Last night when my wife and I sat down to dinner, there were eight open bottles on the table, each containing a glass or less of wine. They were left over from a dinner party the night before with a couple who had often traveled with us to wine regions in France, Italy, and California. The wines all reflected regions we had visited together. Last night’s dinner was also comprised of leftovers — a timbale de crustace and an assortment of cheeses, selected because the couple had also been with us in some of the cheese houses of Normandy, Alsace, Roquefort, Tuscany, and Piedmont.
I had set two glasses at our places, so we just picked and chose whichever of the wines our urges suggested, without regard of age, grape varietal, origin, or hue. It seemed so relaxing, not to have the care about the perfect match (as had been the case the night before). All of the open bottles had been refrigerated since dinner and none of the wines had turned or even seemed tired. Even the Cremant d’Alsace had retained its sparkle.
We alternated sips from a 2013 Sancerre from Sury-en-Vaux and a 2012 Riesling from Colmar, did the same with a 2011 Barbera from Alba and a 2007 Cabernet from Geyserville. The cheeses didn’t mind. We saved the 2008 Bordeaux Blend from Napa till the end and congratulated ourselves for making the best use of unused wine.
It reminded us once again that no matter how studiously we want to approach wine or reflect on its levels of complexity, it is, above all, a beverage to enjoy. I try never to forget that.
A 6.1 magnitude earthquake hit California this morning ( August 24th)–the biggest earthquake in Northern California in 25 years. Naturally, the biggest concern is the safety of the residents. More than 120 people have been injured–some critically, and 68,000 residents have been without power. Buildings and roads have been damaged, and fires burned in parts of the affected areas.
The Napa area was one of the hardest hit by the quake. While the Napa vineyards suffered only slight damages, some of the restaurants and wineries have lost rare, vintage wines–the bottles shattered by the quake. David Duncan, CEO of Silver Oak winery reported that his winery’s biggest loss was of the hundreds of “reference bottles” in his office used to blend previous vintages. “They’re completely irreplaceable.”
Photos of the damage show wine barrels tossed about, as the quake sent them tumbling to the storage room floors. Matthiasson Wines, chosen as “Winemaker of the Year” in 2013 put out a tweet that refers to the barrels as “barrel pickup sticks.”
The other loss to the area will be in the form of tourism. This is their biggest time of the year, as the harvests are being picked and turned into the nectar the area is so famous for.
Let’s hope for the safety of the residents, the restoration of the infrastructure and the revival of the vineyards and other businesses!
Once there was an airline whose slogan was “Getting there is half the fun.” Not true anymore (if ever it was) for air travel, but it does apply for planning a trip to wine country. Two months from today I head west for another intensive look at a few wineries and hope for more story-worthy wine experiences. I shall spend time in the Santa Rita Hills and Santa Barbara, two regions I have never visited, before returning for another visit to Paso Robles.
In my earliest days of visiting wineries, I drove to the estate, knocked on the door, and hoped for a chance to see the place. Mostly, whether in Germany, France, Oregon, or California I was graciously received, occasionally invited to sample, encouraged to buy, or politely (mostly) turned away with an explanation that visits without appointments were not allowed. In those days, visitor tastings were generally free. Those were the 1950s and 60s.
As the last century aged, wine tourism developed, and more and more wineries established tasting rooms for which they hired staff and planned special events. They joined tourism initiatives such as creating “wine routes” or “wine passports,” the latter of which enables a visitor to collect stamps from association wineries leading to special prizes when the passports become full. Free tastings have all but disappeared.
Visits became more and more organized, as hosts and hostesses learned to lead visitors, increasingly in groups only, around the fermentation tanks, past the presses, through the bottling rooms, and into the storage cellars while answering general questions. Such programs have done wonders for the wine trade, because America has become one of the leading wine-consumption nations in the world, and wine tourism is a significant contributor to a region’s economy.
Though I have been a wine journalist for more than half-a-century, I still consider myself a wine tourist. I am still in awe of the processes that cause wine to happen and of the people who know how to influence the process. But I have become much more interested in learning the stories behind the production of wine — the forces that caused the producers to get into the production profession, the life-styles they embrace, the human interest elements associated with their work. Fermentation tanks and bottling lines look pretty much alike from winery to winery, but the personalities of those who work with them are as varied as those in any other art, science, or craft.
For two months I will pore over wine region maps and internet sites to select estates and persons to call on. With the help of a friend in the area, I plan to meet both influential and unknown producers in the regions. Seldom anymore do I just show up and knock on the door, and I do adhere to the old slogan: “getting there is half the fun.”
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