Accidental Romance Writer ?


Am I an accidental romance writer?

I say accidental, because I didn’t set out to write a romance. I wrote about the characters who popped up in all my short stories: A man who is half in love with his horse; a woman he used to love; his mother who drinks to much; her cousin who is afraid of ICE and is trying to protect her child; a different man with cancer, grappling with the choices he’s made, an uncle who makes wine, a woman who paints her way through heart ache.

Is it my fault they were all looking for love?

Every book I’ve written – YA, mystery, fiction – has a romance. So perhaps I really do fall into that category of romance writer?

Lately, I’ve thrown all bias to the wind and read whatever is coming up as “popular” on Amazon. Call it market research. There’s some crap out there, for sure. But there’s also some excellent reads that are under-valued because they fall into the wrong genre – romance, sci-fi, thriller.

Reading “romance novels” never occurred to me.

Or did it?

What is my favorite childhood book, Little Women, if not a romance? The English Patient, Bel Canto, Correlli’s Mandolin or Cutting for Stone? From Jane Austin’s Emma to Chimamanda’s Ngozie Adichie’s Americana, from Harry Potter to Beauty and the Beast, I’m a sucker for love story.

But can I call myself a romance writer? With my politics being what they are (marching in a pink hat), and absolutely no women in scanty clothing to be found on my cover, I’m not sure I fit in.

And then I listened to a podcast (because that’s what I do as I walk the hills in Sonoma). Smart Bitches, Trashy Books ( is hosted by Sarah Wendell (Smart Bitch Sarah). I don’t remember how I got to it, but after a few minutes of the interview I found myself entranced with episode #281.

Sarah actually played a tape of a panel she moderated for a conference called Politics and Prose on the Wharf.

The writers, Alisha Rai and Alyssa Cole, were both romance writers who also identified themselves as women of color. Their panel was called “Romance and the Resistance.”  So yeah, that got my attention.

What really got my attention was this:

  1. The fact that Alisha Rai apparently hands out buttons that say. HEA (Happily Ever After) is resistance. (Wow!)
  2. Alisha saying this:

I don’t think that idealism is naïve if you, if you are cognizant of all the terrible stuff in the world, but it is, every day you get up and you do that, where you are genuine and you’re authentic and you’re excited about something, whether it’s even the smallest things, like, oh, my God, I got out of bed and I brushed my teeth. Like, that’s something, you know? So I think doing that every day, especially if you’re, you know, a woman, a marginalized member of society in one way or another, I think it is, it is amazingly, just resisting everything that’s pushing you down and telling you not to.

  1. Alyssa talking about layers of subversiveness in romance writing:

.the subversiveness of women choosing happiness, finding people that make them happy, and finding careers and going after their goals, which I think is a part of most romances. You don’t generally find ones where women are just. . . “I’m just going to, you know, not do whatever makes me happy, whether that’s a job, having children, or, you know, starting a charity, whatever, and marry some bum who’s going to beat me up.” Like, that’s not a romance.

. . . and then there’s the other layers, for example, LGBTQ romance where you say, okay, we’re going to live at the end of this story, we’re going to have happy endings, we’re not going to die; and romance for people of color where it’s like, okay, we’re actually going to show you being loved and appreciated and not just a side character in a story.

The interview continues – the writers talking about the power in giving diverse characters real lives, with challenges, sure, but also success. The magic of creating women who were feisty, great friends and good people, who happen to fall in love.  Saying that, in this current climate, a happy ending is radical. We need to give people hope.

Listening to it, I did a little happy dance in the street.

Who knew happy endings were political? That writing romance might ironically be more political than writing an angry article about our greedy, rude, orange-headed puppet? (I could write that too, by the way, in my sleep.) Who knew that romance is a political weapon? Apparently, these smart bitches.

So, on this Valentine’s Day week, I’m excited as I prepare for the launch of my book, The Vines  We Planted.  It’s a  love story, full of diverse characters who find that love can overcomes economic divides, political oppression, homophobia, and even the walls around the heart.

I’m so excited to be an accidental romantic revolutionary.

Happy Valentines Day!

The Vines They Planted, May 2018. Wido Publishing. Launch details soon!

