Flight to Napa

June 20, 2011












Flight to Napa

So there I was, cavorting around Napa with people so versed in vino they were correcting the tour guide’s French. I was way out of my league. These weren’t just wine enthusiasts , these were wine fetishists, the kind of people who would send a bottle back, and not just because it’s empty. My confusion in their presence was topped only by the beauty of Napa, which took me completely by surprise – I felt like a caveman staring at an iPhone. The landscaping is like Zeus’s summer-home and the people are rad cause you know off the bat they like great food and wine. Napa felt like a distinctly Californian version of Europe without those fucking Europeans and I think I kind of want to die there.

The trip was as much about food as it was about wine, which was good because people aren’t going to waste a ten-year-old bottle of vino with Lunchables and Pepsi (I learned as I was breaking out Lunchables and Pepsi). Our first stop on the trip was the Woodhouse Chocolatiers where the rosy-cheeked owner walked us through the creation of our own chocolate bars, and my own hazelnut, sea-salt and milk-chocolate blend was unarguably the best. Only a day ago I was deconstructing my ex’s Facebook and now I was making chocolate bars with Willy Wonka.  What a difference an all-expense-paid day makes.

Chocolate for breakfast. What a wonderful way to start the day. Needing some actual sustenance they whisked us off to the Farmstead restaurant where the food was so fresh you could hear it screaming as it entered your mouth. This was farm-to-table dining, which is an easier way of saying “come eat on our farm”, and the portions were so big they served them in these huge Beowulfian bowls. I helped myself to seconds and thirds of the Pino they also make and figured if there ever was a time to get wasted at lunch, now was it.  As if to lubricate the finery in our bellies they then took us to the Round Pond olive farm where I learned that Olive trees are harder to kill than the Ents in middle earth and high-end olive oil is spicy enough that I would be a horrible Mexican.  All in all I was extremely blown away.

It quickly became clear that I was the comedian. Guffawing and knee-slapping I felt like Will Smith in the first episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Apparently wine-culture isn’t very big on being loud and apparently I am. While my companions lowered their glasses with nods of culinary approval I lowered mine with nods of four-letter-words. This experience was special, and when I’m happy I get loud. You should too.

But Newton shut me up.

Newton Vineyards is one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. Built on a hilly part of Napa’s valley walls the vineyards crest and fall like a roller-coaster made of grapes. The corkscrew-trimmed-hedges and Japanese air give it a distinctly Tim-Burton’s-Alice-In-Wonderland-feel, only with genuine substance.  In the distance their signature ominous-tree sits alone on a hill, one incongruent branch challenging you to an arm-wrestling match. It’s a real cool place.

We began by picking Merlot grapes and I’d be lying if I didn’t say my first thought when looking at grapes on a vine was that they look like dangling balls. This revelation made it even more surreal when I learned I was actually quite good at shucking said balls and after a couple of whacks wondered if there wasn’t a future in this for me. Maybe if comedy doesn’t work out I could become a migrant field-worker I thought, trucking round town hoping to escape my demons with each harvest. And it was at this moment I had my grand realization about the culture of wine. The shit takes time. The grapes I was picking wouldn’t actually be giving someone red teeth for another 4-years and by then we’ll all be in space-ships. Once we finished our harvest we toured the fermenting room and I couldn’t stop staring at the CO2 as it gurgled out of the casks. The sugars and the yeasts were doing battle and in many years this wine would come out of it’s cocoon a butterfly. The longer it stayed in the cocoon, the more beautiful the butterfly. Talk about patience.

Later we all sat down for an elaborate tasting and mixing session and for the first time on the trip I felt myself changing, just like the grapes. As an elaborate array of glasses sat before me I didn’t want to just chug them and start talking, I felt the wine deserved some introspection. Placing the liquidto my lips I described my glass as a “beautiful Parisian woman with a gun”, an image that my companions agreed was dead-on. After a perfect meal overlooking Napa I replayed the last two days in my head still unsure of what I ever did to deserve all of this. Drinking and talking are two things I’ve done a lot of in the past 11 years and this seemed to be the most desirable combination of both.

And it wasn’t until I was boarding the plane back to Los Angeles that all of this really began tosink in, the colors, the tastes. The swirling congregation of hues and smells meld into a playground for your senses and like a lover I was leaving would cherish the experience and run back as soon as I could. Napa is a place for the slow appreciation of man’s ecological potential, a place where easy-does-it does it easily. And while I’m sure my levity was nice in the beginning I was wise enough to let the land, and the wine, speak for itself. First time for everything I suppose.



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