Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Milestone During the Road Trip

Sometimes the timing of our wine consumption doesn't necessarily lend itself to adequate celebration of "landmark" bottles on The List - which is, after all, the primary raison d'être of this blog. The last bottle added to The List was #1299 and it was part of my Wine Wednesday lead up to this year's Wine Blogger's Conference. I knew we'd open #1300 at some point on this road trip but I wasn't quite sure when or where. Had I known a more precise time for the celebratory bottle, I might have been able to plan something a tad more lavish. As it was, I guess I should just be glad it wasn't the bottle we had in Coos Bay.

As much as there wasn't anything holding our attention in Coos Bay, our start to the day - and the drive ahead of us - didn't see quite as early a start as we might have liked. Accordingly, we tried to make up as much time as we could to reach the day's destination: Mendocino. As much as we wanted to arrive at a reasonable hour, we also needed to avoid those deadly Pacific Highway speed traps. We saw three other cars, going slightly faster than us, get pulled over. So, I suppose we might have been a little bit lucky, but it meant we didn't arrive until close to sundown.

We'd passed through Mendocino for a day some 16 years ago but we've always had fond memories of that short visit. Unfortunately, we were only going to be able to stay the one night again but we arrived in time to take a bit of a wander down the quaint main street and to the cliffside walk - martini in hand - before sunset.

It's easy to see how the city passed for New England in the old Murder She Wrote TV series. We fell in love with it all over again.

Funny thing is, we never opened a bottle of wine to add to The List. We dined at the highly recommended, local Irish pub and had a brew. However, we did stay at the most wonderful B&B - the Blue Door Inn. It was as delightful a B&B as we've ever stayed in. If we didn't have reservations the next night in Sonoma, we'd have tried our darnedest to stay a second night. It was that comfortable and luxurious. It would have been a marvellous spot to celebrate #1300.

But, as sad as our having to leave was, we needed to make tracks in the morning. No wine but an awesome time all the same.

Before we'd left Vancouver, I'd asked the Twitterverse for some suggestions of wineries to visit on our tour. Sandra Oldfield of Tinhorn Creek in our Okanagan Valley responded, "I only have six words, Anderson Valley, Anderson Valley, Anderson Valley." Our chef that morning at the Blue Door Inn was an accredited sommelier (as well as a delightful chef); so, we asked her for some tips and she was incredibly helpful. I'm rather sure we wouldn't have made the stops that we did without her.

The first of those stops was the (small "c") champagne house, Roederer Estate. Building upon its 200 year existence in (capital "C") Champagne, Roederer set up shop in Anderson Valley to take advantage of the valley's cooler climate and proximity to the ocean. The days are still warm but the nights are cooler, allowing for a slower maturity of the grapes and a more optimum balance of sugar and acidity needed for classic sparkling wines. They may not produce a bubbly with the cachet or pedigree - yet - of their Cristal Champagne but, then again, their French operations have been at it a tad longer. Who knows what they'll be producing here in another century or two?

The grapes are all estate grown and all the wines are made entirely from Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir. Approximately 80% of Roederer's production is their Multi Vintage Brut but they also make a Multi vintage Brut Rosé, a vintage reserve L'Ermitage and vintage reserve L'Ermitage Rosé. The Roederer bubblies are all made in the traditional Méthode Champenoise and the tasting room appeared to be a very popular stop for folks passing through the Anderson Valley.

Just down the road a bit was Toulouse Vineyards - a small family owned and operated winery that produces give or take 5,000 cases annually. Were it not for our B&B tip, we would never have stumbled upon Toulouse. Of that, I'm sure. It was a treat that we did, however. Being a small operation, our tasting was actually with Rita, the assistant winemaker, and we ended up chatting with owner/winemaker Vern Boltz as well as he was passing by and was within earshot of our incessant questions. We tried all eight of the wines they had to offer: three Pinot Noirs, a Rosé and four whites, being Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and a blend. The Pinot Noirs are Toulouse's stars though and a vast majority of their vines planted are Pinot Noir.

The estate was bare land when the Boltz's purchased the property in 1997 and their first wines produced hailed from the 2002 vintage. So, my guess is that there's plenty more to come. You'd never mistake Toulouse's rustic building and tasting room for the sophistication and money behind Roederer but their friendly demeanour was equally as welcoming.

We had time to make one last stop. We just hadn't expected to settle in for a healthy break and a taste of the Life of Riley at Goldeneye. I wasn't aware of Goldeneye before we stopped in but I have crossed paths with sister wineries Paraduxx and Duckhorn as they've attended the Vancouver International Wine Festival over the years and, no doubt, some of the California Wine Fairs that have come to town.

If Toulouse was rustic and Roederer was sophisticated, Goldeneye combined the best aspects of both. The tasting room was stylish enough itself but we were afforded the opportunity to leisurely taste our way through their Pinot line-up while relaxing on the patio with a light lunch and a marvelous view of the vineyard. We lapped that up - both the patio repose and the wines. These were not inconsequential Pinots - not in the least - and I'd have been more than happy to plant myself there indefinitely sipping away but, after an hour and a half, I could definitely hear Sonoma calling out to us.

Unfortunately, lack of trunk space (and the $80 price tag, on average) prevented us from taking much of that Goldeneye experience with us. Should we ever make it back to Mendocino - or the Anderson Valley - we'll be sure to fit in a more comprehensive visit with some Goldeneye wines. With some inspired planning, we might even be able to coincide a visit with the annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival. Goldeneye was hosting this year's festival but it was still three weeks away and as welcoming as the winery was, a three week stay was somewhat out of the question.

Luckily, the rest of the road trip still had some treats in store - even if not a Pinot festival. And Sonoma was the start of it. We managed to arrive in time to check in and grab a well deserved sip before heading out on a quest to find a sports bar that would be willing to show the Canucks - San Jose playoff off on at least one of its screens.

1300.  N.V. Roederer Brut (Anderson Valley - California)

Seeing as how this is a landmark bottle on The List, I thought it was entirely appropriate to celebrate with a bottle of bubbly that we picked up earlier in the day. Our plastic, travel flutes may not have been the finest crystal for enjoying bubbles and delivering mousse but I was glad that we'd brought them along because they certainly livened up to the occasion - particularly when kicking back and resting up in a vintage hotel room.

In a 2012 column, Eric Asimov of the New York Times referred to Roederer Estate as "as gold standard for California sparkling wine." Other writers have been similarly generous with praise, naming the Non-Vintage Brut as a Top Value and one of the best around in its price range.

Having just visited the winery, it didn't really matter what anyone else thought of the wine. Limited trunk space or not, we'd made room to fit a bottle - and were all the happier for it.

Unfortunately, we couldn't toast a Canucks playoff win with the Roederer. We managed to find our sports bar and, surprisingly, the bartender was a hockey fan and was happy to show the game on one of the bigger screens. The only folks in the bar turning their gaze to the game, however, were all Sharks fans and they took more than a little pleasure in ribbing us as the Canucks blew a last minute lead and then lost it in overtime.

Good thing the rest of the day went a whole lot better.

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