Napa Valley comes to life in ‘The Good Woman’

A fellow blogger and fellow Meg created a feature I’m thrilled to run with: Literary Locale, which focuses on the settings of the books we’re currently reading. Visit A Bookish Affair to join in the fun.

Paging through Jane Porter’s The Good Woman, set in Napa Valley, it’s impossible not to feel the warm California sun on your face.

Main character Meg (good name!) works at a winery with an irresistible pair of brothers, offering tastings to tourists and marketing the vineyard’s signature wines. Having visited Napa and Sonoma last summer, I had such an immediate and visceral reaction to this story. It was really good — juicy and evocative and emotional and intense — but I’ll get to all that in a full review Monday.

For now? Let’s talk Napa. As I was reading The Good Woman, Nicholson Ranch was completely in my head. It was one of the early stops on our vacation — and couldn’t have been more picturesque and stunning. Hard to imagine what could have bee more “Napa”-esque than Nicholson, honestly, and I loved our visit here — from the tour of the wine cellars to the fabulous lunch to the walk among the vines.

Though I’m not the biggest wine drinker you’ll ever meet, I just love the atmosphere of a vineyard. It’s intoxicating. And for an East Coast girl used to the bustle and chaos of a metropolitan area, the free and easy vibe of vintners hanging out in the warm, dry heat is very alluring. More than once on that trip, I pictured packing up my books and boots due west. It’s just hard to feel unhappy in a place like that. And, you know, the copious amounts of wine don’t hurt.

Something the fictional Meg and I have in common!

So what’s up with Napa? Well, Napa County was one of California’s original counties — created along with California’s statehood in 1850. Though the first commercial vineyard was established in 1858, Napa has only been heavily promoting its bustling wine industry since the 1960s. Hard to believe an area so synonymous with vineyards has only been around half a century, but hey — they’re obviously doin’ something right.

The area’s wine prowess can be attributed to its unique combination of geography, Mediterranean climate and geology of Northern California, according to Wikipedia — all of which combine to grow quality wine grapes. Today, Napa is home to more than 450 wineries that grow many varieties of grapes, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel and more.

By the end of our stay in Napa, it felt like we’d sampled them all — especially as we coasted along on the Wine Train, where I had the most delicious cheese platter of all time. I was actually wine-d out by the time we left for Sacramento, and that’s really saying something.

Not a bad one in the lot.

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Good eats in California

Is there anything more depressing than coming off a vacation where you ate All The Good Things you could ever want — and now have to resign yourself to leftovers at your desk, working through lunch with a crumbled granola bar for a late-afternoon snack?

Yeah. That’s how I feel. Despite having been home for more than two months, I’m still fantasizing about some of the delicious meals Spence and I shared in California. At the top would be the fabulous coconut shrimp in Monterey, followed by all the sweet, fattening and unforgettable breakfasts we were treated to each morning. I’m telling you: there’s only one way to travel, and that’s with Trafalgar Tours. (And they’re not paying me to say that. [Though I did win my vacation from them. But, you know.])

So if you’re hungry, grab a fork . . . I guess I’ll share. Just this once.

For more Wordless Wednesday, visit here!

Still looking up

On your bucket list: Ride in a hot air balloon.

Standing on a precipice looking down, I get what can only be called “tingly feet.” In addition to my sweaty palms and upset stomach, my toes literally begin to tingle — almost as if they know what it’s like to fall.

It’s a pins-and-needles sensation I know all too well. Like many a reasonable human being, I’m afraid of heights. I remember willing myself to step out onto the glass floor of Toronto’s CN Tower and feeling like I was going to be sick. In Chicago, looking down from atop the Sears Tower (or Willis Tower? When did that name change happen? Oh. 2009) gave me a raging case of tingly feet. It’s vertigo to the extreme.

So why do I then insist on partaking in adventures like hot air balloon rides? Because I don’t want my nerves to run me. Like most of my weird anxieties, I’m locked in an eternal struggle trying to act like a rational person . . . so I can’t let my mind and its always-on panic button keep me from trying things. If my crazy brain had its way, I would be locked up tight in my childhood bedroom clutching my sock monkeys and a list of pros/cons for taking a shower. The point is to open the gates and seize the day, just as the Newsies insist.

So when Spence and I were in California, we signed up to take a hot air balloon ride in Napa Valley. Rising for an awful 4 a.m. wake-up time that morning, I tried to piece together why the balloon escapade seemed like such a brilliant idea — but when we made it outside of Winters, Calif., and stepped into the brilliant sunshine, I remembered why I’d been so excited about the ride in the first place.

We almost didn’t get to go. Stepping out of the shuttle van on site, thick fog was rolling into the valley. Clouds hovered, blocking the colors of sunrise, and our group of six worried we wouldn’t have time to take the balloon ride and get back with our tour group by 9 a.m. Some schedule finagling fixed that, though, and I was back to being giddy when we arrived to see the giant, colorful balloons inflating against the crystal blue sky.

Up in the air, I wasn’t thinking about heights — or falling. I wasn’t thinking about fear. I was looking out at the city in the distance, at the farms and fields below us, at my boyfriend with a wide smile on his face. “I can’t believe how quiet it is,” Spencer said, and he was right — nothing but vast and epic silence as we drifted on a breeze, all of us snapping photos and staring with open mouths. It was the most at peace I’ve felt in months.

The next time you’re updating your bucket list, grab your pen — or your typing fingers — and add “HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE” in fat block letters. Don’t overanalyze it. Even with a bumpy landing that sent me sailing against the rigid basket, I was pumped enough to have gone straight back up into the air.

And I never did get tingly feet. I was only looking out — and up.