Boonville — The warm weather’s here and the buds are on the vine. The spring rains were generous, the frost merciful, labor cheap, and the leisure class flush with the loot from the biggest rake-off in the history of the civilized world: They flooded into Anderson Valley last weekend to hoist a brimming beaker of the world’s finest pinot. Here-here! Bumpers all around!
The tasting rooms, of course, only dribble out a wee sip of wine at a time. Then the attendants wait anxiously, studying the drinker’s response, a grimace, the smacking of lips, an upturned lip… some aspect of expression that will result in the sale of a bottle, a case, or a year's supply of very nice wine.
My first stop was at my neighbor's tasting room, the Charles family's Foresight Vineyards. Mr. Bill Charles had hailed me off the street early on, and I knew him and his daughter, Kristy. On Saturday, however, Bill's male relatives were on duty. Bill and daughter Kristy — she's the current president of the Anderson Valley Wine Grower's Association, were down the road at Goldeneye where the sold-out-in-advance crowd had gathered to mark another exceptional year — and a first anniversary for the new Foresight Wine tasting room, by the way.
Fortunately, I happened by just as another party of merry-makers were entering and was spared the need to confess my utter ignorance about the various qualities of fine wine. A gent in this party asked all the pertinent questions and all I had to do was take notes.
Foresight's 2006 pinot was rated a 91 by Wine Spectator Magazine, garnering this praise from the pros: “One of 2008's promising new faces in pinot noir!” How's that for an accolade to make your mouth dry up with envy? Another vintage the Charleses were especially proud of was the Sauvignon blanc which won double gold kudos from The San Francisco Chronicle. The 2006 pinot, the boys explained, “never touches oak barrels, it's all stainless steel, so all you taste is the fruit. We try not to sell oak juice,” they added.
I learned that the Sauvignon blanc only touches new oak barrels — all French oak from French cooperages. The 2007 All-In was a blend of all the clones on the Charles Estate — my personal favorite. On Sunday, the Charleses planned to feature musician Karl Shoen at their tasting room — playing mostly mambo music this year.
“Working,” my way down Highway 128 into town, I stopped for a break at the newly remodeled TomTown business park next to the Farrer building to chat with Loretta Houck. Loretta is getting her new Laughing Dog Book Store ready to open on Friday, May 21st. The vivacious and popular Houcks are long-time Valley residents.
The street-facing space is perfect for a bookstore, well lit and spacious. Loretta intends to sell new and used books to both adult and young reader and offer a story time on Saturday afternoons for kids, an offering parents are likely to appreciate. Ms. Houck has a computer kiosk with a printer set up for students to finish their homework on and will carry all the pertinent newspapers, such as The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, Press Democrat, Ukiah Daily Journal and, of course, the Anderson Valley Advertiser. There is lots of wall space for local artists, and the photography of Jim Heid and Toby Malina will be featured first.
Outside, I ran into Natalie (whose last name I didn’t catch) and Patty Sparks. Natalie works at the Husch tasting room — they would be serving brownies with a “Zin-sauce” and triple cream St. Andrews all day on Sunday. Patty, of Esterlina way up on Holmes Ranch Road, said they would be having a tri-tip barbecue on Sunday from noon to four.
The newly arrived Shenoah (last name also unknown) was working at the Zina Hyde Cunningham tasting room and she excitedly said they would be opening some new wines for the first time on Sunday.
The amazing windmills and raven sculpture drew me into the new John Hanes Gallery with the newly opened Londer tasting room out front. The gracious Mr. Hanes gave me the tour. The Hanes features the work of 26 artists from all over the West with more coming in all the time.
There are sculptures by Vala Ola of Finland — “her compositions are awesome,” John remarked, modestly neglecting to remark on his own impressively rendered and justly celebrated sculptures familiar often seen in art magazines like Southwest Art. There are also some stunning pieces by a ceramic sculptor based in Elk. Some of these sit on fine furniture crafted by Boonville's own Tom McFadden and local blacksmith Tim Glidewell, two more locals whose work is celebrated in the outside world. In the main hall were some big floral oil paintings by a Utah artist, as well as former Anderson Valley resident Cynthia Thomas who now lives in Washington State. Hanes also has some striking figures by J. Goal who is said to be “the best of the new art experience.” Martha and Del Pettigrew are locals well represented in the Hanes Gallery. I would have to say my favorite was a great huge acrylic painting of a cityscape. John told me the painter, a Sausalito artist, painted it on the floor with scaffolds built over the canvas just for that purpose. “You can see why,” he said. I could: The paint was so thick it would have run off the canvas before it dried if it had been vertical. It had a marvelous texture.
There were a great many more intriguing works of art including some wood carvings that defy my powers of description, and things that would grace any work or living area with beauty and wonder. If you haven’t been to The Hanes yet, I recommend it.
* * *
The crowd that came out to Lauren's Restaurant to hear Dean Titus and his Coyote Cowboys were mostly the working class types, many of whom I recognized from the old Boonville Lodge crowd. This was appropriate since the Grammy Award winning Redd Volkaert was there. He's been a long-time featured member of Merle Haggard's tour. He was not a disappointment, especially when he did Merle's popular “Workin’ Man's Blues” on his seasoned old Fender Stratocaster. Billed as “The Master of the Stratocaster,” Redd delighted the audience and dancers with his hot licks and smooth foot-shuffling riffs.
Dean Titus introduced Redd. He's a hefty man in a black beatnik's cap. Dean said he was a backhoe operator and should fit right in with the Coyote Cowboys. Which he did. Country Music TV viewers may recognize Redd as one of the band members fishing on the dock in Brad Paisley's popular video, “I'm Gonna Miss Her — Looky There, I Got A Bite!”
With three electric guitars, a bassist and drummer, this band really got Lauren's place swinging. Also, there was a torch singer from San Francisco, who's name I didn't catch amid the cheers when Titus introduced her. But she was terrific.
The beauty of the old Les Paul Stratocaster lies in the fact that the pickups become hotter with age, and Redd's guitar was sizzling like bacon on a griddle. Man, he was really cookin'! I had some requests in mind, but he stepped up to the mike and sang before I could even remember the names. “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down,” for instance — a particular favorite of mine, and something about his voice harkened back through the years to the first time I ever heard old Merle sing it! It was a sublime pleasure, despite the fact I'd just awakened from a nap with a ringing wine-induced headache after spending the afternoon sampling the fruit of the vine at the Anderson Valley Pinot Fest.
Sure, the listening was a toe-tapping gas, but the real fun of country music is on the dance floor, the boot-scootin' and making those big trophy belt-buckles shine by polishing 'em up against a beautiful dress. Before the first set was over many of the dancers were so hot they had to escape out into the evening air to cool down.