Is there a substantive difference between Napa and Sonoma or are they merely two faces of the same coin? Your West Coast Oenophile does not engage in the San Francisco vs. Los Angeles dichotomy nor harbor any desire to plunge into this debate. Sostevinobile strives to be inclusive for all the wines that meet a sustainable threshold while exemplifying the highest standards of winemaking. To paraphrase Charlie the Tuna, we seek wines that taste good (and with good taste).
Nonetheless, there is a physical demarcation between these two premier winegrowing counties, so I headed east across the border for the second day of my wine swing. The powers that be were not about to underwrite a stay at Meadowood nor dinner at Bouchon (or even Ad Hoc, for that matter), so I settled for a highly overrated motel and a quick bite at Bounty Hunter. Afterwards, I fell sway to the siren call of Ali Weiss, a gifted solo performer gracing the nearby Downtown Joe’s with a full encore set. A complimentary CD and a couple shots of Balvenie later, I zigzagged back to my pool-less downtown resort, to the strains of a less mellifluous siren and an eventual night’s sleep.
As with my day in Sonoma, I started off tending to the environmental development of our premises. Immediately, I recognized that Bardessono, a premier green resort which had just opened two days before, was by far the preferable place to have stayed. Renowned eco-developer Phil Sherburne and I sat out by one of his pebble-lined reflecting pools and discussed matters of sustainable development and mutual interest. I hope we forged a relationship that will bear considerable fruit as becomes as Sostevinobile a more tangible reality.
From there, the rest of my day was devoted introducing our project to several of the wineries, a circuit that ranged from the quaint basement operations of Charter Oak to the opulence of Staglin and Darioush, a gleaming personal monument along the Silverado Trail. Someday, I would hope I could produce a Cabernet to rival their 2005 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon! In between my stops, I managed a double Joel Gott, first at his obligatory Taylor’s Automatic Refresher, a McDonald’s-be-damned paragon of drive-in burger stops, then for a golf cart-chauffered tour of The Ranch, a humongous custom crush facility in what once housed Sutter Home’s White Zinfandel operations.
An impromptu stop at Conn Creek reintroduced me to their 2005 Anthology, as well as a number of deep, rich Cabernets I had tasted last fall at Taste Napa Valley; this time, the experience was amplified by the charms and graciousness of a hyperenthusiastic young wine pourer named Amy, who confided that she had been “bitten” by the wine bug (a generation ago, I might have been “smitten”). And herein lies a contrast Your West Coast Oenophile is willing to make, between the impersonal harshness of the urbanized realm and the heartfelt accommodation one feels amid the tranquility of the vines.
From the jaded perspective of a city dweller, I am amazed how readily, with little prior introduction, people in Napa and throughout the wine country invite you into their homes and how warmly they receive you. Be it the understated setting of Rob Fanucci’s grandfather’s cottage or Shari Staglin’s commanding Rutherford estate, the civility is unaffected, if not a natural extension of their dedication to the wine that they craft.
Back when I began combing the Napa Valley, I used to stop by the Jim Warren’s St. Helena real estate office, lured, in part, by the cookies his wife Maggie would bake for me. Jim, whose father had been the governor of California and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was a crewcut, pipe-smoking former Marine who nonetheless took on a decidedly avuncular liking to me. “It’s not just the wine,” he’d pointedly advise me. “It’s the lifestyle.”
Wish I could tell him today how right he turned out to be.