The Days Are Full
Considering I had spent all weekend binge-watching the new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, it was a bit surreal to head over the Golden Gate yesterday morning, through San Rafael where many of the scenes were shot, and past Vallejo where the story itself takes place. I'm not sure how many of you have watched the show yet, but let's just say if I were still teaching I would make it required viewing for high school students. Imagine something in between Twin Peaks and Clueless, but with better acting and a clear message about the ills of social media and technology. Imagine thinking back on every stupid thing you ever did as a teenager and feeling nothing but regret. That was hard to shake off as I drove through the rolling green hills and watched the sun begin to peak out from behind the rain clouds. I was on my way to Napa for a meeting and these days I simply refuse to go over the Bay Bridge through the traffic mess that is the East Bay. Why would I do that when the route along Highways 37, 121, and 12 through Marin and Sonoma offers views like this? I never take 80 anymore to wine country. It was so pretty I pulled over twice to take pictures.
Not only had I watched thirteen straight hours of television on Sunday, I had also read that Oprah's greatest extravagance consists of the specialty English muffins she has flown in from Napa. Apparently there's a family-run operation in downtown Napa called the Model Bakery and it turned out I would be driving right by it on my way up to St. Helena. I was making good time, so I figured I had to stop and check it out. There were only two people in line when I walked in, but by the time I got up to the counter to order there were more than a dozen folks waiting behind me. I didn't want to seem too Oprah-oriented, so I added in a few other items like the olive batard and a medium coffee. I could see the grease glistening through the paper English muffin bag after only a few minutes. These were clearly going to be tastier than the store-bought Thomas version I'd been eating for most of my life.
At 11 AM on the dot I pulled into Wheeler Farm, a new winemaking facility nestled in between Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail that run parallel through the valley. Bart Araujo was there to greet me. You may know the man. In 1990, he and his wife Daphne established Araujo winery at the Eisele Vineyard site and turned it into one of the most renowned cabernet expressions in California. The wines sold for well over three hundred dollars a bottle until 2013 when the Araujos sold the property to the owners of Bordeaux's famed Château Latour, who promptly renamed the wine for its famed single vineyard. The first vintage under the French winemaking team received a perfect 100 point score and currently sells for $500 a bottle. The sad part is: the wine is probably worth it. Without a doubt, the 2013 Eisele is one of the best California wines I've ever had. So what's Bart up to now that he's no longer at Eisele? That's what I was there to find out.
It turns out that Bart and Daphne took the money they made from the sale of Araujo and put it into creating one of the most technologically-advanced wineries in the entire state at Wheeler Farm. Why? So that they could achieve their dream of making blends. Yes, I'll say it again: to make blends. To put it into a whisky perspective, imagine that Dr. Bill Lumsden were to quit distilling at Ardbeg and Glenmorangie because he thought that single malts were too constricting. Imagine if he said to you: "The best whiskies I've ever had were blends, not single malts. So I want to make blends." That's exactly what's happening here with Bart Araujo.
"I went back to my formative experiences with California cabernet—the great Inglenooks of the sixties and the Mondavi Reserves from the late sixties and early seventies," Bart said to me; "I thought: wouldn't it be great to try and replicate those wines?" I had to admit; I didn't fully understand the distinction. Weren't the Araujo wines from Eisele Vineyard already considered the benchmark for the region? Bart explained further: "The Eisele wines were great, but they were all from a single vineyard, whereas the wines that inspired me initially were blends. They were blends of multiple sites. I wanted to know: could we make a wine that's the equivalent? Could we achieve that?" So the Araujos are now purchasing cabernet from six different sites throughout Rutherford and Oakville and blending them together in an attempt to chase history. The result is Accendo Cellars and—having now tasted it with Bart and Daphne at the winery—I have to admit it's pretty damn delicious. I also have to admit: I'm pretty damn intrigued by this project. The wine industry in California has moved in the exact same direction as whisky and other spirits. It's all about single locations, terroir, locality, and single casks. Bart is moving completely against the grain here in an attempt to resurrect the past. This is his John Glaser moment. It's pretty cool.
So that's what I did with my morning. Yes, that was just the first half of the day. By 2 PM, I was back at work in Redwood City, putting in orders, stocking, talking with customers, and finishing out the afternoon in my office. I got home just in time to see the Sharks score their first goal in two games, only fifteen seconds into game four with Edmonton. It didn't end there, however. By the third period it was 7-0, a player for the Oilers had been ejected for spearing another Shark in the groin with his stick, and San Jose was on their way to one of the biggest beat downs in their playoff history. I had to celebrate with a few of those deliciously doughy English muffins and a small glass of the Wiser's Red Letter Canadian whisky I smuggled back from Ontario last week.
Another busy day in the books.