Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Napa, the movie (maybe)

                      20. The Transformation Complete
         (From The Far Side of Eden. This is the final post in this series. The whole of Far Side will
          be re-issued upon publication of the last book in my Napa trilogy, a work now in progress.)

    Jayson Pahlmeyer’s answering machine informed callers: “This is Jayson. Please leave a message while I uncork a powerful Pahlmeyer merlot.”
    His travel schedule brimmed with wine promoting events, his bank account with the proceeds, his large presence—slicked-back hair, new Dickensian eyeglasses—with confidence, but increasingly he found himself talking penance. He was no longer just a fine wine producer and owner of a capital-inhaling new vineyard, he was the object of a lawsuit by one of the most powerful environmental organizations on the planet, one started by a saint of nature lovers, John Muir, who had attempted to prevent the construction of the Hetch Hetchy Dam in the Sierras and the despoiling of Yosemite and other pristine places. The club had hundreds of thousands of dues-paying members, and he imagined that they were all mad at Jayson Pahlmeyer.
    The lawsuit had effectively shut down all new agricultural projects in the hills and brought new condemnation of Jayson, but also some grudging sympathy: some vintners had decided that their enemies’ enemy was their friend. “I planted what was already a cow pasture,” Jayson repeatedly told them on the telephone, at Vintners Association meetings, at Mustard’s, “and what’s lost in all this is that I didn’t cause any damage!”
    If his story was made into a movie, he thought, it would go like this: Cult vintner brings secret grape clones to the United States and makes a notable success. He raises money and tells a cowboy to put in a primo rocket-juice vineyard, pronto, at any cost, and is then attacked by eco-zealots. The ending of the film was as yet unclear. Perfectly clear was monoculture-as-villain, along with “alcohol factories,” miracle-grow aristocrats with recently buried pasts in microchips, condo developments and other, less salubrious means of fortune accumulation, and other businessmen, no longer envisioned as daring entrepreneurs but as exploiters and elitists.
    Jayson had been at home the day he heard about the suit. The papers were served at the Pahlmeyer Vineyards office down in Napa, in the revamped industrial section overlooking the Napa River, and his partner, Michael Haas, had telephoned him with the news. Jayson had felt his stomach drop. This was the crowning blow, after all the previous bad publicity, and he saw the future unfolding, as he had been trained to do as a lawyer, with many possible outcomes of the lawsuit, few of them entirely beneficial and none pleasant.
    What really scared the vintners were the words “moratorium” and “radical setbacks.” The suit would add fuel to those fears. A legal end to planting in the hills, to clearing and planting within a few hundred feet of streams, would mean suffering serious opportunity and capital losses and the personal effrontery of the have-nots.
    Another hated word was “restoration.” Returning vineyardland to wildlife habitat sounded less than draconian to the average American, but not to vintners who were outraged by the lawsuit. Their shared pain gave Jayson some comfort. Wines like his were still the driving consideration among present and aspiring vintners, cult labels contributing to the symbiotic relationship among wine, second and third homes, upscale tourism, art collecting, heavy-duty landscaping, and all the elements of the boom that danced bellybutton to bellybutton in the valley, grinding out lucre. In such an environment even slow-growth advocates and old-time responsible farmers were tempted to forget the rules. That was human nature, but the rules were before the public now.
    Jayson had to finish his million-dollar project on the ridge, so close to completion he could taste it. One day it would include a three-level, gravity-flow winery, and maybe a chateau that Chris Malan would have to look at every morning on her way down to Napa. But settling the lawsuit would mean reapplying for an erosion control permit, paying legal costs of the Sierra Club and the county—unless his suit against the county for damages proved successful—and contributing thousands of dollars to some environmental organization stipulated by the plaintiffs.
    That was the most galling suggestion of all those made by the Sierra Club lawyer. Jayson told anyone calling to ask about the lawsuit, “It’s known as extortion,” as he sipped a Pahlmeyer red in one of his blue leather chairs. “There were eighty other vintners like me with hillside projects. Malan and the Sierra Club could have gone after all of them, but they didn’t. Maybe that would have caused too much dissension. Frankly, I don’t know why they picked me. It’s a mystery. I’m the one that got caught in the crosshairs. I feel like a wildebeest singled out from the herd.”
