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Monday, January 05, 2009

Nono was before his time: Wine tasting in the Salinas Valley

By now, most people have heard about the Napa and Sonoma valleys of Northern California. But, I bet you didn't know that the Salinas River Valley highlands in Monterey County, California is also a great place to find great wine. Steve and I had a chance to take a drive on the Salinas River side of the hills to visit four new wineries we hadn't visited before.

We thoroughly enjoyed every one. Best feature of all: we got to talk to the wine makers themselves, or at least a son or daughter of the winemaker. They all have their own stories, but a common factor, it seems, is that while they may be relatively new as wine makers go, they are not new to the area. Many were growing vegetable and fruit crops before the lure of the grape took hold. See Pessagno Winery.

They are so casual and welcoming here, we even walked in on one little ol' winemaker while he was still bottling: Puma Road/Ray Franscioni Wines. And another is a family who is Swiss-Italian and had been in this same valley for a very long time. See the website for Manzoni Estate Vineyards. We even got to share a few stories about our Nono's and Nona's (grandfathers and grandmothers in English)!

And then there was Joel Burnstein and Marilyn Remark of Marilyn Remark Winery with their two big retrievers, Hogan and Snead, (someone likes to golf!); we enjoyed talking with them long after closing time. The picture above was taken in one of their vineyards. On their website, Joel says of tasting wines from the Rhone Valley in France in 2001: "These vintages were from small vintners who sell every bottle locally to friends and family. We knew then the type of wines we had to try to make."

Some of the folks who are bottling now, are the second and third generation children of European immigrants. Many are getting back in touch with a part of life that seemed a distant past for them. It's no wonder--they were sitting on California gold! Turns out this area is very special when it comes to climate, weather, soil, and elevation--just the right mix for growing the right grapes and making great wines.

I wish my grandfather were alive to see how the making of wine has taken off in this area, so close to his home in Castroville. He used to buy his grape 'juice' from a grower in the San Juan Bautista area and he always had a few barrels cooking away down in the cellar. He may not have been nearly as accomplished a vintner as these folks, but he put just as much love into making his wine, and above all, loved to share it at the dinner table with guests. After all, he knew that good wine brings people together--and that's when he was happiest!

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