Yesterday we went to a couple of wineries in a little loop from St Helena to Healdsburg (home of Bear Republic brewery for all you Racer 5 lovers and Hope and Olive folks) and on to Santa Rosa before heading home. We stopped first at Alexander Valley Vineyards, which is owned the family of one of my old peripheral friends from the days of hanging out with the day students at Deerfield Academy.
The guy behind the tasting bar, Andy, was genial and tasted us on a good 8 wines (to paraphraze Bill C. "I sipped but I didn't swallow"). Tastings with people in the industry, like Deb, are fun because they not only know a lot about wine but they (and sometimes their friends) are treated to complimentary tastings (it used to be free out here, but it became big business at some point along the way, and now people expect to pay $10-20 for a couple of pours). I also learned something cool and very sensible that I didn't know before, tasting rooms will trade equally valued bottles with people in the industry so you can bring wine from your place and trade it for another winery's product (one of the perks of working for wineries is that they usually give their employees a fair amount of free product, or at least steep discounts).
We went for a brief walk around Healdsburg looking for food (we were really hungry) but it was the quiet time between lunch and dinner when everyone in town was closed. After finding a suitable snack we went on our way to J Winery (which makes some lovely bubbly).
I had to risk an accident here and take a picture while driving of this guy:
Being in California is kind of like going to a very strangely familiar but totally alien planet, where guys drive around in rigs like this crazy patchwork Bronco that doesn't even have a roof and of course he is talking on the phone. Its really hard to see, but the icing on the cake with him was that he had one of those long armed monkeyish stuffed animals, pink and fluffy, dangling from his dashboard. Awesome.
At the J tasting room we got this young dude (I'm guessing about 22) Jeff behind the bar. He had just finished an internship in the cellar and had moved out to the front of the house. We were treated to a bunch of tastes and ended up buying a ton of yummy stuff, including a very exciting pear liqueur and a magnum of 2001 Brut for her Deb's birthday dinner.
"How will we get this huge bottle of bubbly chilled down in just an hour?" (by filling the sink with ice and cold water)