    If he reapplied for a permit to finish his vineyard, “Chris will stand up in front of the board of supervisors and say I shouldn’t get it without an environmental review... She’s been able to marshal incredible power as a private citizen. And once they get CEQA, she’ll have her private pulpit. She can take any vineyard granted a permit right back to court.”
    This fear was making its way beyond the mountainous confines of Napa Valley to the halls of the capitol in Sacramento. It raised red flags from Mendocino to Santa Barbara and threatened to do on a large scale what the Sierra Club had failed to do locally: rally environmentalists. Chris Malan was quoted as saying, “California’s in for the fight of our time,” and Jayson felt that the words were directed at him. The boy from Oakland who made a wine to drop you... Everybody had heard that phrase by now. But his marketing image was being overshadowed by that of the cult wine producer who let the eco-zealots into Eden.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Pity the rich

                                  19. Enter the Breakfast Club
                                                    (Excerpted from The Far Side of Eden )                                                         

     All summer Chris Malan videotaped activity on the Pahlmeyer Post-it. By the end of August the ground was bare and the last of the vines were going in, the heavy equipment shuttling back and forth, dust plumes rising. It was dry, dry as only the air can be when the wind blows from the desert.
    According to existing regulations, all such work was supposed to stop by the first of September, but the work didn’t stop. Chris gave the workers a little more time and then, over Labor Day weekend, decided to act. She knew the ropes well enough by now to get a response without having to go through the county planning department, and she called the sheriff. He went up and shut the operation down until the following Tuesday, when it could be reviewed by the appropriate authorities, but by then the story was in the press.
     Jayson Pahlmeyer claimed to have obtained oral permission to continue working for a few days, until the grapes were finally planted, but the project stayed on hold. Most of the work was done, but once again his cowboys had run up hard against a deadline, prompting angry comparisons with “the Viader vineyard of the decade before and setting the stage for what was to come.
     Two weeks later, Tom Lippe drove up to Napa and walked into the courthouse, located between the county administrative building and the district attorney’s office. There he filed suit on behalf of the Sierra Club against Napa County for failing to enforce the California Environmental Quality Act, and he filed suit against the three individual defendants for putting in their vineyards.
     Two days after that became public knowledge, members of the Watershed Task Force received a letter informing them that the group was being reconvened. The timing was purely coincidental, but it didn’t really matter: the spark had already been struck, the fat was in the fire.
    The Winegrowers, a.k.a. the Breakfast Club, became an institution, at least among its members, and by the fall of 1999 many of them did not attend meetings but instead sent surrogates. Michael Mondavi’s was his vice president for public affairs, Herb Schmidt, wearer of the disarming smile and loafers soft as bedroom slippers. Herb was known for keeping two lists, of people he trusted and of people he didn’t trust, and was a common sight in Sacramento, Palm Desert, and Washington, D.C.
    One person not invited to join was Garen Staglin. In addition to being in a fight with Jack Cakebread, Staglin was a Democrat. He represented, as Jack described it, “Napa burnout. A guy’s been trying to hit financial home runs for so long he can’t quit, and he comes to Napa to do things differently, and buys land and starts a winery, but not to make a living. He feels entitled to some enjoyment, but then ego takes over. He wants more of whatever he has. What happens when he gets tired of the place and decides to sell out? He prices it too high for a grower to buy. If the wine market goes to hell, and no one else will pay his price, no telling what will happen.”
    What Jack didn’t say was that, more likely than not, a member of the Winegrowers would buy Staglin’s winery.
    Their executive director was a pro-development supervisor who had retired from the board, Fred Negri, and their official adviser a smart young attorney in the law firm of Dickenson, Peatman & Fogarty named Richard Mendelson, an aficionado of wine, an artist who worked in metal, and the brains behind “many a decision by Napa Valley vintners. Many Winegrowers and other aspiring vintners yearned for nothing more than for Mendelson to tell them, “I understand.”
