Since Thursday, the Wine Road has taken me to a memorable dinner in Napa Valley, a pinot harvest in Mendocino county, and our wine bar's groundbreaking celebration in Santa Barbara county. In Napa for dinner with friends in Yountville, we awoke to take our gracious hostess Jan to breakfast at Gordon's, where you're as likely to sit next to Napa's famous as next to a tourist from Des Moines.
Leaving Jan's place we noticed neighbors milling about in the streets. "What's that, an ad-hoc homeowner's meeting?" she asked. Then we turned the corner and drove towards the Mayacamas mountains and saw what everyone was looking at. Smoke. Lot's of smoke. The photo at the right shows the view from Gordon's parking lot last Friday morning. Though it looks as if the fire is coming from the building across the street, it's in the mountains, several miles behind it. We speculated as to the safety of Mayacamas Vineyards and Mount Veeder Winery, decided they were too far south to be threatened, and went in for breakfast hoping we were correct.
Breakfast at Gordon's is an interesting mix of small town breakfast spot and tourist trap. Many of the latter stop in to see the former, and this may be the reason for much of its success. But in the opinion of one in our party, it is because of Gordon's great rough-hewn wooden tables, which make interesting lines when you color on them. I do, however, believe this to be the minority opinion.
Once settled at Lila Farms, I (im)patiently logged onto the rural dial-up connection and scoured Google News for "Napa Fire". One posting was an article about the horrible 3-week old Ojai fire with a mention of "smaller fires in Northern California".
Which made me wonder, how destructive does a fire need to be before it gets classified as "large"? The one we saw destroyed 400 acres in 24 hours, after which it was only 60% contained. All things are relative, I guess - Ojai's fire has burned 140,000 acres and displaced hundreds of people. At least the Napa fire affected no wineries or homes. But I'd hate to see a bigger fire, and tip the chapeau covering my balding pate to those willing to wade into the hell of a blazing forest fire in an attempt to turn its tide.
Saturday night we joined Danni Harris and Donna Abbey, owners of Abbey-Harris Vineyard to sample some Burgundies and some California pinots - a little inspiration from their abundant hospitality prior to our work in their small vineyard. We didn't know of their plans for this comparative tasting, but were fortunate to have brought a bottle of the 2003 pinot from East Valley Vineyard and the 2003 Côtes de Tablas, and one need never feel out of place when arriving with such gems. Dan had told us some of the three winemaking team from Anthill Farms would be there, and these are wines Winemakers love.
The Abbey-Harris property includes a small building originally intended as an artist community and studio, then redesigned as a small winemaking facility, and now serving as their weekend home. Evidence of the second incarnation is the glass-paneled garage door, providing visibility to the 12 or 13 cars that pass their place each day, and providing natural light during most waking hours.
At first light the next morning we groggily gathered to harvest their acre of pinot. An acre is a small vineyard - a digit behind many decimal points in the total of California vineyard acreage. So facing the rows of vines begins with pleasant anticipation. For the first hour. The second hour finds stoic acceptance setting in, and by the third hour jaws are set in determination to see this to the end, now estimated at another 3-4 hours away. That was me, anyway. The two professional laborers worked tirelessly and steadily, one of them joking and talking as he harvested. All I can tell you is that today my thighs hurt from three hours of deep knee bends, and that I'm truly thankful for the truck full of laborers that came by half-way through the acre. They shaved a couple of hours off our painful task!
I've posted a number of photos from the day's events here and more are available in the photo album.
Tastes of the Valleys (A Sideways Wine Bar)
Long before the sun came up, and just about the time the Aleve was kicking in to soothe my aching joints, it was time to head down to Solvang. Located in the midst of Sideways Country, we've been working on this endeavor for the past year, and finally broke ground on Monday, 9/25. You see at left the beginnings of the ramp cleverly leading the thirsty and unsuspecting to our entryway - part of our brilliant marketing strategy to comply with ADA requirements while capturing a majority of Solvang's wheelchair-bound wine-buyers. For more information on the opening of this premium wine store and tasting bar, subscribe to our email updates here or bookmark the website for Tastes.
I'd love to tell you more, but I have to go pick out wine racks, light fixtures, glassware and more. So until next week...