Ag Land Preservation and Open Space
While it may appear to the casual observer that Napa County is bursting with grape vines, the truth is that only nine percent of Napa County is planted in vineyards and less than three percent remains suitable for future grape planting, according to the findings of the Napa County Watershed Task Force. Napa County encompasses 485,120 acres in total and just 45,275 acres are planted in vineyards.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, landowners realized that the encroaching urban growth to the south all but guaranteed that their land values were about to increase exponentially. Left unchecked much of the Valley could by now have become paved over and covered in tract-homes and strip-malls similar to Santa Clara Valley, once a thriving agricultural area.
Napa Green: A History of Sustainability
In 1968, Napa Valley vintners and others in the community had the forethought to preserve open space and prevent future over-development by enacting the nation's first Agriculture Preserve. Since its adoption, not one acre of land has been removed from the preserve. This land-zoning ordinance established agriculture and open space as the "best use" for the land in the "fertile valley and foothill areas of Napa County." Initially the ordinance protected 23,000 acres of agricultural land stretching from Napa in the south to Calistoga. Today, more than 38,000 acres are contained within the Preserve.
Thirty years ago, in the formative stages of today's Napa Valley wine industry, local vintners joined the community's successful opposition to Caltrans plans for a freeway running up the valley. Twenty years ago, vintners and others promoted the successful passage of Measure A. Eleven years ago, the "2020 Initiative" was passed to hold all county land zonings in place through the year 2020 unless changed by a 2/3 vote of the people.
Local vintners are well into a second-generation effort to preserve the Valley. Working with the the Land Trust of Napa County, vintners are joining other property owners in placing their land into Conservation Easements. These easements dictate how designated parcels will be used in perpetuity - without a sunset date.
Approximately 53,000 acres of Napa County acreage is forever guaranteed to remain rural through the Conservation Easement program. Thousands of these acres have been set aside by local vintners. Those who place their land in these easements are making a bottom line sacrifice. Another 16,000 acres are protected under the Williamson Act, a program that provides incentives to keep land in agriculture production and open space.
Vintners have played a big role in the history of Napa Valley's preservation. And we will continue to play a vital role in ensuring that the pastoral beauty and intact natural environment that we all enjoy today still exists for future generations.