Exchanges had been frank. “Spit it out,” Jack had said, and they still did. The issue of greatest concern now was environmental regulation. The Winegrowers all said repeatedly that they were the true environmentalists, their vineyards proof of this. Their critics were chronic complainers, they added, and worse: radicals out to torpedo the industry, talking about alcohol farming and alcohol factories, running to the courts.
    The Winegrowers needed to get the facts out, they felt. They were intimately involved with the land, and their profits not just shared by the community but essential to its well-being. All vintners had to develop better “communications” and flex some legal muscle because the industry was being blamed for things that couldn’t be scientifically proven, like a muddy river. “What about runoff from the streets of Calistoga, St. Helena, and Yountville?” someone would ask, and when the question of the ever-falling water table arose, “What about all those holes being dug by weekenders?"

     “The Winegrowers thought they had neutralized some “troublemakers” in the industry, most notably Volker Eisele. The former UC Berkeley sociologist had been essential in the transformation of the Farm Bureau from a mere advocate of economic advantage for farmers into what the Winegrowers considered an activist cell of demanding greens. Eisele had been defeated in the Farm Bureau board election, in part because of manipulations behind the scenes by the Winegrowers, while he was visiting relatives in Germany. But there was a bigger threat now. Truly radical enviros from outside the industry had dropped a bomb: the Sierra Club lawsuit.
    Filed against the county for failing to enforce its own environmental regulations, the suit had caught many people by surprise. There had been talk of it, but few thought the plaintiffs had the courage to do something so divisive. The emotional effect on the men gathered around the big table in the Pond Room, behind the Cakebread winery, was profound. Unaccustomed to criticism, suddenly they were being condemned by the spiritual heirs of John Muir, and the legitimacy of their way of life was being questioned, and some of them were too angry to discuss this rationally.
    They blamed the county for getting them into such a mess, for not shielding the valley from CEQA when the hillside ordinance was first written, for not vowing now to fight the Sierra Club suit to the death—money, countersuits, whatever it took. They discussed having Napa Valley exempted from the California Environmental Quality Act through a state legislative end run, resolving all this with a legal deus ex machina, their attorneys and lobbyists descending on a platform of legal brilliance and connections to save them from “Malan/Mennen.”
    This new phrase for the collective demon was uttered with alliterative disgust, some members wanting to go after them and their lawyers—“carpetbaggers”—who operated out of San Francisco and Sacramento and made their livings suing respectable people—businessmen!—who happened to violate some obscure environmental regulation while engaging in the basic American right to make a profit.
    Jack denounced Malan/Mennen as humanoid equivalents of the glassy-winged sharpshooter, the vine-sucking wasp that transmitted a bacteria threatening the vineyards with destruction. Chris Malan was, in Jack’s opinion, the worst, either neurotic or craving of attention, a “pot-stirrer” who put men like him on the defensive when they should be on the offensive.
    The reaction of members of the Breakfast Club to the mention of Chris approached the apoplectic. “You never know when she’ll bite you on the ankle,” someone would say. Her presence on the Watershed Task Force was seen as a travesty that would prevent additional planting in the valley. Many of those vineyards already in existence—like Groth’s, Silverado’s, and virtually everybody else’s in the Winegrowers—would have to be pulled back from streambanks at great cost unless the industry got a grip on the problem, meaning the environmentalists.
    There were other culprits. A few of what Jack called “rogues”—Delia Viader, Jayson Pahlmeyer, Dave Abreu, others—had brought the wrath of the uninformed public down onto the head of every vintner. The county should have been tougher on those people in the first place, although many of those sitting in the Pond Room had opposed all restrictions on hillside development.
    The collective blood pressure rose again at the mention of the Sierra Club. These men all considered themselves victims, deprived of the credit they alone deserved for the valley’s success.
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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Was the resource already lost?

