Vines will rise from ashes

Gatton Star - - LIFE | ESCAPE - ANN RICKARD Read more of Ann’s mus­ings at an­nrickard.com.

THE loss of lives and de­struc­tion of homes and busi­nesses in the Cal­i­for­nian wine coun­try has been ter­ri­ble to watch.

We spent a month in Cal­i­for­nia in 2005, most of it in the wine coun­try, and re­mem­ber the area as lush, green and rich in econ­omy and cul­ture.

While many of the winer­ies in the Sonoma and the Napa val­leys have been de­stroyed by the fires, many are still in­tact.

When the re­gions start to re­build, we’ll be back do­ing our tiny part in help­ing the wine tourism in­dus­try on its jour­ney to re­cov­ery.

The Napa Val­ley is a con­tained space with most of the winer­ies con­cen­trated near High­way 29. The val­ley stretches from the south through Yountville, Oakville, Ruther­ford, St He­lena and to Cal­is­toga in the north.

We found it easy to get around and with so many of the big-name winer­ies on High­way 29, it was a case of pulling into an elab­o­rate vine­flanked drive­way and get­ting down to tast­ing some of the world’s most cov­eted drops.

We vis­ited the Robert Mon­davi win­ery, per­haps the most pop­u­lar of them all and by far the most com­mer­cial, where the cel­lar door was more like a depart­ment store with ex­pen­sive mer­chan­dise and crowds try­ing to squeeze to the counter for wine tast­ings.

As far as I have read this week, the fires came close to the Mon­davi prop­erty but it is still in­tact. In Yountville, we vis­ited a small but el­e­gant cel­lar door late one morn­ing where an ur­bane man gave us tast­ings and told us about the fa­mous French Laun­dry restau­rant next door.

“It will cost you $175 each for lunch and that does not in­clude wines,” he said.

“Then there is a 19 per cent ser­vice charge, eight per cent sales tax and there is no wine on their list un­der $150. So, ex­pect to pay around $1000 for lunch.”

When he added “that is, if you can get a reser­va­tion,” we were re­lieved and found a deli in­stead and bought a sand­wich.

What I re­mem­ber most about the Napa Val­ley, more than the wines and the fancy restau­rants, was the pro­lif­er­a­tion of spas of­fer­ing mud baths.

Ap­par­ently, a mud bath is part of the Napa ex­pe­ri­ence, as es­sen­tial as wine tast­ings. Who were we not to par­take de­spite the pho­tos in front of the spas show­ing peo­ple with fright­ened ex­pres­sions im­mersed up to their necks in baths of thick mud?

We were a lit­tle late for our ap­point­ment and the at­ten­dant told us our tar­di­ness meant our time in the mud bath would have to be cut short.

We un­der­stood per­fectly and it turned out to be an un­told bless­ing be­cause step­ping into a bath of thick, gluggy green mud is not some­thing for the weak of heart.

But we had paid our money for this Napa mud ex­pe­ri­ence so we ap­proached the baths (twin baths, it was a cou­ple’s room) with great cau­tion. I man­aged to get only my toe into the green­ish brown slime, but my man sunk down into the mire with a look of pure re­vul­sion on his face.

He sat there for all a minute be­fore ter­ror got the bet­ter of him and he rose like a swamp crea­ture from a deep bog, cov­ered in blobs of green and brown goo from neck to toe.

“It was like sit­ting in­side a cow’s stom­ach,” he said, and with that he raced into the shower to hose off the clingy dung.

Need­less to say we needed al­co­holic re­fresh­ment af­ter this ex­pe­ri­ence. Thank­fully, we were in the mid­dle of a re­gion awash with the good stuff.

Cal­i­for­nia, we will be back when you be­gin your re­cov­ery.

There is a 19 per cent ser­vice charge, eight per cent sales tax and there is no wine on their list un­der $150.

PHOTO: ISTOCK

GOLDEN RE­GION: Sun­rise over a vine­yard on the Sil­ver­ado Trail in the Napa Val­ley, Cal­i­for­nia.

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