The bright yellow sun glared overhead. Rolling hills flowed, one to the next. As far as the eye could see, green vines snaked up and down these slopes. Long and neat rows created a vibrant canvas that met the crystal-blue sky.This was California wine country. Sonoma. Dry Creek Valley to be exact.
Whether a wine lover or not, this is a special region. This natural beauty entices even novice wine lovers to drink from its fountain of plenty.
|Beautiful view of the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County.
On this beautiful June day, my sister did just that. The wine stars aligned, and she was able to experience a myriad of wine adventures most won’t enjoy even over an extended period of time.
Wine experience one—Bottling line: The two of us pulled into Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves after a glorious ride into northern Sonoma County. In the outside production area sat a mobile bottling unit. The owner of the company was kind enough to invite us inside the large trailer, where we saw the gas pumped into the bottle before the glorious red liquid flowed inside. Then the cork was popped in, the foil was pushed on, and the bottle was moved down the line. This was so awesome for Mariah to witness how the wine makes it to the bottle…literally.
|Bella's production area and the mobile bottling line.
Wine experience two—Wine caves: Our choice of Bella as our first destination of the day was a purposeful one; I wanted Mariah to see a wine cave. We tasted in Bella’s cave and heard how it was drilled into the ground under eighty year old zinfandel vines. Though we couldn’t tour the back area of the caves at the time, the overall concept was quite evident. The idea of a natural way to keep wines at the perfect temperature and protected from the elements of the environment became clear while in the darkness of the cave, sipping the wines aged near us.
|Inside Bella's wine cave.
Wine experience three—Barrel tasting: As we continued our journey through the dusty back roads of Dry Creek Valley, we saw a sign that said “Barrel Tasting” and turned in to the parking lot of Zichichi Wines. Zichichi only tastes out of barrel because they sell their wines as futures, meaning that a buyer signs up for the wines that are in the barrel right now, as the wines gently age until they are ready for release. At the magical moment the winemaker thinks the vino is perfect, it is shipped to the buyers. The tasting room attendant happily dipped her wine thief in to the barrels of wines, filling our glasses. Any extra we didn’t want to consume went straight to the drain on the barrel room floor. This level of involvement in the wine is not an everyday occasion for the average consumer. Mariah will especially enjoy her Old Vine Zin when it arrives in 2016, pleasantly remembering our tasting day.
|Production area and barrel tasting at Zichichi.
Wine experience four—Understanding terroir: Many wine consumers have heard the word terroir, and maybe even use it now and again, but they don’t have a true understanding of what it means. My sister got the down and dirty—pun intended—of what makes up the soil component of this illusive wine term. At Papapietro Perry, as part of the wonderful patio tasting (with amazing Sonoma vineyard views), we saw jars of soil from three different pinot noir growing areas. All three pinots were produced in the same exact way: same yeast inoculation, same barrels for aging, same time in barrel, same production facility. However, Mariah understood the difference area, region, and soil can make in a wine by sipping the pinots grown in different places.
|Experiencing the "dirt" behind good wine at Papapietro Perry.
Wine experience five—A special vineyard: Already with her head—and palate—full of new wine knowledge, we made our way to Healdsburg to visit a favorite producer of mine, Cartograph Wines. I knew the wines here were great, and I knew Serena and Alan were amazing. However, I knew one more thing. I had one wine trick up my sleeve. I knew Cartograph had an amazing pinot noir from the Mariah Vineyard, spelled just like my sister’s name, as well as having the same namesake—the song “They Call the Wind Mariah” which our mother loved.
|Mariah with the Mariah Vineyard Pinot Noir by Cartograph.
The green vineyards seemed to streak up and down the hills in uniform waves, leading to the blue sky above, as we meandered through the back country roads to our Sonoma County rental at the end of the day.
I truly was amazed at what my new-to-wine-loving sister was able to experience, all on her first time in a truly beautiful area. This special region rolled out the red carpet for Mariah on this trip. It taught her lessons most wait years to discover. It wanted to impress her with its beauty.
And it did.