                                      18. A Fire in a Trash Can 
                         (From The Far Side of Eden. Series begins with the 4/11 posting)
     The Redwood chapter of the Sierra Club in Sonoma County objected to their suing Napa County and the individual landowners. Since the Napa group of the Sierra Club was just one of several within the Redwood chapter, it was at least theoretically obligated to get approval. But the Sonomans didn’t want the Napa suit brought because the bad publicity might hurt Sonoma’s chances of passing a tough hillside ordinance of its own. A lawsuit in Napa might frighten the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors into enacting weak regulations that would not be subject to the California Environmental Quality Act, so Sonoma wouldn’t be sued.
     This argument was ridiculous, in Carlene’s view. The voters over there would demand a strong ordinance, she thought, just as they had in Napa, regardless of what went down in court. The suit would show how serious the fight had become all over California, the Sonoma syndrome being replaced by the Napa syndrome. It was time for everybody to kick it up a notch.
     But environmentalists in Sonoma were jealous of the resources available to environmentalists east of the Mayacamas. The Napans’ influence over the regional environment rankled the Sonomans, in Carlene’s view. The voters over there would demand a strong ordinance, she thought, just as they had in Napa, regardless of what went down in court.
     The suit would show how serious the fight had become all over California, the Sonoma syndrome being replaced by the Napa syn drome. It was time for everybody to kick it up a notch, but environmentalists in Sonoma were jealous of the resources available to environmentalists east of the Mayacamas. The Napans’ influence over the regional environment rankled the Sonomans, just as the high prices paid for Napa wine rankled Sonoma’s vintners. The Redwood chapter resented the funding available in Napa, and the fact that the Napa group would get even more attention
     Carlene thought some members of the Sierra Club in Sonoma were too close to the industry. They had gotten the ear of the Sierra Club’s lawyers in San Francisco and were trying to kill the suit there. The whole question of so-called radical action was complicated by warring sentiments within the Sierra Club membership, some veterans demanding an end to logging in the national forests and others, including the club’s leaders, holding a more accommodating view of the use of public lands.
     This difference of opinion had resulted in a schism, the apostate group calling itself the John Muir Sierrans, which included the legendary David Brower, a mountain climber and veteran environmentalist. The leadership of the Sierra Club denounced the John Muir Sierrans as unruly and characterized their movement as an illegal “fire in a trash can” rather than a serious attempt to get back to the club’s roots.
     At the same time, the leadership was tightening control over individual cadres and strongly discouraging activities at odds with official policy. In the middle of all this the little Napa group arrived with a lawsuit and the money to pay for it, the target being a highly celebrated and influential industry that ordinary people did not associate with environmental degradation. The lawsuit could easily make the club sound radical, if not downright John Muir Sierran, the opponents of the suit argued. The battle, after all, was over a relatively insignificant, glitzy piece of real estate where, as some Sierra Clubbers said privately, “the resource is already lost.”
     The same people feared that actions like the Napa group’s could lessen support for the club, and for environmentalism in general, at a crucial moment when a presidential campaign was under way and there was a good chance of placing a true environmentalist, Al Gore, the current vice president, in the White House. Gore was being challenged by the Green Party candidate, Ralph Nader, and the Sierra Club grappled with a decision about which man to endorse. All this demanded caution and restraint.
     Carlene had not joined the Sierra Club until 1997. By then the Mennen Foundation had been in existence for a couple of years and she had had the opportunity to appraise several of the big environmental organizations. Some were good and some were death stars, absorbing contributions to pay big salaries and working against sound ecology and biological integrity. The Sierra Club was one of the good ones, she thought, but like all bureaucracies, it had to be watched.
     Sizable donations had put her on the club’s National Advisory Council, something those in the Redwood chapter didn’t know about. Money enabled her, sitting at the barn-gate table on Sylvaner Avenue, under the elkhorn chandelier, to pick up the telephone, immediately reach a lawyer in the Mission District headquarters, and have a meaningful conversation. She then telephoned Bill Yeates in Sacramento and asked him to make the same call.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Terminator, Napa-style

            17. Time for Democracy to Reassert Itself
      Much of the work of the Mennen Environmental Foundation was done in the house on Sylvaner Avenue at the kitchen table, made from a two-hundred-year-old barn gate from Mexico, where light fell from a chandelier of elk antlers and from a lamp made of an old saguaro cactus trunk.
