Elk Cove Vineyards: An Oregon Pioneer

Elk Cove Vineyards (ECV) crushed their first grapes in 1974, planted their first Pinot Noir vineyard in 1975, and now makes about 45,000 cases each year. Of that, about 1/3 is Pinot Noir, another third is Pinot Gris, and the rest is split between Reisling, Chardonnay and rosé of Pinot Noir. Their early start qualifies them as a pioneer in the Willamette Valley, while their quality, longevity and volume make them one of the current leaders.

The original vineyard at Elk Cove Vineyards was planted in 1975.

Elk Cove Vineyards

We weren’t sure what to expect with ECV. We turned a corner and came through a line of pine trees, and there were vineyards (their original 1975 vineyard) right there in front of us, and the winery down at the bottom of the hill. Beautiful. As we pulled up to the tasting room, we noticed the flower gardens, also beautiful. And the vineyards come up to the edge of the deck off the tasting room, so you feel like you’re in some sort of Eden-ic spot.

The vineyards come right up to the deck at the Elk Cove Vineyards tasting room.

Out of the car, and it’s obvious that they’ve just “finished” harvest. Finishing harvest has a different definition for winemakers and lay people. For us lay people, we think of finishing harvest in a literal sense, that all the grapes have been harvested. The winemaker and his/her team think of harvest as extending through to when they’ve got the last wine out of the fermentation tanks and into the barrels. While there’s still wine in tanks, the winemaking team has to be there every day, a few times each day, to make sure that the fermentation process is proceeding according to plan. When they get the last wine into barrels, the 2+ months of being at the winery every day is over; harvest is over for the winemaking team, and they can see their families again. One of the first tasks after finishing harvest is cleaning out the skins from the tanks, and from the smell that was the task they were getting on with that morning.

The tasting experience was also nice because of the person behind the bar. Joe worked for about 30 years at Intel (maybe the largest employer in Oregon) as a software engineer. Having retired a year ago, he’s now serving wine, and playing classic rock in the tasting room. Eagles, Heart, Pink Floyd, Van Morrison, … My high school and college sound track.

The La Boheme Vineyard at Elk Cove Vineyards was planted in 1985.

Well, I’m about 400 words and 5 photos into this blog and have yet to say anything about their wine. Lori got one tasting flight, and I got the other, so that we could maximize the number of wines we tasted. Looking back at my notes, we didn’t taste the Pinot Gris, and the Chardonnay and rosé we tasted left no memorable impression on me. The 2015 Estate Reisling, which is made off-dry with less than 1% residual sugar, was nice to taste.

On to the Pinot Noirs. We tasted

2014 Willametter Valley Pinot Noir: Cuvée (blend) made from grapes from all six of their vineyards.

2014 Mount Richmond Vineyard Pinot Noir: This vineyard is near Yamhill, and this was Lori’s favorite.

2014 Clay Court Vineyard Pinot Noir: Their smallest vineyard, volcanic soil, Parrett Mountain area, and home to the ECV founders. My favorite.

2014 La Bohème Vineyard Pinot Noir. This vineyard was planted in 1985 on the other side of the winery from the original vineyard.

2014 Windhill Vineyard Pinot Noir: Not our style.

2014 Goodrich Vineyard Pinot Noir: Their newest vineyard.

All together – the setting, the tasting room atmosphere, the quality of wines – this was a great wine tasting experience.



Brigadoon: A Magical Oregon Winery

On our last day of wine tasting in Oregon, we ventured south of Corvalis. Though this is 75 miles south of McMinnville and our previous two days of wineries, this is still the Willamette Valley. After going to one of the larger, well known wineries, we visited Brigadoon as the last winery on our trip.

Brigadoon tasting room.

You might know of the musical Brigadoon, with the basic set up that Brigadoon is a magical spot that appears in the Scottish Highlands for one day out of every 100 years. The winery Brigadoon is, fortunately, there every day of the year. It’s a small winery; only about 1,000 cases per year of the three Pinots (Gris, Blanc, Noir) plus Reisling. The Pinot Blanc was interesting and different than the others we tasted on this trip, as it was done with no malolactic (ML) fermentation. It was good, best we had in Oregon, although I still am not a huge fan of this varietal.

Their Pinot Noir was quite good, and at $23 per bottle, the best value we found on our trip. Just when I thought I had bought all the wine I was going to for the trip, here was one I couldn’t pass up. So I had some shipped direct to the house. (The other wine purchased on the trip came home with me, as Alaska Airlines, and maybe some of the others, will let you check one case of wine at no charge flying out of Portland Airport.)

