Confession: I like to drink wine.

How did a girl who grew up a few miles from NASCAR’s Martinsville Speedway get into wine? Ah, past waitressing employment at The Babb Bar Cattle Baron Supper Club, DePalma’s, and The Depot, quickly taught me that the easiest way to increase my tips was to gain a working knowledge of wine. And that gaining such knowledge was pretty fun, too.

I am by no means a wine snob – fine wine is festive and a treat for the senses, but paying off Warehomes and drinking Opus One do not hand-in-hand go. Plus, anything but Black Box at a Hillstock event would just be … wrong.

I am also by no means an expert on wine, but I know enough to enjoy tasting it and pairing it, and I’d heard nothing but rave reviews about trips to the area of California where so many American wines are crafted. So, I asked my mom and Sissy to come visit us in California, and to go with me to see wine country. Being foodies more than boozers, we mostly ate our way through wine country, which is yet another outrageously beautiful area of Northern California. Here are a few highlights from our trip:

We took a tour at Domaine Carneros and learned all about the art of sparkling wines – the tour was well done and ended with a seated tasting of their fabulous bubbly wines and equally delicious pinot noir. The place itself is gorgeous and the patio lends itself to cheese nibbling and champagne sipping. Loved it!

Being foodies and farm girls at heart, I think our exploration of the above gardens of the French Laundry, said to be the best restaurant in America, was probably the highlight of the trip for us.

We marveled over the perfect rows of garlic, the immaculate greenhouse, and the least-mangy bunch of chickens I have ever set eyes on. The French Laundry’s gardens were simply inspiring, and a lovely way to while away a morning while we waited for our next lunch reservation, at Mustards Grill.

Photo credit to Mustards Grill.

Which was, no surprise, simply divine. I’ve never tasted fresher ahi tuna anywhere. And I must compliment the staff on their acting skills – Maggie Rose also loved Mustards, and expressed her approval by throwing rice and bits of everything else we tasted onto the floor, leaving the kind of mess that the former waitress in me inwardly groaned over.

Our waitress acted like the mess was the highlight of her day, and we tipped her handsomely. I am so glad that motherhood has not completely eliminated occasional fine dining from my life. Thank you, Mustards.

Photo credit to Cakebread Cellars.

Our next stop was at Cakebread – quite a treat, as Cakebread is a wine of celebration and not of any ole Friday night. An appointment to taste is required, and is worth the effort. Our wonderful tour guide, a wine maker and viticulturalist, led us out into the vineyards, and we learned a good bit about the science behind the growing of the grapes, as opposed to just learning about the wine making process itself. The sun poured down on us, honeybees buzzed about, and the pours were generous and a sensory delight. Cakebread’s sauvignon blanc and big reds already occupied a special place in my heart, but I didn’t think I liked chardonnay of any kind until I tasted Cakebread’s. Wow.

My friend Damian – see his handsome face below – lives in Napa, and joined us for our adventures at Mustards and Cakebread. He suggested an impromptu stop at Chandon, and we tasted white bubbles, rose bubbles, and red bubbles on Chandon’s sun soaked patio. Outside the realm of the ever-reviled Cold Duck, I’d never heard of red bubbles, and I must say I expected a cloying assault on my tastebuds. Oh, no no no my friends. Chandon’s red sparkling would be new my favorite wine, if only it were available for purchase outside of the winery! To me, it is the best parts of a big red and of champagne, and as we discussed during our tasting, it would be the perfect accompanionment for Thanksgiving dinner, or any other heavy meal. If you can get your paws on a bottle, give it a try!

After our fun at Chandon, we returned to our home base of Sonoma, where we continued eating (I know, I know) and thoroughly enjoyed a meal at The Girl and The Fig. How fun is their wine flight presentation?

Dear childhood friend from our mutually long abandoned hometown, Damian, joined us for dinner, and I think I will have to change his characterization to “life long friend,” as it seemed we picked up right where we had left off, at graduation. So great to see you, D.

Then, just when we thought our tastebuds couldn’t handle any more culinary wonders, our dear friend Maie hosted a dinner at her home in Sacramento:

Maie, I’ve never eaten at the French Laundry, but I don’t see how it could possibly be any better than our meal together. I’m so glad you joined us!

Ladies, it was a pleasure! And now, to the gym to work off the excesses of our wonderful time in Sonoma County.

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