Small business owners and entrepreneurs have always been the backbone of California’s economy. No one can deny the courage of those individuals who risk all for an idea and a dream. For the vintners, growers, restauranteurs, and small business owners who live and work in California’s wine country, that courage was sorely tested last week as the wildfires raged through some of the state’s most beautiful counties. The wine business, for all its bucolic romance, can be cruel.
According to the Wine Institute, California is the fourth-largest wine producer in the world with more than 4,600 wineries, mainly family-owned businesses. In 2015, the state’s wine business employed about 325,000 people, generated $57.6 billion in annual economic activity, $7.6 billion in taxes, and $17.2 billion in wages. It also produces about $7 billion in annual tourist income from the nearly 24 million visitors to California wineries each year.
“The wildfires have been extraordinarily destructive across Napa and Sonoma and residents continue to face new anxieties every day,” said David White, founder and editor of wine blog Terroirist.com and author of But First, Champagne: A Modern Guide to the World’s Favorite Wine. White, however, believes that the news so far show that the long-term impact on the wine industry appears to be minimal. “Vineyards serve as a natural firebreak, so they protected many populated areas; about 90 percent of this year’s grapes had already been harvested, so most of the 2017 vintage will be bottled unscathed; and since most winemaking and wine storage facilities have been spared, the impact on bottled and barreled wine should be minimal.”
In the short-term, however, the economic impact could be very damaging. “October is the height of wine country tourist season,” said White. “So wineries, restaurants, and other small businesses have been forced to close and thousands of residents are going without work — and thus without pay.”
It’s always been tough to be a small business owner in California. PRI’s 50-State Small Business Regulation Index ranks California 50th – dead last – among all states in terms of regulatory burdens. Lightening the regulatory load of California’s small business owners, including growers, vintners, restauranteurs, and bed & breakfast owners, just to name a few, will not only help wine country recover, but also revitalize the entire state’s economy.
Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute.