Harmless profiles of Napa Valley residents, mostly folks involved in the wine business, from freelancer Barron. Barron wants to take the measure of California's fabled wine region, ""discover its essential qualities,"" get inside that hybrid society, with its stew of nationalities, temperaments, and expectations. As she sees it, there is no better way to get to know a place than through portraits of its populace (drinking in the landscape is ""time wasted""). The profile of Swiss vineyard owner Donald Hess is typical: goodly page space given to family history (Donald was particularly fond of the family cook), discussions of food and architecture, a tour of the home and garden, what it means -- oenologically and metaphysically -- to make a bottle of wine. Andrâ€š Tchelistcheff -- Russian transplant, winemaker, teacher, legend -- gets the same gentle, meandering treatment, as does Joe Heitz (of German descent): a grump, francophobe, and maker of the famed Martha's Vineyard Cabernet. Barron admires the ""simple, shared cherishing of the land and its produce,"" a way of life the Louis Martini family might have patented, their operation typical of the down-home, old-style Italian-American winemaking tradition. A clutch of priggish Frenchmen (among them Christian Moueix, late of ChÆ’teau Petrus and its $450 bottles of wine) get less coddled handling from Barron -- she doesn't appreciate the excoriations they heap on California and its wines. Unfortunately, the writing is often wooden (""Once in the Napa Valley you also find yourself in places in the world you have visited or left behind"") and the portraits come across as bland personal snippets -- nobody leaps out of the page at you, nobody causes a stink or sensation. Barron is unable to conjure a big picture of the valley, and her Napa remains a mystery to the reader. Maybe she should have looked at the landscape after all.