NAPA by James Conaway


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The people, places, and wines that made Napa Valley famous--all richly chronicled by the author of The Kingdom in the Country, 1987, etc. Only a few years after commercial winemaking began in Napa Valley in 1858, the wines of Charles Krug and the Beringer brothers were winning prizes in expositions around the world. At the turn of the century, though, phylloxera (an unkillable bug that massacred the vines) and a depression that knocked wine prices down to ten cents a gallon devastated the vineyards of California. With the arrival of Prohibition, most of the surviving vineyards went under and--despite the valley's rich soil and brilliant sunshine--most of its great estates remained shuttered into the 1960's while its grape harvest went to make cheap jug wines. The quality of the grapes won out, however, as former bankers, professors, spies, and other adventurers came to Napa determined to own their own wineries and make great wines. Though more than one speculator discovered that the easiest way to make a small winemaking fortune is to start with a large one, a few succeeded--and the world began to take note of the valley's new cabernets, merlots, and zinfandels. In the Seventies, Napa bristled with disputes over land use, land ownership, and the naming of wines--ego-laden battles that left as much a mark on the landscape as did the vines. In spite of this, as the Eighties approached and the wines and winemakers evolved, the world once again came to recognize what the first pioneers saw--that Napa valley was capable of producing some glorious wines. Conaway's tale captures the essence of Napa as effortlessly as its best wine evokes the sun, soil, and harvest of a single California year.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin