Al Batt: California dreaming on such a vintner’s day

Published 7:51 pm Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt


I had a ticket to fly.

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Inside an airplane. That’s the way I roll.

I sat at the airport waiting for my flight. I witnessed travelers stumbling by like zombies. Others hurried as if in a race. I watched as they, having escaped the clutches of the TSA, patted themselves down, searching for cellphone, wallet or boarding pass. I hoped they found what they were looking for.

My plane took off and landed in California, where the state motto is, “Why hide your goofiness when you can parade it?”

Work had taken me to Wine Country. I didn’t build a Boeing 737 from scratch or perform brain surgery on a Kardashian, but I called it work.

The baggage claim area at the Sacramento airport had two 23-foot tall pillars made from 1,400 pieces of luggage stacked on a couple of wheeled carts. Art to make a weary traveler smile.

I drove away in a rental car bearing a “Honk if anything falls off” bumper sticker. Apparently, I was the only driver who had no idea where he was going. Cars went by me like MLB fastballs.

The weather was the berries. That’s a superlative. My wife and I joined friends for a farm tour and wine tasting. Everything happens for a Riesling.

As we sat down in one of the more than 400 wineries in Wine Country, I recalled buying a splendid bottle of wine, on behalf of an organization, as a farewell gift for a friend. I pointed at a shelf of wine that looked nice and said I’d take one.

“What year?” asked the wine shop clerk.

“I’ll need it this year,” I replied, a ripened winesap.

The California wine guy gave me a list and told me to mark the kinds of wine I wanted to try.

I asked if it was OK to drink white wine after Labor Day, but he must not have heard me.

I wasn’t quite ignorant enough to be confident. I don’t dislike wine, but I hadn’t had a glass in a couple of years. All I knew about wine was that my Cousin Belfry had been a grape stomper until he was fired for sitting down on the job.

Back when Captain Kangaroo was a corporal, a high school coach made me climb that confounded rope reaching to the rafters of the big gym. It was called the big gym because we had a little gym, too. There was a paper thin, red, wrestling mat below the rope. The coach said it was red so it wouldn’t show the blood when I fell.

Decisions are difficult. It took years of thinking about changing breakfast cereals before I could switch. I ordered all red wines because I’d determined they wouldn’t show the blood. White wine pairs well with fish. It’s like tartar sauce. I was having a cracker. I reckoned red wine went better with crackers. I hoped that had Belfry been there, he’d have given me his stomp of approval.

The fellow seated next to me stuck his schnozzola deep into his glass. He had a nose for wine.

The wine guy tried to educate me about each glass. Raisin awareness, you might say. Every bottle had a story. It was a classy place because not one of the stories was, “Just twist off the cap and don’t mind the chunks.”

Nearly 90 percent of all U.S. wine is produced in California according to the Wine Institute, which is an institute of wine. There are 46,000 acres of vineyards planted in Napa Valley and a price of $400,000 per acre isn’t uncommon.

The wine seller in the wine cellar told me that California is the world’s fourth leading wine producer after France, Italy and Spain. He added that Chardonnay is the leading varietal wine from California, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, White Zinfandel and Pinot Grigio. I was surprised Dandelion hadn’t made the list.

I remembered a joke. “Waiter, there is a fly in my wine!”

“You did ask for something with a little body to it.”

I was restrained from telling it by the checks and balances of my marriage.

The wine glasses were small. They’d have been smaller, but the thimbles were in the dishwasher. The glasses were too small to get two toasts out of one. So, I’ll toast you with my cup of tea: First half of the glass to your good health, the second half to your happiness.

I flew home inside another plane.

It was an escape from the planet of the grapes.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Saturday.