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Your Steps Alone




pexels-photo-244371.jpegIn the airport, waiting for another delayed flight, and Jerry Garcia is singing in my earbuds. When you’re waiting for a miracle. I find myself reflecting on the things we wait for, and the roads we take.

About thirty years ago I took my college degree, two suitcases and a back pack full of journals and got on a plane from Newark to San Francisco.  My best friends took me to the airport and waved goodbye at the curb, after sharing the end of a joint for courage. I curled up in a window seat, crying for approximately five of the six hours, in sheer panic. I had turned down my law school acceptances at the last minute. I had no job or clear path and no discernible reason to leave on that day, August 8, 1986. Just an internal diving rod that seemed to point as far West as the country would allow.  I had visited San Francisco once. I’d read Kerouac’s On the Road, tasted Napa Cabernets and hugged a real Redwood tree not far from where the Grateful dead lived. (!!)

Neither New Jersey’s pastoral green fields nor their gritty cities could satisfy me any longer. My sister waited for me on the other side of the country in a spiffy new red VW cabriole. She was prepared to share her apartment, friends and adventurous spirit.

“It’s just for a year,” I told my parents and friends. Just a year, I told myself on the plane. You’ll go home again.

me young

I didn’t know I’d meet my husband the night I arrived in San Francisco, my face still tear soaked. That the fog rolling in and out across the water would become the blanket of my days; that I’d raise small fine humans who grew up to the rhythm of the Bay; that my parents would follow me and finish their lives watching the sunset over this golden city; that my childhood friend would join me for a weekend and never leave. That I would become a true Californian, slowly shedding ski jackets for flip-flops.

Had I known what I was embarking on – a whole life – would it have been easier or harder to get on that flight?

Now my oldest son prepares to take the reverse geographical leap, heading off to explore life in Manhattan. He might be back in six months, clear that it’s not for him.  It’s New York – loud, expensive, intense and winter is. .. well, winter. Or he might dig into New York the way I did with San Francisco. He’ll eat the cannolis of my childhood, build campfires in the Catskills, fight for a spot on a sweltering NJ beach day and run downtown for half-price tickets to the theater. With any luck, he’ll jump on one of those stages himself.  I’ll enjoy the ride as his observer for as long as he chooses to stay, visiting as much as possible.

When I arrive back East, the same friends that took me to the airport years ago will be waiting, ready to share a glass of wine and continue our endless conversation. They always are. Three thousand miles and thirty years hasn’t made a dent in our closeness.  They will be my son’s New York family.

I went with these friends to see Jerry Garcia perform a few days before I left New Jersey. We sat on the grass on a balmy August evening, singing along, feeling the bittersweet moments before parting, like sweet fruit about to spoil. Someone slipped a cassette tape into my hand for the trip across the country, a live Jerry tape. A passport of sorts.

On the plane ride, Jerry crooned and I cried as the tape played over and over.  Together we travelled to my new life.

There is a road, no simple highway

Between the dawn and the dark of night.

And if you go no one may follow

That path is for your steps alone.

Ripple in the water

When there is no pebble tossed

Nor wind to blow.

You who choose to lead must follow

But if you fall you fall alone.

If you should stand, then who will guide you?

If I knew the way, I would take you home.



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Dear Santa…



Buy me no baubles and I’ll save you the trinkets. Here are the gifts we really need this holiday season. This gifts we give all year. This gifts for which we forget to send thank you notes. The gifts that shape the giver. My Christmas list for the world.

The gift of listening. Even when your blood is running hot, and you don’t quite recognize the person across the table any more, when you are questioning how the two of you became friends/lovers/business partners/spouses, and all you can see are the horns pushing out of the other one’s head. There is the gift of taking a deep breath, sealing your mouth, and listening. Quiet is a gift.

The gift of time. This is the gift of letting the dishes pile until they topple, your eyebrows grow bushy, your car losing oil, and your work piled on the desk, all because you gave your time elsewhere: to the care of a sick child, to the creation of a new piece of art, to the grieving friend, to walk the rambunctious and anxious dogs.

The gift of your voice. When you scrape up the money for a ticket to Washington DC, stitch your pink hat, walk through the cold and yell out in unison that Love will Trump hate. That is a gift. When you write another email to your congressman, and picture them reading it and having an ha moment, changing their otherwise hateful vote. When you blog about the inequities in Puerto Rico, or send a thank you note to the woman who outed her abusive (congressman) boss. When you simply stand up, in a crowd and say “Hey, I saw what you did.” When you refuse to be silent.

