Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Day Four: California Drinking on Such a Summer's Day

Some days just start out well and get better from there. Yesterday may have been one of the most perfect days we've had.

Jaki booked a car and driver to take us around to do wine tastings. Or to be precise, as Robert said, wine drinkings. The agenda was to visit smallish boutique wineries, rather than the big names you can find in the bottle shops. So at 10:30 in the morning here we all are at VJB wineries sampling six of their best.

I thought I had tried everything, but this winemaker started us out with a tocai, which was a pretty interesting variety I had never tried. It's related to the Hungarian tokay, but this is a dry white compared to the Hungarian sweet wine. Having a Hummer that is already jammed full of luggage - and being the first winery of the day - didn't stop us from buying a couple of bottles.

And off we went to a couple of more wineries. We liked the small range at Audelssa, but Robert and Jaki thought it was a bit too green. We were the only people in the shop, and it looked like it was going to be a long Monday for him, so the guy behind the counter started getting creative with the pricing. With 40% discounts, LK and I snatched a few more bottles for our road trip.

Then it was off to Eric Ross winery, which has adopted a poultry theme. Struttin' Red is their blend, The Rooster Club is their loyalty program, and you can see the statue that guards their front door. The group call this picture Don & The Big Pecker.

I assume it was Eric Ross running the counter, but I'm not sure. Whoever it was, he was one of the funniest people I've run into in a long time. His wife or partner showed up and sent him on some errands at the end, and it was pretty obvious that she was the one who ran the tasting room and he was just the warm-up act.

Anyhow, this will show you what a great day it was. After we tasted their wines, we all ordered some sandwiches from a nearby deli and John, our driver, went off to get them. Linda and Jaki walked across the road to check out some shops, but Robert and I stayed behind and sat on some wicker chairs in the shade in front of the tasting room. After a while, the woman from the tasting room came out and told us we looked like we needed a glass of wine, asked us what kind we wanted and came back with a full glass so we could sit and relax. Amazing.

When the car returned we went to Ceja, a winery that was the first to be started by Mexican Americans. It's definitely still a family operation, and their son and daughter took turns telling us about the wines they were pouring. They were both very good, but the son was a character. Turns out he had majored in drama in college, and you could tell that he had his part down well. Very funny kid.

They had some really good wines, especially a rose that was perfect for a warm summer day and a picnic. So we bought that - and some other bottles, of course - went outside the tasting room to some tables they had set up and had a picnic lunch under the umbrella.

The final winery of the day was Gundlach Bundschu, an older winery established by Germans (if the name hadn't already given it away). This one turned out to be a disappointment. For the first time all day the tasting room was busy, the person behind the counter was brusque and distracted, and frankly the wines weren't as good as the ones we had been drinking all day. So we snapped a picture by the pond (the one at the top of this), jumped into the car and headed home.

I should add that the weather was absolutely perfect. It was warm without being hot, and there was a very gentle breeze almost all the time. We got to taste some really good wines and the company was great. And then we are told that this was a gift to us.

This vacation is starting out on a very high note.

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