The picnic area at Brigadoon.

Some other interesting points about Brigadoon. It’s kid-friendly, with some toys in the small tasting room to help keep the little ones occupied while you’re enjoying the wine. They’ve got a nice picnic table there, which we took advantage of, having brought sandwiches. (We also bought a bottle there to have with our lunch.) They have a nice, friendly dog, Gracie, at Brigadoon. At least friendly to humans; not sure about other dogs.

It probably says something about our priorities that the dog is mentioned before the people. Chris Shown, proprietor and vineyard manager, was behind the bar when we were there. He grew up in Napa Valley, but moved to the Willamette Valley for his own vineyards and winery. In addition to talking about his wine, he’s still a fan of the SF Giants, and as the season had just ended for the Giants that was as much a topic as the wine.

Root vines at Brigadoon.

Also, they grow root stock there, not just their own grapes. You are probably aware that most grape vines start with a relatively generic root stock, with the actual wine grape varietal grafted onto the root stock about one year after planting. Brigadoon works with nurseries in Oregon as a root stock provider, and so you see a few fields of untrained, untrellissed vines there, which was an interesting sight.

This was a great tasting experience, and I hope to get back there (or at least keep buying their wines).



Torii Mor Winery

Lori and I recently spent a week going from Seattle to McMinnville (Oregon’s Willamette Valley) to Corvalis (wineries, breweries, and a California v Oregon State football game that did not end in the Cal Bears favor). Torii Mor was the first winery we visited. A great way to start.

The architecture of the winery and tasting room, and even the landscape architecture, has a slightly Asian feel. This might be the place to discover the zen of Pinot Noir. It’s a very calm place, but that belies the intensity of the effort going into the wines. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface.

We started with their whites, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. The Pinot Gris had really nice nose, more substantial body than we’re used to seeing in a Pinot Gris, and nicely balanced flavors. It reminded us a bit of a good Sauvignon Blanc, with enough acids to work well with a range of foods. Pinot Blanc is a mutation of Pinot Noir, except now a green grape (white wine). This really didn’t do anything for me, but in fairness to Torii Mor, we didn’t taste even one Pinot Blanc in Oregon that we were at all interested in taking home.

On to the Pinot Noirs. I’ve had Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs in the past, and enjoyed them, but with living in California I’ve been drinking Pinots from the Russian River Valley, Carneros region, Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey) and Santa Ynez Valley (Santa Barbara) for the last 20 or more years, with hardly a bottle of any other Pinot (Burgandy, Oregon, New Zealand) thrown in. This was my first visit to the area, and my first time ever really focusing on Oregon Pinot Noir. The climate there, a bit cooler than in California, leads to Pinot Noir grapes with less sugar at full ripeness and therefore less alcohol. Lighter body seems also a regular characteristic, as does less bold fruit flavors. Yet these characteristics do not diminish from the quality of the wine, it just makes them different, and interesting. And when they’re well made, very enjoyable.

With Torii Mor, we found a range of Pinot Noirs, depending on which vineyards from which AVAs they were sourcing the grapes. One of our favorites was the 2014 Yamhill Carlton Select Pinot Noir, which surprised us with the complexity of the wine with such a light body. We brought a bottle of that home with us, and opened it our first night back, tasting it against an Armida 2014 Gap’s Crown Vineyard (Sonoma Coast) Pinot Noir. They were both easily identifiable as Pinot Noir from the flavors, but completely different wines, both excellent.

By the way, Torii Mor has a couple of winery cats that hang out around the tasting room. And if Eddie is behind the tasting room bar, you’ll get a nice description of the wines and vineyards, without him telling you what you’re going to taste in advance.

I don’t know when we’ll get back to the Willamette Valley, but I’m already looking forward to the next trip.



Wine Pairing with Vegetarian Meals

What wine to drink with a vegetarian meal? All those rules about red wine with red meat, white wine with fish, etc. don’t seem to apply if there’s no meat in the dish.

First, rules are meant to be broken. Second, the rules-which-are-not-rules that I use have as much to do with the preparation of the dish, who you’re eating with, and what bottle is sitting there calling your name when you open the wine fridge, as with the nature of the meat itself. From that perspective, those rules would apply to vegetarian dishes as well. Heavier dishes get a red wine, lighter get a white wine, have fun, and open an interesting bottle.

