WEB EXCLUSIVE: Wine Country, Somewhere

Where Food and Drink Come Together

When I look back to our travels over the years, I find that most of the time when Kathy and I wound up in wine country somewhere — it could be France, Italy, Argentina or Australia — we have come realize these places that grow grapes and make wine are not only special by themselves, but they also spawn a gastronomic counterpart that enhances the travel experience.
I think this all started for us in 1974, when we did a six-week trip to Europe with the goal of skiing the Alps and exploring many of the local wine regions. We wound up buying a used Simca sedan in Zurich, Switzerland, for $400, which we drove 6,000 miles through the wine and ski country and then sold it back to the dealer for $200. It was a great trip, and we were able to explore portions of the wine regions of Switzerland, Germany, France and Italy. The knowledge we gained on this trip really allowed us to expand horizons with our own California winemaking practices, and ingrained the wonderful benefits of our punch-down style of winemaking.
One April day, later in our trip, we found ourselves in the little Alsatian town of Kaiserberg, which was the birth lace of Albert Schweitzer. A very pretty place with a beautiful river flowing through it and a myriad of great, old stone buildings. We spent the night in a bed and breakfast, which was really someone’s house with an extra room. With my veterinary background, we were able to help them with a sick dog. In return, they set up an appointment for us at the only three-star Michelin restaurant in the region, called L’Auberge de L’Ill, the next day for lunch.
As next day arrived, on our way to this special appointment, we stopped at the local veterinarians’ practice to say hi and explore their world of medicine. It was a very modest building and practice and combined the family home. However, we were greeted like old friends.
Our host almost immediately opened a trap door in the floor and descended to the wine cellar, emerging with a bottle of 1959 Grand Cru Chablis for us to try at 10 in the morning. This is still one of the most memorable and delicious wines I ever remember tasting.
Needless to say, our experience at L’Auberge de L’Ill, an absolutely gorgeous place right on the banks of the river Ill, was superlative with four courses and four wines for lunch that only lasted three hours.
We suddenly realized that we had blown our budget that afternoon, with a meal that back then cost almost $100 and wound up sleeping in the car that night.
I think what many of us don’t realize that there are many opportunities to explore wine country, with literally every state in the United States producing wine. It’s even done in New York City. Other than the traditional spots, you’ll find wineries in Croatia, Greece, Sicily, Georgia Russia, Mexico, Uruguay, Canada and even Tasmania.
Kathy and I have been hosting some very interesting cruises in the past few years along with the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers association. Two years ago, we went from Chile around the horn to Argentina, exploring the wines of those countries and doing Zinfandel seminars on the ship. Last year we started in Copenhagen and wound up in Lisbon, with some great wine stops in France, Spain and Portugal.
Next year we’ll be bringing Zinfandel back to the southern hemisphere, with a super trip that encompasses New Zealand, Australia and Tasmania.
I guess you can always find us in wine country somewhere. For more information, or if you would like to join us, visit the ZAP website, www.zinfandel.org, and look for cruise.

This article appears in the July-August 2011 issue of Alameda Magazine
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