Nearly four weeks after Napa County voters sent in their ballots, the region’s controversial Measure C was defeated. The final vote was 18,174 “no” to 17,533 “yes,” officials said.
Napa County Clerk and Registrar of Voters, John Tuteur, certified the results late Monday, saying some 49.22% of voters cast their ballots, a high percentage for a primary.
Measure C, or the Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative, aimed to curb vineyard development to preserve streams and oak trees on the hillsides that border the Napa Valley to the east and west.
Opponents within the wine industry feared that the land use ordinance would limit vineyard development and increase grape prices in a region that already commands some of the highest per ton prices for grapes.
Napa County wine grape prices rose to 2.9% last year, accounting for a total value of $ 750.1 million. Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa’s calling card, sells for an average price of $7,498 a ton. Using common winery practice, that means average bottle prices for Cabernet would settle at about $75. If agricultural land use is restricted and fewer grapes are available, ultimately wine prices will go up.
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars founder, Warren Winiarski, supported the measure. He said its defeat means more work needs to be done to protect Napa’s agricultural land.
“Out of 35,000 votes cast in the valley, it was a very strong division, a very close race,” he said. “Those for Measure C have not made all the arguments we could have made. It’s too important for the valley to leave the status as is, and so we have to go forward to resolve in a way that’s better for the Napa Valley as a whole.”
Winiarski sold Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars to a partnership between Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and Italian producer Marchese Piero Antinori in 2007, but continues to own and farm the Arcadia Vineyard in Coombsville. He is particularly concerned about water.
“People won’t be able to get state water in the future. That’s already happened in other parts of California,” he said. “Napa is dreaming if they think we will be saved another way. We have to protect our own water sources.”
Measure C opponent Stu Smith, general partner and enologist of Smith-Madrone Winery, feels such a close vote was a moral victory for the proponents of Measure C.
“It’s a complete repudiation of the vintners’ tremendous environmental record,” he said. “We need to do some real soul-searching about our relationship with our community. Preserving agriculture is the ultimate firewall to housing development.”