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Napa Valley by the Book

Mystery, romance, memoirs and cookbooks: As days grow shorter, it’s the ideal time to delve into books that tell the multifaceted stories of Napa Valley. 


The iconic American food writer, MFK Fisher, was also a St. Helena resident (when she wasn’t traveling) from 1955 to 1970. A founder of the Napa Valley Wine Library, she compiled her best works in The Art of Eating.

Sally Schmidt’s Six California Kitchens is history with recipes. Schmidt and her husband, Ron, were the founders of The French Laundry, which they sold in 1994 to an unknown chef named Thomas Keller.

For inspiration for the season’s upcoming celebrations, the late Dolores Cakebread’s The Napa Valley Cakebread Cellars Cookbook and The American Harvest Cookbook are timeless guides from the woman who co-founded a winery marking its 50th anniversary in 2023.

Wine for dinner? Entertaining and informative, Karen McNeil’s The Wine Bible, now in its third edition, is also one of the most comprehensive wine books. Although The Wine Bible is global in nature, McNeil is a longtime resident of Napa Valley and writes eloquently about this special place.


Local historian Lauren Coodley goes back a while with her Napa Valley Chronicles. Her publisher, Arcadia, offers a rich variety of books on Napa Valley, including Lin Weber’s Prohibition in Napa Valley: Castles Under Siege.

Another facet of Napa Valley can be found in the memoirs of the people who helped make it the memorable place it is today. A Glass Full of Miracles is the story of vintner Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, a refugee from Croatia who arrived in 1958 with a dream of making wine in a place he had heard called “Paradise.” One man who helped Grgich on his way was Robert Mondavi, whose own dramatic story is told in his autobiography, Harvests of Joy.


Romance writer Jasmine Guillory’s Drunk on Love is based in Napa and is about a Black winery owner who falls in love, while Nora Roberts evokes family drama in The Villa. Ursula K. Le Guin set her haunting, post-apocalyptic novel, Always Coming Home, in Napa Valley.

Napa native A. Cort Sinnes has written 20 guides to gardening and cooking, but he calls his “life work” a trio of novels, The Silverado Trail, The Voyage of the Silverado and Escape to Silverado, which begins and ends with a group of gnomes on Mount St. Helena.


Two independent bookstores can help you track down these and more books about Napa Valley. Napa Bookmine has locations in Napa and St. Helena, and Copperfield’s Books is in Calistoga and Napa.