Totalitarianism and Gigantism in Napa Valley?

James Conaway is wrong about Napa Valley:

While at the California Preservation Foundation Conference in Napa Valley, Conaway said about Napa Valley (Quoting from the Napa Valley Register):

"Conaway said the undoing of the Napa Valley may be the sprawl of
boutique wineries by rich newcomers who would sacrifice our natural and
architectural heritage in the name of “showing off.”

First, would it be different if the sprawl of boutique wineries were being built by middle class, old-timers? Second, the implication in the idea that our "architectural heritage" in Napa is being sacrificed, suggests there is a style of architecture for wineries that is "better". Really? Better? How? This strikes me as a form of Nimbyism/Elitism/Good-Old-Daysism.

"He cited the architecture of Dominus Estate — a winery covered with
stone-filled gabion enclosures — as an example of “totalitarian”
design, an “unapproachable” building that serves the “vineyard elite”
that now rule the Napa Valley."

Wow…"Totalitarian"?  It "serves the Napa Valley elite"? How is Dominus "totalitarian"? I need to remember this rhetorical tool. Think up all the words that have ugly connotations and use them when I want to criticize someone, regardless of whether or not these words have any relationship to the topic at hand. Maybe something like this: "In a Nazi-like yelp filled with fascist-implications, the author let loose with a sneaky blitzkrieg of commie-inspired accusations!"

"In the same vein, Conaway disparaged the Frank Gehry-design for what
will be Hall Winery in St. Helena, a clear case of a building dictated
by “fashion, not function.”

Since when is function the only thing to be considered when constructing a building? One suspects that theVersailles
Palace at Versaille could have been far more functional were it built as a simple rectangle with only straight lines.

"Tourists play into this trend, Conaway said. “They’re attracted by the
spectacular.” Be wary of catering to tourists, he said. “Tourism can
devour the thing it loves.”"

Indeed, tourism has just killed the wine industry. I mean, imagine a winery actually including direct contact with the customer as part of their marketing plan. What are they thinking?? That’s just crazy!!

"Conaway, who is an editor at large for Preservation magazine, said
George Yount, the valley’s first white settler, would hardly recognize
the place today. The Napa of his day was marked by abundant
wildlife, clear-running streams and dense forests on the western hills,
Conaway said. If conference attendees were to venture into the hills
today, they would find forest “scrapped raw” by vineyard development,
he said."

I have to assume this quote is taken out of context or at least the context of this quote just isn’t included in the article but that it exists somewhere. George Yount? The implication is that Napa Valley would be better off the way George Yount found it in the middle to late 19th century with its Grizzly Bears running around in mass numbers and not a human being to be found outside of a band of Native Americans. I wish I knew what Conaway was trying to get at here.

"Perversely, the very success of the Napa Valley wine industry — wine
grapes are “one of the most valuable legal crops in the country” — has
created the conditions that threaten it, he said. The valley is
attracting the mega-wealthy who want a piece of the action, he said.
Vineyards have been planted on questionable terrain. The homes of the
rich are infected by “gigantism.”"

What’s the threat? Someone please show me the threat that are vineyards? And someone else has to point me to a time when wealthy folks DID NOT build larger homes for themselves?  "Infected"??? "Infected by gigantism"?  And finally, which vineyards have been planted on "questionable terrain"?

I wish I was at this talk, damn it! The message delivered by these quotes just can’t be real. Can they? If these are the real thoughts of Mr. Conaway, then they must lead to his concluding of one of two things: It’s just too darn bad what’s happened to Napa Valley and we should mourn the loss of pristine wilderness or we should create laws that regulate how wealthy one can be to own a winery or vineyard as well as the style of architecture that is allowed on private property.

10 Responses

  1. Jeff - April 28, 2008

    Too bad he didn’t lament the awful traffic in the valley. At least that could be corroborated.

  2. Diane Letulle - April 28, 2008

    I’ve only toured Napa a few times, but I don’t think the valley is in any danger of being taken over by gigantism. After all, shouldn’t proportions of the property be taken into consideration–nothing out there could possibly offend on the scale of McMansions built on tiny properties in my dear state of NJ.
    I love your breakdown of the language in this piece. This guy’s trying to get away with a lot.

  3. winehiker - April 28, 2008

    Yep, it’s hard to corroborate sensationalism, in context or otherwise. Oh well, it’s still April for a few more days, and one isn’t necessarily a fool 1/365th of the year….

  4. Taster B - April 28, 2008

    Sounds like something that someone would say because they are actually jealous that they can’t afford to buy a vineyard in Napa. I’ll come right out and say it: I wish I could afford a vineyard in Napa. Jealous? A little. Would I like Napa better if I could afford to live there? Well, ya… Does that mean Napa is worse because I can’t? Probably not.

  5. Mike Bolen - April 28, 2008

    Great blog. This is fun to read and you are right on. Napa Valley gets better everyday. I live here and love it. The variance in architecture is what makes us unique and interesting. I also happen to sell that very architecture check out my blog at

  6. Just Sayin' - April 29, 2008

    If I never see another Tuscan revival piece of junk again, it won’t be too soon. Tom Wolfe wrote a critique of the architecture at Yale that had a similar ring. Something to the effect that he wanted all that modern stuff to go away and that they should have stuck to the faux Gothic ye olde college look.

  7. Tom Wark - April 29, 2008

    I suspect you’ll live despite the fact that it’s likely you’ll see not just another, but many more Tuscan revivals in your neck of the woods.

  8. terence - April 29, 2008

    OK, I haven’t been to Napa since Hector was a pup, but the portions of Conaway’s piece that you quote have both a polemical and hysterical quality to them.
    Maybe he needs to spend time in Tuscany or Bordeaux. The imperial excess of those hallowed precincts of wine are pretty damned wretched.

  9. terence - April 29, 2008

    OK, I haven’t been to Napa since Hector was a pup, but the portions of Conaway’s piece that you quote have both a polemical and hysterical quality to them.
    Maybe he needs to spend time in Tuscany or Bordeaux. The imperial excess of those hallowed precincts of wine are pretty damned wretched.

  10. Arthur - May 5, 2008

    Driving around Paso Robles this weekend (along West Hwy 46, in particular) I again passed by this:
    and this:
    Ostentatiouns? Maybe. Out of place? Quite possibly.
    There is a peculiar spirit of individualism in California wine culture. These architectural styles which strike surreal juxtapositions of scenery and building are emblematic of this spirit. I have not yet decided if that is our best asset or the greatest obstacle to achieving greatness.

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