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02.19.2008

Napa, at the Threshold of Spring

napa_day.jpgToday I am reminded why this is my favorite time of year in Napa. While the vines slumber, the rest of the valley moves visibly towards Spring. Already, the mustard lies heavily layered amongst the rows of vines, whose recently pruned silhouettes look like clutching fingers trying to escape their plush yellow beds. Piles of vine canes, the subtractions of last years growth, lie tied and sometimes burning in bundles at the edges of vineyards, and wispy plumes of smoke rise and fade in the still air.


At this time of year, there seems to be no mid-day. The light transitions smoothly from morning to afternoon, and by three, it has all the romance of early evening -- slanting low and golden across the fields. Whether in celebration or confusion from this temporal ambiguity we do not know, but the red winged blackbirds punctuate the stillness with their characteristic trills, uninterrupted (for a change) by traffic on Napa's Highway 29.

Sunny mid-winter days are few in February, and when they do appear, they trick the mind into believing that at any moment, Summer might just burst onto the scene, unannounced. Such days quickly dissolve into a wash of drizzle, but the mustard remains its shiny yellow self, even as the world seems to back off its impetuous flirtation with the season called Spring.

Comments (12)

doug wrote:
02.20.08 at 8:58 AM

Eloquently said; here on the central coast the feeling is just the same. While pruning last week I also marveled at the long sun, the occasional brisk breeze and the approach of spring; the ground waking-up from an abundance of rain turning the hills their intense green. Not a bad camping site as one of my neighbors always says.

winemonkey wrote:
02.20.08 at 9:44 AM

Alder, I half expected to read "it was a dark and stormy night..." I may have to submit it this to the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest! ;p

Vinogirl wrote:
02.20.08 at 9:58 AM

Wow, Alder. I was expecting to read about some fabulous new Napa Cabernet and here you are impetuously flirting with the season called Spring. ;) Are you writing a novel? Come on, fess up! Seriously, I would love to be out there to see the mustard!

02.20.08 at 12:10 PM

Alder, you are bang on. Few people realize what a great time of year this is to visit Napa. My wife and I often come down in early March as it coincides with our wedding anniversary.

We stay at the delightful Maison Fleurie in Yountville. In the morning we grab a coffee and pain au raisin from the Bouchon bakery and then spend the day walking and wine tasting. In the evening, it's dinner at a great local restaurant - Bouchon (because let's face it, who can afford the French Laundry?) or Hurley's parhaps, followed by, well, that's none of your business really.

Amazing. We cannot make it this year, but next year for sure.

Morton Leslie wrote:
02.20.08 at 12:31 PM

I feel the same as you Alder at this time of year in the valley. Except I do like the later Spring and the warm balmy days, mustard getting plowed under, new earth exposed to seagulls who follow the tractor, and vines emerging. Course, a glass of cold white wine on those dusty quiet Summer evenings watching the sunset over the warm brown hills can quench your Thirst. Especially on the rare warm night you can sit out surrounded by silent vines. Maybe walk off into the vineyard lit by a full moon and relieve yourself... thinking of that passage by Joyce. Yeah, I think Summer was my old favorite. But then there's Harvest, all that activity, the expectations, the bouquet of fermentation, the vineyard workers in full voice knowing the labor is nearing an end. That was my favorite time of year at one time...maybe that was last year. Oh, but then there's Fall. The bite of mortality that colors everything. Mushroom hunting in littered forests, logs in the fireplace, brisket in the oven, Port in the decanter, holidays on the way. Hmmm.

You know, I've never really liked January that much in the Napa Valley... except the hills ARE green again and that's nice.

Gideon wrote:
02.20.08 at 1:34 PM

No, wait, stop!!!! This cannot be right - it is happening too fast... There used to be a WHOLE YEAR, plenty of time, between harvests - enough time to relax and rest a little and do everything else for which there was not nearly enough time during the last growing season and harvest... With every passing cycle, this time seems shorter, and now I get this nightmare-ish feeling at this time of the year, witnessing the sweetly charming, scenic, innocent first signs of - - - NEXT HARVEST!!!

I think I need a glass of wine...

Greg wrote:
02.21.08 at 5:21 AM

I really do miss seeing the yellow blooms of the mustard in Napa. I've been away way too long.

Brooke wrote:
02.21.08 at 5:57 PM

Alder! I have been living in the Napa Valley for several months and do you see a post like this on my site???? You don't. That's because I treasure this one time of year when the cars aren't lined up bumper to bumper on Hwy 29. I enjoy only waiting 20 minutes for my coffee and madeleines at Bouchon Bakery (on weekends, it's already up to 30 or 40).

It's not yet time for the limo brigade's "high season." In fact, now you have forced me to post a ranting and wailing "it's cold and flooding in the Napa Valley" blog entry on my own site to offset any damage you might have done here.

Tyler T wrote:
02.23.08 at 11:41 AM

Alder -

Well described. Truly one of the most beautiful times of year. Yesterday as I drove home through Carneros the afternoon sun peeped through the broken clouds to reveal the glistening vibrant green and yellow. What a place to call home! You captured one of my favorite parts of the landscape: "rows of vines, whose recently pruned silhouettes look like clutching fingers trying to escape their plush yellow beds."

thud wrote:
02.24.08 at 5:35 PM

I came home to England from Napa 3 weeks ago and this post took me right back again...roll on july so I can get back.

cindy wrote:
03.01.08 at 5:20 PM

I can't wait. I'll be there in early April and hope it is all as wondrous as you describe. I LOVE the sincerity of all who describe wine country as a glorious place. Yes, I'll have another glass.....

kudzu fire wrote:
10.14.08 at 2:35 AM

lovely photo

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