FRESNO — One of the dirty secrets of California's Wine Country is now on everyone's lips.
Somehow a voracious grape-eating moth has found its way nonstop from Europe to the heart of the Napa Valley, the land of three-figure cabernet. With valuable fruit at risk, the region's fast and loose play with federal agriculture quarantine laws is getting new scrutiny from investigators and researchers.
Suitcase smuggling is the winked-at act of sneaking in cane cuttings to clone vines from France's premier vineyards, hoping to replicate success. Vintners say it helped build a handful of exceptional vineyards in the 1980s when U.S. plant choices were limited and import testing took seven years.
As California clamps a quarantine across the heart of Napa Valley and farmers ready their pesticides, nobody is winking anymore. A new Napa reality is setting in— that lax attitudes invite costly invasions of new pests that can threaten the country's most expensive and economically productive farmland.
"There are people who continue to spin their tales of smuggled plant material. People like a story with a glass of wine, and what that tends to do is legitimize behavior that not only threatens the industry, it's illegal," said Greg Clark, deputy agricultural commissioner for Napa County. "Knock it off."