I thought it might be interesting, if not self-indulgent, to share some personal experiences, insights and emotions over the next few posts. We’re friends, right? That’s what friends do…we share…among other things. In addition, writing in this context gives you a peek, assuming you want a peek, into a week of wine blogging travel and first impressions of winery visits.
Last Friday, May 20, 2011, I set off on the long drive down I-80 north of Denver, stopping in Reno to sleep and gamble a bit (I got out with $120 more than I started with…watch out gambling tour, here I come) then on into the wine country of Napa Valley. Dad and son drove the long and mostly straight highway in the boy’s pickup truck, listening to his pop country station all the way. I could have gone for a few minutes of classic rock.
I end up in Napa Valley at least 4-5 times a year for the blog, but this trip has been and will continue to be different in many ways, most un-related to wine. My eldest son, Conch (PRN: Konk; like the seashell) and I have shared a number of passions as he grew up, most notably a love of the game of golf. Golf gave us time to be together and bond in stronger ways than many fathers and sons. Now the bonding glue is wine.
After Conch’s sophomore year in college he transferred to Texas Tech majoring in personal finance which really didn’t light his fire. A few weeks before school started I saw an ad in Texas Monthly magazine for the new Viticulture and Enology Program at Texas Tech and jokingly said “Dude, don’t worry about personal finance, you could be a winemaker!” He said, “That’s a great idea, is there really a major for that?” “I’m kidding!”, I said. “I’m NOT!” was his reply. Now it is two years later, he is close to graduation, worked one harvest in 100+ degree Texas heat at Solaro Estate and if you ever visit Pheasant Ridge Winery in Lubbock, Texas you may meet him in the tasting room, during the school year.
I know, this is starting to sound like a father/son road trip story, but it is more than that. It’s a story about a rite of passage and a point in time that will demark a seminal change in that father/son relationship. You see, Conch didn’t come out to Napa to visit wineries and hang with this old blogger. He came here to work for the summer in the winery and cellars at Rombauer Vineyards as an intern. I never thought I would be jealous of one of my kid’s internships, but I may have been wrong. The folks at Rombauer are not only paying a very fair wage, they provided a small house on the property so he wakes every morning to the changes in the vineyard. He’s come a long way from making wine in a plastic carboy tucked away in the bathroom. As a father, I am proud to see Conch taking the first steps to follow his winemaking dream but sad at the geographic separation to come. I guess that’s why the invented Skype…
We hit Napa mid-afternoon on Saturday and had to make a couple of stops to see some wine friends. First stop was John Anthony Wines Tasting Lounge. I didn’t want Conch to arrive not knowing anybody, so introductions needed to be made. Tessa greeted us in her casually friendly way, complete with flowers in her hair (so California). We stayed at the Lounge for an hour or so while Tessa gave Conch the lowdown on the Napa Valley 20-something social scene. The other obvious bonus was the opportunity to enjoy some of the great John Anthony wines.
We then strolled the two blocks under cloudless blue skies to the Ceja Vineyards Tasting Room. I told Conch that when you walk in the Ceja door you become part of the Ceja family. He didn’t truly appreciate the comment until the tiny and energetic Amelia Ceja came running up full of hugs. Introductions were made and Conch was now a Ceja. We stayed for at least an hour catching up over the exquisite Ceja wines. The bonus for me was one of the young men we know from Ceja, Javier Calderon, has started Napa Private Tours and offered to be my driver for a day of winery visits to collect stories for Bacchus and Beery Wine Blog. Not one to be stupid, I took him up on that offer and will cover his services more in a later post.
After enjoying the afternoon, seeing old friends and making some new ones in downtown Napa, it was time to cruise north to our hotel in Calistoga and later, dinner at one of my favorite spots, Tra Vigne. The dinner was great as always, but the real fun was when we walked out to Conch’s truck. As Conch hit the unlock button from across the lot, the headlights flashed and a very startled man jumped up from relieving himself between the cars. It gave us a belly laugh.
That was enough fun for one afternoon…so it was off to the hotel to rest up for Conch’s last day before the 10 hour work days begin and I set off to visit some great wineries and some fascinating winemakers for future blog posts. A wine blogger’s life is HARD…but someone has to do it!