The Many Moods
of the Tasting Rooms

One of the main things I like about wine is its gradual nature. Sometimes we get people coming into The Store asking for something fruity that will also give them a kick, put them on their butt. We steer them away from the fine wines and we offer them counseling in a different corner. The natural alcohol content of most fine wines is between about 11 - 14%. This means that if you sip and contemplate a wine slowly, you will warm up to it gradually and it will gradually warm you up. Wine generally enhances the best moods of an evening and stimulates conversation at the dinner table. We are learning that there are other trace minerals in wine that are also very good for you; some scientists have even suggested that there are trace amounts of antibiotics found especially in red wines. But I do not want to rationalize all of this too much. All I know is that the gradual nature of wine adds to my overall picture of health.
Furthermore, fine wine is worthy of reflection, and when we contemplate something we hold an idea in our minds. According to some philosophies, the awareness of clinging to thought and understanding the process of attachment can lead to wisdom. In the Thai language, the word for mood (arom) can be traced to a Buddhist notion of "mind-object." For Buddhism, too often the mind-objects that we cling to determine our moods. The point is we should be aware of mind-objects and not let them overpower us. All of this leads me back to Sonoma. Ideally, when you walk into a tasting room, the visitor should gain a reflection of the winery's approach and attitude towards winemaking and selling. In Sonoma, the settings varied from Ferrari-Carano's upscale, million-dollar gardens, to Hop Kiln's old hop barn (wine in a beer barn?), and Meeker Winery's canvas tepee. Moods ranged from a snooty, sourpuss approach to a careful, family-style informative approach. For example, Hop Kiln's dry, almost bitter wines matched the disposition of the person pouring them. At Rochioli, they were pouring no reds and would not open one for us; we also overheard the person pouring the wine telling someone else that unless they were a dealer there would be no special offers available. Ridge had a convivial fellow pouring the wine, but he knew very little about the grapes. Rabbit Ridge would pour you their wines for a $2 fee that could be applied towards your purchase (Silver Oak was the same); Rabbit Ridge makes some excellent wines, but one of the things that makes Sonoma different from Napa is that almost all of the tastings are free — paying for tastings can definitely can affect your mood. The most knowledgeable and friendly tasting rooms were those of A. Raffanelli, Pedroncelli, and Rodney Strong. At each one of these places, along with your wine, you received a sense history and a picture of how a family had grown along with a winemaking operation. This is one reason why we stock so many Rodney Strong products at The Store: they put a great deal of care into all aspects of their products. The winery that had perhaps the most memorable, and certainly the most off-beat, mood was Meeker. To taste their wine, you walk into a large Indian tepee with a fine mist of water descending from the hole in the top. The coolness hits your face as you make your way to the makeshift bar. There are cases of wine stacked all around. They hand you a glass almost as big as a fish bowl, and they pour you a very generous amount of any or all of their wines. The winemaker/pourer tells you, "No I am not wasting wine; you have to have enough to swish around to get all of the aromatics!" If you drank everything they put in your glass, you would experience something beyond a mood change — you would not want to operate heavy machinery. At Meeker, they make up in generosity and ambiance for any shortcomings in the wine, and this can be very important. Mood involves many subtle factors worth studying. Check with us for guided tours of proper mood enrichment. We hope to see you in The Store soon.

September 1997