Friday, September 12, 2008

A Weekend In Anderson Valley - Part 5

Esterlina Vineyards is hidden up a 2.2 mile long road, but it feels much farther. The steep grade, loose gravel, washboard ruts, and extreme drop-offs make for slow driving. To further dissuade casual wine tasters, Esterlina requires an appointment in order to visit. This just means that you should give them a few minutes notice. Most tasting rooms are happy to make the call for you.

I served Esterlina's Pinot Noir many times when I was a waiter at Eos Wine Bar in Cole Valley, San Francisco, and always felt confident recommending it to people. I'd wanted to see their tasting room for a while, but getting to Anderson Valley always seemed out of reach. The days before we visited Esterlina, several people described the tasting experience with stars in their eyes.

After the treacherous drive, Esterlina is situated on the very top of a big yellow hill, from which we could see in all directions. We were the only people there when we arrived, and as we walked toward the tasting room, who would appear but the same boisterous man who had served us at Greenwood Winery (see Part 2). Our hearts sank. His tone was subdued in comparison to the other day, but he did repeat several jokes. Perhaps it was the quiet setting. Esterlina's tasting room is a breath-taking second floor veranda with two tables with umbrellas. Intimate and delicious, the experience is an aesthetic wonderland.

The wines were all mind-blowing. The Chardonnay, in my mind, even rivaled my favorite Chardonnays in the world, produced by Williams Selyem, and at half the price. The man did tell us that Esterlina only likes to have tasters who are big spenders and who take a case or two home with them. Whether this was his own feeling or the vineyards, it made us self-conscious.

As a young writer, I do my best to buy a bottle of wine at every winery I taste at - if I like it. There are some places, like Standish Winery, where I discover that I couldn't afford the wines. But at Standish, the woman behind the counter didn't seem concerned with that and taught us a number of things about wine. If you want to look at it from an economic perspective, I have a great love for wine at a young age thanks to extensive tasting, and I will be purchasing many more bottles of good wine over my life than if I had not done this tasting. But I don't think about economics: I just enjoy awesome wine and learning about it.

With two bottles Zinfandel, we left Esterlina's beautiful winery and began our drive home. Of course, we tasted along the way. Meyer Family Winery was sharing one masterfully crafted Shiraz and one Port, both of which were delicious but not what we were looking for. Then we came upon Yorkville Winery and discovered their organic wines.

The knowledgeable man behind the counter, who'd studied Food Toxicology in college, the study of the chemicals found in food, poured a nice selection of white wines and a rose, which were perfect for the sweltering day. "You know that chocolate dip they put on soft serve icecream," he asked. "Well, do you know how much of that is petrolium jelly? 30%." From this perspective, organic farming is actually a more conservative method of farming. 20% of Yorkville's vineyards hold the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) certification and much of their vineyards are just a year or two away from becoming certified.

Yorkville also a number of less-common red wine varietals, including Semillon, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Carmenere.

We bought a bottle of the rose and sat on Yorkville's porch to have a picnic. We were all growing quietly sad as we pet a vineyard cat and stared out over the grapes. A firemen's benefit was taking place down the road and locals stood around gabbing. Our trip had come to an end. But like all trips to wine country, the end really isn't the end. We had a good collection of wines in the back seat that would take us back to the Navarro River and rolling hills with every sip.

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