Seeking the Iconic of American Wine
Where is the iconic center of the American wine world? What place would serve as the site of pilgrims who sought to worship at the center of American wine culture? Where is building or plot of land where devoted wine lovers, upon occupying that space would be moved to bow their heads, look around, take a deep breath and commit the memory or “where and when” to memory?
I’m at a loss to identify that place that occupies the central point of American wine culture.
I realized this as I watched Pebble Beach Golf Links spill out before my eyes on the television yesterday during final round play of the Annual Pebble Beach/AT&T Pro-Am Tournament. Pebble Beach Golf Links is the spiritual home of American golf. The phrase “Play Pebble Beach” is at the top of every golf lovers bucket list. It’s long history, its iconic layout filled with famous holes hugging the Rugged California shoreline, its connection to American pop culture, its beauty and its challenge all combine to make this place (open to the public, not private) the very center of American Golf.
One can’t say that American golf possesses an iconic locale because it has been around long enough to see one emerge and wine is but still in its infancy. We have been making wine in this country (or trying) since the 18th century. And while it’s true that Golf was never constitutionally prohibited and thereby its development stopped in a moment like wine, the American wine culture really can’t blame these few barren years for its lack of an iconic location.
Though not quite analogous to Pebble Beach (a specific location and specific thing), the Napa Valley is probably the closest thing the American wine industry has to a place of pilgrimage. Not the first area to invest in a wine country, not the place where the longest continually operating winery exists, and not greatest source of wine history in America, Napa Valley nonetheless has the greatest share-of-mind among American wine lovers.
It’s not a bad place to situate America’s wine cathedral. It provides everything necessary for icon status: great swaths of vineyards, a traditional valley setting, winemaking history reaching back into the 19th century, stunning wineries of architectural and historic significance. But this can be said of Sonoma Valley; Livermore Valley too. Napa Valley rose to its place as first among many due to having established a tradition of quality long ago, it being the home of the great Robert Mondavi and due to a continued and important promotional effort.
I’ve only stepped foot on the Pebble Beach Golf Links once. Last year in fact during the annual tournament. I was there to help Ehren Jordan pour at post-round wine tasting for players and their families. It was cold and it rainy. Golf fans swarmed the place. I remember standing next to the 8th green watching professionals approach the green from the great seashore chasm, perhaps the most famous approach shot in the game. I doubt Ehren noticed but I was literally pinching myself as took in the fact of that imposing shot, the sea revealed in front of me and the fact that I was standing where I was standing. My mind raced through all the great moments I had watched unfold on this single course. And I imagined by self walking the course in the early morning, mist surrounding me and conquering the links on my own.
I don’t know if people have this kind of feeling when they ride up and down the Napa Valley. I don’t know if they are given pause upon entering Robert Mondavi Winery. I don’t know if they feel similarly possessed when they are ushered into any of the great wine caves that are fit into the Napa Valley hills. I do know that a true and iconic home for American wine, were there one, would be a good thing for the industry and for wine lovers.