The Tasting Panel magazine

May 2018

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DEPARTMENT HEADER 56  /  the tasting panel  /  may 2018 56  /  the tasting panel  /  may 2018 BOOK REVIEW P eople travel from around the world to visit Napa, but the area's "happy valley" veneer starts to give way under the meticulous scrutiny of New York Times bestselling author James Conaway in his new book Napa at Last Light: America's Eden in an Age of Calamity: the final installment in a trilogy focused on America's most famous winemaking region. In Napa at Last Light, there's a quiet war brewing between ag tourist advo- cates and preservationists. Is it true that Napa is slowly becoming the land of the top 2 percent? Conaway's nuanced exploration of this issue will engage you: After spending decades covering Napa as he conducted research for these books, he's an expert source that can be trusted to unravel the narrative surrounding the region's diminishing ability for continued, expansive growth. The crux of Conaway's angst lies in the notion that there are two paths forward for ag tourism: either remove vineyards and build more razzle-dazzle on the valley floor, or go up the hillsides and raze Mother Nature in the process. The ultimate consideration, however, is that there needs to be more thoughtful respect given to agriculture's growth in either direction so that water sources aren't negatively impacted. According to Conaway, therein lies the handle of a double-edged sword: the issue of water, which divides and simultaneously unites all of the major players in this struggle, among them multinational corporations, vintners, local residents, and tourists. Water, then, has created the controversy that's vital to this historical piece, and as Conway dares to expose the underpinnings of all parties, the reader soon discovers that the colli- sion of these competing interests is far from pretty. This quote from the book further illustrates that point: "The common element in all Napa's conflicts has been neither industrialism nor tour- ism, but water. Sometimes a minor player, usually a major one, water dogs almost all discussions. It was waste runoff that first drew . . . [people] into [each other's] world . . . and the use of city water that heightened conten- tion between [more people]. Run-off from a proposed vineyard on Howell Mountain brought St. Helena into a fray, too, and both state and federal regulatory machinery. And in [another] epic, water played the lead in all its guises; purity, destructive potential in flood, utter ruin when absent." A former Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University as well as an Alicia Patterson Foundation Journalism Fellow, Conaway is the author of 13 books, including the first two install- ments in his Napa trilogy: Napa: The Story of an American Eden, published in 1990, and The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley, released in 2002. The Driving Force of Water JO DIAZ REVIEWS JAMES CONAWAY'S NAPA AT LAST LIGHT PHOTO: JO DIAZ

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