No, I am not thinking about Bill and Melinda Gates. Although, Bill and Melinda, if you are reading this, I am available for dinner pretty much any time. The gates I want to consider are all of those that grace our fair valley. We are considering a new gate and as I’ve reviewed the options, it occurs to me that the gates around us reflect a lot about the owners.

The story of the “Three Little Pigs” comes to mind regarding the gates I see. Some are made of straw, some are of wood and some are of brick, metaphorically of course. Some will keep the Big Bad Wolf out; some are just a statement made by one of the owners along the way.

The gates I like the best are the ones that are happy. Regardless of the design or the materials, these gates say “Welcome.” Lots of these happy gates are made of iron and are works of art. The happy gates are most happy when they are open. Some are elegant and welcoming, except they are always locked. Solar panels and keypads are a big part of these gates. Some gates miss the mark a little. They are elegant and are surrounded by flimsy fences. To get in, just drive around the gate.

The dark side of the gate world exists, too. Although I have never had the pleasure of a visit, some gates look like they could be operational at Guantanamo with barbed wire and video cameras. These are the gates that are usually protecting something that doesn’t look all that impressive. For another image, think “Deliverance” meets wine country. There could be a shotgun that will be triggered if the gate opens.

Most gates are neither happy nor totally on the dark side. There could be wine barrels mounted on the gateposts or gargoyles or screaming eagles. All seem to be symbolic but as a passer-by I have no idea what the symbols mean except for the ones with grapevines on them. Some gates look like they are made of spare parts left over from the overhaul of the old Buick and wine presses. Some have a sign on them that says “No Winery This Lane” but it sure looks like a winery is in there.

Some gates are just big boulders or the regular old chain-link fences like the kind on a school playground. The old farm fences designed to keep the cattle fenced in are still all around us. The cattle, though, are gone.

If you are considering getting a new gate I suggest staying away from a rusty chain that hangs between two posts. We have one of those and it has been replaced many times. Rusty chains are hard to see and don’t do much to create a happy welcoming entrance. Instead, get one that goes with the house but doesn’t seem like you are welcoming people into Disneyland. I like the “Welcome to World Famous Napa Valley” signs where everyone is always getting their photos taken. Those signs are the gates to the place we love. Just don’t put them in front of my house.

Fences might make good neighbors but locked gates make us look like whoever was here first gets the gate and no one else can get in. The spirit of wine country is welcome, the more the merrier, come in and have a glass of wine because I made the wine. If we all build gates and private enclaves, what neighbors will we know? When I go to different parts of the country and look at the wine list I can say I know these people. If all the gates are up, maybe I won’t.

Richard Moran splits his time between the life of the mind and the life of wine country.

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