THE HOUSE IS ROUGHLY the length of two basketball courts and strung along a ridgeline above the Silverado Trail, the more rural north-south artery along the valley's eastern flank. To the precipitous driveway cling ascending cars driven by carefully appointed women, all come to see a new kitchen. The owner greets her guests at the front door. She has short blond hair and a very large yellow diamond on her finger. She and husband, who made his money in hotels, now, like Pahlmeyer, have their own lines of chardonnay and rocket juice. She designed the house and kitchen to her own specifications.
"I just put everything in and hoped it would come out all right," she explains, showing her guests around. "I never saw a piece of china I didn't want." Her home is filled with art from four continents: tapestries, paintings of European landscapes and a Chinese peasant, sculptures of frogs in bronze, a mademoiselle in plaster, candles with gold beads embedded, innumerable colored plates.
The other women are, for the most part, also blond. They favor white slacks and sweaters and pashmina shawls. They sip coffee from white cups handed to them by the caterer in checkered trousers and white chef's jacket. They nibble on scones and agree that the kitchen is a marvel. There's a medieval pulley system "from some castle in France" to turn a grilling joint of meat, and, should the big oven ever be fired up, an exhaust fan "that will pull your hair out."
Talk turns to the problems of the valley, primarily the glassy-winged sharpshooter (a bug that attacks grapevines and exposes them to a deadly bacterium) but also its human equivalent, at least in their opinion: the environmental activist. "Their complaints are so stupid," says the owner. "They criticized us for building on a hillside, but we're not on a hillside. We're on top." One of her guests says to another, "We just built two houses, but we're not living in either one. Your new one in yet?"
"Why don't people talk about the nice things in the valley?" the hostess continues. "Like the iris farm or our skeet-shooting club?"
The next stop is a house in St. Helena where one of the women has some landscaping to show off. Not everyone knows how to get there. "Just follow the red Jag," says a Pashmina. They mount their respective sedans and SUVs, resplendent in the California sunlight, and in a flurry of Palm Pilots and air kisses, heigh-ho the ornamental town garden.