Napa Is a Brand Built on Creating a Premium Environment For Wine

July 3, 2012 by  Filed under: Branding 

Napa Valley is a premium brand! Once it is understood that Napa is a brand, just like Champagne in France, only then the importance of Napa as a real jewel starts to be realized. To keep this brand relevant it requires constantly moving ahead with innovations. Early on, the one person most responsible for the vision of building the Napa brand, through “firsts”, was Robert Mondavi. Starting in 1968, Mr. Mondavi started to establish Napa’s pedigree as a premier region for wines. He brought together some of the elements that make Napa “First” at what it is today. For example, new processes in making wines, hitchhiking on the concept that wine had health benefits and showcasing the whole Napa Valley as a Mecca for culinary, cultural and oenophile experiences.

Some say his dream of Napa Valley had a downside; weekend traffic became a real issue for locals, ancillary commercial ventures started diminishing the ambiance of The Valley, and some folks were losing sight of the fact that Napa Valley is really about agriculture. Even the Napa Wine Train had its detractors because some felt it was not part of the Napa Experience.

Today there are many entities that are the keepers-of-the-keys relative to maintaining Napa as the world’s leader in viticulture and winemaking. Politics is in the mix for sure; the laws in place in Napa County evoke concerns for: the economy, impact of traffic on locals, environment, and the wineries themselves. The wineries have a stake in the equation because Napa is primarily about making and marketing wines; all of which require significant capital investment.

The Napa Valley Vintners Association and Mr. Terry Hall in particular, is concerned with making sure the Napa brand is protected, after all, this is the brand that brought the French wine industry to their collective knees with the “1976 Paris Tasting”. As a quick refresher: the Paris Tasting was a publicity event by a Englishman, who owned a wine shop in Paris, that pitted some California wines against the finest French wines. Approximately 10 highly respected French tasters chose a Napa Chardonnay as the best and a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon as the finest red. In all, Napa wines had 6 whites and 6 reds in the top 10wines in that tasting. Not bad for a place with less than 300 acres planted in vines at the 1973 harvest. This was the first time American wines reached the pinnacle of success.

Terry Hall is quick to point out that Napa is still leading the way, even other wine regions in the U.S. are looking to the successes of Napa and looking to the Napa Valley Vintners Association for information on some of their programs. We need to realize that only 4% of California’s wine production comes from Napa Valley.

Let’s take a look at some “Firsts” programs put in place in Napa that have impacted the wine industry in Napa and is spreading.

Mentioned earlier was the profound impact the “1976 Paris Tasting” had on establishing Napa as a first-class wine region. But, did you know, the winemaker of the first place Chardonnay in Paris was Mike Grgich who went on to found Grgich Hill Winery? Today, Grgich Hill is a Biodynamci®certified vineyard with approximately 370 acres in vines. Basically, that means that Grgich Hill is producing wines using the highest standards of organic farming without chemicals in producing wine. The first winery in Napa was Charles Krug, and they are 100% organic in the vineyard and in wine production.

“If a wine consumer is not into the sustainable farming approaches they may be drinking organic wines and not even know it,” says Terry. Another first in Napa is the “Napa Green Certified Winery” which is a specific set of sustainable and green business practices developed for wineries; a whole conservation approach to improve the environment while being economical to implement. “This certification approach is getting a lot of attention around California and other wine regions in the U.S.,” Terry noted.

Napa has approximately 500,000 acres and only 9% are cultivated in vineyards (45,000 acres). As noted earlier, this acreage produces 4% of all California’s wine production and is 5% of all U.S. vineyard acreage; most of this production is virtually all (95%) from family owned wineries.

The generosity of these wineries is profound for the non-profit’s servicing the community. In June 2012 the Napa Valley Vintners Association was responsible for raising $8 million for charitable causes. That is impressive when you consider this generosity is the largest from any wine region in the U.S. and probably the World.

Napa is not a “Johnny-come-lately” to understanding the value of going green, organic and biodynamic– whatever moniker you choose–on a brand. In 1968, Napa County was the first in the nation to establish an Agriculture Preserve that established best practices in farming.

In the early 80’s, with more wineries and vineyard owners looking to expand their vineyards, the only place left to plant were hillsides such as Howell Mountain-which is an AVA. Planting on hillsides were presenting problems with water supplies in reservoirs and streams due to runoff. So Napa County passed the first ever ordinance to restrict hillside farming. In addition, the visitor driving through Napa will notice that there is open space along the Napa River and streams to keep vineyards from impacting natural waterways; called setbacks.

One of the biggest changes to impact the Napa brand was the first Conjunctive Labeling law passed in 1989. This ensures that the name “Napa” be shown on the label as being the source of the fruit and wine. This is in addition to normal appellation designation. As strange as it may sound, there were wineries in Europe that were trying to incorporate the name Napa into their label. Because of the work of the Napa Valley Vintners Association this regulation ensures that such name pirating practices do not happen. Other wine regions in California are now looking to implement similar practices.

Remember earlier that it was noted the issue of traffic being a problem in Napa. Well, in 1990 the first “Winery Definition Ordnance” was passed that defined what a winery could and could not do at the property. The purpose as to control traffic, curb pollution and maintain the character of Napa as an agriculture area. This is why today, visitors wanting to visit wineries in Napa, those wineries not grandfathered in the Ordnance, require an appointment for a tasting. Further, those endless weddings of by-gone weekends are now a thing of the past. Now, wine Country is really about being wine country.

The Winery Definition Ordnance is now being expanded into Sonoma County and Paso Robles.

Most of us think back to 1976 as the year that approximately 38,000 acres were put on the world’s wine map. I remember reading about it in a New York newspaper and being totally impressed… good for them I thought at the time. Ten years before that I remember listening to Robert Mondavi talking proudly, at his new winery, about going with stainless steel tanks with cooling coils wrapped around them. He was proud of taking the risk of being a leader in the wine industry.

Napa Valley has come a long way since 1838 when the first vines were planted in Napa. In August 1996 (at the 20th anniversary of the Paris Tasting) Mr. Steven Spurrier said, “20 years ago, California was investing more in research and equipment than any other wine region in the world.” That research is evident today in the strength of the Napa brand. In the wine industry, Napa Valley is the appellation of firsts and Napa impacts all consumers of wine worldwide.

Thanks to Terry Hall with the Napa Valley Vintners Association for his comments on the Napa brand. He has suggested reading Charles Sullivan’s book, “Napa Wine”, 2008.

Steven S. Lay has been in the travel and corporate meetings business for 30 years and is now focused exclusively on small luxury corporate gatherings in Wine Country. More information about his company, Symtrek Partners, is available at: http://www.symtrekpartners.com

Mr. Lay has held “C” Level positions in large private and public companies. These companies, in addition to the travel corporate and leisure business, include the defense industry and e-commerce. Prior to launching Symtrek Partners, Mr. Lay was the Vice President of Exhibitor Sales for a major exposition company.

Symtrek Partners is a resource to any company contemplating a highly effective meeting, event or function for a small corporate group. Symtrek Partners is very interested in discussing ideas and options. To initiate a contact e-mail: stevelay@symtrekpartners.com or call 707-927-4205

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