Napa Valley wine tourism: ‘How do we safeguard a place without loving it to death?’


As an organic food farmer in Sebastopol, Sonoma County, I am alarmed by the Napafication of our county by the bloated wine industry. Napa County vinters like “bad apple” Paul Hobbs and Joe Wagner are colonizing our county. According to the group Go Local, 96% of Sonoma County fruits and vegetables are imported from outside the county. Given the unpredictable state of the world, food security is a serious issue. Sonoma County is no longer a food ag. county; it is an alcohol county. For more information on these issues one can consult Wine & Water Watch’s website ( and the website and Facebook page of Preserve Rural Sonoma County.


As a visitor to Napa for over 20 years I’ve watched the growth with alarm . It is harder to get around. Prices have skyrocketed. The crowds, the sardines in a can atmosphere point in one directions; down.

Not one person addressed the expanding popularity south of you. People get frustrated when it becomes a task to make appointments , traffic is a huge cluster, and prices for hotel skyrocket. People start to look for a path less resistant.

No doubt Sonoma will also benefit. But points south are becoming the Napa of 30 years ago but with great wines. Beware if what you ask for ; you may get what you don’t want – downturn.



Tourism numbers in Napa Valley have been breaking records for the past decade, and show no signs of slowing down. The result is a robust economy, low unemployment, and a reputation as a playground for the wealthy.

It has also created a dearth of affordable housing, traffic congestion, and what some are saying is a crisis of the area’s soul.

Traveler spending in Napa has more than doubled since 1998. In 2015, the Valley saw the largest annual jump in visitor spending, an increase of almost 9 percent over the previous year, and the highest percentage gain of all of California’s 58 counties. More than 3 million tourists spent $1.27 billion, with $116 million in tax revenue, according to Visit Napa Valley.

As the numbers continute to rise, Visit Napa Valley continues to increase its investment in sales and marketing. While in 2010 there was $461,000 spent on promotion, in 2015 that number was $5.5 million.

At Impact Napa, an event presented by the Business Journal at The Meritage Resort and Spa Aug. 5, a panel discussed the affect of Napa’s rapid tourism growth on the region. The event also featured a conversation with living winemaking legend Warren Winiarski.

Downtown Napa is now a vibrant riverfront with hotels, condominiums, the Uptown Theater, Oxbow Marketplace, the Napa Valley Opera House, and soon the 183-room Archer Hotel.

Mayor Jill Techel, speaking at the event, explained that Napa’s renaissance was not an overnight success. Up until the 1980’s there was no clear planning vision. It was extreme flooding which woke the community up, and a coalition for flood control was created. The result was planning that created a design for the downtown area.

While in 1985 there were 12 restaurants in Napa, today there are more than 80, with more than 500 wineries, and 150 hotels. (Click on link for full article