SodaCanyonRoad | Our current wine business model is flawed

Our current wine business model is flawed

Geoff Ellsworth | Aug 5, 2014 on: The WDO

[from the Weekly Calistogan]

With harvest coming, the cumulative impacts of recent development in Napa County will be even more apparent. Safety issues are obvious as already overburdened roadways will be filled with more visitors, employees, trucks, tour buses, tractors, grape gondolas, emergency vehicles and of course locals.

Whether we are in the industry or not a pertinent question to ask is, “In the event of a major fire or natural disaster would I want a loved one to be caught in the almost daily gridlock traffic created by a business model that serves the private moneymaking concerns of a few?”

The argument is not against the wine business per se but rather directed toward a business model implemented by some wineries that is overly dependent on direct-to-consumer sales and an aggressive schedule of marketing events.

The problem with this business model is that it demands more and more people to be drawn into our delicate region and the cumulative impacts of such development encroach upon the shared common resources, such as water, roads, public utilities, emergency services, etc., of the citizen stakeholders (residents, homeowners, taxpayers, etc.).

Environmental impacts must also be considered as well as possible threats to existing property values.

It is not just the impact of a singular project that we must look at but rather the cumulative impacts of all projects combined. In 1985 there were about 65 wineries in Napa County, today we have close to 500 and continue to add more in the same small region.

Legislation on the state and county level was passed several years ago to help the wine industry through the recession. Minimal citizen input was sought on this legislation.

As the economy has recovered these measures may have been taken advantage of by certain entities for private gain, basically creating a “winery on steroids” model that operates with an overly aggressive hospitality/tourism component to augment its bottom line.

It is this business model that challenges the intent of the Winery Definition Ordinance, promotes rabid competition and leaves citizen stakeholders as the collateral damage in a business war that encroaches upon the aforementioned shared common resources. It is simply not fair or just to the residents of this county.

So just as a physician may abate medication when a patient recovers, as the economy has improved these legislative measures must now be re-calibrated if we are to maintain the balance in our great wine growing region. We simply cannot continue to add more development without proper study or we will destroy the very thing that sustains us.

A county Board of Supervisors meeting is set for Aug. 12 to discuss these issues, so now is the time to bring the conversation into the mainstream. To engage in the discussion please plan to attend the meeting or you can contact the county Board of Supervisors/Planning Commission through the Napa County website.

Also I have created a website at where citizen groups or individuals can see that they are not alone in their concerns and/or add their names to those that wish to have their voices heard.

I can be contacted at