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A Tale of Two Valleys    by Alan Deutschman order for
Tale of Two Valleys
by Alan Deutschman
Order:  USA  Can
Broadway, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I like wine. I really do. But both times I've visited Napa, I've been unable to taste it. On the first occasion, a horrendous cold left me unable to distinguish a rare vintage from plonk. Pregnant on the second visit, I was designated driver, watching husband and friends do the wine gargling thing. One day I hope to return and actually enjoy the experience. So I opened A Tale of Two Valleys with oenophilic anticipation.

It's an entertaining (dare I say bubbly?) read, with a touch of mystery (who killed the chickens?), the Damocles sword of an ecological disaster looming over the region's viticulture in the form of Pierce's disease, and resounding clashes of culture in all corners. Alan Deutschman explains to us 'the struggle for the soul of a place' - between those who stand for the rural charm and eccentricity of old Sonoma, the established vineyard businesses of Napa, and the nouveau riche and nouveau richer property invaders buying up both valleys. Who would have guessed so much turmoil in the background of the cabs and zins we uncork every day?

The author associates with all the quirky parties in this Upstairs Downstairs scenario, from old friends who lend him their multi-million dollar mansions, and Gatsby-like vintners who epitomize 'the ideal of the good life in Napa Valley' to long-entrenched locals struggling to hold on to their homes. He tells us that 'Sonoma was small enough for the old-fashioned notion of community to exist still' and speaks of 'potentates pushing out poets'. He became close to a 'cabal of local activists', 'ragtag bohemians' who took on the 'Old Guard'. They won (at least for the short term), and saved a Sonoma hillside from resort development (a hiking trail was developed through it instead).

A Tale of Two Valleys is fascinating, from the absurdity of the auction of a bottle of cult wine for half a million dollars, to the (lost) charm of Sonoma's roaming chickens. But it's also an important (though in some ways extreme) case study of the impact of the spread of urbanization, and what we can all lose in the process. Chew on it, as you savor your favorite Sonoma or Napa vintage.

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