Part Two of Two.
When we left off, Matthew and Wine-Allergic Girlfriend had visited Navarro Vineyards in Anderson Valley, California. They are in the area for Matthew’s brother’s wedding, and are trying to squeeze in some vineyard visits before the rehearsal dinner later that evening. At Navarro (see Part One), Matthew realized how sales-oriented wine tasting at a winery can be. Also at Navarro: they encountered an old man and his drag-queen companion. We return now as the couple head to their second vineyard.
The drive to Esterlina Vineyards made W.A.G. and I wonder if we’d taken a wrong turn. We had called earlier for directions, but the road we were on was very long, very steep, and very made of dirt.
I was worried about the time. Or I was worried W.A.G. was worried about the time. She had to meet “the girls” from the wedding party for an obligatory manicure appointment (“I’m sort of excited,” she had told me earlier, “but mostly I’m sort of scared”); and I still had to work on my best-man speech. (Click here to hear a short audio piece in which I freak out about my speech on the way to the wedding.) We had left Navarro on schedule but hadn’t accounted for getting lost in the mountains on our drive to Esterlina. Our time was shorter now than expected and I tried not to let my disappointment show through. W.A.G. and I argued a bit about directions, but eventually I just closed my eyes and felt the bumps in the road.
We drove until we thought, “No, there’s no way this could be correct,” and were about to turn around when we saw a small sign that pointed: Esterlina that way. The sign was so small we almost missed it.
“Oh, my God, they really don’t want people to find them,” W.A.G. said, but I understood that she meant that in a good way.
We pulled up and parked in what looked like a normal driveway. There was no real entrance, just two houses next to each other and no explanation about where to go. But just when doubt began to set in again a woman appeared on the balcony.
“Are you Matthew and Sarah?” she called down. She was a woman in her mid to late 40s with short hair, wearing a patterned sundress that went all the way to the floor. We followed her up the stairs and through a house that had been converted into a tasting room. The upstairs room looked like the common area in my college dorm, carpeted and wood paneled, but in this setting, after leaving Navarro, it seemed like a consciously beautiful choice. There was no air conditioning.
Out on the porch, five other folks sat around a patio table, shaded by an umbrella. The porch overlooked the entire Anderson Valley.
Five or so bottles of wine sat on the table, with a couple of glasses in front of each person. W.A.G. and I squeezed each other’s hands.
“Hey, everyone, this is Matthew and Sarah.” Introductions all around: a couple from Chicago celebrating their honeymoon, three gentlemen from British Columbia who were amateur winemakers on a grape-buying trip.
“Let’s get you some glasses and I’ll go grab the whites,” the Esterlina woman said and ducked back inside. She returned quickly with glasses, wine, and a plate of Cheez-Its.
“I hate those stupid wine-tasting crackers,” she said. “I want to write a food-and-wine book that pairs really expensive wine with stuff like PB&J and buttered noodles.”
While I worked my way through the white wines, the Canadian guys told the group about how they got into making wine. They had been to Esterlina a few years running, visiting during their annual grape-buying trips.
“You still haven’t brought me any of your wine,” the Esterlina woman chided them.
“Well, it’s getting increasingly difficult to bring stuff across the border,” one told her. “Oh, come on,” she said, lightly punching him, “you could get me a few bottles.” She looked my way. “Looks like you’re ready for the reds,” she said and ducked inside again.
“How did you guys find Esterlina?” one of the Canadians asked W.A.G. and me.
“I just looked for the vineyard farthest from Route 128,” I told them.
When the Esterlina woman returned with the six red wines, I told her I unfortunately only had time for two or three. Like any good host, she argued with me about leaving so early, telling me that, no, I was wrong, I could stay a little longer. For Esterlina, wine-tasting seemed to be all about the time spent drinking wine, and to leave early was like leaving a dinner party in the middle of the main course.
I stretched our time to the last possible moment. W.A.G. kept tapping my leg and I kept nodding back “I know, I know.” The couple from Chicago told us stories about their wedding reception, stories about drunken dancing and family members. The guy actually looked like my brother and, as I listened to him, I sort of wished that he were my brother and that my brother had already gotten married, and that his rehearsal dinner had already happened and I had already given my best-man speech, and that all I had now was time to sit on this porch and drink wine with him while we looked out over a heat-shimmering Anderson Valley.
AND THE THING WAS: Although Navarro makes really good wine, and is unique and interesting as a company, theirs is a sales-oriented tasting. Esterlina, on the other hand, offered W.A.G. and myself an experience-oriented tasting.
Of course, wine is a product that is good on its own, but it’s also an experience enhanced by balconies and friendly folks. Esterlina gets that. And though wine can definitely be measured by the quality of each of its components—smell, taste, body, finish—it can also be measured by how it is consumed. Esterlina promotes not only good components but also good consumption.