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The following is an excerpt from our book, Tasting the Good Life in reference to a hot topic with tourism in Napa Valley. Traffic.

Highway 29

In terms of its impact on daily life, traffic congestion is the most serious consequence of tourism for valley residents. Five million tourists visit each year. This means an average of 14,000 people per day over the course of the year, but visitor traffic is seasonally skewed with the quietest period from November to April. During the peak tourism season, which occurs during the September-October grape harvest, or “crush,” as many as 40,000 to 60,000 people may be on Napa’s roads on the weekends. The valley’s major thoroughfare, Highway 29, which narrows above Yountville had reached its “practical capacity” in 1973 when the tourist boom was still in its infancy. When cars, limos, and agricultural vehicles idle or drive at less efficient speeds, fuel is wasted and pollutants are spewed into the air. Traffic also creates noise and forces drivers — workers, tourists, and locals alike — to spend more money on fuel.

Weekday traffic, especially during rush hours, is caused less by tourists than by commuting workers, this itself is related to tourism. One up-valley resident characterized the traffic problem in a letter to the St. Helena Star newspaper this way:  “It is a witch’s brew composed of too much available alcohol, farming vehicles and tractors, rubbernecking tourists, a wine industry needing to ship or receive a commodity product on 18 wheelers, bicyclists, and landscape panoramas that draw the eye away from the roadway.” The same writer decried that “the pastoral beauty of the valley we work so hard to preserve is being destroyed by the traffic and the millions of cars ….” While overstated, the letter expresses the sentiments of many. Many locals now avoid Highway 29 when it is most congested, which often means staying home or taking alternative but longer routes when they do go out. Agriculture relies on the road system to move workers and products from vineyard to winery and from winery to market, and is also impacted by the congestion. Roads clogged with visitors and commuting works slow down agricultural operations.

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From Cheers! St. Helena

Each month, on the first Friday of that month, St. Helena gathers for a friendly celebration while giving back to their community.  Starting this summer on June 3rd, you can join your friends at Cheers! St. Helena to enjoy wine, entertainment, food, and shopping.

Cheers! St. Helena is a non-profit organization that dedicates 100% of its profits back to the community of St. Helena. According to its website, in 2010 Cheers! contributed the following to St. Helena:

  • Donated 16 new trees to complete the Tree Canopy along Main St. in downtown St. Helena.
  • Established and staff St. Helena Litter Management program (ongoing)
  • Managed/staffed 2010 Harvest Festival trash and litter.
  • Managed/staffed Litter clean-up from Homecoming Parade
  • NVV Association – 100 event passes for Auction Napa Valley
  • Purchased new computers for the St. Helena Teen Center
  • Seniors attend our socials free

The Napa Valley Register featured Cheers! for their three-year anniversary in February, and they asked founder Todd White about the origination of Cheers!.  According to the article, White came up with the idea during a very cold winter in 2008. The urgency from the “economic mess in downtown St. Helena” prompted White to meet with other influential leaders of the town to come up with a solution.

After a run-in the with the Alcoholic Beverage control department, White began charging admission for the event which was first held on May 1, 2009. The 600 or so patrons who attended solidified Cheers! for White, who says the event is very sustainable long after 2011.

 

 

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They call dogs a man’s best friend, but they are also a winery’s best friend. Vincent Arroyo from Vincent Arroyo Winery once said, “You can’t make wine without a dog.”

In our book, Tasting the Good Life, we talked with Craig Root who said,

“I think people are also looking for a kind of Norman Rockwell feeling.  That’s what I love about some of the smaller wineries that have a winery dog or cat.  I was told that when people pull into the parking lot of one winery, the dog walks over to greet them at their car door and then walks them over to the front door.  You can’t bottle a memory like that?  I think society is very fragmented now and the sense of family and connectedness is much more tenuous, so this kind of thing–which harkens back to another time–appeals to many people.”

There are books and Facebook pages dedicated to the furry friends who make the winery experience pleasant, exciting, and more like home.  Certainly no convincing is needed to fully appreciate the joy of dogs and animal companionship.  They’ve probably even sold a couple bottles of wine!

From vawinedogs.blogspot.com

Napa Valley Vintners actually shares some information about dog-friendly wineries, where you can bring your own pooch with you to enjoy the Napa Valley air and a clean glass of wine.

Dog-friendly wineries

Check out Winery Dogs, a book that features dogs from all different parts of the valley.

