Posts Tagged ‘George Gmelch’

The following is an excerpt from our book, Tasting the Good Life in reference to a hot topic with tourism in Napa Valley. Traffic.

Highway 29

In terms of its impact on daily life, traffic congestion is the most serious consequence of tourism for valley residents. Five million tourists visit each year. This means an average of 14,000 people per day over the course of the year, but visitor traffic is seasonally skewed with the quietest period from November to April. During the peak tourism season, which occurs during the September-October grape harvest, or “crush,” as many as 40,000 to 60,000 people may be on Napa’s roads on the weekends. The valley’s major thoroughfare, Highway 29, which narrows above Yountville had reached its “practical capacity” in 1973 when the tourist boom was still in its infancy. When cars, limos, and agricultural vehicles idle or drive at less efficient speeds, fuel is wasted and pollutants are spewed into the air. Traffic also creates noise and forces drivers — workers, tourists, and locals alike — to spend more money on fuel.

Weekday traffic, especially during rush hours, is caused less by tourists than by commuting workers, this itself is related to tourism. One up-valley resident characterized the traffic problem in a letter to the St. Helena Star newspaper this way:  “It is a witch’s brew composed of too much available alcohol, farming vehicles and tractors, rubbernecking tourists, a wine industry needing to ship or receive a commodity product on 18 wheelers, bicyclists, and landscape panoramas that draw the eye away from the roadway.” The same writer decried that “the pastoral beauty of the valley we work so hard to preserve is being destroyed by the traffic and the millions of cars ….” While overstated, the letter expresses the sentiments of many. Many locals now avoid Highway 29 when it is most congested, which often means staying home or taking alternative but longer routes when they do go out. Agriculture relies on the road system to move workers and products from vineyard to winery and from winery to market, and is also impacted by the congestion. Roads clogged with visitors and commuting works slow down agricultural operations.

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In doing the research for Tasting the Good Life, we were lucky to meet many interesting people.  It’s impossible to single out just one or two as being the “most interesting” because their backgrounds, the work that they do, and the experiences they have had are all so different. Having said that, here are brief excerpts from two people we profile in the book.

Thomas Keller is the only American chef to have two Michelin-ranked three-star restaurants: the French Laundry in Yountville in the Napa Valley and Per Se in New York.   He is the epitome of the “modern chef”: entrepreneur, author, and celebrity — the latter a characterization which makes him a bit uncomfortable.  The following excerpt describes how he first arrived in the Napa Valley.

It all started in 1992 after losing my job in Los Angeles.  I was on a trip to the valley with my then girlfriend who was a wine distributor.  We were driving by what was then Table 29 and the chef there, Jonathan Waxman, was a friend from New York.  It seemed like many chefs from New York were migrating west; there were a couple in L.A., including myself, and of course Jonathan in Napa.  So I stopped by to see him.  Jonathan knew of my situation and said, “Thomas there’s this great restaurant for sale up in Yountville called the French Laundry.  It would be perfect for you.”  I thought it sounded interesting and decided to drive by.  It was closed that day, so the restaurant was dark but I walked around the property and just fell in love with it.  The building and grounds resonated with me.  It was magical. I felt an emotional connection to it right away.  From that point on I said, “This is where I want to be.”

Ellen Flora began sharing her passion for wine and food with Domaine Chandon’s visitors in 1992.  As the winery’s “Senior Ambassador,” she travels frequently in the US and abroad as the winery’s representative and also trains new employees on the winery’s sparkling and varietal wines.  In this excerpt she discusses her novel approach to the later.

Teaching new staff how to talk about our wines isn’t always easy, politically.  I want people to bring their own feelings about wine to their work at Domaine, but I want those feelings to be maybe the second layer.  They also have to understand the philosophy of our winemaker – that’s the first layer.  They don’t have to agree with everything, but they must understand it.  When they drink our wine, they have to be able to say, ‘Okay, I know what Wayne [winemaker Wayne Donaldson] meant when he said “What I’m looking for is…”.’  They should understand his purpose, his philosophy about wine, and that’s easier said than done. ….  Today, our wine maker is Tom Tiburzi…. [who is] a true scientist and an artist….

Tasting wines is very personal, everyone has a different palate.  Sometimes you can hit a wall trying to find a way to talk about wine in terms of something they can relate to.  I started depicting our Etoile as a very elegant dancer because the wine is very seamless.  It’s a very graceful wine.  So I described a dancer that just moves effortlessly across the stage, probably an older dancer who is very well tuned to her craft.  Someone you just love to watch, all grace and structure and finesse.

Our Chardonnays are very lush and beautiful.  I described one as an opera singer, someone who is rather well endowed in maybe a low cut dress, someone very voluptuous, full, who has a real command of the stage, privately laughs very loud.  She definitely has on too much makeup, but she looks beautiful and you want to be around her and to be invited to her parties.  I just started to do this and I wasn’t sure where I was going to go with it, but they [winery staff] seemed to get it.  Whenever you have a problem, try to visualize the wine as something you have an easy time visualizing – a person, a garden, a piece of art. ‘Is it a fun wine?  Do you want to drink it alone?’  Finding the personality behind the wine can help tremendously with beginning people.  It opens up a door, because there is no single right answer.  Everyone’s palate is so different. …

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