Report from Napa, California: Napa has more in common with the Appalachian coalfields than you might expect. When Americans think of Napa, we think of elegant people drinking elegant wine, and when we think of the coalfields we think of rough people doing rough work. But in fact, a person living in Eastern Kentucky and a person living in the East Napa Valley Watershed have something vital in common and that is wilderness, water, and the people who would sell it out from under them for the almighty dollar.
I had no idea what Napa would look like -- green or gold, flat or rolling, forest or field. And I can tell you that it is all of these things. California wine country looks a bit like the Yorkshire Pennines, but done in gold instead of green, with low rolling hills dotted by crooked and wizened trees. It looks like the drive from Mawmaw's up on Smith Ridge to Aunt Bonnie's down in Kingsport, especially that part around Lebanon – but when the grass has gone dry. And much of these rolling hills are covered in acre upon acre of vines heavy with grapes destined for a sparkling wine glass. In the midst of these ordered rows, sit grand homes from the jumbo sized plantation villa to the ultra-contemporary house of glass. But what I did not know is that parts of Napa are wild and free in the way that fells of the Lake District are – because Beatrix Potter envisioned that and fought to make it so.
We had the honor to spend a day among a group of Napa's citizens who live quietly in one of the few remaining wilderness areas in wine country and, much like their counterparts in Eastern Kentucky, they love their mountain, their forests, and the animals who share them. But they are facing their own kind of mountain top removal where the mountain won't be blown up but cut up – 3000 acres of it. 500 acres of old growth oak forest, gone. The scarce water supply hurried into reservoirs which will serve the vine before the people downstream. And what water does trickle down will be thick with sediment from erosion. How will the company get it all done. Roads, blasting, and gravel crushing. Does this sound familiar?
And what are they mining? Wine and tourist dollars.
Driving through wine country, you can't throw a stick without hitting a winery, but a developer from out of state – who also has interests in oil and fracking – thinks that one more winery, maybe the daddy of them all, ought to be built across some of the last remaining wilderness up here.
"I come from the mountains, Kentucky's my home
where the wild deer and black bear so lately did roam.
By the cool rushing waterfall the wildflowers dream
and through every green valley, there runs a clear stream.
Now there's scenes of destruction on every hand
and only black waters run down through my land."
– Jean Ritchie, 1971
"When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?"
– Pete Seeger, 1955
Please hold the people of the East Napa Valley Watershed in the light as they try to save the wilderness and the home they love.