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World Napafication

Fly over Napa County, California, and what you see below are vineyards and industrial buildings for the mass production of wines. Roads crisscross the valley and climb into the hills and mountains. They also carry tourists from hotels and motels to vineyards, wineries and restaurants where they’re told that they’re seeing and tasting the real Napa. A woman who teaches wine marketing says that after a few days of tasting, eating and driving, most tourists don’t know whether they’re in Napa, Sonoma or Mendocino. That’s what happens in a monoculture.

Indeed, after a while, the landscape begins to look and feel remarkably similar all over “Wine Country.” Vines go up hill and down hill. (One agricultural writer said they made here think of troops in a regiment. Indeed there’s something militaristic about them.) Vines extend for as far as the eye can see. They also run along creek beds which are dry at least half the year because of climate change — Napa is hotter now than ever before — and because water tables are dropping. Wineries and vineyards suck water out of creeks and out of the ground. So, water is a big deal in Napa.

I am continually amazed that the wine industry goes on and on, year after year, that more grapes are planted, that vineyards are replanted, and that more people drink more wine than ever before. At times, it seems that the main pastime of people in Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties is drinking, eating, and ingesting locally grown cannabis which gets connoisseurs stoned in a minute or less, if it’s top grade weed.

Right now the wine and grape industry is trying to figure out how to combine forces with the cannabis industry and create new products to lure new consumers.

I have rarely heard anyone say they don’t drink wine or beer and don’t like them, though recently I met an environmental specialist for the city of Santa Rosa who said “Fuck grapes and fuck wine.”

We were standing on a platform on the edge of the Laguna de Santa Rosa, a vast watershed and wetland, that’s home to all kinds of birds, bees and insects that can’t survive in a vineyard. For those creatures, a vineyard is a desert, as one veteran Napa beekeeper told me. On that platform, the specialist and I could see a newly planted vineyard that struck us both as an affront to nature.

Napa Whole Foods Market sign, but no produce from Napa farms

These days, everywhere I go in Napa and everyone I meet, I ask “How much longer can the wine and grape economy last?” I have asked dozens of people and not a single one has given me a satisfactory answer, though some predict a long, extended life for the reign of the grape, while others predict imminent decline and fall.

It depends largely on water and on the banks.

Exceptions to the Napa ethnic rules and shoppers with their kids at St. Helena Farmers' Market

I am not eager for the collapse of the Napa wine economy; if and when that happens thousands of people will be out of work and unable feed, clothe and house themselves and their families. The governor will have to declare a state of emergency and call out the National Guard.

Most of the people who work in the grape and wine industry — they’re largely Latinos and Latinas — are employed by corporations, many of them foreign owned. They work hard and they work long hours. They are not in open revolt and they are not now asking consumers to boycott Napa wines made from Napa grapes. When César Chávez, Dolores Huerta and the United Farm Workers asked consumers to support their cause in the 1960s by boycotting grapes they were talking about table grapes, which don’t fetch nearly as much money on the market as wine grapes.

Some young, white farmers grow vegetables for multi-millionaires and for elite restaurants. Many are environmentally friendly, though one woman, who works for a Napa restaurant that has received the highest ratings from the Michelin Guide for over a decade, told me that she lived in “the land of milk and honey.” She also explained that the communications director at the company she works for denied her permission to talk to me. Increasingly, Napa is all about its image.

I also meet people who tell me that there are good men and good women making good wines and who are not harming the environment. I know there are. Some of them, like Will Bucklin at Old Hill Ranch, are my friends. I have written about them, their organic vineyards and organic wines. But they are not the masters of the industry and they are having a hell of a time surviving in unfriendly environments, some of them ecological, others social and political. Those growers and wine makers are a minority and they are getting smaller by the day.

Napa has given the English language at least one fairly new word: Napafication, which, according to The New York Times, is a worldwide trend. Under napafication, wine is controlled by corporations who care about the weight of the grapes at harvest, the price they fetch and the most efficient and profitable ways to market wines, which can sell for several hundred dollars a bottle. Hey, man, my wine is better than your wine.

