“I’ve got two maps of the Russian River wine country and I’m not afraid to use them!” I was preparing Lonnie for a wine jaunt as part of the Berkeley house-sitting gig.
Cousin Susan was taking off for a week in Barcelona and had asked if I’d like to stay at her lovely little house in Berkeley and take care of her doggie, Rezzie. Rezzie is a dog who loves one thing in this whole world: walks. Not being a dog person, I don’t know if this is typical dog behavior but I suspect it might be. And walking in the Berkeley hills is terrific exercise and great fun. The houses are charming and individual. The trees tower — mammoth pine trees, some of which surely are redwoods, spreading sycamores sturdy oaks and lofty eucalyptus shade the streets and add gravitas to the houses. Dog-sitting Rezzie is pure joy!
And Berkeley is within easy striking distance of wine country. Last year I managed to get lost in wine country which by-and-large would not be a bad thing, but I got lost in a part that had no wineries. How could that be? Miles of grape-vine and vineyards, but not a single sign that said “Tasting room.” We finally stumbled into River Road Winery which, thank heaven, had a charming outdoor restaurant where we ate next in the shade of a redwood and Rezzie was treated to a big bowl of fresh, cool water. This year I was plotting a course.
One of my priorities was the pet-friendly wineries. Another was picnic facilities. We were taking cold cuts and some exotic cheese from The Cheese Board co-op in Berkeley as well as a baguette of fresh bread hot out of the oven at the bakery. As soon as we got in the car, Lonnie broke off a chunk.
“Want some fresh bread?” I didn’t bother answering, but snatched it from him hand and took a big bite. Oh, yum!
Lonnie broke off a hunk for himself and we munched contentedly on our way heading north out-of-town. In years past, Rezzie would also beg a bite, but he was now only interested in snoozing in the back seat. Perhaps the scent of fresh bread no longer intrigued him.
Our first stop was not on my list, but after having exited Highway 101 and headed west, I was ready to stop at the first tasting room we came to. Once we got there, I remembered why it wasn’t on my list. Russian Hill Winery specialized in Pinot Noirs — not my favorite wine — but they also had one Zinfandel. When we arrived, a couple was outside dead-heading and pruning the roses. Their big dog, Chase, was watching. Because the weather was mild, we had no worries about leaving Rezzie in the car with a promise that at the next winery — which was listed as pet friendly — he could get out. The nice people, who turned out to be the owners, told us our dog was welcome to come in.
With Rezzie on the leash, we headed to the tasting room and Chase headed for us. “He’s friendly,” they assured us. He sure was — he was all over Rezzie trying to make friends in that unique “I’ll let you sniff mine if you’ll let me sniff yours” way. Rezzie cowered against my legs. They quickly called Chase off and we made a bee-line for the door.
In spite of my best efforts, I cannot manage to get Lonnie interested in wine. I really don’t know why I try. After all, if someone isn’t drinking wine it’s all the more for me! Lonnie opted to take Rezzie out on the deck where they could enjoy the view while I worked my way through the Viognier, two Pinot Noirs and a Zinfandel. The pouring room man had assured me that many zin lovers really enjoy their Pinots, too. And he was right. I ended up with a bottle of Pinot.
Next down the road was Woodenhead and it was much the same story there — sans dog. This tasting room looked like it had been part of the house with a big stone fireplace and a balcony overlooking the valley. This time I opted for a bottle of their bold Zinfandel.
After Woodenhead we wound through the small roads stopping here and there, ending up at DeLoach, a big commercial winery. Although I normally avoid corporate wineries whose products I can buy at my market, I had fond memories of DeLoach. I had gone there the very first time I dog-sat Rezzie and we’d had a picnic under their magnificent eucalyptus tree. Lonnie and I picnicked there this time too, and gave Rezzie his lunch which I’d remembered to bring.
Our last stop was Hook and Ladder which — big surprise — has a fire-fighters theme. Although there was nothing that knocked my socks off, I tried to interest Lonnie in their dessert wine which he dutifully sipped. “Good, huh?” I asked. Shrug. “No, really? You don’t like it?” “Sure, it’s fine.” His enthusiasm was decidedly lacking.
Okay, I am going to have to seriously give up on converting Lonnie to a wine drinker. If a late-harvest Gewürztraminer doesn’t make a believer out of him, nothing will. So we came home and had margaritas.
And now I’m trying to figure out how to pack all these bottles in my suitcase so I don’t end with a bunch of glass and a couple hundred dollars worth of wine soaked into my jeans.
(Footnote: I wrote this two weeks ago in Berkeley and I’m now back home. The wine came through fine. I’ve already shared the Woodenhead with friends and have stashed the rest of my loot in the wine chiller. It’s hot back here in the desert and makes me enjoy the lovely, soft day in Russian River all the more. Sigh.)