The gift of your vision. There is a way out of our current madness, a way to save ourselves, our country and our planet, but not without the vision of thousand open minds. And your vision, though it may seem foggy, obscure and even irrational to you, might be the one that changes the tide. We cannot know if it is never shared.

The gift of your story. The way your grandmother pinched your arm if you told her not to blow smoke on you, the night your house burned down but your dog found her way, the day you identified your attacker in court, the seashell you found with your dead friend that still hangs quietly by your mirror. Every story awakens some part of us, draws an invisible connection from one to another. In the points of intersection, the reader and writer can no longer be strangers. Together, sharing, reading and writing, we create a web.  But we cannot find one another in the dark, if our stories are never told.

The gift of kindness.  Kindness is rooted in authenticity. It takes thoughtfulness and intention. It is saying “come in,” to a neighbor who looks down, when you were ready for bed. It’s turning the car around to check on the person on the side of the road,. It’s my son’s high school teacher baking cookies on his 17th birthday. It’s reading the work of a young writer, gently. It’s walking the lost child home.  

The gift of love. This is, after all, the gift that trumps all gifts. To open your sore and tired heart to another soul, to let them in, despite the very high odds that they will some-day disappoint you. To look them right in the eyes and say, in your words or in your gaze, I love you.  This is the gift the world needs most.



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Warm Tidings On a Cold Winter’s Night.


On any given moment as I traverse our beautiful Sonoma square a dozen emotions can rise – amazement that the square is unscathed, sadness for the many children who lost their homes but still decorate the square with their art, hope for the world if one community can find a way through devastation with grace, fear at the ease with which our worlds can erupt, guilt for still having a home, impotence at not knowing how to help more.

This is real life. These feeling are appropriate in Puerto Rico, in Sudan, in Syria and Houston.  The guilt and impotence could rise in a walk in Oakland, where the homeless camps have grown near the freeways, in Santa Rosa where miles have been destroyed by fire, in Iran, where the earthquake left thousands homeless.

What do we do?

Write a check? Get on a plane across the world to volunteer? Pressure congress to treat Puerto Rico like is it part of our nation (which it is). Serve lunch at a shelter? All of the above?

This year, I wrote some checks, volunteered a little, sent letters to congress occasionally and prayed. It feels meager, even miserly, in the face of my still-standing home, my full larder, my relatively healthy body.

I  am ready to take on a larger burden. Except I don’t think it will be a burden. I know from the past that real service is good food for my soul, and I will feel not burdened but lightened by sense of purpose, even if it is a relatively small purpose.

There are so many among us who dedicate their lives to protecting our planet, to serving the poor, to fighting fires metaphorically in every part of the world.



There were times in my life that I counted myself among them. Serving homeless families for long days in a basement of a church. Sleeping on a sidewalk for months in protest of our state’s investments in South Africa.  Taking care of twelve little girls at a time as they experienced nature for the first time, far from their homes in the city.  Shepherding dozens of teens through the perils of college applications, without a parent. Perusing laundromats for low income young mothers who might need help, and offering them healthcare. Taking a group of five year old in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco to get their first library card. They were the clearest, most meaningful and joyful times of my life.

This past Saturday night in the Sonoma Square, the community gathered and celebrated the lights being lit on the square. A young girl took the stage and sang to us. Amongst the scent of hot chocolate, cider and wine. Despite the noise of running children, traffic and many humans in a small space.  In a pretty white dress and with a brave smile, she sang boldly, offering a beautiful, heart opening rendition of Silent Night.

She had lost her home, but dedicated the song to her neighbor, who had saved her dog.

She is my inspiration as I roll up my sleeves for the next opportunity to serve. We don’t stop singing the face of devastation. When we lose our home, we thank God for our dog. And in the chaos and jumble of life, we return to our faith, which for her is the story of a baby being born on a cold winter’s night.


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Ancient Dreams



November 9, 2017


I rise early on winter mornings, puzzling over my chaotic dreams, trying to make out the path through the forest of my mind.

