Hello, wine amigos and amigas! I am back in two ways:
- Returned nearly two weeks ago from a 3-1/2 week trip to California, Oregon, and Washington, tasting wine but mainly conducting interviews for my book project on passion of winemakers. Each state will have a blog, perhaps two for the big state, although Washington was about…well, you know…coffee! More on that later.
- The night before flying home from Portland I developed a monster head cold (note not an assistant cold but THE HEAD cold. Still shaking it but finally able to think and write at the same time (some of you my disagree on this point).
It was a trip to remember, including trips to new wineries, and visits with old friends, both personal and people I have grown to respect in the world of wines over the past 48 years!
On February 7th, I flew to the OC to visit our oldest friends, and originally we were just going to travel to the Central Coast and the Bay Area, but then…they made a surprising offer: would we care (my wife was not with me due to a change in plans as she was visiting a dear friend who was ill in the Bay Area), to drive their new Volvo XC90 to Seattle where we could visit their daughter and son-in-law and our goddaughter, and then drive back to Portland with them and they would drive home along the Oregon Coast. It took us less than thirty seconds to absorb the idea and then said, “yeah, sure, if you say so.”
Two days later I headed up to Santa Maria where I visited my old friends Jim Clendenon and Bob Lindquist of Au Bon Climat and Qupé (pronounced ABC and Q-pay respectively), not to mention their own family wines.
Know what I hate about L.A.? The traffic. It would have been no issue had my wife, Mb, been with me but alone meant no HOV lane. Soooo…leaving at 7:30am for a noon lunch at the combined wineries, it took me two hours to get to Sepulveda Pass (by the Getty Museum), a total distance of 30 miles…i.e. 15 miles an hour!!! I then however, was able to drive the limit…or a little above and arrived at the winery at 12:02, just as the staff was sitting down to lunch as they do every day.
Jim and Bob assumed their places at opposite sides of the center of the table fashioned from a vertically cut redwood trunk, with me seated next to Bob and facing an imposing row of eight (8) bottles of their wine…or was it 10? Dunno. The cardinal rule is this: everyone has to try each of the wines…and god forbid you lose your place or you have to start all over again (in fairness this is not a drunken bacchanalia as they give you a cup so you can taste and then tastefully spit). Since I had more driving to do, that was a life saver! Just when I thought I had a chance at owning a winery! This was my second time at the winery for lunch but Jim and Bob were out of town at the closing of one of the East Bay’s most venerable restaurants, Baywolf, on my previous visit.
I have known the two friends for over thirty years, having been seated at Jim’s table at one of the first Central Coast Classic wine events showcasing the local wines. They were more or less unknowns at the time and everyone was dying to sit at Chalone’s table. Jim quickly won us over and began swapping wines with Bob and even with Chalone. We had the best table of the evening and friendships were born…not to mention a solid respect for Jim’s Burgundian style Pinot’s and Chardonnay’s. Rhone Ranger?
Make no mistake, these guys are dedicated to making European style wines with Bob being the Rhone Ranger of the two. In addition, to their two well-known labels, they also produce Sawyer Lindquist wines, Verdad, and Clendenon Family wines. What a tour de force!
After purchasing about a dozen of their fine wines, I drove to the nearby town of Los Alamos (not the one of nuclear fame), to meet with Will Henry, and two of our old Santa Maria friends, at a new and popular tasting site with small plates, Pico. Will is also a pioneer in canned wine, his is called Nuclear: that wouldn’t have to do with the Los Alamos name would it?
Readers will recall that Will is the scion of the Henry Wine Group, which was recently sold, and is partner with another old friend (when I say old I mean long time, not ancient), Lane Tanner, in Lumen Wines, noted for her Pinot Noir’s and Will poured us his Grenache Blanc, which we all enjoyed.
I spent the night in San Luis Obispo at Petit Soleil. THIS is the country inn you have looked for in France and likely never found. How French is it? They answer the phone, “Bonjour, Petit Soleil”. The wine and cheese offerings include three red and white wines, all decidedly French and very good which isn’t always the case at B&B’s, along with some very nice cheeses – French, of course! I invited my friends to join me and at first they were reluctant given the quality of wines you sometimes get at B&B’s. They were very good.
As for my room, it was deja vu all over again as Yogi Berra would say. We stayed here once before and walking into my room it was a total flashback. Beautifully appointed rooms of French motif and elegantly done. The only place we will ever stay in the area! The staff is friendly and fun and you can’t help but feel at home.
Later, we dined at the Oyster Loft, a new restaurant at the end of town in Pismo Beach, with beautiful views of the ocean. Another good find. Following a good night’s sleep and a wonderful breakfast included, I left for Santa Cruz and my meeting with Rhone Ranger, Randall Grahm…stay tuned.