First Wine Insights

From our Wi-Know Wine Blog

The year was 1971, early January; Louise (my wife at the time) and I decided to travel to San Francisco to help my sister Terry (Teresa) celebrate her 21st birthday. So we loaded up my Ford van, and headed South from Eugene, Oregon. The approximately 500 miles distance meant we should probably stop for the night somewhere before we reached San Francisco, so we started researching stopping places.

We quickly decided that sleepy Napa Valley would make an interesting stop-over; we knew nothing about wines, but figured we could learn. In fact, at that time, my idea of a good wine was Annie Green Springs Apple Wine, or for special occasions, Mateus.

On our arrival in Napa Valley, we found a place for the night, had a nice meal, and planned our next day. That next day, we had an entire day to tour Napa, and then Sonoma Valley, before meeting my sister and her husband in San Francisco. So we decided on the following:

  • Louis Martini and Robert Mondavi wineries, in Napa Valley;
  • Sebastiani, in Sonoma Valley; plus others, if there was time.

We figured that would be a good introduction, and still get us to San Francisco on time.

The results were eye-opening. Napa was not yet very developed, but the wineries we visited were helpful and informative. I found many of the wines to be a bit strong for my (then) preferences, but settled on a few I liked at each place. in those days, there was no tasting fee; but it felt appropriate to at least buy one bottle from each winery we visited. The Cabernet Sauvignon from Louis Martini was interesting, although a bit strong for my tastes, the Mondavi Fume Blanc was good, and our favorite was the Sebastiani Green Hungarian (a popular semi-sweet white wine style at the time). Oh, those bottles cost $2-$4.

We learned a little about the trends and struggles in Napa Valley; at the Mondavi Winery, we heard little of the challenges we read about that caused Robert Mondavi to leave his family’s winery in the mid-60s, but instead, heard of his vision for the potential of California wines. We learned of the movement away from jug wines (Hearty Burgundy and “Chablis”), and toward grape variety-specific wines and vineyard-designated bottlings.

We learned about the planting, growing, harvesting and pressing the grapes. And it was more than the wines that we enjoyed: The people we spoke with, their passion for their wines, their friendliness, and the beauty of the peaceful agricultural communities of the two parallel valleys really impressed me. In fact, I toyed with the thought of buying land and setting up a vineyard.

While the purpose of our trip was to help Terry celebrate her 21st birthday, the fringe benefit of our Napa and Sonoma visit has had a long-lasting impact on my evolution into interesting wines.