Snoopy Has a Hangover

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.

7 thoughts on “Snoopy Has a Hangover

  1. Wow. What a fabulous trip! Love Napa and Sonoma. So happy you chose to take us along. Have you been to the Santa Inez wine country where Sideways was filmed? Please never write about it because your prose will cause a stampede and ruin it for those of us who love its (relative) hidden charm. Cheers!

  2. Since I lack a sense of smell, I rely on your nose to fill me in on what I am missing. Napa wines would probably lost on me but I have vicariously enjoyed your tasting in all things. I’d go to enjoy your companionship, but would probably bring a box of Kirkland Merlot so I wouldn’t throw good money after bad.

    Sounds like a fun trip!

  3. Such imaginative hyperbola hangs in the luminous mist of the amarillo mornings looming over the stretch to the horizon of the silent black scaffolds of the vines. Anyone who writes this kind of fermented prose that lolls on the tongue of perception so easily—like a youthful unformed Cabernet—could have yet another career writing for the wine industry, where fantasy knows no limits, it’s fumes extending far to the west, to the sea; to mix with the sea breeze, perhaps, to create yet another appellation, another Bacchus, for the flackmeisters to adore in celestial prose; and produce rows of long sentences, stretching in hungover rows, like the vines that inspire, across the pages of the wet valleys of morning newsprint rolling from the presses like juice from the mind.

    This knowing, seductive enosphere dissolves judgment in the rouge of its dusty sunsets. For instance: praising crows. That dog won’t hunt. They eat lots of birds eggs and baby birds(like those of the hummers now nesting outside my bedroom window), incessantly bully all the smaller birds, harass the raptors, especially the young ones, and shatter the musical uplift of the mornings with their choruses of raucous atonal squawk. They do much of their business in gangs, and lord it over the bird world like little Putins, with similar cunning and malevolent smarts always in evidence. Did you know they can count to nine? Nobel laureate Konrad Lorenz proved that. Only fumes could conjure an admiring vision of their character, though. they are the most common black hat in the bird world. But they eat bugs (they eat everything, including the ripe (and often unripe: sampled, ruined, discarded) fruit in our backyards and orchards), yet do fit into nature’s balanced design. Just like wine, in all its resonant variations and fluidic glories. It has its place, and the northern valleys are intoxicating. I like the Alexander Valley ( think Healdsburg). When up there in the Fall, after harvest, the Zins climb into your mind and won’t go away. But I would. Too many McMansions now in Napa and Sonoma. Everybody has ten acres (or three); and a winery. My brother-in-law used to write The Trumpet Vine Wine Newsletter, the now defunct unofficial herald of the industry when there were 400 wineries in California. I recently read there’s are now thousands (!!) producing 500 cases at year (the official definition of a winery?). How could that be? It’s glorious country to visit, but as for living there…the fumes rising would blur a rainy day, and one would want its intrinsic muse to do that, since there are fewer and fewer of these nowadays coming in like a lover’s touch to clear the mind, and heart of Winter’s sludgy malaise.

  4. Dear Chris,
    Some trivia you may enjoy: Gott’s Burgers in St. Helena was founded in 1949 and called Taylor’s Refresher. The daughter of the founder, Virginia Taylor Toogood married Charles Toogood, who played defense for the LA Rams in the Elroy Hirsch era. He was at one time an investor in Taco Bell, before moving to St. Helena with his wife. We knew someone who worked at Taylor’s Refresher briefly, and he told us about the former football player whose wife owned the place along with her siblings.
    I really enjoyed your stories about the beauty and charms of Wine County, in addition to the little pokes at some of the pretense around wine and wine making. As an Angeleno who lived in Napa, my husband’s hometown, until 1985, it took me a decade to sort out what you figured out in a few days.
    Catherine Swan

  5. I designate this article Grand Cru! So much fun to read and I’m salivating. Can’t wait to get up there to try some of those. Curious to know what you lean towards: blends, cab, pinot?

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