Thursday, August 9, 2012

Way up yonder at DK Cellars

How often do you enter a least one that sits literally on top of a large hill in the middle of nowhere, USA, and hear, "Hey, you're Gary's sister, right?" This happened to me a few weeks back while visiting Dave and Kim Pratt of DK Cellars.

To begin with, yes, I am "Tea-tolaling," "Wine is yucky," "I don't get it," "When I die, I'll be clutching a can of Fresca,"  Gary's little sister. Moving forward. Kim at one time used to work with Gary in another life. (I clearly see why you moved to the middle of nowhere Kim) Anyhoo, on this visit, it was not Kim who recognized me, but a different former co-worker of Gary's named Emma who could not wait to tell me how much he bragged about my recent graduation and how proud he was of me. (Kudos for the big bro.!)

Like any appreciative little sister, it was only natural that I wanted Emma to tell me everything that Gary said. (Positive adjectives only.) However the conversation switched to why we both were at the winery, Dave and Kim Pratt; they know how to throw a party, and we were there to celebrate their 12th anniversary with a vertical tasting of their Meritage lineage.

What is a Meritage?
A Meritage; a blend of red and white Bordeaux varietal grapes. Red grapes consist of the dominant and familiar Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot. White grapes include Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Sauvignon Vert which is not too commonly grown in California. Red Meritage wines must be made from at least two of the listed red grapes. In either red or white Meritage wines, no one variety can make up more than 90% of the blend.

The word "Meritage" is a blend of the words "merit" and "heritage," and often denotes a Bordeaux blend of grapes not grown on French soil. Wineries that produce Meritage blends cannot produce more than 25,000 cases of the blend and the wine must be considered a high end offering for the winery.

Dave definitely does Meritage well. Beginning with the 2001 vintage, my cousin and I were treated to a wine education like no other. For a wine that was nearly 12 years old, the 2001 revealed that wine can and often does get better with age. The tannins (These are what often cause bad reactions for the uninitiated) had softened a bit,  but all of the dark rich characteristics of a fine Bordeaux were still present. If you are familiar with the intense flavors of mountain wine, this one would not disappoint. We both enjoyed the noticeable differences of each wine and agreed that the 2002 and the 2005 were our favorites. For good measure, we re-visited each, several times, just to be sure.

To accomodate everyone's palate, The Pratt's poured other wines from their colorfully named collection. (Kim designs the labels) "Short Bus Zinfandel" and "Rattler Red" are two of their easy to drink but very potent offerings. This is mountain wine; virgins need to tread with caution. Another favorite, the Cab-Shiraz blend. Done Aussie style, the wine consists of 52% Cabernet Sauvignon and 48% Syrah. Yummy!

Because this was a party, the Pratt's provided a luncheon of pulled pork sandwiches and strawberry shortcake for dessert. A wine club member who just happens to be a DJ provided the music. We were able to fully enjoy the picnic area and watch as Kim busted a move on the lawn.

Sauntering into the tasting room, a special blend of every vintage of the Meritage was offered for sale by the glass. Maybe because I WAS after all, Gary's sister, a taste appeared in my glass. "Boo yeah!" Now we are talking. What a treat. There are no words to describe this blend...except, awesome! I really wanted to ask Dave more about why he blended his entire lineage for the day. Well, it is his winery, and his wine. He can do whatever he desires. Instead, we agreed that the need to re-visit the food line was becoming too hard to resist. (I was not convinced as to why I gave up pork, seriously) Moving forward.

As we mingled with the other party revelers, it became clear as to why I prefer the small winery as compared to the larger commercial facilities. Dave is a techno-geek who could be described as the poster child for A.D.D. (Wait, that describes me!)  He and his wife Kim began their journey into all things wine by visiting wineries, volunteering during crush and observing how other wineries did the deed. With extension courses taken at UC Davis, Dave turned his close observations into becoming 2007 wine grape grower of the year in El Dorado County. With Kim by his side and often on the tractor during harvest, they have created a winery and a lifestyle that personifies their love of life and passion for wine.

There are a few perks to being Gary's little sister, and meeting Dave and Kim Pratt is one of them. I have visited their winery twice so far and enjoy following them on Facebook. Located in Somerset, California, top of the hill, middle of nowhere, USA, the drive is worthy of a visit. Check out their events calendar often and pay them a visit. I'm sure if you convince them that you too are somehow related to Gary, they will treat you extra special. (If not, you drove all the way up there, have some fun!)

DK Cellars, you done good!

Until next time, Salute'.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Revisiting Sarah's Vineyard

Living in the upper central valley has it perks. However, the heat factor in Sacramento is not one of them. Let me be more specific; Sacramento heat is akin to Satan's arm pits! Now that you have a good visual, allow me to take you away to a small winery that is nestled along a stretch of Hwy. know, that highway that goes through, uhhh, and ends up near, uhhh, and eventually leads to the Pacific Ocean? That highway.

