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Foray: Napa, Day 3 – “Oh, We Party”

September 11, 2011

Yesterday I wondered out loud about what kind of training it must take to be a wine tour/tasting guide. How much do they get paid, what is their lifestyle like, do they eventually get sick of all wine, all the time? Today, we got the answers to all of these questions, albeit from a small sample size.

We started our day at Rudd Winery, where I took copious amounts of pictures trying to capture the vineyards,

Rudd vineyards

the gardens,

Rudd gardens/fountain

and the wine caves.

tables in wine caves at Rudd

We were led by a wine guide whose name I can’t remember – let’s call him Totally Gavin, because the first word of each of his sentences started with “totally,” and I think maybe his name was Gavin.

TG was knowledgeable, pleasant, and very laid back as he gently led us around the property. He quietly recited the history of Mr. Rudd, and plucked pieces of spearmint and sage for us to eat as we walked through the gardens. He showed us the warehouse where they press their grapes, and then he took us down to the caves. At the end of a labyrinthine hallway filled with barrels of wine, sat two long wooden tables. I assumed these were for gatherings or wine club dinners, so I asked TG, “Do you do events down here?”

TG suddenly became extremely serious. “Oh, we party” he said, looking me straight in the eye with the glassy gaze of someone who always votes to legalize marijuana. “I mean, the people that work here. We have fun down here.” So, what’s the lifestyle of a wine guide like? Pretty relaxed, I’d say.

At Rudd I also realized that, at a group wine tasting, you are either The People That Know About Wine or The Other People. The People That Know About Wine are usually louder and more opinionated – and I’m not saying this in a derogatory way. These people usually get to taste more wine, and better wine, as the guides connect with them (and see more of a chance to sell wine). The Other People are usually quieter, and it doesn’t mean that they don’t know anything about wine. It can mean they don’t particularly like the wine they’re drinking, or they’re silently making fun of their loud group-mates, or they’re just tired. DoSB and I fell into both of these groups at various times this weekend. At the Rudd tasting, we were The Other People, but only because we couldn’t help but chuckle about TG and the rest of our group, who went on and on about the virtue of vertical collections.

The Rudd wine, by the way, was fantastic. We tasted a Sauvignon Blanc and two Cabs, one a 2007 – apparently THE year for wine.

After lunch, we went to Pine Ridge and tried some of my favorites of the trip. Their Merlot, Tessitura, and Onyx were all unique in the best possible way. And our wine guide was quick, enthusiastic, and very open about the fact that he’d had a bit too much and needed a break to get some water. So, do wine guides ever get sick of wine? Nope, they just get drunk on the job.

For our final Napa dinner (I haven’t had a chance to finish my write up of The French Laundry from last night) we chose Michael Chiarello’s Bottega. Located on restaurant row in Yountville, Bottega specializes in modern Italian cuisine. Classics like Bolognese are there, but with Red Wheat Fettucine. Basic Marina becomes Angry Heirloom Tomato Sauce with Calabrian Chilies and Orange Essence, and my favorite appetizer was a Yellowfin Tuna with lemon agrodolce. Fresh, tender, and worthy of any well-known sushi bar, much less a high-end Italian restaurant.

My order of the rigatoni with caramelized mushrooms, rabbit ragu, and housemade riccotta was a winner, the homemade pasta’s firm texture matching that of the chewy rabbit. DoSB had shortribs that just fell apart- he ate them with the same spoon he used for his sorbet at the end of the meal. We sat on Bottega’s porch, which is generally quieter and preferable to the inside of the restaurant. However, tonight there was a wedding reception taking place a mere 50 feet away, and we got to hear everyone’s toasts to the bride and groom. I didn’t mind – it was funny, and not so loud that it took away from our meal or conversation. But I wonder if the wedding speakers knew a whole restaurant was listening to their anecdotes about Johnny’s football days and Betsy’s dream of 2.5 children.

Ah Napa, it’s a shame to have to leave your gorgeous hills, fantastic wine, and peerless food. But taking a lesson from Totally Gavin, I’ll be going home even happier, more educated about wine, and always ready to look at life as a party.

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