Napa wine marketer Tom Wark is joining the exodus to Oregon. After residing in Wine Country for the last 25 years Mr. Wark has decided that he can't afford to live here anymore.
Of course he bears some responsibility for the high cost of housing. As one of many people promoting Napa wines and wineries as good-life status symbols for the wealthy of the world, and the Valley as a good-life destination for masses of travelers wishing they were wealthy, the rise in housing prices is the direct result his efforts. I assume that he is going to Oregon in the hope that, with his help, it too will be unaffordable in a few years. But he will already have his house. One wonders why he didn't buy a house before the boutique winery, vineyard and tourism explosion that he has encouraged sent property prices soaring.
It's a reasonable move for someone in his profession. As the exodus attests, Napa is beyond its peak. It has lost its authenticity, a victim of the efforts of good-life promoters and developers who, along with residents feeling the impacts of their work, now want as yet unspoiled locales to call home. While I don't really want Oregon to suffer the fate of Napafication, I do hope that more marketers follow Mr. Wark's lead and leave Napa County.
When we first looked at our future home at the very remote end of Soda Canyon Road in 1992, the residents there said that they were moving to Oregon. The nearest house was a half mile away. All you could see was chaparral below the forested ridgeline beyond the gorge at the edge of the house. There are just too many people here, they said.
Last year, one resident on Soda Canyon Road, active in our first year of community organizing, abruptly sold her 250 acres and moved to Oregon. Two years ago Sandy Ericsson, the editor of the St Helena Window (archived here) and daughter of a previous St Helena mayor, moved to Oregon. A year before, a writer for the NY Times recognized that Oregon represents what Napa used to be - a place with some authenticity and a connection to the rural life of an agricultural community. She advised wine tourists to go there instead.
It isn't just Oregon, of course, that is beginning to receive the diaspora of Napa's disenchantment. The photographer Charles O'Rear commented publicly on his decision to leave in Goodbye, Napa Valley. And Jason Hammett has more recently added an eloquent lament. For each of those that we know about, there are no doubt many more who have decided that the character that attracted them to Napa is disappearing as the place is being refashioned by a new generation more interested in the profit to be made from the image of a rural place than in actually living in one.
Juliana Inman's departure is a bigger story than just the decampment of a politician mid-term. Napa is losing its connection to a rural, small-town way of life increasingly rare in the Bay Area. In a period of rampant tourism development in Napa it is significant that she seeks move to a place where there is still the hope of preservation. It is a difficult story for those who remain behind making the effort to retain that character, against all odds at this point, a battle that seems more hopeless with each new event center or hotel or housing project approved.