Editor: September 2006 Archives

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.

(MURPHYS, CA) -- I tend to hang out in tourist haunts. I did it even before I was paid to. I like the tourist trade. While it comes with incumbent hassles (more traffic, lots of people) typically it protects a very exceptional environment.

Each tourist area has it owns unique local color and personality. In some places, the locals are very convivial; striking up conversations, taking their time helping, sightseeing you as much as you are sightseeing them. Other places are on auto pilot, the locals are waiting for all the tourists to leave so that they can have back their corner of God's green earth. My youthful experiences on Catalina Island were like that. Sometimes the paid help would "helpfully" guide people to the bridge to the mainland - that didn't exist.

Harvest Arrives

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By M.L. Hilton

(NAPA, CA) --The hills were suffused with that soft red glow. It was early evening, and I was on my way home; a slow, easy journey down Silverado Trail.

It is almost my favorite time of year in the Valley. Though, I must admit any season has reasons to hold it up as beloved. The leaves now have reached that deep green of late summer, the grapes have almost all achieved verasion and hang intensely purple beneath their canopies.

The very atmosphere seems to carry an air of anticipation. All the vintners and growers are on their starters blocks, waiting for the crack of the gun that signals the race is on.

Weather becomes watched closely and discussed endlessly. I wonder about the cool spot that we have hit. I think it bodes well for the Carneros cool climate varieties of pinot noir and chardonnays, but are the mid valley and hillside grapes getting enough sun to bump them toward that point of essential ripeness? Opinions vary amongst the lay people kibitzing over coffee in the coffee shops. The professionals, of course, are all out in the field by the time of day that I roll out of bed.

It never ceases to amaze me that this is it for the winemakers. The one and only time of year that they get to produce their merchandise. They get no other chance, at no other time of year.

No wonder the expectancy is almost palpable.

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