In fact, the Napa Valley is one of the most fiercely protected areas in the United States, and has been since 1968, when an ambitious zoning measure designated the county an agricultural preserve. New subdivisions of land must be at least 160 acres, which prevents large parcels from being broken up into tiny plots. Since the law was enacted, not one acre of the Napa Valley has been removed from the preserve or rezoned.
ONE RESULT OF THESE DETERMINED EFFORTS is that Kate and Andy can follow the Silverado Trail, a 25-mile road that skirts the foothills from the town of Napa to Calistoga, without a single billboard or architectural eyesore detracting from the view. Driving, preferably in a convertible, is one of their favorite things to do in wine country, particularly for the breathtaking scenery, with the mountain wilderness on one side and the cultivated vineyards on the other.
The cultural landscape has also been well preserved—around here, every pickup truck is a vintage model, every sign is lettered in a careful hand, every farm stand overflows with bounty. On this trip, the Spades are especially struck by the Napa town of St. Helena, with its quiet Victorian houses, impeccably maintained bungalows, and picture-perfect Main Street. Kate makes herself at home at Martin Design/Dione Carston Cosmetics Edited, a jewel of a boutique selling beauty products from around the world. OK Barbers, with its plate-glass window and peeling pale-green walls, is so authentic it could be shipped off to the Smithsonian.
Heading north past Calistoga, the Spades wind through the wooded Mayacama Mountains—past the rustic Triple S Ranch, an amusing spot for an early-evening cocktail—and drop into a lesser-known part of Sonoma County, the Alexander Valley. Jimtown, an eccentric, bright-yellow roadside shop in Healdsburg, has a sign out front promising GOOD COFFEE—REAL FOOD. Inside is a selection of old-fashioned toys, collectibles, and antiques—think Pez dispensers, books of shadow figures, and giant jawbreakers. Kate picks up gifts for her friends' children. "I didn't even know half these things were still being made," she says. "But they're not trying to be ironic about going down memory lane. It's not kitsch—it has more integrity."
From there, it's off to a perfect little farming town called Geyserville, where the biggest attraction is an honest-to-God general store, Bosworth & Son. The simple white clapboard structure was first opened by the current owner's grandfather. Norman Rockwell couldn't have asked for a more picturesque scene: the hardwood floors are faded and rough, and a tired old hound dog lies at the foot of the counter while Bosworth talks things over with a long-time customer. "So dusty and true-blue," Kate says. "It opened in 1911 and I don't think it's ever been touched. I love that they haven't tried to update it."
Outside on the street, someone passing through town rolls down a window to ask a resident for directions to the nearest service station. "You'll have to go down to Healdsburg," is the cheerful answer. "There's no gas in Geyserville!"
Such moments of authenticity and charm, combined with all the area's easy elegance, are what make the designer wild about the place. "There's a natural sophistication that doesn't seem forced," Kate explains. "It's a great balance."