Today was Yulia’s Spa day. We got her a half-day spa treatment in the Spa section of the Wine cave. She had the first appointment of the day, and that would give us the rest of the day for getting some final tastings in. Sasha spelt in, and I got her some waffles for breakfast. Waffles are a spa treatment for 10-year olds. We then headed to the pool, and swam until Yulia was done. She came out of the spa looking more rested than I have ever seen her. Apparently the spa here is fantastic, and it was well worth the time and money, she was happy, so I agree.
They got some final swimming in, and I ran back to the outlet mall to get some shirts and socks, since they were really cheap there, and I had nothing clean. once I got back, we all changed, and hit the road. We planned to drive up a ways, and hit some of the wineries that we had free tastings for, Alpha-Omega, Franciscan, and others in that area. Opus One is in that area as well, and since we visited their parent winery, Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux, we really wanted to check Opus one out.
We hit Mondavi first, which is a nice place, but their wines weren’t all that special, Franciscan was very good, as was Alpha-Omega. But this was the hottest day yet. The temperature topped out at 106 degrees. When the wind blew, it just gave you more hot air. Nasty.
I had to call ahead to get an appointment for a tasting at Opus One. We drove there a little early, as we didn’t want to miss our appointment. Driving past the address, I actually missed the entrance, since it isn’t well marked. I did see the place, and since it looked like a Greco-Roman pyramid in the middle of a large vineyard, and had the air of the headquarters of the Pretentious Asshole Society, I assumed that this was Opus One. I was right.
We made it to our appointment, and we were sent to a small, semi-private tasting room. The wine was $30 for a glass, and it was good, really good. But Yulia really nailed it. This was A dead-on Bordeaux blend. Exactly. It was a bit hotter than the good Bordeaux wines we like, but I just don’t think you can get away from that with California grapes. Most of the growers we talk to here say that the hotter climate just gives the grapes more sugar. And they are making wine for the customer’s tastes, which are for hot wines. We were really tempted to buy some, since it really was good, but decided that it made more sense to order real Bordeaux from the places we went on our last trip. It would be exactly what we want, and at 1/3 the price. If it costs this much to make a Bordeaux wine here, what’s the point?
This made me think.
When we were at the Mondavi Winery, I stole an orange from the tree in the parking lot, When I picked it, it didn’t smell like an orange. To me, it smelled like things that smell like an orange.
I mean, when I smell a scratch and sniff page of an orange, or go on the Disney Soaring over California ride where they fill my nose with that scented oil that smells like “oranges” it is a smell that is the same each time, but it is never the smell I get when I smell an actual orange. Except for this orange. The “orange” smell that I normally think of is light, and probably more related to the cardboard shipping container than the original tree.
It isn’t the smells that are wrong, it’s my perception. I don’t know what to expect from the smell of the orange, so I really don’t know what to expect when I come across a good one. And I think the same is true for many Californian wines. You have an entire market based on imitating wines of other countries and areas, and not taking advantage of what is natively good. New wineries imitate the imitations, and the consumers have no idea what to expect from an actually good product. I actually had one of the people by the pool show surprise about wines, saying that “you mean red wine isn’t supposed to give you a headache all the time?”
Most everyone knows that the words “Champagne” and “Bordeaux” imply good wines, but never having tried a wine from either of these places, couldn’t tell you what they actually thought of the imitation. Their idea of wine isn’t too far off from my cardboard-flavored orange.
It’s not that different than a visitor to Disneyland thinking that these are real castles, real rockets, that parrots and tikis actually sing, and that the world really is this small, with dancing dolls and everything. Perhaps this is the appeal for many people who never know any better, who never go anywhere else, That they can simply replace the real experience of something with a simulation, and that will be “good enough.”
But it is only good enough if you never bother to see the real thing or try the real thing, and learn what the imitation comes from. There’s noting wrong with enjoying an Californian Bordeaux, or a Fantasy Castle, or an off-season orange, just so long as you know them for what they are, not what they copy. The best wines we have had here have been those that use grapes suited to the local climate, and blended for their own taste, not to match some other expectation. The best here have been surprises, not copies.
Tomorrow, I go back to my home with my two girls, for which there are no substitutes.