Ever wake up on a vineyard? Me neither. Well, until a couple of weeks ago. I won’t lie; it didn’t suck. Sleep in my eyes, my country house bed was super-duper-comfortable, but I just couldn’t linger in quilts and sheets when the clock struck 8. My usual wake-up ritual (snoozing 6-10 times) didn’t stand up in wine country. Sunlight shimmered on the rows and rows of vines outside my dew-laced window. Hanging gently, waiting to picked off for a bit part in some winemaker’s divine inspiration, fields of cabernet called my name. In flip-flops, pajama bottoms, and a sweatshirt, messy bun high atop my head, I cupped my mug of Joe and headed out to wake myself up…Sonoma style.
I didn’t want to leave the cozy of the vineyard—an abandoned farm off in the distance begged exploration, the tractor looked lonely—but discovery waited patiently for us at Ravenswood. Day Two would include a quarry visit to the Ravenswood cellars, followed by a lunch pairing and tasting with “Godfather of Zin” Joel Peterson. Joel was a legend in the industry, revolutionizing the cultivation and sale of Zinfandel in California. His son Morgan has since followed in his footsteps, playing chemist to his own crops of grapes. The Petersons were a bonafide wine family and I couldn’t wait to meet them. Kristen and Joel went back, but Joel and I had our own connection: Dan Halpern, Ecco’s front man, and one of my biggest publishing heyday supporters. The two shared memories during San Fran’s literary prime, and once I met Joel, with his shock of white hair and easy confidence, it made sense that he and Dan were buddies. As a result, I knew my day would be a blast.
After tasting from the barrels while simultaneously ogling all the young Ravenswood boys on harvest internships making their rounds, Joel whisked Darryl off in his Tesla (color: British Racing Car Green) to meet Kristen and I at the Ravenswood winery. We would be guests of Joel’s for lunch, a pairing that would include Ravenswood’s many Zins, as well as other winery-only offerings.
After a lively discussion about rosés, and an attempted conversion with a tasting of a dry Ravenswood sampling—no dice, I still dislike rosé—we began a three-hour feast set against the backdrop of the Mayacamas mountain range. Again my palate had a mind of its own, reacting strongly (and positively) to the buttery San Jacomo 2008 Chardonnay. I knew I would fall in deep, passionate love with the 1993 Belloni Zinfandel (of which I purchased the 2007 vintage), and the Icon 2007, a mixed black varietal that did somersaults on my tongue. We finished with a 2009 Moscato, and as with the rosé, I couldn’t be swayed. But if you think Ravenswood is just a house of Zinfandel, think again.
Circa 3 PM, we headed to Kutch Wines where a steel tank of pinot noir waited on our arrival. It was stomping time—to my surprise not just a funny scene in an old “I Love Lucy” episode! Huge steel bins loomed large, and after a quick change into jean shorts and tanks, up onto the boards we went. Yes, yes…alcohol was used to clean our bare feet before entry, but once we sank down into layers of fermenting pinot noir, I couldn’t help but enjoy myself. Stems tickled my toes, full fruit squished under my body’s weight, and slowly, I stomped. It’s harder than it looks, and the sloshing liquid seeping towards my gams, surrounding my calves, knees, and ankles was freezing. Within a couple of weeks, the activity from the grapes would naturally heat up the tank, but we got there early, so we got the ice-cold stomp. Figures…
Stomping was followed by tasting from Kutch’s barrels. Using a thief—which looks a little like a turkey baster—Jamie stole a bit from this barrel and a bit from that one, mixing into our glasses what would ultimately become bottled Kutch wine. The fruits of one barrel might be from one farm, whereas the grapes from another barrel were from a different region, he explained. Blending the barrels took patience and savvy. We were amazed watching Jamie. All I kept thinking was: how do you know what you’re doing? See, Jamie was once a finance guy! Your typical run-of-the-mill Merrill Lynch suit. Then, he gave it all up for a dose of the good life out in Cali. He posted his plans on Robert Parker’s chat room board, and the rest is history. His first vintage got 93 points from Wine Spectator! He’s become quite a Sonoma star. Watching him was like watching a great chef at work. Only his dish is liquid.
Being a small label, Kutch Wines are only available by mailing list. Normally, Kutch sells out quickly, mere days after going on sale, but you can access it here and pre-order now. The wines in the barrels (and in the steel tank) will be bottled in February, and I’m already on the list for a good sampling, including the limited edition Marie/Darryl Pinot blend!