Here’s the Story of a Lovely Winery – Story Winery, That Is

A few weeks ago I got an email from Margaret over at Nanny Goats in Panties inviting me to a special wine tasting/educational event at Story Winery over in Amador County. I went for two reasons: 1. it was free; 2. it involved wine. I’m simple like that.

About a week before the event she sent out another email to say we needed to wear farm-friendly shoes. I found this particularly amusing, since when I think of wineries I think of Lucy and Ethel in a giant vat stomping on grapes with their bare feet. Surely going barefoot would be considered farm-friendly, right? I presented this to Giles, who is much more astute than I am about these matters.

“They said ‘farm friendly’ because they didn’t want to use the R word,” he said.

“R word? What’s that? Riesling?”

“No, rattlesnake.” Guess I’ll be wearing sneakers, then.

Ms. Chick from Limit Reached carpooled with me over to Amador County, which is a little less than an hour from downtown Sacramento. We gossiped and chatted and made derogatory comments about other drivers. Nothing makes a trip go by faster than making derogatory comments about mobile home drivers who are oblivious to the chain of cars behind them.

When we got there, we missed the sign that pointed us to where we would be getting educated about wine. Instead we walked over to the tasting room area and got to try two wines: a 2010 Miss Rose and a 2009 Chenin Blanc, both of which were very light and lovely. Then with the help of the tasting guy and another staffer, we figured out we needed to go back down to where the wine is made.

Story Winery, wine, vineyard, Mission grapes, Zinfandel, winery, winemaking
Brian explains who - I mean what - bud break is.

Story Wine’s director of marketing, Cinde, and the assistant winemaker Brian, were our instructors. Winery owners Bruce & Jan were also there to tell us about how they got involved with the winery, how the vineyard is maintained (they do dry farming, which means no irrigation), and how they are going organic. Pro tip: if you drive by a vineyard and you can see that there’s all sorts of weeds and plants growing between the rows, there’s a very distinct possibility that the grapes are certified organic or in the process of becoming certified organic.

Story Winery, wines, vineyard, winemaking, winery, Zinfandel, Mission vines
Jan told this vine it was her favorite and made it swear not to tell the others.

Jan is known as the “vine whisperer”, because she goes out and talks to the vines to keep them thriving. They also play music for the vines.

“What kind of music do they like?” I asked Bruce.

“Classical, mostly.”

“What about R&B?” Some of the younger vines might dig a little Lou Rawls, I figure. Or Barry White.

He just laughed, so I’m guessing I touched on a trade secret.

They make predominately Zinfandels, which always make me think fondly of meals with Aunt Gigi and Uncle Ned, as they are big fans of the Zin. At one Christmas dinner, a little tipsy on Zin, I staged an attack on the elaborate table display of porcelain Dickens-era holiday revelers using my box of animal crackers. The lion went in for the kill, then the rhinoceros  came out.

“He’s going to attack!” said my cousin Sasha, sitting across the table from me.

“No, he’s a peaceful rhino,” I said, marching him through the village and over to the nativity scene by the sweet potatoes.

But I digress.

Story Winery, winery, wines, winemaking, vineyards, Mission vines
These vines like Rachmaninoff.

The Zins we tasted at Story Winery were all quite good, and I bought a bottle of their Miss Zin to share with Giles over a nice cut of beef. However, I think my favorite Zin was actually the barrel tasting of a 2011 Alitia Vineyard, right before Ms. Chick and I headed back to Sacramento. I feel a little weird using the phrase “mouth feel”, but damn if that wine didn’t make my mouth feel like I was eating Brie or some other really good, creamy cheese.

Which leads me to the two questions I still have about wine:

1. How is it that wines have aromas and/or taste of substances other than grapes? Brian said it’s from the fruit used, but I still don’t get it. How can one wine smell and taste a little like currants (or cassis, if you want to get all fancy like Ms. Chick) and another smell and taste like green pepper? Does it have to do with the soil? Pollination? More importantly, will trying to figure out the answer to this question keep me from drinking more wine? Doubtful.

white zinfandel, wine, box wine, Franzia
It's pink wine! And it's in a box!