Societies that grow one big crop, like societies that choose to go totalitarian, can last for decades, like the apartheid regime in South Africa. But sooner or later the power of the people catches up with them. Totalitarian societies decline and fall. Napafication, which is “totalitarianism lite,” aims to wipe out anything and everything that stands in its way.

The farmer, or more likely, the corporation, eliminates opposition, including all living things that undermine the drive for control and for profit. So, big agriculture fences in what it wants to exploit, and fences out what it wants to destroy. Then it sprays chemicals, kills weeds, crams crops into every single inch of cultivatable land, harvests every single grain of wheat, every ear of corn and every grape on every vine.

It turns workers into “hands,” industrializes production and creates what Carey McWilliams called “factories in the field” in his book of the same name, published in 1939, when Steinbeck published Grapes of Wrath. Both books, one fiction and the other non-fiction, tell stories about California agriculture that began — if one doesn’t count Native Americans who tended the landscape and cultivated crops — as capitalist agriculture. Now, California agriculture is capitalism on steroids.

In Grapes of Wrath, when a freaked-out farmer confronts a tractor driver demolishing the homes of evicted families, he asks, “Who can we shoot?” The tractor driver replies, “Maybe there’s nobody to shoot. Maybe the thing isn’t men at all. Maybe the property’s doing it.”

When that same tractor driver has lunch, he eats processed white bread, a pickle, some cheese, a piece of Spam and a slice of pie that, Steinbeck wrote, was “branded like an engine part.” There’s nothing alive and nothing nourishing about his meal on the fly.

Izzy from Big Ranch Farm

There’s no open rebellion against the grape and wine oligarchy, but there is political resistance in Napa, as there is in Venice, Italy and Barcelona, Spain, both of them tourist destinations that are losing their identities. Napa citizens go against the grain by growing fruits and vegetable, selling them at markets, at roadside stands and by subscriptions through “Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).” They’re defying the monoculture and the tyranny of wine.

Napa citizens, like Geoff Ellsworth, are running for public office, in part, to break the monopoly exercised by local newspapers and magazines that rarely if ever say anything negative or critical about grapes and wine.

Charlotte Helen Williams lives in Napa and has her finger on the pulse of Napa.

“Many people around here have small dreams inspired by too many glasses of wine,” she said. “They don’t share Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s big dream. They’re enthralled to the god, Bacchus, and if they have their way Napa will look like a factory.”

(Jonah Raskin is the author of For The Hell of It: The Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman and American Scream: Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ and the Making of the Beat Generation.)


  1. George Hollister August 23, 2018

    How about I invent a new word, Urbanification? That describes what is going on in Napa, both from the view of how it got to where it is, and the view point of it’s detractors. Remember Italian Swiss Colony’s, the “Little Old Wine Maker”? That was, I believe, a successful attempt by marketers to connect with urban customers.

    “Old Macdonald”, is maybe 100 yeas old. That children’s nursery rhyme wasn’t written by a farmer. Yet Californians want happy chickens and cows, just like Old Macdonald. They want a rural fantasy, to go along with their food and drink. Well, they are getting what they want. Isn’t that good business?

    A good pairing is a farmer and his wife, where the farmer does the physical work, and wife does the marketing. The marketing is the more important part. “Organic”, “sustainable”, “humane”, “local”, and “eco-friendly” are all part of marketing to urban people who know little but cling to fantasies and images. It works. But what is lost are realities. The nuts and bolts of farming is not Golden Gate Park, or the zoo. It never has been or ever will be.

    Watch Dr. Pol on National Geographic Wild. That is a good exposure to the realities of farm life. It’s not grapes, but what you see there is real. The farmers there are real people, the same kind of people you will find farming grapes. The same kind of people in business, everywhere, who are trying to market their product.

