Who Wears Short Shorts?
This was not my intended post or even the topic I’d hoped to address. Instead it is a cautionary tale about the persuasive power of winemaking and the siren-song of the Dry Creek Valley. It began back in 2001, on a pre-child vacation in northern Sonoma County (aahhh, callow youth…).
Brian and I were exploring the back country, bumping along poorly paved roads, braving the banked, hairpin turns where there was no shoulder to protect you from the oncoming traffic that you couldn’t even see. We ogled the gorgeous restored barns and Mission homes nestled among the vines, belonging to the lucky farmers and vintners who lived quietly in the hills. After a commercial experience at Quivira, we Forrest Gumped right into a small production winery, a garage upgraded by fermenting lots of wine in ceramic tanks. The front of the place was a bit of a mess, to be honest. As I recall, it was just an open shed with some pottery dotting the grounds. A hand painted sign declared “Open!,” but the place was quiet. Curious, we disembarked the vehicle and cautioned a “Hellooo, halllllooo, anyone there?” Then the winemaker, the actual winemaker, the one who sorted the grapes, monitored the fermentations, and cared for and bottled the juice, ambled over. For me and Brian, this was pretty exciting. We were mostly accustomed to the canned chit-chat of tasting room attendants, professional sales folk paid to talk you up and coerce you into joining the wine club. To have one-on-one facetime with the guy making the wines was entirely new to us. Moments later, he invited me “to jump on in” and stomp the grapes with my feet. I rolled up my shorts and slid in, toe by toe. Photos were taken and archived, memories made. In fact, it was Rick, winemaker (and sales guy, and tasting room greeter, and bottle washer, and…) at the boutique Amphora Winery, who first introduced me to petite syrah, a varietal I had never tasted before that chance encounter. Far be it from me to turn down a full-bodied red wine that rocked with flourless chocolate cake! And after that, it was time to go home. But honestly, what tops the barefoot grape stomp? It is so hokey and rustic and “I Love Lucy” that even now when I recount tales of my stomping grapes with my feet my bewildered friends are shocked, exclaiming, “Really?! They still do that?”
And so it was with irrepressible pride, like a mamma duck following her duckling’s inaugural, solo swim, that I first observed the professionally crafted “Amphora” signage prominently placed along Dry Creek Road, toe to toe with the big guys. I’d initially glimpsed the sign on a morning run and excitedly sprinted back to tell Brian that I’d passed “the grape stomp” place. I’d anticipate the sign week after week, as this beacon became my turn around spot on longer treks. But for some reason, it took us weeks to actually return there to taste. You can probably guess that we strolled in last Sunday afternoon, kids in tow. The gregarious Rick was back at it, ushering us into his newish digs, still decorated with the stunning, ceramic amphorae he sculpted himself. I was invited to scan the Wall of Shame to see if my grape stomp snapshot had made it onto the giant photo-collage (it hadn’t). We told Rick that the last time we’d visited, it was shortly after our wedding, and there were no kids. Now we’re back, almost 10 years later, with 3 wine-minded tots who can pronounce “viogner” correctly (even if they can’t yet identify it blindly by nose).
“You’re right here in the ‘berg?” queried Rick.
“Just across from the school,” we replied.
“Well then…we’re neighbors,” he stammered. “I was wondering who was in that place…My wife is going to flip!”
Neighbors indeed. His house is three down from ours.
Anyhow, back in 2005, Rick traded in the old garage for a real tasting room, surrounded by a handful of other small production family vintners. It’s a pretty sweet set-up as visitors can taste from a number of boutique wineries in a single stop. And yes, Rick still invites the prettiest folks to stomp his grapes. And yes, it’s still a girls-only event. (Who can blame that kind of mojo? It certainly trumps the over-played Golden Retriever puppy).
When I stomped, I remember telling Rick, “Good thing I’m wearing shorts today.” Without missing a beat, he wickedly parried, “Oh, the girls in jeans just take ‘em off.”
Touché and cheers!
Stomping at Amphora a long time ago…