Many people found Mary Koberstein’s campaign email titled “Community,” sent October 8, 2020, both insensitive and somewhat offensive.  Just as members of the community started returning back to their homes after the Glass Fire, some of whom may have had to flee for their lives with no time to pack anything at all; some who spent a week or more in uncertain evacuation with very few options as to where to go; and many who returned to find their homes, their businesses, their life’s work, and their memories reduced to a pile of ash, they were treated to Mary’s account of her “ordeal:”

“Like many St. Helenans, our family was forced to leave our home in a hurry on September 27th. We packed our dog Francee into the car. My husband Richard grabbed his cane–he’s had some trouble walking lately–and I took the laptops, some French cutlery, two decent wine glasses and a bottle of Relic (St Helenans flee with St Helenan wine, right?).” 

What this shows more than anything, else is how out-of-touch mayoral candidate Mary Koberstein is with the St. Helena community that exists outside her bubble. Rather than two decent wine glasses and a bottle of wine, after the Go Bag, important papers,  and computers, our thoughts went straight to irreplaceable family photos, especially of our parents and our kids. 

But it’s also worth taking a closer look at where that bottle of Relic she cherished so much actually came from. . . . .because not only was it not from St. Helena, it helps tell the tale of what is happening elsewhere in Napa County, where elected officials are often in the pockets of well-funded developers.

Relic Winery is located on Soda Canyon Rd., a narrow, winding, mountain road that begins on the east side of  the Silverado Trail just south of Oak Knoll and doubles back to the north along the flanks of Atlas Peak to end in beautiful Foss Valley.  This is “rural” Napa, and a number of hardy pioneer families still live there.  

In describing Relic, and another particularly unpopular winery among the local residents, Bill Hocker, diligent archivist for The Soda Canyon Road, had this to say:

“Relic Winery and the Caves at Soda Canyon are the two wineries that have been approved on our road since the loosening of tourism restriction in 2010. Both are on properties just over 10 acres in size. Both properties have no grapes and no residence. Both have steep winding one-lane access drives with constricted access onto Soda Canyon Road. As wineries both are unnecessary. They have been built solely to offer tourist venues with views of the more remote rural areas of the county – at the expense of the residential community that the road serves.”

The Saga of Relic Wine is somewhat reflective of the relentless assault on our hillsides and watershed by wineries and event centers and the deaf ear the Napa County Board of Supervisors turns toward local residents, whose primary concerns are safety. During the Atlas Peak Fire in 2017, after the Relic Winery was approved over the objections of the residents, 118 of the 163 residences on Soda Canyon Road or its offshoots were completely destroyed and another 16 were damaged. People fleeing for their lives had to drive their cars through flames to escape. Others were airlifted to safety. And two people lost their lives. 

We can all be thankful that no one lost their life during the Glass Fire, but still grieve for our friends and neighbors who lost their homes, their memories, and their livelihoods. But most importantly, we can show a little compassion and respect for those who have lost so much by not flaunting a bottle of wine.

We have an important election coming up–one that will not only define us as a nation, but one that will define the future of our community, as well. And though some would have you think otherwise, there is a way to move forward and thrive that doesn’t have come at the expense of our small town, the people, the families, and the values we all hold dear. But it’s going to take the kind of resilience, creativity, and compassion shown by Mayor Geoff Ellsworth and Leslie Stanton and David Knudsen to get us there otherwise we may end up as just another spot on a tourist’s map of places to visit in Drunk Disneyland. 

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and . . . then retreated back into their money . . . and let other people clean up the mess they had made.

–F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby



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