For a trio of South County entrepreneurs, the wine industry is as much about branding as it is about taste.
Strategy consultant Naushad Huda and designer Kathy Lajvardi, a married couple from Laguna Beach, banded together with Huntington Beach journalist Paul Hodgins last year to create a relatable, unpretentious book about Northern California’s wine country.
“Drive Through Napa: Your Ultimate Companion to Napa Valley’s Wine Regions” is a “modern primer” for millennials, said Huda, the editor. He sees the book as an answer to dry guidebooks and stiff informational publications that pervade the wine industry.
“I think the industry absolutely amplified any stigma that was there,” Huda said. “They didn’t do a good job of saying, ‘Hey we’re not that stuffy.’ You don’t have to know about the stems and whatever. You don’t have to know about the tannin structure or what the weather pattern was. You don’t have to know that. Just enjoy it.”
The book, which was written by Hodgins, an Orange County Register wine and spirits columnist, begins with an introduction and glossary, speckled with graphics from Lajvardi. A history of Napa Valley takes readers from its roots with Spanish missionaries to the development of American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) — grape regions that are differentiated by geography, geology, weather, soil and other factors.
The book then describes the 16 sub-AVAs in Napa Valley, with information about the weather, varietals and characteristics of wines; Q&As with winemakers and a price chart to show readers how much money they can expect to spend on wines from the region.
“We didn’t want to make it too highbrow,” Hodgins said. “A lot of people know a little bit about wine, and they’re very curious about it, but they get turned off by the kind of writing that you find. We had to show we were knowledgeable, but we didn’t want to scare anybody off with terms that they didn’t understand.”
Making wine accessible to a younger, more diverse demographic is a vision Huda began exploring in 2016, with the creation of ILikeThisGrape.com, a website devoted to content about wine for the modern consumer.
“When you first start getting into wine, like I did, it’s really hard, and it’s complicated, and it’s annoying,” Huda said. “You walk into a store and you see a wall of black bottles, and they all have weird names.”
The website passion project became tangible last year, when Huda and Lajvardi threw a wine tasting event called SommX at the LVBX gallery space in Laguna Beach, exploring Kanye West’s music through Spanish wine.
The couple is planning a Napa-themed wine-tasting experience, pairing five wines to five short films and five food elements. The book creators will also present at Laguna Beach’s annual scholarship fundraising event Grapes for Grads.
They have held multiple book signings in Orange County since the book printed at the end of February, including one at Julie Lim’s newly opened OC Wine Mart in Orange last week.
“It’s not too geeky, you know, in the sense that it’s easy to understand,” Lim said about “Drive Through Napa.” “I think my customers could relate to it.”
Lim is going on her annual trip to Napa Valley next week and said she will bring the book along as a guide. The primer has already introduced her to a few new wineries she plans to visit.
“I usually tend to go to the same ones,” Lim said. “It kind of opened up my perspective to maybe consider some different ones.”