Archive for the 'Winery' Category

Bottoms up

Jackie called me from the athletic club where she teaches yoga every Saturday morning. Good for me since my monthly bill reflects a hefty discount for employees and their spouses. 

We spend most of her club pay eating frozen yogurt at Bliss, a local dispensary that just recently decided to close an hour later on weekends. Keeping the lights on until nine makes Bliss the  cutting-edge place for night owls in a town where most people are asleep by 8:30.

Her call was about the Ojai Wine Festival. “It’s next Saturday, want to go? Should be fun.”

Like other activities conjured up by Jackie, it was meant to fill our dance card with enough events to keep me from dozing comfortably on the patio, wasting my life away with a book, a NY Times crossword puzzle, and Netflix.

I thought for a second. About all the things she’s arranged for us. About how any resistance is doomed to failure. About how my initial response to almost anything new is at best lukewarm. And about how much I enjoy the activity once I get there.

Having convinced myself that the wine festival was in my best interests, I said “Sure,” with as much passion as as I could muster.

The annual festival is organized by Rotary and the proceeds are used to help the community. So, while I blanched at the $100 per person price tag, I kept thinking “It’s for a worthy cause.” And maybe the wine. And maybe because Jackie paid for the tickets anyway.

The event is held at Lake Casitas. Instead of the usual entry, the one leading to the camping sites, car parking was about a quarter mile away. In an unpaved field populated by gophers, their holes dared me to break an ankle. We held hands as we dodged the holes and promised to care for whoever broke a bone first.

The festival runs from noon to 4, and we arrived at the entrance around 1. Glenda, my favorite retired Help of Ojai employee, was workingat the gate. She gave us a wine glass to sample the offerings of the wineries, beer joints and other mysterious libations. Glenda waved us in to join the hundreds of others who were already doing mega-sampling.

We spotted my doctor, Jim Halverson, standing in a booth labeled Information; we wandered over. Other festival goers were less inquisitive, so we had Jim all to ourselves. I thought that it was easier to visit him at the Festival compared to booking an appointment in his office. I thought, maybe next year he could hang out at the Festival in a booth labeled Consultations.

There were 30 wineries serving up their stuff. We rejected the idea of a systematic approach to be sure we didn’t miss one but rejected that idea in favor of just looking for the shortest lines. Our knowledge of wines ends with Sutter Home Rose with their bottles usually housed in the darkest corner of the wine rack at Westridge Market. Attractively priced (cheap), Sutter Home owns a permanent spot in our refrigerator.

Arriving at the front of the line, we are entitled to a one ounce pouring. Some of the wineries have a bottle top that precisely measures the delivery of the ounce, while others do it without the benefit of mechanical assistance. We often cheer the technically disadvantaged pourer in the hope of getting a bigger helping.

Getting that one ounce seemed like a lot of work for a small return. And sometimes you need to think big, so I calculated how much wine I could collect if I worked hard, and began my quest at the noon opening, and ended it at the 4pm closing.

I figured that it takes about seven minutes to start at the back of a line, move to the front of the line, and get my one ounce. Then get in the next winery’s line, drink the previous winery’s ounce while waiting in line, and then get the next ounce.

To get through all 30 wineries, I’d need 210 minutes or three and a half hours. That would leave 30 minutes to pee, snack on crappy kettle corn, and be wheeled out of the festival by the paramedics. I’d call that a successful day.

We fell woefully short of that goal. I doubt that we drank a full glass of wine. But we did eat crappy kettle corn and pee in the porta-potty.

We made our way to the exit a little after three. People were still arriving. If my calculations were correct, they could only get nine ounces of wine. Hardly worth the hundred buck ticket price, but maybe enough to get a buzz on and smile innocently at the Highway Patrolman when driving out.

Bottoms up

Healdsburg

We spent two days in Healdsburg three weeks ago, a town that I had not visited for over twenty years. Located in Sonoma County, it’s about seventy miles from the Golden Gate Bridge and light years from crowds, traffic and other traumas that make my chest tighten up.

We didn’t just wander into Healdsburg. No, it was part of a plan to soften my resistance to an over-60 community that is slowly taking shape two miles from the center of town.

Called Enso, the senior-living project two miles from the center of town will include 220 apartment style units that range in size from 800 to over 2,000 square feet. For a substantial up-front payment and a hefty monthly fee, Enso promises to house, feed, entertain, and take care of us until our minds and bodies call it quits. With Enzo’s close connection to the San Francisco Zen Center, we should be in good hands. I’m already letting my hair grow into a ponytail and will change my name to something like Whoisthisguy.

We were met at the Enso sales center by Leslie, a low key, pleasant woman whose job is to convince us to join the Enso circle. A three-dimensional scale model of the project rested on a table that reminded me of my friend Marty Kessler’s 4×8 model railroad platform. Using her iPad, Leslie lit up the various components of the project, including the last available living units (95 percent of the apartments are committed). We saw the activity center, dining rooms, pool, and exterior amenities. It was so real that I swear I saw a bunch of tiny Lilliputians sitting in the dining room.

In addition to housing our bodies (including assisted living and memory care), Enso will fill our lucid hours with the usual activities that one expects from an adult community, including a bent toward Zen, lessons in mindfulness, a hefty serving of spirituality…and maybe a pickleball game.

