Survey results released by Sonoma State’s Wine Business Institute last week ran contrary to the impression given by several recent stories about the wine industry clashing with locals about vineyard and winery development.
In the survey of North Coast residents (Napa, Sonoma, and Lake Counties) 88% responded with either very positive (46%) or positive (42%) impressions of wineries impact on the quality of life in their county. However, the results don’t surprise the local wine industry associations.
“This survey confirms what I have been hearing as part of our own community engagement – the great majority of those polled support our industry, value our economic contributions and applaud our efforts to maintain the region’s agricultural heritage,” said Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers.
In Napa, which scored the highest among the counties on the economic importance of the wine industry (76%) and the responsiveness of the industry to community concerns (63%), the vintners were pleased with the survey results as well.
“We find it very encouraging news that 88% of North Bay residents think wineries have a positive impact on the quality of life in their county and that 84% think the wine business is important in terms of economic impact in our communities,” said Patsy McGaughy, Communications Director Napa Valley Vintners. “Although we’ve seen similar positive impressions in community polls we’ve done, it is especially good to hear right now when there is such heightened concern in over winery development.”
While Lake County residents had a similar overall positive view of the wine industry, they ranked it lower both on economic importance (26%) and concerns of traffic and congestion (17%) than Napa and Sonoma County residents.
“Lake County’s wine industry, while small by many comparisons, is enjoying an exciting time of growth. This survey underscores the positive perceptions in the public’s eye about our industry and can serve as sign posts as we move into the future,” said Terry Dereniuk, Executive Director Lake County Winery Association.
Dereniuk stressed two key take-aways for Lake County, “One is the importance to the industry of communicating its value and impact on the Lake County economy, in terms of dollars and jobs that the industry generates, the ambience that it creates in the County, and its impact on tourism. The second thing that it reminded me of is the need to continue to listen to concerns that people bring forward and to work together to find common ground and workable solutions.”
Though the survey results largely show that the wine industry has managed to maintain good neighbor relations, they are not blind to the concerns of the community. “We remain committed to our sustainability efforts and working collaboratively with our local community to preserve the values, culture and agriculture landscape of Sonoma County,” said Kruse.
“We have also heard before and we do share our community’s concerns over traffic congestion, water use and responsible growth and development and we’re actively working on solutions to address these issues in Napa County,” said McGaughy. “For example, we helped fund the recent NCTPA traffic study that showed that most traffic problems (75% or more) in Napa County are caused by commuters or those driving through the valley on their way to another county to work.”
The NCTPA survey contradicted the common belief that tourists were to blame for congestion on Napa roads, but failed to dispel the misimpression. In Napa 63% of respondents still thought that wine businesses contributed a great deal to traffic and congestion.
“There is some degree of misinformation about the Napa Valley wine industry, and we see a bit of that reflected in this study – most Napa County residents don’t know that only 9% of Napa County is planted to grapes or that 95% of our local wineries are family-owned,” said McGaughy. McGauphy encourages locals to visit napavintners.com and come to their community events to learn more.
In fact, the charge by critics that the industry is dominated by “Big Wine” seem to be one that has some traction with residents 13% of whom think the industry mostly consists of large corporate business, opposed to 35% who thought most were small to medium-sized businesses. The remaining 46% believed there were roughly equal percentages of both.
More hard data, reports, and surveys on the impact of the industry may become a necessary tool for the wine industry in maintaining a good reputation in their communities in the face of their opponents’ criticisms, but getting the message out remains a challenge.