The Big Salad
Living in Napa is like wandering through a giant salad bowl at the Whole Foods Market, with it's glossy and beautiful bounty of everything at the peak of perfection. Women with perfectly highlighted hair and high ponytails dance around in workout pants between trolling their kids to school, soccer practice, or gymnastics. The ladies are also seen stopping at the hardware store to pick up an aluminum rod for Bobby's science project the next day while seeming to subtly gloat and giggle with the clerk about how cool her kid's private school is and what a big adventure life is. They are also seen saying hello to friends and aquaintances in front of the store because it turns out this town which seems big because it has a Target is actually quite small. They are also seen driving between newly renovated and modernized wine and vine themed strip malls, to the Whole Foods, Ulta Beauty, and Bed Bath and Beyond, looking for the closest parking spot, wiping a small smudge off their Beamer without changing their step.
The American Dream has indeed arrived in Napa. Sam across the street, retired, has both a speed boat and a 5th Wheel Camper. When we knocked at his door in need of help with our trailer, he answered laughing in a way that was intended to make us jealous because he had obviously been napping. He had been very anxious about his new microwave oven that will arrive shortly and adds that he's been "chomping at the bit" without it. He has everything this car-centric town needs at his fingertips with his long driveway and well appointed garage, and luckily, he still has his health and his wife. Looking up over the big bowl of sunshine that is the Napa Valley, a bright yellow hot air balloon passes over us. It's ridiculous.
About 70% of people seem to be involved in some way in the Wine Industry. It makes sense because moments beyond my friend's house in the suburbs I can be running in the wine fields. Beyond every curve along the road is a breathtakingly beautiful vignette that you just have to pause and enjoy because it's almost impossible to capture on camera. And along just about every country road, some official agency has put clearly written blue signs indicating and subsequently supporting the various wineries nearby. And just about every custom license plate has a wine reference like "WineGuy28" or "1Wine1Man".
Having been immersed in the Northwest culture of beer, the culture of Wine is very new to us. Sure we've been to fancy pompous and upscale breweries, but nothing compares to the grandiose wineries built on what we know to be very expensive patches of land. We had no choice than to come to the conclusion that there is clearly a lot of money in the wine industry, at least for some. What is also very clear that this is a culture of fancy, evidenced in the architectural splendor of the estates. Looking across the neatly trimmed winter dormant vineyards, we thought, "how many bottles of wine does a vine produce?"
Turns out an average vine produces about 4 bottles, but then you have to take into consideration the issue of time. Waiting for the vines to grow, ageing, waiting for the rain, which actually is not so much of a problem this year. And so while it may seem on the surface that everyone in Napa is in the hurry to make a buck or motivated by the fortune on the horizon, I can certainly appreciate the pace of wine and story of the land that evolves as a bottle ages.
Wine is special, and this is certainly supported by the ostentatious wineries that seem like they leapt out of the pages of Architectural digest or were lifted off the hills of Tuscany. The subculture of social status advancements, brand development and the appearance of sheer luxury may have nothing to do with the taste of the wine, but everything to do with pride in the time that it takes to mature. To arrive, I suppose, in the right car at the right time when the party is in full swing. Wine tasting notes, which require experience and dedication, may actually be of secondary importance to fitting in.
Diversity is nearly non-existent in the heart of the the Napa Valley as everybody seems to dress alike. Cars and home are various shades of neutral colors, lawns are modest, healthy foods are pre-packaged, and the aforementioned workout pants are worn everywhere. The dark side of Napa is kept fairly well hidden along a bike path on the other side of the rail tracks, and under a bridge near the in progress rejuvenation of the downtown area after the big earthquake they had a few years ago. The people at Safeway are just hoping some day they will be able to shop at Whole Foods, but for now, they are making due on their path to the perfect salad. And so with Trump recently elected president and a lot of American values now coming into question, I find it inspiring that the people of Napa are highly motivated to move forward and upward and be better and better every day, but I also think a lot about what it would be like if someone spoke out and disagreed that a single form of better isn't always best.
However, I still do like a good salad.