California, Here We Are

It’s my first day back at the computer after an extended (mis)adventure from NYC to my new home on the West Coast, and it feels great to be out of the car, and reconnected to the world via wifi.

Love (of both the traditional and vinous natures) put me in a blue pickup with a small black puppy, and deposited me in Pioneer, California (population: 5,000) with a sturdy 2-bedroom house, a few thousand grapevines, and loose directions on how to start a vineyard.

The decision to leave New York was easy–after five years in the city that never sleeps,  adjectives like “glittering,” “exciting,” and “alive” are replaced by “crowded,” “tired,” and “expensive.”

Getting here with my palate and belongings intact was more difficult, thanks more to the glut of horrendous wine in Middle America than the unwieldy U-Haul that followed our pickup truck across the country.

The Snake River winding through Idaho.


Take Idaho, for instance, a state that often boasts of quality from its Snake River AVA (aka an officially regulated wine growing area) and has several thousand acres under vine.  All we came across was sickly sweet Riesling reminiscent of the tangerine hard candies that might still be in your grandmother’s candy bowl.

Or how about Charleston? You’d think a city with a bustling restaurant scene and amazing culinary history would have some great wines, or at least great wines available, but the Charleston Winery only offered fruit wines, and some “Cabernet” that tasted more like Bing cherries that got left in the sun for a few days than a full-bodied red wine.

And then there was Yellowstone. “The Oldest and Best National Park,” and crown jewel of the terrible Wine Pageant. We couldn’t decipher (or find for that matter) the grapes in the mysterious, almond-scented white, but let’s say you should splurge on the Old Faithful Ale instead.

The best part of the 15-day, 5,001 mile, 22-state trip is how much it taught us about the state of wine in America. (Ok, and seeing tons of bison, and getting lost on a kayak adventure gone disaster…)

Yes, American wine is going places.

Yes, American wine is going places.

Yes, there are some true gems outside of California and New York. (Like Miller Estate Vineyard Portfolio Collection 2012 Pinot Noir from Pennsylvania.)

But No, we’re not at European, $20/bottle level across the board and nobody should expect that.

Outside of the coasts, stick to beer. It goes better with the ubiquitous (and delicious) Diner food you’ll find on Route 66 and other highways that criss-cross their way from sea to shining sea.

More tales from the road, and those of a baby vineyard are on the way.

Stay thirsty, America.

  • June 24, 2014
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