Spotlight on Napa

Napa poet laureate Beclee Wilson celebrates the written word.

There’s a myth about writers, created over the years, that depicts them as lonely souls scribbling away outside of society. They’re riddled with demons and too often misunderstood by the very masses they simultaneously loathe yet hope to attract. They’re a complex and surly lot.

There may be some truth to the stereotype, but not for Beclee Wilson, who has served as Napa Valley poet laureate for the past two years.

“My background is in theater,” she says. “I don’t create in isolation, mining my emotions.”

Instead, Beclee learned to appreciate connecting with an audience as a young thespian in one of the first child theater companies in the country. She was born a performer.

Beclee credits her parents and upbringing for ensuring that she was “surrounded by language and words.” That appreciation carried through her advanced education, which included Northwestern University’s School of Speech, a master’s degree from the University of Michigan and a doctorate from the University of Minnesota.

It was during her college years that she met future husband John Wilson, who would eventually become executive vice president and chief economist for the Bank of America, as well as a teacher
at UC Berkeley. They moved to
St. Helena in 2000.

Napa Valley has proven to be a source of inspiration for Wilson—and provided her a sense of community, as well. She cherishes the town’s history and even takes it upon herself to polish the brass at the local post office building, a structure that shares her birth year of 1940. Those planter boxes in front? That was her handiwork, too. A group of appreciative locals even created a joint birthday celebration for the two.

“The valley has been a wonderful place,” Wilson says.

More than the town, though, Wilson finds inspiration and motivation through its children. A former grade-school teacher, she works with nearly every regional school to enhance an appreciation of poetry. Reaching kids has been her primary mission as Napa Valley’s poet laureate, and she’s worked with hundreds of them over the years.

As her stint comes to an end—a new laureate will be chosen in July—Wilson continues her campaign, benefiting from a grant that will enable school children to have their own poetry on display in a Yountville museum.

“It’s a wonderful outlet for human beings of every age,” Wilson says of poetry and the written word. “There’s no moment in life that cannot be worked into a poem.”

Wilson, in creating her own poetry, says she tries to “look at life and capture a moment in some way, using all of my senses—what am I seeing, smelling, hearing?”

She says she tries to “have an internal conversation” as she engages her surroundings and that “all of life around me has an opportunity” to inspire poetry.

These are exciting times for the poet, who just learned that her published works will be included in five upcoming international book fairs. Having her works translated into other languages isn’t out of the question.

Wilson’s focus remains on keeping poetry vibrant and alive among the young and respecting how vital poetry has been through the ages.

“All artistic ways of expressing life within a life around have been essential for a full life of creating and receiving through all human existence,” she says.

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LOCAL KNOWLEDGE

Anne Girven helps get the word out about the CIA at Copia

What is it about the city of Napa that makes for an ideal location for this Culinary Institute of America outpost?

Napa is a burgeoning area that keeps growing year after year, with the local population increasing and visitation on the rise. The CIA at Copia is a veritable playground for food and wine lovers with our daily cooking demonstrations, winetasting experiences, lifestyle store and the Restaurant at CIA Copia. We offer experiences that are attractive to both locals and visitors, and with the city of Napa becoming a destination for foodies and wine lovers, this location works well for our mission.

What sorts of dishes or approaches to cooking do you utilize at CIA Copia that are hooked into regional traditions?

All of our experiences are geared toward consumers at the CIA at Copia. In our demonstrations and hands-on cooking classes, we teach techniques that are taught at the college, but they are formatted in a way that is easy to understand for non-chefs. Everything at the CIA at Copia involves learning, but you may not realize you are learning new skills because the classes are fun and exciting.

At the restaurant and in our classes, we use ingredients from our farms and gardens to create seasonal dishes and experiences for our guests. We also recently opened our Tasting Showcase, which features up to six different local wineries and their wines at individual bars throughout our atrium. Each winery showcases its wines to guests through tastings. It’s a great way to learn about Napa Valley wines and taste from different producers in one spot.

