October 20, 2020

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Slumming it in wine country

A day in the life of a travelling wine writer requires stamina

I’ve been away from Winnipeg for what seems like an eternity. Since Feb. 7 I’ve been in California doing wine-writing type stuff; I was on a week-long media trip through Napa Valley and Sonoma County, and this week am back in Napa for the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.

Yes, there’s such a thing – I was awarded one of 30 fellowships to attend and am staying at the ridiculously swanky Meadowood Napa Valley.

And while there’s lots of fun to be had, it can be a pretty exhausting endeavour that requires extensive note-taking (check), a pretty sharp palate (got it, I suppose), an eye for detail (sure) and being well-rested (not even close – I’ve slept about four hours a night max).

Here’s a typical day in the life on the road as a wine writer – we’ll use last Thursday (Feb. 11) as our example. Imagine some variation on this itinerary pretty much every day for a week and you get an idea of what it’s like to do what I do.

Oh, and keep in mind – with the exception of one of the lunch wines (hey, it was good) and a couple of the dinner wines (to wash down the food, of course), all wines were spat out after tasted.

8:00-9:00 A.M. – breakfast/departure

It doesn’t matter what sort of hijinks you got into the night before – you should be well-fed and feeling sharp in the morning to be ready for a day of tasting. (Trust me on this one – the last thing you want to do is show up in rough shape from the night before).

From there, the seven of us media types piled on to our tour bus (driven valiantly by our man Lalo) and hit the road from our hotel in Sonoma’s Healdsburg.

10 a.m. – first stop

Our first stop is at the Laurel Glen Vineyard, located in the town of Glen Ellen in Sonoma. There we begin a vertical tasting (sampling one wine from one winery in different vintages) of Cabernet Sauvignons from three different producers – Laurel Glen, Korbin Kameron and Jordan. Two winemakers and one viticulturalist were on hand to talk about the differences between their 2004, 2008 and 2012 vintage Cabs.

Total wines tasted = 9.

11:30 – Vineyard visit/lunch

Bettina Sichel of Laurel Glen took us up to see one of the winery’s higher-altitude vineyards, where the group was able to see various areas of Sonoma. We then returned to the winery for a light lunch, where a few more wines were available to try.

Total wines tasted = 4.

1:30 p.m. - Next stop... and speed tasting

Next up is a visit to MacRostie Winery and Vineyards back near Healdsburg, where several producers gathered for a speed tasting of mostly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Sonoma.

This is something I had never encountered before – it’s sort of like speed dating, I guess (which I’ve also never done). Each producer had brought two or three wines to sample, and were set up at their own little table. We're given seven minutes at each table before being whisked along to the next station. So in 49 minutes I tasted 20 wines; it was a bit of a whirlwind, and by 2:45 p.m. we were back on the bus.

Total wines tasted = 20.

3:00 p.m. – Old vine Zinfandels

Suddenly, we are pulled into nearby Seghesio Family Vineyards, where three producers (Seghesio, Ravenswood and Carol Shelton Wines) had each brought three of their old vine Zinfandels to taste, as well as to talk about the grape in general and what these older vines (some decades old or more) could produce in terms of big, dense fruit.

There were nine Zinfandels at the table. They’re big, heavy, powerful reds, and by this time my palate is getting pretty tired.

Total wines tasted = 9.

4:45 – 5:30 p.m. – break

This seems so, so short.

6:00 p.m. – Rodney Strong/dinner

A short bus ride over to Rodney Strong Vineyards yields a chance to check out some of their new stainless steel tanks as well as sample a couple of their wines. We pile back into the bus and head to Baci, a nearby restaurant, for dinner, where the proprietors of the winery join us, bringing a few more wines for us to try.

Total wines tasted = 6.

After dinner we hop onto the bus and head back to the hotel, where I vigorously brush my teeth before checking my emails and rolling into bed.

Total wines tasted in the day = 48.

Free Press wine writer and literary editor Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson will be welcomed back to Winnipeg with open arms by his dentist.

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