We’re highlighting our favorite articles and stories from the past twelve months or so. Enjoy:
The New York Times "Townies" Blog: "More Noir Than Chardonnay"
by Scott Hutchins
I was out of money, and no money, I knew, meant exile. I’d moved to 5 states in 10 years — California twice. In my 30s now, I had absorbed the gypsy lessons of starting fresh. I wanted to learn the art of having a home. Besides, I had finally fallen hard for San Francisco.
But what to do? How to be sustainable? (A good S.F. word!) Here in the city there was always bike repair and artisanal lattes, but I had eked out a master’s degree — I aspired to the professional class. So I looked north and south, where two valleys flowered with employment — Napa and Silicon.
Silicon Valley was the titan, of course, awash in cash, the tech world’s Darwinian Thunderdome. But I had no aptitude for Python or C++, and the grunt jobs for writers were depressing, consisting of 80-hour weeks penning dialogue for cellphone games. Besides, they were impossible to get (after all, I did apply).
Wine country, on the other hand, was a civilized, grown-up place. So grown-up it felt like early retirement. The sun blazed. People in golf shirts spoke of “cepage” and “first crush.” And it happened that a friend of mine, a wine writer — that happy pairing of words! — freelanced for one of the most famous wineries in Napa. As a favor, she arranged for me to go on a tasting tour of the winery, a gorgeous Italianate villa on Napa’s main drag, and then a week later to have an “informational session” about potential writing jobs with her friend who oversaw copy for one of the winery’s labels.
Suddenly, the past 10 years of my life — during which I worked any oddball job, but always wrote and drank a lot of wine — started to look logical, almost strategic.
The day of my informational session, San Francisco was gripped with fog, but when I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and emerged from the Rainbow Tunnel, the sun broke in all its North Bay glory. I exited 101 onto the charming old California highways that thread through wine country. Between the low-slung, tan mountains, the vineyards were lush and verdant, the wineries tidy and prosperous. Tall sprinklers shot impossible pulses of water. I drank in the scene, the beautiful, soon-to-be birthplace of my professional life.
I arrived in Napa’s old fashioned downtown. I thought I was heading back to the winery where the tasting had taken place, but my directions called for an unexpected right. I was led out of town to a mirrored-glass business park, Houstonian in its anonymity. I double-checked the address. It was correct.
Obviously, I reasoned, not everyone could work in a villa.
Inside, the receptionist ran her finger down the book in search of my name. “The wine writer!” she said. My friend clearly had a generous sense of my potential. We had talked new varietals, nose and finish, but I was often listening or bluffing. Secretly, my highest requirement in a bottle was that it cost no more than $4. I hoped I hadn’t misled her.
“That’s me,” I said.
“They’re waiting for you in the conference room.”
I felt a prickly sensation. They? The conference room?
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