When you live in a predominantly agricultural area, every season produces beautiful scenery. For Napa, the lingering sun and Mediterranean climate produce spectacular foliage almost year round.
The grape vines, of course, are handsome in all their permutations: the bare wood of winter set against grey skies and low solstice lighting giving way to the full canopy of lush green in the summer, and the glorious autumnal colors in the fall.
But it is a lively little yellow flower that charms visitors and locals when it breaks out in volunteer abundance early in the new year. The mustard flower (yes, the condiment in your picnic basket) has taken over the fields, roadways, and in some cases, the yards of Napa Valley.
Mustard is not an indigenous plant, but has been here since at least the 1800s. Local lore has it that the Jesuit priests, as they traversed California colonizing and sermonizing, scattered the little seeds as they went. One version of the story says it was because the flowers were adored, the other says they were used to mark a path in order to keep the priests from getting lost. Since these little flowers only bloom prolifically for about three months, one must wonder if that was an adequate strategy.
Nonetheless, the story adds a little color to this bright ray of sunshine.
Besides being pretty, sometimes the mustard doubles as a cover crop for the vineyards. Cover crops are the explosion of growth that you see between the pruned vines, and is rarely random. Most vineyard managers use crops to help balance the soil with legumes who deliver nitrogen, or oats and rye grass to help aerate the soil. Cover crops also use up some of the standing water from rain, keeping the roots of the vineyards drier. And their flowers often attract important insects who might feed on mites and other bugs that prefer the vines.
The fertile mustard produces an enormous number of seeds, so each year the carpet of gold grows almost exponentially. The riot of blooms is a favorite for photographers focusing on landscapes, visitors memorializing their trip to the Valley, and it is perfect backdrop for a selfie.