From A Cabin In The Woods: Day 3
Awaken to the patter of raindrops against the skylight overhead. Even with temperatures ducking into the low 40s overnight the room is ablaze, perhaps due to the layers upon layers of fleece blankets on this bed. Typically I am known as a blanket thief, but for the lack of covers on me when the alarm clock went off I might as well have been on the floor, or the leather couch in the corner of the cabin. Give me cold over heat any day.
Speaking of cold over heat, the hot water in the shower didn’t work this morning! I had to call the woman who owns the cabin for advice. She in turn called a neighbor, who mercilessly offered up their shower for the morning. The cabin owner promised that she’d have a plumber come by during the day and diagnose any problems. So…yeah. I never got to meet the neighbor. I received a phone number, texted asking permission to shower, received a “Yes. Back door unlocked.” response, had to walk a few hundred yards to find the place — in just a towel and a t-shirt — and upon entering was commanded “First door on the left!” by a figure who was locked in an adjacent room. Very, very bizarre. But, hey, a hot shower is kind of a necessity when you’re away for a few days.
Yelp provided little in the way of local coffee shops so it was downtown to Peet’s for coffee and a bagel. Their cold brew was serviceable, but their snooty comment that they only serve bagels with cream cheese (as opposed to butter or margarin) left me baffled. You just lost yourself a customer, Peet’s.
The day called for wine tasting. A whole fucking lot of wine tasting. Like…maybe…ten hours worth of wine tasting, all across Sonoma County. The earliest opening I found was at 10:30am in Healdsburg. The town is about fifteen miles north of Santa Rosa, straight up US-101 so a quick trip meant time to explore before the first tasting rooms opened. Scooting down Healdsburg Avenue near Front Street you drive by the Russian River, where some old train tracks provide a fun little view of the river. Stand By Me jokes were made, lots of pretty (and some terrible!) photos were snapped, and by the time the bridge was crossed and the neighboring quarry explored, it was almost 11am. #WineTime!
The first stop of the day was at Thumbprint Cellars on the Plaza in Healdsburg. It came highly recommended by either Tinder Orphan or Cougar Barfly for their “big, expressive” wines.
SIDE NOTE: As you well know, I’m not a wine-first guy when it comes to libations. I like to think have a really well-informed palate when it comes to beer, and I would like to feel the same way about wine. I think being well-versed in the two worlds can only enhance my enjoyment of both. That said, other than a trip to the Central Coast a few years ago and local wine tastings, my exposure is lacking.
Thumbprint Cellars sources their grapes from different vineyards around Sonoma County, they produce about 20 single vineyard varietals and a handful of blends each year. The flight at their tasting room included their 2015 rosé, 2014 grenache, 2013 cabernet sauvignon, 2013 syrah, and 2014 cabernet franc. The grenache and the syrah were my favorites, the former showing off warm strawberry notes and the latter smelling a lot like cinnamon (???) but tasting smoky and fruity. It was pretty unique. I had to grab a bottle for further examination later. The girl who was serving the wines made a bunch of recommendations for both local and slightly-less-local tasting rooms to visit, and from that moment on the day played out like a relay race (or a game of telephone, maybe?) where every server offered tips on their favorite spots to imbibe, and the drinking would roll on from one spot to the next.
So from Thumbprint it was on to Portalupi, who maintain a small group of artisanal growers to help them produce some incredible wines influenced by their Italian heritage. I’d never had a Babera before, so that varietal was entirely new to me. Their petite syrah was awesome. From there…oh, God.
I think next up was Sbragia, because they offer outdoor seating that overlooks the beautiful Dry Creek Valley and their vineyard. So there was a quick detour out to Geyserville, where two chardonnays (meh!), a merlot, a zinfandel and a cabernet sauvignon were sampled. The coolest part of the tasting room at Sbragia was how they pulled a 2005 Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon from their library to serve alongside the 2012 vintage, and as I’m a huge nerd about A/Bing things I was blown away by the differences between the two. Actually the views were the coolest part. As is my wont, I befriended the only two other people in the tasting room and wound up with an invitation to Paris over the summer for a wine tasting retreat with a group of retired winos. Sweet!
The skies were beginning to threaten so next it was off to Amista, where I was told to try the sparkling rosé, sparkling grenache, and sparkling syrah. I’m not the biggest fan of bubbles, but it was certainly informative and offered some unique takes on styles with which I’m becoming more familiar.
