Recently we traveled over to the west side of Washington State to see some winemakers. We also did some wine tasting and picked up some bottles as well. Those we visited had tasting rooms in Woodinville, and there was even one full-blown winery facility in a residential neighborhood in Marysville. While it was great to spend time with old friends and new ones, it left us wondering about all the intangible things that make wine country wine country.
A big part of what set Mary and I on our passion-filled journey with wine was a move from Southern California to Northern California in 1997. We were still working in our first careers and the move was precipitated by business. Living in the San Francisco Bay area at the time, a home in the city was out of our budget so we purchased a house in the Sonoma Valley, which was far more affordable. The house we purchased was a small ranch-style home that had been built in 1960 and had not been touched since. What made it though, and what started our passion for wine and entertaining, was the setting. The house was on a small country road called Egg Farm Road that bordered the estate vineyard land of Chateau St. Jean Winery, which to this day remains one of the most beautiful wineries in the area.
We moved into that home on the Fourth of July weekend that year and were drawn in by wine country. Sitting on the valley floor the house looked up at another vineyard on the hillside above. We would frequently walk through the St. Jean Vineyard to go and taste in their tasting room. The seasons, and there definitely were seasons, would each inspire us with their own beauty. Spring would be bud break and the flowering of the vines, summer would bring long, warm days and fog-cooled nights, and the vines showing the first color in the grapes during verasion. Fall was electric with the color of the changing vines and the scenes of harvest from those picking the grapes to the trucks traveling on highway 12 loaded with purple fruit. Even winter had its beauty with the drenching rainstorms, and cold, star-filled nights in between the storms.
After we left our first careers, Mary and I went to work in wineries to learn even more about what would ultimately lead to the opening of our shop here in Coeur d’Alene. Mary worked at Chateau St. Jean and me at Balletto Vineyards. Now working in wineries we got to see much of the winemaking process, harvest, and all the work in the vineyard during the growing season. More importantly, though, we were able to witness those who visited wine country on the weekends and for vacation. We were able to see firsthand the affect of the beauty, of the area, and the wonder with which folks watched the harvest and crush. During tours of vineyards and winery production facilities, you could watch as folks took it all in and learned their first tidbits of the whole industry. Those who had been multiple times asked ever more probing questions as they improved their depth of wine knowledge.
To us, this is what makes wine country wine country.
Consumers who taste at tasting rooms only still gain the exposure to the always-knowledgeable staffs that work there. They still, too, get the chance to try many wines and explore them in depth to ultimately purchase the ones they really like. Yet they miss all of the knowledge and beauty of visiting wine country where it all really happens.
We are blessed here in North Idaho and Eastern Washington to have Walla Walla and the wineries of the Columbia Valley that are less than four hours away. Go a little farther and you are a two-hour plane ride from the Napa and Sonoma Valleys of Northern California, or extend your drive time to seven hours and you are in Pinot Noir country in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Ask us, or your favorite wine professional, about setting up tours and tastings in your destination. Chances are we know many of the winemakers and a phone call can help make the experience even better.
For all of us as wine enthusiasts and wine consumers, the experience of being in the true wine country among the vines, witnessing the yearlong saga of each vintage of production will develop knowledge and appreciation that is most times out of reach at a tasting room. For those of us with passion for wine and the wine culture, it is not only a different but also a much bigger experience that to us is irreplaceable and what will always keep wine country wine country.
If there is a topic you would like to read about or questions on wine you can email George@thedinnerpartyshop.com or make suggestions by contacting the Healthy Community section at the Coeur d’Alene Press.
George Balling is co-owner with his wife Mary Lancaster of the dinner party a wine and table top decor shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. George is also the managing judge of The North Idaho Wine Rodeo, and is the wine editor for Coeur d’Alene magazine www.cdamagazine.com you can learn more about the dinner party at www.thedinnerpartyshop.com. You can get all of these articles as well as other great wine tips by friending us on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.
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