Thursday, February 21, 2013

California Love: Wine Country

Dear Em,

It's hard to believe that less than ten years ago your daddy & I both thought wine was gross. I remember going to a work function. Everyone had a glass of wine with dinner. My manager asked me what I would like. I didn't know. It was all gross to me. I panicked & asked for a white zinfandel, the only one I think I knew the name of. He looked at me & said, "the 80s called, & they want their wine back"- in front of all the other professionals at the table. I could feel my cheeks turn bright red. I wanted to hide under the table.

My best friend Jayme was the first one to take us out to try some wine. We started with a Riesling. It was light & sweet, & the first wine I can say I liked. From there we gradually tried other wines throughout the years. We even did a fun tour of some wineries in the Finger Lakes in New York. Surprisingly, my pallet has grown to favor red wines. It once tasted disgusting, but now I appreciate the deep & earthy tones. Plus, work functions are slightly less embarrassing.

Since touring the Finger Lakes, Napa has always been on our list of places we want to visit. Since it's just over an hour drive from San Francisco, this was a perfect opportunity. Rather than worry about where we would go & who would drive, I booked a day long bus tour (Platypus Tours) for Andrea, Lowell, your daddy, & I. The bus picked us up at our hotel at 10am. We were joined with a group of women celebrating a birthday & our bus driver Tony. Tony had a long history of wine tasting and working. She had three rules. You had to have fun, there would be no talk of politics, & you had to stay hydrated. She was my kind of tour guide. She taught us that we have taste buds all over the inside of our mouths, & to really taste our wine we should slurp like Hannibal Lecter does in Silence of the Lambs. That kind of creeped me out. Of course, if that was too weird, we could just swish it around.

Our first stop was Black Stallion Winery. It was rustic & cozy inside, with a fireplace glowing. We were given information about the year & types of wine we tried. We practiced our new swishing technique (some of us practiced the Hannibal technique). I actually really like swishing my wine. I'm not sure if I taste it anymore than before, but it makes the inside of my mouth tingly.

This winery didn't just sell wine. There was clothing, scarves, jewelry, & trinkets like you would find at a farmer's market lining tables & shelves as well. Shopping & wine tasting seem like such a nice combo, don't you think? It made for a nice first stop.

On the way to our next stop, Tony handed out bottled waters (totally my kind of tour guide!). She also pointed out the mustard flowers that grew alongside of the vines to protect the vines from bugs. She told us that rose bushes at the end of a row of vines aren't for aesthetics. The health of a vine is proportional to the health of the rose bush. If the roses are blooming, the vines are healthy. Tony pointed out popular vineyards. We didn't stop at most of those. Instead, she took us to wineries that were a little off the beaten path & not crowded with tourists. I liked her style.

I loved the vivid yellow colors of the mustard flowers.
Our next stop was Paoletti Estates Winery. We sat at a large farmer's table to try a number of wines. After our tasting we headed to the eccentric wine cave for lunch. The cave was full of wine barrels, which is totally normal. What was surprising were the ceramic sculptures that filled the cave. There were topless women & naked cherubs. There were busts of people that the owner of the winery felt were notable. They ranged from Napoleon to Ronald Regan. The walls of the wine cave had been painted with very expensive wine. It was probably one of the most interesting places I've ever sat down to eat.

With the rest of our tour group.
Still practicing the swishing technique.
Inside the wine cave.

The outside grounds were beautiful as well.
You know, just looking at the vineyard, acting totally normal.
We made a quick stop at Castello di Amorosa to see the winery that is a castle. It's a real castle. The owner bought it from Italy, had it disassembled, & rebuilt it back in Napa. The grounds were full of vines & animals. Chickens & ducks & sheep roamed freely. We didn't taste wine here. We just marveled at the real life medieval castle in the middle of rustic Napa.

Our third wine tasting was at Tudal Family Winery, & it was my favorite location of all. The main building looked like a big barn & we tasted wine in the middle of a garden. It reminded us a little of the Umbrella Factory in Rhode Island. It was rustic, with metal sculptures filling the garden & a broken down red tractor in front of the main building. The sun was shining down on the fields of yellow mustard flowers & vines, & I enjoyed every moment of wine tasting in the sunshine. The wine was great, & if you bought a bottle, they waved the tasting fees.

We did a quick speed tasting at Sutter Home Winery, just to have been at Sutter Home Winery. It was packed, but the tasting was free. It was neat to visit the winery where all the bottles of wine we see in the liquor stores come from.

Our last wine tasting was at Laird Family Estates. We had a private tasting outside, just the four of us. I think our favorite part was the guy who did our tasting. He was funny & down to earth & a fan of the wines. He would start by telling us to choose one wine or the other to taste, & then would say they were both so good we should really taste both. So, we tasted them all. It almost felt like sitting down with a friend rather than doing a wine tasting. The tasting fees were waved if you bought a bottle of wine here as well, & we picked up a couple to bring home with us. We enjoyed our last moments in the sunshine, & then our bus headed back to our hotel.

I'm so glad we got to experience Napa in the sunshine, but I think we all agreed that one day of wine tasting was quite enough for one vacation.

I love you so,

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