We’re all a little heartbroken for Napa Valley this week. I’m nauseous looking at all the photos of the earthquake damage. The barrel rooms look like someone lost at Jenga, and the tasting rooms are littered with piles of soul-crushing, broken wine bottles. Earthquakes are a real bubble burster.
If you’ve ever visited Napa Valley, I’m sure you have a photo of this sign (it’s one of life’s mandatory photo-ops). Some people complain the sign is cheesy and out-of-date, but I love its vintage quality. The sign was built in 1949 and dedicated in 1950, with some of Napa Valley’s biggest biggies in attendance. From left to right: Robert Mondavi (C. Mondavi and Sons/Charles Krug), Charles Forni (Napa Cooperative Vineyard), Madame Fernande de Latour (Beaulieu Vineyard), John Daniel, Jr. (Inglenook), and Al Huntsinger (Vin-Mont).
But . . . look closely! Robert Louis Stevenson’s very famous words on the side of the present-day Napa Valley sign weren’t always there. The original sign contained the names of some of the founding wineries of Napa Valley. Stevenson’s words weren’t added until sometime in the 1960’s.
Stevenson’s words are most well-known in their truncated (and out of context) form . . . Wine is Bottled Poetry. But that’s not the whole story. The words appear in Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 travel memoir, Silverado Squatters. The book narrates Stevenson’s two-month honeymoon in Napa Valley. And while a two-month honeymoon in Napa Valley may seem like a dream trip, Stevenson wasn’t staying at the Auberge du Soleil. Stevenson couldn’t afford $10/week for a hotel, so he and his bride squatted in a bunkhouse on an abandoned mining camp called Silverado. During their two months in Napa Valley, Stevenson met a lot of winemakers, impressed with their pioneer spirit and drive to produce outstanding wines.
In the paragraphs leading up to the one below, Stephenson is bemoaning the death of wine in France at the hands of an “unconquerable worm”. Hello, phylloxera! It was 1880 when Stevenson wrote Silverado Squatters, and by then, French vineyards had been devastated by phylloxera. And all of Europe was still working on a solution to the unconquerable worm problem.
Stevenson then shifts gears, looking forward with new hope, to a new wine growing region — California. Stevenson was actually talking about French wine with his famous words. Here’s the full context:
Or your granddaughter’s palate (ahem). At any rate, I’m pretty sure Stevenson would agree — Napa found its Columbus.
Tonight, I’m raising a smack of Californian earth to Napa Valley’s recovery. Here’s to Napa getting back on its feet . . . and back to bottling poetry!