It turns out that Napa Valley is the valley where rich wine snobs go to purchase overpriced bottles of stuff you can buy with a different label anywhere else and call it average. But not Sonoma. No, Sonoma Valley has a different breed of people. Down to earth people. Humble folk. Just small vintners, really, but special in their own way. And quite willing to sell you a bottle of overpriced wine if you’re silly enough to keep drinking the $10 samples they keep shoving under your nose. Smell the bouquet!
Down, naughty cynicism! I’m sorry, don’t really know where that came from.
Of course I had a great time up in the northern parts. For all its grandeur and size, California doesn’t seem all that huge. Driving it is a cinch, if you’re willing to zip around the slowbies, and the view is mostly gorgeous, with western hills lying like folds of clean laundry, the golden sun blasting them into something that resembles a fantasy novel book cover. The air is crisp. You breathe in deeply. Well, you’re pretty sure it’s crisp, even though you’ve got the A/C on.
We passed a stockyard, and not the kind where you see bearer bonds and ticker tape and electronic money. The cows look vaguely peaceful. The differing opinion in the car is that they look depressed. Actually, I believe the phrase was “not having much fun.” But really, what kind of fun can cows have? The occasional butting of heads, stomping in huge piles of feces, rubbing up against the fence to alleviate that annoying itch that’s been bothering you. And then that long walk up the slotted plank to the first of many cages that will eventually lead directly to a nail gun and a mallet.
I’d say they’re having a ball compared to that last bit.
Anyway, it’s one reason I eat animals. I’m alleviating their suffering. If we assume they suffer. Is it really suffering if your existence as a cow, which isn’t entirely blissful to begin with, is compounded by being moved to a stockyard where, admittedly, there isn’t much grass, and the smell isn’t entirely up to Calvin Klein standards, and the end is graded in letters A-D? Food for thought, and not at all pun-worthy.
Sonoma is the bees knees. There’s a lot of little wineries that specialize in trying to convince visitors their wine is just as good as the big wine producers. They occasionally succeed. I play Designated Driver for the morning portion of our journey through the land of grapes. I just can’t imagine it’s much fun to start drinking that early, and anything that could convince me that it was fun would probably be the Devil’s own, and I can rely on scripture to beat it back. The last thing I want to be is an alcoholic writer.
Well, an alcoholic housewife isn’t high on the list either.
We stop at one winery that has, no joke, Roman columns around a ruined mini-forum area. There’s Romanesque statuary, and llamas. So it’s not quite Tuscany, but A for effort. Inside we meet the caretaker and presumably owner, who claims to have been banned from Hawaii and gave himself a black eye whilst cliff diving. I also note that his cheeks and nose are a bit sanguine, and I’m guessing that business has been brisk already. He turns us on to a flight of wine which he explains in exquisite detail. We learn a new word, organoleptic, which you now are required to look up. I’ll wait.
The owner flirts with Lauren, who grins and bears it. It’s the highlight of the trip. The next winery we visit we tell the pourers where we’d come from. “Ahhh, Mr. Aloha…” they say knowingly and somewhat disparagingly. They then rush to reassure us he’s the best in the business. But that initial response speaks volumes. And they hand out wine like it’s free. It is free! The samples are, at least. Mike gets hammered and Derek eats all the free green olives they’ve got, and I get bitten in the hand by a psychopathic chihuahua the size of my fist. How appropriate her name is Lily.
We go to lunch then, stopping at the Sonoma Cheese Factory, which isn’t so much a factory as it is a store where cheese is sold. I didn’t see any cheese making going on. Highlight of the visit is walking past a suited up pseudo-agent with a goatee and a walkie talking secret-agent speak. Actual dialogue: “Ah, this is a status report, I’m behind the Cheese Factory.”
After we move on to a little winery owned by a crazy man named Kaz whose photoshopped face graces EVERY SINGLE PRODUCT HE SELLS. Ego, anyone? His wine isn’t very good. I’m tasting now, but this guy’s wine actually turns me off to the very idea of drinking. His port is great, oddly enough, but I’m not really in a dessert mood. Plus he’s stingy with his pour.
St. Francis of Assisi has a vineyard, but the grounds are like the Wal-Mart Home and Garden of wineries. Everyone is slightly severe and the grounds are a little too well kept, as if you expect to be able to lift up the potted plant and see the little tag that tells you what sort of garden setting it fits into. They have a statue of St. Frank, and I pose, giving him my sunglasses and feeling the love. Thanks a ton, Frankie.
Next we visit Lesden, and it’s an English castle with a beautiful fountain in the front. There’s more people interested in the fountain than the wine, I think. We take pictures and then wander inside, where it’s so frighteningly austere you’re afraid to touch anything. It’s like a museum. They even have velvet ropes blocking the stairs leading to the second floor, where undoubtedly they have bags of riches, or casks of unopened Amantillado, or Rumpelstiltskin. Eventually we end up in the “Specialty Room” where a Hassidic Jew looking guy named Chris (with the voice of Ben Stein) serves up $95 wine. I’m thinking though, it’s the end of the day, are you really going to detect quality wine after drinking grape drink the whole day earlier? But Mike and Lauren seem to like it, and it’s fun taking pictures of everyone.
But then it’s time to go. We drive back in the California sunset, arguing over whether California street signs dot their “i’s”. I doze in the back and wait for night, but it’s still hours off.
Tomorrow, the end.