Illuminating the Beauty of Napa Valley
It must be true that as soon as we learned how to create or capture fire, one person or a team were designated the “Firekeepers”, tasked with never letting the fire go out, lest the miraculous light it cast on night’s pitch black be lost. And surely, that person long ago who possessed the skill to produce fire at will was protected against harm as his particular skill rose above most others. His place among the clan must have been something akin to the place of the full moon in the night sky.
Artificial illumination of our surroundings does many things for man; so many in fact they likely cannot be counted. The way in which artificial illumination changed everything must surely have inspired the poets: With artificial illumination we are no longer at the mercy of the sobering blanket that is darkness and that hides the beauty around us.
The Napa Valley is one of those places where light changes everything and I was right in its midsection where I realized that even the great achievement of creating artificial illumination can do nothing to change the way night and dark completely shrouds what is special about this place: its beauty.
When driving at night between Yountville and Saint Helena for example, one could plausibly believe they were driving on just about any rural road in the country. Ahead of me my headlights shone on concrete divided by lines. To my left and right, I encounter the occasional building, lit, but barren. The light of homes sprinkle shiny dots in the distance. The occasional gaudy and glitzy eatery appears as I drive north. But none of this is beautiful. It’s just lit.
Upon arriving in Saint Helena the darkness fades a little bit more as it always does when you pass through a small town in the middle of no where. But the whole world is that town. What beauty might surround it is incomprehensible at night. It’s all about man subduing darkness with shiny bulbs.
It’s only with the natural light that shines from dawn to dusk when Napa Valley’s beauty is revealed and when we can see what makes this place special. That wine, good wine, is produced here is nothing special really. Many places produce wonderful wines. But when you drive north on the Silverado Trail, surrounded by lush, intricate summer rows of vines with the western and eastern mountains framing them or when you roll past the manicured late winter vines that stand like old soldiers in a pristine field covered in mustard yellow interrupted only by man’s ingenuity that is the big old red barn or the beautifully designed and crafted wine factory or when you watch the last light of day fall on the eastern mountains as the western hills are silhouetted and the bright green vines leaves turn to a steely grey before the sun completely sets, it’s in those moments when you understand the beauty of Napa Valley.
None of this is available at night, no matter what kind of artificial illumination is deployed. To experience the inherent collaboration between man and nature that is the beauty of Napa Valley the place must be explored during the day, when the natural, not artificial, light is with us.
There are of course numerous places the visitor to Napa Valley might want to go to understand this blog post:
1. The terrace at Auberge Du Soleil
2. The patio of Signorello Estate in the eastern hill
3. From the Oakville Grade where the near totality of the Valley can be witnessed
4. Nearly the entire north/south length of the Silverado Trail From Oak Knoll Avenue to Solage
There are many others. But the point is that if you live in the Valley and occasionally entertain visitors, you must force them to drive everywhere so they can witness the Valley at its best. If you occasionally visit Napa Valley, you must take the time to explore it all, by car, finding the angles during the day when the natural light reveals how the collaboration of man’s agricultural pursuits can blend with a natural valley to produce real beauty. When night falls, find one of our dining spots, hunker down, feed, drink and don’t despair because it’s only all gone until the next dawn.