I’ve been asked by many of my friends and readers about the right way to experience wine country. I always smirk a little to myself when I’m asked because I was such the poster child of bad behavior the first time I visited with my husband and our dear friends, Karen and Jim.
My uncle was pretty high up at Gallo at the time (I’m so sorry, Uncle Mike) and he set up a hosted day of tours for us at three of Gallo’s higher end vineyards. Because I was clueless, I booked our a room at a cute looking hotel – MacArthur Place – conveniently located in Sonoma – almost 80 minutes away from where most of our activities occurred – mistake. Rule number one – stay near where you will be tasting or start the day with your first visit at the winery furthest away and work your way back to where you will be sleeping that night. Better yet, hire a car to drive you.
We figured that if we gave ourselves 90 minutes to get there, we’d be fine – mistake. Rule number two – make sure you account for Napa Saturday traffic – it can slow to a crawl even if you understand “the ladder” and use the Silverado Trail. So, we rolled in late for our first tasting, which did I mention was set up by my uncle? - mistake. Rule number three – never be late for a pre-arranged tasting, especially one planned upon your behalf.
We had a lovely day of tasting with a start at Gallo of Sonoma, where we were driven around by a wonderful hostess and had glasses – not really tastes – but glasses of their reserve wines overlooking the pond by the vineyard. I was amazed how high tech every detail was at the vineyard. Previously I had only been to the smaller vineyards and the differences were eye opening.
Next we visited MacMurray Ranch, which was previously owned by Fred MacMurray, the Hollywood legend known for his role in My Three Sons. We had a tour and lovely patio lunch overlooking the vineyard. They opened about four bottles of the Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, which I took full advantage of enjoying. At that point, I realized that there were lots of empty glasses on the table (mostly mine) and I really should be thinking about how much I was drinking. But, I was having too much fun – mistake. Rule number four – you might want to monitor how much you are drinking and for God’s sake, spit and don’t finish everything offered to you.
Our last stop was Louis Martini Winery where we toured the facility and sampled the wines offered to us. My friend, Karen, and I spotted a bottle of Old Vines Zinfandel that wasn’t on the tasting menu and only sold by the bottle. Oh course we had to try it – mistake. Rule number five – if you have been drinking all day, you don’t need the bottle. Buy it if you must and drink it the next day or take it home.
This is the point where everything gets a little hazy for me. Karen and Jim have very good friends, Dave and Annie, who live in Calistoga. We were going to meet that night for dinner. We drove to their house in Calistoga where they had a lovely cheese and cracker tray out. I can’t confirm this, but I have this visual of myself going all drunken Dan Akroyd with the salmon in Trading Places. This is how I met Dave and Annie. I was quickly cut off from the wonderful wines they had out to greet their friends and this couple (us) that they were told “they had to meet” - mistake. Rule number six – never meet new people when absolutely bombed from tasting wines all day.
Well, I survived the dinner remembering very little of it except being belligerent and arguing with my husband about how I was not drunk (true as I was actually totally bombed). I reintroduced myself to Dave and Annie the next day and apologized for my awful behavior the night prior. Because Dave and Annie are incredibly gracious, we have become friends and look forward to visiting them about once a year at their home in Calistoga.