Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Time for the Grape Harvest

Who needs a spa to relax when you can spend the evening stomping and squishing around with your friends in a gigantic barrel full of cabernet grapes? Well, here I am three weeks into my four weekend traveling stint. I am exhausted from the constant running around in the last few weeks, but not too exhausted to partake in the harvest festivities that I have been looking forward to for the last month.

When Marissa first started talking about the festival in Temecula, she had me at the grape stomping. Sign me up! I was immediately fascinated. The grape stomping didn't hold the same allure for Paul as it did for me, but he had a good time nevertheless.

Here are some of the highlights from the trip:

Harvest Festival at the Callaway Winery
The Callaway harvest festival was the main event in Temecula for the weekend. We weren't really sure what to expect, but between the wine tasting, Italian dinner, grape stomping, Lucy and Ricky look-a-like contest, live band and cork tossing game (which Paul won), it was a great time.

Paul and I met up with the rest of our group at the winery : Marissa, Karie(who subbed in at the last minute for Marissa's husband Jeff who was stuck at home with some work responsibilities) and Marissa's law school friend Brooke and her boyfriend, Matt. The event room was lined with barrels, all of which were full of fermenting wine. There were people of all ages there including a group of red hat ladies and two women dressed like Lucille Ball. The cost of the event got us a delicious Italian dinner and 6 meticulously measured one ounce wine tasting pours which we quickly learned was not going to be enough to last us the evening. We'd all planned to buy some wine to take home with us anyway so we headed to the Callway's wine shop and got a case to share between the 6 of us. Matt even managed to charm the lady in the shop into giving us a free corkscrew.
After that it was into the barrel for me where Paul brought me refills in between cork tossing. He won the cork tossing game with 1,000,010 points and got to bring home 3 bottles of wine as his booty.

Grape Stomping
While most of the crowd jumped in the grape barrel for a few minutes and a quick photo opp. and quickly got out, I on the other hand, was completly enthralled by the whole grape stomping experience. I spent nearly an hour in the barrel stomping and squishing the warm grapes, making new friends and cheering for everyone next to me doing the cork toss. I, being my gracefully clumsy self, managed to spill half of my glass of chardonnay all over my pants when I slipped on the way in. Unfortunately, the grapes we stomped will never be fermented and made into wine. I thought it would be neat to be able to buy the wine that we stomped, but I guess people don't want wine that has been touched by hundreds of dirty feet. I guess I don't really want to to drink wine that has been stepped on by hundred of dirty feet either.

The Stellar Cellar Wine Bar
I have to say I really wish we had places like this, or even a place like this back home in Vegas. The Stellar Cellar is a cozy little wine lounge in the middle of Old Town Front Street in Temecula. The ambiance was great, it was a small a softly lit room with wine bottles crammed into every nook and cranny and saxaphone player and floutist playing jazzy melodies . My favorite wine of the trip was one I found here - J Pinot Gris. I have never heard of Pinot Gris before, but I'd like to hear more of it.

Tasting Wine Straight from the Barrel at Leonesse

On day 2 of our trip I learned a new expression - hair on the dog.
In the morning, the phone rang about 8:00. It was Marissa and Karie. They had already been up, showered, gotten completely ready, gone to eat breakfast, practically had time to read War and Peace cover to cover and were getting bored sitting around the room.
I should have known. While I thoroughly enjoy luxuriating under the covers as long as possible in the mornings, especially on weekends, especially after a night of drinking and especially on vacation, Marissa has to restrain herself to stay in bed past 5:30 am. We had planned to go tasting at a couple of other wineries this morning while Paul, Brooke and Matt went golfing. "There's no chance you're ready a little early, is there?" Marissa asked me. Still tangled in the covers I laughed. Um, no. They decided to go to Starbucks and grab some coffee to stave off the boredom while I got ready.

By the time we were headed out to Wilson Creek Winery for their awesome almond champagne, I was still feeling sick and trying to chase away my thundering wine headache massive amounts of water and Advil. Going wine tasting in the morning had sounded like such a good idea last night. This morning not so much. The mere thought of more wine was enough to make me nauseated. "Come on," Marissa and Karie told me, "Hair on the dog." Huh? Hair on the what? I had never heard this expression before but apparently it means that the best cure for a hangover is more of the hard stuff. Uggh. I have never subscribed to this theory and wasn't about to, but I figured, hey how often am I in wine country? I steeled myself and decided to try some wines at Wilson Creek. The lady running the tasting room was teasing us about being there so early. "You girls decided to skip church this morning and come worship at Our Lady of St. Wilson, didn't you?" We got five tastes for our $10 fee and I gave up after the first two reds that were making me sick. I told the lady at the counter that I wasn't feeling so hot after the harvest festival at Callaway last night. "Hair on the dog!" she told me. How have I never heard this expression before?

After that, I went straight to the almond champagne which was a welcome change. I guess champagne seems like a more acceptable morning drink, you know with mimosas being a brunch drink and all. Maybe the hair on the dog was working, I just needed a different breed.
Next up was Leonesse. This was my favorite winery by far on our February visit. I was especially looking forward to going there today because, as newly enrolled Leonesse wine club members, Marissa and Karie (and up to fours of their friends) got to go to a special tasting in the barrel room and try wines that aren't even released for sale yet. When we arrived we hopped on a golf cart that took us through the twisting vineyards where we got to eat cabernet grapes off the vine. Then our young driver took us to the barrel room, a building hidden from view of the main tasting room where all the winemaking magic happens.
Stepping into this room felt like some kind of backstage pass to the wine world. It was so much fun. We tried a 2006 Savignon Blanc, Four, a Cabernet Zinfandel Limited edition that had been sold out for months
and the mother of all red wines on the trip, a spicy and bold 2005 VS Cabernet straight from the barrel. This is a wine that won't even be bottled until next month and won't go on sale until next June! I'm not the biggest red wine fan, I usually prefer white, but this was unbelievable. Norma, our wine tasting guru used a contraption that looked curiously like a turkey baster to transfer the wine from the barrel into our glasses. I'm not sure whether my opinion of this wine was clouded because of the coolness factor that came with drinking it straight from the barrel or whether it was just that good, but I ordered a bottle that will arrive in June so I guess I'll get to find out.

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