A suggestion: always start your day with breakfast made by a trained chef, or at least the partner of a trained chef. Our morning began with a 3-course brekkie: strawberry muffins, stone fruit w/ Syrah reduction sauce and a peach & creme fraiche french toast that I would punch somebody to get my hands on. Ridiculous.
Our bellies full of delicious energy, we walked to the Calistoga Bike Shop and picked up our transportation for the day. It was a bit cool to start but we quickly got warmed up, stopping at August-Briggs for our first tasting. It was okay, but not much more than that. First of all, we were unaccustomed to having to share the tasting bar with other people. Second, none of their wines impressed us. Their zin was okay, but we had a Robert Biale sitting in our room, so we were set for zins, and nothing else rocked us. So we left. Our first (and, as it turned out, only) time not buying a bottle at a winery visit.
Now we had several hours to kill, and were actually getting a mite peckish, so we decided to stop in at Solbar, part of the Solage resort, which we’d just ridden past. We felt we were a bit underdressed, but shag it: we’d heard such great reviews of the place we had to stop. And manoman, were we glad we did. Nellie’s heirloom tomato soup and fancy-ass BLT were great, but my salad and buttermilk fried chicken were stellar. They also gave us some fantastic wine…the Failla pinot noir I had with my chicken was out of this world.
Right, then: on to more tastings. We biked up to Vincent Arroyo, where they poured us…oh, I don’t know, seventy wines. Seriously, though, they poured us nearly a dozen (some named after their dogs) and gave us a tour of the facilities. They spent a ton of time on us, and so did some of their patrons, who were full on crazy and chatty and (only Dickinsons will get this reference, but) Sybil-like, and so we loved our time there. We left with their reserve Petit Sirah and an expectation that it probably wouldn’t get much better.
We were wrong. We got to Zahtila, another tiny producer, whose winemaker’s husband Mike also spent a long time with us, patiently pouring wine after wine. Their dogs also made us feel welcome, practically tackling us when we pulled up on our bikes. We departed there with their estate Zinfandel and the promise that we would try to come up with a cross-border shipping solution.
Our last winery of the day was a very small producer called Shypoke. There was a bit of a mix-up in the appointment, but no matter…we sat on their veranda, drinking wines at a table made from old champagne riddling racks, until the winemaker arrived. They make four wines, and poured four wines (full glasses, mind you…seriously, they poured what you would get in a restaurant) and we fell in love with each. They’re one of the very few bottlers of the Charbono grape, but their Cab Sauv was excellent (and unlike anything we’d tried on this trip), their Sangiovese was superb and their Petit Sirah was incredible. We ended up buying that Petit Sirah, but — duty restrictions aside — we would happily have bought all four. The block of vines that produced the Petit Sirah was named after their daughter Amelia, who we also met. And their dog. God…we wanted to adopt these people. Or be adopted by them. We talked about wine and farming and import laws and weather and craftsmanship and flight times. We were so enamored with them, and their wines, that we didn’t even notice we were about to run out our time limit on the bikes. Egad!
We finished our last glass (leaving with a bottle of the Petit Sirah) jumped on our bikes and took off. Halfway back to the town Peter, the Shypoke winemaker, pulled up alongside in his mini with the bag Nellie had left back at their house. So awesome. We grabbed that and raced south, returning the bikes about 15 seconds before they closed. A close call, but so worth it. If we hadn’t been forced to return the bikes we’d have stayed on Shypoke’s veranda all night.
For dinner we went for simplicity, picking up some salami, cheese, bread and fruit in town, and paired it with the Zahtila Zinfandel and Arroyo Petit Sirah while chatting with a newlywed couple from Denver. It was a good, good, good, good day. And tomorrow will be good too, if we can drag our sorry asses out of bed for 7AM for our hot air balloon ride!