Tasting the Good Life: Wine Tourism in the Napa Valley

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9780253223272: Tasting the Good Life: Wine Tourism in the Napa Valley

While anthropologists often have been accused of failing to "study up," this book turns an anthropological lens on an elite activity – wine tasting. Five million people a year, from the US and abroad, travel to California's Napa Valley to experience the "good life": to taste fine wines, eat fine food, and immerse themselves in other sophisticated pleasures while surrounded by bucolic beauty.

Written in a highly readable style by anthropologists George and Sharon Gmelch, Tasting the Good Life examines who wine tourists are and what the "tasting" experience is all about. It also examines the growth of wine tourism in the valley and the impact it is having on the landscape and the lives of the people who live there. In addition to the authors’ own analysis, they present the personal narratives of 17 people who work in Napa tourism ― from winemaker to vineyard manager, from celebrity chef to wait staff, from hot air balloonist to masseuse. Their stories provide unexpected and entertaining insights into this new form of tourism, the people who engage in it, its impact on a now iconic place, and American consumer culture in the 21st century.

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About the Author:

George Gmelch is Professor of Anthropology at the University of San Francisco and Union College. He is author of 11 books and numerous articles, many of which have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Psychology Today, Society, and Natural History.

Sharon Bohn Gmelch is Professor of Anthropology at the University of San Francisco and Roger Thayer Stone Professor of Anthropology atUnion College. She is author of 7 books, including Nan: The Life of an Irish Travelling Woman, The Tlingit Encounter with Photography, and Tourists and Tourism.


"I just finished it, and am recommending it to all our friends who are interested in wine. It's a wonderful book―I learned a lot. It has everything: an interesting subject, broadly treated; good design and good editing; a sense of humor; smoothly written oral histories by pros. And, best of all, the Gmelches have written a book with intellectual heft that's accessible to the general reader." ―Susan Jakab, retired editor, Johns Hopkins University

"Even-handed and thorough....Well done!" ―Clay Gregory, CEO, The Napa Valley Destination Council

"Opens a new chapter on California's celebrated Napa Valley...presenting
both the economic benefits to, and the negative social impacts on, those
who live and work in 'Eden'." ―Rue Ziegler, California Heritage Research Group

"Tasting the Good Life is a fine study of wine and what it offers people, highly recommended." ―Midwest Book Review, August 2011

"Tasting the Good Life is an interesting and readable consideration of what tourists are doing to us―and what we think of ourselves." ―Napa Valley Register, October 6, 2011

"Because of its natural beauty, temperate climate, and fine wines, Napa Valley is a major attraction for visitors.... This book offers a look at how wine tourism in Napa Valley developed, how it affects the local population, and what the future might hold. It is a fascinating read." ―Michaela Rodeno, retired CEO, St. Supery Winery

"I applaud the Gmelchs’ even-handed and thorough approach to tackling this complex topic.... Tasting the Good Life does an excellent job of identifying not only the economic benefits of well-planned tourism development and defined constraint in a genuine American icon such as the Napa Valley, but it also explains clearly the benefits that are received by the residents who shape the character of this special place. Well done!" ―Clay Gregory, CEO, The Napa Valley Destination Council

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"An excellent book for all tourists, winery managers, and city or region planners." ―Winesworld's Magazine, August, 2011

"This ethnography is a winner. Written by Napa Valley insiders George and Sharon Gmelch, it reveals both sides of the renowned wine tourism industry, paying attention to the visitors and to the voices of key local people. Tourism scholars and wine and food tourists alike will find it enlightening." ―Nelson Graburn, University of California, Berkeley

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