Barrel tasting weekends are a mixed blessing for those of us that depend upon the food and wine that has made Sonoma County a gold standard in destination travel. On the one hand we are thankful for the tribes of wine lovers that infiltrate the area for these events, as they fill our waning winter coffers. On the other, it’s hard to ignore the fact that by mid-day many of them begin to weave and talk in extremely loud voices. How and when those not staying in town will find their way home becomes a real concern.
But my mixed feelings about Passport and Barrel Tasting weekends don’t only come down to a dichotomy that pits revenue against safety. I’ve heard it said with increasing frequency that’s it a good thing more and more people are staying in town to focus on tasting rooms they can walk to. But while that thought ~ especially for those groups that do not have designated drivers ~ makes sense, it runs counter to the initial spirit of these events which was to bring wine lovers into the countryside where they could connect a product they love with the place it is grown and the people who make it.
If you ventured to the last stretch of West Dry Creek in search of wine to taste this past weekend, just before the bridge and bend in the road that leads to Preston of Dry Creek, you would have come upon a vineyard that made your journey not a detour but a main event. Adjacent to fields where pigs and chickens roam and fertilize some of the oldest vines in the valley, guarded over by Guisippe, the Preston's magnificent sheep dog, a flock of new lambs took their first baby steps.
I’ve written about this family farm and vineyard often in the past, not simply because they are dear friends, but because they are working toward a bio-dynamic definition of farming that any fool can see should go hand in hand with the growing of premium grapes. When Lou and Susan pulled a great many of their vines out years ago to make more room for hedgerows and crops, revenue focused vintner’s shook their heads. The value of the land was in yield of a crop that made the most money, right? Depends on how you define that ephemeral word value.
Preston, Quivira, and forward thinking wineries like them have built large and loyal followings. They have started and continue to happily stir conversations about how food is grown and distributed, and what diversity can bring, on so many levels, to the monoculture of just growing grapes.
On Saturday I was struck by the various stages the baby lambs were going through in order to survive their first perilous days. Some were still sunk into the grass, huddled right where they had been birthed, weakly taking stock of their new surroundings. Others gamely tried to follow mum and the source of food, on legs that kept failing to hold them upright, while still others, only a few hours older, gamboled around with a joy of movement that was a blessing to behold. With the exception of the ones that did not have the strength to walk from birth, the lambs followed an age old journey all of us make ~ taking baby steps before they ran. There’s a metaphor in here somewhere I kept thinking, for all the vineyard owners who look at the rich magnificent balance the Preston’s have managed to achieve through the dint of mindful hard work, and think “sure, I’d like for my vineyards to look like that, but I don’t know where to start.” Unlike sheep, we should be able to figure out what happens next if we don't take those first wobbly steps, no matter how unprepared we think we are.
To read more about the Preston's and all their multifaceted endeavors, check out their beautiful new website and visit their blog.