I was interested in California wine. Indeed, I am interested in all wines, and have been all my life, from the raisin-wine that a school-fellow kept secreted in his play-box up to my last discovery, those notable Valtellines, that once shone upon the board of Cæsar.
Some of us, kind old Pagans, watch with dread the shadows falling on the age: how the inconquerable worm invades the sunny terraces of France, and Bordeaux is no more, and the Rhône a mere Arabia Petræa. Château Neuf is dead, and I have never tasted it; Hermitage—a hermitage indeed from all life’s sorrows—lies expiring by the river. And the place of these imperial elixirs, beautiful to every sense, gem-hued, flower-scented, dream-compellers:--behold upon the quays at Cette and the chemicals arrayed; behold the analyst at Marseilles, raising hands in obsecration, attesting god Lycæus, and the vats staved in, and the dishonest wines poured forth among the sea. It is not Pan only; Bacchus too is dead.
If wine is to withdraw its most poetic countenance, the sun of the white dinner-cloth, a deity to be invoked by two or three, all fervent, hushing their talk, degusting tenderly, and storing reminiscences—for a bottle of good wine, like a good act shines forever in the retrospect—if wine is to desert us, go thy ways, old Jack! Now we begin to have compunctions, and look back at the brave bottles squandered upon dinner-parties, where the guests drank grossly, discussing politics the while, and even the schoolboy “took his whack,” like liquorice-water. And at the same time we look timidly forward, with a spark of hope, the where the new lands, already weary of producing gold, begin to green with vineyards. A nice point in human history falls to be decided by Californian and Australian wines.
Text : Robert Louis Stevenson, "Napa Wine" (excerpt), from "The Silverado Squatters", 1883.