Gustafson Family Vineyard 2009 Zinfandel

Gustafson Family Vineyard 2009 Zinfandel

We tried a new restaurant in the Russian River Valley a few weeks ago: Backyard in Forestville. It was great sitting outside on a warm evening and enjoying a very nice meal. For me, while I am not a vegetarian, occasionally that’s the dish on the menu that appeals to me. We had brought a bottle of Gustafson Family Vineyards 2009 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Heritage Tree Vineyard, not because we knew what people were having for dinner, but because it was about time to drink this bottle, and we had some family joining us that would appreciate this wine.

Vegetarian cassoulet at Backyard in Forestville

Vegetarian cassoulet at Backyard in Forestville

The vegetarian cassoulet (a French meat and bean casserole), with mushrooms providing the flavor and texture instead of meat, had big flavors, and larger pieces/texture from the normal cassoulet ingredients. It turned out that the Zinfandel, which from 2009 was a very good vintage from a very good winery, went perfectly with this dish. The best 2009 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandels (and the Gustafson is one of them) have a softness – well, maybe not softness, but not the big body that is usual in Dry Creek Valley Zins – and complexity that also paired nicely with Lori’s chicken dish that night.

By the way, we picked up this bottle on a visit to Gustafson a few years back. It’s the most distant (Northern) of the Dry Creek Valley wineries, but the drive is worth it, both for the scenery of the drive, and for the people and the wine at Gustafson.

I’m not sure if that helps with the discussion about wine pairing in general, and pairing with vegetarian dishes specifically, but at least it’s a data point for future reference.



Another Concert on the Green; Another Rosé

A great thing that’s happened in the last few years, in the small towns of the Bay Area, is adding casual concerts to weeknight farmers’ markets. In our area, our town of Windsor does this, as does Healdsburg, Sebastopol, Santa Rosa and probably others that I don’t know about and haven’t had time to explore yet.

Summer concert on the Windsor Green

Summer concert on the Windsor Green

For us, the Windsor Green is about a 5 minute drive. It takes more time to find a parking space for the Thursday evening market/concert than to drive there. Most recently, we went and heard a swing band, which had the audience dancing in the square. Swing dancing is not in my skill set, or Lori’s, but we enjoyed listening, and watching the dancers. We also enjoyed the food available from the market, plus there was paella available from Castañeda’s Market, a local market owned by our new neighbors. (To be clear, we’re the new ones in the neighborhood; they’ve been there for a number of years.) If you want paella catered for your event, you should check out their Paella Guy website.

Windwalker 2012 Grenache Rosé

Windwalker 2012 Grenache Rosé

We also enjoyed the bottle of Windwalker Vineyard 2012 Grenache Rosé, from El Dorado County in the Sierra Foothills. We visited Windwalker a few years back. Loved the winery grounds; just beautiful setting in the foothills and excellent event facilities. We thought most of their wines were good but not great; however we really liked the rosé. So we purchased a few bottles. A good rosé, one where the grapes are picked specifically for the rosé and not just made from juice bled off the red wine, can last a few years in the bottle and be excellent for a Spring/Summer picnic (or a Summer concert!). (If you’re interested, I’ve written about rosés before in this space, just go use the search function on the right side of the page.)

This was just such a wine. Grenache is most often used for rosé’s in France, as it has just enough flavor and body to make a good light wine, plus if picked right has the acid to go with foods. This wine reminded me of a lunch Lori and I had at a sidewalk café in Nice, France, somewhere around 2001, which featured a nice bottle of rosé. A great memory from that trip, but also a great new memory made of music, food and wine close to home.



Armida Harvest 2016

Maple Vineyards, Maggie's Block, Zinfandel grapes

Maple Vineyards, Maggie’s Block, Zinfandel grapes

Now that I’m living up in the wine country, it seems appropriate that I spend some time helping our older son – Brandon, aka Winemaker B – with harvest. So last week found me spending a few hours sorting grapes at Armida Winery. They received that day about 8 tons of grapes from the “Maggie’s Block” of Maple Vineyards. Maple is one of the oldest Zinfandel vineyards in Dry Creek Valley, with the original blocks, such as Tina’s Block, going back 85 years or so. Armida typically makes both a Tina’s Block Zinfandel and a generic Maple Vineyards Zinfandel, provided the yield from Tina’s Block gives enough juice and the quality is high.

