The only time I get out and tour wine country is when friends or media people are coming to town… And, thank God they do when they do. It always brings me back to why I’m here. I’m not here because I was born into California’s tapestry. I’m one of those stray threads that’s just trying to find a way to blend in.

Our friends from Maine, Diane and Claude Heutz of Heutz Oil, came to California for what Claude called, “Meet the Fockers.” Their daughter is about to marry a Californian in Maine, and the families thought that it would be a great idea to meet before everyone gets together in Kennebunkport. I just wrote about the shower, and look forward to heading back to Maine for the wedding; meanwhile, they were now back in wine country, and we spent some time together.

First stop for us was taking them to the top of Dry Creek Valley. If you want to see Dry Creek Valley in the most spectacular way, visit D.H. Gustafson Family Vineyards. The view of Lake Sonoma from Gustafson’s picnic area is just going to take your breath away. High above the hawk fly zone, as I noted a bird gliding on air currents below, I knew that Jose and I had taken our friends to a very special place. There are no sounds of traffic, only the wind on rustling leaves and manicured vineyards, reminding us we were still in wine country.

[Make sure when the annoying ad comes up on my YouTube video, you click it closed ASAP. I’ve got to learn another program, and spare you from this kind of commercialism.]

Gustafson’s winemaker Emmett Reed poured wine for us, from their Rosé to their Syrah, Zinfandel, and Petite Sirah. Big juicy wines that are all hand crafted with only a few hundred cases each. This is a small production winery with lots of class. Owner Dan Gustafson is a landscape architect in Minnesota, as well as being a California vintner. His winery reflects his style and grace, and was built to be part of the land, not something taking it over. This winery on a Saturday afternoon, with a glorious picnic of your making, won’t disappoint anyone… I just can’t imagine that it will.

From there, we drove down the mountain top to visit with Jim Morris at Michele-Schlumberger. It had been 10 years since I’d been there, but the memories were still lingering. Now, this is also Hardy Wallace of Dirty South Wine’s new home. I can only imagine living on this property must be such a kick! Hardy and Jim work together on social media, producing videos and pinching themselves that they’re actually working.

Word was sent to Jacques Schlumberger that we were on the property, which I didn’t see as earth-shattering for him to know… He’s a busy man, and we were just there to enjoy wine tasting. To my amazement, he remembered me from my visit 10 years before,when I was there on a Dry Creek Valley media day. I remembered it, of course, but I never expected that Jacques would remember that hour-or-so tour of his vineyards. He must have a photographic memory. There were a lot of us, and only one of him.

On this day with our friends, we shared a wonderful time in their very casual tasting setting, with Claude and Diane seeing wine country from our insider’s perspective.

Claude spent the entire time asking really good questions… Questions that will never have him looking at a glass of wine the same way ever again. What completely blew him away was how young winemakers can be. Before we went wine tasting, we first had lunch at Chinois Asian Bistro (our local restaurant), where you can find us when we’re not in our own kitchen.

Our children joined us, because they grew up with Auntie Di and Uncle Claude and their children in Maine. My daughter Melanie’s husband Heath Hoffman (our son-in-law) , a winemaker, also joined us. From meeting Heath, to meeting Emmett, another 30-something young winemaker, Claude was almost stunned. The vast intensity of young men (and women) so young to be making or breaking a business, through their art of winemaking, just amazed Claude. I reminded him that it’s the nature of the business out here. To have a scientific mind that’s coupled with a sense of artistry, makes for great winemakers, regardless of the age. The availability of wine grapes and the need for winemakers creates what we enjoy so much in wine country… wine opportunities. California, like no other state in the union, has a density of wine businesses that continues to spawn young, passionate winemakers like Emmett and Heath, for all of us to literally enjoy the fruits of their labor.

I just love getting out for a refreshed perspective, especially though the eyes of someone outside of this business. They see things I’ve long since marveled over (and now take for granted); so, I can always use a refresher course.

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