    • Harvey Reading August 23, 2018

      George, you’re a real character. There’s at least one of you everywhere!

      • Jonah Raskin August 23, 2018

        George could clone himself and be everywhere all the time.

  2. George Hollister August 23, 2018


    “Tourism turns towns into de facto amusement parks. It’s the worst sort of industry because it creates a tacky atmosphere and attracts a plague of opportunists. For locals, what results is a devil’s bargain, where, in return for cash, you give up your streets to a bunch of gawkers. And once your town is turned into an amusement park all the originality leaves with the original inhabitants. The progression isn’t pretty. Whole streets are turned into outdoor malls, with t-shirt racks and all the crap that goes along with it. The population of opportunists that arrive to staff the gift shops are mainly internationals – a motley lot, like modern-day gypsies or carnies. Rootless folk trailing the moneyed cattle like blowflies.”

    A devils bargain. Napa, Mendocino, Carmel. For those on the outside, looking in, there is envy. How do I do the same? How do I market my roadside attraction to make big money?

  3. Jonah Raskin August 23, 2018

    I agree with you about tourism.
    Who the hell knows what’s really real anymore in the era of “fake news.”
    My friend Albert Straus says good business is what he calls the triple bottom line – good for the company owners, good for the community and good for the employees of the company

    • George Hollister August 25, 2018

      That is pretty much it. The interesting part about wine is the amount of outside mega-money that comes in driven by the promoted image of vines and profits. The vines are real, the profits can be elusive. But the farming and farmers go on, often unseen because increasingly work gets done at night.

      I am an outsider, but know many grape farmers. They’re good people. And I think vineyards in Mendocino County are a good thing, for many reasons. Redwood tree farming is my habit. A few years ago members of my family wanted me to convert meadows to grapes, of course with tree farm profits, so the farm could be “more diversified”. Oh, and of course, “look at all the profits in grapes”. It looked to me like getting on an expensive horse that you have better like to ride, because that horse had constant immediate needs, and there was no easy way to dismount. Like any business, I did not see a guarantee of a profit. Financial diversification looked to be better found away from the farm.

  4. Pat Kittle August 23, 2018

    Gee, could there be a connection here?

    “Most of the people who work in the grape and wine industry — they’re largely Latinos and Latinas…”

    If people like YOU, Jonah Raskin, weren’t so successful at flooding the US with endless millions of aliens the wine industry wouldn’t find it so easy & profitable to destroy California’s wildlands.

    Why don’t you tell your precious Israel to open its borders?
    — [ ]

    • George Hollister August 25, 2018

      Come on Pat. Before Latinos, there were Italians, Swiss, Spanish, and every rural ethnic group from Europe. The Italians still have a big presence in farming grapes. That is an interesting story in itself.

      We have a dysfunctional immigration system, that needs to be fixed. But no one wants to fix it, so we proceed on with the dysfunction. We have no choice. The sun rises and sets, the seasons change, and people need farm products. Time marches on. California Farm Bureau has been working on immigration reform for the last 25 years. What has been seen, consistently, is both political parties have been actively involved in blocking it.

      • Pat Kittle August 26, 2018


        You refuted absolutely nothing I said. NOTHING!

        As for whether “Italians still have a big presence in farming grapes”? You can debate that with Jonah, who says “they’re largely Latinos and Latinas….”

        You open-borders enthusiasts just keep repeating your lame old talking points. In your case, you start out admitting our “dysfunctional immigration system… needs to be fixed. But no one wants to fix it.”

        So what it your solution? Some quasi-philosophical gibberish and a shoulder shrug. What an utterly cowardly dishonest deflection of reason & responsibility.

        Like I said:

        If people like YOU & Jonah Raskin weren’t so successful at flooding the US with endless millions of aliens the wine industry wouldn’t find it so easy & profitable to destroy California’s wildlands.

