Tasting Rooms California Style…

I work at a winery in the tasting room and when customers ask,

“Have you been to Lone Star or Carmelo, or Fortunata?” referring to a few of our local wineries, I answer in the negative,

“I’m usually working when they’re open.”

But I really should try them out to sample another wine maker’s take on some of the grape varieties.

When we went to Petaluma in Sonoma Valley in California we visited many wineries; of course we couldn’t even try to visit all of them, who could?

We chose a few whose names we recognized and ventured off the beaten track to visit a couple of odd balls.

Martinelli’s was our first, not the sparkling apple juice side of the family but the real stuff.

We left just as a bus was drawing up… a sure fire way to run off customers lingering over their tastes and admiring the scenery…at least that’s the way it works in Texas.

Korbel’s was the next stop along the road,


they offered a free tour and a four tasting of sparkling wines that aren’t sold in the supermarkets.

I love anything with a fizz (except soda) and this was the only place where we joined the wine-club so we could take advantage of the champagnes and brandies that aren’t for sale at the grocery stores.

In the quaint town square of Sonoma we found the Sonoma Lakes Winery


where we skipped a tasting and went straight for a glass of wine that we enjoyed outside in their garden.

This worked out to be a pretty good strategy because the manager of the tasting room insisted we try a couple of the wines before deciding on a glass.

I do this too because wine makers want everyone to enjoy their wines and being on the other side of the bar I realized just how fruitful this kind of customer service is.

We bought a bottle

In Petaluma itself we found a little hole in the wall called Adobe Winery and were also given a few tastes before settling on a glass of wine enjoyed inside among the barrels and their winey aroma.


On our way home from sightseeing one day we went to a winery overlooking acres of vines.  It was so large that a group of people, dropped off by the bus just ahead of us, vanished onto the roomy outdoor patio.

The littered tables and smeary wine glasses looked very much like the Texas Wino’s busloads we get at Caudalie, the only difference being the winos were mostly Asians.

We settled against the railings overlooking the vineyards and listened in,


“How did you find this winery?” asked one customer of another.

“I googled ‘wineries owned by minorities’ and it came up…”

Ahhh, I thought, that must account for the unpronounceable name I was just now noticing on the bottles,

Kieu Hoang.

We found an empty table in the rear garden to enjoy our glass


and almost immediately five young women joined us, compelling us to eavesdrop on a discussion about the logistics and cultural preferences surrounding an upcoming mixed marriage between one of the group, an Indian woman, and her Chinese fiancee.

“We were both born and raised in America but our extended families are coming in for the festivities.”

It turned out that not only race but the religions were poles apart,

“My fiancee’s parents are evangelical Christians,”

I looked at Hubs with a raised eyebrow…

“I’m cool with Jesus, he was a good guy…” said the bride-to-be.

My eyes twinkled as I took a sip of wine and gazed at my blue eyed cowboy…from homeschooling we know all about evangelicals and their cousins the fundamentals!

“I identify as Hindu,” she said with a flippancy that suggested she wasn’t absolutely sure of what that meant, “my colleagues at work think it’s cool.”

Perhaps being Hindu matched her ethnicity and she didn’t have to explain herself as much had she identified as Christian, which was apparently “cool” too.

“My fiancee is atheist,” she offered, his parents were the evangelicals, “we’re having a tea ceremony for those coming in from China and my family wants to come along to that too because…”  they’ll think it’s cool, I finished silently for her.

“And my family are having an Elder Honoring party for the older people on my side,”  stop, stop don’t say it, I thought, the Chinese contingent want to be there too…I wonder why?

The most intriguing thing about all this arranging was that it was taking place in different states over several weeks and money was the biggest common denominator.  Not only the travel costs but the gifts…

“Both our cultures give money at wedding ceremonies, never gifts…there’s always loads of money involved!”

By the time the bus driver called them I’d done with eavesdropping and we had both finished our wine; we felt mellow and receptive so we allowed the bar-tender to sell us a bottle from their vintage cellars at half price.

In Healdsburg we went to a whimsical little tasting room that caught our attention, Toad Hollow Vineyards.  Their flights were reasonable and I especially liked the sparkling chardonay.  We had a great conversation with the two hosts and in the end they comped us because our experiences in tasting rooms showed,

“You’re ‘in the industry’” they said.  It was one of the $8 (not $20) flights!

And then, of course, we had to go to Frank Coppola’s estate.


What a place, we loved it.  All the memorabilia from The Godfather, Dracula, Apocalypse Now and more, it was a private museum and a resort style working winery.

Others folks we talked to on our way around the wineries thought it was way over the top.  It was very Hollywood, but then after wine tasting, what pops into your head when you think of California?


Benziger in Glen Ellen was a family owned winery that had completely turned its Estate into a biodynamic operation.


It was most impressive, educational and completely organic.

Sebastiani was beautiful,


we decided to buy a bottle to share but were given so many generous tastings that by the time we chose what we wanted we thought better of it, since we were driving, and took it home un-opened.

That was the wineries, now a small word on the olive oil.

We visited Salton Stall Estates, an olive grove surrounded by dairy herds.

The olive oil maker was a farmer from Illinois who had swapped his mid-western farm for the acreage in California some twenty years ago.

The tasting room was bare except for a table with two ramekins of oil and a few slices of crusty French bread (we had called ahead and they were expecting us).  We sat down at the chairs and ‘tasted’, presided over by his wife, a Russian lady who smiled and nodded a lot.

The oil burned the back of my throat, as it was meant to, the maker said.  His olives come from original Tuscan trees, and he keeps them underwatered to increase the polyphenol antioxidants during extraction, thus yielding some very strong oil packed full of healthy benefits.

An acquired taste and one I wasn’t crazy about but… it was a Mom and Pop operation right down to the sheep dog lying down under their truck with the sheep enjoying the sun…


so we bought a bottle to take with us.

I still haven’t decided how to use it; the taste is so overpowering I don’t want it ruining a dish…perhaps we can just smell it and occasionally dip some French bread in it and burn our throats.

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