I moved to Healdsburg, in beautiful Sonoma County, CA, about a year ago. Since my arrival, I had been longing to get my feet wet in the wine industry. This past weekend I finally got my chance.
Of course, I was hoping to start out slow. You know what I’m talking about — one of those quiet, sleepy winter weekends, when there wouldn’t be too much traffic? That would have been ideal. But, no. My “debut”, as it were, occurred during the wonderful occasion of The Wine Road’s Winter Wineland event. In case you missed the last 4 Simple Hedonisms articles on Winter Wineland, it is a fabulous 2-day event in Northern Sonoma County where about 150 participating wineries (in the Russian River, Dry Creek, and Alexander Valleys), offer tastings, entertainment and food. So, instead of dipping a toe in the water, I got thrown into the deep-end, head first!
It all started with an innocuous Facebook chat message from a friend at Michel-Schlumberger Wine Estate who needed a favor. He was looking for someone to “pour” during Winter Wineland, and inquired if I was interested in helping out at the winery. I said “sure, why not.” Little did I know what I was getting myself into.
Soon after volunteering, I learned that Michel-Schlumberger was adopting a Winter Olympic them for the weekend, and that I would have to come in character. Oh, brother. Before long, it was determined that I would be a figure skater. [I wanted to be Katerina Witt, but somehow ended up as Nancy Kerrigan.] The ice-skating theme carried over to my pouring partner, Tracey, and in no time flat, we became known as “Babes of Glory” (apologies to Blades of Glory, Will Ferrell and John Heder).
On Sunday, January 16 I arrived at the winery at 10:00 am and got my marching orders: I was to pour in the “cellar” (as opposed to the posh tasting salon), for the massive “Cellar Stash Sale.” Our mission was to sell various wines — by the case – for the unbelievable price of $5 dollars per bottle. There were initially 8 wines on offer, under 3 different labels, including: a 1992 (!) Merlot, a 2005 Merlot, a 2006 Cabernet, a 2007 Syrah, a 2002 Pinot Noir (as far as I can tell, Michel-Schlumberger is the only producer of a Dry Creek Valley Pinot Noir), a Chardonnay, a Sauvignon Blanc, and a white blend of Chard, Semillon and Viognier. We had just enough time to get down the basics on each wine — and give them a taste — when the bell rang (literally: the winery is housed in a beautiful Mission-style building, complete with a bell tower) and the crowds flooded in!
There was a steady stream of visitors throughout the 5-hour event, and I would say a couple of hundred people stopped by the cellar to sample the wines on sale. We sold out of the popular Pinot in minutes, and during the remainder of the day managed to sell out of every one of the cases of red wine on offer. That felt worthy of a Gold medal!
The guests were an interesting mix of locals, Californians from further afield, and visitors from places like Washingon State, Nevada, and even Philadelphia, PA. Many were already familiar with the winery, but it was particularly interesting to introduce new folks to some of the things that are special about Michel-Schlumberger. People were most impressed to learn that the Estate is organic, and that it uses many biodynamic farming practices. I got a few questions I couldn’t answer (like how long a particular wine was “on oak”), but the most common question I got all day, was “which is your favorite wine?” (I’d have to say that of the selections we were pouring on Sunday, the Syrah was my fave, although the Cab was a close 2d, and the Nez D’Or white table blend was a real contender). Everyone was incredibly polite – and extremely patient with the occasional pile-ups at the tasting tables. And, most importantly, they all seemed to be having a great time.
As for me, well, I managed not to spill any wine, or break any glasses, and actually had a terrific time. In addition to talking about the wines, I chatted with folks about where they were from, and how they were enjoying the event. There was such a great energy in the cellar with everyone sharing their thoughts on favorite Sonoma County wines, wineries, and restaurants, and the regular Michel-Schlumberger guys in the cellar with us were a blast to hang out (er, work) with.
Because I love living here so much, I was delighted to be able to share it so enthusiastically with so many others. To be honest, I was TOTALLY tickled to be asked for my opinion as if I were a real live local. Come to think of it, working this event actually made me feel like a local for the very first time. And it feels good.
As a woman “On the Loose (or at least at loose ends) in Wine Country,” you can follow me on twitter at www.twitter.com/WhatDebPours, or contact me via email at WhatDebPours@gmail.com.