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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