        • George Hollister August 27, 2018

          Pat, I am not open borders. In fact if Trump wants a wall, for $10 billion, I would support it if it meant fixing our system in exchange. Fixing the system includes allowing legal immigration of farm workers, or a guest worker program. That does not constitute open borders.

          We seem to be caught between the concepts that Latin immigrants are either saints or devils. I see them as people, like everyone, who are coming to America for an opportunity by taking a job that no one wants to take. This is as old as America. We all have ancestors who did exactly the same thing. It wasn’t perfect, but it did more building than destroying.

          • Pat Kittle August 27, 2018

            “Guest worker program” is vastly different than endlessly unsustainable immigration.

            And please spare us that BS about “just doing the jobs Americans won’t do.” Americans used to do manual labor and they’re perfectly capable of doing it again. I’ve done it all my life.

            If illegals just want “to put the food on the ungrateful gringos’ table” they wouldn’t be demanding all kinds of welfare, affirmative action, and taxpayer-subsidized college educations, would they?

            WOULD THEY??

            BTW, I’m against a border wall too, for ecological reasons. We can enforce sustainable immigration limits without a wall. What we need is to pry the treasonous Israel lobby off “our” bought-&-paid-for politicians. Yes, the Israel lobby.

            I honestly do not “hate” immigrants — I hate the myth that endless growth is desirable, let alone possible.

            • George Hollister August 27, 2018

              “And please spare us that BS about “just doing the jobs Americans won’t do.””

              I encourage an appreciation for manual labor. We distance ourselves from it at a social cost. It should be embraced. But historically, we distance ourselves regardless of that ideal. What was chattel slavery all about? And who built our railroads, from Mendocino County to Pennsylvania? Who did the logging here as well? Who worked in the mills? These are all cases of immigrants doing manual labor citizens either wouldn’t do, or, for whatever reason, could not do. The only case I know of that had a negative net outcome was chattel slavery.

              Most Americans, these days, don’t even teach their kids to take care of the yard, let alone work for neighbors doing the same. Right? Should we send these young people to rural education camps to learn the physical and mental benefits of farm labor? I think that has been done, a couple of times, elsewhere, before. It didn’t work too well.

              • Pat Kittle August 27, 2018

                So you’re saying that endless unsustainable immigration is working well? And will continue to do so?

                A favorite tactic of open-borders advocates:
                1) admit up front that we need to stop massively unsustainable immigration…
                2) …but conclude that it’s actually beneficial & besides, we can’t stop it anyway.

                That seems like you.

                Spoiled Americans have not evolutionarily devolved to the point where that can’t do physical labor, although the Israel lobby certainly pushes the narrative with with all its media might.

              • George Hollister August 28, 2018

                Pat, your view on immigration is essentially the position the Sierra Club had up until about 15 years ago. So you’re not alone. For obvious reasons the Sierra Club had to change their position, but the people who wrote that original position are still there, and I assume there are many of them.

                Good to hear your view, because it provides a better understanding for why immigration policy is such an intractable problem. Media poses the immigration fight as partisan. It clearly is not. There are undercurrents of strong opinions that cut across party lines. Trump has come along and taken the cover off most of it.

              • Pat Kittle August 30, 2018


                Let me help you with that — the Sierra Club board betrayed its membership back in the 1990’s, by ending its long-standing, ecologically sound opposition to unsustainable immigration.

                You say “For obvious reasons the Sierra Club had to change their position….”

                “Obvious” is it? I’ll give you a couple days to tell us why it’s “obvious.”

                If you don’t respond, (with the AVA’s good graces) I’ll fill in the blanks for you. People ought to know the whole story.

              • George Hollister August 31, 2018

                Pat, it’s simple. And thanks for the clarification on the SC position.

                The Sierra Club is a largely Democratic Party organization. To be against immigration is perceived as being “racist”. No one in the Democratic Party orbit can exist with the racist tag, whether it’s justified or not. No one.

                BTW, what is the whole story?