When we’re sorting the grapes, we’re removing bunches with any mold on them, but otherwise letting most grapes through, even some that have gone a bit raisiny. From the sorting table, the grapes are moved mechanically into the de-stemmer, and from there are pumped into a tank. The grape skins will break during this process, and yield most of their juice. Initial fermentation then takes place in the tank, with juice and skins together, for around 10-14 days. At that time the skins are pressed to get out the rest of the juice/wine, and the liquid is moved from the tank into barrels to complete the fermentation and initial aging process.

I’ve helped with sorting once or twice before, but it had been a few years, and I’d forgotten that this is real work. Fun though, to be part of the process this year.

Armida Winery tasting room.

Armida Winery tasting room.

Some quick harvest notes:

Winemaker B says that the quantity and quality of grapes that they’ve gotten in so far is pretty normal; looks like a good year. Although he did comment that the Maggie’s Block grapes that we sorted looked the best he’s ever seen. Also, sugar levels have been more consistent than usual in the Zinfandel, which should lead to some really nice wines.

I smelled the tanks for the Tina’s Block Zinfandel, and the Armida Il Campo (their estate grown field blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah). The Il Campo, as always, smelled big and bold, like a classic Dry Creek Valley Zin blend. The Tina’s Block smelled completely different. It already has some complexity in the nose, some subtleties, that bode well for a beautiful Zinfandel with many layers, needing some years to age and get to its full potential. We’ll see how these turn out in 12 months or so.



Last Wines at the Old House

Yes, we’ve moved, from our old house near the Livermore Valley wine region to our new house a bit further north in Sonoma County. One of the many issues with the move was moving the wine collection. The easiest way to deal with the problem was to reduce the number of bottles we had to move. We still had a couple hundred bottles left to move, but we did have fun drinking those last bottles. Here’s the lineup over the last days at the old house:

Armida Winery, 2012 Il Campo (Zinfandel/Petite Sirah field blend), Dry Creek Valley
Donkey and Goat, 2013 Grenache Noir, El Dorado County
Pessagno, 2011 Zinfandel, Idyll Times Vineyard, San Benito County
Soquel Vineyards, 2012 Trinity (red blend), California
Tobin James, 2010 Ballistic Zinfandel, Paso Robles

Armida Winery 2012 Il Campo (Zinfandel and Petite Sirah field blend), Dry Creek Valley

Armida Winery 2012 Il Campo (Zinfandel and Petite Sirah field blend), Dry Creek Valley

Yes, we drink a lot of Zinfandel. It’s a good value wine, both at the low end (price-wise) and the high end (high end of the Zinfandel range). It’s also a grape that lends itself to different styles, from big bold fruity wines to more complex layered wines, all of which can be very tasty.

The Il Campo is an excellent Zinfandel blend from Winemaker B at Armida. It’s a field blend, so it’s a bit difficult to say how much of what went in, but likely it’s somewhere around 75 – 80% Zinfandel.

Donkey and Goat 2013 Grenache Noir, El Dorado

Donkey and Goat 2013 Grenache Noir, El Dorado

Donkey and Goat is relatively new to us, with our first and only visit there 2 years ago. A Berkeley winery, sourcing grapes from all over Northern California, this Grenache was very good, surprisingly good. Actually, you’ll see Grenache (or Garnacha from Spain) mentioned in a couple of future posts. Grenache, while one of the big three Rhone grapes — Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre — is rarely made as a single varietal, especially in California. Syrah, yes, but not Grenache, nor Mouvedre. When Grenache is grown well and made well, it’s a really nice treat. Not too big a wine, not too big body, really good with food.

Pessagno 2011 Zinfandel, San Benito County, Idyll Times Vineyard

Pessagno 2011 Zinfandel, San Benito County, Idyll Times Vineyard

The Pessagno is a bit more in the understated style for Zinfandel, and this has been outstanding from our first taste at the winery to the two bottles we’ve opened. (I’m kicking myself now for not buying more when we were there. But of course, then we’d have had to move those bottles, so probably just as well.)

Soquel Vineyards 2012 Trinity Rosso (red blend), California

Soquel Vineyards 2012 Trinity Rosso (red blend), California

The Soquel Trinity is consistently, year after year, one of the best low end red blends, now matter what grapes they’re using. Soquel Vineyards is either number 1 or 2 on our Santa Cruz Mountains wineries hit list. They’ve been building great wines, and providing a great tasting experience, for a couple of decades now, longer than most in that area. We’ve talked about their wines and tasting room a few times in this blog; just search on Soquel to find those posts.

