A Day In The Wine Country – With A Giants Kicker
Yesterday, the birthday trip got started late, so we only got to Napa and stayed there all day – no Sonoma visit. The wine country is glorious as October arrives, yesterday particularly so with temps in the low 80s. Now, the white wine grapes are pretty much picked, pressed, and already working hard on their primary fermentation in steel tanks. So, it’s center stage for the reds. With the grape leaves starting to turn color in earnest, and some dropping, there is increasing space in between the branches. So, in the soft afternoon sunlight, the globs of dark, purple berries of Cabernet and Zin and Syrah pop even more against the gnarled vines and rusty leaves.
The beautiful berries stand out so much it reminds of schoolyard days choosing sides to play ball — pick me, pick me! — nobody wants to be left hanging. The best want to be picked for the estate bottling, or the vineyard designation bottlings that bring top dollar. The second picking is for the 2nd line Cabs, the vineyards blend, and I imagine were the grapes animated, there’s less pride in that. But, for me the wine lover, there’s plenty of love to go around at most price points.
Like us yesterday, when you visit wine country during the crush, you must pick a few grapes off the different vines and taste them. There is no comparison between the taste of ready-to-pick red wine grapes with table grapes – the sweet, succulent flavor of the former, working their way to the winemaker’s perfect brix, is a tantalizing indication of what is to be to poured in a few years, after gently relaxing in the arms of French and American oak.
The only downside this time of year is the popularity of Napa. The beauty, the hum of activity, the buzz of anticipation, is not lost on the wider population. It attracts people from all over. We talked to several couples from Texas — they must not agree with Rick Perry that our state sucks. The main roads were jammed — with Maseratis to clunkers. Tasting rooms full of chatter and jostle. Cash registers ringing up their digital proceeds with alacrity. The romanticism of the wine business that you can still experience in the smaller and family run wineries off the beaten path seems particularly shoved aside in the big producers near the main roads this time of year. Sonoma and Mendocino, less so. Mrs. snarkk and I remember the early days of “us” getting wine poured from Mike Grgich himself at his eponymous winery’s tasting room — for free. Nowadays, its $15 a flight for the “regular” wines in many of the wineries. And, unlike days of not too long past when a meager tasting fee would be waived if you bought a bottle, now in many of the places the tasting fee is just an ante that you wager to get into the game — it’s ADDED to the price of any bottles you buy.
We hit Girard in Yountville first, it has only a tasting room there. Top end reds are its focus. The winemaker guides and consults at several wineries. We’re in its wine club, which has its privileges, and it should, when it comes to the “free” tastings for members. After tasting a few choices out of the regular and top flights, the servers pulled out for us two 2005 cabs from the winemaker’s own private label, which he doesn’t make anymore. They’re good at pulling out the “secret” stuff, that only you (well, you and all the other members) get. One from Mt. Veeder, one from Diamond Mountain, essentially from the West and East sides of the valley, respectively. Best wines of the day, fantastic. The mountain wines always have more character, because the grape vines are stressed to grow in a tougher environment than down in the valley proper. I liked the Mt. Veeder, drinking well now, almost like a svelte 2nd growth Bordeaux, with the wet sock nose mimic, too. Mrs. snarkk preferred the Diamond Mountain, still with a big backbone typical of Cabs from that appellation, a mere youngster, a pre-teen, with much developing to do in the coming years.
There in the tasting room, the Giants as sub-theme first inserted itself into the day, between the chatter about “nice nose”, “great legs” and “ooh, hints of blackberry and chocolate”. We talked to a Walnut Creek couple who participated in Girard’s annual SF Giants day, just a few weeks back. One day per year, you can take a bus with other wine lovers from its tasting room to and from ATT. Wine flows during the trip down and back, with a ticket to the game and somehow, food included. They said they had a great time. Hell, if Voggy gets bombed, who cares? Now, that’s my kind of wine tour.
Anyway, other places we visited were Cosentino, Trefethen, and Clos du Val. I like to mix going to one or two places I know with some I’ve never been before – it’s not a total crapshoot, but still fun. The first two I’d certainly heard of, but new to me to visit and taste and though fine, not much to write home about. Cosentino was pushing a Chardonnay from the Russian River vineyard supposedly that supplied the Chard that won the famous 1976 Paris wine competition. For a C-note per bottle. For Chard? And, with whites, likely not the same vines, maybe not even the same clones as nearly 40 years ago. Uh, non. You can get 5 bottles of really good Chard, 4 of super good, for that, elsewhere. I’ve been to Clos du Val several times – pretty good reds.
With the afternoon sun and my sobriety sinking, we gave up the wine tasting and made our usual pilgrimage to the Napa Valley Olive Oil Co., a little shack of a store a couple hundred yards off Highway 12 and near Tra Vigne in St. Helena. http://tinyurl.com/jvlhf6b You’ll find hanging salamis, home cured olives, cheeses, all manner of canned fish and shellfish, and a cornucopia of Italian prepared and canned foods, sauces and dry pastas that you won’t find elsewhere. The cashier rings up the total – in his/her head, or on a piece of paper. The bill always comes out to a whole dollar number. Cash and check, no plastic. Oh, and local pressed olive oil by the half gallon bottle, too. We got ours. This is the way Napa used to be — a throwback. For mossbacks like me, it’s a slice of heaven.
After depleting the checking account in exchange for mass quantities of pasta and olive oil and salami, time for dinner. We went over to the nearby place Oracle recommended, Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, in St.Helena. (BTW, kudos to Oracle for the recommendation). As it was only around 5:30, we were taken right in to a nice table not too far from the entrance and maitre’d stand. Very nice menu. For appetizers, we had a ration of mussels in a light coconut and curry combo broth – tasty good. Plus, some baked oysters in shell with a Parmesan and parsley cover – yummy. Mrs. snarkk is on a vegetarian kick the last 6 weeks, so for entrée she had the mushroom and polenta tamale – sounds weird, but fantastic. I had the anticipated Hanger steak – tasty and very nicely prepared with yams and yellow sweet potatoes adding a sweet, fall complement to the savory tone of the meat.
Early on, as I was slurping my first oyster, I happened to glance over to the maitre’d table. Again, the Giants as supporting theme entered the mix of the day. There, talking to the hostess with a friend was — yep, Marty Lurie. As he started to walk with the hostess down towards us to be seated, our eyes met, and I believe he did recognize me. He stopped, we shook hands, I introduced Mrs. snarkk (she knows who he is) and we all just talked for a couple of minutes about our day, and the wineries we’d seen. He said he was headed for Arizona on Monday. In the course of the conversation, he thrust out his hand with the 2012 WS ring to Mrs. snarkk, without being asked. She took a look, yes, very big. He is obviously proud of it. Anyway, we didn’t keep them long, as they needed to be seated.
Later, after we had finished our meal, I went back to the men’s room, and after, I snuck a look around the corner to find Marty. There he was with friend in a table along the wall in the rear room. I swooped in for one last conversation, like a sated troll. He was again amiable, and his friend conveniently decided to go to the bathroom, so Marty graciously asked me to sit. We sat for 5 minutes or so, chewed the fat about not much, including his upcoming trip to Cabo with Giants fans. Gave me his private card. He did remember I was in the group with “Paul Kocak” (he volunteered), and I was impressed. We didn’t get too deep into the Giants, I must say. Just about how they’ve got a lot of work to do in the offseason. Entirely an enjoyable conversation. I got the feeling that this dude could talk baseball endlessly, never get tired of it. The guy is as nice in person as he sounds on the radio.
All in all, an enjoyable and memorable birthday, with Giants highlights. If you’re a Giants fan these days, you don’t have to look far around here for reminders of how popular they are. In tasting rooms, or at the restaurant, you’ll find Giants fans… and Marty Lurie.
Alright. You guys should be re-loaded by now. Back to the pitching vs. hitting artillery.
In Vino Veritas, and Go Giants!…