              • Jonah Raskin August 27, 2018

                Perhaps you know this poem by B. Brecht, German poet and playwright.

                “Who built the seven gates of Thebes?
                The books are filled with names of kings.
                Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?
                And Babylon, so many times destroyed.
                Who built the city up each time? In which of Lima’s houses,
                That city glittering with gold, lived those who built it?
                In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished
                Where did the masons go? Imperial Rome
                Is full of arcs of triumph. Who reared them up? Over whom
                Did the Caesars triumph? Byzantium lives in song.
                Were all her dwellings palaces? And even in Atlantis of the legend
                The night the seas rushed in,
                The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves.

                Young Alexander conquered India.
                He alone?
                Caesar beat the Gauls.
                Was there not even a cook in his army?
                Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet
                was sunk and destroyed. Were there no other tears?
                Frederick the Greek triumphed in the Seven Years War.
                Who triumphed with him?

                Each page a victory
                At whose expense the victory ball?
                Every ten years a great man,
                Who paid the piper?

                So many particulars.
                So many questions.”

              • Pat Kittle August 30, 2018


                Such erudition! Such wisdom! Such cowardice.

                Let’s be real clear here, bub:

                If people like YOU, Jonah Raskin, weren’t so successful at flooding the US with endless millions of aliens the wine industry wouldn’t find it so easy & profitable to destroy California’s wildlands.

                Why don’t you tell your precious Israel to open its borders?
                — [ ]

  5. Jonah Raskin August 25, 2018

    George, I appreciate your thoughts and comments. Perhaps our paths will cross one of these days. All the bests,

  6. Jonah Raskin August 25, 2018

    Good to hear/ read your thoughts and comments George. perhaps our paths will cross one of these days. Jonah

  7. Pat Kittle August 26, 2018

    Susie de Castro, recalling her “intimate” life with the Big Wine, and her deep understanding & appreciation of ecological sustainability.

    Susie, could you be one of the legendary Latinas whose wisdom would so greatly benefit us clueless gringos?

  8. Pat Kittle September 1, 2018


    [In response to your comment (August 31, 2018 at 6:49 am) which has no “Reply” button]:

    (In case you really seriously honestly don’t know) here’s why the Sierra Club betrayed its principles & its membership:

    — [ ]

    For the love of money:

    Since 1996, leaders of the Sierra Club have refused to admit that immigration driven, rapid U.S. population growth causes massive environmental problems. And they have refused to acknowledge the need to reduce U.S. immigration levels in order to stabilize the U.S. population and protect our natural resources. Their refusal to do what common sense says is best for the environment was a mystery for nearly a decade.

    Then, on Oct. 27, 2004, the Los Angeles Times revealed the answer: David Gelbaum, a super rich donor, had demanded this position from the Sierra Club in return for huge donations! Kenneth Weiss, author of the LA Times article that broke the story, quoted what David Gelbaum said to Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope:

    “I did tell Carl Pope in 1994 or 1995 that if they ever came out anti-immigration, they would never get a dollar from me.”

    In 1996 and again in 1998, the Club’s leaders proved their loyalty to Gelbaum’s position on immigration, first by enacting a policy of neutrality on immigration and then by aggressively opposing a referendum to overturn that policy. In 2000 and 2001, Gelbaum rewarded the Club with total donations to the Sierra Club Foundation exceeding $100 million. In 2004 and 2005, the Club’s top leaders and management showed their gratitude for the donations by stifling dissent and vehemently opposing member efforts to enact an immigration reduction policy.

    Mr. Gelbaum is entitled to restrict how his donations to the Sierra Club Foundation are spent. But he should NOT be permitted to influence how other members’ dues or donations are spent or to dictate policy choices via the threat of withholding contributions. That is completely inappropriate.

    Even worse, Sierra Club leaders accepted Gelbaum’s conditions in secret and forced a modification of the Club’s policy to conform to his wishes. Furthermore, Club leaders certainly shouldn’t have misrepresented immigration reductionists as anti-immigrant or racist in order to guarantee Gelbaum’s donations; there is nothing inherently racist or anti-immigrant about sustainable levels of immigration.