Kokomo Winery was suggested by the guy at Sbragia, who gave me a ticket (it seriously looked like a Ticketmaster ticket) to a tasting. I recognized the name from the wine board at Russian River the night before so I knew I would probably like it. They were definitely the most down-to-earth and unique tasting of the day. Their tasting room has the feel of a brewery with super casual decor and a very unpretentious team. One of the highlights of the day for sure.
Lunch time! The retired couple from Sbragia recommended Campo Fina back in the Healdsburg plaza. They swore by the pork belly pizza with brussels sprouts and marscapone. That, plus “The Old School In A Skillet” (pork & beef meatballs with smoked mozzarella and tomato sauce simmering in a skillet alongside house made ciabatta) was more than enough to fortify us for the remainder of our drinking day.
C. Donatiello turned out to be the most informative — and hilarious — tasting of the day. There was a group of four serious wine drinkers at the front table, but the giant leather couch in the back was up for grabs. Someone, somewhere, said do the pinot flight because you will learn more about pinot there than anywhere else. Even though he was being called into duty by the party up front every minute or two, the server was incredibly friendly and helpful throughout the tasting process, sharing notes and giving very detailed descriptions of everything on the flight. It included the 2013 Riddle Vineyard pinot (very delicate and floral with light berry notes), the 2013 Old Vines pinot (I don’t remember that one), the 2014 Windhorse pinot (which smelled and tasted like two entirely different wines, in a way that was intriguing but not necessarily good?), and the 2013 Russian River Valley pinot (yum!). The server then went through his library to find a 2006 vintage of the same wine to compare with, which was one of the best wines I had all day. As I was going back and forth with the guy about it, one of the more boisterous members of the tasting group up front — the guy who had notepads FILLED with tasting notes spread out on the table all around him — shouted back to ask me if I’d tried the…I don’t know what it was called, but I hadn’t had it. Maddie’s Vineyard I think? He asked the server to pour me some, which I immediately saw made him cringe. The poor guy returned to the table with a magnum of some bottle they only produced a few hundred of (and costs well in excess of anything I was drinking), gave me a spiel about how exclusive it was, and then — tepidly — poured me a glass. Honestly I don’t remember what my notes were, but I think I said it was herbaceous, and the wino up front nodded. Then he had the guy pour me another vintage of the same wine I wasn’t supposed to try, because he couldn’t pick out one particular fruit note. For some reason he assumed I could. I suggested blackberries or boysenberries, the server said “bramble fruit, yeah” and the guy was pleased enough to buy a bunch of it based on those notes. All in all the $10.85 flight went way beyond what was anticipated.
The final stop in Healdsburg was La Crema, who describe their tasting room as a lounge, and I must say it is a rather nice place in which to imbibe. I was a little pinot’d out after C. Donatiello so I opted for the two chards and two pinots flight, which was good but my palate was pretty fatigued by then. A few walks around the plaza and some water ensured safe passage back to Santa Rosa.
Both servers from C. Donatiello and Thumbprint were Santa Rosa natives, so they offered a slew of dinner options for last night. The girl from Thumbprint was adamant that the fig and prosciutto pizza at Belly was her favorite dish in town. The guy from Donatiello said the lobster mac and cheese from Jackson’s Bar And Oven was his favorite dish in town. As Belly was a few blocks closer to Russian River, that option won the day (night). The fig and prosciutto pizza and their “Three Hog Mac” (which is made with chorizo, bacon, and prosciutto) were both good enough, though not amazing.
Further fortified, it was back to Russian River. I went the sour route this time, choosing Erudition, Sanctification, Supplication and Consecration as my path to inebriation. And then I bought a mixed case of IPAs and sours to bring back to LA with me, because why not? It was a great way to close out the night. And, quite literally, we closed the bar down at the end of the night. Many new friends were made, business cards were exchanged, recommendations for more places to visit were received, and I’m pretty sure if I ever wind up back in Santa Rosa between Tinder Orphan and the Russian River regulars from last night… we’ll be rolling, like, six-or-eight people deep with a local posse?
Back to the cabin with a cold wind whistling and the patter of rain on the skylight. Nine layers of blankets soon to be thrust off me in favor of the cold. Goodnight.
Nite Jewel – Nothing But Scenery [MP3]
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