Liquid and Solid Art

Michael Beaulac and Dale Chihuly

This was my second year visiting wineries, at the Stags Leap District Vineyard to Vintner 2017 tasting. I was really jazzed to return, because last year’s event was a highlight of 2016. Admittedly, I deliberately don’t get out much. Unlike those who come to California wine country as tourists, the day I moved to California, my tourist days ended and my writing career took off. Writing is a solitary, day-to-day life. I carefully decide how much time I can spend away from writing for wine clients, and it has to be really special to attract me. Stags Leap really does attract me.

My view of Alexander Valley (above) has its own natural high; and, most of the time I don’t miss not being a tourist. But, after this last weekend in April, as we were driving home, I said to my Jose, “I wish I was a tourist.” Seeing wine country with no deadlines is just a bunch of fun… I see it with a seriousness that I rarely can lose. On this day of April 29, I threw caution to the wind, sorta.

Liquid Art ~ Michael Beaulac

At the Pine Ridge Winery check-in, I was talking with organizer Ashley Teplin and said, “I was hoping to photograph wine caves today.” Pine Ridge’s winemaker Michael Beaulac (photographed, also above) was standing right there, and with no hesitation said… “We’ve got caves. Want to see caves? Let’s go!” I had forgotten that the book Into the Earth ~ A Wine Cave Renaissance had Pine Ridge as one of their featured caves. And, now I was going to begin my own story, thanks to Michael’s natural joie de vivre.

This Cab (above) was luscious, by the way. It reminded me of being with my grandfather as he smoked away on his pipe… sweet tobacco, and the richness of the blackberries we had picked earlier in the day. What a treat!

Little did I know that Michael Beaulac is also a Maine-ah (as I am). All I knew is that I was headed for some bigly (yeah, bigly) fun. From Michael’s winemaking bio:

In 1989, he decided to move to wine country from Portland, Maine to embark on his journey to work in the wine industry. He started at Murphy Goode winery in Alexander Valley, working in the cellar for many years to eventually become the winemaker for the Pinot Noir and Zinfandel programs. He then met Merry Edwards and went to work with her producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at Laurier. Most recently, Michael worked at St. Supery for seven years with renowned consulting French winemaker Michel Roland.

I knew Michael had lived in Maine, but didn’t I know it was Portland. When I just read his bio, I couldn’t help but wonder if he ever listed to WBLM. If he had, he would have heard Jose, who had been at BLM for 20 years (DJ and the national VP of programming). He struck me as someone who had listened to a bit of rock in his time. So, I sent an E-Mail to ask. His response: “Of course I listened to wblm! Was there another station?  Small world.” It would have been fun to put those pieces together in the caves as they spoke about wine.

On this late April day, I was feeling a bit like a tourist, as we headed toward the caves. Michael handed a glass of his 2015 Le Petit Clos Stags Leap District Chardonnay to me. I swirled, sipped, savored, and then the cave adventure began. Really, friends, when you come to visit Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District, you’ve got to visit Pine Ridge, and see these images with your own eyes.

The wine caves are functional, holding 3,500 barrels at the present. They’re designed to be able to house 5,000 barrels. It took 10 years to build them, as they went into solid rock to create the labyrinth, that Michael said looks like a hand with seven fingers. Events can hold as many as 80 to 90 people in the caves. Imagine yourself here, having a winemaker dinner. Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

There are so many events going on in the caves, all having to do with wine education and enjoyment. Do yourself a favor, seriously. Processing my images has brought it all back to me. I know I’ll be returning. This is a winery with really decadent wines. All of the stops were pulled by Pine Ridge founder Gary Andrus, to put these caves into a mountainside, creating his spectacular winery.

The temp (in all wine caves) is a pretty constant at 55 F degrees all year. The aromas are dizzyingly delicious.

Solid Art ~ Dale Chihuly

And then there’s the parts of the caves that are put into art versus functionality. When I saw this Chihuly masterpiece, my jaw dropped to the floor. I was wishing I had my grandsons with me. Last summer we took the Kelley Boys to the De Young Museum in San Francisco, because I wanted them to see Chihuly’s work. Just look at these pieces in the Pine Ridge caves!

Let me break it down, because I was truly fascinated…

Our day was off to a stunning start! More to come on the Taylor Family and Silverado vineyards. What a memorable day it was! Thanks to all of the people who put this magnificent event together. Get to know the Stag’s Leap AVA (American Viticultural Area). It’s very soulful.