Irish Potatoes and Sonoma Valley Wine
In October the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau unveiled the fruit of a months-long effort to rebrand the Sonoma Valley for the purpose of defining a fresh message that will attract more visitors during weekdays in the off-season. The goal: to raise off-season lodging occupancy from 64 to 70 percent.
Visitors Bureau Executive Director Jonny Westom explained, “It’s all about building the brand; it’s all about identifying our way of life.”
And “brand strategist” Duane Knapp, hired by the Visitors Bureau to help guide the process, instructed the audience at a brand unveiling in the Sebastiani Theatre that successful communities, “are focused on a disciplined strategy to create an exceptional destination that is attractive for residents, guests, businesses, new investments and developments.”
To our relief, the finished product was a modest refresh with the simple slogan, “Experience Sonoma Valley California,” scripted in a pleasing typeface and accompanied by a message of encouragement for everyone in town to be on message.
We appreciate the Visitors Bureau’s efforts and we congratulate them for a job well done. But clearly we aren’t alone in observing that branding has ultimately little if anything to do with the quality of life in any community without the essential ingredients that truly define community success: sufficient affordable housing, transportation circulation and access that minimizes gridlock, jobs and wage scales that residents can live on and schools that provide quality education.
There is a compelling argument to increase tourist traffic, because the economy of the Valley of the Moon is based on tourism and the wine industry that attracts it. But the other side of that coin is the harsh truth that if you live by the vine, you may die by the vine.
To too great a degree, Sonoma Valley is an economic monoculture, and while there is no indication wine consumption will soon decline, there is an inherent danger in overdependence on the wine economy. Healthy economies, like healthy ecologies, demand diversity. Witness the Irish potato famine, a calamity with many causes but tragically exaggerated by the peasant population’s dependence on a single variety of potato vulnerable to a singular form of blight. When the blight struck in 1845, Ireland’s entire potato crop was struck and largely ruined in a few weeks. Before it ended a few years later, more than a million people died and another million migrated.
We’re not Ireland and we don’t grow potatoes, but if we want to preserve the quality of life we cherish in this Valley, we need to create strategies that go way beyond branding to address the foundation issues of housing, jobs, traffic, education, recreation and, yes, climate change.
Branding is fine, but if we start to lose the qualities people come here to experience, if only the rich and richly retired can afford to live here, if the streets are so packed both residents and tourists that they are gridlocked, the tourists will go somewhere else.
With that happy holiday message, we hope you enjoy the eclectic variety of unusual, offbeat, affordable and outrageously expensive gifts we’ve assembled for your holiday shopping. Practice a little gifting creativity and there’s really no reason to shop outside the Valley.
The happiest of holidays and the merriest of Christmases to all.
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