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Saturday, March 2, 2013

The draw of Napa Valley

  It's where wine geeks not only want to visit, but want to live. Their dream is to make a good living at a winery in Napa, live in St. Helena, and dine in Yountville.

  Napa draws wine people like Hollywood draws would-be actors, New York draws chefs, and Washington DC draws those interested in politics.

  The reality, of course, is likely to be a bit different. Several years ago when I ran a tasting room in Napa Valley I'd get lots of unsolicited resumés. The majority were from people from the eastern U.S. looking for any winery job and they wanted $45,000 annually. I don't know where the $45k salary came from, but almost everyone asked for this amount. We were paying $11/hr for tasting room help.

  Many people working in Napa Valley have to find somewhere less expensive to live and commute. The town of Napa in the southern end of Napa Valley used to be the inexpensive place to live because it was still a farm town, but it's now transitioned to a tourist destination and the cost-of-living is getting high there, too. Many of the homes are owned by investors who rent them or people using them for a second home. Who wouldn't want a second home in St. Helena? Personally, I'd take one in Kona, Hawaii, but that's out of the question just like Napa Valley is for most.

Headin' home after a tough day in the vineyards
Image from
  The good news is that if you really want to get into the wine business you can probably still do it. Just don't expect to start at some middle income wage right away. There are lots of lower paying jobs. From there you'll have to work your way into marketing, selling, making wine, whatever you want to do.

  If you think you want to make wine or maybe grow grapes a good place to start is as a harvest intern. Wineries need lots of extra help in the autumn when the grapes ripen. It's hard work and long hours for just a few months. If you want to be on the marketing side the good news is that it's at least a whole lot easier to sell a wine that says Napa on the label than almost anything else.

  The other bit of good news is Napa weathered the recession pretty well and the speculation for premium wine sales is quite optimistic for the coming years.

  Almost any other US wine region will be less expensive to live in compared to Napa Valley, but Yakima and Templeton ain't Napa.