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The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2007

    I really wanted to love this

    I am fascinated with the history of Napa and Sonoma, and was thrilled to discover the existence of this book. However, I cannot get through it. I've tried reading it countless times over the past 3 years and I'm always sadly frustrated with the terrible writing and confusing plot lines. At the rare moments I finally muddle through the prose to become engrossed in the interesting characters, the author drops the storyline and picks up a completely unrelated storyline. I respect nonlinear story telling, but this is just start and stop for no real reason. I hope to find a different book on this subject matter, written by an author who can truly tell a story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2002

    Eden Goes to Hell in a Hand Basket

    About a century ago California's Napa Valley made some notable wines and promised more and better, but Prohibition and the Depression turned the Valley into a mammoth truck farm for tomatoes, walnuts and prunes (these last, among the horticulturally correct, are now "dried plums"). Came the 1960s and a tide of hippies, back-to-the-landers, wine buffs, urban regugees; they rescued the Valley from mundanity by returning the vine. Some wanted the simple life. Others strove to beat the French at their own vinous game and a few succeeded. In a famous tastings in '76 Napa took top spots for red and white wines (the French were apoplectic) and the wines' reputations continued to grow, and profits with them. That brought corporate investors into the Valley, changing its tone from a place of pickup trucks, muddy boots and little guys to one of faceless absentees interested only in the bottom line. James Conaway, who witnessed the change in the late 1980s, was concerned enough to record the loss of innocence in "Napa," a best-seller published in 1990. Returned to the Valley a decade later, Conaway has written this fine sequel--told through heroes and villains--which finds America's Eden in crisis. Tsunami tourism (5 million visitors a year) is bad, the new-wave investors worse: dot-commers, lawyers, real-estate moguls and others skilled in pulling fortunes from the air and convinced of their right to do as they pleased, the law be damned. Vulgar McMansions profane lovely hillsides, spoiling the grand views for everyone else. Arrivistes craving the cachet of their names on top-dollar labels spend recklessly on vineyards dozered and dynamited into ever-steepening slopes. These grow fine grapes, but their runoff muddies Napa's river and threatens its watershed and wildlife. The wines themselves are obscured between $75 "monster cabernets" and "fruit bombs" and cheap stuff--often not even made from Napa grapes--meant to strip-mine tourists. Pretentiousness thrives: Napa Valley now has an "Office of Protocol." Existing legal controls might have limited damage had county officials bestirred themselves. They don't, and so zealots force the issue: Wine Guys vs. Enviros. Reasonable people capable of compromise can't stop the slide into unproductive rancor. Fulminative rhetoric draws neo-Prohibitionists attacking "alcohol farms," ex-urbanites utterly ignorant of agriculture, and radicals demanding an end to all local regulations, even seeking exemption from state environmental laws. In the background real-estate developers dry-wash their hands at the prospect of turning incredibly valuable vineyards into astronomically valuable housing lots. The result is one of those "mother of" lawsuits. It would be unfair to say who wins because Conaway, a brisk and vivid writer, maintains suspense to the end. But it is fair to say it accomplishes little and may mean ruin later on. Eden--it's not a pretty picture.

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