Since you all loved the scents and smells of last week's piece (and believe it or not, there is even more to the viognier myth) I just had to keep going with the scents and smells of it all. This time it's trees and wine — red wine to be exact — and it kind of follows a holiday theme.
Does your nose ever linger over a red wine and all of a sudden you are transported to a wintery walk in the woods? Or a tree-lined meadow on a spring day. How 'bout a park in Paris in June? Well maybe that is a stretch, but there is something in the air. And it's coming to a wine glass near you.
Like the floral smells in French wine — which vigneron lore recalled tales of sticky bee's feet carrying pollen from the berry bushes and lavender fields next to the vineyards — certain highly aromatic trees growing next to certain vineyards would (and do) result in an extra-sensory addition to that vineyard's wine aroma palate.
The bay laurel, lauris nobilus, is a large shrub (or small tree) with glossy leaves and a rich, piney evergreen smell. With Mediterranean roots (literally) it has found a home in the new world, in California's never-ending summer, where temps along the coast rarely dip below the freezing point. The bay laurel is mostly known to us as providers of that leaf ever-present floating in a soup or sauce pot, offering fresh scents to said preparations.
High above the Napa Valley on Mount Veeder — a ridge of the Mayacamas Mountains which separates Napa from Sonoma — lies a wine growing appellation known for blending the cool bay breezes of the Carneros region with the hotter climes of the upper valley. The wines produced here speak of each climate and the voice often rings with the holly-scented whiff of bay trees. Two such wines and wineries are Rubissow Estates and Crane Family Vineyards. Each are small family estates with deep roots (no pun intended) in Napa Valley viticulture.
Tom Chiarella runs his Crane Family Winery which was named for his mother's family, and the small-production wines are sourced from their Don Rafaelle Vineyard, named after his grandfather, who happened to be an avid horticulturist. Part of that past is the stand of Bay laurels growing around the field of merlot and cabernet. The bay spice is easily transmitted and ascertained when you taste these wines.
Peter Rubissow runs his family winery, which his father George developed over the past two decade before giving the reigns to Peter. Some of you may have met him over the years on one of his frequent visits to the area. Rubissow's vineyards rest at the base of the spine leading up Mount Veeder, and his southwest aspects act like a catcher's mitt grabbing the crisp afternoon breezes swirling up from the San Pablo Bay. Here also grow the bay trees. For years I had a tradition, sipping a Rubissow wine on Christmas, as these wines are, to say the least, full of seasonal cheer, full of cranberry and evergreen scents, tasting like a wreath in a glass.
Further down the road, along the Carneros highway, you come to the Petaluma River. Follow it north a bit to the giant groves of eucalyptus trees, eucalyptus obliqua. Originally from Australia and beyond, the trees found their way to the California coast, where their fast growth tends to dominate the land. Like it does here, along the otherwise treeless hillsides of the lower Petaluma River valley. Here the cold also flows down from the coast, and here is home to pinot noir vines. One such vineyard is the Rockin' H vineyard on the Hendricks Ranch. And here wind swept eucalyptus leaves blow across the vineyard and at harvest time, the bluster results in much commingling of plant species. When you taste a wine from this vineyard, such as a Bouchaine Rockin' H pinot noir, the sweet, terse and minty herbal effect of the wine is unmistakable. Try it with lamb and rosemary.
Moving up the road, now, north, to the redwoods ... sequoia sempervirens. So tall, majestic, mysterious. Raped and pillaged for their bounty. Fast growers who drink up to 200 gallons of fog and mist a day, and creating their own constant drips from their canopy. Immortalized in poetry and myth. On the Mendocino coast they rule the landscape. High atop Greenwood Ridge, only miles from the Pacific cliffs, Allan Green of Greenwood Rigde has made eloquent wines in a quirky appellation. Aside from the obvious, he also owns a senior (50-plus) baseball team (with three former major league players on its roster) called the Greenwood Ridge Dragons.
But the story of the dragon runs deeper. Allan's father shared his architectural office in San Francisco with the west coast offices of Frank Lloyd Wright. Green remembers a dragon sculpture which his father gave to the Wright Foundation in 1959. It still remains at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona. The dragon was originally intended to be a fountain, but Mrs. Wright had it made into a fire breather.
Greenwood Ridge's tasting room evokes the Wright legacy, and the bottle is enameled with the dragon. The wines, grown literally out in the redwood forest, evoke just that. Or a quiet walk through the towering majestic redwoods on a Sunday afternoon, sipping a 2007 Greenwood Ridge pinot noir, doubling down on the forest aromas.
And it all just makes me think of Marble on a cool winter day, as I'm gliding along in the snow, with fir boughs in my path and wine in my pack. Cheers! Remember, wine reveals truth.
Drew Stofflet lives in Carbondale. Correspond with him at email@example.com