A little history about how I/we found this road. The Road Dawg and I were on a field trip a few years back. Our mission; get to Santa Cruz to escape the Hellacious Sacramento heat. Our plan; drive south until we got to, uhhh, oh yeah, Interstate 5 to uhh, that road that goes towards uhh, west, yeah, that's it, west to 205 and then, uhh, was it 580 or 680 south? Anyway, whichever way we went, it was wrong!

For some strange reason, the road looked unfamiliar. I was sure that the sign for Andersen Pea Soup would come into view at any point. This is a landmark that I have always used to navigate my way to Santa Cruz. The road that veers off of 205...whatever it is, cuts a shortcut through the valley and ends up at one of my favorite diversions, Casa de Fruita. Surely we could not have missed such a huge and nearly the only visible sign in the desolation of the central valley? We did.

Los Gatos. Yes, somehow, we ended up in Los Gatos. Not a bad place. The heat factor was at least three, chilly, degrees cooler than Sacramento. I can honestly say that the town was flat, dry and hot. Moving on!

After driving through Los Gatos...which seemed to take forever, we decided to make a U-turn...which meant that we had to drive back through Los Gatos. There is only one road that leads into this hovel and one road out. Neither would lead us to where we wanted to go, so we had to make a few adjustments to get back on track...sort of. (It never occurred to us to use the GPS device on our phones)
Anyway, we knew we had to go west, and the first road in that direction, we took.

Big mistake. Somehow, we managed to end up at a crossroad that gave us two options; left turn, or right turn. Left, more desolation. Right, things were beginning to look a little green Neither looked familiar, but fortunately, we took the right one, literally.
 Hecker Pass Highway! Please do not ask me how we did this. It just felt right to turn right. Besides, the temperature had dropped to a comfy 70 degrees, and we were sorely in need of libation...and valium. (Two lost females in an SUV with no man to blame, not good!) We drove ferociously down this road not paying attention to much. We had five hours of daylight left, no wine, food or any of our usual travel comforts, and we had yet to dip our feet in the calming waters of the Pacific Ocean.

The Road Dawg, a more keener navigator than myself noticed a sign for a winery possibly owned by a female. Hmmm, must check this out. Besides by now we could care less about who owned anything; We just wanted to imbibe.

Entering the gate that welcomes visitors with a view of the vineyards, we drove around the vines which were covered in nets to protect the nearly ripened fruit. I had never seen this type of covering and could not wait to ask questions. We entered the tasting room and were met by the now more common winery dog. Personally, as a dog lover who speaks fluent Doberman Pinscher,(Don't over think it!) I have come to expect to be greeted by a cold wet nose, wagging tail and an expectation of a good ear scratch. When my fellow dog loving friends visit my home, this is the way I choose to say hello! All kidding aside, the tasting room was warm and inviting.

We made our way up to the counter and were immediately acknowledged by a friendly group of ladies.( On a recent visit, I was thoroughly delighted to be served by Megan.) Beginning with a stellar Chardonnay, we found the wines to be enjoyable and easy to drink. The atmosphere was lively and our hosts were informative and attentive. After identifying ourselves as industry types, were were treated to a unfortunately no longer made Syrah Port. OMG! As mentioned before, I am not a Port drinker. However, this one made us retreat to the Road Dawgs SUV to dig up enough change to purchase a bottle. And we did!

New plans began to formulate. We would buy a bottle, continue on our journey to the ocean...we now had three hours of daylight, buy a cigar and enjoy this phenomenal wine on the beach. Yes, it was going to be a good day after all. We still had not eaten, but who cared...we had a great bottle of Port. Food would have to wait.

Realizing that we also did not have wine glasses, ( we have since rectified this situation and keep them in our cars) the winery was kind enough to give us two glasses from a previous event. In my opinion, this was a customer service home run! We left vowing to return some day soon.

With less than three hours of daylight left, we were told that Santa Cruz was 30 minutes west of where we were...unless it is five o'clock on a Friday! An hour and a half later, we were on Hwy.1 driving north to Santa Cruz. The plan, find a place that sells cigars, find a beach, enjoy at least an hour of daylight and watch the sun go down.

No one in Santa Cruz smokes cigars! We looked everywhere, and with little time to spare, we ducked into a smoke shop that kept the cigars...all four of them, somewhere between to smokeless tobacco and the Red Bull energy drinks. Not to be picky, we bought the most expensive one...$9.00, and proceeded to find a beach that was not occupied by volleyball players. We were in Santa Cruz after all, and that huge body of water we were staring at was the ocean. Beaches must abound in this area, right? They do not.
We drove up and down the highway only to find cliffs...lots of cliffs. Cliffs that were high above the water and cliffs that were even higher above the ocean. Where the heck were the beaches? With the sun rapidly descending beneath the horizon, we drove back to the smoke shop which in the first place, was next to the volleyball courts which were on the beach. To our delight all of the players had left. It was nearly dark, and we had a cigar and a great bottle of Port. Let's get this party started!

