NAPA – Up here, the skies are murals. And the locals hop about like crows. That’s actually a compliment. Our most underrated bird, the crow: Tough, smart, independent, dressed in black. Stubborn hipsters.
You can’t make wine unless you’re a little headstrong. You’re at the mercy of so many things: Rain. Manpower. Market forces. Fog. Organic chemistry and carbon covalent bonds. Making wine must feel like a séance sometimes. Like voodoo.
Remember the way merlots were mocked in that movie “Sideways?” A perfectly good grape with modest intentions, merlot never really recovered from that capricious cheap shot. Felled by a wise guy with a keyboard. Ouch.
But Napa is back, and we’re back in Napa. At first glance, this is God’s Country. More fitting, it is the House of Savoy.
Brand-new castles dot this land, and the public is invited to visit, up the forever driveways, across the moats (best to have an appointment). As with most monarchies, there is primogeniture; kingdoms are passed down through the generations. There seem – to me anyway — too many grand estates. Over time, I predict warfare. Mergers, bad marriages, as you had across Europe.
Already, there are accusations of kidnapped daughters. Apparently, Jackson is suing Gallo over Cask & Cream, saying the name sounds too much like La Crema, one of the nation’s most-popular liquids.
This might be the best trademark case in history:
“Your honor, another cheese plate, please? The jurors and I are still struggling. Is Cask & Cream too oaky? Are the tannins too silky?”
A trial like that might last 47 years.
“Your honor, can the bailiff bring more breadsticks?”
By the way, we stopped in at La Crema the other morning, sat out front of the 3-story barn that used to be a rustic mansion. It’s where I hope to live eventually. The staircase itself might be worth a-million-five.
For some reason, this is my favorite pitstop, amid many pitstops. After five days, my bloodstream is what they call up here “a blend”: Pinot. Merlot. Malbec. Claire. I’m not sure Claire is a grape or the name of the cute pourer at Longboard in Healdsburg. But that’s my blend and I’m sticking with it.
I used to have a blood type. Now I have a blend.
Another favorite stop? Clos du Val, in the Stags Leap district, where the personable Bill Adrian pours a 2016 mutt called Three Graces. I recommend it as a cure-all for insomnia, disenchantment, athlete’s foot, hair loss, crazy teeth, gout. This isn’t Gatorade they’re pouring. This is some serious stuff. The wine of kings. Like a bloody steak.
My favorite tasting locations? It’s a tie between Sonoma’s Roth, with those glorious wine caves and Napa’s Beringer, an elegant old property that also has wine caves. Obviously, I have a thing for wine caves. It’s where I hope to sit out the Revolution, once these wineries all go to war.
Meantime, a fog has rolled in, leaving dew drops strung like Christmas lights along the vines’ catch wires. My friend Carol is making us eggs from the chickens she keeps in the side yard at Villa Muller, the private Ponderosa she and her husband Ridge have built here on the edge of town.
These birds are beautiful. Are they chickens, or are they peacocks? They produce these magical eggs: yolks yellow as a tetherball, with a hint of clove, olive brine, bacon, flower petals, plum.
This isn’t just anyplace, you know. It’s the land of bachelorette parties and to-die-for weddings – mostly the land of the long smooth finish. The light is exquisite, always autumnal … a bit brassy. Reminds me of homemade egg nog and a sandy-haired girl I knew in seventh grade. (no one wore knee socks like she did).
Yet, I must go now. After five days, I feel like a crash dummy. I blame Bittner, my Bacchus, the god of fertility and grape juice, who dragged me along.
I am following him home now, into the tiny airport in Santa Rosa with a suitcase full of smelly t-shirts. There are paintings of Peanuts characters all around, a salute to the great Charles Schulz, this region’s Rembrandt.
From what I can tell, Snoopy has a hangover.
Damn, this Shangri-La. The whole place is starting to ferment. On a more personal level, my phenolic compounds are texturing. My tannins are as ripe as my socks.
Cork me, Doc Muller. Mr. Bittner, get me home.
If you like La Crema, you’ll also like Gramm Vineyards’ Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. Info: https://www.grammvineyards.com/. Some standout tasting rooms in Sonoma and Napa: La Crema, Clos du Val, Roth, VML, Trattore, Beringer. Best burger joint? Gott’s in Napa. I mean, worth the trip alone. To maximize the experience, chew each bite 32 times. At the very least, don’t huff it. And be sure to order the garlic fries and a pistachio milkshake.