Images of Napa Valley often depict sprawling fields of grape vines and majestic winery structures that resemble castles or Tuscan villas. Certainly those pictures are appropriate as we have literally miles and miles of vineyards and side-by-side wineries along Highway 29 and Silverado Trail. However, Napa Valley is more than just grapes and wineries; for about 135,000 people, it’s the place we live. Although we enjoy the natural beauty of our wine-based agriculture, there are many dimensions to life here – some of them good and some not so good. Since moving here in 2013 we have captured our exploration of the region as well as just everyday life in photos. We share some of our favorites here.
Less than a month after moving into our new home, we decided to plan our first vegetable garden. In addition to peppers, corn, sage, dill, eggplant, cucumbers and rosemary, we planted tomatoes. Lots of tomatoes. The locals started to take notice.
Our hot summer generated some beautiful, plump tomatoes and we were looking forward to a very long growing season. We figured we would be harvesting well into November. Mother Nature had other plans.
A freak hailstorm hit Napa Valley, pelting our homes, cars and plants for about 20 minutes. I am sure we will get very little sympathy from our friends in the Midwest who endure bowling-ball-size hailstones and storms that last hours. But hey, we’re not used to this!
I assured my wife and my mother-in-law (who had just that day planted a bunch of seedlings on the right of the planter box) that everything would survive, recover and thrive. It was a lie. The tomatoes were done after this storm and the rest needed to be replanted in the following days.
The hailstorm was the second-worst event that Mother Nature threw at us our first year. The worst was the 2014 Napa Earthquake which caused hundreds of millions of dollars in loses for homes and businesses.
We bought a lovely hutch for our small but cozy wine room. Because we lived in Los Angeles, we were aware of the risk of earthquakes and the need to secure furniture. Our wine hutch was bolted to its base, and both pieces were bolted to the wall behind. Unfortunately, the wall moved quite a bit in the earthquake and thus so did the wine. Prior to the quake, the hutch held 110 bottles (two per slot, 5 columns by 11 rows); after the quake, it held six. Some bottles remained intact on the shelf below. Many others fell to their death.
We didn’t have the stomach to count the number of bottles that broke, but our rough estimate is that approximately 50-60 shattered after hitting the floor or having other wine bottles fall onto them. We were proud of some of our “babies,” though, for surviving the traumatic event.
My favorite bottles is the one in the lower left-hand corner of the picture; this bottle hit the wall opposite the hutch, probably bounced a couple of times, and landed upright. I imagine this as a really cool gymnastics routine. Tada!
The 50% survival rate for the wine bottles was not, sadly, experienced by our collection of cognac and Armagnac in the living room.
After taking in the destruction in the wine room, we made our way to the living room to see how bad things were there. There, the loss rate was closer to 90 or 95% and there was a brown river of liquid making its way along our brand-new tile floor.
If you look closely you can see the rug that used to be white but is now brown, saturated with cognac and Armagnac.
Everyone was okay after the earthquake and we felt very blessed not to have had much structural damage in the house. But the earthquake, coupled with the freak hailstorm, made us think twice about our move. As someone in Napa said to us, “If I see a locust, I’m out of here!” Luckily there were no other biblical pestilences in 2014.
John & Irene Ingersoll
November 17, 2016