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Writer and poet, Robert Louis Stevenson, referred to Napa Valley as “bottled poetry.” In 1880, Robert and his bride, Fanny, spent a two-month honeymoon in the Napa Valley area and fell in love with it. They would be heartbroken to learn of the raging inferno that rained destruction on their beloved valley. I, too, am devastated for everyone who loves Napa and who lives there.

My love for Napa Valley has nothing to do with the $100,000 bottle of cabernet the late, Robert Mondavi, opened for me… Although I drank $50,000 worth!

In 2003 and 2004, I made six trips to Napa Valley to photograph the grape growing season for the first of a six-year branded product line I was creating: a yearly spiral-bound engagement calendar and matching note cards. The first calendar would have been called, “Impressions of Napa, 2006, A Year of Glorious Wine, Fabulous Food and Gracious Living.” Subsequent calendar years and note cards would have focused on other great wine-growing regions like France, Italy, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia.

The pages I’ve included are from a computer mockup I did of my first “Impressions” calendar for the publisher. Photographs were taken with a Nikon, using 35mm slide film I then projected onto Polaroid Time Zero Film and “manipulated” the emulsion–with tiny tools–to make them look like French Impressionist paintings. Now you can achieve this same affect with an iPhone and an App. LOL!

From the first tender bud breaks early in the year—that later yield tight bunches of tiny, yellow flowers…  each flower can form a single grape—to the fall harvest and two, Napa Valley Wine Auctions, each of my trips were magical. I learned a lot about wine and jokingly referred to myself as an idiot savant about Napa Cabernets.

Don’t ask me about French Cabs, Chardonnays or more recent years, because that’s when my uninformed “idiot” shows up, but for that brief window in time, I could hold my own about Napa Cabs.

With teachers like Michael Mondavi and his legendary father, Robert—who brought worldwide attention to California wines—and numerous other well-known Napa vintners and restauranteurs, I gained a love and appreciation for great wine and food pairing that’s never left me.

The beauty of Napa Valley is staggering. I got to know the backroads and the people around every turn and up every hill. Stags’ Leap Winery commissioned me to do a series of my French Impressionist photographs, especially for them. I stayed in their fabulous, 1880’s rock guest house, stocked with jaw-dropping food and wine. They gave me the key to the wine cellar–as if I needed anything else–and suggested I sit on “the power bench” at sundown. I sat there—the only person on the property until morning—overlooking their 85-acre valley and drinking their finest Cabernet. It was a powerful moment that moved me spiritually.

I was surveying God’s work at it’s finest.

Perhaps my favorite experience was standing in the Mondavi vineyard, before sunrise, photographing the harvest. When I arrived the field was bustling with farmworkers, wearing jackets and sweaters to ward off the early morning chill. Tendrils of low-lying fog drifted across the rows like momentary cobwebs.

In the row behind me, a male voice began singing in Spanish. Two rows ahead of me, another male voice joined him. As a pink glow broke on the horizon, a dozen a cappella voices harmonized in unison while workers clipped grapes and tossed them into baskets. Another powerful moment I will never forget. Thank you, Michael Mondavi, for arranging my visit.

The following week I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Everything but family and survival dropped off the radar.

After my treatment and surgeries, I gained my strength back. But somehow calendars and notecards didn’t seem very important. Instead I wanted to help other women and their families survive what my late husband and I had survived, and so I started BreastCancerSisterhood.com,which became the Top Breast Cancer site. I’ve never looked back.

Now families in Napa Valley are struggling to survive. My heart breaks for them because of the massive fire that scorched more than 200,000 acres—many I’ve walked and photographed—damaged more than 6,000 homes, displaced 100,000 people—some I’m sure I’ve met—and killed at least 41. I know with God’s grace, the people—many are farmworkers and lower middleclass—their pets and the spirit of Napa will survive. If you’re interested in ways you can help them, please click here.


Love, Brenda


  • Joyce Sullivan November 4, 2017 at 7:18 am

    Glorious verbal tone poem – “tendrils of fog…” Beautiful. And a glorious happy Saturday morning to yiu, dear Brenda.

    • 1010ParkPlace November 5, 2017 at 2:43 pm

      Thank you, dear Joyce! Hope your fall garden is beautiful and inspiring, Brenda

  • Carol Cassara November 4, 2017 at 9:20 am

    It’s a tough time for those impacted by the fire. But Californians are resilient folk.

    • 1010ParkPlace November 5, 2017 at 2:45 pm

      You’re so right, Carol. I feel for the people who, every year, know that wild fires may seek them out. That’s real strength to live there anyway. Brenda

  • LA CONTESSA November 4, 2017 at 11:54 am

    THANK YOU and HOW interesting YOUR LIFE has BEEN!!!!!!
    I am one HOUR AWAY from NAPA………maybe closer if the ITALIAN is driving!!
    I kept my horse in SONOMA growing up………….
    I loved your POWER MOMENTS……the BENCH and the SINGING!!!!
    It is a BEAUTIFUL SPOT and I was lucky enough to spend time there as a child growing up and had a BOYFRIEND who’s family had a big old stone house in RUTHERFORD!!!IT left an IMPRESSION on me TOO.
    I took in two evacuee’s with a dog and a cat…………..and they were lucky!Their homes are still are standing!

