Monday, September 10, 2007

Middle America, Calif.

September 10

Last Friday, after learning about almonds' nutritional (they're filling, have protein and lots of good fats as well as nice micronutrients) and beauty-enhancing attributes (basically, they have lots of Vitamin E, but you can also smash them and use them to exfoliate if you want to), we went to Vino Piazza, charmingly fractured Italian for "Wine Plaza."
There four of the six wineries that rent space there stayed open for us to try their wines. So I met giggling Craig Watts, the owner of Watts Winery, Matthew the perpetual student, who was pouring wine for Olde Lockeford Winery, whose owner is an amateur paleontologist, and so many of the wine labels feature prehistoric creatures (a trilobite on one, a saber-toothed tiger skull on another, a triceratops skull on a third); and the father-son team that runs La Vida Dulce winery.
I didn’t make it to the fourth winery.
California’s central valley is America’s produce basket, but its grapes are mostly used for blending into inexpensive vintages. Over the past decade or so, however, some of the growers have taken to bottling their own stuff – with mixed results, for sure, but some of it is tasty. But what was really fun about Vino Piazza was the people pouring the wine, who had the pride of winemakers of more prestigious wine-growing regions without the pomp.
They had the straightforwardness mixed in with quirky idiosyncrasies that make exploring the United States a continuous thrill and adventure.
That vision of the central valley was reinforced at dinner, which was at Harmony Wynelands in Lodi. It’s a vineyard whose spokesman, surfer and would-be Hawaiian Shaun MacKay, is the stepson of owner Bob Hartzell. With very little prompting, Bob will sidle up to the reception hall's organ, for which the hall was built in 1921. In fact, the organ’s pipes fill two rooms adjacent to the hall.
Why does a Lodi winery have a gigantic organ? Why not? They also feature silent films accompanied by the organ four times a year.

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