Napa, by James Conaway

Published in 1990, this book is still controversial among Napans for its exposure of the very insular world of Napa winemakers. Conaway traces families both famous and little-known, revealing mental illness, suicide, sibling name it. He traces the growth of Napa from a rural backwater that happened to grow good grapes into the international financial and cultural powerhouse that it is today (or rather, that it was in 1990 and is even more so today). There is little in the way of commentary, but his writing makes clear that Conaway supported the agricultural preserve and those who fought for stricter land use and finds the corporate vintners snobbish and arrogant, as well as terrifyingly short-sighted environmentally. Having lived in the valley for two years now, and knowing some of the people mentioned in the book, it's a fascinating peek into that world. And Conaway is a skillful writer, descriptive and engaging. I've also met the man, at an event he did for the bookstore, and found him very charming and intelligent. I'm not surprised people opened up to him the way they must have, but even then, the amount of research that went into this book shows great tenacity. I'm curious about his follow-up book, "The Far Side of Eden," written ten years after "Napa," and there are beginning to be rumors that he is starting research on a third...


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