A Trip to California: Burning Passion
Last month I disappeared for about a week as I took my family out West for a vacation/wedding. While California as new to my boys and brothers, as is San Francisco, Wine Country, and the National Parks in our nation’s most populous state, these however were more old hat to my wife and I. Of course being so close to two of America’s more celebrated wine regions, Napa Valley and Sonoma, it would have been a travesty to have missed out on visiting some of the places near to our hearts and glasses. So I took my wife and brothers out to visit a few vineyards and tasting rooms.
On one of the only warm days on our trip we decided to enjoy the sun and thus headed out to a winery known for their Zinfandel and Rhone Rangers, Cline Cellars. While at Cline we were treated to a wonderful tasting experience, being offered many different and diverse bottlings but a few stood apart from the rest. Their Block Eight Estate Merlot and single vineyard Heritage Zinfandel were of particular note. Both were full bodied, the Merlot showed notes of blackberry, herbs, and coco while the Zin was brimming with big red fruits, baking spices, and just a touch of toasted vanilla. We were also treated to one of their dessert wines, an Old Vine Mouvedre, which good enough for my brothers' girlfriends to each buy a few bottles (flavors of cigar, mint, and dried raspberry). After the tasting we were granted access to walk the Merlot vineyard which is just adjacent to their tasting facility. This was a really great pleasure for me, my given my proclivities towards the varietal.
After our visit at Cline we decided to keep the tastings going and the wine flowing, so we headed off to Sonoma and the tasting rooms downtown along the square. We opted on a few wineries that I know rather well and whose tasting rooms would likely not be too crowded. So we parked and headed over to Sonoma-Loeb. Now this wine is a private label here in Virginia, but I have sold it in a few other states and their wine maker Philip Titus also makes wine for a little winery, Chappellet, which you may have heard of and even tried here at OWS&B. Thus we had an enjoyable afternoon spent tasting Sonoma Chardonnay and single vineyard Pinot Noirs. Then they pulled out some of the current vintage of the Chappellet wines. Particularly we delighted in the Zinfandel and Prichard Hill Malbec, deep, rich dark fruit, brooding with spicebox notes and a vibrant acidity, not a flabby Malbec, but one well worth a bottle or two… Sadly, the Zins we collected did not make it through the trip, but to be fair it never lasts too long in our house.
Over the weekend we attended the wedding of one of my many cousins and did a few hikes in and around Muir Beach and Muir Woods. We watched the famous fog banks roll in and saw some more dark clouds over Lake County. If you have never been I highly recommend it, awe inspiring to say the least. However, after a weekend of wedding and hiking, we were ready to get back into some wine. My wife and I had an appointment at one of my favorite estates in Napa Valley, Round Pond. Now I have an old friend who works for Round Pond and he set us up with an early morning tasting on the patio balcony. As we had a bit of a drive we got an early start down the road and we arrived early and so we were invited to explore the grounds. We did, with gusto: walking among the olive grove, garden, and back towards the chickens. While exploring we heard a bit of noise back towards the main building and so we wander back and wow, are we glad we did! The first harvest of the season was being brought in, Sauvignon Blanc. It was being “blessed” by the staff; the wine maker sabered a bottle of Champagne, poured a bit for each of the staff and then baptized the grapes with the remainder. Then it was back to work as the grapes would not harvest themselves, they never do.
After being privy to this ceremony the time for our tasting had arrived, and we were led up to the patio on that cool August morning. Now I have a certain familiarity with the wines of Round Pond having sold the main wines in three different states. I have also been able to try a few different vintages of the Gravel Series, but what I was unfamiliar with were their estate only wines. Wines like their Petite Verdot and Nebbiolo. Both of which were quite nice. Bottles were snagged, and unlike the Chappellet Zins and some of the Cline wines, these were going to make it home come hell or high water.
In leaving Round Pond’s Estate we got a call from one of my brothers, who was inviting us to join them for a bit more wine, drinking this time, not tasting, over a game of hearts back in Sonoma. We agreed provided we could grab lunch with them afterwards. Thus we headed off out of Napa, we decided to take a quick yet usually scenic route through the Mayacamus Range and around Mt. Veeder. This was the quickest course which was good because we were hungry. During the drive we were reminded of just how devastating the fires in 2016 were. The evidence was all around us as we drove. There were scorch marks tallying the height and reach of the flames on the surviving/still standing trees which dotted the mountain side (12-15 feet). Some of the road was crumbling and in disrepair due to the extreme temperatures. Of course there was also the severe lack of undergrowth in some areas as once the undergrowth was burned out there was still drought in the region and so it was not going to grow back quickly. As we reached near the other side of the mountain we noticed the billowing grey clouds behind us, perpetually over Lake County. It was too early for the fog to have rolled in and it was too far a distance to have reached that location. The current fires in California were just one mountain range and a change in wind direction away from repeating the devastation of two years ago. This was a painful reminder of the losses suffered and those which might be revisited during a trip full of knowledge gained and wonderful experiences.