The Viking and I have gone on enough wine-tasting trips together that we have a couple of unspoken, de facto rules. The first is that if it’s just the two of us, I drive. There are a few reasons for this: 1) I travel less for work than I used to, so it helps me maintain status to be the one who rents the car; 2) because I have status and a points surplus with the rental car company, we tend to get some decent perks; and 3) left to my own devices, I will drink too much wine at tastings and end up not drunk but feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck. If I have the responsibility of driving, I will only take a sip of each wine we taste, and if I fall in love with a wine, I’ll drink the entire ounce. The rest of the wine gets poured into Loraine’s glass. (Incidentally, she recently wrote one of the best explanations of terroir that I’ve read.)
Our second rule is that we don’t do more than three tastings in a day, and usually only two. On my first trip to Napa with another friend, I think we did four tastings a day. That results in the hit-by-a-truck feeling, but it also leaves me unwilling and unable to enjoy any of the wines I purchased to drink with dinner, and it ruins the entire rest of the evening for me. Loraine also finds it to be too much information for her palate and her brain.
The last rule is that Loraine is in charge of choosing the wineries we visit. She has a much more sophisticated palate and access to better information than I do, and I don’t want us to end up at a winery that serves swill or doesn’t help her widen and deepen her wine knowledge. The only request that I make is that we visit at least one winery that focuses on sparkling wine.
Last month, the sparkling wine maker that she selected was Iron Horse Vineyards in Sonoma. Our tasting and tour appointment was for 10am, and because it was rainy, we left Calistoga at 8:30am. It was a good thing we did because of road construction on the mountains between Napa and Sonoma, which forced me to drive more slowly, allowing us to pay more attention to the signs for the attractions we drove past. The next time I’m in Napa, I might have to make time to visit the Petrified Forest and check out the conference/ball rooms at the random hotel/resort we saw.
Iron Horse is at the end of a glorified hiking trail (this is becoming a theme in my life, which you’ll read about when I finally marshal my thoughts about my favorite place on the planet) in the Green Valley. I knew I was going to love it when I saw the signs they had posted: “20 MPH,” followed by “SLOWER.”
The gentleman who was supposed to do our tour for us had called in sick. (This isn’t a sad story, so don’t worry.) Because the day was cold and rainy, there weren’t many folks who had made the trek at 10am to Iron Horse. Mike, one of the Iron Horse employees responsible for sales and pouring tastings, offered to take us on the tour himself. Best substitute ever. The tour was completely informal, Mike was fun (and handsome), and while he takes wine and winemaking seriously (he’s an aspiring winemaker himself), he doesn’t take himself seriously. We learned about the significance of the Green Valley, why certain grapes are planted east-west and others are planted north-south, and which of Iron Horse’s apple trees produces the tastiest apples.
We got out of the rain in one of the warehouses, where Loraine and I inhaled the heavenly scent of wood and wine and yeast as deeply as we could. Iron Horse is a much smaller operation than Domaine Chandon or even Schramsberg. The result of this is that you have to do the tasting standing up rather than in a luxuriously appointed tasting room, but you also get to see the active workings of a winery. For me, the experience of seeing how the wine is made and who works on it and how hard they work adds to the flavor of the wine, not in a literal way, but in the same way your mom’s apple pie is the best in the world.
After we toured, we tasted, and I don’t know if it’s because Mike had learned to like us on the tour or if it’s because Iron Horse is normally generous, but Mike gave us some big pours on literally ALLTHEWINES at Iron Horse. And because sparkling is my favorite and Iron Horse’s are delicious, after the first sip, I turned to Loraine and said, “You’re driving.” She didn’t even blink when she said, “Ok.”
I’m pretty sure I drank the equivalent of four or five glasses of wine at Iron Horse between the glass Mike poured to keep us company and sip during the tour and the huge tastings of ALLTHEWINES. That’s two to three glasses more than I usually drink with dinner. There was no unpleasantness that day, but I was still a little impaired and a lot exhausted after lunch.
Loraine and I both highly recommend Iron Horse (we joined their wine club). Please drive slowly when you go there (no, even more slowly than that), check out the good apple tree, and be prepared and responsible when you taste their delicious wines. You’re going to love it there.