Monday, November 21, 2011
Saturday was the date for the Artisano Grand Tasting up at the Vintners Inn up in Santa Rosa; this was the event to which Kathy won tix when she slightly overbid on a Navarro wine lot featured on a Marin PBS station’s annual televised fundraising auction.
Now, up a bit farther north, in Healdsburg (home to the Dry Creek and Russian River AVAs), we’d previously stayed at the “Dry Creek Inn.” It’s a Best Western.
The Vintners Inn is a resort, and their separate, onsite event center comprising multiple rooms (and connecting tents) was host to what I liken to an epicurean version of the board game Clue: One wanders from room to room, in absolute wonder at the array of over 60 small-lot wine producers, regional restaurants, chef demos, visual artists and specialty food producers showcasing their wares. “I suspect ‘Aldrich Browne winery, with the Salt Side Down Chocolates, in the Silent Auction room.’”
Kathy and I had never attended a food/wine tasting event like Artisano, which kept a big crowd plied with gourmet food and artisanal drink in an intimately low-ceilinged, convivial atmosphere. The amazing thing about the wines being poured was that we had never heard of most of them. They were all super-small producers, some of whom had been growers for years but only just recently made the hoop-jump to bonded winery status. In fact, many of the folks we talked to had shut down winery operation for the day because the “staff” was in front of us, pouring at this event. We collected a lot of memorable swirls and tastes, and more than a few business cards.
One of the tents featured several sit-down tables, and a few standup high-table locations, all the better to nosh and discreetly slurp while enjoying music from the Susan Comstock Swingtet. Check out Kath’s photo above, of the lead vocalist working among the wine, food and art. Her versatility encompassed everything from Piaf (sung in French) to Count Basie’s “Flat Foot Floogie” (sung in [?]. I mean, what’s a “floy floy” or even a “floy doy”?). Oh, and then she’d pick up her electric violin to further bend the set list. Artisano: a bit of Sangiovese, salsify soup, and song; what’s not to dig?
Kath had made a reservation to stay that night at a motel up north in Cloverdale, where we’d stayed before, and which turned out to be an inexpensive, if northernmost to our wine touring, HQ, with a groovy breakfast joint across the parking lot, and almost immediate access to Highway 101 South.
Next morning, 10 minutes and two quick right turns later, we were at Geyser Peak. As members of their wine club, we were debating as to whether we should even stop in, in favor of exploring a few new places (contrary to popular belief, we have not exhausted all the complimentary tasting sites on the VISA Signature card promo map).
Glad we did stop in.
First, our wine club shipment was ready for pickup, obviating another trip (we’re “will call” members, instead of having it shipped): We left with our tasty selections, without having to buy more or put more miles on the Lisa Marie. And of course, if we DID drive up to Geyser Peak, we’d make a day of it, $pending $o much more at $upplemental winerie$.
Second, our wonderfully outgoing Geyser Peak host was able to hip us to the fact that three of our wine destinations for that morning were closed. Permanently. The economy, location, undercapitalization: a trifecta that we, not to mention these particular proprietors, had not anticipated.
Third, our host brandished a pair of tasting passes for a couple of tasting rooms in downtown Geyserville, an old-skool Wild, Wild West California town. We’d been here many times before, when the two-point-five block main drag started sprouting a nice range of tasting rooms (one occupying the town’s first bank building), restaurants and galleries. This mix of Gold Rush and I Don’t Listen to Rush is a great sensory puzzle: The only thing that seemed to be missing was a wooden sidewalk, to protect a tattooed woman, clutching her parasol in one hand and her Alexander Valley Meritage in the other, from getting her hoopskirt splashed with mud from a parallel-parking Prius.
So the first calling card we redeem on Geyserville Avenue is at gorgeously appointed “Mercury,” a 1,900-case Fun House of vinous experimentation: everything from an obscure clone of Sauvignon Blanc to a Late Harvest Pinot Blanc, of all things. Delicious Bordeaux-style blends and Pinot Noir, too. And Grady could not have been a better host: high energy, enthusiastic knowledge of the product and, it must be said that his bro, Brad Beard, makes some verrrrrry tasty juice. Front of house, back of house: nice combo.
We moseyed (surprised that that didn’t show up on Spell-Check) a couple of doors over to our second Geyser Peak certificate locale, a co-op tasting room featuring other small producers, and named, fittingly, “Locals.”
We had been to Locals a couple of years ago, but we could not have been prepared for the ultimate tasting tour guide that was Sami. Locals features about a dozen small guys in a communal tasting room vibe. The varietals are arranged together, so the idea is to start with a wine type, then, and here was what Kathy really dug, tell Sami what your preferences are stylistically for that grouping.
Sami was spot on. We started with the Pinot Noir menu; Kath and I both like Pinots that fall into the earthy or smoky categories; even “burnt rubber” gives us ‘Nam flashbacks that we love. Bingo: three glasses, no waiting.
We came full circle this past weekend. We came up for the Artisano event, and then planned to stay overnight to sample some of our VISA Signature strays that we’d missed. Who’da thunk that Acorn winery would hit all the food groups? Acorn, Betsy and Bill Nachbaur’s Alegria Vineyards baby, is graciously VISA Sig, but officially “appointment only.” But Betsy was pouring for us the day before, at the Vintners Inn event, and graciously invited us to call them the next day. We finished our day at Acorn, sampling their very tasty juice amid great conversation with the proprietors and another couple, he of which being an architect whose firm worked with Frank Gehry on Seattle’s Experience Music Project (shut up: Kath and I both love its design) and the Guggenheim Bilbao museum.
Swoopy surfaces? Angular eccentricities? Sure.
But I was talking about wine.