The Smell of Home

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By ML Hilton

(NAPA, CA) -- Something didn’t happen to me. It was something that was obvious in its absence. Normally, when I leave Napa – and I love to travel – the return over the Butler Bridge (the Southern crossing) heralds the end of my journey, and causes a stab of “why did I leave.” Usually it is the smell that triggers it. The smell that changes from the Bay Area’s urban road odors of hot concrete or wet pavement to the sweet breaths of loamy earth that fragrantly hangs around the Napa River’s broad reaches, sloughs, and southern flood plain.

I know I am home when those smells hit my nose. It has been an aroma that has comforted me for two decades.

After my last trip this past week to the San Luis Obispo wine country, I still smelled it on Friday night as I pulled in dusty from a hasty two-day road trip. I guess the epiphany was that I didn’t feel like I had been away.

I cut my teeth on Napa wine (after a brief acquaintance with Boone’s Farm and Mateus). Napa wine country has been my home for all most all of my adult life. I admit, I am prejudiced – home is best.

But, the place I call home has seemed to grow. Philosophically encompassing more of California wine country than just the eighth of an acre where the post office delivers my mail.

This came to me, as I sat having lunch at Tolosa winery on Friday. It was a blessing of the grapes ceremony, celebrating the fact that they were finally starting to pick their Pinot Noir, and celebrating their ties with the historic mission in San Luis Obispo.

It was during lunch that I looked out over the rolling hills of the Edna Valley, closed my eyes, flared my nostrils and realized . . . I just didn’t feel that far from home.

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