It has been said that many a cliché or stereotype was, at some distant point in the past, at least loosely based on truth. This is no truer than “Napa” and “Napa Lifestyle.” While I am NOT, nor will I ever BE a wine or food snob, it is simply impossible to avoid it living here. And that’s OK. When I visit my mom and want to take her out to dinner some place nice within 50 miles of her house, my wide ranging culinary selections are limited to the “Country Buffet”, “Denny’s” or “Applebee’s.”
These are great places all, I am sure, but none of them could be considered “nice” places to take ANYONE out to a “fancy” dinner—you know, the kind of place where, when you are the one footing the bill, you feel compelled, indeed you must, state unequivocally that your dinner guest should not, under any circumstances, look at the prices. “Order anything off the menu you’d like”, you say, trying your best to hide your trepidation…please, please don’t order the “surf & turf” you guiltily think. It’s hard to imagine taking mom out and saying, “Mom, if you want the ‘Blommin Onion’ go for it! It’s your birthday!”
No, that is not a problem in Napa. Most of the places here easily earn adjectives like “nice” or “fancy” or “oh shit; honey, how much is left on our Chase card?” And when don’t go out, you find the aesthetic of fine, Napa dining encroaching on your private life. It happens subtly at first. You might find yourself dusting your French Toast with powered sugar. And then, almost subconscieniously you start topping them with a fresh strawberry reduction, all garnished with fresh mint. What in the hell is the mint for? Don’t feel like brushing your teeth this morning? Rather freshen your breath with a light mint salad with micro greens instead? ??? The next thing you know even milk being poured over your cereal must be ladled over it with smooth yet small centric circles, hunched over with beads of sweat rolling down your face. It’s bad.
Take this picture for instance. It looks staged, right? My of my shots as a bottle or winery photographer are all staged. Possibly even lit with studio lights, right? (Oh, how I love my studio lights!) Maybe it was taken at a fine restaurant with outdoor seating? No? The tragic (or wonderful) truth is that this was taken in my backyard. We had a few friends over for a late lunch and we whipped up some snacks and put them on the table. Right when we were about to sit down I almost laughed at the nearly perfect Sunset Magazine layout. I ran and grabbed my camera and had this shot in about 10 seconds. Ten years ago it would have been chips and dip. Today? $30 for 4 oz of organic, locally raised charcuterie from a local butcher. You have GOT to be kidding me. Crack open some Pinto Noir or Cab and yes, welcome; you have just been sucked into the Napa Valley Lifestyle. And you know what? I love it.
– Bryan Gray, Napa Valley Wine Bottle and Winery Photographer