Places in Napa and Sonoma that blew my mind.
April 6, 2016
We were lucky to grab a couple bright and coveted bright red Adirondack chairs (I noticed reservation cards set for later that day on top of our oak barrel table). Preston: Calm, down home country farm
Moments before our tour group walked into the Raymond caves and semi-private tasting area our guide directed us to the outside “Theatre of Nature,” a laundry line of empty ornate picture frames hung to capture the sunlit vineyard in the background.
Truett-Hurst: Artsy wine cafe. If not the oceans, original romance must have been born among the vineyards.
I quickly understood why friends asked if we planned to buy wine while in wine country which I thought was ludicrous (why pay shipping?).
Behind her a few visitors sat at picnic tables housed in rustic gazebos that backed to the vineyards and crops. Glistening metal catwalks dotted with “strutting” female mannequins dressed in barely-there Cabaret costumes, Cirque du Soleil plastic acrobats were posed in permanent upside down spins, ballasted to the catwalk by draped sheers. Yards away was a small one room farm store with a screen door and “Help yourself honor system” sign on the windowsill where I bought a $1.00′s worth of mammoth sunflower seeds from a wicker basket and drooled over the basket of fresh eggs I couldn’t pack in my suitcase.
My husband I had resolved to remain strong against signing up for wine-mind memberships, the amicable soft guilt the guides and pourers hand people while we exchange wine stories is hard to resist. Near the public tasting bar and cashier, a tall well-lit glass etagere stood filled with Baccarat crystal pieces for last minute interested buyers. Sipping tourists are impressionable to small production impossible to find wines, and so are likely to open their wallet when the club options slide across the tasting bar. Below the frames in the grass were two over-sized Dr. Adirondacks by the river.
Raymond winery was a flamboyant creative over-the-top Alice in Wonderland imagined by Jean-Charles Boisset’s vision of “elegant whimsicality.” Crystal chandeliers, mirrors attached to steel wine barrels, unapologetic Opium Den imagination. In the corner an impressive Van Morrison-like musician sang while my husband bought a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and I wandered art lined walls.
The quiet river flowed while we sipped wine and balanced our glass tumblers on the barrel between our chairs. Seuss looking white clay-concrete armchairs. (One pourer told us she has the best job in the world because everyone at 4pm comes in in a good mood).
Days later the surreal contrasted with the very real Preston winery, an organic vineyard and farm in Healdsburg with a casual tasting room and lazy indifferent cat stretched on the front porch. My husband and I politely declined every offer except at Repris and at Benziger where we bought a few special bottles to bring home (Benziger’s 2011 Tribute, a Bordeaux blend, both spectacular).
On our first day in northern Sonoma in Healdsburg my husband and I visited theTruett-Hurst winery where we were greeted in the tasting room by a smiling laid back middle-aged salt and pepper-beared man. I could imagine Jay Gatsby pouring champagne with Salvador Dali. I envisioned myself sipping wine like Cat in the Hat with the Theatre of Nature as my backdrop.
Raymond winery: Moulin Rouge meets Salvador Dali
Soon after we walked the estate, vineyards and open gardens on our way to a shady picnic area along the Dry Creek River.
After four days of tastings the novelty of exploring every unique winery never got old but drinking wine for hours in the afternoon then trying to decide if I preferred the red Zin over the balanced Bordeaux once my tongue ran purple and grape saturated, did. Mellow and smiling up at us, she answered my questions with ease. When our case arrived months later the Red Zin we remembered loving was thin and unfinished. I set out my salads and sandwiches, deli I bought early that day from a specialty grocer in Healdsburg.
A pleasant twenty-something farm hand sat on a small stool behind the general store in a shaded picnic area contentedly sorting (what I think) were recently pulled garlic stalks. Several yards to our left a pale-skinned thin forty-something man with his t-shirt trailing from his jean’s backpocket stood painting on a small canvas the image of a woman napping next to him, her body stretched and blissed in an Adirondack, neither seemed to notice others existed.
Wine club courtships are seductive, brief and intense. Plied with gratitude and grape, plenty of people from our groups easily signed the expensive paperwork.
What struck me most about touring wineries was the stark contrast, the variety of visceral reactions the owners clearly want visitors to take from their experience. . Preston’s earthy, organic family farm feel held against Raymond’s Alice in Wonderland whimsical opulence, neither better, both intensely memorable.
There’s something stirring and almost unsettling about moving by foot or ATV from a hot sunlit vineyard into to a dimly lit cool windowless cave, to a populated or private tasting room, where primed with wine by one o’clock, our guide gently (and skillfully) presented not available-in-stores wine membership plans. We held strong until Repris, where our private tour, faster than usual pour by Skip, gorgeous high-low landscape and the fact that Skip handed us crackers, cheese, wine and paperwork as he strategically “gave us time alone,” to enjoy the view, weakened our interest to say no. Despite what looked (to me) like monotonous work I sensed she loved her job, and as with many staff at their winery homes, Preston