Saturday, August 16, 2014

California 2014: Sonoma Day 1

Herewith, we commence with the best day of our week ... hell, probably my best day all year--it was just that much fun.

When Leslie went to California last year, she and her friends signed up for a Platypus Tour, one of many tour organizers you can use while you're in wine country.  (We later found out that the person who started this company randomly picked "Platypus" for the name because it sounded radically different than all of the other permutations of "Napa Valley Wine Tours" or "Sonoma Valley Wine Tours." It's pretty hard to confuse "Platypus" with a bunch of other businesses.  I know nothing about running a business, but that's smart, right?)

Here's how it works: We called up and reserved three seats on a cushy bus for twelve.  Typically, they would've picked us up Friday morning at our hotel, but since we were 30 minutes outside of the center of Sonoma we met them on Sonoma Square.  We were scheduled to visit four wineries--all tiny (in comparison to mammoths like Mondavi)--and we would be served lunch at the second visit.  Like all group activities, this is sort of a crap shoot: either the other 8-9 people in your group will be really cool or seriously annoying.  We lucked out with a really fun bunch: a couple in their mid-20s from Oklahoma, another woman my age with her mom, two friends from overseas (Ireland and Wales), and another middle-aged couple from Maryland.  Completely random--so much fun.

We chose a tour that stayed in Sonoma, and we started at Little Vineyards:




A note of caution: Eat breakfast before you go on your tour.  (Erin is going, "Duh, I've been telling you to eat breakfast since sixth grade.")  We met up with our group at 10:30am, and I was not at all hungry that morning (like every morning of my life) and I couldn't force myself to eat.  If I had been thinking at all, I would've forced myself to eat something because here we are at 11:30am at our first tasting. Oops.  I was careful here because I didn't want to ruin the day for myself, but I wish I had prepped better.  Still, it was fun.

Also, I heard here the classic story I hear on every trip to this part of the world: Somebody asked the guy serving us how long he had lived in Sonoma, etc. His reply? "Four months--I came out here recently to see what it was like ... and I never went home."  I've heard this same story once or twice during all four of my visits here. I get it.



For Steph and Cristin (and Laurie even though she knows this trick): I took this photo on Aperture Priority (f/9 and 1/160--Aperture Priority is "Tv" on Steph's Cannon); I also used my on-board flash at 1/4 power to fill in Ron's face. Without the flash, his face was darkened too much by shadow.  If this was 35mm and I had a dark room, I could fix that manually.  If I had Photoshop (and not Picasa) I could fix it on the computer. But I don't have Photoshop or a dark room, so I popped my flash at 1/4 strength to fill in his face without making it look like a "flash shot."  Also, we learned that this is the actual truck from the TV show Sanford and Son ... ? I was born in the 80s and basically didn't watch any TV until elementary school, so I just pretended like I knew what that was.

From Little we went to the Kenwood tasting room at Paradise Ridge (not to be confused with their actual estate in the Russian River Valley--maybe in this lifetime I'll be invited to a wedding there?).  Annette runs the show here, and she is just amazing.  She's smart and she's funny (really funny) and watching her makes you think, "Jesus, what changes can I make to love my job as much as she loves hers??"  While there, we tried our first ever sparkling red (not white!) and Leslie and I (the whole group) could not get over it: It was completely fantastic.





omg! Sparkling red zin!

We had lunch outside here--I later found out that it was over 100 degrees on this particular day, and I remember it being warm-almost-hot, but seriously it felt twenty degrees cooler than Philly 100 degrees. Not even a comparison.

Annette walked us through an exercise where we would taste different herbs in between sips of the same white wine--different herbs bring out different flavors in the wine that may otherwise go unnoticed.  While this was a lot of fun (and remarkably revealing), it was also the easiest way to accidentally drink two servings of wine before the actual end of the tasting. Oh well.



Before lunch ...

... awhile later after lunch



By this point of the day, it would never even occur to you to glance at your watch.  We must've spent at least two hours here ... maybe two and a half.  It felt like two minutes.  Whether you do a tour or not, make your way here.  Annette is magic--don't miss her.

