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James Conaway

James Conaway is the author of three novels, including Nose (Thomas Dunne, 2013), set in California’s wine country. He has written numerous books of nonfiction, including The Far Side of Eden: New Money, Old Land, and the Battle for Napa Valley (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002) and Vanishing America: In Pursuit of Our Elusive Landscapes (Counterpoint, 2007). He is a former Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford University.


Harvesting of red-grape varieties in Napa Valley, CA. (©Peter Menzel /

Napa Valley and the Jeffersonian Ideal

Spring 2015 | Essays

Jefferson’s life, writings, and aesthetics inspire in his spiritual descendants, real and feigned, as many contradictions as virtues. This valley may represent the apotheosis of the American family farm, with what is one of the most valuable legal crops anywhere. But how close its twenty-first-century manifestation is to what Jefferson advocated for in the far-away South long ago, and what he would have thought of it, are commingled like old dregs at the bottom of a bottle. Many here may wish to leave that bottle unopened.