CALIFORN-I-A DAY 5: Bubbles, Burgers, and Blinding Views


This was the Wednesday of the week and we were half way in. We’d seen some sights, tasted great wines, and were perversely all getting on really well as a group which doesn’t always happen on these things. Or at least I think we were, maybe they just didn’t tell me!

Vintage Bubbles

We kicked off at one of the more famous producers of Californian bubbles, Schramsberg. The tour started with a good old natter about where the grapes come in from, with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (the Champagne varieties) being brought in from over 120 different sites. That’s a lot of suppliers to keep happy! But when you produce over 1 million bottles a year, you kind of need it. With gloriously cool and humid caves dug out by the Chinese labour brought out to build the railways, the team here produce vintage bubbles year in year out to promote the changing climates around California year on year.

Punchy Sauvignon

A trip to Black Stallion followed, and once I’d managed to tear myself away from the 1950s truck gleaming outside in the sunshine, it was indoors to try out a bit of Sauvignon Blanc for a kicker. I was still struggling with the idea that 13.8% abv is low for Napa standards. The “ladies what lunch” must be slammed by the time dessert turns up! Great story behind the start of the winery, especially as it was started in 1924, not the best of times given no bugger in the States was allowed to drink!

Members Happy To Pay For The Good Stuff

After a lunch consisting of a burger the size of my head, we jumped back in the bus and headed up to Ovid. I couldn’t work this place out. Set up as a “bit of an adventure” by a multi-millionaire from Silicon Valley, it’s one of the most glorious settings you’ll ever wish to see. Everything was top spec, with even the concrete tanks designed and built by consultants flown in from Bordeaux. I was praying this wasn’t all going to be the Emperor’s New Clothes. Luckily the wines were outstanding, but at $285 a bottle, you’d hope so. But given 90% of bottles go straight to investors and wine club members? They’re doing ok!

Old School

Another quick bus ride (and a can of Pabst) later, and we were at our first stop in Sonoma for the week, at Patz and Hall. Donald Patz got into this gig a few years back with his business partners to make great wines from buying in the best grapes from all the way around California he could buy. Interestingly though he is one of the few guys around not shouting from the rooftops about organic/biodynamic/sustainable viticulture. Not sure I agreed with him, but the attitude of “I just want to make a good wine every year” has to be commended I guess.

We checked in for our first night at the MacArthur Hotel in Sonoma, and I sloped off rather timidly for an early(ish) night.




PHOTOS: Clockwise…

1: Stacked bottles ageing well in the Schramsberg caves
2: The burger the size of my head, American portions are killing my skinny jeans!
3: Don Patz: “Who deserves this more than us? Damn few and they’re all dead!”
4: The ladies on the trip taking in the view from Ovid Estate on International Women’s Day



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