I am doing the A-Z challenge, focusing on places or entities that can be found within Mendocino County. I do not intend to imply that the subjects of my writing are the most significant, only that they have personal relevance to me. Today’s letter is Z for Zinfandel.
Trot Out the Wine
I am not a drinking man by nature, but I do enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, or if I am cooking the dinner, I might have a glass while dicing the onions and bell peppers, or preparing the veggies for roasting. Annie is the true wine aficianado in this household. By that I simply mean that she truly enjoys wine the way it was made to be appreciated.
My earliest recollection of the subject of wine comes from my father, who used to pick the huge blueish/purple grapes that grew in the empty lot next door to our house on Fellowship Street, back in the late fifties and early sixties. He would make up a small batch of wine and seemed to derive a great deal of pleasure sampling his wares. The most famous occurrence came when he placed two bottles from one of his home-grown batches under the house, declaring that they would remain there in the cool, beneath the front porch, until my sister JT got married.
And darned if he didn’t follow though on his promise. The grand occasion took place in January of 1973, when I was home on leave from South Korea, and was myself married on the 20th of that month. It was all quite complicated, but in the months leading up to my wedding day, both my sister and one of my older brothers, also decided to take the plunge, with the result being that three of us tied the nuptial knot on the same weekend. Robert trotted out those two bottles of wine, and everybody got a taste.
After I got out of the service, in October of 1973, I went back to school at Cal Poly, in Pomona, until the following summer. At that time the three of us and our respective spouses, got together up the 101 from Los Angeles, in San Jose, and rented a big corner house, with four bedrooms, for the ridiculously cheap price of $260.00 per month.
My older brother was working at the Hungry Hunter, a stylish restaurant which featured steak and fish, and a nice selection of wines. I remember that he used to be allowed to bring home the wine that was left over on the tables he waited, and the very first time this took place, he brought home the lion’s share of a bottle of Zinfandel. I fell in love immediately.
Now San Jose is located in the Santa Clara Valley, which was also home to a number of local wineries, and we used to go out wine tasting, often piling seven or eight of us in my old VW bus, and going out to the wineries with our sourdough and cheddar cheese, to sample a little, buy a few bottles, and enjoy a Sunday afternoon in this manner. Oftentimes, the person serving the wine was the owner himself.
Today, Mendocino County is the home of more than sixty wineries, none of which I have ever visited, unless you count going to a wedding at one, during which, of course, there was wine, but not wine tasting in the traditional sense of the word. I know that the first winery was established in 1879, and that with the coming of Prohibition, all wineries were all torn down, and the grapevines replaced by nut and fruit trees.
The oldest, continually operating commercial winery is Parducci WInery, established in 1931. Since the late 1960’s, Mendocino has sprouted many more wineries, to take advantage of the ideal climate in which grapes thrive. The trip along the 101, between Hopland and Ukiah, is resplendent with grape vines, with a beautiful back drop of the coastal ranges, on both sides of the highway.
Zinfandel remains my wine of choice, though Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Petit Sirah, are right up there with the Zinfandel. One of these days, Annie and I are going procure us a designated diver, hit the road, and tour the Mendocino County wineries. After all, more than sixty wineries would seem to indicate that it is well worth the effort. Care to come along? We’d love to have you.