THE FAR SIDE OF EDEN by James Conaway


New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley
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Visions and desires clash memorably in the bottle green valley of the Napa River.

The Napa Valley has a long agricultural history, from prunes to cattle, and, of course, winemaking, but the rise of the boutique operations has brought contention, with all their ostentatious cultural baggage and, in a number of cases, deleterious environmental impacts. Conaway (Napa, 1992, etc.) paints a grim picture of the changes afoot in the valley: the steroid houses, monuments to money and their absentee owners; the hunger for a vineyard of one's own—not that the owners would get their hands dirty, these would be vanity vineyards—for display purposes; the making of cult wines, the swells needing an imprimatur that associated them with the oldest expression of husbandry and cultural accomplishment, thinking its spiritual worth would rub off on them. Problem was that in the “lost decade of the nineties,” there wasn't any land down in the valley for sale, so the arrivistes had to buy the hillsides, where their plantings—homes and vines—resulted in erosion, the runoff fouling water supplies. Such changes signaled that a way of life was ending, the small town's sense of proportion and responsibility, and inevitably horns were locked over development. The majority of Conaway's work details the struggle between and among various local organizations to pass land-use laws, or simply to have existing laws enforced, and winemakers bent on maximizing profits, where another row of vines another step closer to the stream means many thousands of dollars. Conaway's sketches of the personalities involved—a bouillabaisse of wealthy honchos, countercultural trust-fund folk, local politicos, environmentalists, old winemakers and new—can be wicked, but he tries to present a relatively fair picture of their concerns and circumstances as they jockey for position in the evolving landscape of the valley.

What Napa was, what it is, where it's going: Conaway weighs them in the balance, and shudders.

Pub Date: Oct. 24th, 2002
ISBN: 0-618-06739-6
Page count: 378pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2002


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