No, we didn't stay handcuffed the whole night, but it was fun while it lasted. As a special bonus we were accompanied for some of the evening by Captain Orgazmo.
If you've seen the movie, you can appreciate just how dead-on Captain Orgazmo's costume was. Choda Boy put in an appearance too, but his costume was dead-on as well, and again if you know the movie you'll know why I'm not posting it. The shot of me drinking a beer in a prison jumpsuit is bad enough. Instead enjoy this picture of Melissa and local TV news celebrity Sarah Johns:
Saturday Melissa and I got up early and drove over over to Napa-Sonoma for the weekend. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: if Heaven doesn't look a lot like Northern California then I'm not so sure I care to go. It's perfect in nearly all respects--ideal climate, fertile soil, and not least of all a beautiful landscape worthy of the greatest of poets. It's the kind of land that can inspire love at first site, the sort of place nations go to war over. Indeed, this country has fought one war over this land already.
We met Melissa's friends Tim and Shannon, formerly of Missouri and now residents of the Bay Area, at around noon in Fullerton. Neither Melissa nor her friends had ever been to Wine Country, and as usual I was eager to act as tour guide. But right out of the box I made the mistake of pointing the group toward some of the biggest-name wineries in Napa Valley. Specifically, I steered the group toward Robert Mondavi, Fracis Ford Coppola's vineyard Niebaum-Coppola, and Sterling. The picture on the left is Niebaum-Coppola. Going to these places was a mistake because, as Ferris Bueller said, they were like museums; very beautiful and very cold, and you aren't allowed to touch anything. Honestly, I had forgotten how much I disliked Napa's corporate wineries with their manufactured ambiance and their 'you could never afford this' ostentatiousness. Both Mondavi and Coppola were crowded and impersonal. Unlike family-owned wineries (not that there are many of those left in Napa) and some of the smaller operations, both of these two 'biggies' made you pay by the glass for tasting each individual wine. That's if you could find your way through the gigantic Disney-like gift shops and fight your way past the tourist-hordes up to the counter, where the attendant might actually pour you a taste but will make no conversation with you--at those places, that probably costs extra.
By the time we got to Sterling, which sits at the far northern-end of the valley, I was starting to realize that I was going about this all wrong. If I wanted these people who had never been to Wine Country to really appreciate it, I had to try to present it to them on a more human level. Sterling is famous for the gondola ride that visitors take to reach it, but on this day the gondola was apparently not running. Not to worry, though; we were happily informed that for full price of $20 (each) we could take a van ride up to the winery. We rejected the idea immediately and that was pretty much the end of corporate wineries for us.
After abandoning Sterling I was feeling a little desperate, so in a moment of pure random impulse I asked to stop at St. Clement, a tiny winery I'd never heard of in Victorian house on a hillside surrounded by a small vineyard. Immediately upon walking in we were greeted by one of a handful of attendants who not only gave us free tastes, but talked to us endlessly about the wines, winemaking, Napa, and whatever else seemed important at the time. We bought a bottle of fantastic Sauvignon Blanc, and the attendant was nice enough to give us all free samples of that variety. We sat out on the porch in the shade overlooking the valley, talked about nothing in particular, and everything seemed right with the world.
The next day Tim and Shannon went back to San Francisco, but Melissa and I took some extra time and drove over to Sonoma. In Glen Ellen, near the the final home of one of my literary heroes Jack London, we found Benziger, a winery as committed to Biodynamic Farming as I am. In case you don't know, Biodynamics goes beyond organic; it is a belief in the complete integration of the vineyard into a self-sustaining ecosystem. As the San Francisco Chronicle said: "Biodynamics is the aikido or ashtanga yoga of winegrowing -- a way to focus energy and awareness for peak performance and exceptional health. Sick vineyards need homeopathy; biodynamic vineyards radiate a vigor that can be felt. Like Barry Bonds turning a 100-mph fastball into a soaring arc headed for McCovey Cove, biodynamic vineyards are completely aligned with their purpose, and therefore able to channel all the forces of the moment into a powerful result." I'm not sure it's the wave of the future, but it's nice to know that there are a few people out there who share my values.
One of these days I'm going to wander off into a place like the Wine Country, find a corner of it for myself, and just never come back.