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Cheers and Tears

In late September family and friends joined me in Calistoga to celebrate my birthday. We tasted some extraordinary wine, and ate amazing meals at friendly places.

The vines were still green and the harvest was ongoing.

The thing about wine country that many don't know unless they visit there, is that it is basically farmland surrounded by wineries run by unpretentious people who are excited to share their creations with you.

In this, they are much like writers and other artists. We want to share our art with people, and if they smile and ask for more, we are the happiest of people.

We visited hole-in-the-wall places like Tank, a converted gas station, who present blends of one-and-done creations with amazing labels and wines that stay in your memory like a really great book.

We also visited old friends with new digs like the J Davies Tasting room in St. Helena.

Those are repurposed wine barrels used as chandeliers. These people are great stewards of their land and resources.

We tasted a variety of some of their best, each wine had a unique character, but all were built with care and love.

Schramsberg is always a favorite stop for us for sparkling wines. We took a tour and had a tasting of some of the lightest, brightest wines they had. Schramsberg has been served at the White House for forty-five years. They were made famous when Nixon wanted to bring some American wine to China. He chose Schramsberg.

You'd think with a pedigree like that they would be pretty puffed-up, but they are always so down-to-earth. They tell you stories about how the winery was started by a German immigrant. While they fill your glass with magical bubbles, they remind you of the truism, "the smaller the bubble, the smaller the head". Look for the "tiny bubbles" Don Ho sang about and you won't start the New Year with a headache.

This is only a small sample of the places we visited. If I told you about all of them we would look like a bunch of drunken college kids on Spring Break. We were all well behaved I hasten to add, but we did drink the vines a little dry.

That is why, shortly after we got home, we were appalled to see the news of the fires in Napa and Sonoma counties. We ached for the people there who had been so hospitable and generous. People who were forced to watch their homes, and the homes of their friends, as well years of hard labor go up in smoke.

We know these are strong, resourceful people and they will rebuild and recover (as will the others in our nation and territories who have been visited with disasters this year), but we know it won't be easy. We shed tears of sympathy and donate to relief efforts.

Beyond that, we can continue to support these fine American vintners by continuing to buy and enjoy their wine. I am ready to do my part. Are you?

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