How did a place like Napa Valley, with thousands of acres of prime real estate and extraordinary setting, not fall prey to the mad housing, highway, and high-rise construction that characterizes most other former agricultural havens such as Santa Clara? It was a near miss, as county residents fought fiercely in the late 1960s to save the Valley’s rural farming nature.

NAPA COUNTY’S AGRICULTURAL PRESERVE is a pioneering land-zoning ordinance that has prevented over-development in Napa Valley by establishing agriculture and open space as the “best use” for the land.

THE PRIMARY INTENT of the program is to preserve agricultural land by discouraging premature and unnecessary conversion to urban uses. Property owners in the Agricultural Watershed or the defined Agricultural Preserve–mostly, though not exclusively, the unincorporated areas on the Valley floor–voluntarily restrict their land use to farming or open space in return for Napa County tax assessment benefits.
Roadside beauty in Calistoga
TRAILS IN THE AG PRESERVE? Only certain farming-related activities are allowed in the Ag Preserve. Recreational trails, for instance, are not an approved use. That’s why the route of the Napa Valley Vine Trail, a 47-mile continuous multiuse trail that will, when complete, in a few years, stretch from Vallejo’s Ferry all the way to Calistoga, has been designed to stay in existing transportation corridors which are already approved exceptions in the Ag Preserve.
VineTrail bicyclistsTRAILS & ROADS IN FARMLAND: One of the great joys of traveling in Napa Valley is how the roads and trails and drives take you so tantalizingly close to vineyards and orchards. Historically, there are few fences. But those unobstructed country views may not endure: With more people visiting Napa Valley, many growers fear their crops and ag activities are at risk. Roses may be ravaged, plums plucked, grape bunches misguidedly looted as souvenirs. 

Take the AG RESPECT PLEDGE and be partner in keeping Napa Valley beautiful and productive!

This informative Paul Franson essay “HOW 40 YEARS OF AGRICULTURAL PRESERVATION TRANSFORMED NAPA VALLEY” is downloadable on the Napa Valley Vintners’ website, plus a 2012 book of collected interviews with key participants is also available for purchase or download. See details below.

“If Prohibition was society’s worst social experiment, Napa Valley’s Agricultural Preserve is one of its best. For more than a century, our country had set aside land for national parks, scenic byways, historic sites, cultural attractions and recreation areas, but never for agriculture. That changed in 1968 with the establishment of the Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve….”

Volker Eisele, contributor, with Rue Ziegler, author

Volker Eisele with Rue Ziegler, author

Oral Histories of the Ag Preserve book cover

A NEW BOOK: The Ag Preserve was not enacted without a tremendous campaign of persuasion within the county. In February, 2012, this story was told from the mouths of those who lived it in “Oral Histories of Napa County’s Agricultural Preserve.” This book was the result of a three-year effort financed by the Jack L. Davies Napa Valley Agricultural Land Preservation Fund to document the Ag Preserve movement. The chapters are available for free download here or by contacting Schramsberg Vineyards to purchase a hard copy of the book. The stories were compiled by Rue Ziegler, an anthropologist and professor at the University of San Francisco. Here are the dozen key people she interviewed.

• George Abate, Napa County tax assessor in 1968
• Dewey Andersen, Napa County supervisor in 1968
• Volker Eisele, grapegrower, vintner and community leader
• James Hickey, Napa County planning director 1970-1989
• Mervin Lernhart, Napa County Planning Commission legal advisor in 1968
• Thomas May, grape grower and community leader
• Donald McFarland, Napa County planning commissioner in 1968
• Virginia Simms, past member of county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors
• John Tuteur, past member of Board of Supervisors
• Mel Varrelman, past member of Board of Supervisors
• Warren Winiarski, grape grower, vintner, community leader
• Pierce Carson, a Register staff writer who then covered county government.
Read more…