    Worst of all, the U.S. population continues to grow by about 3 million people per year, of which nearly half are immigrants, and two-thirds of the growth is a result of immigration, if the children of immigrants are included. Our forests continue to be clearcut to provide construction materials, our groundwater is depleted to provide water for our growing population, we grow more and more dependent on foreign sources of oil, and we are unable to reduce our output of greenhouse gases, all thanks to our burgeoning population.

    We don’t like it when the oil, timber, coal, and nuclear power industries oppose environmental reform, yet we understand why they do it: for the love of money. Is it any better when the Sierra Club opposes environmental reform for the love of money?

    — [ ]

    So you see, George, yet another treasonous open-borders Israel lobby billionaire corrupted the Sierra Club.

    As I’ve been saying, these Israel lobby types relentlessly push massively unsustainable immigration on the US. They have their reasons, but that is a story for another time.

    Suffice it to say, these shysters sure don’t hold their precious Israel to the same standards:

    …According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, at least 120 protesters were injured after Israeli forces deployed tear gas and reportedly used live ammunition to…”:

    — [ ]

    • George Hollister September 1, 2018

      Pat, thanks for filling me in. I had the timing wrong, I see. Not the first time. Just because the SC changed their immigration position does not mean the members who opposed this change went away. They have continued expressing their views, just like other anti-immigration people have. That’s why immigration reform is not going anywhere soon, and both political parties will make sure it doesn’t.

      Adding poison pills to immigration reform bills is the common practice to gracefully vote yes on a bill when everyone knows the poison pill will make the bill fail. E-verify is the latest. Back in 2007 the Teamsters had their own poison pill inserted into an immigration bill that would have otherwise passed Congress with bi-partisan support.

      Let me add, the de facto policy of the Democratic Party is now “Sanctuary Cities”, or “Sanctuary States”. This replaces a dysfunctional immigration policy with a perverse one. So it gets worse.

      • Pat Kittle September 1, 2018


        While seeming to be agreeable & conciliatory, you are actually continuing to deflect attention away from the fact that the ISRAEL LOBBY is the real power behind open borders (for us, NOT ISRAEL).

        Hillary’s top 7 (TOP 7!!) campaign “donors” were all pro-open borders (for us, NOT ISRAEL!) billionaires. But Trump’s Israel lobby billionaires (like Sheldon Adelson) won. Either way, the Israel lobby wins. As usual.

        Republicans & Democrats slavishly carry out Israel’s orders. You know this, but when confronted with it you change the subject every time.

        You consistently imply you’re against open-borders treachery — while concluding it’s unstoppable so resistance is futile.

        Very Alinsky of you.

        • George Hollister September 2, 2018

          Pat, I have a lack of appreciation for the Israel-immigration policy conundrum connection. Personally, I don’t get into arguments about which tribe in the Middle East is more or less just. And as long as their never ending fighting stays over there, I don’t care, either.

          • Pat Kittle September 2, 2018


            You profess ignorance & indifference of massive evidence of Israel lobby billionaires dictating open borders for the US (& all Western countries), while Israel itself keeps building monster border walls & massacring native Palestinians.

            SJW’s like you are curiously selective with your immigration sympathies. Jewish supremacists (assuming you aren’t one yourself) would be very pleased with you .

  9. Pat Kittle September 2, 2018

    Dear Susie:

    You never respond to my citation of ecological limits as a stand-alone plenty good enough reason to limit immigration.

    Apparently you expect us to continue insanely unsustainable immigration levels because the richest man in the world has a Cuban father.

    And the King of Israel is the King of Spain.

    And I’m the one comparing apples to oranges?!

    Susie, based on what I’ve seen of you here in the AVA, you’re an aspiring debutante with little wisdom & much ambition.

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