     On a shelf stood a tightly woven Pomo basket, given to Carlene Mennen by her friend Yolande Beard, dead now, author of the elegant little book Wappo, about Napa Valley’s indigenous people. Hanging nearby was a prayer wand of wild turkey and grouse feathers dedicated to the health of Turtle Island, the Cherokee name for planet Earth. The barn gate was spread with letters, press clippings, photocopies of documents relating to half a dozen issues, pads, and reference books.
      Carlene had no computer on this command deck. She didn’t want to be bombarded with e-mails and other time-wasting electronic messages when the really big stuff—wilderness inventories, the health of fish, redwood and live oak preservation—had better ways of making itself known.
     This was usually through the resonance of the human voice. The telephone was her chosen instrument, quick, direct, capable of transmitting more than information—resolve, strategic nuance, sometimes anger. Carlene got calls at seven in the morning from Washington, D.C., such as the one from Senator Barbara Boxer, who wanted Carlene to fund a political action committee. Carlene kept up with campaigns all over the country because, in the end, everything was political.
     It was after a lobbying trip to Washington and a session in the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein that Carlene had decided to go back to Napa and work on her own. Now while Peter sat in the post office receiving bureaucratic directives about what sort of art to hang on the bathroom walls, Carlene worked away here, “under the canopy,” a figurative screen from public view of her string-jerking in twenty different environmental causes, from Utah to Oregon, from the nation’s capital to the California coast. She didn’t want recognition, she wanted to affect the argument.
      Her husband called her the Terminator. “Don’t try to hide anything from Carlene,” Peter Mennen would tell people, laughing. “She’s out there, over the curve of the earth. She sees things come up long before the rest of us see them.”
     One afternoon Peter came home from work and stood at the kitchen sink, eating a leftover sandwich and gazing out into the narrow backyard. The day of legal decision had come. “I have to think things over for weeks,” he said, “but Carlene decides immediately. With her, there’s no difference between a good idea and an act.”
     Her philosophy of philanthropy was simple: empower activists with real science, then empower them with real money. She had told Chris Malan to handle oversight on the litigation and report to her. The Mennen Foundation had financed the study of the Napa River, to provide scientific ammunition for the courts and for the political arena; Carlene had helped Chris find the experts to do the ongoing research, part of a wider look at cumulative effects on the watershed, the objective being a long-term recovery plan to restore the river and the wild-land corridors. The fight was no longer about parks and open space, it was about conservation biology and sustainability—more important, harder to win.
     Money was credibility, but it could also be destructive. The national assumption nowadays was that if you had a lot of money you had to build an in-your-face mansion and an in-nature’s-face vineyard. Those building them didn’t want to be told what to do, but they were telling everybody else what to do—accommodate my spectacle, my erosion, my water diversion, my herbicides and pesticides. Well, wine was a luxury, and an economy based on luxury shouldn’t be allowed to destroy the landscape.
     There was sufficient money in the valley to achieve anything, she knew The Culinary Institute of America could actively promote local organic food and responsible farming, and the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts celebrate and support the ecosystem in which it sat, but they had no plans to do so. Vintners, vineyard developers, and promoters of the Center would rather call Chris and people like her radical than look at the radical things they themselves were doing, such as building a tourist attraction in the middle of the floodplain and then diverting the river.
     They should be thinking about the Dust Bowl, not about Burgundy and Bordeaux. Public agencies shouldn’t be assisting agriculture in destroying the hillsides with public money, something that was truly radical, and the supervisors should be protecting the rights of the people and not getting caught up in the idea that grapes are the one true cross.
     The vintners couldn’t see that maintaining the ecology of the river was important, or that other people were affected by their activities. If they’d take a hard look at this, Carlene thought, something could be worked out. Instead, the vintners were turning the valley into a feudal state.
