Ah, California Wines….

The Owl & IIn mid-September of 2006, we enjoyed an extraordinary week at Diageo’s Crush Camp in
Sonoma and Napa Valleys in California. Diageo is a large consortium owning not only my favorite whiskys (Lagavulin, Oban, Talisker), but Beaulieu Vineyards, Sterling Vineyards, Provenance Vineyards, Acacia Vineyards and — our abstolute favorite — Moon Mountain Vineyards. Ours was the only non-commercial “camp” of the year and we were joined with 11 other couples from across the country. For four solid days, we awakened at the crack of dawn and were bussed out to a vineyard for breakfast and a talk with the winemakers. The first night, however, provided a welcoming at Moon Mountain Vineyard in Sonoma, where we road in the beds of pickups straight up the mountain to be greeted by a wine tasting and canapes as the sun set. That’s where we became immediately addicted to their estate-grown Malbec. Well, their cab, too.  And I believe we just purchase one of their last ten cases of the 2003 Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley.  Like Zin?  This stuff will blow your mind!We picked grapes at the Three Palms Vineyard (the workers called us “loco gringos” for spending so much money to pick merlot grapes for half an hour. Don’t blame them, but it was a blast. Sterling winemakers gave us a tour of their fermenting rooms, where we had two-week-old Sauvignon Blanc before it was barrelled to make way for the reds. Next a tour of their caves, then their expansive processing facilities, then lunch that was off the charts. We had the pleasure of sitting with the winemaker and talking more.Provenance Vineyards yielded a personal and expansive tour by Tom Rinaldi himself.   More Sauvignon, as well as his Rutherford he is so proud of. He says to give the vineyard time — everything is still young.   Be that as it may, his Sauvignon Blanc is the best I’ve had there or since.At BV, we listened to their winemaker explain the years of wiring experiments exhibited in their test vineyards and tasted so many of their delicious wines. Then we went into the LaTour home and learned how to blend wines, based upon the Tapestry varietal as a marker. Our blends were to be rendered and labeled for later presentation. Later, we helped Chef Joey Altman of Food Network fame to create our dinner at the LaTour home, and we drank more BV George de LaTour than should be legal. That stuff was GREAT! 

Our last day welcomed us at the Acacia Vineyard, with their champagne and chardonnays and more Joey Altman fare brunch fare, as well as a complete tour of their vineyards and processing facilities by their winemaker. Their chardonnay is truly delicious.  Not nearly as oakey as most seem to be these days (I personally love Ramey), but made the old fashioned French style.  Delicious.  Had the distant kick of watching actress Terri Hatcher from a short distance (she was there on a shoot). Demo of predatory birds followed (they are used to keep the huge local population of grape-munching birds away from the cash crops), and that was truly astounding.  An eight-pound Eagle Owl, an Emperor Peregrin Falcon, and a hawk. 

At last, after much food and more Mimosas and just plain chardonnay than I can remember, we were finally presented with the bottles of wines we had individually blended at the BV house with our certificates of completion for Crush Camp 2006.

A five-star treatment throughout the entire camp. We’ve already signed up ourselves and two other couples to attend the next available Crush Camp…not until 2008!

In this photo above, I proudly hoist an Eagle Owl at Acacia — one of the absolute highlights for me personally in this trip.  Well…other than the wines, of course.


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