After reading a review by Manuel Colmenero Larriba of Lluis Tolosa's new book España no es California, in which he discusses the issue of attracting tourists to Spanish wine regions, I thought of all the news I have been recieving recently about Napa- new restaurants with celebrity chefs, new state of the art wineries, luxe resort openings, and had mixed feelings on the topic. Spanish tourism is underdeveloped in most of its wine regions, even in Rioja this spring my parents had problems finding wineries with tours in English on the days they were there, and generally lacking information on where to go and what to do. Undoubtedly there are business opportunities being missed that would benefit the wineries, the regions, and the country's reputation as well as the tourists themselves. However, after reading the descriptions of Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto's new Napa restaurant, which is called, so there is no confusion, Morimoto Napa, and will eventually sit alongside two other celebrity restaurants, one by Tyler Florence, and Stephen Barber, I couldn't help but think- Vegas.
Not that there is anything wrong per se with Las Vegas, but it called to mind the boom there a few years back with all the over the top restaurants where the celebrity chefs only flew in periodically and the housing bubble that accompanied it, and the pattern worries me. More so because so much of Napa Valley's charm is in the land and the already existing icons. There is no shortage of amazing food to be found, from The French Laundry to Terra to more low key favorites like Gott's, and much of the charm is driving through the stunning scenery, albeit probably quite slowly due to the traffic, and knowing despite corporate buyouts of many wineries, a large amount are still held in family hands, and the Valley is still lovely because those families fight to keep it a place they want to live.
I love Napa, and I could be wrong to worry about the direction in which it's headed, after all it has still retained its allure despite being a serious tourist attraction since the 1980's. But as Spanish wine regions like Somontano decide which measures to take to build tourism, I think they should seriously consider their end goals, and make sure the road they choose is sustainable. It's good to offer tourists a range of good dining and accomodation options, and ways to learn about the region and the wines, but ideally the end result should preserve and enhance the original treasure- the vineyards and wineries. It's a tricky line to walk.