It’s there, if I give it my attention.

Last night’s version:

A young guy asks me if I want to get high. Strangely, I agree.  We keep searching for a hiding place, where we would not be apprehended. We don’t find one.

I carry an ancient turtle, the size of a large cat, in a bag over my shoulder. I explain to the young man that it is a prehistoric turtle who has broken out of his carbon casing. I periodically feed him hard biscuits.

Finally, I am, apparently, a medical student. I go to a hospital for work, only to find they had no patients scheduled that day who matched my “study protocol” – which was infertility.

“I haven’t had a day off in three weeks,” I complain, ”Why am here without patients? I should be doing my laundry and buying groceries.”

I give up and go to the grocery store,  where I become despondent when I discover the store no longer had “Paleo Mondays”. 

“What am I going to eat?” I moan, “without Paleo?”

I wake up, hungry.

Each of these is slightly more unrealistic than the next – I don’t smoke pot, I am not a medical student, have never been on a Paleo diet, nor carried a pet turtle.

I have woken from these dreams every morning of my life. Flooded with images and feelings about the events in my other world.

Carl Jung, a well-respected psychoanalyst and theorist, believed that we shared a collective unconscious. He posited that many symbols are universal and we all pull from a collective stream of images. This explained, he theorized, the representation of certain symbols in art from cultures across time and at great distances, long before there was active communication, or visitors.

(Let me pause to say this is my own understanding of Jung. I am a devotee of his teaching, but not an academic.)

Sometimes it feels almost as if I am having someone else’s dreams.

Could a frustrated medical student have brushed my arm in the super market, and I picked up her dilemmas?

(I couldn’t resist this stock photo of a happy medical student. Clearly not the one I was feeling in my dream. Also, clearly unrealistic. She should look harried and exhausted.)


Maybe she eats Paleo after getting “high”?


It’s more likely my muddled dream has many personal meanings.

When clients want to look at their dreams, I typically ask them to imagine everything in the dream represents different parts of themselves. That emotions show up as people and animals, even places. And our minds give us hints to what we need.

If I was my own therapist, (and I usually am) I might ask myself:

What is the heavy old, part of yourself you carry in a bag (the turtle)?  Is there a part of yourself you feed reluctantly (old biscuits) and have barely acknowledged?

Which part of yourself feels tired from too much work? And why does she concentrate on infertility? She feels her time is not be used wisely – there are no patients for her. Jung would say to play with that word. Is it patients, or patience?  What part of my life is not “fertile” enough, and needs more patience? (writing!)

And the young man, who wants to “get high” but does not want to get caught. Is this a part of me that wants to escape from stress? Or is it a desire to ascend, to pay attention to higher things (like Spirit)? But it faces the “apprehension” about making spirituality a larger part of my life?

And then there is my moment in the dream of sincere disappointment. “No more Paleo Mondays!”

This one stumps me. I know, in the dream, Paleo Mondays were a day I got some sort of Paleo dinner special. And now that they were discontinued, I was at a loss of what to eat.

Why Paleo? Why Mondays?

I Google Paleolithic, deciding perhaps it is not so much the diet, but the era, my unconscious was sending signals about.

And this is where it gets weird, the way dreams merge with the outside world, with topics I absolutely do not know about in my waking world.

(There is always something in dream analysis for Jung to hang his hat on.)

The picture that pops up when you Google the word Paleolithic is of two men hunting an enormous ancient turtle.  It looks just like the one I carried in my bag through-out the dream.

A Glyptodon, apparently. I have never seen one before, to my knowledge.


From the Wiki page. Paleo-Indians hunting a glyptodont Heinrich Harder (1858–1935), c.1920.

According to Wiki, “the Glyptodon . . with its rounded, bony shell and squat limbs. . .superficially resembled a turtle, and the much earlier dinosaurianankylosaur – providing an example of the convergent evolution of unrelated lineages into similar forms.”

Hm…a convergent evolution. Where seemingly different species become alike. Patterns emerge, shapes reappear across time and geographic space. More fodder for Jung’s ideas!

I certainly find my dreams converge with life. Sometimes I get clear messages (rest, pray, write) and sometimes I don’t (eat more meat?).

Pictures, images and people come to my dreams that I do not know. in my waking life.

