29 October 2011

Swilling wine in America

As I've been to a couple of vineyards in California, I thought this merited a separate entry. I have to say that wine tasting is a different experience in California from Europe or Australia. It tends to be a more slick, money generating machine. So you have to try hard not to end up in a tourist line, trying a thimble of wine. But Californian wine is far more than the mass produced brands such as E&J Gallo or Echo Falls and there are some amazing artisan wine makers in this place that has a unique climate for wine production.

Iron Horse Vineyard, Sonoma, California, America
September 2010

We had been staying in Bodega Bay for a couple of nights and thought we'd take a trip to one of the Vineyards. We chose Iron Horse Vineyard because the guide book boasted of its spectacular views and was close enough for us to reach within an hour or so of the beach. Again, I was not driving which meant I could enjoy myself.
The estate takes a bit of finding, but it is definitely worth all the wrong turns, especially if you are a fan of Pinot Noir like me. As with most California Vineyards, the entire estate is utterly pristine, and the rows of vines are intersected with beautiful beds of flowers and fruit trees. The tasting rooms are little more than a wooden shed which is quite rustic by Californian terms.

Iron Horse is famous for Pinot Noirs and sparkling wines, and after a few glasses of fizz, I struck up a bizarre conversation with an Australian man about my nail varnish. This was indicative of the friendly, informal nature of the surroundings. I could have spent a long time chatting to the warm, friendly people and looking at the spectacular view. And of course I walked away with a bottle or two.
Pacific Star Vineyard, Mendocino, California, America
October 2010

We literally fell across this vineyard on a road trip from San Francisco up through Northern California and onto Crater Lake in Oregon. We had nearly been inadvertently eaten by a Mountain Lion (true story) and I was seriously in need of a glass of wine to steady my nerves. So we saw a road sign to Pacific Star Winery off Highway 1 and headed into a very unexpected winery.

The Tasting Rooms overlook the wild pacific and you can sip your wine on one of the wooden benches overlooking the cliffs which get regularly and violently bashed by the huge waves of the sea. Far from being the slick operation that you often expect in California, this place is very laid back and has much more of a hippy vibe (quite in keeping with Mendocino in general). 
We were greeted by an ancient looking beagle who followed us around, hoping for picnic scraps. What I remember most were the random names of the wine- It's my Fault and Dad's Daily Red are just a couple of examples. And the eclectic mix of items they sold in their shop including a book of Dogs living in North American Wineries which I can only assume must have a fairly limited audience. 

An experience, and well worth the detour off Highway 1. 

A Sonoma Valley Wine Tour, California, America
August 2008

I was on a girly road trip round California, and on the way back from Lake Tahoe when we decided to stop in Sonoma for a couple of nights. As all of us wanted to drink, and we knew little about wine, so we opted to do an organised wine tour. This turned out to be a bus trip where we were about 50 years younger than the other participants. 

This isn't necessarily an experience I would want to repeat, and I would strongly recommend finding a way of visiting vineyards independently. We were taken to about five vineyards that all pretty much blended into one. It was all very hard sell and commercial. The tasting rooms were vast and crowded, with large shops selling all names of tat that they were practically supermarkets. Most of the tastings were a measured dribble, and due to the huge numbers of people, there was little opportunity to learn about the grapes or the wines.

On the positive side, Sonoma is beautiful as are all the vineyards. The whole place is like a beautiful, lush green dream. The estates are wonderfully tended and the grounds are plush with flowers and in general this is a stunning place to be. I tasted some delicious wine, and actually bought a couple of bottles of Mes Trois Amours from the Ledson Winery because the barman took the time to talk to me. The main square in Sonoma town centre has some lovely eateries and to top it all off there is a Ben and Jerry's scoop shop in Sonoma Plaza which is virtually worth the visit in itself.

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