Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Fish Friendly Wineries

On my first day back from Belgium to San Francisco, my friend Jack drove us north towards the Mendocino coast. Spring had just begun on the Pacific side of the globe with orange poppies thriving along Sonoma’s country roads. The countless undulated hills inhabiting Northern California resembled a velvet carpet dyed in a light verdant tone. Here and there, patches of bulky oak trees exposing distress branches withstood the elements.

Jack behind the wheels, we eventually approached numberless extensive rows of grapevines already growing small green chiseled leaves. In Alexander Valley, we discovered vineyards producing an array of respectable wines. My friend knew of my love for bubbles. Two wineries producing sparking California wines were on our touring agenda. First, Jack made a stop at a vineyard’s tasting-room displaying a least six variety of sparkling wines.

The spring Sunday was especially warm for the season and tourists dressed in summery attires. What a difference with the enduring wet and cold Belgian climate I had just left behind.

While entering a tasting-room built out of wood and painted in white, colorful art pieces garnishing indoor walls caught my attention. I have a heart for arts. Behind a bar, a waiter faced us while proceeding to serve two young female customers. The wine-connoisseur welcomed us then quickly started lecturing his audience about Champagnes and La M├ęthode Champenoise. I asked questions and he answered. Eventually, he served us both our first samplings. Although tasting wine means not swallowing, I emptied my two sampling glasses without remorse.

“I am fine with my two samplings,” I said.

“Do you want to try some Dry sparkling wines,” the wine-waiter asked Jack.

“Yes, I’d love to.”

“The Blanc de Blanc and Dry Sparkling wines contained more sugar, right?” I inquired.

“Yes, that’s right,” answered the specialized waiter. “In the old days, Champagnes were desert wines, with high level of sugar. The level of sugar in sparkling wines is much lower nowadays though. Today people drink sparkling wines as cocktails.”

“I didn’t know that,” I replied. “I like Brut sparkling wines the best.”

“We’ll take one bottle,” said Jack.

Holding one bottle of Brut sparkling wine in my hand, we exited the Northern California tasting-room. Nature thrived all around us, with thousands of yellow flowers growing wild between the established grapevines of some wineries we passed by. Mustard flowerings, I presumed.

“There is another winery specialized in sparkling wines near our lodging,” Jack said.

“That’s sounds good,” I replied. “Plus, I can’t get tired of the scenery.”

“I agree,” my friend continued. “Alexander Valley is enchanting.”

Driving down empty country roads, we arrived at our second tasting venture. An imposing building made of dark wood appeared in the landscape. Inside a large and cold tasting-room, a young woman enlaced in a warm scarf, presented us with more sparkling wines to taste. Again we started sampling.

“I love seeing wild flowers blooming amidst your grapevines,” I noted.

“We are a Fish Friendly Winery,” replied the young female waitress.

“Fish friendly?” I retorted.

“Yes,” she explained. “Sadly, too many neighboring vineyards are still using pesticides, which pollute the river rolling nearby. You should see the foam floating on the water,” the young woman further exclaimed. “It’s a sad picture. But this winery is respectful of nature. The mustard plants growing  under our vines allow us to be pesticides free.”

“I’m very happy to hear about your friendly practices,” I noted while proceeding to sample my cold sparkling beverage.

“You should advertise more on the fact that this vineyard is eco-friendly,” added Jack.

The two young ladies we encountered in the first vineyard we visited suddenly popped in and joined us for a few more wine-samplings. While Jack continued his tasting session, I left the cold room and aimed for the outdoors where a generous sun quickly warmed my skinny body. Walking along a sandy path, I discovered a panoramic view of the valley adjacent Cloverdale. Meanwhile, I heard busy bees attending spring flowers blossoming around the Fish Friendly winery.

Eventually back on the old roads of Sonoma County, we encountered a few more wineries advertising for their eco-friendly approaches.

“I really enjoy what I see,” I told Jack who was still holding the wheels.

“Yes,” my friend replied. “I am too. I would love to build an eco-friendly learning center out here.”

“There is a sign for a parcel for sale next to the Crocker Inn,” I remarked.

That evening, the moon staged a full yellow face. Behind our sleeping accommodation, thousands of frogs held a loud meeting. Crickets also played a part in the nightly oratory. Yet that night, I slept like a log. The following morning two Acorn Woodpeckers paraded around one thick branch of a mature oak tree thriving nearby our wooden-cabin. After two nights at the converted hunting lodge, we left nature and returned to society.

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