A Tale of Two Valleys : Wine, Wealth and the Battle for the Good Life in Napa and Sonoma
When acclaimed journalist Alan Deutschman came to the California wine country as the lucky house guest of very rich friends, he was surprised to discover a raging controversy. A civil war was being fought between the Napa Valley, which epitomized elitism, prestige and wealthy excess, and the neighboring Sonoma Valley, a rag-tag bohemian enclave so stubbornly backward that rambunctious chickens wandered freely through town. But the antics really began when new-money invaders began pushing out Sonoma's poets and painters to make way for luxury resorts and trophy houses that seemed a parody of opulence. A Tale of Two Valleys captures these stranger-than-fiction locales with the wit of a Tom Wolfe novel and uncorks the hilarious absurdities of life among the wine world's glitterati.Deutschman found that on the weekends the wine country was like a bunch of gracious hosts smiling upon their guests, but during the week the families feuded with each other and their neighbors like the Hatfields and McCoys.
In this brief, intoxicating book, Vanity Fair contributor Deutschman (The Second Coming of Steve Jobs) chronicles the year or so he spent as a freeloading guest at some of the finest homes in the Sonoma and Napa valleys in the heart of California's near-mythic wine country. He eavesdrops on conversations at the cafe and bookstore, talks to locals at the Tuesday farmer's market and indulges in bottle after bottle of fine wine (one even costing half a million dollars) at the best tables. While he is not shy about writing about his personal pleasure with life in the valley, he is no mere hedonist. He's also a fine reporter, who documents the force new tech money pouring in from Silicon Valley is exerting on the shabby gentility of the wine region. After revisiting some of the same territory covered earlier by James Conaway in Napa and The Far Side of Eden, Deutschman picks up the story in present-day Sonoma with the community's efforts to defeat the very same kind of luxury resorts that first made Napa the darling of glossy travel magazines. He serves up the drama glass by glass, starting with a rather mellow debate over loose chickens in the town square, building to the battle between the town folk and a luxury hotel developer, and culminating in an election fight between the new professional class and the bohemians for control of the Sonoma City Council. What remains longest in the memory are his portraits of the wine makers themselves-some known stars, such as Jean Phillips, proprietor of cult winery Screaming Eagle, and others less so. Rarely has such an exclusive world and its inhabitants been made so accessible. (Apr.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 07, 2003
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Excerpt from A Tale of Two Valleys by Alan Deutschman
THE DENSE, DOGGED TRAFFIC persisted across the Golden Gate Bridge and all through the Marin County suburbs. The freeway's congestion continued for a twenty-mile stretch. Then, as a city dweller, I felt a quiet thrill and a sense of anticipation to see "Sonoma" in reflective letters on the green sign suspended over the roadway. Few place names held a sense of promise in their very sound, the way they did to Proust's narrator as he surveyed a map, but "Sonoma" was one.
The word worked like an incantation, for as I turned off of Highway 101 and swung sharply eastward, the trappings of suburban sprawl disappeared almost instantly. The motels and fast-food drive-throughs and office parks and housing tracts were suddenly banished. There were open fields on either side of the road. It began to feel like the country, but the remnants of modernity were still too near to be certain. A first-time visitor wouldn't be sure whether this was just an anomalous patch that somehow had defied development but would soon give way to the pervasive concrete and neon of homogenous civilization.
Then came the real portal to a radically different place and culture. There was a little bridge over the Petaluma River, which flows north from San Francisco Bay. The water marked the border to Sonoma County. The span had a gentle arc, and as I came to its peak and could see the other side, I was hit by a panorama of spacious pastures, flat and expansive, a purely rural environment. The roadway descended to the ground and I passed lushly green sod farms. I saw grazing fields with hundreds of idly lounging cows.
The Sonoma borderline had an actual meaning; unlike so many place names that had been reduced to little more than arbitrary post-office markings and administrative zones in a vast undifferentiated megalopolis, Sonoma was a pronounced break, an anomaly and anachronism, a place that still defined itself by a lasting heritage of rural and small-town country life.