September 5, 1965. Michael Fallon, a San Francisco journalist, uses the term ‘hippie‘ in an article about the new generation of beatniks gathering in the Haight-Ashbury area. A lot of people point to this as the first recognizable use of the term that brands a generation, culture, and way of life.
California is still home to a significant population of hippies–the original version and the new vintages of them. I myself was born in California and come from authentic hippie stock. This is why I am making an effort to get over my temporary fixation with Spanish wine and try more California wines. This is also why I lean towards organic anything. (And why when my doctor disapproved of my not having had many of my shots as a child, I had to explain that I felt lucky to at least have a real birth certificate.)
Over the years, the hippies that lived and thrived in northern California grew weary of covertly growing their lucrative crop of the Devil’s Weed, and a few turned to the newest cash crop—grapes. Wine grapes to be specific. They slowly became farmers, then vintners, then they became famous. And rich. And it was all legal. They got thanked by the state of California’s tourism captains. The French hated them. It changed the face of the countryside, now littered with B&Bs and tasting rooms among the grapes.
Now when people think about wine in the US, they think about Northern California. And Paul Giamatti. Because most people saw the movie Sideways after all of the hoo-ha about it. (I prefer Bottle Shock because you learn more about wine, and there’s less whining. No pun intended.) The people that like to draw lines and make categories out of things say there’s three major wine regions in California. Or possibly four. Depending on who you talk to. They also use words like viticulture, appellation, and riparian zones. These people crack me up.
The three, or four, regions are Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, and possibly Lake County. Each of these regions are broken down into sub-regions, and of course there are all kind of outlying regions that aren’t as cool or famous. Wine country is about wine the same way that Comic-Con is about comic books. There’s so much more. And the extreme tourism brought on by the fame is further distorting the earthy traditions of the region’s wineries.
Anyhow, being from good hippie stock, and being born in California, I’ve had the nagging feeling that I should drink more California wines. Fortunately the wine buyer at Ward’s seems to think the same thing and has been stocking some interesting options lately. I picked up this Pacific Redwood organic red along with a Chilean and a Spanish.
I’m a bit wary of the organic wines, especially when they advertise they are not just organically grown, but have no added sulfides. They can sometimes be quite rough and need a bit of time to breathe after opening. But this Pacific Redwood from Mendocino County was bright from the opening and didn’t oxidize until it had been open for about an hour. The dark purple-red wine had a very wet and juicy mouth feel, but a mildly woody nose. It initially tasted sweet and young, with lots of berry flavors throughout. There were lovely undertones of honey, and then it finished with a dry peppery flavor before disappearing cleanly.
Overall it was a light, young wine that I would drink again. A little sweeter than I prefer, but quite enjoyable with some snacks or a light meal. I want to try it against a little honey-barbecue baked tofu. Mmmmmm.
So my exploration of California wine continues. With the rise of somewhat legal medical marijuana in the state, one has to wonder if the hippies-turned-vintners feel the urge to return to their original crops, or if they like the more robust success of the less edgy wine culture. I hope they stick with it. At least until California gets that next big earth quake and falls into the Pacific.