We’ve been going wine tasting for a long time. Steve has been to California wineries at least once each year since 1977. Lucie first visited there in the late 1980’s and the two of us have traveled to some part of California Wine Country together for 15 years now. There have been a lot of changes, and some of them for the better. Unfortunately some have been for the worse, but we’ll save complaints for another day. From time to time, we’ll post some recollections of what it was like in the old days, mostly in Napa Valley, both to keep the memories alive as well as to point out that similar experiences are still available in Napa and other parts of the California.
In the early ‘90s, Steve’s son Ted was at USC in Los Angeles. Steve and Ted took a driving tour up the coast, as far as Napa Valley, a nice opportunity to introduce Steve’s son to fine wines and wine tasting.
One of the stops, at around 11:00 am, was the old Louis M. Martini Winery. Martini is now owned by the mega group Gallo. The Martini tasting room is well worth visiting, if only for the Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon. Monte Rosso was once considered among the top wines in California. It has been forgotten in the age of Opus One and Screaming Eagle, but it’s still a pretty good wine and it should be tasted. Today’s tasting room is fancier than it was in the days when Louis M. and his son Louis P. ran the place, but it’s not one of the palaces dotted around Napa Valley today.
Back in the day, there was simply a bar placed in front of the barrel room. Not quite two barrels and a plank, it was still very much a place where winemakers worked and visitors were welcomed in for a few sips (at little or no cost). Steve had met the founder, Louis M. Martini, but by the time of the father-son visit, the elder Martini had passed away. His son, though, was very much in evidence.
So, on a slow, midweek morning, Mr. Martini saw Steve trying to educate Ted and must have enjoyed the sight. After the two visitors had tried the wines on offer that day, Mr. Martini sidled over behind the bar and asked, “What kind of wine do you like?” Steve answered, “Well, you’re famous for your Cabernets, and I like big, powerful wines. That’s why I wanted my son to taste here.” At that, Mr. Martini went off and returned with six bottles, each a single vineyard estate Cabernet, three from their Napa properties and three from Sonoma, on the other side of the Mayacamas Mountains. (They still grow on those properties.) He opened all six and then asked us to try each one and tell him how we liked them. “How about playing winemaker” he offered, and so we poured a little from this bottle, a little from that until we each had something in our glasses that, well, wasn’t of course nearly as good as a professional winemaker would have created, but it was fun. Lesson learned.
There are still opportunities to meet the owners and winemakers in Wine Country and some wineries offer “mix-it-yourself” classes. You can find them at Joseph Phelps (with the constituent wines of Insignia, no less) and at Conn Creek. Appointments are necessary at both places.