Tobin James 2010 Zinfandel "Ballistic", Paso Robles

Tobin James 2010 Zinfandel “Ballistic”, Paso Robles

The Ballistic Zin is the flagship for Tobin James, a classic big juicy jammy Zinfandel from the East side of Paso Robles. They’re almost the last winery heading east on Hwy 46, but worth the extra couple of miles to visit the tasting room.



Charity Wine Auction for Lake County Fire

A charity wine auction is being held to help rebuilding efforts in Lake County after last year’s destructive Valley Fire. The auction will be held this Sunday, March 20th, at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone (St. Helena, Napa Valley). Headlining the event are Congressman Mike Thompson and grape-grower Andy Beckstoffer. Fritz Hatton is managing the auction, which will include both live and silent auction items. The #LakeCountyRising event is sponsored by Lake County Winegrape Commission, Lake County Winery Association and Lake County Wine Alliance.

Some of the auction items look pretty amazing:

– Tasting menu with wine pairing for 3 couples at The Restaurant at Meadowood

– Your own barrel lot from Beckstoffer Vineyards

– Luxury suite at a SF Giants baseball game

Multiple lots of wine and dining experiences are also available.

More information on the event is available here: http://lakecountyrising.org/news/2016/3/14/thompson-beckstoffer-hatton-lead-charity-wine-auction.

You can register for #LakeCountyRising, or donate if you can’t attend, here: http://lakecountyrising.org/charity-auction.



Zin and Pinot and Pints, Oh My!

My cousin came to town between Christmas and New Years Day, and had one day for sightseeing with us. We hadn’t seen Diego for about 13 years, as he’s from the branch of the family that’s based in Argentina, although he’s currently living in Spain. He was traveling with his girlfriend who, as it turns out, is currently living and teaching English in Spain, but grew up only 30 minutes from us here in the Bay Area. We decided to spend the day up in Sonoma County, eating and drinking and seeing some of the most beautiful countryside in the world, and also seeing our boys and their families.

With that preamble, here’s our agenda for one day in the wine country:

• Wine tasting at Armida Winery
• Lunch at Matteo’s Cocina Latina in Healdsburg
• Wine tasting at Woodenhead
• Hiking in the Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve
• Dinner at Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol
• Ice cream at Sub Zero in Sebastopol

Wine tasting at Armida was an easy choice, because our son Brandon, aka Winemaker B, is the winemaker at Armida. Moreover, the views are great, and so is the wine. Brandon gave us a tour of Armida, which started with a quick taste in the tasting room, and finished there as well. The zinfandels were a hit with our guests, and a bottle of the Reserve PoiZin (with the coffin package) went home to Diego’s girlfriend’s family.

Matteo's Cocina Latina in Healdsburg serves some of the best Mexican food in the Bay Area.

Matteo’s Cocina Latina in Healdsburg serves some of the best Mexican food in the Bay Area.

Lunch at Matteo’s was another easy choice. Great Mexican food, but not the conventional Mexican-American fare. This is a restaurant that has been in the top 100 in the Bay Area according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which is a pretty elite list given the quality of food in the Bay Area.

We had time for another winery between lunch and the Armstrong Redwoods, and so wanted something relatively convenient to the drive from Healdsburg to Guerneville. This narrowed down our winery choices to only about 50. Woodenhead was chosen because of their emphasis on Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, because we had recently opened our last bottle of Woodenhead Pinot Noir and needed to buy more, because they have a nice, cozy, comfortable tasting room and because the view from the deck outside the tasting room is quite nice. Certainly our stop there didn’t disappoint anyone.

My cousin Diego and his girlfriend on the left, Lori and I on the right, at the Colonel Armstrong redwood tree

My cousin Diego and his girlfriend on the left, Lori and I on the right, at the Colonel Armstrong redwood tree

From there we went to the Armstrong Redwoods. Until a visitor stands next to one of those Coastal Redwood trees, the numbers that you read – hundreds of feet in height, tens of feet in diameter, more than 1,000 years old – are just numbers. Then you experience it in person, and realize what those numbers mean. It’s awe inspiring, and spiritual, in a way that can only be felt, and not read about.

Dinner was a family gathering at the Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol. While the Russian River Valley and surrounding areas are now known mostly for wine and redwoods, this was once a great area for growing hops and brewing beer. Well, the hop vines are gone, but this area is now one of the great areas for craft beer brewing in California. Hopmonk brews a few of its own, but also has other local craft beers on tap. All the adults at the table had the Hopmonk brews, and we were quite impressed. On top of that, the food was very good, and they were able to easily accommodate and provide good service to a large group, ranging from 2 year olds to their grandparents.

