Why do people like wine country so much? Is it the beauty of the countryside? Or the amazing food that's always the perfect match for whichever bottle is on the table? Or perhaps the mildly condoned if not slightly tolerated drinking and driving? Well, I have a theory. I think the reason we love visiting wine country is all of these things plus something more- I think we love to meet the people behind the wine we drink and see where the grapes come from, because it enhances our drinking experience.
When you love a wine and then you meet the winemaker and fall in love with him (as a person, of course) you then love the wine exponentially more. If you can remember the curve of the hillside where the vines grew every time you take a sip, the wine is that much better. It becomes a special occasion every time you open a bottle. You share stories with your friends about the crazy guy who ran the place as if you are in on some great secret. The bottle and the wine inside are no longer some liquid that you imbibe in order to relax- you are drinking a place, a moment in time, a personality. Because of your visit to wine country, you will enjoy this wine in a way which stimulates all of your senses, not just taste and smell, for the rest of your life.
I say all this because this winery, Tulocay, happens to be the first winery that I visited after I got into the wine business. At the time it was the only California wine that we carried in our little wine store in Brooklyn. We carried it because it was a small production, hand crafted wine and it happened to also taste very good. So, when I went to Napa on a little field trip to learn about wine making, I decided that I would visit Tulocay.
I spent my days working with Lance Cutler, an almost mythical wine making figure in the Sonoma scene. Unfortunately, Lance no longer made wine for public consumption. He made wines in a sort of co-op system for him and his friends, as well as a few thousand cases of a wine that was way out of my price range. In the few days I was there I witnessed and assisted in every aspect of the wine making process, from picking grapes, to corking bottles. There was a lot of wine drinking as well, and eating of course and even a crawfish boil. It was a great trip. On one of my last days I headed over to Tulocay to meet up with the owner, Bill Cadman, and hopefully taste through some of his wines.
I met Bill outside his home on the hillside above Tulocay cemetery. He walked me through the garage where the wines were made and then sat me down in his “tasting room,” which happened to be a picnic table overlooking the rolling green pastures below his property. Any of you that have tasted in Napa probably know that most tasting rooms are nowhere near this cool. We talked and tasted and watched the sun set and laughed. I left loving the man, and loving his wines even more. I returned to Brooklyn and made it my crusade to tell the world (well at least my neighborhood) about the wonders of Tulocay.
A few weeks ago, Derek and I went to Napa to meet my father and his wife, Linda. We stayed with Mike and Mary Ellen, the wonderful folks that had put me up several years back. On Saturday we all drove to Sonoma and had lunch with Lance and his wife Sandy. We bought some of the most amazing food ever from the taco truck across the street and washed it all down with about seven bottles of red wine. Then, Derek, my dad, Linda and myself set off to visit Bill Cadman at Tulocay. It was as if I had never left that hillside picnic table. We sat and watched the horses in the meadow below, tasting through bottle after bottle of amazing wine. We all fell in love again. My father and I both bought a case and left hugging Bill as if he was an old friend we hadn't seen in ages. And now I have a case of his wines, and I know that every time I open up a bottle I'll be back on that green hillside laughing with Bill.
It's hard to find Tulocay, but if you do, I recommend buying it. All of his wines are good. His Chardonnays and Pinots are elegant and balanced, tasting more like Burgundies than Napa wines. He also makes great Cabernets and Syrahs, and really great Zinfandels. This Zinfandel from Amador County is a 2002, and still going strong. The nose has hints of spearmint and earth, with wild brambly blackberries. The palate is all silky dark fruit and cocoa. It's a big wine, with structure and ripe tannins that make it a great pairing for red meats or big cheeses. But, it's also great to drink on its own with a few people you love on a hillside in the sun.