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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Preservation Napa Valley, Napa Valley, California

At a time when Napa Valley is facing major challenges with limited consumer demand, and some wineries considering to sell their grapes outright, skipping a vintage, or simply leaving them on the vine, it is interesting to reflect on the preservation heritage of Napa Valley and the forces that brought this present-day situation about.

A New York Times article from February 16, 2010, stated that sales of wines priced at $25 and above have dropped 30 percent nation wide. While global wine sales increased, California wine shipments fell for the first time in 16 years. One response to these changing conditions has beenn to sign up new customers through social media, rather than waiting for people to drive to the wineries. Increasing pressure is also being placed on public officials to allow wineries to make direct sales out of state, rather than having to go through distributors.

Preservation Napa Valley was founded in 2008 by now present director Wendy Ward as a 501(c)(3) organization. Ward also serves as Vice Chair of the Cultural Heritage Commission for the City of Napa, a board member for the Napa County Historical Society, and a board member of Butte Citizens for Preservation and Revitalization. She also is a member of Napa County Landmarks, the California Preservation Foundation, the Association for Preservation Technology, the Vernacular Architecture Forum, and American Archeology.

Their stated mission of Preservation Napa Valley is as follows: "While embracing the past and looking toward the future, to preserve, protect and build awareness for Napa county's architectural and cultural resources through education and advocacy."

Among their programs are a "Preservation and a Pint" panel discussion on the Valley's agricultural future. These events feature speakers and are free and open to the public. The goal of the event expressed by Wendy Ward is "to have a convivial, casual and fun setting to bring together speakers and audiences to talk about things that need to be talked about."

While this approach to regional discussions is refreshing, there are real threats to Napa Valley in the form of development pressure, and bungled cooperation among all levels of government including with the federal government on a recently proposed "wine train."

The City of Napa Planning Commission recently was asked to weigh in on placement of a high-end St. Regis resort among the vineyards of Stanly Ranch. Commissioners endorsed the proposal 4-1, saying it would benefit the city economically and not hamper downtown revitalization efforts. Others felt this set a poor precedent for future projects as they came up.

Previous approvals had been provided for a Ritz-Carlton that would be a greater benefit for the downtown, though this is still awaiting financing. Getting this financing might be much harder with the St. Regis approval.

If the project goes ahead as plan 42 acres of vines will be retained on a 93 acre site "creating a wine country ambiance for guests" according to the Napa Valley Register.

Either Napa Valley is a wine country or not. Preservation Napa Valley has an excellent opportunity to burnish the valley's already strong reputation, and make sure that is passed on to future generations through preservation, preventing over-development, rebuilding traditional downtown areas, and protecting open spaces. Much like wineries who are being forced to find new ways to sell their product, Preservation Napa Valley has an opportunity to find new ways to sell the region and especially its image, historic buildings, and iconic landscapes in meaningful and authentic ways.

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