I can accept this strange duality-of the dream world/waking world, only when I stretch my thinking beyond the concrete.Life is more like fiction writing than we care to believe. I need to suspend my need for things to move in a linear fashion, and then writing, and dreaming, are as real as being.

As my own therapist, I would say about this dream:

Feed the part of you that is feeling hungry (creativity).

Stop hiding any part of yourself under a hard shell and carrying its heavy weight around with you (let it go),

And there’s no need to hide your plan to get “high” every day (if it means to be closer to God). Do that, instead of escaping in mindless ways.

See? Wisdom from the frenzied unconscious night’s journey. When I take the time to listen.

My therapist-y advice to the rest of you? Start listening to your dreams. They are an untapped resource, rich with meaning, and your unconscious is playful, wise and deliciously clever.

And yes, Googling is a legitimate method or dream research. In fact, Jung seems to have predicted the world wide web a long time ago. He called it the collective unconscious.


PS- On the writing front, since some of you are asking. The Vines We Planted is in the last editing stages, but that still means it will take some time to be on the shelf. We are hoping for March! (Wido Pulbishing)

In the meantime I have ¾ of my next novel drafted and the first act of a play written. Time to get those things to fruition (read:feed the turtle …and yes, writing is a lot like an ancient turtle, it moves so darn slow.)



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Lifting up the part of our community hit the hardest.

Again – catching up on missing posts (from now on they will publish on both blogs simultaneously!) This one was November 2. Still very relevant – please consider donating!



In the aftermath of the fire, folks ask us, “How is it up there? Are people starting over? Are they finding places to live?”

Yes, our friends are returning to their homes, our home is safe, the friends that lost their homes have found temporary places to stay.

And yes, it is horrifying and devastating to see entire neighborhoods decimated. It is also encouraging and wondrous to see downtown Glen Ellen intact, acres of vineyards untouched and the spirit of camaraderie and generosity continue.

Unfortunately,  those hit hardest are the poor and undocumented. Many were not insured – it is hard to buy insurance when you can barely feed your family. Most undocumented are not able to receive aid for FEMA, and even for those that could through certain exceptions are often afraid to in the current climate.  We’ve heard the stories from Harvey of undocumented families waiting indefinitely for FEMA help, meanwhile fearful as ICE now has their information – with good reasons.

On top of the loss of homes, many have lost their work, for at least some period of time. Perhaps they worked at a hotel that burned down, or cleaning houses that are gone, or for many, at wineries temporarily closed.

Students at Santa Rosa junior college – hundreds lost homes- are struggling to find a place to stay and get back to class with, as one student said, “No books, no clothes, no laptop, my job interrupted and my car destroyed.”

A major theme of my novel (The Vines We Planted, March, Wido Publishing) is the acceptance and support of immigrants in our society. Sonoma is a richly layered society, including immigrants from all parts of the world – and that diversity is crucial to the “fruit” it produces. The five year old dusting the ashes off the school playgrounds, the seniors who fled the trailer park, the adults who design a perfect meal for the tourists or pick the last bucket of grapes – they all deserve a safe home to live in.

After researching where I might make the larger impact, I’ve decided my donations will go to  The fund is set up by local, long established Sonoma Non-profits and backed by very well vetted foundations. I have written grant requests over the years to many of these foundations for programs at local non-profits. They do not give away funding without thorough research (trust me! Getting funding isn’t easy!). The fact that they trust this fund to deliver 100% to the families in need means a lot.

Please consider joining me in making a small, medium or large (yes!) donation to our neighbors. The economy of Sonoma (and California) really depends on the immigrant labor force. And decency demands we take care of the people not protected or supported adequately by our government when they are hit by such a devastating tragedy.

Donations of clothing, furniture etc. are not accepted at this time (that may change – they are full for now). What these folks need is a roof over their heads, heat, food, jobs, and vehicles to get to work and school. What they need is funding. 100% go to the victims of the fire.

Please Share and Repost Widely!


From the website:

The UndocuFund has also received support from The California EndowmentThe California Wellness Foundation, the Community Foundation Sonoma County Resilience Fund, Gretchen and Jim Sandler of the Sandler Philanthropic Fund, the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, and the Hill-Snowdon Foundation.


