In “Still Life With Woodpecker,” author Tom Robbins extols the virtues and vices of the sun and the moon as essential and inessential insanities.
He suggests, “The latter are solar in character, the former are linked to the moon. Inessential insanities are a brittle amalgamation of ambition, aggression, and pre-adolescent anxiety — garbage that should have been dumped long ago. Essential insanities are those impulses one instinctively senses are virtuous and correct, even though peers may regard them as coo-coo. Inessential insanities get one in trouble with one’s self. Essential insanities get one in trouble with others. In fact, it may be essential. Poetry, the best of it, is lunar and is concerned with the essential insanities. Journalism is solar. . . and is devoted to the inessential.”
With those thoughts in my head I drove out of the marine layer — a bank of dreams that linger through the morn like a blanket of fog in a canopy of redwoods — and into the bright sun, with it’s complimentary blue skies and warm air.
For Robbins, the journalist lives in this shine of bright sun, exposing the truth, seeking transparency. Conversely, the poet gets illumination from the moon. Or by wandering around in the fog, as I have found to be quite productive. And so I turned back towards the coast, not to get the “whole story,” but to go back into the realm of dreams, and to pair poetry with pinot noir.
Which is exactly what is being done in the tiny pass-through town of Boonville. Not so fast there pard’ner: Boonville boasts not only its exquisite pinot noir and Alsation-inspired whites, but is also home to Anderson Valley Brewing Company. It also has a few inspired restaurants and B&Bs. And on this day, the fog had already abated as I rolled through the valley.
I stopped in Boonville to visit with Kristy Charles, owner of Foursight Winery. In addition to running the tasting room and helping in the vineyard, Charles also happens to be the president of the Anderson Valley Winergrowers Association, a group dedicated to producing, protecting and promoting the local bounty. She is a fourth generation farmer and winemaker with knowledge of history, climate and grapegrowing on her side.
As we chatted about things from fog to fire, from neutral to new oak, I sipped on some truly luscious wines, all with a cool climate complexity brought on by warm days, long autumns and all with cool, crisp nights, where the moon meets the ocean.
Big reds like cabernet sauvignon or zinfandel won’t ripen here, so the growers salute dry whites and pinot noir. A sauvignon blanc aged in stainless steel is crisp, spicy, acidic, while it’s Bordeaux-cousin, semillion, is a little richer on the palate but is still lemony and acidic. The gewurtztraminer, a jewel of this valley, is full of sweet, floral, candied mix of violet, lavender and rosewater. It comes on dry and finishes with the flavors that start in the nose. The Alsation-style whites are so coveted here that every February the AVWA and a group of celebrity chefs put on the Alsace Varietals Festival, which features producers from New Zealand, New York, Germany, Austria and California.
And another jewel is the pristine quality of the valley, it’s vineyards and its quaint, rustic feel. This thoroughfare is not bustling in any way, shape or form. Tourists are starting to appreciate this valley because it is not like Napa or Sonoma. It is quiet and it is stunning. As are the wines. I drift away as I try four different pinot noir bottlings which range from rich and silky to tart and acidic, all with amazing balance. Charles talks with ease when discussing the winery’s oaking regimen: Some of the wines have 50 percent new oak on them, while some have forty (a formulation of twelve percent new with the rest in last year’s used barrels). She adds that more oaking suits a Pommard clone because it has larger berries and therefore a higher ratio of juice-to-skin, thus less natural tannins.
With this approach, each release, blend or varietal is allowed to shine. Transparent like the pinot noir wine, like it is supposed to be. To reveal what is lit by the afternoon sun, and hidden in the exotic, foggy dreamworld of poetry. An essential wine-blissed insanity.
Cheers! Remember, wine reveals truth.
Drew Stofflet lives in Carbondale. Correspond with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.