Adventures in Wine Country



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The Love Boat (aka Star Princess) docked at Ogden Point in Victoria

We had bid the Star Princess adieu. Nine women with a piece of luggage in tow navigated the streets of San Francisco…well, only two blocks of them. A colourful train we certainly made.

Five were dressed in identical deep pink golf shirts while the remainder of us were in equally brilliant attire. Napa Valley Wine Tours had agreed to pick us up and show us their magic kingdom. It is a cloudless day in San Francisco.  A cool breeze filters off the ocean.

The van that will be our transport comes into view as does Paul, who will be our host. He is dressed for Wall Street and as the persona of a college professor and in appearance looks as though he has stepped out from the set for the movie ‘Goodfellas’. Cruise May 9, 2014 685

Paul…taking care of the girls

Upon meeting Paul, his charm is immediately present, and what unfolds next as we make our way onto the Bay Bridge is his profound knowledge of the area. The history lesson begins. The Bay Bridge is five miles in length. Cruise May 9, 2014 507

The Bay Bridge taken from the van

I can’t imagine running over it. It is a double decker and back in 1989 during the World Series part of the bridge collapsed due an earthquake. I am transported to the basement suite I was living in on 2nd Avenue.

I was making dinner that evening and I’ve got the baseball game on. The screen begins to shake and then transmission is lost.  Voices can be heard speculating ‘Was that an earthquake just now?” They continue to talk not certain that they are on the air.

I have no doubt that there must be a certain amount of confusion that occurs in the first few moments of such an event.

Having gone through a couple of tremblers here in Vancouver, I understand the cognitive function that it takes a moment to comprehend and digest that a potentially dangerous situation is unfolding.

Back in 2000 I was working at an engineering office. My chair, which had wheels on it, began to shake back and forth violently and I reached out and grabbed my desk to steady myself. James and John simultaneously jumped up and braced themselves in their respective doorways.

A big grin on both faces and John declared the obvious.  “Earthquake!” It must be an aphrodisiac for structural engineers.

In any case, as we moved further along the bridge, Paul pointed out San Quentin Prison to our left. It is much bigger than Alcatraz. Cruise May 9, 2014 515

Alcatraz

And Johnny Cash came to mind.  Then I pondered why as Johnny had sung about Folsom Prison, yes? I don’t dwell too long on this vague memory. As we leave the city, we are treated to lush green hills that are never ending. Cruise May 9, 2014 706 Paul points out a mountain range, whose name I can’t recall, but it was so named as the range looks like an Indian princess lying on her back, arms folded over her chest with hair trailing out about her head.

I followed the imagery he provided with his words. I’ll have to look up the story but there was an odd sadness in the tale. I was sitting with Dale, a woman I’d gone to school with and have not seen in close to forty years.

So during this history lesson, we were catching up.  In an odd way, it was reminiscent of some of our classes.

And so the hills continued to roll past and then they turned into vineyards. Once they start, they never seem to end.  I never saw anyone in them…just these endless vines in perfect rows. I wondered when they check the vineyards and how often. All of us were giddy  at the prospect of this part of our adventure. We pulled up to Domaine Carneros, our first stop in this wine tasting dealio. Cruise May 9, 2014 614

Domaine Carneros

I’m not going to pretend that I know all that much about the process of wine making.  I did, however, learn a great deal, at least at the start of this venture. While the education continued throughout, the mind became inebriated and just wanted to play.

The first estate dealt mainly with sparkling wines and pinot noirs. Cheryl and I opted to sample their reds.  They got progressively better. I purchased a lovely bottle of Pinot Noir to cozy up to one of these nights. My daughter had requested a bottle of Pinot Gris, so I would have to stray from the red sector at some point.

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We nibbled on cheese as Nick, our sommelier, briefed us on what it was we were drinking. Ninety degree heat made us feel rather happy after this first tasting. Photos were in order. I had begun my before and after composite.

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We were sinking delightfully fast. Playfully we had Paul take our picture just prior to hopping back on the van to proceed to our second destination.

We pulled up to Luna Winery.  It held the appearance of a setting in Tuscany  And I’ve never been to Tuscany. It is quaint and elegantly rustic.

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Luna Winery

The ‘Holly Golightly’ in me felt the desire to don a light dress with my head wrapped loosely in a scarf with sunglasses that covered half my face as I tossed myself across the barrels of wine in the courtyard. This was a fleeting fantasy.

The charm and ambience of the place was immediate. Lemon and Olive trees offered an intoxicatingly fragrance as Chris spoke of the wines we’d be sampling. Two reds, two whites in this tasting. The Pinot Gris was divine.  I had found my daughter’s prize!

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Arlene fell in love with the table as Paul pulled out the makings for our lunch. We were having and ‘illegal’ picnic. Weddings and picnics are not permitted at the wineries in the Napa Valley. Today were on the sly.  I loved the decadence of the moment.

We ordered a red and a white wine to accent out meal.

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As we said our ‘good-byes’ to this fine little winery I was definitely feeling loosey-goosey. How do I know this?

I was talking quite openly about my boobs and my need to try and restrain the darlings and the methods by which I attempted such feats. I’m not vulgar.  Perhaps a little crass at times.

