Wine in the Afternoon

About 10 days ago I ventured out to wine country in the Santa Barbara region of California with my friend Hamlet. From Los Angeles it is a two-and-a-half hour drive there cruising at a comfortable speed of 70 mph. He did some research the night before our venture and stumbled upon some information about Cambria Winery. Using the amazing technology of GPS, the man in the wallet-sized black box told us how to get there while simultaneously displaying driving maps with all the roads clearly visible on its screen. He even chastised us when we were heading in the wrong direction.

Santa Barbara county is mostly arid and a borderline desert. The fact that anything at all can grow there is truly miraculous. Despite the dry, steamy weather grape vines are abundant and stretch for hectares into the distance, blanketing the scorched earth. In one vineyard I noticed that at the end of every row of vines some roses were planted-we assumed that the gesture was a symbolic offering for good fortune. There was no one around to ask what the meaning of it was.

After a few lefts and rights we finally made it to Cambria. The winery is one of the oldest in the area with a history of over 20 years. Just outside the building that houses the oak barrels in which the wine is aged for several years there are four rows of large stainless steel vats about 10 feet in diameter and nearly 60 feet high. The wine is kept there for a year according to what we were told before they are transferred into the oak barrels, depending on the vintage. Yet some wines are bottled after maturing for only one year in the steel containers. There was also a café deck complete with tables, chairs, and shade umbrellas. But inside was where the wine sampling could be experienced.

We approached the wine bar and after a few moments the jovial, bearded gentleman there started pouring away the whites. He started with a Pinot Gris before switching to Chardonnay. I am not a big fan of white wines, especially Californian, so I did not experience very much enjoyment from what was being poured into our glasses at first. I could not even finish my sample of the first white he poured and instead dumped what was left in my glass into Hamlet’s as he seemed to like it. After four samples of the whites we thankfully switched to the reds, namely Pinot Noirs and a Syrah or two. One Pinot Noir, a 2006 vintage “clone”, won some kind of an award apparently, so the people at Cambria seem to know what they are doing. Those wines are typically light in color, not an intense red as for instance a Côtes du Rhône has. And the Pinot Noir was generally lacking in character to some extent, smooth but boring to my palate. The 2005 Tepesquet Syrah we tried, however, was the type of wine I was hoping to taste. It was vibrant, with strong hints of carob and cardamom. The color was a deep dark cherry, and it was beautiful. Of all the wines we sampled it was the one which impressed me the most and was very reasonably priced at $19 compared with many others which were selling for well over $25.

Hamlet asked his mother to pack some cheese, fruit, and bread in a thermos container for the afternoon’s adventures. We noticed that beside the wine bar was a refrigerator which contained some soft drinks as well as cheeses. I noticed there was double crème brie for sale, so I purchased one and we headed out to the deck with a bottle of the Syrah. It was a fabulous fromage-et-vin infused afternoon, the kind you read about in a Hemingway novel, complete with the smoking of small aromatic cigars. We didn’t want to leave but other adventures were waiting for us in the city, namely the hunt for fabulous sushi. Besides, they unfortunately didn’t have any tents handy for us to camp in.

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