Time for a new Napa Valley welcome sign
Every time I drive past the Napa Valley sign–the one near the southern end of the Valley that welcomes you to “this world famous grape growing region–I think it needs to be torn down and replaced with something nicer.
It’s great that there is a sign there on Highway 29. I don’t know whose idea it originally was, but it was a good one. However, I just think it’s tacky design and construction. The wooden parts look like cheap plywood, that hideous grape bunch looks like plastic (and what an awful color, more like cherry Kool-Aid than wine grapes), the big white Napa Valley letters look like they’re made from styrofoam, and the “Welcome” line is amateurish and garishly yellow. Why is “WELCOME” all in caps? It doesn’t make any sense.
It’s old fashioned and drab, like something some kids made in arts and crafts class. We can do better, and should.
My idea is to do what cities do when they have an important building to put up, like the new World Trade Center in New York or the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco: put out a call for artists to submit designs, then have a committee to make the final decision. In Napa’s case, the committee could consist of elder statespersons (Margrit Mondavi comes to mind), who have no motive except to do what’s best for the valley. There could be a public comment period in which ordinary citizens weigh in, but the whole thing should avoid getting politicized.
Think of all the publicity such a contest would generate! Worldwide, I guarantee it. The media would jump on it like a hungry dog on a bone. The Napa Valley Vintners could be the official organizer, and their communications department could work with outside firms to create massive buzz. You know how the Mouton Rothschild artist label gets attention every year? This would be ten times, a hundred times bigger.
And Napa could use a little extra P.R. in these days of recession and gloom. I personally believe that, just beneath the glitzy exterior, the Valley is hurting. Not that I feel particularly sorry for well-heeled owners, but those super-ultrapremium wines aren’t selling like they used to. A huge, worldwide media blitz would inject some energy into Napa.
What should the new sign look like? It should capture tradition, of course. Nothing too modern or startling. Wine regions are all about their past histories, so the new sign should conjure images of the pioneers, of the old days, of continuity.
But Napa also is about the present and, more importantly, the future. The existing sign has nothing whatsoever to do with the future. Heck, it barely has anything to do with the past, unless “the past” is about jug wines. So there should be something about the new sign that’s forward looking. Not edgy: today’s edginess is tomorrow’s joke. Bell bottoms were edgy in the Sixties. Not anymore. So the judges, whoever they are, are going to have to be very careful about their selection, because it’s going to stand for a long time. Maybe there should be an art expert on the committee, someone versed in graphic design and landscape architecture, to help the other members out.
I‘d love to know what my readers think, especially those who live in Napa Valley. Is it sacrilege to call for replacing the “world famous” Napa Valley sign? I don’t think so. It’s been a useful accouterment to the valley’s infrastructure, but its day is done, just as Napa city’s stale old downtown was done and replaced by something better. You have to admit that that old sign is sorely lacking in the main things Napa stands for: class, artistic integrity and good taste.