As soon as the sun goes down in Santa Cruz, the fog rolls in. This is not a bad thing, unless... So, you think you have talent? Try lighting a cigar in the fog. Uh huh, try to see the cigar to light it in the fog. While you are struggling and looking rather silly to the locals who know better, try pouring a glass of Port in rapidly encroaching, visibility altering, fog. Give the locals a good laugh. Keep trying, and once you realize how cold it also gets in Santa Cruz, spend a few moments wondering why you carry jumper cables in your car and not a parka! At this point, we did not care. We hunkered closely together, cupped our hands and desperately forced the flame out that refused to leave Road Dawgs lighter, puffed as if we were on life support and managed to light the cigar. The bottle of Port, which was becoming slippery, cooperated by allowing its' cork to easily be removed. Alas, we were finally going to have a moment to reflect on this eventful day.

As I slid my feet into the still warm sand, and marveled at the sound of the surf...which we could not see due to the fog, it became obvious that the day was not all bad. I had the company of a good friend, a glass of warm libation and the comfort of knowing that my life was on course to better days ahead. To further enjoy the cigar, I slid my glass, stem first, into the sand so that I would not have to hold it. A few seconds later, the Road Dawg and I heard a strange noise that sounded like the "plink" that you hear when a light bulb burns out. There were no bulbs nearby, and although the Road Dawg does have a luminescent personality, she was still intact. We both looked at one another and wondering what it was that we heard. Instinctively, we reached for the bottle of Port only to find that it too was still intact. Weird?

As I reached for my glass to take a swig of the warm, chocolatey, silky Port, my lips seemed to miss the rim of the glass. As the precious warm wine poured down the front of my shirt...which was barely visible due to the fog, but very obviously red, I began to panic. Did this have something to do with the "plink" we heard? Oh Lord, was it my glass? Did I cut myself? Was this wine or blood? Hopefully blood!

No sooner than I took a few sips of this wonderful, warm, succulent wine, my glass, the freebie given to us, somehow managed to explode! A huge chunk...big enough to cause the wine to escape unattended was missing from the glass. Worse yet, the Port, that warm and fuzzy beautiful Port was now all over my shirt and the beach! Awwww Lawd, take me now! In the words of Florida Evans from the iconic 70s show, "Good Times..."Damn, Damn, Damn!"

Not to be defeated, (the thought of turning up the bottle and taking a long swig did cross my mind), we finished the cigar and the Road Dawg was kind enough to let me have a sip from her glass...after she finished snickering no less. We packed up and vowed to visit the winery least to let them know that their wine glasses from a previous event had a minor flaw, and to hopefully score another bottle of that phenomenal Port.

Sarah's Vineyard is located in Gilroy on Hecker Pass Highway. Because the Road Dawg could not join me on this revisit, I decided to map out my journey this time so that I would make it to the ocean before the sun went down. I arrived at about three o'clock and instead of being greeted by a winery dog, I was met by Megan. She was younger than the previous ladies who greeted us originally, but exemplified true professionalism and warmth. As I began my tastings, a young man entered the tasting room and was equally engaging. He was the current owner, Tim Slater, and his sense of humor was infectious.

Tim played the, "Oh hey, I remember you sort of" card and proceeded to make me feel at home. After a couple of compulsory "So you really do know about wine" questions, which is customary when industry people talk...or is it? Hmmm. Tim advised Megan to let me try the wine club releases. Thank you Tim...scratch behind the ears...that's a good Tim..who's a good Tim, scratch, scratch scratch!
The wines were awesome! Tim really knows how to balance his flavors to appeal to a broad palate.

One wine in particular caught my attention. The 2007 "Nuits d 'Enfer," a Merlot with a hint of Cabernet was outstanding! The wine had a good mouth feel and was not too fruity. It was obvious that this winemaker had mad skills. I love a wine that surprises me, and this one did. Because I am not a huge Merlot fan, Tim definitely knew what to do with this grape. More importantly, Tim seemed to not take himself too seriously. All artists have a tendency to let their egos dictate their personalities. Yours truly is no exception. Tim was playful and genuine; a lot like his wines.

Further enjoying my visit, the tasting room began to get busy. Megan was a master at taking care of everyone and never ceased to make sure I was okay. I also took note of how some of the guests were happy that she was working on this day. She poured adequately and at all times had a smile on her face.

I asked about the infamous Port wine and was told that it was no longer made. Bummer! Not missing an opportunity for a good story, I began to tell Megan about the experience of the exploding wine glass on the beach.

She listened intently as I explained what happened. A look of utter disbelief but true concern crossed her face. Like me, she too was amazed at what occurred. She remained professional and empathetic throughout the whole story...and managed to stifle a few giggles. After all, it was a weird situation.

Sensing that she was getting busier, and it was beginning to get late, I asked how far of a drive was Santa Cruz. Megan replied that it was about a thirty minute drive, but because it was a Friday, there would be delays. One of the other guests suggested that I visit one of the wineries nearby. Megan called ahead to make sure they could receive me. Another home run for customer service!

Sarah's Vineyard is located at 4005 Hecker Pass Highway in Gilroy, California.
Now that I know how to find them from Sacramento... Interstate 5 to 580 to 680 to 17 not deviate...stay south, I will visit them again. They genuinely know how to welcome a visitor, and at no time during my visit did my wine glass explode!

Until next time, A Votre Sante!