come and go, the apparent trend of catering to millennials still stands. Wine brands like “Taken” from Josh Phelps and Carlo Trinchero have found success by giving the demo exactly what it wants: cheap (relatively speaking), fun, quality-driven wines that, in this case, poke at social media morays, with catchy names like Taken, Complicated and Available. It would appear the guys know of the world they inhabit given the duo snagged spots on Forbes and Zaggat’s top 30 under 30 and Wine Enthusiast’s 40 under 40 as well as landing a segment on NBC’s Today.
While some ride the trend wave, others like the Wine Market Council make marks by analyzing wine drinking trends as a means of fueling growth in the industry. This year, the organization added even more heft to its already weighty research committee, which includes member representatives from Nielsen, Constellation Brands, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Wine Communications Group and Breakthru Beverage Group, with a new alliance with the Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State University. Through proprietary consumer research, the council arms its members with wine industry insights meant to aid with strategic planning, marketing and sales efforts.
In January last year, a drone inadvertently bounced onto the White House lawn, threatening to abolish all progress around the use of whirlybirds for commercial purposes. But this is America, and not even an oversized electric bird dropping from the sky could stop the wizardry from advancing. Locally, drones are still poised to deliver razor sharp vineyard management reports aimed at small- to medium-sized properties, thanks to the Hawk Aerial new alliance with the partnership between SkySquirrel Technologies and the St. Helena-based VineView Scientific Aerial Imaging.
With the dawn of a new year ahead, I have to wonder if we, as a county and community, will find a cure-all elixir that lets us monitor growth yet not succumb to it, to chase trends but not be beholden to them and to move forward while protecting our past and land for the future.
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