Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Anniversary

Call me nostalgic, but every so often I get a hankering to go down some of the old wine trails of my early days. California, that is. And on this hot July month in Texas, where temperatures of 108 have been common of late, I thought to take an escape, a break of sorts, and visit some of my old haunts.

I’ve written elsewhere about the summer of ’76 and driving the old ’62 Ford Falcon wagon, family in tow, up and down Highway 29, from Yountville to Calistoga. Those early days, where things were so simple and uncluttered. De-blinged. Recently, driving up the same highway, it was a pretty somber sight. Sure there was the occasional stretch-limo drone seeking out its target, one mini-cult winery or another. But the economic meltdown is showing signs of strain, especially in one of the high spots of American winemaking. It probably isn’t fatal, after all, there are the cycles, ask any bio-dynamic winemaker. The waxing and the waning moon, the need for certain preventative measure and the necessity for the “fix”. E la nave va.

Calistoga is one of those places that I love to love, but probably couldn’t reconcile living there. The All Seasons Café, same as it ever was, a little of the patina faded from years of the heat and the sun bearing down on the little resort known for its curative baths. Nance’s Hot Springs, one of the landing spots for ventures into the wine country, now absorbed into another spit and polished resort. Lazy days watching the planes take the people up in tours to see Napa Valley at 2000 feet, sipping a Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc. On this trip a half bottle of a dry rose of Sangiovese did the trick.

Not wishing to go all mommy blogging on you, but it is summer and everyone must take a break. On the eve of an anniversary, indulge me, please.

The Silverado Trail was empty, just me and the vines as the sun was setting around 9:00PM. The vines, everywhere the vines are pushing out grapes. The grapes know not of any economic slowdown. They are innocent, doing what they are destined to do. How would they know some irrational exuberant money managers on the other coast harnessed our collective greed and desire for more, bringing the American economy to a near standstill? By the time the grapes on the vine are wine in a bottle may we be so lucky to be looking back at the vintage of ’09 with less apprehension.

None the less, the vines, flanked by olive tree sentinels, flutter and push, following their nature.

It’s kind of nice to see the Valley like this; it’s like traveling back in time. Simpler, less conspicuous, quieter, the perfect place to go for a wine lover.

Earlier in the day I stopped by the Ehlers Estate. I don’t think they are considered a cult winery, although with barely 5000 cases made a year, they could probably apply for the status. But cult just aint what it used to be, so it looks like the Ehlers Estate will plow ahead with steady intent on making wine from organic grapes. There is also talk of bio-dynamic principles being utilized. I think having vineyard foreman Francisco Vega for the past 10 years is one of the best bets the estate has made. Francisco radiates the soul of California wine; dirt, sun, sweat, patience.

Let’s hope all the pampered valley vines get to live their wine-life as a premium bottle of Napa wine, not some bulked-out industrial $3.00 bottle of mixed-up wine. God knows, there are a bunch of folks up here who are giving their life for these vines and wines, on the wine trail in California.

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