02 June, 2009

From Cabernet to Zinfandel

After sleeping just shy of eleven hours, we prepared to be on the road again. We weren't really in a hurry today, our only goal was to make it to Brannan State Recreation Area just outside of Napa before nightfall. We did have a few via points we wanted to hit along the way, most notably Moaning Caverns in Vallecito, California. I had been to Moaning Caverns with my Mom, brother and Grandma when I was about nine and I vaguely remember my Mom repelling down one hundred and some odd feet into the cavern while we watched. Since then they've added another attraction - a 1500 foot zip line. I wanted to do both the zip line and the repel but for the sake of expediency we opted for the zip line alone.

The coolest part was that it was actually set up as a dual zip line with two of them running parallel to each other. There was info posted about weight limits but I guess they weren't too concerned about it because they let Sean and Andy race each other. The line operator and I thought it looked like Andy won but there's some speculation over who was first to finish. There was another party of three right after us so I went alongside a decently large guy who needless to say made it to the bottom long before me. The ride was really fun and you went really fast; the wind was so intense it made my eyes tear. My only complaint is that it was entirely too short and it seemed like it was over just as quickly as it began.

Upon arriving at Brannan park we once again found ourselves a little concerned about the wind. We placed the tent among some bushes and secured it as well as we could. The guys built an awesome fire and we made grilled cheese and tomato soup before getting ready for bed. Aside from the fact that the bathrooms were infested with ticks the campground was really nice. The wind in combination with my busted thermarest made sleeping difficult, not to mention I had a p-style malfunction during the night the details of which I won't go into.

The next day was spent perusing the winery's of Napa. We went to Berringer where the grounds were immaculate, the flowers were in full bloom, and the historic mansion was impressive. For ten dollars you could taste three wines and we weren't particularly attracted to any we tried. The atmosphere was unwelcoming and stiff; I don't think they appreciated our age or our casual appearance. It did have a certain traditional charm to it that I very much appreciated. Following that we ended up at Sterling Winery where the experience was much more pleasurable. Situated on top of a hill, you had to take a gondola up to the top in order to reach the winery. From there you began your self-guided tour. At the very beginning we sampled our first wine, a pinot gris, before continuing on our leisurely stroll. The second wine, a pleasantly dry riesling, was served on a terrace overlooking the valley. After that we worked our way back around to the tasting room where we had a spicy sangiovese, a rich cabernet sauvignon, and finally a very sweet malvasia bianca. Despite being somewhat impersonal, it was nice to experience the grounds at your own pace and the wines were all very good. We were there for a little under two hours and the whole thing cost twenty dollars.

We had initially planned on camping in Napa that night but we went on a wild goose chase that eventually ended in Lake Sonoma Recreation Area. Unfortunately, the dry weather had led to a dry well and there was no water available which meant no sinks, no toilets, and definitely no showers. At this point I was unconcerned about the lack of water, I was looking forward to sleeping on my new army style cot which I had purchased earlier that day to replace the popped thermarest. I can't even begin to tell you how glorious that cot is.

Our second day in the wine country began bright and earlier at 10:30 in the morning at which time we had our greatest overall tasting experience. The grounds were impressive yet modest, not overly ostentatious, and the folks we met really made it unforgettable. John, our bartender, was absolutely hilarious and filled us in on all sorts of things about wine making, distribution, history, and snobbery. It turns out that Florida is actually the third most wine importing state in the country. We also also met the wine maker, whose name I can't recall, but he was equally as friendly, laid back, and welcoming as John. It was supposed to be five dollars to taste five wines
and another ten to taste two of their reserve wines. Not only did we taste them all, but he offered us refills and revisits, and we didn't pay a cent for the tasting at John's insistence. Sean ended up buying a bottle of Syrah and Andy and I split a bottle of the reserve Zinfandel.

John suggested we stop in the little town of Healdsburg where there were several small winery's and some cute cafes and shops. Here we visited the Williamson Winery which was very attentive to developing wines to compliment specific foods. We tasted about seven or eight wines each of which we enjoyed with little tidbits of cheese, brownie, and other morsels. The ability of each wine to bring out the flavors in the accompanying foods was truly amazing. At this point we opted for lunch at what turned out to be a crowded and overpriced cafe with poor service before making our way to Samuel P. Taylor State Park to camp for the night.

I look forward to returning to the wine country one day when I have more time and more money. I found myself missing my Mom and my brother, continually thinking how much they would enjoy and appreciate the experience. I also think not knowing exactly what to expect or how to approach it made the whole thing a little intimidating; the trick is to just act like you know what you're doing. Aside from the experience itself I take away a better understanding of wine in general as well as a more educated opinion about the type of wine I enjoy the most, and I look forward to the further experimentation I plan to indulge in upon returning home.

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