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US – California tribe targets Napa Valley

By - 22 May 2014

The Mishewal Wappo Tribe of Alexander Valley California have said that a gambling complex is a project that the tribe might pursue, among a number of potential developments, should their court battle with the US Federal government succeed.

However, the tribe’s suggestion of a casino has have angered county officials and winemakers who have said it would damage the land and environment that gives unique properties to the area’s signature Cabernet Sauvignon and other regional varietals.

Janet Viader, of Viader Vineyards & Winery near St. Helena, said: “We’re not against them getting recognition, what we don’t like is the threat of the exact type of development that we’ve been saying ‘no’ to for 60 years, we’re about protecting the right to grow agriculture and continue our trade.”

Leaders of the tribe are currently in the process of suing the US in a bid to restore their “federal status”, lost under a 1958 statute which affected small tribal groups in California, which would allow the tribe to “pursue economic development”, and potentially build the casino, without the need for community approval.

Scott Gabaldon, the tribe’s chairman, said he wants his group to gain federal recognition before deciding whether a casino will be among the projects his members pursue. He said: “There are so many other ways to do economic development rather than just a casino. Now, don’t get me wrong, a casino is the fastest, most-efficient, money-making way.”

Tribal casinos are projected to provide US$236m in revenue for California in 2015, according to the state’s Finance Department, while the retail value of wines from the Napa Valley appellation sold in the US in 2011 was US$5.5bn.

Larry Florin, the county’s director of housing and intergovernmental affairs, said: “A casino in Napa would be completely inappropriate. The ecological balance — the climate, water, the lack of industrial uses — together create the types of grapes that are in such large demand that are the basis for our wine that’s world-renowned. Any upset in that balance really threatens our livelihood.”

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