2. Why does White Zinfandel have such a bad reputation? I asked this question out loud and it got so quiet, you’d have thought I’d said, “I am really disappointed that Rick Santorum has dropped out of the presidential race.” Cinde said that there was a period of time when Zinfandel grapes were used only in blends, and that it wasn’t until the 1970s that White Zinfandel became popular thanks to Sutter Home. But that still doesn’t explain why there’s little love for a wine that accounts for about 10% of the U.S. wine sales by volume. Yes, it’s sweet, sometimes too much so. Yes, it’s a gateway wine for many people, who (like me) go on to try other wines. But if that’s the only wine you ever drink, does that make you wine-dumb? I say no. I am now very tempted to show up at parties with some Franzia White Zinfandel and see if I get thrown out.

All in all, it was a lovely afternoon with the folks at Story Winery and my fellow bloggers. They have a fantastic view of the Cosumnes River Valley from their picnic area.

cosumnes river valley, cosumnes river, amador county, plymouth, california
View from Story Winery onto the Cosumnes River Valley

The staff at the winery are gracious and kind and [may] laugh at your jokes. If you’re ever in the area, be sure to stop by Story Winery for a tasting.

Cosumnes River, cosumnes river valley, amador county, california
When I saw this view, I was tempted to sing the opening lines of "The Sound of Music", but I wasn't wearing the right skirt.

From My First Breath*

“So, does Sacramento feel like home?” T-Wizzle asked me. It was the third time she’d asked me that question in the last three months. And for the third time I couldn’t give her a clear answer.

For many years I haven’t felt a sense of home in the way that others do. I will remain longer than I should in apartments and townhouses that do not meet my needs, but I also avoid making investments in furniture until absolutely necessary. I have never hung drapes or curtains, and I have never done major remodeling. I bought a house with Mr. X but we never got around to decorating it. We didn’t build knee walls or repaint bathrooms in an attempt to make the house truly ours; we never quite made that house our home.

But I have also designed and planted a garden, much to the surprise of others – and myself, to be honest. More recently, I installed a new shower head in my apartment and, when I discovered how easy it actually was, I cursed my narrow-mindedness for not installing one in the last place I lived. I have hung pictures around the apartment and installed shelving in my kitchen to accommodate my pots and pans. Between these tasks and getting involved in the community, I do have more of a sense of home than I ever had when I was living in Southern California. In many ways my new town reminds me a lot of where I grew up on the East Coast. But it’s still not quite home.

Because while decorating a kitchen and installing shower heads can mean one considers a place to be home, I don’t believe that material goods create that feeling of home, that sense of this is where I belong. That feeling comes from something much deeper. Home is that elusive smell in the air in the town where you were born. It’s recognizing the once-vacant lot where you once played ball with your friends. It’s holding on to the belief that the world you knew at the age of five is the biggest, widest, most fabulous world that ever was, or ever will be.

Last night I was with Pops, Aunt Gigi and Uncle Roy as they found their childhood home. I listened quietly as they recounted stories from their early years: stories of dollhouses and comic books, neighborhood friends and schoolhouse bullies. I saw Roy beaming with bliss at the discovery that the  built-in milkbox he remembered playing with as a toddler was, indeed, exactly where he remembered it was.

And even though I never lived in that neighborhood or spent time in that house as a child, in that moment, I felt home, too.

This post was inspired by Kirsten’s entry for the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival, hosted by Peter Pollock.

*The title of this post comes from a line in a Depeche Mode song, “Home.”

Human Kindness Is Overflowing

All names have been changed.

It’s popular belief that death comes in a series of three. This past Friday marked the 3rd person I’ve known that has passed away over the last 3 months.

On February 25, my maternal grandfather died. Grandpa J was in his early 90s and had just come home from an extended stay in a nursing home.