Finally, even though it was the middle of winter, we needed dessert, and Sub Zero beckoned. This is a new ice cream store in the Barlow center, which makes their ice cream to order by combining the raw ingredients in a bowl, mixing them together and then freezing them on the spot using liquid nitrogen. Their claim is that this technique produces a creamier ice cream, and since texture is a big part of taste, this should improve the ice cream. The ice cream was very good, but even better was eating with everyone around the fire pit outside the store, then working off the ice cream by chasing a granddaughter around the area, and being chased by her.

I’m not sure a day could be any better.



Wine Is More Than Manischewitz and Hearty Burgundy

Al Lapides on his 80th, glass of Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon in hand

Al Lapides on his 80th, glass of Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon in hand

My father, Al Lapides, died last year. He taught me a lot, and set a pretty high standard to try to live up to. Maybe the most important thing he ever taught me was to “brake before the curve, accelerate coming out.” First, it’s a good driving practice. If you hit the brakes while you’re in the curve, there’s much more likelihood of losing control of the car. Second, it’s a life philosophy. When you see a curve coming, when you see the unknown coming, be under control and leave your options open. Then, once you’ve seen the curve and know which line you’re going to take, hit it. Commit to it. Accelerate.

A turning point in my father’s life, and in my life, came between my 11th and 12th birthdays. In that time he quit his big company job, joined my uncle in an executive search firm (which was just the two of them), and he, my uncle and a friend of theirs started another company. Just for kicks, my father and uncle also started a wine appreciation club, led by a local wine merchant/distributor, to learn more about fine wines. Talk about accelerating out of the curve!

As I look back on this time, a few lessons were absorbed in my subconscious, the first two more quickly than the third.
1) Working for a large company can be stressful; being your own boss means more pressure, but less stress.
2) Starting your own company is a lot of work. The company started by the three partners was started by an incredibly small investment by each of them, which meant a lot of sweat equity went into it, including from my brother, my sister and I.
3) Wine can be interesting, delicious and fun.

The first two lessons moved from subconscious to conscious fairly easily and quickly. From my first job out of college to my current day job, I have gone to smaller and smaller companies, including being part of high tech startups for the last 26 years. With my current company I am part of the founding group, which took no outside funds, and it was really rough at the beginning. It’s still hard work now, but we’re at least profitable at this point.

Wine, the third lesson, took more time. Not that I didn’t drink wine from an early age. I grew up having Manischewitz Concord Grape (or for a change of pace, Blackberry) wine, cut by seltzer water, at Passover seders and other holiday events. Mom and Dad used to have Gallo Hearty Burgundy by the gallon jug in the house. The wine club changed at least the wine in the house pretty quickly. (It didn’t really change what I got to drink.) I didn’t take the time to learn about wine then, only to see that this was something my father was enjoying. Occasionally I got to taste the good stuff, but really didn’t know what I was drinking.

As an adult, when I could legally go out and buy and drink wine, I got to develop my palate a bit more. Lori and I have been fortunate to have lived in wine regions: first in the Finger Lakes area of upstate New York, then in the Santa Barbara area, and for the last 20+ years in the San Francisco Bay Area, with the Napa, Sonoma, Livermore and Santa Cruz wineries all within easy striking distance. Visiting wineries was both fun and educational, and a way to see the beautiful areas we lived in.

Dad also shared some of his wine when we were living back in California, and could bring a bottle or two home from a visit. One meal I remember clearly is having a couple of my college friends over after we moved back to the Bay Area. Lori cooked a Greek lamb dish, and we drank a 1970 Cos D’Estournel and a 1974 Louis Martini Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Easily the best wines I had ever tasted to that point. As I recall, at that time (around 1994?) the wines were about the same (11 on a scale of 10), although the Louis Martini did take more time to open up.

The best wines I have ever had

The best wines I have ever had

As a final story I give you my mother’s 65th birthday, where my parents decided to have a sit down dinner at the house, catered by a nice restaurant, for just the immediate family. My parents, my brother and sister and their spouses. As an added bonus, our boys, then 16 and 14, were deemed old enough to join the dinner and share the wine. I can’t remember the meal, but as with the wines above, I have the wine bottles. 1961 Chateau Latour and 1970 Chateau Pichon Lalande. Amazing. The Chateau Latour is the best wine I’ve ever had, and the other is tied with the wines from the previous story.

L’Chaim, and don’t forget to brake before and accelerate coming out,