Napa Crush: Joys of Northern California

Cabernet Grapes in Napa
Cabernet Grapes in Napa

I’m on the left coast of America and I love this fertile place beyond reason. Like the wine we sampled on our Schramsberg tour, Napa Valley contains joy that effervesces through my system, carried on the tiniest bubbles known to humans.

I lick the juice of sweet persimmon off my fingers so I can type this without sticking to the keys. Kaki, as my mother-in-law called them, hang from trees, round and shining like Christmas ornaments. I plucked one and brought it with me to our daughter’s cottage, cut the fruit into bright orange wedges and sucked the flesh right off the skin.

Persimmon at Larkmead Vineyard
Persimmon at Larkmead Vineyard

The vineyards stretch luxuriously here, the way cornfields do back home. This cottage, in fact, is in a vineyard. In October its Cabernet grapes were crushed into nectar of the gods. Now we can pick the stray blue-black orbs left behind and crush our own. My daughter’s boyfriend brings me a Mason jar of the stuff to swig and it is divine. I’m going out on a limb here saying this, but who needs the fermentation? It’s mighty fine as is. Alex will make it into “cranbernet,” his version of cranberry sauce, for our dinner. I swipe the ink of grapes off my lips and continue typing. But I am at a loss for a way to turn black and white characters into the burst of life and warmth that is California.

The smells alone undo me. Eucalyptus trees, yes. We smelled them when we went to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Then there was the straw scent of o-cha, green tea, in our cups as we sat in the Japanese Garden. But the year-round floral fragrances are what take me back to my family’s stay in Berkeley when I was four. Imprinted on me, coming from frozen Minnesota, were the flowers and fruit we could enjoy year round. Surrounding our clapboard house were fields of flowers where I wandered and looked for snails while my sisters went to school.

The California closet of my brain seems to hold potpourri from our family’s sabbatical year. Activated by each return trip, scent memories from my limbic storehouse make me goofy with delight as soon as I sniff the air. My mood is mellowed and my expectations are primed for more sensual delights to come. I feel woozy while I’m there and, upon departure, am struck by a longing the Germans might call sehnsucht and the Portuguese saudade, “the love that remains.” For the Japanese, this feeling is natsukashii, a good memory infused with melancholy, a nostalgia that is futokoro, felt in the heart.

We harvest Emily’s rosemary, marjoram and sage, to be rubbed with butter under the turkey’s skin, and carrots and peppers for my wild rice dish. Sweet potatoes are turned into latkes. I hear a buck bawling in the forest for a mate as we set the picnic table for our holiday dinner. Alex’s father serves curried persimmon soup and our outdoor Thanksgiving feast begins.

Whether in wine country or not, this state intoxicates me. My experiences of California tend to have all the elements of a memorable date: wine, succulent food, heart-stirring beauty, perfumed breezes, and scanty clothing. I feel in love and yet not committed. I will have a passionate affair, prone to quakes and upheavals, and then, honestly, I want to go back to the sturdy middle of the continent with its parkas, Sorel boots, and the smell of corn stalks plowed into the loam. Because it’s home.

(This piece is also available in the frisky and thoughtful online magazine, REALIZE.)

Golden Gate Bridge, San Fransisco
Golden Gate Bridge, San Fransisco
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