I actually don't have any pictures of our third stop at Loxton Cellars--maybe I was warmer than I thought at Paradise Ridge since I remember very clearly how cool it was in the tasting room at Loxton.  Listening to Chris talk about creating his wines felt like being in one of my favorite college classes: It was basically a lecture through stories from a guy at the front of the room in jeans and a T-shirt. Don't be fooled--if you don't pay attention, you won't pass the first exam.  Not surprisingly (or very surprisingly, depending on your personality), Chris told us how any success he has comes from making wine that he would want to drink--not anything trendy or, God forbid, what business people/investors predict will sell best.  He told us a few stories about how people would just shake their heads or roll their eyes in the past when he would talk about his upcoming plans for his wine, but ultimately he has had the last laugh because he knows his product inside and out and--surprise!--people love it even though the "business people" swore it would be a bad move.  He takes his cues from the vines themselves since they're the only reliable source of information in his job--if you ignore what they tell you day to day, you're screwed.  Surely, there is a metaphor for life in that story.

I honestly could've called it a day at that point, but we had one last stop at Peter Cellars.  They put us on the patio underneath an enormous linen awning that was snapping in the strong wind that was blowing down the valley.  Apparently, we had arrived a few minutes after the wind did--like clockwork--on that particular day.  There were a few moments where I really thought that the awning was just going to snap and take off, but it didn't.




I think it was also around this time that our tour guide, Sam, congratulated Leslie on not getting a single spot of anything on her white dress ("Typically we strongly discourage everyone from wearing anything white ...").

That breeze felt so good! And it smelled so good too!





... or black and white?

My memory of this place plays like a 10 second Instagram video: Strong breeze, snap of the awning, Marianne cracking up at something, the blonde lady from Wales throwing the ball for the dog, the silver-green flash of the olive trees in the wind.




Hat twins


We had lost all concept of time hours prior (isn't that the surest sign you're having fun?), and we were pretty surprised when we realized that we had less than hour to get to our dinner reservation at the girl and the fig and for Leslie to get to her rehearsal dinner for her friend's wedding. Fortunately, both were on Sonoma Square (and the house Leslie rented with her friends around the corner) which is right where we were dropped off and said bye to everybody.  The whole day had just whipped right by.

And so back to the girl and the fig we went.  (Yes, I did watch the entire slide show of pictures on their website, but whatever. Gotta love that tent they set up for private parties out back.)



We sat outside this time and ordered the moules and frites again (and I had a fig royale ... again).  Ron ordered the house-made basil pasta, and I had the pork tenderloin special ... here's the thing: It wasn't as fantastic as I remember it.  In hindsight, I'm not sure that this is anyone's fault: I think the entire day itself was so satisfying that I didn't really need a dinner to finish it all off.  A dinner anywhere couldn't have made it better, and in fact things were slightly worse because Leslie had to run off with her friends and she wasn't with us.  I will say that the desserts we ordered were insane: Chocolate and salted fig caramel truffle (him) and lemon verbena riz au lait (me--rice pudding with a plum compote on the bottom ... divine).  I think we should've just done the moules and frites and dessert. That would've been much better.

Ron: if we ever go back to tg&tf, we are ONLY ordering the moules and frites and dessert. You are going to argue with me that that is not nearly enough and if I want to skip an entree, then be your guest. I will pull this post up on my phone (and this one too) and I will argue back with you.  I will also note that I did not include in this post what a horrendous food coma we were in after our 2014 visit, and you will still roll your eyes and order an entree anyway.  Don't say I didn't warn you.

About fifteen minutes after we were seated, the staff began rolling back the awnings on the patio.

I eat all the olives because Ron doesn't like them.  All the more for me.

Luckily I thought ahead and purposely scheduled a 6pm dinner reservation so we could walk off said food coma before rolling ourselves back into the car to drive back to Santa Rosa.  We walked the square and the residential area surrounding it; I window-shopped all of the stores that had closed for the day.  A looong day, and yet so fast.

So anyway, long story short, do a Platypus Tour. And eat at the girl and the fig. Just do moules and frites and dessert.

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