Art in Wine,Holiday,Winery

Wine Country Christmas

Turner, Maine

When I was a child in Maine, singing, “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” the poignancy of it all totally escaped me… It was just another song to sing during December, as those days were all white. There was only one exception, and that was the year that I got my first bicycle. When I opened my bicycle license plate (the bike was hidden in the basement), I completely understood why my prayers for snow hadn’t been answered.

Now, snow’s something else others get to enjoy, as I’m left with those memories, and singing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” with all my heart.

I wouldn’t go back to living in the Northeast, though, as the trade off of “one day white versus all days moderate” isn’t in perfect balance for me. Although it looks like October in Maine around Napa and Sonoma right now, being able to run around outside without twenty layers of clothing is awesome… It’s the Mediterranean life-style that’s drawn us all in.

Last weekend, we had a new friend “Edith” visiting, so we took a wine country tour. It was already on our agenda, because I wanted to photograph some wine country holiday decorations for this posting. Our tour took a different path though, because now we weren’t going to be just running around gathering images. It was going to involve sharing “the joy” with others, as our daughter and future son-in-law were also part of this day.

We started with lunch at the Rutherford Grill, located in the heart of Napa Valley. If you haven’t visited this restaurant when you’re in that neighborhood, you’ve missed some really great food. The rotisserie that’s constantly turning, with aromas that just draw you in, always has me salivating. As many times as I’ve been there, it’s always been a time of happy celebration. It’s also a place where they honor that you’re in wine country, and don’t charge corkage fees! (Rare, indeed!)

Rutherford Grill: The Hillstone Restaurant Group is the Texas parent company for the Rutherford Grill. Click on “Restaurants” for their details.

After lunch, we crossed the highway to visit Rubicon Estate. This is the original Inglenook Winery that was purchased by Francis Ford Coppola. It has now morphed into Rubicon. Coppola recently purchased the building and land of Chateau Souverian in Geyserville, and has taken all of the Coppola wines to that location, leaving all of his typical profile, high-end Napa Valley wines at Rubicon.

To our surprise, we were greeted by a valet, who instructed us that it’s now a $25 per person experience. I’m telling you this so that you’re prepared, if you’re planning a visit to this winery. It reminds me of visiting Opus One with their high-end tasting fee, too.

What you’ll pay to taste in Napa Valley has a wide range, versus Sonoma, where the price range is from $0 to a bit more. And the fee is typically for tasting really limited release, expensive reserve wines.

While some may balk at a tasting fee… Come on, really… Where else can you go to get free samples ad infinitum. Banana Republic should hand out samples, in my world, but they don’t. It costs a lot of money to operate those store fronts, so bless those who recapture some of their costs. If everyone who visited these wineries bought items, there would be no need for a fee. Many come to have happy hour, and nothing more. The true reality is that wineries are nothing more a fruit stand, serving fermented juice… This is farm country, and those who have a winery are farmers… “The line of who does what is long, and the expenses are exorbitant,” said she, the wine marketer.

We tasted, we enjoyed, we missed all the Italian pottery that had graced those rooms, we bought wine, we took fun pictures in front of the fountain, and then moved on.

Photo: Windsor Green

Next, we went to Clos Pegase. This winery is a favorite with people visiting, because of the art museum aspects (not to mention the great wine, too, while enjoying all the art). Clos Pegase is like comfort food for me… It has its built-upon memories, and it’s always a delicious experience as it’s a very special place. It also helps that I’ve had the joy of cooking and serving dinner to proprietors Jan and Mitsuko Shrem, but even if I hadn’t… This is still a winery with a very deep place in my heart, because of all with whom I’ve shared great joy, delicious wines, and memorable times.To our delight, they were having their annual “Carols in the Caves,” performed by David Auerbach, The Improvisator, so we entered.

Although we came in at the very end, we still had a really merry experience. Our new friend Edith (mother of our son-in-law-to-be) was once a songstress with mostly Mac Davis ~ also with folks like Ray Charles. When the Renaissance minstrel asked us to join in, we were able to also listen to Edith’s silvery, smooth vocals; more memories to enjoy…

Sutter Home

Although I may miss my white Christmases, what I’ve just described could never have happened in Maine. I would have been shut in by the cold, stoking the Jotul wood stove, watching snow drift past my window, and finding a place to dry the kid’s clothing, because they had just been shooting down the hill on sleds toward the frozen pond… Although it was perfect fun while raising our daughters, this new Wine Country Christmas has so much to offer in culture and diversity, it’s now another great source of pleasure.

Merry Christmas to all, and may all your dreams come true as you share a great glass of wine, delicious foods on your tables, family and friends with which to share, and a very peaceful day… snow or not!

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