     It was time for democracy to reassert itself. She and Peter had decided on the litigation strategy as a way to refocus the argument. Assisting them was not just Lippe but also Bill Yeates, founder of the Mountain Lion Foundation and a recognized environmental attorney in Sacramento who had led a successful statewide initiative to protect the mountain lion. They had talked to representatives in Congress and with the folks at the Center for Conservation Biology in Oakland. They were ready. The Mennen Environmental Foundation was considering a future suit over water allotments in the county, one part of a years-long strategy. But first things first.
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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Hooking up with John Muir

                                              16. He Was the Cutest
     Chris Malan’s driveway emerged at a point directly below the ridge where the new Pahlmeyer vineyard was going in. She saw the activity up there every time she left the house to drive down Atlas Peak Road, every day for months, trading her short black raincoat and gold loops for shorts and bobbed hair, noticing first the isolated power pole and then the narrow trail coming down from the ridge and then the clearing. She stopped on one of the countless trips down the mountain to look more closely, and the next time she got out of her Cherokee with a video camera and stood amid volcanic rock and pushed the button. The lens was pointed eastward and upward, and it recorded the weekly progress of chainsaws and Caterpillars.
    What Pahlmeyer was doing up on the ridge was apparently legal, but it enraged her and other residents of Atlas Peak Road. The videotaping happened to coincide with the research and strategizing going on among the tight group composed of Malan, the Mennens, and their lawyers. Unbeknownst to Pahlmeyer, he had made each shortlist of possible defendants; whatever evidence was required to sue him was already in the group’s possession, including the early aerial photographs. But this continual transformation of a formerly wild place, the final Post-it in the larger Pahlmeyer scheme, in full view of Chris Malan, fueled her and the group’s resolve.
    The Watershed Task Force’s first phase was now completed. There would be a second phase, but neither the supervisors nor the county planning department would tell Chris definitively when. In June 1999 the task force recommendations were formally accepted by the board, and although it did not rule out funding a second phase, the board still had not authorized funds for it.
    Chris and her allies took this as evidence that the county thought the issue of the hills had been officially dispensed with and that it would be allowed to pass into political oblivion, if possible. Throughout the summer she telephoned the county offices seeking to learn the fate of the second phase, without success. Then one day she cornered the planning director, Jeff Redding, in the elevator of the county building and demanded to know if the task force would be reconvened.
    Redding had come to Napa from Santa Cruz, and he wore his hair in a ponytail. Energetic, generally responsive, he spoke quickly and moved his hands in the air at the same time, as if development and conservation principles were right there, to be grasped by anyone who was interested. But Redding was overworked and stressed by the ever-increasing applications for new vineyards, as well as by the politics surrounding the issue, and he was unable to say which way the task force decision would go.
    Chris thought the decision had already been made, and by August she was pushing harder than ever for the lawsuit. The best defendants, they all agreed, were the county and three individual businesses that had recently put in vineyards, all of them ignoring the California Environmental Quality Act. The individual defendants would be a little-known partnership then called The Best Cellar/ Vineyard Properties West; an aspiring boutique, Chateau Potelle, managed by a Frenchman living in the Mayacamas; and the owner of the cult wine featured in the movie Disclosure, Jayson Pahlmeyer.
    The Sierra Club would be the plaintiff, the Mennen Environmental Foundation the means. The Napa group ex-com had already agreed to this arrangement, despite the fact that the announcement was bound to be explosive, the outcome transforming. For the first time ever, a well-known, powerful environmental advocacy group was challenging not just development of wild places but the right of Napa’s successful, adulated, glamorous industry to prosper and grow. The very basis of the wineries’ existence, not just profits, was being cast into doubt, and the result was bound to be acrimony, and worse.
    Chris Malan and John Stephens assumed that their decision to sue in the name of the Sierra Club would be sanctioned in the club’s up per echelons. The Sierra Club could not be associated with any lawsuit without approval by the litigation department in the national headquarters in San Francisco, but that should be no problem. The lesser lights in Napa assumed the slightly brighter lights in the Redwood chapter in Sonoma, to which the Napa group belonged, and the beacons in the Mission District would all be as enthusiastic about their cause as they were.
