The great contributions keep pouring in from my query for a place or experience that not only was special but relly brought home what a site, or wine itself, is all about. Here are Parks I, II and III.
James Hirdler, Restaurant Alma wine buyer, Minneapolis
“Among many ‘wow’ moments visiting vineyards, the one that sticks out most for me was my first anti-‘wow’ moment. It was my first visit to California wine country.
“I grew up reading all the periodicals, looking at pictures of wine events, Bordeaux auctions, big-city restaurant sommeliers and thought, ‘there really is another side to my grandfather’s Christmas sparkling wine, and I want to find about it.’
“After years in the restaurant industry getting to taste wine and learning from one of the best, my mentor Jim Reininger, who owned three of the restaurants I have worked at, I flew into San Francisco and met up with a friend who was familiar with the wine-tourist highway. We bought a map and got into party mode.
“The first red flag was that the road trip to Napa and Sonoma was going to start at 7 a.m. The tasting rooms were only open during the day. What? Vineyards aren’t open all time?
“After the half-hour or so drive, I then realized that there wouldn’t be a lot of actual drinking involved up here, driving being one of the only things wine does not pair with. That’s fine, let’s do this. The scenery is intoxicating enough.
“My goal for the day was to visit Martinelli Vineyard. These were the first wines I fell in love with. Big, jammy pinot noirs, spicy zinfandels, buttery chardonnays and that gorgeous apricot-y sauvignon blanc. I want to party with these guys! Although my palate has changed, these are still very good wines (jam, spice and butter being their terroir in my opinion).
“The first few vineyards along the way were a sign of things to come. Turnbull: Lovely place. Empty. Besides the person pouring tastes, everyone was working in the field. It’s a farm. Flora Springs: Lovely. Less empty but still a farm. Schug: Same. Farm. Everybody was working — and working hard. The wines were great, the people friendly and the views fantastic, but barrrel samples were as close to a party as this was getting.
“And I loved it.
“Wine wasn’t blue-blood at all. It was everything I was really interested in — farming, geology, geography, meteorology, science, etc. I was hooked. More than that, I felt invited into this delicious and accessible industry that day. I grew up in a family of farmers.
“We made it to Martinelli, another half hour north of the town of Sonoma, and there it was: Glorious. A farm. And this was not the Martinelli sparkling cider my grandfather gave me at Christmas as a child, telling me it was Champagne.”
Casey Garvey, Terzo Vino Bar, Minneapolis
“I’ve played bag toss at Menage-a-Trois. I’ve eaten the pre-made cold cuts and the fruit salad that permeate a visit to Mario Andretti’s winery. Although I haven’t been in the wine game for very long, I’ve been on the tours and seen the sights that most Americans have come to imagine when they picture where their wine comes from.
“But, fortunately, there can be so much more to it. There was a time a couple years back that changed this vision for me, which has been crucial in understanding where most of my wine comes from and why it can be an experience beyond a chapter in a book and a buzz.
“Navigating up the gravel that is Lewis Rogers Lane toward Ayres Winery, I expected to arrive at a paved slab of parking lot, next to the other cars and tour buses (I don’t despise tourism despite my tone here). I was wrong. There was no parking lot; there was no grand log cabin, no fake rustic paraphernalia; there were no buses or pictures being taken.
“What I discovered was simply a modest house with a modest plot of vines. What I discovered was the winemaker himself, pouring his different, unique crus of pinot noir and telling stories, sharing insight and camaraderie. I discovered a multi-generational family living together under one roof, working toward and preserving a passion. I found an honesty and a sense of place.
“On the way out, with a bit of that aforementioned buzz, I noticed the family’s mutt running around in the rare Willamette sun with a bounce of unadulterated happiness. I thought about how places like this could help someone find that feeling — a well-made wine by a well-intentioned cast can assist in that search. This was for me, to an extent, a lesson in terroir. A lesson that can’t be found in a book.”