NAPA, Calif. (KTVU) - California’s Wine Country heavily depends on visitors – both local and from around the world – to support the economy. The wildfires, which are now almost completely contained, have kept an enormous amount of tourists out of the area.
Today reporters were invited by local politicians and businesses to ride one of the most visible symbols of that dependency: the Napa Valley Wine Train. In short, Wine Country wants to turn the corner from emergency to recovery while the weather is still spectacular.
Five Napa Valley mayors, two Napa County Supervisors and state Senator Bill Dodd, invited the media to underscore the critical need for tourism to return sooner than later because this is usually the busiest time of the year.
"It's very important to the local economy, all the cities and the counties and very much open for business," said State Senator Bill Dodd/(D) North Bay.
For today's noon run, the Napa Valley Wine train carried 65 paying passengers – far short of its 370 passenger capacity per trip. The century old Pullman cars travel along a railway first laid during the California Gold Rush. It makes two runs a day.
"You know, the bulk of our workforce are not wealthy people and so, it's been very important that we get the word out because had to shut the train down for a week," said Gregory Brun, a Wine Train partner.
Damon Combs was one the paying passengers. "I called last week and they were shut down. So, I called again and they said they opened back up again and everything was good to go. So, I wanted to do this for our anniversary today," said Combs.
There’s two main reasons that not enough folks are coming. One is concerns about the air quality, and two, the belief that Napa Valley has been totally destroyed. "As you can see today, the air quality is great; it has been and will be. And the Valley floor, which is what visitors really experience. is completely intact," said Wine Train Owner Scott Goldie.
"I think you gain if you come right now. You're more likely to get into the restaurants you couldn't normally get into in October. You're gonna get into hotels that you wouldn't be able to get up and just say, 'I'll go to Napa today and the wineries are the same wine,'" said Napa Mayor Jill Techel.
That's true from Napa in the south to Calistoga in the north. "We've been known as a hospitality community since the late 1800's. It's how we make our living. Same for the rest of the Napa Valley," said Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning.
Agricultural areas are always subject to the ups and downs. But, it's the people, such as Wendy Tognetti, whose family lost three homes to the fire, that have no intention of leaving, ever. "We're planted in Napa. We're happy to be in Napa to be on the vineyards my children have grown up with," said Ms. Tognetti.
There is a reason that people come from all over the planet to visit this true slice of paradise.