Shorter days, cooler air. The ways the trees’ leaves have changed. The long cast of light that makes everything come to true light. The harvest season, fresh apple cider, and the inaugural baking of the first pumpkin pie.
Fall. It is here. Does it make you feel inspired, wistful, light? Does it compel you to act, to dream, to desire?
How do you do with transition? Some people just fly with it. Sure, we have the occasional, unpredictable hot days that both fool and remind us that change does not always take place smoothly. These hot winds off the Pacific Northwestern coastline confuse me, like getting gas in California and buying wine in Oregon (all in the same town).
Brisk breezes and cool whites? Wooded streets and celestial lights?
My postpranian potate for shallow days and hollow nights? Zinfandel, natch. To be kissed by starlight, more precisely right. Merry Edwards’ Starlight Vineyards in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley signals the beck and call. The duchess of Russian River Valley pinot noir (she has her own namesake pinot clone) and blackberry pie baker extraordinaire created this diversification in 2003 to fill in her repertoire.
Having long been in the cult and court of her pinot finesse, I first tasted her zins at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic several years ago and was duly impressed with the imprint. The dusty footprint that is the terroir of Alexander Valley — home to brands like Sausal, Stonestreet, Styker, White Oak, Medlock Ames and, of course, Jordan — caresses the sensual, serious fruit complex of this hot, sunny and dry landscape. Starlight zins course this like blood through my veins.
And like the road and its myopic pressure, there is only one direction: Forward.
Fall is not a time to think of this or that. Ironic, as that is quite anthemic for us Libran breeds, whether we were born into this party or not. I was, and the way the road pushes you forward in only one possible direction is almost, well, orgasmic.
Which is how I was feeling a few hours later after I left the Alexander Valley and drove over the little known AVA of Yorkville Highlands and into the Anderson Valley.
We know this as a narrow, diagonally coastal stretch full of fog and tall trees (at the west, or “deep” end) which gives way to a widening valley full of pinot noir, chardonnay and Alsatian varietals. After traveling through this catchy 100-degree inland heat, and pulling off at my afternoon stop — Handley Cellars — I could finally take in this splendor. I sat in the cool winery, sitting on a hand-carved elephant chair sipping a cold glass of Anderson Valley gewürztraminer. Aromas and flavors of curry, lychee, Satsuma mandarin and ginger transport me very quickly to the Orient, on this willing elephant’s back.
While I am ensconsed in this setting, I learn of the dream of late Rex McCellan and his wife Milla Handley. Rex passed on recently, his larger than life presence is both greatly missed and felt around here. The world travelers collected art, stories and knowledge to bring back to this rather quaint, if not rugged, part of the world.
We taste through riesling, pinot gris, chardonnay, the flagship pinot noirs, and syrah; tasting terroirs from the coastal ridges and valleys and the hotter inland fields beyond, from whence I have just came. I have gleaned so much information and tasting notes from this visit that I could probably post two columns about it, so I will file it away for a rainy winter’s day.
I unwind and write as the Pacific Ocean’s gentle swells wap and lap nearly to my doorstep and the willing, golden sun drops into a murky cloudbank, telling me that anything is possible. The weather and the sky are our guides through this, the headiest time of the year. My spirit guide reminds me that I might soon be in Oregon, lapping more of the briny air and even more of the lusty good wines. Oh, the lusty good wines.
Cheers! Remember, wine reveals truth.
Drew Stofflet lives in Carbondale. Correspond with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.