Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Weekend In Anderson Valley - Part 2


Greenwood Ridge Vineyards
Greenwood's tasting room is located just a few hundred yards down the road from Navarro. A pond with weeping-willow trees stands beside it with an arching bridge that goes out to a tiny island with picnic tables. Too bad there's no shade from the brutal summer sun to make this prime location useful.

Greenwood has one of the coolest wine labels I've seen: a red dragon silk-screened all the way around the bottle. I wish my photographs showed it better. Unfortunately, Greenwood's wines did not stand out as much as their labels, but for one important exception: their Pinot. Greenwood's Pinot Noir was getting closer to the ideal Pinot I was looking for; it had an intense spice that was eclipsed by a long dry finish, making it a great wine to have with food. Unfortunately, I was slightly distracted from tasting it due to the man behind the counter, who's schtick was fully ingrained.

"I'm retired, so I never drink wine to relax anymore," he said, before moving down the bar to a young couple, to whom he repeated the anecdote. I tried to focus: The Pinot was aged for 8 months in 100% French Oak and could be stored for up to five years, which is a pretty long time for a Pinot. "Sorry, we only have Pinot Noir, no Pinot Diem." At twenty-seven dollars a bottle, this Pinot Noir, which was recently acknowledged by Food & Wine Magazine, has a very reasonably price. "This is a beautiful Chardonnay, you should buy a case of it. Like I say, if you wake up in the morning with a glass in your hand, you might as well fill it with this!"

I can imagine that the position of wine-pourer can get monotonous. I've heard horror stories of tourists simultaneously chewing gum and tasting wine, or showing up completely wasted, then taking nothing but their rudeness with them when they leave. But the wine-pourer who is so bored with their job that they are more concerned with entertaining themselves than allowing customers to taste their wines is a painful distraction from an awesome day. For me, the experience of wine-tasting is very special. I'm out of the busy San Francisco atmosphere and into the beautiful California countryside. The wine inherently reflects this beauty, for example a late summer means a late harvest which means a great Pinot Noir. Also, I've gotten a ton of insider information through friendly conversations with people working at the wineries. For example, at the next winery we visited, Toulouse Winery, we were told about a local swimming hole that was exactly what we were looking for.

Toulouse Vineyards
During lunch, we struck up a conversation with some folks who said Toulouse was the perfect winery: The winemaker had already experienced great success in another field, before turning to winemaking, and he truly cared only to make the best wine, which resulted in small production. We pulled up to the quiet tasting room, situated among barrels of aging Toulouse wine, and found that they were sold out of every wine except three: a Chardonnay and two Pinot Noirs.

It was at Toulouse that the homey-feeling of Anderson Valley wineries really began to sink in. Rather than compete with one another, most wineries will recommend one another to suit your particular interests (and beyond that, they'll often tell you to say hello for them). The lady behind the bar at Toulouse told us that Winemaker Vern Boltz, ex-Captain of the Oakland Fire Department, would be tasting wine with us except that his wife, Maxine Boltz, was expected home any minute from a vacation and he needed to clean up the mess he'd made while she was away. The mood was jovial, the wine poured, a light breeze came through the barn-like doors, and we talked about many things other than wine.

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