California Dreamin'

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Jesse Banks-Hudson

Charles and I headed off with the intrepid Michael Prior of Shepherd Neame to California on Wednesday 13thJuly for a whistle-stop tour of some vineyards and restaurants.

Our other partner in crime missed the international flight so there was more space in the car for us, and more wine.

Wednesday evening having fought our way past some rather work-to-rule customs officers we collected the hire car (that is “rental car” in the local language). Not alas the fetching red hairdresser’s Porsche Charles had arranged last time we went but a sensible silver saloon car the name of which I can’t remember. Long drive to Paso Robles in time to meet Adam Lazarre and wife Angie before they flew off to Chicago on business. We had not seen Adam for some time, indeed since he was making Cycles Gladiator at the Hahn winery so good to catch up, and to meet fellow “Wine Hooligan” Pat Morgan (below).

Thursday morning was at the Krushwerks facility where Cycles is now made, with Pat showing us around, and his collaborator Brian Terrizzi showing us the Broadside wines and some other labels. Good to see the new vintages of Cycles and the “old” label (with more hair and more flesh…) showing well.

Then off to Monterey, a spot of tourisme in Carmel en route, but cloudy and cool in the coastal fog so no dipping toes in the Pacific; a quick glimpse of how Charles would like to live in the future along Seventeen Mile Drive, and then into Monterey to the hotel.

Large gins before dinner and very, very cold beer, then dinner with Evelyn Pool from Hahn, with some excellent bottles of assorted Hahn SLH wines and Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon; with local calamari and all sorts.

Great visit to Hahn Winery the next day, 50 minute drive out of Monterey and along River Road past some of the famous named vineyards of Santa Lucia Highlands: Lone Oak, Sleepy Hollow, Rosella’s, Garys’ ( there are two of them) and on to Hahn. A fun ride around in the off-ride vehicles including a stop for SLH Chardonnay and photos, and past the deer-scaring horn that gives out the distress call of a deer, and attracted pumas after a free lunch.

Our free lunch was hard earned after a big tasting and cellar visit/barrel tasting with winemaker Paul Clifton and viticultural guru Andy Mitchell, as ever a fount of information.

Then off to San Francisco and the JW Marriott property in the city centre (or “downtown” to a native.) Don’t use the valet parking as it’s the same price as dinner. But a nice hotel. Dinner at incredibly busy Scala’s bistro with more Chardonnay and Hallberg Ranch PN that Kate and I had bought for BA a while ago.

Saturday was up to Napa to see Bill Leigon at Jamiesons Ranch where the Reata wines are made as well as Double Lariat. Amazing building that cost the original owner $57M, none of which he ever saw back, alas. Great visitor centre with a fine lunch from on-site chef who illustrated his Michelin-starred pedigree. Also of pedigree were the charming miniature horses that are on parade when not on their social work duties in local hospitals/retirement homes or helping autistic children cope with life.

After an early lunch, off to Cardinale Winery, one of Jackson Family Wines’ top properties for a tutored tasting with the knowledgeable Dale Cullins and a lesson on which mountain is which along the Napa, and why. A privilege to try 98 point Parker wines on a Saturday afternoon. 

Restaurant research continued at E&O with more good Chard and Pinot, and the next day at Slanted Door at the Embarcadero after some sightseeing through China Town. Excellent wine list and very good food.

And so to bed on the BA flight that evening.

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