This story begins for me in late 2015, when renowned vintner and environmentalist Volker Eisele said to me, “Mike, nearly 50 years ago we protected the valley from development when we established the Ag Preserve, now we need to protect our Ag Watershed.”
Unfortunately, Volker passed away a few months later. So in 2016, environmentalists worked on an initiative designed to enhance protections for hillside streams and our beautiful oak woodlands.
An all-volunteer force of citizens collected over 6,300 signatures from voters interested in ensuring water quality and quantity for the future of our children. After all the signatures had been collected and certified, we were told by county counsel that there was a technical flaw in a reference with the measure. Eventually, the California Supreme Court ruled in a split decision that kept it off the November 2016 ballot.
In early 2017, I received a call from a staff member at the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV), asking for a dialogue with members of their board, staff and interested parties from the Wine Growers of Napa County and Napa Valley Grapegrowers. That meeting was cordial, but I honestly thought that was the end of it.
Less than a week later, the NVV called to revisit the dialogue, but with fewer participants. They explained that their board and staff recommended a collaborative effort because they were aware that the community’s interest in strengthening protections for our water resources and oak woodlands would win at the polls. With a core principle to “protect and enhance the Napa Valley for future generations,” they wanted to work with towards a common goal.
Over the course of six months, Jim Wilson and I met with Michael Honig, chairman of the NVV board, Russ Weiss, former chairman and chair of the Community and Industry Issue Committee, and Rex Stults, who represented the NVV staff.
We began with an ideal to reach the high-middle ground which would require trust, compromise, and good faith. On several occasions along the process, our collaborative committee presented progress reports to the board of the NVV. Halfway through the project, a unanimous vote was given by their board to continue. This culminated on just days before Sept. 1, with the full document presented to the board, who once again voted unanimously to send The Napa County Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative to the county for inclusion on the June 2018 ballot.
At the same time, we presented the facts of the initiative to all the Napa County Board of Supervisors who welcomed this collaborative effort with enthusiastic support and gratitude.
Not long after, dissent from inside and outside the NVV began to emerge. Many were opposed to this effort on the grounds of process (they weren’t involved, so therefore they can’t support it), while some disagreed with the need for any enhanced protections for our watershed.
This powerful force disrupted the NVV’s unanimous support. Realizing that the NVV’s solidarity of support was being diminished, we worked for the next three weeks entertaining changes that were deemed necessary to again garner full support.
However, due to the rapidly evolving deadlines, we filed the old abridged 2016 initiative while we continued negotiations just in case no collaborative document was to emerge. But a better collaborative document did emerge, yet these changes did not satisfy the board and they suspended their commitment to the effort.
The NVV’s reversal for whatever reason is beyond our own doing, they now want additional negotiations, moving the goal posts and running out the clock. Therefore, last week we refiled the collaborative initiative with a number of changes requested by the wine industry. We now need 3,800 valid signatures from our voters in the county who believe in saving our oaks and water resources; who see the need to honor and defend our precious natural heritage, not just for the good of the community today, but for all future generations.
Some industry members have lost sight of the fact that it’s about the community uniting around solutions for the critical environmental problems we face; the solutions that science and justice demand.
While on a national level we’re witnessing an unprecedented assault on our environment, here at home we need the wine industry to show enlightened thinking with respect to their core principles. The NVV board recently took that aspirational goal and appeared ready to proactively implement it; we were united in the goal to set an example right here in our renowned wine-growing region for the entire world to imitate. This was a perfectly sane step forward.
Now, like the dramatic establishment of the Ag Preserve, and reaffirmed by voters for our Measures J and P, let’s let the voters decide.