An Unscheduled Wine Tasting Pit Stop


It was hot and I was getting a bit testy after more than 3 hours in the car and still not even close to Sacramento, and we were supposed to be driving to San Francisco, normally a 3 1/2 hour long drive from South Lake Tahoe. The traffic had been horrible before even getting out of town. Galen said, “hey, we can go this other route and avoid the traffic.” I was down, it was a nice day, and I was ready to cruise. Little did I realize just how far out of the way this back-route was to be. It was also quite a bit more mountainous than I would have liked to have put my 16 year old car through. After 3 hours and headed towards Stockton rather than Sacramento, the heat pulsing through the car windows, we decided that we needed a wine tasting break, being as it were that we were passing through the southern tip of Lodi. I definitely needed to relax a bit, and I’m always down to do a little wine tasting. We pulled off at the first winery that we spotted in time enough not to have to slam on the brakes in order to turn into it.
We stepped out of the steaming heat of mid-day in the flatlands into the air-conditioned cool of the wine-tasting room. The server, a man on the cusp of youth and middle age, was polite and professionally circumspect in his questions and answers, yet at the same time an obvious roustabout by his manner, inclined just as much to drinking the wine himself as to serving it. His father was an immigrant from Greece who had worked hard and via hard-headedness, will-power, and ambition had eventually run his own restaurant in Lodi. He then grew bored with the restaurant business and moved into wine-making. His two sons assisted him in the endeavor, and after one year, they already had a thriving business. I was unimpressed, frankly, by the wines, although the scent they gave off was nice. The merlot had a strong strawberry scent, while the cabernet sauvignon had an undercurrent of molasses, like sniffing shisha. We were served a tasting round of all of their different wines, Galen sighing and saying how great all of them were. I just nodded and swirled it around and then put it down the hatch. At that point, all I really cared about was getting some alcohol in me, which this wine could adequately serve the function of.
A very large and loud couple then came into the tasting room. The man declared, upon tasting the sauvignon blanc, that it tasted as though an angel had come and pissed on his tongue. His name was Hubie, he had a Germanic accent, and he had served as a rescue worker in New Orleans 5 years before Katrina, where he met this woman, Adell, when he pulled her from the river. They were a well paired match, it seemed, Hubie saying off-the-wall comments designed to be funny–although they were mainly just strange and kind of awkward–and Adell would guffaw loudly at them and look around at us to verify that Hubie was indeed the funniest man in the world. I pretended to be immersed in the wondrous odors of the cabernet.
The tasting server–his brother and father safely out the door–then decided charitably to take us all on a tour of the back area, where wine was mixed and stored in giant steel vats. I think he was simply taking advantage of his father and brother’s absence in order to sample some of the other goods. He took us from vat to vat, pouring a sample directly from the spout, as we gulped half glasses of red wine, growing increasingly drunker. I felt like I was in Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory. Hubie made weird comments and Adell burbled about how this was the best tour she had ever been on. The wine server had never explored the back aisle of vats, and led us down them, exclaiming at the mystery of the unlabeled vats and then pouring us glasses from them. It seemed he was really using this opportunity to explore his father’s heretofore unexplored domain. My tongue was dry and sticking to the roof of my mouth. We wandered back to the tasting room, where Galen purchased a bottle of cabernet, and another couple came in right as we entered. Seeing that we had come from the back room, the wife exclaimed, “Well, now since we know you’re giving tours, you’re gonna have to give us one, too!” to the server, who was probably much drunker than us. Galen and I left to hit the road once again, in much greater spirits.

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Author: manderson

I live in NYC.

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