Where do you like to go to eat in Napa when you’re not at the CIA?

We of course love to dine at the Restaurant at CIA Copia, but we also love supporting our alumni, including Michael Gyetvan of Azzurro Pizzeria & Enoteca, Todd Humphries of Kitchen Door, Kadriye Gitgel Baspehlivan of Tarla, Jessica Sedlacek of Blue Note Napa, and many others.

How has the arrival of the CIA in Napa been met by locals?

We often get visitors to the facility who were members of the previous Copia or who had visited the facility previously, and they are happy to see the space open again.

What’s your personal favorite thing about CIA Copia—a dish or otherwise?

My favorite thing to come out of the CIA at Copia has definitely been awakening this space that was dormant for so long. We are so excited to launch new programs over the next year, including the Chuck Williams Culinary Arts Museum and the opening of our Hestan Teaching Kitchen, allowing us to host more hands-on cooking and baking classes. We are thrilled to be part of downtown Napa, and we look forward to continue to offer innovative and fun programs for locals and visitors.

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THINGS TO DO IN NAPA

Napa City Nights

Celebrating 10 years of shows this summer, the Napa City Nights concert series offers the region’s hottest acts performing weekly at the Veterans Memorial Park Amphitheater along the Napa Riverfront Promenade. Originally built as part of a flood control project in 2008, this outdoor venue boasts lawn seating and a large dance floor, and the genre-blending series is perfect for music fans of all ages and interests. This week, July 7, funk tribute act Hour of Tower, blues-rock outfit Ordinary Sons and world-music big band New Era Beats Brigade mix it up. Later dates feature Napa Valley bands and songwriters like the Deadlies, Full Chizel, Zak Fennie and others. Fridays through Aug. 18, Veterans Memorial Park, Third and Main streets, Napa. 6:30pm. Free. napacitynights.com.

Taste of Napa

One of the biggest events in Festival Napa Valley’s 10-day schedule of extravagant experiences, Taste of Napa showcases the area’s diverse culinary world and wine empire with tastings from dozens of restaurants, wineries and artisan purveyors. Many of the participating wineries rarely open their doors to the public, making this an exceptional time to expand the palate and discover new flavors. Three local bands, chosen by the public in an online vote, will accompany the buzzed-about bites and wines, and there’s even a beer garden on hand for Taste of Napa on Saturday, July 15, at Napa Valley Exposition, 575 Third St., Napa. 11am to 2:30pm. $99 main floor; $225 Reserve Salon. festivalnapavalley.org.

Napa Porchfest

The popular annual Porchfest takes advantage of the summer weather and takes to the streets for a one-of-a-kind walking tour of live music this month. Featuring local bands and artists playing their tunes literally on the porches of several historic homes and properties throughout downtown Napa, this year’s Porchfest will be centered around Fuller Park, and the houses surrounding it, for a bulk of the action. This new hub will be able to host around a dozen food trucks in addition to providing shade and restrooms for the general public. The Porchfest organizers will also have info and maps to the other locations. The fun is only a porch away on Sunday, July 30, Fuller Park, 560 Jefferson St., Napa. Noon to 6pm. Free. napaporchfest.org.

Napa Town
& Country Fair

For 85 years, the Napa Town & Country Fair has brought local exhibits, agricultural competitions and lively entertainment to the city’s fairgrounds for a family-friendly week. This year, the fair has hired first-class amusement ride company Helm & Sons Amusements to provide the carnival with a new look and new rides that are both fun for young kids and thrilling for adults. In addition to the roller coasters, the fair includes two stages of live music featuring popular tribute acts and headlining performers like Wynonna & the Big Noise and Tony Orlando. Arts and crafts, farm exhibits, 4H demonstrations and a livestock arena put the “country” in the Town & Country Fair, running Aug. 9–13 at Napa Valley Exposition, 575 Third St., Napa. Gates open at noon everyday. $10–$13; kids five and under free. napavalleyexpo.com.

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