    • 1010ParkPlace November 5, 2017 at 2:49 pm

      Brava, dear Elizabeth, for helping the evacuees and their furry family. THAT’S LOVE AND A GENEROUS HEART! You live in a beautiful part of the world, and that beauty is reflected in your style and how you live. My intense, year-long Napa emersion changed my style, and I’m grateful for those experiences. xoxox, Brenda

  • Jan Hasak November 4, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    Beautiful place. Last time was in late 2011 with my cousins after a devastating divorce. We had a blast together in Napa and Somona counties.

    • 1010ParkPlace November 5, 2017 at 2:51 pm

      Hi Sweet Friend! Before I started making my trips to Napa, I didn’t understand the profound difference in Napa and Sonoma, the people and their lifestyles. I look forward to returning and reconnecting with old acquaintances and making new ones. Sending God’s blessings to you, Brenda

  • Barbara November 4, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    Can’t believe we didn’t share THIS story…but now I know about the photos. Nature can be an SOB!

    • 1010ParkPlace November 8, 2017 at 1:36 pm

      Barbara, I imagine there’s lots of things we didn’t talk about! xoxox, Brenda

  • Beckye Estill November 4, 2017 at 5:15 pm

    Beautiful post, dear Brenda. God’s grace that He enabled you to help so many of us. Can’t tell you how many people I referred to your sisterhood site, or how many husbands benefitted from your videos for them. (They feel so helpless to help their wives at diagnosis.) And now He’s using you to assist the victims of the raging fires. What a blessing! Beautiful descriptions and eloquent prose! Thanks for being there for so many, including me!

    • 1010ParkPlace November 8, 2017 at 3:52 pm

      Beckye, I appreciate your kind words and support and for referring other breast cancer families to BreastCancerSisterhood.com. Because it’s such a great resource for every member of the breast cancer family, I’ve left it up, even though I no longer add content to it. People are still subscribing to that site, so I’m thankful it’s still helping families. I’m grateful you’ve come into my life and that I’ve been of some help to you, sweet lady. xoxox, Brenda

  • Doreen McGettigan November 4, 2017 at 8:10 pm

    I have never been to Napa, I’ve always wanted to visit. I am so sorry for all those people that lost everything. Our house burned down when I was 14. I’ll never forget that feeling.
    You have amazing memories as well as more than your share of sadness.

    • 1010ParkPlace November 8, 2017 at 3:54 pm

      …AND your house burned down? Oh, sweet friend! So many devastating traumas in your life. You are a strong woman who’s been blessed with the ability and determination to help so many others. Brava and God bless you! Brenda

  • Donna O’Klock November 4, 2017 at 11:11 pm

    Your experiences, as well as your creative abilities – and compassion – continue to inspire and impress me. What a lifetime you are experiencing. Thank you for sharing it!

    • 1010ParkPlace November 8, 2017 at 4:00 pm

      Thank you, Donna. Esther Zimmer once made the comment that if “these” were some of the… shall we say, “startling” things, I’ve written about, she wondered about the things I HAVEN’T written about. Oh, my…. I’m working my way up to those! xoxox, Brenda

  • Rebecca Forstadt Olkowski November 5, 2017 at 1:16 am

    I’ve been to Napa many times because my brother lives there and we are going up for Thanksgiving. It was so scary during the fire worried that their house could burn. Luckily, they were okay. I love the note cards. I know some buildings at Stag’s Leap were damaged but not like Signorello, which is in the same area. It’s gorgeous up there and I hope the areas affected will recover quickly.

    • 1010ParkPlace November 8, 2017 at 4:07 pm

      Rebecca, Thank, God, your brother and his family are alright. I can’t imagine how frightening it must have been for them, especially if they were evacuated and didn’t know whether their home was alright. Grapes are from sturdy plants that like to be “stressed,” but I don’t know if they’re like a grass or hay field that will come back. Makes me think about the film, “A Walk in the Clouds” with Keanu Reeves, set in WWII. He pretends to be the husband of a vineyard owner’s daughter. There’s a terrible fire, but some of the vineyard stock survives.. Happy Thanksgiving to you! If you think of it, please let me know how Napa looks and how they’re doing. xoxox, Brenda

  • Pat November 5, 2017 at 11:17 am

    Brenda, this is lovely. Of course married to a Frenchman I had to develop a palate for fine wines. In the past I wrote about the grape harvest in Burgundy after watching the workers and touring the vineyards, so I have a great appreciation for the amount of work that goes into making each bottle. We have always wanted to visit the Napa Valley. I hope that the area can recovery fully from such devastating loss.

    • 1010ParkPlace November 8, 2017 at 4:14 pm

      Hi Pat, What a unique experience it must be, married to someone who was born in another country. I imagine you’ve learned a lot and been exposed to so much we tourists will never get a feel for. I haven’t traveled much in France and would love to go to Burgundy and explore some day. What fun! If you go to Napa, even though it’s “right next door” to Sonoma, the two communities couldn’t be more different! Intriguing!

  • jill Anthony November 6, 2017 at 10:07 am

    Brenda, this was beautiful. Your descriptions are so vivid and gorgeously written. I was fortunate to have visited Napa three years ago for a family wedding, and my children especially, were captivated by it’s beauty. Thank you for sharing your experience in that magical place.

    • 1010ParkPlace November 8, 2017 at 4:18 pm

      Thank you, Jill. Perhaps Hildie needs to attend the Napa Valley Wine Auction in June. One of the evenings is super chic and dressy! I’ll never forget Isabel Mondavi’s gorgeous gown and the red coral necklace she wore. So beautiful and elegant. xoxox, Brenda

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