    The lesser lights were wrong.

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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Driving a Caddy convertible's dangerous

                          15. Headed  for Disaster  

     Jayson Pahlmeyer stepped out onto his patio and turned first to the east and then to the west, his hawklike profile to the wind. Behind him were the steep slopes of Atlas Peak, littered with volcanic debris, not the sort of place where a house would logically stand, but with a view, as visitors often said, to kill for. Miles straight out from the edge of his swimming pool, the south end of the valley slipped away through the Napa River estuary and the tule marshes to San Pablo Bay, gleaming like a doubloon dropped in the unblinking California sun, while farther out, beyond the fog banks, stood the intimation of San Francisco, the ghostly white skyline there one moment, gone the next.
     His house had been remodeled in a style he described with pride as “high-tech Italian industrial,” all glass and tile and tubular steel. The architect had put a lot of effort into rendering the walls the color of dirt and the angles suggestive of the European ducal antecedents of all-American, ever-striving, results-oriented entrepreneurial brass. The house’s roofline resembled the blade of a huge overturned snow shovel, and the blinding south wall reflected the conjunction of sea, sky, and land.
     Inside, the living space was separated from the outside by a kind of automated clerestory, a glorified garage door fitted with glass panels that rose on command to allow the dining room table to be rolled out under the stars. Circular stairs were encased in fiberglass plates at once reminiscent of fifties industrial breakthrough, foundry discards, and armor. The gorgeous blue leather chairs in the living room, under a cliff of burnished steel that served as a chimney, complemented the overall retro feel, as if the creator had found refuge in a universe of sharp manufactured objects and worker upheaval where he could safely sip his wine, emblematic of Old and New World craft.
     In the attached garage lived two monkeys, a spider and a capuchin, both born in captivity. (Jayson Pahlmeyer would never own a monkey from the wild.) They shared the space with his white ’64 Cadillac convertible, the last year Caddies had good, clean lines, in his opinion. He owned a powder-pink Cadillac convertible of similar vintage and liked to drive first one and then the other while wearing a high school letter-style jacket and a billed cap bearing his and his wine’s name, Pahlmeyer.
     He would head down the mountain to lunch at Mustard’s, his favorite restaurant, or, as he did this morning, in the white Caddy, up Atlas Peak Road. After a few winding miles he stopped to look at his new vineyard in the distance, overlapping the ridge separating Napa and Wooden valleys. The clearing of chaparral had begun, as Jayson and anyone else taking this dead-end route could plainly see in the spring of 1999, the final step in the ambitious, multimillion-dollar estate that had already caused him grief but was now marching toward completion.
     The young vines would be in by the end of summer, as the cowboys had promised. The clearing on the ridge resembled a light green Post-it on the darker flank of mountain running north to south, the natural palisade without a break except for the vineyard. Jayson’s Post-it had once been pasture, he argued; he was not destroying old growth. He could have dealt more easily with his critics among the environmentalists if he felt he had the backing of his own peers, but he was shunned by some vintners, despite his mea culpa and his lighthearted description of himself as the poster child for the hillside ordinance because his contractor had graded without a permit. A bit of humor doesn’t hurt, he kept thinking, and he took it a step further, referring to himself deprecatingly as the Monica Lewinsky of Napa Valley.
     But many people were still not amused. He hoped his new vineyard would help put his misdeeds behind him, that people would be forced to recognize the value of what he was doing. Eventually there would be a winery up there. The architect who had made over Jayson’s house was developing the concept: three levels, gravity flow, all natural materials blending into the hillside. A stealth structure.
     It would be beautiful, with heavy, industrial pipe columns and an elevator made of glass and furnished with chairs and a sofa for wine tasting as one rose with an ever-expanding view of the valley—of creation. A three-dimensional computer model being devised by the architect would allow Jayson to move things around and see what worked, what looked best, once he got his building permit. This was more stunning edge work and the final step in a master plan allowing him—finally, in quantity, on premises—to make a wine to drop you to your knees.
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