Sausalito, California is a breathtaking 2 square mile stretch of real estate just across the Golden Gate bridge from San Francisco. Its charm is reminiscent of the French Riviera and is steeped in a rich history of counter-culture and music. The pungent aroma of sea salt and cannabis is mixed with the smell of fresh seafood everywhere you go. To say that it’s an inspirational place is, to put it mildly. Otis Redding pinned “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” here in 1967 while sitting on a houseboat. I always told myself that if I moved to California, this is where I’d want to be. And, of course, it’s 25 minutes south of California Wine Country.
In 2008, I’m at a long formal table in this warehouse turned wine bar named Wellingtons in Sausalito. As fate would have it a new job had brought me west and I was starting to live the dream. Cole, my new boss and son of a Toronto real estate billionaire, is treating a few of us employees to an after work wine tasting. This is apparently a thing in California. My knowledge and experience with wine were limited up until this point of my life. In fact, I dare say that beyond the occasional toast at a wedding, my preferred drink was a whiskey and cola.
At Coles direction, the group began tasting expensive glasses of Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. He hand picked every wine and proceeded to discuss. He showed us the proper way to taste. We talked about what to look for in a good wine. All of it spawned multiple hours of discussion. I was hooked. Suddenly I was no longer just drinking, I was immersed in the story of the grapes and their journey to the bottle. It was a full-on cerebral and social experience. I was no longer a virgin.
This organically rendered nectar that allows us to survive politics, relationships and the holidays is now my favorite leisure pursuit. And, if it’s good enough for Jesus, well it’s good enough for me.
Some people study for years to become experts in wine. The sommelier. Say it with your right palm up in a spinning motion. From one small taste and spit, these “Somms” can describe the nuanced architecture and structure of this grape-based beverage of luxury. They can identify the very dirt in France where these grapes were first harvested. And, based on these characteristics, suggest that you try the Salmon for dinner. I appreciate the great lengths they go to for a higher, often unappreciated, education about fermented grapes. But I’m not a classically trained grape whisperer nor do I want to be- I just love wine.
What I can tell you is that, in Napa, Domaine Carneros has the best Pinot Noir in California although it’s known for its sparkling wines. Chateau St. Jean makes the most delicious collection of wines that I think I’ve tasted. There is not a single wine they make that’s not drinkable. Sonoma is home to commercially successful wineries such as Sebastiani and Gloria Ferrer. Both of which are surprisingly great and many have wines that can only be purchased at the winery. And, these are my very biased opinions.
It’s nice to discover new vintages and to enjoy the experience of visiting these amazing wineries. But, alas, it can be a vein and elitist world… but don’t let that frighten you. There are ways of dealing with these bastards.
This elitist crowd is a group of overpaid and underworked clowns. They might be visiting from parts unknown or they may be locals. It’s hard to tell as their accents all seem to be contrived and slurred. They believe that you must dress a certain way, act a certain way and impale your pinky with a ten thousand dollar diamond cluster. These elitist trust fund babies believe that only they have a cultural entitlement to these pristine pieces of real estate. And, they have a visible contempt for anyone common who dares to invade their Mecca of acceptable alcoholism. It’s certainly no place for my basketball shorts and Steph Curry jersey.
Well, I don’t need your judgemental gaze, Buffy! Although I could have clearly made better wardrobe decisions this morning (Go Warriors), I’m not in the market for a pinky ring today. Put that Shitzu in your leather Cartier dog carrier and slide those “24-hour fitness abs” over. My homies and I are about to have our free tasting with a plate of artisanal cheese and pork charcuterie. I’m going to lather up this stale slab of bread with a thick coating of hot, melting, brie and dip it into honey before force feeding it into my face. Damn, that’s good. I think I’ll chase it down with a large gulp of this shit Rose that’s included in tastings only to prepare you for the good stuff later. Bring me a bottle of Pinot while this honey intensifies the thick coating of sugar now stuck to my tongue like a spoonful of peanut butter. And, if you’re nice Buffy, I will actually share it with you. Because that’s the way Jesus would have wanted it. No judgments. Just love, Wine and Warriors.
To truly love wine is to have an appreciation for the timeworn and customary traditions of winemaking while attempting to intellectualize your own tastes. What you find flavorful and fruit-forward today may become tangy and offensive tomorrow. Because your palette will change as you age. It’s science. What I enjoy does not have to be what you enjoy. And, the price is not a reflection of quality. You may find your happy place in a bottle of Trader Joe’s “two buck chuck”. Or, you may find that the aged oak flavor of a $500 bottle is what really curls your toes. It doesn’t matter if it comes in a box, bottle or limited edition Nascar collectors cup (yes, these exist). There is simply no wrong answer to what you find pleasing. You have a lifetime to discover and enjoy- don’t squander it. And, you can try the Salmon because you like the Salmon. If not, have the freakin’ steak.
I have lived in both Sonoma and Livermore wine country now throughout the last decade. I continue to love wine. I continue to love the discovery of new tastes, textures and flavors. And, appreciate this glorious- if not sometimes elitist- world that I was introduced to some years back. Despite trading in my Steph Curry jersey for a polo shirt and a pair of Toms shoes, I’m going to keep on living the dream.7