James Conaway’s The far side of Eden : new money, old land, and the battle for Napa Valley (Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2002) simultaneously makes me long to be a part of and also hate the wine industry. It’s an interesting slice of the history of Napa Valley, looking both backwards to the events and people who brought Napa to the wine world’s attention, to the then-current influx of new money from other industries, to its uncertain future.
The book is a scathing commentary on the newcomers’ inability to think of others’ concerns or the damage they are doing the environment. The rise of the cult wineries exacerbates the problems, as the amount of money earned is so huge that they are able to ignore environmental concerns and permits, pay little or no fines, and basically do as they please.
Conaway also looks at the struggle between the environment, agricultural concerns, and Napa’s burgeoning population growth. While there are sympathetic characters drawn from each representative group, on the whole they are blinded to the needs of opposing parties. Each group brings their own problems to the table, with their squabbles and inability to come to a consensus damaging all their hopes and plans.
As I've mentioned to some, I dream of being part of the wine industry, though more to make wine for myself than as an ongoing concern to make a living. I hope that, should it happen, I am more attuned to environmental concerns, political realities, and the need for balance than the people profiled in this book.
James Conaway, the author of nine previous books, is a contributing editor for Preservation and a regular contributor to Smithsonian, National Geographic Traveler, and Food & Wine magazines, among many others.