The Barnes & Noble Review
Welcome to the wine country, a place of natural beauty, excellent taste, and extraordinary wealth. To the north there is Napa, a manicured playground for the rich, studded with trophy weekend homes and gourmet eateries. To the south lies Sonoma, where chickens still run free around the main plaza and residents are desperately trying to keep things simple. In this irresistibly readable book, award-winning Vanity Fair journalist Alan Deutschman does much more than report on the lifestyles of the super-rich and slightly tipsy; he offers an incisive portrait of the classic battle between purity and progress as it plays out in one of the world's most stunning settings.
It all begins when he finds himself with two sets of keys -- one to a mansion tucked away in the hills of Napa, the other to a modest bungalow in Sonoma. The former affords him access to the world of novice vintners, the nouveau riche who think nothing of dropping a few thousand dollars on dinner or, in one case, a half million on a single bottle of wine. The other set of keys draws him into a cozy circle of bohemians, a ragtag group of artists, activists, locals, and working-class folks trying to keep their beloved valley from being overrun with "McMansions" and resorts. Admirably, Deutschman tries to hang with the underdogs, but once you've tasted the fine vintages, it's hard to go back to the house red.
Blossoming with juicy gossip as well as fascinating historical research, A Tale of Two Valleys is something to savor, perhaps with a good cheese. Jessica Leigh Lebos
Deutschman's tales of rebels in paradise, wealthy weekenders trying to go native and the "glassy-winged sharpshooter," an invasive insect that threatens to suck the water out of the wine, make for a fun read, although one often as light as the lavender-flavored crème brûlée he eats at the end of a well-described local feast. — David Helvarg
As depicted in this ardent and amusing travelogue, Sonoma is a place in transition and perhaps in jeopardy. This part of wine country has a bohemian atmosphere that reminds Mr. Deutschman of Berkeley, making its full-time residents that much more resentful of wealthy new weekend people as they encroach. (A really exclusive event, Mr. Deutschman says, is liable to be held on a Tuesday night when they are not around.) Meanwhile, in nearby Napa Valley, land prices have skyrocketed to drive out pockets of free-spirited eccentricity; here the resorts and the rich hold sway. This book treats Napa as Sonoma's worst nightmare. — Janet Maslin
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.
Deutschman (The Second Coming of Steve Jobs) has written a highly readable account of life and strife in two of California's eminent wine valleys-Napa and Sonoma. In his view, Napa has fallen victim to the excesses of skyrocketing real estate prices, luxury estates, and pursuit of the perfect wine. Sonoma is poised to follow the same path unless an assorted group of organic farmers, retirees, and aging hippies can prevent it. Deutschman gives us his impressions of their successes and setbacks as they win city council seats, argue among themselves, fight off a luxury resort, and create a nature preserve. His book's strength, however, is its many striking (and not always flattering) profiles of people who shaped Napa's and Sonoma's past and are shaping the valleys' futures. Recommended for general interest readers and public libraries wherever winemaking is a way of life. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/02.]-Andrea Dietze, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A skimming visit to the cultural-political dichotomy incarnated by the Napa and Sonoma valleys. They may be neighbors, but they have gone their separate ways: Napa went upscale, elegant, and refined; Sonoma kept it real and welcomed the bohemians. Journalist Deutschman (The Second Coming of Steve Jobs, 2000) embraces this bifurcationthe irreverent and anachronistic vs. New Money, the innocents vs. the soulless, elitism vs. small town, residents vs. weekenders, Sebastiani vs. Mondaviand quickly throws his lot with the free spirits and iconoclasts. They are an appealing group: subversive, mischievous, and fully aware that they are on to something very special in their Sonoma Valley homes. The Napa-ites are far less attractive, typified by the notorious Wine Auction and restaurants in which the farmers who supply the tony vegetables couldn't afford to eat. Of course, they make excruciatingly easy targets: "The plutocrats . . . could they ever imagine that they are making pilgrimages to listen to trailer people?" Readers may be irked or uncomfortable with this neat parting of the waters, figuring that maybe there is something under the crust that ought to be poked at. Not Deutschman, who operates in only a small amount of the acreage he could explore, spending most of his time following a local election and the fate of a couple of land-use initiatives. These are not uninteresting, and their impact will be critical to the future of Sonoma. But readers will wish for other impressions than those radiated by Deutschman's small circle of friends. When a small-scale farmer suggests that a ballot initiative isn't "as simple as people are making it out to be. People haven't looked at itfrom a whole perspective," Deutschman characteristically fails to pull that comment up and thoroughly examine its roots. The characters and mindsets he portrays here are overly flogged and easily pigeonholed; a sampling from deeper down, where it might be democratically messy and maybe even revelatory, would have been nice. Readable, but shallow and too neat.
“[An] ardent and amusing travelogue . . . nouveau-riche excesses that would have delighted Tom Wolfe in his salad days.” —Janet Maslin, New York Times
“Bottom line: Robust and full-bodied.” —People