Thursday, June 9

Wine Country

It's been an amazing last couple of months. Paris with the kids. The cabin with the boys. A Boundary Waters canoe trip. Memorial Day at the cabin, counting birds and eating. And now we find ourselves in California with our good friends the Seymours, tasting wine and enjoying ourselves.

One would think that I had almost no ability to spread these various trips and vacations out in a rational way. And one would be right. But what a nice flow to go with! We are staying in a great little bungalow in Calistoga.

Our tasting trips yesterday were great, each unique. Beginning with a elegant trip to Brown Estates - stunning wine, caves, lovely presentation. Just off the charts.

The experience was amazing. And it will have legs - just like the wine - since we agreed to have their wine shipped to the tundra four times a year.

Then it was on to Behrens Family Wineries (or whatever their name is today), for a tasting in a trailer.

Again, great wine. Presented with less elegance, but with a great sense of fun. They even feature wines for meat eaters like me.

And finally on to Dehlinger, where we were hosted by Carmen Dehlinger. This was a generous act on her part - she is being married on Saturday. I'm sure we'll attend.

And of course, after a day of wine there is one great way to end the day.

It's been a remarkably fun trip so far, and I'm sure that will continue. The one counterpoint is thoughts of home. Greta, whose back legs are weak in the first place, has had a problem with one of her front legs. It's healing fine and with Peter's care I'm sure that will continue.

The far more serious concern is my mom. She's had slowly advancing dementia for a long time. But she is in a great living situation and my sister Linda does a great job of seeing her regularly and ensuring that she is well cared for. Though her memory has weakened, her basic personality has remained much the same - as sweet and loving as always.

In the last couple of weeks a hiatal hernia (basically a problem where the esophagus meets the stomach) has reoccured and created lots of discomfort for her. She has found it difficult to eat. And with the dementia she tends to simply choose not to eat - ignoring the "big picture." Linda reports that she has even been a bit stubborn. Not her normal style. Of course, I'd be stubborn too if I had a stomach ache. But my mom's behavioral standards are so much higher than mine. Any good vibes for Carol are more than welcome. Alzheimer's is such a difficult disease. And no one deserves the best more than my mom.

We're off to continue the California saga. With joy and a little sadness in our hearts.


An up and down day for my mom yesterday - but it ended on a positive note from Linda and Claire.

As for the wine - nothing but positive notes. We had a marvelous time at the Biale vineyards.

Their wines are marvelous. Our host - a young man named Austin from all places Texas - was fun and informative. We sat on the deck in the late morning watching the fog burn off in the southern part of the Napa Valley. It's a pretty idyllic place.

We are certainly drinking wine. But not in any huge volume. Just great quality wine. Sipping and comparing and contrasting. Learning a bit. More about what we like than anything substantive about winemaking. Kate and I are now proud members of the Black Chicken Society. The photo of Kate above is just one small part of the secret handshake.

Today it's off to Stony Hill. And then to points as yet unknown.


Our exploration of the California wine country has continued to be amazing. Over the last couple of days we've tasted wine at wineries that were new to me - a couple of which were new to Tom and Kathy as well. One was Salvestrin - where we talked Caterpillars with Eddie Salvestrin, and wines with Luke.

We also had a great tour of a winery called Littorai - whose approach is bio-dynamic and sustainable, and whose wines are great.

The experiences have been wonderful and extremely varied. Wineries from fancy to basic. Bocce ball in St. Helena.

We played on the town courts in the afternoon and went back to spectate a bit after a lovely dinner that evening.

I've put together a short video. I've never posted a video on the blog - I hope it works to convey a bit of the experience.

Enjoy. We are.


Now that we've returned to San Francisco, I can get a bit retrospective about the wine portion of the trip. About the wines and the people. So interesting and varied. In my mind the best of the wineries fell naturally into groups. Two long time producers - part farmers, part great wine makers - Biale and Salvestrin. Two wineries stalking wine making perfection without as much regard for the god of marketing - Dehlinger and Litterai. And two purveyors of elegance in their wine and their tasting rooms and everywhere - Brown and Merry Edwards. And an old friend finally met in person - Carol Shelton. And, more important than the rest, two old friends often met in person - Tom and Kathy.

No reflection of the wine country would be complete without a reference to the people we met along the way. Austin and Luke, friends from different wineries. Carmen Dehlinger (now perhaps "Mrs. Carmen _____" - we missed the wedding). Eddie Salvestrin. The accountant at the bocce court and Stan the mouthy player (he seemed vaguely familiar). Niles, our six and a half year old host at Litterai.

And most of all for a thousand laughs now and I'm sure many more to come - B. Fife, Deputy Sommolier. If I tried to describe him like you might a wine I'd go with "part Barney Fife, with a Dobby the house elf note. An essence of uneven sideburn on the cheek. And an ephemeral quality - appearing and disappearing almost magically." I think I'm happy enough that I didn't get a photo. Legends don't need photos.

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