Some of my Facebook friends took note of a photo I posted on my wall last week showing the three old grape vines I mounted on the wall of our staircase. The comedians (and comediennes) among my friends immediately posted futile attempts at humor, saying things like “Wow, I never knew you were Jewish.” (The implication, of course, being that the vines looked like menorahs to them.) For the uninitiated, here is a photo of a menorah:
With that out of the way, I wanted to tell you the story behind these striking new pieces of art and how they ended up on our wall.
Back in June, we were wandering in downtown Napa one Friday evening on our way to dinner when we popped inside the famed Morimoto’s restaurant on the riverfront. The interior space is quite amazing from a decor standpoint, and is highlighted in the lobby (and repeated elsewhere) by a whole wall of old vines. The effect struck me immediately, as I found it visually striking, as well as being completely relevant to the area. (Although, to be honest, they have nothing to do with making Sake, the Japanese rice wine.) I stood there for several minutes admiring the natural elegance of the vines, and thought about the huge open wall in our house that we had not figured out how to decorate yet. I asked the hostess about the origin of these vines, and she told me they had been sourced from a shop in Rutherford, just up Highway 29, called the Napa Valley Gravevine Wreath Company. Naturally, I had to go there.
The very next day we were scheduled for a wine tasting in Rutherford, so we allowed some extra time to find the Wreath shop on Conn Creek Road. Placed right at a picturesque turn in the road was this quaint wooden building, surrounded by fields of grapevines, sunflowers, zinnias and more. I soon learned that this property is the Wood Family Ranch, and we were quickly greeted by the Proprietress, Sally Wood. (Given the nature of the products sold in the shop, the irony of her name was immediately noted.)
The Wood Family creates wonderful and affordable pieces (baskets, flower holders, wall sconces, decorative art, etc.) out of the clippings from Cabernet vines. (Not from the trunks, which stay in place over many years, but from the long thin wooden shoots that grow anew every year and are trimmed off before each season.) It is these pliable twigs that are used in making most of the crafts for sale here.
We looked around the well-stocked shop while Sally helped another customer. When she was finally free, we introduced ourselves and explained our quest. We were not the first to steal the Morimoto idea, apparently, as she showed us a number of photographs in food & wine and travel magazines showing the Morimoto wall, all of which drew attention to the place where we were now standing.
Sally showed us one gorgeous 8′ old vine in a corner of her store which was simply amazing visually. It was cracked, weathered, gnarly and twisted; Laurie noted that it reminded her of me! (I didn’t argue.) It was a gorgeous specimen, but alas not for sale, due to how amazing it was. However, Sally quickly told us that she was in the process of treating 40 old Merlot vines which would be ready in about a month, and they were not all spoken for yet. We were in luck.
If you don’t know, grapevines are like good Cabernets, in a way. Young vines are almost worthless, and in fact it takes five years from planting a new vine until it bears usable fruit. Then as the years go by, the vines get bigger, stronger, and produce higher volumes and more consistent fruit. (In the case of Zinfandel, old vines are treasured for the character they impart to the resulting wine, so you will often see the term “Old Vines” on a Zinfandel label.) However, vines do eventually run out of steam and lose some of their energy, so grapegrowers are always replanting small blocks of vines in order to keep things on a good cycle. (And, in some cases, they decide to rip out one varietal and replant another, based on future winemaking plans.)
Sally explained that the vines she was treating would be ready in about six weeks. First, they had to be stripped of all bark, neatly trimmed, and allowed to completely dry. The drying process would create some cracking in the trunk, but once the process was complete, they would not crack any more. As part of the treatment process, the vines were fumigated twice to ensure I wouldn’t be getting any surprise guests with my vines.
We enjoyed chatting with Sally, who is a warm, gracious hostess in her shop and who clearly is “one” with this piece of land. Besides being an artisan, Sally is a fine photographer, and we shared stories and ideas about photographic tips and locations.
As we left, Sally told us to think it over and let her know if we wanted any of the vines, but warned us they were in high demand. We decided soon thereafter, emailed Sally back, told her we would take three, and then waited a few weeks for the treatment to be completed.
Last weekend we received an email notifying us that she would have a dozen vines at the store for us to choose from, so we agreed on a time to meet, and upon arrival Sally had the dozen vines displayed outside so we could choose. The unselected vines were going to be packaged up and sent to other waiting customers around the country, so we appreciated having the opportunity to pick our own out of this grouping. They are surprisingly light–only about six pounds apiece–due to the drying process that removed all water from the trunks. We again shared a nice visit with Sally and her cat, Lucy, before carting our vines home.
Within a couple hours the walls were measured and the vines went up, and we are very pleased with the unique and local flavor they give to our entryway. More decorating will follow, and perhaps a change of wall color, but for now we like the look.
Next time you are in the center of the Napa Valley winetasting, make a quick stop in Rutherford and say hello to Sally Wood and maybe pick up a fun souvenir or gift. We can pretty much guarantee you’ll drive away with a smile on your face.