16 Feb 2009
My love affair with the Wine Country goes back over 30 years ago to my early twenties.
I am half Italian and we were visiting one of my Italian mother's uncles - Uncle Tony. He and I were drinking some homemade 'Dego red' out of jelly glasses in his kitchen. This was a deep, dark, red wine from the cellar in his basement and a wine that might refer to today as a 'high octane zinfandel'. Uncle Tony was a man of few words but he took the time to ask me if I liked his wine.
"Yeah, Uncle Tony, I like the wine a lot," I confirmed trying to sound very much the adult.
"You know, if you like wine then you should go to Napa," he told me in his gravelly voice.
"What's Napa, Uncle Tony?" I asked.
"You like wine and you don't know Napa? You'll like it if you like wine," he told me getting up to rummage through a drawer in his kitchen.
He came back with a map of the area, spread it out on the table and said, "We're here … Hayward … Napa is here (again pointing with his fat finger) … not far … about an hour …you go there … you like it," and that was all that was said.
And so I first heard the word 'Napa' from my Uncle Tony. I was 20 at the time but my interest in wine had already begun so I started to look for information about this 'Napa' place. This was long before the days of the Internet so we actually had to rely on books for information. So I found a book called 'Napa – A Free Weekend'.
There were no pictures, just sketches of many of the old winery buildings that are still there today. The old Rhine House at Beringer, the Inglenook Chateau, Charles Krug, Robert Mondavi, the newly opened Sterling Winery and so on. There was a brief description of each winery including a little bit of history. At that time there were about twenty-five wineries you could visit and now there are over 300. How things have changed!
The summer of 1974 brought me my first trip to the Wine Country. I was now 22 years old and of legal drinking age. My wife and I planned a weekend trip and because of our tight budget we stayed at a Motel 6 near Highway 29. We opted to drive up to Napa on Friday evening after work because I really wanted to wake up there on Saturday morning.
That Friday night I was so excited to be there! Of course, all of the wineries were closed but I just had to 'check it out'. Do you remember the feeling you had as a kid on Christmas Eve? We dropped our bags in our room and headed north on the main highway. I'll never forget that evening. It was July and the sun was going down over the Mayacamas Range. The waning sunlight glowed across the vineyards … 'such a beautiful place', I thought. 'And, my God, they make wine here too!' I was now seeing with my own eyes the actual buildings that for two years I had only seen in sketches.
I'll never forget that evening. My love affair had begun. And, when I have a tour booked, the first thought I have when I am coming out of sleep that morning is "I get to go to the Wine Country today!!"