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Barreling Down #Wine Road @robblightfoot

 Photo - Wine Road plaque
story by Robb Lightfoot

 Last weekend, I paid $50 to spit wine into a bucket.

I was one of thousands who trekked to Santa Rosa for the “Wine Road Barrel Tasting.” The event continues this Friday through Sunday, and if you visit, here’s what to expect.

The initial challenge on the Wine Road is deciding which of the 100+ wineries to visit. You have, after all, only five hours a day to take full advantage of your $50 arm-band. This demands moving with the grace and efficiency of Santa Claus.

Follow Santa’s lead and make a list. You could review guidebooks, ask your friends which has the best quality wines. Or you can do what I did and choose wineries with a reputation for high-quality parking.

Once you’re inside you’ll meet the staff. There are two things these trained professionals want to know. First, what is your credit limit and, second, what are the folks at the winery next door doing?

But about the prices… I immediately saw that a bottle of fine wine, which is not to be confused with my pantry-full of Trader Joe’s Two-Buck-Chuck, costs somewhere between a tankful of gas for a Hummer and a pound of plutonium.  I realized this when I stepped up to one display and experienced my own case of Bottle Shock.

Robb and Karin - Verticle - Barrel Room-adjusted-1200-twitterhandle copy

 A smooth character with a monogramed apron descended upon me, and began speaking in wine-tongue.

“This is a 2011 Chateau-de-Billion,” the vintner said, “made of the finest Clone-115 grapes, warmed on frosty days with fur taken from white tigers, harvested by the soft hands of Fortune-500 CEOs, and then crushed under the feet of Sonoma-State virgins. It’s buttery flavor comes from being aged in gold-and-ruby-coated oak barrels smuggled from endangered rain forests in the south of Brazil and free-poured through panda-skins.  We deliver it to you in a climate-controlled Brink’s Armored Car, which you may keep as a complimentary gift.”

Yes, I had the feeling of being in a restaurant where, if you have to ask what it costs, you can’t afford it.

Now in all honesty, the folks at the wineries were nice, and very patient. They only smiled when I told them that this was the “first wine I’d ever tasted.”

It was those characters behind me who laughed.

What I MEANT of course was that this was the first time I’d done a wine-tour. Trying to recover my dignity and blend back into the more-savvy crowd, I demonstrated my deep knowledge of wine-tasting methodology, which I had gained from five minutes of close observation and study.

For those of you who know even LESS that I do, let me spare you a bit of embarrassment. I’ll tell you how it’s done.

First you hoist your glass after it has been wetted—not filled—with two or three wine molecules. I learned this early on when I hesitated because, frankly, I expected a bit more. My arm remained outstretched, and the pouring person looked up and smiled weakly.

“It’s wine tasting,”  he said.

“Of course,” I replied. “I didn’t want to bruise it with a sudden motion.”

He nodded, and for the next few minutes I moved with my arm outstretched like a drum major, until I tip-toed out of view.

OK. Once you have wine in your glass, you think you’d be good to go. But, no, now comes the swishing.

Why do you swish? Because, silly, everyone else around you is doing it and you don’t want to look like a doofus again. You swish the wine about, one, twice, three times—no more—no less—and inhale for a count of 72. This is the all-important OLFACTORY STEP, crucial to experiencing the wine.

What then? You must pause and adopt the look of concern you’d find on the face of a person who’d just opened an IRS audit notice.  You then mutter to yourself, because no one is really listening, something like: “Fruity, but with a hint of Okee-Dokee-ness.”

Worried you won’t know what to say? Spend 30 seconds with the vineyard’s promotional literature. It’s like reading a French phrase-book, looking for pithy comments. There’s also plenty of numbers boasting about the varietal’s alcohol percentage, Ph, titrated acid, and SAT score. You’re expected to look at all this, and nod approvingly. After a few minutes of performing these rituals and incantations, there are only two things left to do.

You taste and then… you spit.


Did you think you went to wineries to drink wine? Oh, you RUBE. You go to wineries to talk about wine, look at wine barrels, talk to other people who are looking at wine barrels, and maybe, just maybe, to BUY a used wine barrel. I did. It was a 2011, four-banded Foppiano. It has a slight-reddish finish with a sweet bouquet that can be experienced best when it has rolled back and forth across your car’s rear seat three hours in bright sunlight.

Photo of Robb with barrel in back seat

That’s the real advantage of going to a winery over just bottom-feeding at Trader Joe’s. You can bring home a $15 dollar planter when such a tub, at home, will run you more than $40. True, the barrel did cost me more than the $10 Foppiano Rose’, but it’s definitely more oaky and I expect it to last longer, in storage, than my lone bottle of “estate” wine.

Barreling Down the Wine Road

Photo of wine barrels

Yes, I really did pay $50 to spit wine in a bucket. Read on…

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