Many of you know how fortunate I feel that Laurie and I moved here 19 months ago. In many ways it is the best decision of my life, and I have enjoyed each and every day since that move, no matter the weather. Living in this amazing valley has opened my eyes to so many things and has caused me to set new life goals. I feel invigorated and energized and full of life. So does everyone here feel the same? Not so much.
A couple of weeks ago some dear friends from the peninsula were in the Napa Valley celebrating the wife’s 50th birthday, and we met them and their friends for drinks and dinner. Upon seeing us, the Birthday Girl exclaimed “Oh my god, you two live in vacationland!” She went on to say that she hadn’t really thought of Napa as a place to live, but she could now imagine how idyllic it must be. You get the drift.
However, a few days later I was in Cost Plus, and while I was looking at glassware I overheard an interesting conversation between a young man and woman (I guess late 20′s-very early 30′s) who just encountered each other after a long hiatus. While I didn’t take notes, the gist of the woman’s rant went something like this: “I’ve got to get out of this town. Napa is just Disneyland** for grownups where all they care about is their wine, and their food and their Cab Sauv. There is no soul here, it’s disgusting. I can’t wait to move.” (While somewhat truncated, those words are almost verbatim, believe me.)
I gave a lot of thought to her words, and I certainly do not begrudge her her opinion. Napa is an unusual place; the Valley relies on tourists and the money they bring in. I understand that it seems superficial to a young woman, who (by her conversation) longs to spend more time in Europe, or San Francisco, or other cities where there is a greater diversity of culture, arts, and history. I get that. But Napa is so much more than just a laser focus on food and wine. When you strip away the tourism elements and the (admittedly) amazing food and beverage, this is a farming community. People here don’t make as much money as they do in other parts of the country. People moved here, and live here, because they are passionate about the land and the pursuit of winemaking. It also is so much more laid back than Silicon Valley or San Francisco. The streets roll up at night, and the wee hours of the morning are eerily silent (unless the propellers are going off). So many people have made huge sacrifices–in income, commute time, proximity to relatives–to live here, because it is so peaceful and serene. (And affordable.)
Most of my immediate neighbors are not in the wine business. Many are retired. One is in the hospitality business. Many volunteer. All enjoy their wine; Napa residents must consume far more wine per capita than other Americans, based on the sounds I hear every Sunday night when the recycling bins are put out. But every one of those neighbors feels so fortunate to be able to live here and enjoy this amazing part of our country.
Certainly, if I were 30 years old again I might long for more of an edge. Our kids, all in their mid-20′s, love to visit Napa, but I know they would be bored to live here full-time. But at least they are learning to appreciate the Valley for its many merits, and they are learning about the farming aspects behind the bottle on the table. While I empathize with the young woman in Cost Plus, I feel bad that her perception is so unbalanced. My hope is that one day she gains an appreciation of what this Valley is, and what it isn’t, and embraces the unique qualities of this place.
I guess it’s true that two people can look at the same glass, and one will say it is half-empty and the other will say it’s half-full. I will see that glass and say “Here, let me get you some more.”
** By the way, she was wrong. Yountville is Disneyland for adults. Not Napa.