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by Cyril Penn | September 3, 2013 | 11:00 AM

Last week’s Impact Napa conference sponsored by the North Bay Business Journal included a presentation by economist Robert Eyler that focused on Napa’s future. The gist of it was that the labor situation in Napa Valley will continue to be challenging and that more Napa-based businesses are opening offices in the Southern part of the valley to draw talent from throughout the region.

Eyler cited a report by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) showing that Napa will have 163,000 residents by 2040, a 20 percent increase.

Labor is a key issue: Wines & Vines had a good summary of the presentation.

There was also a panel about the future of Napa Valley led by Richard Mendelson of Dickenson, Peatman & Fogarty, Peter Mondavi Jr. of C. Mondavi & Family, real estate appraiser Tony Correia, Bruce Phillips of Phillips Family Farming, and Bill Harlan of Harlan Estate.

Each spoke at length about the challenges and opportunities facing the industry. The Napa Valley Register ran a nice summary of what the panel discussed.

Tony Correia had interesting observations about grape pricing in Napa Valley, where the most sought after vineyards are commanding ever-higher grape prices.

The quotes that stuck with me, though, came from Bill Harlan. Speaking about the need to produce better and better wine to enhance the reputation of Napa, he said:

“We have been fortunate in past years to have critics, particularly one critic in particular named Robert Parker in Napa Valley. … We need to be ready to figure out how to sell our wines without scores. That’s going to take building relationships with professionals in the business that have a lot of influence on how a consumer makes a decision.”

Harlan also talked about traffic in the valley, and the fact that the hotels are at capacity during peak season, suggesting more could be done to get visitors to Napa Valley when it’s not peak season. I thought the quote of the day came when Harlan talked about wine tourism, saying: “We need to qualify customers, make sure we make it more interesting to the people who visit Napa Valley and then go home and buy our wines … We need to make it less interesting to people who come up to the Valley and they can’t really afford to buy our wines.”

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