I reluctantly parted with Eliot Nett at Ridge Vineyards, turned right on to Dry Creek Valley Road, and headed back to Grape House, the Bed and Breakfast run by Donald and Catherine Goodkin at their eponymous vineyard. When I first arrived earlier that day, I had no idea what to expect as I drove down the dusty lane leading to the house, assiduously obeying the sign that stated “Speed Limit 0 Dust” (dust can not only coat the leaves, inhibiting transpiration, but can also carry the eggs of mites and thrips that would damage the plant and the fruit). Driving between the vines, I could not help but daydream a bit and ponder a future that might have my own home at the end of such a promenade.
The “driveway” leads all the way up to the 19th Century farmhouse, before taking a sharp left to the garage. Getting out of the car, it seemed as though I had parked directly in middle of the well-maintained garden. “Well-maintained” is not an adequate description—while it was clearly well thought out, designed, and yes, maintained, there remains a bit of laissez-faire or a “sauvage” nature to it. The vegetation received as much care as each individual plant required, but it was also allowed to “do its thing”. I have no idea if this was intended as an allegory for my stay at Grape House, but it certainly seemed to fit.
I have seen many a beautiful house that caused me to wonder if or how people actually lived there. This was not the case at Grape House. I made my way up to the house and across the shaded porch, which had several sitting areas and an ever-present breeze. The relatively recently renovated house was wonderfully inviting; it was impressive yet never imposing. After but a few minutes with Donald and Catherine, it was clear that the house and garden were extensions of their own personalities (both individual and collective): They were warm and welcoming, providing just the right amount of attention to make me feel at ease in their home, all the while encouraging me to “do my own thing.”
As it was now nearly 5:00, I scurried up the stairs, and to my room for a quick shower before the tasting. I got out of the shower, got dressed, and did what I imagine many of us do far too often: I checked my email. As I was going through the 200+ emails that had landed in my box during the nearly four hours I was away from my laptop, Donald casually called up to me to let me know that they were ready to move outside. I made my way downstairs to find a rather impressive crew assembled. Donald indicated that all had arrived and he thought it best that we got started. We headed out to the patio, and sat around a rather large table. Donald then suggested that each of the vintners provide a bit of information about themselves.
The first was Erik Miller, the owner and winemaker at Kokomo Winery, located among the “Family Wineries” on Dry Creek Road. Of the group assembled, Erik was certainly the “new kid on the block” having begun the winery in 2004. Named after his hometown of Kokomo, Indiana, Erik dabbles in close to a dozen different varieties, sourcing his fruit from several different appellations in Sonoma County. Erik exuded confidence, exhibiting his desire to try new ideas, while maintaining a respect and reliance on those with more experience.
In 2008, Erik joined up with Randy Peters, a fourth generation farmer in Dry Creek Valley, who farms approximately 70% of the fruit used in Kokomo wines, across three different appellations. He has been farming the land for forty years and is intimately familiar with the three main vineyards that go into Kokomo wines. Randy is the type of guy I could spend hours with—despite his experience, he had a youthful exuberance to him (and our paths likely crossed before, although unbeknownst to us then, when I coached high school basketball in Marin County), which served him well in trying to reign in Erik at times.
Third up was Ray Taldeschi of Del Carlo Winery, another fourth generation farmer in the Valley, and the namesake of one of the more renowned vineyard in the Dry Creek appellation. Clearly Ray and Randy were widely respected by their peers–any time there was any confusion or lack of clarity about the region, all would turn to Ray or Randy for the history. Ray did not start his Del Carlo Winery until 2005, when the family decided to try their hand on the wine production side while continuing as the vineyard managers for many in the Valley. Ray was serenely confident, not pretentious in any way—he does not seem to be the type that likes to throw his knowledge around, but would gladly share it with anyone who asked.
To Ray’s right was Barry Collier of Collier Falls Winery. Barry came to the Valley in the early 1990’s after a successful career as a made-for-T.V. movie producer. When that industry dried up in the ’90’s, he and his wife Susan, a junior high school teacher, bought a winery in the Dry Creek Valley. Sadly, Susan died in 2007 from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis–Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Barry continues to work the vineyard every day, has a seemingly endless supply of energy, and appears to truly love life. Over the course of the evening, I do not think a smile ever left his face.
We were also joined by Ann Petersen, the Executive Director of the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley. I had met Anne at a wine tasting a few weeks prior at a tasting in New York and I thought at the time that she must be very good at her job—outgoing, vivacious, and engaging. Seeing her among the wine growers, I was confident in my previous assessment—she fit right in seamlessly.
The last grower/winemaker was Gerry Pasterick, co-owner and winemaker at Vineyard of Pasterick. We had actually met earlier in the day while the Goodkins and I were out on a bike ride through the valley. He took us on a tour of his fantastic cave, and a quick overview of the vineyards. Gerry and his wife Diane moved to Dry Creek in 1999, after a career as an executive consultant in the wine business. It is abundantly clear he is passionate about his wine and his vineyard, and his quick wit and even quicker laugh instantly put me at ease.
Last, our wonderful hosts, Catherine and Donald Goodkin, were serving as moderators of the evening. After Gerry had finished, Donald then turned to me, and asked me to relate my story, and discuss my blog to the assembled cast.
When this tasting was suggested and then planned it sounded great: I have been to countless tastings and I had gleaned the various protocol involved, so I was not concerned in any way. But as I was fumbling for words during my introduction, it suddenly hit me. I did not come to this tasting.
It came to me.
I immediately got nervous.
I realized in an instant that all these people had taken time out of their evenings to come by and share their wines and stories with me.
And only me.
This was the first time since I started blogging that I had been in such a situation. Sure, I had private tastings before, but those were all at wineries and essentially ad hoc affairs. Tonight, Donald had assembled all these people to meet with me so that I could blog about their wines and Dry Creek Valley.
I kept talking, but I was only thinking one thing:
Don’t screw this up.