Luck Be A Lady Tonight. In his day, Sinatra found the best lyricists.
He surrounded himself with talent, and for most of us of a certain age, his recordings still slip in and out of our consciousness from time to time when circumstances trigger them. This morning, “Luck Be A Lady Tonight” triggered memories as I reflected on my life as a vintner in Napa Valley the last 40 years. It was with luck I traveled to and fell in love with the Napa Valley in the mid-70s. It was strong ladies who led the way to so many adventures in wine, food, and self-discovery. Luck was my Lady. Lady was my Luck. This is that story, told in chapters.
In the 1970s, Napa was a one-stoplight narrow valley with no destination restaurants, themed tasting rooms, or much of anything to attract a tourist other than its wines and its people.
Glancing back for some perspective, which I think is important here – in 1890 there were well over 100 wineries in the Napa Valley, and 20,763 acres of wine grapes. The wine business was big business, and the reputation of its wines was sending waves around the world. Between that time and my first drive through Napa in 1975, the valley suffered much, and the wine industry had paid the price. By the late 1890s, the devastation of phyoxera (voracious root louse) had brought the wine industries in France and California to its knees. Unfortunately, two world wars shaped the world and its attitude toward wine along with the unenlightened social experiment they called Prohibition. The result or culmination of events made the planting and selling of prunes more profitable than wine for most of the early 1900s. By 1966 there were 16 wineries left, and 11,738 acres of wine grapes, almost half of what there was in 1890.
Sunset magazine listed 18 wineries on this map in 1968, but there was change in the air, literally. The Vietnam War was in the headlines and the backlash and protests wove their way deeply into the fabric of our music and media. The hope and revolution that was part of the national consciousness was finding its way to the sleepy Napa Valley, bringing with it a wave of new dreamers determined to settle and start new wineries again. Over the next 50 years Napa would again find a Renaissance and its own revolution. Today there are more than 500 wineries, and 43,000 acres planted to wine grapes. I was lucky to be there on the front lines while this happened, one of the many who was swept up in these magical times. Luck was my Lady.