THE FAR SIDE OF EDEN: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley

James Conaway, Author . Houghton Mifflin $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-618-06739-8

"If Napa Valley can't be saved, no place can," says the county planner, and Conaway's second volume on one of the wealthiest enclaves in America echoes this sentiment, picking up where his first (Napa: The Story of an American Eden) left off, with some overlap. Beautiful Napa in the 1990s is threatened by McMansions, by the blindness of "lucky spermers," (like the Mondavi heirs) and by the nouveau riche desire for boutique wineries with "rocket juice" (cabernet). The first third of the book describes the super-rich with incredulity: Francis Ford Coppola purchased the former Inglenook winery in the mid-1990s and outfitted it with the desk from The Godfather, movie memorabilia and screens for a "multimedia tasting experience." The Sweeneys, owners of Embassy Suites, dynamited to build their five-bedroom house (complete with feng shui) on a visible hillside. They don't flinch when locals complain. The center of the book is the Sierra Club's suit against Jayson Pahlmeyer (among others), whose now-cult wine appeared in the movie Disclosure, for clearing a hillside and violating the California Environmental Quality Act. The prose is often portentous and heavy on description; even minor characters are given full bios. Conaway uses a semifictional style to get into the characters' heads ("Hugh was pulled at by conflicting emotions"), while the author remains invisible, although his preferences are obvious. This is a who's who for anyone in the valley, a must-read for anyone in the business, and will be of interest to those invested in the often clashing interests of agriculture and the environment. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 08/26/2002
Release date: 10/01/2002
Paperback - 381 pages - 978-0-618-37980-4
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