He was a true jack-of-all-trades, fixing and building many things. When I was little and would go to visit, Grandpa J would always be wearing his work clothes: a navy blue button-down shirt and pants in either black or dark blue. His hair was a thick shock of white and his eyes were a cool blue-grey. He scared me a little, but at the same time, I would talk to him about his life and he would always answer my questions. Momcat remembers when, at the age of 5, I cornered Grandpa J for an inquisition. “You asked him all these personal questions,” she said. “I wanted to crawl under the table.”

He wasn’t very good with interpersonal relationships – family connections were often strained and tense. But during the icy cold Michigan winters, he would go out of his way to ensure that poor families had heat and that their pipes didn’t freeze. He was also a volunteer fireman and injured his leg on the way to fight a fire that had started at a local mill.

In his last years, he softened up a great deal, but still struggled to connect with family. Pops went to see him in the nursing home a few months before he died. “Don’t ever get old,” Grandpa J told Pops. “It’s awful.”

On April 25, Momcat & Pops’ next-door neighbor died. Fifty years ago, Margaret Woods built a house next door to my paternal grandparents. Even after my grandparents retired to Florida and Momcat, Pops & I moved in, she stayed on.

Mrs. Woods worked for the police department for many years – she would pronounce it poh-leece. She’d seen and heard a lot of crazy stories by working there and as a result didn’t put up with much foolishness. I think she chased away some mischievous boys with a broom once – I could be making that up, though. I remember sitting in her air-conditioned rec room for a couple hours while she talked about all sorts of things. I considered writing mysteries based on our relationship. In these tales, I would be the Nancy Drew to her Jessica Fletcher. I never did write anything, though.

Her garden was phenomenal – my best friend Deena and I often referred to her place as “Better Homes and Gardens.” I think Mrs. Woods’ well-manicured lawn was viewed by many neighbors as a challenge to make their yards look just as nice. But she wasn’t one to lord her gardening skills over anyone. She just loved to work in the dirt, and she was happy to offer suggestions and advice to anyone that asked.

On May 4, my cousin Sasha’s grandfather died. Dr. Y was Estonian and had come to the U.S. during WWII. After the Nazi occupation of Estonia, he lived for a while in a displaced-persons camp with his young son Ned, who later married my aunt Gigi.

Dr. Y lived near Pops & Momcat, so when Uncle Ned & Aunt Gigi came to town, we would all get together for pizza or a barbecue. At one of those gatherings, Dr. Y cooked one of the best porterhouse steaks I’ve ever eaten. Remembering it now makes me long for a juicy slab of meat, perfectly grilled, with some A-1 sauce.

Dr. Y always had a gleam in his eye and a quick laugh. The last time I saw him was Christmas 2005, at Ned & Gigi’s house.
“Moxie, psst!” I heard Sasha’s husband, Mark, whisper. He gestured at a bottle on the kitchen counter. It was time for the drinkers in the group to surreptitiously enjoy a shot of Estonia vodka that had been infused with jalapeno pepper.
I headed for the kitchen. Uncle Ned poured the shots. Dr. Y’s eyes gleamed and he grinned at me. “In Estonian, the word for vodka is the same as in English,” he said. “You just pronounce it wad-kah.”
Wad-kah,” I repeated. “Any way you say it, it’s good stuff.”
He laughed. “That’s right!”
We lifted our shot glasses and toasted – to what, I don’t remember. A good year ahead, perhaps. All I remember is the burn of the vodka down my throat.
“Gaaack,” I sputtered. “Good – stuff.”
“Yah!” Dr. Y laughed.

Three deaths, three very different people. Yet their acts of beauty, integrity, kindness, and generosity made an impact on the world. Grandpa J would refuse to charge people for fixing their furnace, if he knew they couldn’t afford it. From what I understand, Dr. Y was pressured by the Nazis to work for them, but he refused, showing incredible courage. And Margaret Woods beautified her corner of the planet by making her garden a lush, gorgeous sanctuary that would literally make people stop and stare.

I can’t really quantify the influence that these 3 people had on my life. But there’s a Randy Newman song that I’ve been listening to a lot lately, and I have a feeling it’s resonating with me so strongly because of these three people:

Bright before me, the signs implore me,
Help the needy and show them the way.
Human kindness is overflowing,
And I think it’s going to rain today.