Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Wine Country

Wine, livestock, a geyser: an unlikely trifecta that shaped our first foray into wine country. This Labor Day weekend, we road-tested our Volvo by driving about three hours north to the Anderson Valley, a stunningly beautiful wine region that’s much less famous (and expensive) than Napa.

First stop on Saturday: the Ceago winery, where we sampled a few tasty wines then strolled through the beautiful grounds and garden, lush with lavender bushes, wispy dill plants, rosemary, squash, melons, sunflowers, and many acres of grapevines. What better way to follow up this serene peacefulness than attending a livestock auction?

We’d planned to stop at a local county fair on our way to our hotel in Ukiah, and, seeing “LIVESTOCK” marked on the fair map, were intrigued. A huge pavilion was crawling with 4-H kids, rabbits and turkeys and roosters huddled in cages, and pens full of goats, sheep, pigs, and cattle. A steady stream of visibly proud kids were leading their prized pigs and cows to the auction platform where, we were horrified to realize, they were selling off their animals for slaughter. “Half a beef,” the auctioneer said at one point. “Anyone for half a beef?”

The serenity of more wineries was much needed after that, and, fortunately, Anderson Valley has no shortage of them. We drove past many more than we could possibly visit, through acres and acres of lush vineyards, and did what we could in the time we had left; we stopped at the Brutocao and Parducci tasting rooms as the afternoon waned.

Along the way, we were shadowed by our firm belief that THE “CHRISTIAN RIGHT” IS NEITHER. “You put that bumper sticker on?” a man asked us at the Parducci winery, as his group crossed paths with us at the winery door. Andrew and I froze. It’s an impossible question. “We bought the car used,” we hedged. “We were admiring it as you drove by,” he said. We sighed in relief. We were fortunate, this time.

Ukiah, where our hotel was located, was a charming place with a cute little downtown. After a nice dinner at a brewery, we headed back to the hotel—where, that night, there was a total power outage. “You have electricity?” people began calling to one another from their doorways. The parking lot was pitch-black. A flashlight swept over the cars. Someone turned their headlights on; we could hear confused and angry murmuring. It was more than a little creepy, and we settled into an uneasy sleep.

We started our Sunday in a grove of redwoods at the Hendy Woods State Park. Amazing—the trees are endlessly tall, and many have enormous trunks. Some are hollowed-out at the base, as though some sort of woodland creature has carved out a home. We hiked along a trail through the forest, utterly silent, and cool thanks to the treetops blocking the sun. It was a beautiful place.

Souls refreshed, we began our wine exploration in earnest. First, the Roederer Estates, where we tasted a few sparkling wines. Then onto Husch Vineyards, our favorite of the day—the small tasting room was in a rustic wooden room, and we made small talk with another taster who told us she moved to San Francisco from MA and took 5 years to adjust. “I’m sorry,” she said when we told her we lived near Sacramento. The good wines took the sting out of our predicament, sort of.

After lunch at a local Mexican restaurant, we continued on, choosing wineries more or less at random as we drove along the winding roads: Navarro Vineyards, Greenwood Ridge Vineyards, Handley Cellars, Scharffenberger Cellars. Over dinner at the Bluebird CafĂ© in Hopland, we discussed what we’ll name our vineyard when we purchase one of the lovely expanses we saw for sale, and congratulated ourselves on our fledgling wine knowledge—nowhere near fluent, but definitely a little better than before we started out.

Monday, Labor Day, we rewarded the labor of a local bakery by having breakfast there, then headed towards home—stopping along the way in Calistoga for picnic supplies, then eating at an oak-shaded picnic table at the Cuvaison Winery in Napa, where we indulged in one final tasting.

We ended our trip by visiting a local geyser, apparently one of only three “faithful” geysers in the world. We waited for a very, very long time for the geyser to go off, staring at a small steaming opening in the center of a pond in what felt like the middle of nowhere. There was a distinct shady-carnival atmosphere, a bit of the grotesque, as we walked along a rickety wooden walkway past a pen of “fainting goats” towards the pond. Eventually, the geyser did go off, and everyone snapped pictures. And kept snapping pictures. The geyser continued to spew. We dutifully watched, but finally felt we had to get on our way.

It was a lovely weekend, perhaps my favorite weekend trip so far in CA—the area is just incredibly peaceful and beautiful, worlds away from our strip-mall-dominated home.

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