ANGWIN — The city of Napa is one of the Bay Area’s more insulated locations, but it’s a virtual metropolis compared to the rural, slow-moving pace in Angwin.
Here — nestled among the trees on the slopes of Howell Mountain — the remote, tight-knit village has stood apart from the hustle-bustle on the Napa Valley floor for more than a century.
Along Howell Mountain Road — the village’s main drag — spying even the occasional pedestrian or bicyclist is a rare occurrence during the summer months. For those who do venture out for a stroll, a calming Alpine-like silence reigns, broken only by the occasional car heading down or up “the hill.”
Yet, despite its somewhat remote location, Angwin — and the greater Howell Mountain region — has become a popular proving ground for vintners and grape growers, all hoping that the area’s unique terroir will help distinguish their product from the countless other labels sporting the Napa Valley name.
For this reason, Angwin might be thought of as a community in flux — one that is attempting to balance a budding wine culture with an older community whose Seventh-day Adventist roots spurn the consumption of alcohol.
According to the latest census, roughly 3,050 people call the town home. Of that figure, many have some link to Pacific Union College, a four-year Adventist institution.
Emerging from the winding mountain pathway, visitors to Angwin are greeted by a collection of small shops and structures bordering the roadside for only a few hundred yards before giving way to the forest once again.
On one side sits a token strip mall offering a collection of essential services — things valley floor residents might expect to see on nearly every corner.
There’s a post office, a bank, a market and a hardware store — and little else — at Angwin’s community hub.
Across the road, the towering church and sanctuary of Pacific Union College dominates the mountain landscape, serving as a reminder that the Seventh-day Adventist faith plays a large role in the town and, for decades, has served as a steering hand in its development.
“I think it’s safe to say that the college has been kind of the keeper in Angwin,” said Herb Ford, a professor emeritus at the college and former president of the Angwin Community Council.
Many of the service’s that Angwinites depend on — including the village’s only market — are operated by the college, meaning they adhere to the strict religious restrictions called for by the Adventist faith, Ford said.
Members of the church are expected to abstain from tobacco, alcohol and meat. As a result, Angwin’s College Market carries none of these worldly temptations.
Inside, patrons can sift through freezers full of faux-meat products such as “vege-salami,” “rice burgers” and packages of imitation “scallop delights,” but not an ounce of real meat — or drop of alcoholic Napa Valley wine — can be found.
On Saturdays — the Adventist Sabbath — businesses are closed, further evidence of the role religion plays in the mountain-side hamlet.
However, roughly a mile up the road from the center of the PUC campus, a different culture is evolving.
Here — carved into the side of the Howell Mountain — the tasting room at Arkenstone Vineyards stands ready to pour premium reds and whites for those who are willing to make the trip up the hill.
Planting its first vineyard blocks in 1998, Arkenstone now boasts a 25,000 square-foot cave complex featuring state-of-the-art fermentation equipment and a new hospitality area — a far cry from the rural and rustic image that many have come to associate with the Angwin name.
In 2009, Cade Winery, a project of the Plumpjack Group — which counts former San Francisco Mayor and current state lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom as a partner and also operates Napa’s Carneros Inn — opened shop only a few miles down the road from Angwin.
As with Arkenstone, Cade offers on-site tasting by appointment.
Other wineries, including Ladera, Cimarossa and Howell at the Moon, also call Howell Mountain home and list Angwin addresses on their websites.
Drawn to the area by the its natural beauty and unique microclimate, Arkenstone owner Susan Krausz says that fusing a wine culture with Angwin’s traditionalist past has presented little challenge.
“I guess it’s been pretty normal,” Krausz said. “We’ve co-existed pretty well.”
Visitors take little notice of Angwin’s religious roots, simply passing through as tourists tend to do, she said.
“When they’re in the valley, they’re in the valley,” she said. “Whether it’s Angwin or the valley floor.”
Angwinites have adopted a similar live-and-let-live approach to the area’s growing reputation in the wine industry.
Duane Cronk, long-time resident and publisher of the online Angwin Reporter, said that — with the exception of some of the surrounding forest being clearing to make way for vineyard blocks — a developing wine culture has had little effect on village residents.
Ford agrees, noting that conflict between the two interests has been almost nonexistent.
“I think it’s safe to say that they get along with the Adventists pretty well and the Adventists get along with them,” he said.
With Angwin offering no lodging, the village hasn’t developed into a destination the way that valley floor towns have. When volunteers with the Napa Valley Destination Council field requests from visitors looking for overnight accommodations, they steer them elsewhere, a council representative said.
In Angwin — where growth has long been a controversial topic — this likely suits residents just fine.
“This is not a place to grow,” said Cronk from the living room of his home on Hill Street. “Away from the college, there are no sidewalks in Angwin. There are no jobs here ... we don’t even have a doctor’s office.”
In recent years, the college’s plan to develop more than 300 homes through its “eco-village” project was met with staunch opposition. The plan was ultimately dropped, but only after years of protest from a faction of village residents.
“That left some scars on the community,” said Ford.
When compared to the threat of new housing, wineries setting up shop on the hill haven’t riled most residents, said Cronk, who was an adamant opponent of the eco-village project.
“The community now has a wine culture,” he said. “For some reason, it doesn’t clash here.”