Notes from Napa

Thursday, July 28, 2011



Blame it on Steve Shaw. He’s the one who keeps insisting that Walt Disney (before his daughter, Diane, bought up here) filmed Polly Anna in St. Helena for a reason. I never completely bought into it, but on days like today it is hard to refute him.

In early spring, St. Helena is not unlike a Disney creation. The grass is emerald green. The mustard, waist high. The sky is a dark, azure blue—and during this past eclipse of the moon, the entire valley seemed unworldly.

No wonder Polly Anna was always happy and insisted on the “Glad Game.”

To live in St. Helena is to live in Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom. It may not be exactly Fantasy Land, but it is a place like no other. That alone may be why it’s worth preserving.

Remember the house where Poly Anna slipped and fell to the ground, crippling herself, and falling into a deep funk? That’s where Sattui has built his castle. Co-incidence?

The entrance to Fantasy Land is a castle. If only Sattui’s castle were built on a Grassy knoll we’d have proof of conspiracy.

It hasn’t hit full stride, but spring is on the way. Once the tulips and wild flowers begin to bloom, it’s all over for those whom Spiro Agnew once called the “Nattering Nabobs of Negativism.”

On a day like today, it is impossible to be “down in the dumps.” How did Disney know we had days like these?

An odd confluence of Mother Nature at her finest, and a unique coterie of men and women have come together to create, if not “The happiest place on Earth” certainly one of the most beautiful. Why here?

It wasn’t always thus. When Jim Pop brought us here back in the 50’s, the dominant color of this Valley was brown—rust brown. Cattle was the biggest crop. Orchards ruled—not vines.

Barbed wire fences were brown. Posts were brown. Barns that needed to be white washed were brown. The hills were brown in the summer, while the vineyards were brown in the winter. The Valley was indistinguishable from Oakdale or Turlock.

Now we are awash in a kaleidoscope of colors.

Do we have all this due to government largess?

Or was it private enterprise?

With all the talk about debt ceilings, the role of government is on folks’ minds.

Sure, it’s not a perfect paradise.  Shatter could ruin this year’s crop. Who knows what the harvest will be like.  Our divorce rate is off the charts and the concomitant drug use that follows with kids is ever with us. Gangs are creeping in.

But, c’mon. Grape prices (at over $4,300 per ton for cab) are holding strong yes, we remember when you couldn’t get $100 per ton.

Wineries are making money again.  During this real estate slump, wineries up here are looking for land. Some is available, but not at the prices most wineries want to pay. Sound familiar? Been there—done that!

St. Helena High is dumbing down.  They’ve gotten rid of the rigorous International Baccalaureate program.  Kids will suffer.  But we’ll come back.
Our first round-about-will soon be in Rutherford—thanks to private enterprise.

Do you like the tree lined lanes of Oak Knoll, Oakville Cross, Rutherford Cross and Zinfandel? Did government do that, or private land owners?

When  mustard sends chills up your spines, is that from the Government ?

Did the Government build the middle class Latino community we have today?

Some may sleep in cars or under bridges, but beds and food are available for any worker who wants. To whom do we owe that? Is government paying farm workers the highest ag wages in the country?

Think roses at the end of a vine row look spectacular? Must be a government mandate, no? Think again.

Did government prevent over population of the Valley through the Ag Preserve? Well, that is a zoning law, voted upon by the people, but it wasn’t government who brought it about. It was men like Jack Davies, my father, and eventually grape growers and winery owners like Louis Martini who convinced the Board of Supes to vote for the greatest agricultural preserve in the Union.

We are what we are today because we enacted th Ag Preserve back then.

But those that bought into the Ag Preserve never imagined that government would ever stab them in the back with “ordinances” which are being considered today. They’re breaking the deal--going back on the bargain.

Via new General Plans, the City of St. Helena and County of Napa are now considering government over sight of the most elemental property rights—especially water. Bureaucrats want control of wells, planting in the hills, cattle, where homes are built—their size—the use of fire places—even the type of landscaping one can plant in his yard. They don’t want anything within 150 feet of a run-off ditch in the hills. This is our government at work (read 26 year old grad students, er consultants, telling us what’s best for us).

For the “greater good” they want to control our land, water and hillsides. Yet we arrived at where we are today, without their involvement.

Once the Ag preserve was in place, private enterprise took over and reshaped this Valley into the next best thing to the “Happiest place on Earth.”

St. Helena’s got game. Local Bureaucrats want it. Should we give it to them? The choice is ours.

Jeffrey Earl Warren
James Warren & Son
1414 Main St.
St. Helena, Ca.