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Wineries Encroach on Seventh-day Adventist Community : ‘Holy Hill’ Fears the Grapes of Wrath

Times Staff Writer

Wine flows like water through most of the Napa Valley, where this small, predominantly Seventh-day Adventist college town sits amid forests and vineyards.

But to residents here, the liquid that has made the valley famous is about to ruin their community and the values it holds dear. Plans have been announced for two wineries to go into operation on the south and westboundaries of Angwin’s Pacific Union College.

“The wineries are causing no end of tension, stress and hard feelings in our community,” insisted Herbert Ford, 56, vice president for development at the school, who added:

“Wineries are not compatible with this community.”

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Ironically, the 76-year-old Adventist settlement, most of whose 2,000 inhabitants frown on the consumption of alcoholic beverages, is located in the heart of America’s most famous wine country.

Angwin, on top of 1,665-foot Mt. Howell, lies eight miles by road above St. Helena and California 29, the boulevard of vineyards and wineries cutting through the Napa Valley.

Residents of the valley call Angwin “Dry Town” and “Holy Hill.”

Last Tuesday, townspeople of Angwin appeared before the Napa County Board of Supervisors with petitions signed by 762 of the 900 local voters requesting that a recently issued permit for the Woltner Estates Winery be revoked.

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The supervisors unanimously denied the request, saying they could not legislate on a moral issue. “I don’t think it’s up to this board to deny a permit for a winery in Napa County,” said Supervisor Jay Goetting, echoing the sentiments of other board members.

Lou Ann Graham, office manager for Woltner, said she was astonished that there would be opposition to a winery in, of all places, Napa Valley, where there are 145 wineries.

The plateau and slopes of Mt. Howell have a history of vineyards and wineries dating to 1877, when two Frenchmen, Jean Baun and Jean Chaix, arrived from Medoc in the heart of the Bordeaux region in France.

By the turn of the century, they had won international acclaim for their Angwin Chardonnay wine. They later sold their interest, and wine production on the mountain eventually ended with Prohibition. It resumed on a very small scale in the 1930s and 1940s.

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Francis Dewavrin-Woltner, a wine producer from the same town in France as Baun and Chaix, was attracted to the mountain because of its history and four years ago bought the 181 Dewavrin-Woltner cleared the mountain top of timber to the west of the campus and planted 60 acres of grapevines. This year he plans to harvest his first crop and make it into wine in the huge 1886 stone winery built by Baun and Chaix that has stood vacant for the last 40 years. On the south side of the campus, Robert Burrows of San Francisco is clearing 40 acres of forest for vineyards. He planted an adjacent 60 acres in grapevines last year. Burrows has plans to reactivate another century-old stone winery, now called La Liparita.

Other companies plan to estab lish vineyards and wineries on the north and east sides of the campus.

Woltner’s wine maker, Ted Lemon, 27, who came here this month from France where he’s been pursuing his craft for four years, said the top of the mountain is an ideal place to grow grapes and make wine.

“Grapes here have an intensity of flavor that is unique,” Lemon said. “The mountain gets more sunshine than Napa Valley. It is cooler here at night.

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‘We are sensitive to the feelings of the religious community in Angwin. We realize their opposition to alcoholic consumption. We know they will never be happy about wineries embracing the campus. But we are living in a modern world. Hopefully, we will be able to maintain courteous and respectful relations.”

Residents of Angwin fear that once the wineries are established, they will encourage visits to tasting rooms. The people of Angwin are afraid that the narrow mountain roads will be jammed with winery traffic.

James Byrd, head of public safety at the 2,000-acre Pacific Union College, said, “There are enough accidents on these mountain roads now without adding intoxicated drivers.”

The school is one of a dozen Adventist colleges in the nation. Pacific Union, which has an enrollment of 1,400, owns and operates Angwin Plaza, the town’s only commercial center, which includes a supermarket, bakery, gas station, bookstore, cleaners, bank and post office.

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No liquor or cigarettes are sold in the supermarket or anywhere in town. Not even vinegar is sold, because it too contains wine. Nor is meat, poultry or fish sold in the town’s only grocery store. Adventists are strict vegetarians. The only meat sold here is in pet food.

Instead of meat, shelves and refrigerator sections are filled with vegetarian substitutes for hot dogs, hamburgers, cold cuts, steaks, roasts, corned beef, salami, smoked beef and chicken.

College students caught drinking or smoking are expelled. There is fear that some students and townspeople may be tempted to visit the wineries when tasting rooms open.

“It is sad that after all these years, life in this peaceful, quiet, isolated town will never be the same,” Ford said. “Our beautiful forests are being knocked down and replaced by vineyards.

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“Now, Angwin, called ‘Holy Hill’ by many, long a sanctuary of religious life, will, I suppose, also become famous for its wines. Soon, the mountain will be contributing to the nation’s No. 1 public health problem, alcoholism.

“And, there is nothing we can do about it.”


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