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Author unwelcome in Napa after ‘trashing’ wineries

An author accused of 'trashing' influential figures in the Napa wine world was barred from speaking at two major venues in St Helena.

James Conaway’s The Far Side of Eden, a follow-up to 1992’s Napa: The Story of an American Eden, was published within the last week in America – and it has ruffled a few feathers in Napa.

In the book Conaway says that while Napa is protected by some of the most far-sighted environmental legislation in the country, the ‘idyllic character’ of the valley has disappeared. The burgeoning wine industry is blamed for at least part of the problem.

Earlier this month Conaway was scheduled to talk at a pre-publication event at Copia, the Mondavi-inspired American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa City, but the event was cancelled.

The talk was moved to St. Helena’s Cameo movie theatre, but that date was scrapped as well, when theatre owner Charlotte Wagner cancelled the author’s appearance, saying Conaway had ‘trashed’ some of her friends. ‘I wouldn’t have wanted to support him,’ she said.

Finally it was held at the St Helena Grammar School, where less than 100 people showed up.

Conaway said the Cameo theatre date may have fallen through because the owner was a friend of the wife of vineyard manager Dave Abreu, who has played key roles at some of Napa’s major wineries. He is mentioned in the book.

But Conaway denies he has ‘trashed’ anybody. ‘I wrote about what happened in the valley. Certain echelons of society in Napa aren’t used to any sort of objective analysis.’

‘I was flabbergasted by the cancellations,’ Conaway added. ‘I felt that people had genuine questions about the book and they should have a chance to ask them.’

Sara Cakebread, who is related to the owners of premium Napa winery Cakebread Cellars, said, ‘There’s no gray area (in the book). He says the vintners are bad and the environmentalists are good. But this Valley is what it is because of the vintners.

‘I took a little offence. He doesn’t live here. I truly believe some of the things he said are not true. There are a few bad apples, who have made some mistakes. But we wouldn’t have the quality of life if it weren’t for the vintners.’

Written by Alan Goldfarb, and Adam Lechmere23 October 2002

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