The website also states:

The UndocuFund will provide direct funding to undocumented immigrants in Sonoma County and their families to help with expenses incurred directly as a result of the fires including but not limited to:

  • Temporary housing
  • Home repairs
  • Essential household items
  • Medical and dental expenses
  • Tools and equipment required for work
  • Clean-up items
  • Repair of essential vehicle
  • Moving and storage expenses
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Necessary educational materials (computers, school books, supplie
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Sonoma Rising

Note- This was a post from October 22. It appeared on one blog and not the other (a few of them). I am catching up the missing posts here, so sorry if you get hit with several posts at once!

Sonoma Rising.

Yesterday, I returned to Sonoma for the first time since the wild fires. My fear of facing the changes the wrought by the fires kept me from pressing too hard on the gas.  Not long after I passed the Sonoma line, my heart clenched as I passed acres of blackened hills. Cows grazed on the infrequent patches of grass between the ashes.  Further on, the topography shifted and there was the Sonoma I love – lush vineyards and manicured winery estates.

The weather was perfect, warm but with a welcome dampness in the air after a night’s rain. But my heart was full, tears threatening to erupt at the strange contrast of beauty on one side of the hill and bleak charred blackness on the other.

Ironically. I blogged a month ago about a small fire we had on our property, and my feeling of helplessness in the face of life’s chaos. I could never have imagined when I wrote that piece the true chaos that was about to erupt in our bucolic world – the intense destruction, the many deaths and enormous devastation.

The fires, the deadliest in California history, blew up two Sundays ago, and then continued to burn for over a week.  The fire that threatened our home most directly, the Nunn’s fire, was actually three fires that merged together over the week. Like Chimera, it was a three-headed monster that burned mercilessly.  The nearby Tubbs and Atlas fires destroyed large swaths of Santa Rosa and Napa. Thousands of homes burned, over forty died, and many other were seriously hurt.

The winds were so strong, and the land was so dry. Those two factors left us completely vulnerable.  An army of  fire-fighters and first responders from many states and even other countries fought with amazing heroism. But so much was lost.

I am one of the lucky ones. I was safe in another county through-out, glued to my phone and the TV, crying as the news got worse and worse, more friends evacuated, more homes lost.  One night, the fire a safe distance, my husband and I came to our home and hurried through it, grabbing what we could take quickly– the photo albums, year books, a few mementos. How do you decide, as you stand in the family room, what is most important to you? To your children?  I glanced at the art on the walls, made by friends, to large to take with us, at the pillows I picked with my daughter, the tea pot from my best friend…and realized the enormity of the loss so many were facing. I said goodbye to the house in my mind and we drove down the hill. The ridges on both sides of the valley glowed a deep red in the distance- one in Kenwood, one in Napa -and the world was eerily silent.

The stories are emerging from these hellish past two weeks. Couples who pulled one another from the wreckage, neighbors carrying seniors to help, pets and owners reunited.  In the midst of the raging flames many bonds were forged, heroes were born, and the community came through for one another. Sonoma shone with a spirit of resolve and deep caring. It will be years for many families to recover, to find a new place to call home, to recover the financial losses, and find a new normal. But the valley will come back – they are “Sonoma strong”.

I have not yet gone to see some of the places I love most – places that are described in The Vines They Planted.  I know that some of these places fared well – the square, the Mission, and a few favorite wineries. Others are gone, and I can’t quite imagine the gray ash at my feet where I am used to walking on winding trails through shady woods.

I feel a strange art/life collision, as one of the characters in my novel actually faces the burning of a home, and rising from the ashes. Every-one in the novel has lost something, and is pushed to find their resilience, and in that way the novel again reflects the realities of life.

My characters reflect the “real” people I know here.  They are passionate, embracing, quick to share a glass of wine and a conversation, and willing to work hard to create something beautiful or delicious. They love the land, and are aware of the gifts bestowed on them simply by living here. They are unusually resilient, committed to one another, and grounded in the land.  They are a complex mixture of multi-generational winemakers, tourists who fell in love and could not leave, immigrants motivated to create a better life, and families.

These folks will not give up. This is their home.

Many vines are still standing, many barrels were untouched. The community will gather again soon, and raise a glass to the valley where love and wine flow, and hope continues to reside.

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