Along the Silverado Trail

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, October 11, 2017 8:29 PM

The Silverado Trail runs mostly north, from just northwest of downtown Napa. You get to it off Trancas Street. It’s a long, glorious road, lined on either side by wineries and acre after acre sporting row after row of grapes. It is the official red grape growing region of Napa Valley and includes the famous Stag’s Leap district of 20 wineries and some 1200 planted acres of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel, and even a little Chardonnay. There are actually 2700 total acres in the area, and wineries include Baldacci, Chimney Rock, Hartwell, Pine Ridge, Silverado, Stag’s Leap and more. A 1973 Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon took top honors in red at the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting made famous by the fabulous film Bottle Shock. 

We have spent many a lovely day wandering up and down the Trail, meandering through tree lined drives to get to wineries in order to taste wines, and undoubtedly, to buy some as well. For Bobbi’s 50th birthday, we rented a phenomenal house on top of a hillside, surrounded by 25 acres of planted grapes, and visited Chimney Rock, Stag’s Leap, Baldacci, Hartwell, and Pine Ridge to name just a few. I think we could have all lived happily up there for the rest of our lives. A stunning view, surrounded by deep red wine; where the hills roll and fold into one another and the weather is glorious. 

I am a wine lover and have been since first discovering Napa in the mid-1980s. It is a passion that has only grown. My husband shares this passion, as do our best friends in the world, Roy and Bobbi. There is something about being amongst the vineyards and in the wineries, about the musty smell of grapes fermenting, the dedication of those who make wine. There is pride there, rightfully so. Wine, to us, is art. It is exquisitely crafted for bouquet, color, and taste. It flows into a glass, leaving long “legs” in its wake. To me – to all of us – it’s food, something to be tasted and savored, explored and celebrated. As the Italians say, in Latin, in vino veritas. In wine, truth. 

For the last several days, I have watched in horror as the vineyards and wineries of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino have exploded in flames. I have read the stories of workers standing next to wine makers and owners, trying desperately to save their structures, their wine aging in wooden barrels; their grapes. Several of our favorites have been destroyed including Signorello, off of the Silverado Trail. 

I don’t know what makes one building susceptible while another nearby survives. It’s not important anyway. Regardless, the destruction, the devastation – the fear is visceral and real. 

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been there, because I consider Napa and Sonoma, indeed wine country, one place where I feel most at home; maybe it’s that I remember the feeling of peace that I experienced when we were there. It’s something that’s hard to find these days, and now it’s made even harder. 

California’s wine industry contributes $57 billion to the state’s economy and is responsible for 325,000 jobs. It’s also produces great, lasting, liquid art. My heart breaks for those who have lost their homes and their livelihoods, for those who have lost loved ones, including pets.

I watch the flames and weep.

Tonight I remember driving along the Silverado Trail and marveling at its absolute, unassaulted beauty. I celebrate that memory and send my love to one of my favorite areas on the country. Tonight, I’m raising a glass.

Cheers!

by Lorin Michel Thursday, February 18, 2016 7:41 PM

A number of years ago, someone added this special day to the national calendar. No matter how much research I did and I didn’t spend more than about 10 minutes, I couldn’t find the exact date that it was added. I thought it would make a fun little intro to be able to say “In 1929, during the height of the roaring 20s and just before the stock market crashed, when speak easies ruled along with the Charleston, America celebrated its first National Drink Wine Day.”

Alas that story didn’t exist, which is sad because this day sort of begs to have a rich backstory, one of depth and color, that you can take a sip of and swirl around in your mouth, chew on it a bit, savor its flavor and then swallow.

Nevertheless, it’s National Drink Wine Day and all over the country, people are twisting open a bottle, popping a cork, taking out one or more of their favorite glasses, and giving a pour. Maybe they open the fridge and pull out a hunk of cheese. Jarlsberg, or sharp cheddar. Find some crackers in the pantry. Make a little picnic around the wine wherever you are.

Wine has a special place in life, not to mention history. The culture of wine in Europe predates the Romans. In ancient Greece, wine was praised by poets, historians and artists, and was frequently referred to in the works of Aesop and Homer. But it was considered the privilege of the upper classes. Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, represented not only the intoxicating power of wine, but also its social and beneficial influences. He was viewed as the promoter of civilization, a lawgiver, and lover of peace as well as the patron deity of agriculture and the theatre. According to ancient Greek historian Thucydides, “the peoples of the Mediterranean began to emerge from barbarism when they learnt to cultivate the olive and the vine.”

Then came modernity. 

Over the last 150 years, wine making has been totally revolutionized as an art and science. With access to refrigeration, it has become easy for wineries to control the temperature of the fermentation process and produce high quality wines in hot climates. (Which is why we are about to plant our first grape vines in hopes of being able to use them to make estate bottled wines.)

The introduction of harvesting machines has allowed winemakers to increase the size of their vineyards and make them more efficient. (We’ll be picking by hand.) Although the wine industry faces the challenge of meeting the demands of an ever-larger market without losing the individual character of its wines, technology helps to ensure a consistent supply of quality wines. 

Modern wine appreciation pays homage to the timeless art of wine making and demonstrates the importance of wine in the history and diversity of European culture. It also celebrates newer wine regions, and embraces newer wines. Maybe it’s because wine also has the good fortune of being somewhat good for you. Moderate drinkers of wine have lower risks of liver disease, type II diabetes, certain kinds of cancers, heart attack and stroke. It also can reduce the bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase the good (HDL). No wonder we have a day dedicated to it. Perhaps we should have more. 

So raise a glass my friends. I will as well. And toast you and the day. Happiness and good health to you. Cheers!

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