Our visit made me feel much better about Enso. Positive enough to select one of the few remaining apartments and plunk down a ten percent deposit. Enso will not open until construction is fully completed, maybe late 2023. Until then, we can change our minds, get our money back, and find a new adventure that also makes our friends wonder if I should be committed. Meanwhile, I’m wearing this silly Enso ring that looks and feels much like the rubber washer that adorns your bathroom faucet. Now that’s what I call commitment.

When I last visited Healdsburg, it was a sleepy town; maybe comatose is a better description. Sporting a little over 11,000 people, it’s about the same size as Ojai. And that’s where the resemblance ends. The town is surrounded by door-to-door wineries and populated with lots of good restaurants, high-end boutiques, and grocery stores that rival Gelson’s and Whole Foods. The usual citizens’ battle to maintain the town’s sleepy, rural character has been waged and lost. Surprisingly, the result appears well planned and, thankfully, underwhelming.

We stayed at the Trio, a new, slick, comfortable hotel. Jackie, my expert in judging hotel accommodations, found our room pleasing, the availability of extra toiletries exceptional, and the fitness center populated with the right equipment. We used the free hotel shuttle to get to restaurants, an especially useful amenity to avoid the intermittent heavy rain. The free afternoon wine tasting at the hotel was a surprise bonus.

Thursday, we got up at dawn and visited the fitness center. No one was there and I could adjust the thermostat to my liking and dial up Netflix on the treadmill screen. The Great British Baking Show was in its next to last episode of its ninth season. I marvel at the culinary creations of these amateur bakers and love the double entendres offered up by the two judges, Paul (intentionally naughty) and Pru (unknowingly). I completed an hour of treadmill marching without getting anywhere, and Jackie did the same on the elliptical and stationary bike.

It was late morning before we were ready for some sight-seeing. Healdsburg is the home of a gaggle of wineries including the Preston Winery, an older establishment that’s taken a lot of my money because of my membership in its wine club. It’s my only wine club membership, delivering six bottles of wine four times a year. I like their wines, or maybe it’s just because of old mushy memories of my last visit.

Ila and I had accidentally stumbled on the winery many years ago and I hadn’t been back since. I asked Jackie, “Could we go to Preston? I’d like to see if it’s changed since I was there with Ila.”

Jackie is very understanding about my memories of Ila and encourages me to express them, “Of course we can,”, she said. “it’ll be fun.”

Siri said we were only five miles from Preston when we began our adventure. My stomach rumbles encouraged us to find something to eat before we had gone very far. The Dry Creek General Store had been recommended by the hotel and appeared before us at the half-way mark. Its website highlighted the following tasty message…

Health & safety: Mask required · Staff required to disinfect surfaces between visits · Safety dividers at checkout · More details

What could be more appetizing, a bagel with Lysol? We stopped, masked up and found the entry. A fully stocked bar met our gaze. A single unmasked customer was nursing a drink of suspicious origin while having a lengthy unintelligible conversation on his cell phone.

We made good use of the restrooms, as though we might never see another before dark. We followed the path leading to the main store and found gold, or at least a surprising array of food. We went with a safe choice, a cheese-less turkey sandwich on wheat bread. I found the cashier behind the web-heralded safety dividers, paid with a contact-less Visa card, and grabbed a relatively uncomfortable high-legged table outside. The cashier promised she would find us there, but I had my doubts.

Five minutes later the safety-first turkey sandwich arrived, cut neatly in half as though the chef had used a laser ruler. More amazingly, it was delicious. I could have told you that it would be if you’d only asked.

Back on the road we were surrounded by wineries, all beckoning us to drive in, taste their wine and join their wine club. But we were on a mission to Preston that could not be altered.

The two-lane Dry Creek highway made an abrupt left and slowed to 15 miles per hour. We followed Siri’s prompts regardless of how silly they seemed, pssed more wineries, and finally found a sign announcing our arrival at Preston.

It was around noon on a weekday, and we were the only customers. Who drinks at noon, anyway? The buildings had changed from my long ago visit. Bigger and more of them, it all seemed grander than the last time. Too bad.

We spotted the entry to the tasting room and found three masked people, apparently employees, behind the tasting bar. One, a young lady, was writing something in a journal. Perhaps it was her memoir, an activity that obviously could not be interrupted to acknowledge our arrival.

A young man, who we later found out was beginning his employment with Preston, was staring into a computer that could have been displaying something forbidden to employees.

A third man stood facing me. I felt that he was waiting for me to say something. So, I did. “Hi, I haven’t been here for many years. But I’ve been a wine club member for a long time.”

Silence. So, I continued. “I really don’t know how many years I’ve been a member. And I’m curious. Could you check it for me?’

He moved in the direction of a computer, a good sign that he was still paying attention. Checking the screen, he said, “You’ve been a member for twenty-one years.”

Expecting some sort of trumpet blast, I waited for him to say something like, “Wow, twenty-one years. That’s amazing. Great to see you. How about a free glass of wine?”

Instead, he said, “Your credit card is expired. You missed getting the last shipment.”

I realize that he must have been a busy guy, what with trying to entertain the only two customers in the place. Or maybe he gets lots of people visiting Preston who have been wine club members for say, forty or fifty years. And I was a relative newcomer with only twenty-one years under my belt.

So, I asked him how much Preston wine I had downed in the last twenty-one years, maybe giving him a kick-start that would recognize my importance.

He said, “Let’s see, six bottles every three months for twenty-one years. That’s 504 bottles. Each bottle has six servings. That comes to 3,024 drinks.”

I thought that would shake him up and generate some atom of admiration.

Instead, he said, “Well, do you want me to update your credit card?”


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