I will caveat this rant with the proclamation that I love living in the Napa Valley. There is no place I would rather live and raise my family. That being said, I feel like the area has gotten more overpriced and exclusionary than ever. I have to wonder if in catering to the all mighty tourist, have we overlooked the very people who live in our communities. Those that make the Napa Valley what it is today—one of the most amazing wine regions in the world.
Lately my mornings play out something like this. Twin tots throw Cheerios like confetti and fly off furniture clad in capes and superhero garb, as they shout: “Girl power rules!” The fact that my son screams more loudly than my daughter is an indicator that times are indeed changing—not only in my home, but up and down the valley, as people do their own chants for equality, including at the Women’s Summit Napa Valley, held at Charles Krug winery in August.
As Andy Warhol once said, “I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want to own.” I shot into this world a city girl, from the outskirts of Washington D.C. As an adult I wanted bigger, better, more, so I graduated to larger cities, Tampa Bay, New York City and Los Angeles, before surprising family and friends when I made Napa Valley my forever home 10 years ago. There are countless differences when it comes to city versus country living, but as unrest around the primary election in June still swings, I’m most interested in what it means to “have a voice” in small-town USA, in contrast to big cities.
Nothing says summer like concerts in the park, Fourth of July parades, barbeques, and rosé swishing in the glass. As a woman who opts to wear pink on six out of the seven days of the week, rosé could easily be an accessory as much as a picnic accompaniment, but like the gradations of pink in my wardrobe, rosés come in many shades and styles. Just as one might ponder if an outfit is too bright, muted or tasteless, there is much to consider when it comes to picking the perfect rosé for one’s palate and preferences.
Almost immediately upon signing with the publisher who would release my debut novel to the world, one thing was made clear, more like mandated—social media would be used to promote the book. My publisher was willing to invest, but they expected me to do the same—on social media.
I recently came across James Conaway’s new book, Napa at Last Light: Americas Eden in an Age of Calamity. Calamity is not a word to toss around lightly, especially to someone like me, who has, on more than one occasion, been called a Calamity Jane. Not many could get away with speaking about Napa Valley as an agrarian ideal in one breath and a viticultural Disneyland in the next. In the forward alone, his tale goes from adoration to what feels like a eulogy to the Napa Valley that once was. A time before our humble valley became a mecca of wine, commerce—and if you’re talking to Conaway—a calamity in the making.
I was raised in a household that bent to the right, so the idea of seeing women in positions of power on the political front, was unthinkable. Now, as mid-century status beckons, it’s less about what side of the fence I lean on, and more about being open and ready for action.
Last year I received multiple notices that read: “Important Information About Your Drinking Water.” These notices detailed all the ways in which Calistoga drinking water is polluted. The data stings, but it’s not news. I’ve known our water stinks, metaphorically and literally, for years. Ever since I was pregnant with the twins, I’ve been unable to stomach the stench of our tap water. On a good day, it smells musty and moldy. On moderate ones, more like swamp water. And on the worst of days (often), poopy diapers.
Communities are resilient. A fact that always amazes me every time hard times hit. It’s not that I’m expecting people not to band together, because that’s what we do. Especially in a tightly knit community like Napa Valley. Signs of thanks to our firefighters and first responders paint our city and town streets more than a month after the wildfires hit. In a valley where the livelihood dives and thrives with the whims of Mother Nature, our people and grapes are built to withstand it all. Like the loyal hounds that chase winery owners through vineyard rows, we lick our wounds, and then get back to business. If you live here, you know this. As for the rest of the world—it’s a message that needs to be spread—Napa Valley is still standing—and ready to pour.
Today is the first day in a week that I’ve sat down to write on my computer. This says something for someone who is incessantly tied to her devices and has been called a laptop whore on more than one occasion. I started this column a week ago on the heels of my twins’ fourth birthday bash in October that was held at Old Faithful Geyser in Calistoga, a fixture of an establishment on Tubbs Lane, which happens to grant locals a 50 percent discount on admission.
In January 2015, a group of concerned citizens banded together to form the community coalition Napa Vision 2050—to protect the health, safety and welfare of the Napa community. If the standing room only crowd at September’s town hall meeting in St. Helena was an indicator, the group’s momentum is gaining.
Nine years ago, I moved to the Napa Valley, and left a grueling job in advertising (and Los Angeles gridlock) behind me. Soon after I landed, I met winemaker Kirk Venge at a Cheers St. Helena social, and regaled him with my dreams of becoming a wine writer. He smiled that wide- mouthed grin that only a man of Kirk’s stature and size can conjure, and offered to help. A few days later I was on the trail to “chase grapes” with him. This translated into me running to keep up as we traversed hundreds of vineyards, tasting and testing for levels of ripeness and acidity, so he could determine the precise moment to pick. A couple days would turn into a season as his official grape sampler, where each day would end, hands stained, eyelids sagging, and a body beaten to the core—but ready to rinse and repeat the next day.
An informal phone conversation went from cordial to curt when I learn corkage is no longer free and ask the simple question: Why?
Despite all the turmoil swirling around the wine industry, our restaurant and hospitality scene soldiered on.
The only way I can imagine any person or business agreeing to such an overextended project was a failure to read the fine print.
I’ve never known wines to have personalities, but then again I hate Pinot Noirs, so what do I know.
Now a regular at the Barrel Auction, I delight in seeing what changes from one year to the next as well as reveling in those things that never do.
You can only say “I’m sorry,” so many times; an offering of wine says what words can’t.
In the midst of hot debates over growth and regulation, Napa Valley finds a way to remain authentic.
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