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L. Pierce Carson, Eyes of Napa Valley, Dies at 76

His 50-year career at a Napa newspaper helped chronicle the wine industry's rise
L. Pierce Carson in Prague, where he was working on a food book.
Photo by: Pavol Mincak
L. Pierce Carson in Prague, where he was working on a food book.

James Laube
Posted: May 22, 2017

L. Pierce Carson was a throwback to an earlier time. He logged 50 years at the Napa Valley Register, beginning in 1967, a career that touched on all aspects of a small-town newspaper but also chronicled the frenetic changes in the valley and wine industry. Carson died May 20 at age 76 from gall bladder cancer.

Born in Trenton, N.J., Carson came to Napa in 1967 after serving in Vietnam. He had graduated from Temple University as a communications student and spent two years writing for American Traveler, a U.S. Army publication.

Once discharged he weighed job opportunities and settled on Napa without ever having been there because it was close to San Francisco. He began as a beat reporter, covering crime, politics and local government. But eventually he became known for his writing about the Bay Area music scene and later the wine and culinary industries.

His weekly "On the Lees” column became a fixture as the wine industry became more prominent. He credited "the new kid on the block," Robert Mondavi, for taking him under his wing to educate him about wine. Mondavi had founded his namesake winery a year before Carson arrived. Carson became close to Mondavi and his second wife, Margrit, and after Robert's death he became her frequent companion at public events.

When Carson moved to Napa, the area was "pretty," he recalled, but quiet, a sleepy farm community. Over the years, Carson reported on a wide variety of wine-related topics from frosts to harvests, and in the process became a voice for Napa Valley winemakers and the eyes of his readers. As wine gained prominence so did Carson. He was a regular at all industry events, scribbling in his notebook. He was a reservoir of local knowledge and an invaluable resource for reporters learning the ropes of Napa.

He could be a tough, demanding reporter when it came to government matters, and learned the basics of the valley by covering the divisive hearings that led to the creation of the Napa Valley Ag Preserve, which limited growth in the valley and became a model for land preservation elsewhere in agricultural communities.

Carson was a tireless reporter, known to arrive at the paper late in the morning but remain until well after dark. He motivated himself to keep up with trends and developments. A few years ago he eased into semi-retirement and found a second home in Prague, renting an apartment and using it as a springboard to traveling around Europe. Even after being diagnosed with cancer last year, he continued writing and was working on a restaurant guide to Prague.

Carson is survived by his sister Jill.

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