Winery Dogs via Napa General Store   &    WineryDogs.com

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Wine Barrels

Pam Starr is the winemaker and co-owner of Crocker & Starr Winery in St. Helena.  She is one of Napa Valley’s leading winemakers and a founding member of an informal group of women in Napa Valley’s wine industry—the Wine Entre Femme–who recently forged links with women winemakers in Bordeaux.  The following excerpt is from her narrative in Tasting the Good Life: Wine Tourism in the Napa Valley.

Blending is one of the hardest and most difficult yet rewarding aspects of being a wine maker.  You don’t just pick the fruit, put it in a tank, make one big ole’ pot of wine, and stick it in a barrel.  It’s complicated.  Five rows of vines that ripen at the same time become one piece of the final wine.  When I have six pieces of cabernet that all come from the old vine block, I look for the most powerful piece – the piece that has exactly the dark, broody, black fruit, black wine taste I am seeking.  Then I’ll add other components.  Maybe one piece brings the wine more into the front of your mouth; another piece attacks the sides of your mouth.  Wine also is changed by the barrel it’s placed in.  Ultimately you want the final wine to have a beginning, a middle, and an end that’s pretty seamless and that leaves you with a response of pure enjoyment but also draws you back to taste it again. Your palette should respond and then clear itself, so that you’ll be able to pick something else out: espresso or chocolate or maybe the mineral character of wet rock.  Blending is about trying to find all those components and create an orb of flavors.  I love sharing wine with people and having them walk away saying, “Look what I get to take home with me.”  I love that.  It’s my passion.

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Miles: Let me show you how this is done. First thing, hold the glass up and examine the wine against the light. You’re looking for color and clarity. Just, get a sense of it. OK? Uhh, thick? Thin? Watery? Syrupy? OK? Alright. Now, tip it. What you’re doing here is check­ing for color density as it thins out towards the rim. Uhh, that’s gonna tell you how old it is, among other things. It’s usually more important with reds. OK? Now, stick your nose in it. Don’t be shy, really get your nose in there. Mmm . . . a little citrus . . . maybe some strawberry . . . [smacks lips] . . . pass
ion fruit . . . [puts hand up to ear] . . . and, oh, there’s just like the faintest soupçon of like asparagus and just a flutter of a, like a, nutty Edam cheese . . .

Jack: Wow. Strawberries, yeah! Strawberries. Not the cheese . . .

Sideways, 2004

As the popularity of the film “Sideways” suggests, wine has become a central component of a sophisticated lifestyle for a growing number of Americans. It is intertwined with the way they dine and entertain, how they travel, and even how they enjoy a quiet evening at home. Yet Americans still lag far behind Western Europeans and the citizens of many other countries in the degree to which they integrate wine into their lives…..

When visitors approach a tasting counter, they are usually invited to look at the list of wines being poured and briefly told about the types of tastings available. Once they reach a decision, he begins pouring a flight of wines—typically one-ounce servings of four to six wines.

Most tastings begin with some of the winery’s whites, move to the reds, and often end with a dessert wine or port. As the server pours each wine, he announces the vintage and varietal: “This is a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.” Most servers will then describe the wine’s characteristics in terms very similar to the winemaker’s tasting notes which are usually printed on the wine list placed in front of each customer.

Different Cabernet Sauvignons, the valley’s dominant wine, have been described as possessing the “distinctive flavors of chocolate, berry and mineral,” as having a “noticeable mintiness,” as being “a lush, fruit-forward wine with balance from beginning to end,” and as having “intense black fruit flavors, grip to its tannins and a long finish of concentrated fruit.” If the wine is a blend, the server will usually describe the different varietals used to create it: “This 2001 Arcturus is a blend of 62 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 21 percent Merlot, 15 percent Cabernet Franc, and 2 percent Petit Verdot.”

Good servers gear their conversation and the amount of wine talk they engage in to the interest level of their customers. Many today will mention some of the foods that a wine complements. “This is our salad and sushi wine,” a server at Raymond Winery told our tasting group. “It’s one of the few we make that doesn’t see the inside of an oak barrel.”

The best servers are adept at mak­ing wine tasting enjoyable and wine making understandable, using analogies and metaphors such as “a winemaker selecting barrels is like a chef selecting herbs” and “an oak barrel adds flavor to the wine, like a cinnamon stick adds flavor to your hot chocolate.” They can also answer such questions as “How many bottles of wine does a vine produce?” (four to six) or “How many grapes are in a glass of wine?” (about a half pound per five-ounce glass)….

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