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Michael Mondavi Driving Wine Tourism

In a presentation at the Wine Tourism Conference today, Michael Mondavi told the story of how he literally drove wine tourism to the Robert Mondavi Winery. In the winery’s early years, travelers from San Francisco would drive past the winery on their way to Clear Lake. They would also pass the winery on their way back to San Francisco on Sundays. The winery had a sign put up along Rt 29. People didn’t stop. A larger sign was made and people didn’t stop. Michael recalled that he took a truck, drove a few miles south on Rt 29, turned the truck around and traveled back to the winery traveling very slowly. As he turned into the winery, a few automobiles, now backed up quite a distance, followed. The process was repeated on Sundays in the opposite direction.

Once a few cars drove into the winery, the travelers would be greeted and asked if they wanted to taste wines. These were the early years of wine tourism. Now Napa wineries enjoy heavy traffic to their tasting rooms. Could the success in wine tourism become too successful? Michael Mondavi spoke of anti-tourism people as being very tenacious. It is difficult to plant a vineyard in the region because of rules and regulations.

This reminded me of the challenges that wineries face at my home in Howard County, Maryland. The County Executive proposed a change in zoning that would permit the opening of a winery. Tenacious people in opposition were very vocal. It was hard to understand this. Don’t these people understand that wineries will bring tourism to an area and tourism means more dollars spent? Economy, however, isn’t part of the equation. The opposition pointed out that if you permit a winery to open, traffic will become impossible. They are also quick to promulgate that their children would be run over by the drunks leaving the winery. It doesn’t seem to matter how irrational an argument is when backed by forceful people.

Perhaps the key is careful planning. Part of the planning may involve educating people about the pros and cons of wineries, vineyards and wine tourism. Proponents need to block irrational thought with facts and statistics.


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