Napa World’s Top Food and Wine Destination – WTF?

My e-mail inbox is a magnet for publicity spam, particularly those breathless missives regarding the “Wine Country experience.” How can I tell the difference between spam and a press release in the nanosecond before I delete it? If it’s about Napa, it’s spam. Seeing as my beat is decidedly Sonoman, I haven’t the time or inclination to study up on the “other” Wine Country. Except when the headline crows from the subject line, “Napa Valley Honored as the World’s Top Food & Wine Destination.”

Cue the sad trombone.

Apparently, TripAdvisor, the online travel site, which encourages its users to, “Find Deals. Read Reviews from Real People. Get the Truth. Then Go,” held an opinion poll as part of its 2010 TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice Destination Awards and, from “millions of real reviews and opinions that actual travelers share with each other on the popular travel website” concluded that Napa Valley was tops.

The fact that theirs was not a scientific poll notwithstanding, Sonoma should be aware that its neighbor to the east is already mounting its case for the world’s tourism dollars – hard, cold cash that could be ours for the taking with just a modicum of moxie. Bolinas, the coastal West Marin enclave that is known to sometimes refer to itself as “The Republic of Bolinas,” routinely removes the roadside signage along Highway 1 that indicates where one might turn to visit it. This ritual rebuff to tourists and developers is legend and has certainly added to Bolinas’ mystique, even if it has not helped preserve whatever it is the republic is hiding from the world (dilithium crystals, I bet).

Now, here in Sonoma, we’re big on signage. One can’t drive down Highway 121 into our Valley without being besieged by a number of billboards extolling our virtues as “Real Wine County,” or asking us not to sit in the big blue chairs in front of Cornerstone. We’re too invested in our signs to even consider using Bolinas’ reverse-psychology approach to boosting tourism through obscurity. Instead, we should introduce this approach to Napa by removing their signs.

In order to get to Napa from the Highway 101 corridor, one must drive through Sonoma County, whereupon one might see a number of signs directing tourists and their pocket books out of town. Now, I ask you, why would we ever put signs on our own land instructing people how to visit our competition? Have we not deferred enough to Napa? It’s as if we’re saying, “Welcome to Sonoma, Napa is right this way.” Must we remain the overlooked second son? These things never end well, just ask Shakespeare. Invariably, the wine gets poisoned and everybody dies.

How many times have visiting friends called you from the road having missed that crucial turn in Schellville, only to find themselves about to hook a left on Highway 29 into the heart of Napa? Even if we remove all of Napa’s signs, Sonoma still needs bigger signs. Carneros Highway should look like the Strip in Vegas, with enough blinking lights to cause epileptic seizures.

Too gaudy? Perhaps we could go conceptual and create a sign that offers directions to either “Heaven” or “Hell” (despite what the teenagers say, Sonoma would be heaven). Or, even more abstractly – “Ginger” or “Mary Ann” (Sonoma is Mary Ann, duh). Or, we could just build a wall.

Meanwhile, Clay Gregory, CEO of The Napa Valley Destination Council gloats from my inbox, “From stunningly beautiful locales to spots with outstanding attractions, the 2010 Travelers’ Choice Destination Award winners are truly incredible places that travelers love – and we are honored to be selected as the world’s number one Food and Wine Destination.”

Which, I guess, is also a way of saying we’re number two. We should spam this column to him.

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