American Times NAPA VALLEY: California steals the bucolic beauty of Tuscany's vine-clad countryside

THE SIGNORELLO vineyard is reached through a pale sandstone gateway topped with pale terracotta tiles. A line of cypresses marks the crest of the hill behind the main villa, and beneath the trees stretch rows and rows of vines interspersed with olive trees.

It is the sort of luscious Tuscan landscape Bernardo Bertolucci captured so knowingly in his summer idyll of a film, Stealing Beauty. All that is missing from the view is a glimpse of a medieval village on a distant hilltop. But this isn't Tuscany, and there aren't any medieval villages. It is the Napa Valley, California's premier wine-growing region, an hour's drive north of San Francisco, and the vista created by the masters of Il Signorello is an entirely artificial one.

The valley, as it turns out, is full of such conjuring tricks. Not far from Il Signorello is the Stag's Leap winery, which offers a reasonable facsimile of a French chateau, complete with stone buttresses, giant barrel storage rooms for sample tastings and a formal garden. Ten miles or so to the north is the property owned by the film director Francis Ford Coppola, whose main house has the kind of Gothic feel that would not be entirely out of place in the Loire.

Napa, as it turns out, is not just a byword for beautiful countryside, fine wines and palatial weekend retreats. It is also America's quintessential shrine to Euro-worship. Not content to feast on its own considerable beauties - the gently rolling hills, the wooded hollows, the sun-drenched country houses - Napa feels obliged to create a kind of upscale Disneyland, where everything of interest is really a replica of something else, in this case the epicurean rural life of France and Italy.

Bordeaux, of course, is where the first vines came from when Napa rediscovered its wine-making traditions once Prohibition was repealed and the postwar economy took off. But the worship of all things European goes well beyond varieties of grape.

Every rural lodge is a studied imitation of a French gite. Every restaurant aims to reproduce the feel of a French rural hideaway or an unassuming Italian osteria - albeit with a longer, fancier and pricier menu.

In Yountville, the valley's gastronomic capital, there is The French Laundry - Napa's answer to country haute cuisine; Bouchon - an upmarket bistro complete with wooden shutters and flowery writing on the daily specials blackboard, as well as a busy, family-style Italian restaurant and a superior pizzeria.

Before Napa began its dizzying upward spiral a decade ago, the roots of its Euro-worship were planted in the San Francisco Bay area, which has always fancied itself as the most European of American regions.

Alice Waters' seminal Berkeley restaurant, Chez Panisse, showed how to give a fancy Californian gloss to Mediterranean favourites, and soon her brand of gastronomic verve was being exported to the country to accompany the ever more refined Napa vintages. Berkeley is also the origin of the key book of themovement - Bella Tuscany, a gushing little travel tome by a University of California professor, which does for rural Italy what Peter Mayle's picture-postcard paeans did for Provence.

Napa may not have the charmingly rustic locals (it has illegal Mexican labour instead), but makes sure it has everything else. One winery is filled with European sculpture, another with European modern art. The valley is even dotted with European street signs.

Not all of them quite hit the right note. In Yountville, next to a white- and-blue Avenue des Champs-elysees sign, is a charmingly printed German public notice whose meaning surely eluded the enthusiast who filched it. "Widerrechtlich parkende Fahrzeuge werden kostenpflichtig abgeschleppt!" it warns in a frighteningly officious accumulation of hard consonants.

For the ardent Euro- enthusiast, though, that still sounds a lot more romantic than the pithier, down-to-earth American equivalent: NO PARKING - TOW ZONE.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine