I love wine. And that’s no April Fools’ joke.
I’ve been writing about beer for nearly a decade. During that time
I’ve been taken with the increasing creativity and sophistication of
craft brewers and breweries.
To me, there’s nothing in the wine world that can compare to the wild
style and dark rich aromas and flavors of, say, a Founders Kentucky
Breakfast Stout or a Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron. And for my money,
more often than not, beer is a better match for food of all kinds,
including desserts, and especially spicy dishes.
But on this day dedicated to jesters and pranks, I’m ditching the
malts and hops and switching hats with my wine savvy colleague Gil
Kulers to wax poetic about the fruit of the vine.
“Wine is sunlight, held together by water,” Galileo Galilei famously wrote.
I couldn’t think of a better description. Most of the little I know
about wine has been learned during bright days touring California’s
wondrous wine regions, from Mendocino to Santa Barbara and points
I’ll admit, I’ve usually been there to drink beer at such esteemed
breweries as North Coast, Russian River, Bear Republic and Lagunitas.
But tromping through sunlit vineyards, visiting fancy tasting rooms
and enjoying a picnic on lush winery grounds soon became a welcome
respite from the industrial din of brewing and the banter of beer
geeks. And some of my favorite California wineries offer hedonistic
pleasures beyond simply sipping and spitting.
Clos Pegase in Calistoga, designed by postmodern architect Michael
Graves, is a temple of wine and art filled with surrealist paintings
and Henry Moore sculpture. Bacchus is praised with a collection of
estate wines, including sauvignon blanc, pinot noir and merlot. And a
tour of the wine cave might include the guide singing a bit of opera.
Gundlach Bundschu in Sonoma is a family winery that goes back six
generations and 150 years. But the tasting room is a fun, friendly
place, where you’re likely to hear rock music playing on the sound
system. Outstanding reds include sturdy cabernet sauvignon and elegant
pinot noir. The hilly land around the winery features a lovely view of
the valley and makes a fine picnic spot.
Foxen in Santa Maria takes a minimalist approach to winemaking that’s
reflected in its roughhewn “tasting shack.” The off-the-beaten-path
winery was featured in the film “Sideways.” But despite the main
character’s aversion to merlot, you might find some tasty vintages,
along with Santa Barbara County’s beloved pinot noir and syrah.
Roederer Estate in Anderson Valley was opened by the French champagne
house Louis Roederer in 1982. The winery produces the sparkling stuff
from chardonnay and pinot noir grapes from its own vineyards. The
tasting room is surprisingly rustic, blending into the rolling hills
that surround it, but the exquisite wines are crisp and bubbly
Of course, part of the fun of touring wineries is bringing back
treasures that may later evoke a Proustian remembrance of tastings
My friend Gil may not approve of this wine. But for my birthday in
June, I’m planning to open a 2005 Gundlach Bundschu pinot noir, grown,
produced and bottled at the winery’s Rhinefarm Vineyard.
I don’t have the tasting notes from my visit two years ago but the
winemakers notes do a good job of describing what drew me to this
wine: “Aromas of black cherry, dried rose petal and black spice lead
to broad, juicy dark fruit flavors with complex minerality and classic
In other words, it was yummy, and I hope it still is.