After a brief visit to Seghesio and Deloach on Saturday, we have a day off on Sunday. By Kate
Spent Saturday night in a really not very nice Motel called the L & M in Healdsburg. This was one which we had not booked as I couldn’t find anything from Londo and had finally decided to wing it. It was expensive with absolutely tiny, airless rooms.
We had visited, relatively briefly, both Deloach and the Seghesio tasting room in Sonoma during the day and had then had a ‘day off’ on Sunday, but had ended up driving to a winery in Dry Creek Valley recommended by Ted Seghesio as a great picnic spot.
Bella Winery was indeed that. Down a small road off the main Dry Creek drag, it looked out over the northern part of the valley with a verdant lawn in front of the tasting room which was built into the side of the hill.
I have to hand it to the Americans – I really don’t think anyone does tasting rooms like they do. Of course there are wonderful examples all over the rest of the world, but consistently, their public spaces at wineries are often cleverly and tastefully designed places one really wants to spend time in. Whether or not you want to spend time and lots of money on Riedel decanters, dinky little salt spoons or dried flower arrangements as well is of course up to you. I don’t really. Also, it must be noted that there do exist a fair amount of utterly ostentatious, ridiculous examples as well but happily Bella was definitely not in this category.
The cave stretched back for about 15 metres and then opened up into a lofty tasting chamber which felt cool and pleasantly dim, although not by any means dark, after the heat and light of the mid morning. Out of politeness (we did not really have the front to make use of their incredible picnic facilities without spending any money there at all), we tasted the range and while I was not mad about most of the zinfandels or the petite syrah, which were rather clunky, the basic zin and syrah were really rather good – both fresh with some complexity.
The lawn outside was the thing though. At a large wooden picnic table under an umbrella, we unpacked our lunch while a guitarist played flamenco as small groups came and went, some pausing only to sip away at their tasting samples, others to picnic like us. The sky was clear, cerulean blue again and the sun beamed abundantly down, illuminating the vines and the ochre earth. It was fantastically civilized and beautiful.
Jude and I were still feeling rather unreal. With Jude, this was partly to do with the fact that he and the rest of the group had sampled the one and only fleshpot of Healdsburg the night before. Amit had commandeered the juke box and they had all put on impressive displays of dancing prowess before weaving home in the small hours only for Amit, Emily and Rebecca to continue the party in his car. I am not at all sure of how that is done but Rebecca was adamant that a form of seat dancing could be performed without too much trouble at all by those truly committed to not stopping until they had got enough. I had worked and then not slept, tossing and turning and trying to anesthetise myself with American television. This did not work.
We were all feeling rather jaded the next morning then and a visit to the nearest supermarket to buy food for the picnic felt like terribly hard work. People kept shooting off in all directions, some coming back with useful things (avocados) and some returning with nail polish. We got to the check out where a short, tubby, middle aged gentleman dressed in a very Gap-ish baggy t-shirt and shorts ensemble was in front of us. He turned to me and said
“Hi – where are you folks from?”
“London” I replied
“Cool” he said “How about some California Chronic while you are here?”
This is absolutely the most unlikely, incongruous drug deal surely in the history of such things. I never get approached as I just don’t think I look like the sort of person who is in the market for Chronic. Jude gets approached at the drop of a hat, which is funny as he is absolutely never in the market for Chronic.
“I know someone who is” I said and turned to point out the person who remains nameless. He looked as astonished as I think we all felt but accompanied tubby dealer out to the parking lot.
TD was leaving as we emerged with our bags of lunch and he slowed his car to a crawl, rolled down the window and slowly and extravagantly drew a huge wad of dope slowly under his nose, grinning hugely. He then punch the air and yelled
“California Chronic baby, woohoo!” before screetching off.
We stood, clutching our bags and blinking in disbelief. Again, the feeling that we were indeed a very, very long way from home descended. Is this normal here? We were in a supermarket on a Sunday morning for God’s sake.
Anyhoo. We all ended up stretched out on the lawn at Bella, dozing or silently contemplating the sky which was a remarkably fine way to spend an afternoon before driving to our next stop.
Overnight in a most unlovely part of the world called Rohnert Park, about 45 minutes drive north of Napa Valley. This was part of our careful plan to spend as little money as possible, principally because we didn’t have it to spend. Rohnert Park looked and felt like it was assembled from a flat pack, overnight, about 2 years ago and that no-one lives in it yet.
Having said that, the actual motel was really not bad at all – clean and very comfortable rooms and a rather nice swimming pool. The pool did happen to be literally next door to Highway 101, but despite the constant roar of traffic and no doubt dangerous levels of fumes, it was a refreshing little oasis of blue in an expanse of concrete. Certainly nicer than the L & M, despite the unprepossessing view.