So some of you out there may know that I lived in California for 12 or so years. Now, that is not a "stop the presses" kind of announcement. I mention It because I can't tell you how many times in the last couple weeks, the latest time being just yesterday while I was thinking about this blog post, customers to the wine shop have come in and told me they are traveling back to California or going to various wine country areas. Also, not a press stopping event.
In the many years at the wine shop I have to say that I will almost always get 1 or 2 couples telling of their plans to visit the far away reaches of that mystical land of grape vines and beautiful scenery. This year it just feels different. Maybe it's bacause I am coming to the realization that I need to get off my duff and get back out there once again to see for myself the changes that have occurred since being there last time and to experience, once again, the awesomeness of the area.
I know that the commercialization in the area has probably diminished the more relaxed feel that I experienced when I was there last, but still, can you really have a bad time soaking up the sun's rays and smelling the orchards and vineyards as they work to help ripen the fruit to help bring us that which we so love? Commercialization or not, and as I have said in previous posts, just the "being" in that locale and savoring the moments makes the experience so much more interesting and wonderful. Dare I say also, makes the wine that much more enjoyable.
Interestingly, I do get my share of questions from customers asking what I recommend as far as what wineries to see or where specifically to go. Now as much as I think I know about wine, my lack of experiencing the wine regions in more recent times usually takes me back to my younger days when I would travel to Napa and make my first stop at the Mondavi Winery. One of the first wineries to build a customer centered tour facility featuring the many phases of wine production. Along with, and this was the great part many years ago, a tasting room where you could go a little crazy tasting their wines. Next stop was the old Ingelnook Mansion, built in 1879 by Gustave Niebaum, a Finnish sea capatain who settled in Napa in 1870. For the last 40 or so years this property has been owned by Francis Ford Coppola, and is home to his many wines. This old mansion sitting distinguished and rock solid for over 100 years.
Driving North along Highway 29, I traveled what seemed like hours, to the Sterling Winery. Located up on a lofty hill where the only method to get to the winery was by tram. Seeing such beautiful sights and gazing upon the valley floor below was breathtaking at least. Headed back South, I remember stopping at the Domaine Chandon sparkling wine facility just outside of Yountville. What better end to a day of sightseeing and drinking wine.
I should, and like to mention to those that ask me, that back in simpler and less congested times, I would drive along side streets and occassionally see the "Come On In" sign out at the mailbox. Back then a sure bet that you would fine that now rare winemaker just brimming and anxiously awaiting the next guest to come in and hear all about their painstaking methods of winemaking, and then to bring out the fruits of their labor to see how much you loved their wine. And I always did! I couldn't tell you if I tried, what wineries I visited back then. They may have gone on to become the next cult winery or maybe goobled up by the likes of a growing venture. Simplier times for sure.
Not to fear. Napa, and many of the wine areas around the country, still has lots to offer those that wish to see for themselves the wonder of turning those small berries into great wines that we enjoy. Should you need some additional reference material for your trip to Napa, pick up a copy of the June 15, 2015 edition of Wine Spectator magazine. They have a great article about the history of Ingelnook and Coppola along with a handy guide to the Napa area and things to see and do, along with some ideas of wineries you might enjoy visiting. Or just be adventurous and drive around and see what you can find. Really adventurous? Consider the balloon rides. What a way to see the area from the sky! For those of you that take the plunge and visit wine country, come on in to the shop when I'm there and tell me all about it.
I miss those special times, so much so, I keep clicking my heels together three times and saying "there's no place like Napa." But alas, I'm still in Illinois. Toto and I will have to wait a little while longer.