|Could the Napa Valley Wine Train ease commuter traffic?|
You can be a penniless intern and work your way into a career-making apprenticeship. Or you can be a successful business magnate in any field, overpay for a winery and vineyard and transform yourself into a country gentleman/vintner in a way that's just not possible in Bordeaux or Burgundy. Or anywhere else, really.
Napa Valley is a magnet, the same as Broadway or Hollywood, albeit for people for whom food lights the stars in their eyes. Servers in restaurants have big dreams. Men and women with advanced degrees take entry-level jobs mucking out barrels.
They keep coming because people keep succeeding. Napa Valley survived the economic downturn with far fewer winery bankruptcies than most analysts expected. There are still plenty of jobs there, but not many pay all that well.
Napa Valley also has a similar housing problem to Jerusalem.
When I visited the Israeli capitol a couple years ago, a city official complained that American Jews buy all the prime flats near the old city to use for occasional visits, meaning some of the city's best neighborhoods are empty most of the year. St. Helena and Calistoga have similar situations: wealthy outsiders buy homes to use only occasionally, leaving little available housing for the many people who actually work there.
Compared to most wine regions, Napa Valley relies on workers who commute, sometimes for an hour or more. It's a lifestyle nuisance, sure, but it's also an environmental problem, especially for a region on the knife edge of losing its special stature to global warming.
One thing that consistently impresses me about Napa Valley is that it's always greener than you think. A marketing survey a few years ago showed that wines labeled as being made from organically grown grapes sold for less money. Napa wineries as a group are better at marketing than anybody in the world; that survey has not been ignored. But most growers there are increasingly moving into sustainable farming, whether wineries admit it to their Republican customers or not.
Reducing traffic to cut Napa County's total carbon emissions, though: that's a tough nut to crack.
I have a story on the topic this week in Wine Searcher. In part it was inspired by a somewhat off-the-mark editorial in the Napa Valley Register that made me want to look into the issue in the first place. The editorial blames Napa Valley emissions on the wine industry's highly successful marketing of itself as a grownup Disneyland to tourists.
That's easy to pick on, but it's not the real issue. The real issue is commuting, and it's something few other farming regions have to deal with. There are a couple of interesting plans afoot, but for now, Napa's planning commission has gone back to the drawing board. I wish them luck because I prefer to buy my table grapes from Fresno.
Read the Wine Searcher story here.