Rendered Fat Content


Jozef Israëls: A Laren Scene (1905)

" … a caricature of its original intentions."

Here in The Napa Of The North, we're noticing an encroaching reduction in authenticity as the BIG growers buy land and move into this valley. Main Street, which once offered every service imaginable in its few short blocks, now primarily features what the locals call Cute Crap Shoppes and wine-tasting rooms, so many that I haven't mustered the courage to enter any of them. They seem undifferentiated, each featuring essentially the same decor and identical ambiance. Perhaps the wine's unique to each, but I doubt that. If I attempted a tasting tour of Main Street, I doubt I could make it there and back again without over-indulging on modest pours and origin stories. Each winery and vineyard must possess a founding myth and an abiding ethos to justify its existence. The wine business never really was that much about wine.

Visitors arrive aching to experience The Walla Walla Difference.
Some can't bear to leave. They drop their previous lives and move into this apparent Walt Disney Movie without completely understanding what that move might entail. Small cities turn out to be an acquired taste, and like all acquired tastes, it's only ever adopted after considerable experience integrating bitter flavors. Every location seems paved with contradictions, and The Napa Of The North proves no exception.

What might serve to showcase the Authentic Walla Walla? As a native, I can testify that most of the original place no longer exists. Many, if not most, of the markers that authenticated this place fifty years ago disappeared over time. The old Odd Fellows Lodge building was torn down decades ago, though the stone facing was retained and affixed to the side of another building, and a park was created below it. It's called Heritage Park and features a mural depicting other buildings that also no longer exist. The town park seems most eternal. The views of The Blue Mountains have changed little as the foreground view shifted from wheatland to vineyard. The search for the Authentic Walla Walla might be a snipe hunt, a search without reasonable end, however hopefully engaged in.

The Muse and I were introduced to The Napa Of The North in a true Authentic fashion. Our dentist, a wine collector, suggested that if we wanted to see an Authentic wine operation, we should seek out this guy's mother's pump house, located at the end of a very dusty road. We pulled up to find nobody home. Then, a large man stuck his head around the corner of the pumphouse to ask if he could help us. We explained who'd sent us and asked if we could sample a little of one of his vintages. He welcomed us then and, opening the pump house door, invited us in, offering us upturned crates to sit on. He opened a bottle pulled from a dark corner and explained its origin story and underlying mythology. That tasting qualifies as the most authentic introduction anyone's ever experienced here.

As the tasting rooms proliferate, we are migrating ever further from our roots. Even this valley's most popular and successful winery started in somebody's basement. I would that instead of a formal tasting room and cellar, a visitor could sit at the winemaker's kitchen table or on an upturned crate in a sweetly chilling pump house on a dusty summer day. Instead of Authentic experience, we seem to be embracing a modified authenticity, the kind Disney's Imagineers specialize in creating. Frontierland without horse shit or whores. Wine country without pump houses or upturned crates. Napa was once a backwater where no visitor ever needed to think about making reservations. It became a caricature of its original intentions. I fear our Northern Napa has already chosen the same destination.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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