We hopped back onto the Van and made our way to Trefethern. Paul had chosen each winery to showcase the various character. And they were all very unique. Adam welcomed us at Trefethern and we sat in an expansive room shrouded in dark wood. Barrels of wine were mounted along one wall, photographs of the family adorned the other portion of the wall.

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Trefethern

Their signature wine HaLo so named after their children. A bar ran along another wall adjacent to our table. I would note the spittoons on the table for the first time. Dappled sunlight filtered in through the lemon trees that crowded the windows.

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Adam gave the history, it seems, of every grape they’d ever grown. He did it in a manner that gave a certain intimacy to the experience of drinking the wine.

Upon seeing someone pour their wine into a spittoon, I reacted with horror! I thrust my now empty glass forward. I would make the sacrifice and lovingly consume any unwanted wine. Red wine is an acquired taste, a progression.

But once you give yourself over to the way these wines seduce your taste buds there is no going back. I think we had a Bordeaux here.

I love Bordeaux’s and Adam proclaimed their victory over a French offering. We cursed the French enthusiastically. My quota of two bottles to bring back to Canada had been met so I asked about purchasing opportunities down the road.

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A barrel of fresh lemons stood at the front and we were encouraged to take one. My friends warned I could not hope to bring this back with me.  I decided I would try. Then we boarded the van after Cheryl hugged it out with Cork Oak tree. I confess, at this point I was feeling the effects.

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The lot of us were now a giggling and boisterous crew. It was off to our final destination which was Goosecross. It is a very small winery. I chatted amiably with ‘Ryan or Cal’ about the process of purification.

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My brain cells morphed into Teflon as the information, for the most part, wasn’t sticking.  I enjoyed our conversation none the less. I then ran into the winery so as not to miss or be late for the tasting.

The moment I entered I felt as though I’d entered a saloon from a time long since passed. Instead of slamming a whiskey glass down and demanding ‘Barkeep, gimmee another shot!” which I really wanted to do, I practiced the art of compromise on this one. I placed my glass firmly on the bar, hitched my foot up on the stoop and said, “I’m ready for another sample, Kim.”

And I did this with pinky firmly extended, thank you…thank you very much. Every wine that Cheryl now tasted elicited a delightful, “This is lovely, just lovely.”

Somewhere in the mayhem I recall a glass breaking. And in that moment I played out a fight at a wine bar. It was an odd little fantasy of strange and diluted proportions that saw my attention wane fast enough as I decided that shit happens. We managed to convince Paul to take us to Inglenook.

There would be no tasting but we did want to see it.  It is one of the oldest wineries first established in 1881. It is now owned by Frances Ford Coppola of ‘The Godfather’ fame among many others. Paul told us we would never see the owners of these establishments, just the worker bees.

That’s cool  I’m a worker bee along with the rest of them.  I don’t just feed off the proceeds, I help to sweeten the pot. Winnie the Pooh would be proud. Inglenook is beautiful, rustic and aged.  There is a certain elegance to the Grande dame. I slipped tipsily through several arched doorways comprised of brick. Inglenook,

I would discover was the most costly of the bunch. I ordered a glass of wine, red.  I was not too certain what the choices were or if there were choices. I gleefully took the glass which cost $21.00 American and sauntered back up to the gift shop taking in the ambiance of the place.

I engaged in a lovely conversation with an elderly fellow whose name regrettably got lost in the dissolution of too much wine in 90 degree heat. He had worked at Inglenook for twelve years. “What do you like the most about your job?” I asked. “This isn’t a job, it’s a complete joy.” he replied with a smile. I looped my arm through his and asked for the grand tour.

Leaning forward I advised rather conspiratorially that I only had half an hour. Somehow in that brief span of time I managed to spend $100.  Go figure!

We were now herded back onto the van.  We had a plane to catch. This whirlwind of an adventure was coming to a close. And I was trying to absorb so much. As we made our way back to San Francisco attempts were made to have a sing-a-long.

Oddly enough, as a collective we seemed to forget the words at precisely the same time. And as I sat back and just let the memories and magic commit themselves I smiled. “Damn, I’m blessed!” How’s that for an oxymoron? Good-byes were made as we parted ways. Finding our check-in point in the airport we through open our suitcases proceeding to pack all our purchases inside.

I slipped the two bottles of wine, a lemon, a wine glass that I inadvertently removed from Inglenook and a couple of other trinkets into my bag. Sleepily we boarded the plane that would take us home.

All I can say is thank you.  It truly was magical. The lemon made it through customs and as sweetened my drinking water as of late.  The glass from Inglenook survived the trip as well.

This was epic.

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4 thoughts on “Adventures in Wine Country

  1. I love San Francisco. I’ve never been to the Napa Valley and am not much of a wine drinker, but I’d go on the tour anyway just to see the vineyards and surrounding landscape, and to learn more about the wine-making process. Oh, and it’s great that you were able to take the lemon; I’d have done the same. 🙂

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    • I will definitely go back! I won’t do 5 wineries in one day though 🙂 I am in touch with Goosecross Winery. They are looking at getting a distributor in Canada. Shipping wine direct would cost a fortune. And these wines are so good.

      The lemon was fabulous!

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