He certainly doesn’t expect me to write something like what is on the back label of the 2011 Ménage à Trois I just picked up from the store: Ignite the romance with our silky, smooth Pinot Noir. Made with grapes from a trio of top California growing regions in a lush, fruit-forward style. It’s utterly irresistible. Bright cherries mingle with sultry violets and hints of toasty oak in a delicious slow jam on the palate. Whew! Enough to induce an instant wet dream!!!  Nothing like that. You haven’t picked a wine that I didn’t like. I’m obviously flattered and pleased. Not to mention all the fun we would have traveling together. Also to get out of Chicago’s bitter winter during the month of January is nothing to sniff at.

Over the next eleven days, we did the wineries of Napa Valley that included Sonoma and Mendocino counties. We met with the owners, wine makers, PR people and tasted a whole slew of what California had to offer in terms of wines paired to what has come to be known as California Cuisine, and enjoyed tremendously the hospitality of exquisite small, quaint and cozy boutique hotels, such as Vintners Inn and Medowood and others dotted along the wine trail. I hope to write of them in detail some other time, but the story I want to tell you today is that of the evening we spent with Pinot Noir farmers in the little hill-top town of Boonville.

With Ken Beck of Fetzer, a group of us drive up the long and winding mountainous route 128 to the place called The Sound Bite. It’s a down home all American small town restaurant and bar, complete with the pool table and serving very basic food. We have what looks and tastes like minced meat pie baked with a layer of mashed potatoes. The place is buzzing with the wine grape growers and winemakers of Mendocino County.  They have gathered here to present, taste and talk about their own Pinot Noirs, for which the region is renowned. More than any other varietal, they tell  us, Pinot Noir is very site specific if truly great wine is to be made.

Through the evening, we taste total of twenty one Pinot Noirs, including three sparkling varieties. The tasting is divided into six flights.  Each flight contains wines from three to four wineries.  Most of the wines presented are of ’93 and ’94 vintages and to our un-educated pallets they taste more like Beaujolais Nouveau.  For us, non wine-growers, the most interesting thing is to be among the wine farmers and the producers themselves, instead of the owners and the PR people describing their wares. The men and women we find ourselves surrounded by are the real farmers, they till the land, harvest the crops, press the grapes, make the wines and bottle them. You can see a definite parental pride and joy in their eyes as they fondly fuss over the wines that cross our lips and titillate our taste buds.

Of the five women sitting at our table of eight, four are grape farmers with their own Pinots, the fifth, Leisha is Ken’s daughter, and even though Ken too is a wine maker, he is with us as an observer – the other two men being Jan and I. Curiously, us three men are either married or committed, whereas all five women are apple heads–the Boonville slang for single women. I will call the four farmer femmes, Sally, Nicky, Christine and Mandy. They are all in their early to mid-thirties. Good looking even, in rustic sort of way. While they are dressed up for the evening, you could see and feel that they are true farmhands, wholesome and strong of toned muscles. After a couple of flights and after the ice has been broken between us, the women let their hair down and begin to educate us in the local secret language called Bootling.

‘You know what an apple head blanketing means?’ Asks Nicky. Seeing that we’re shaking our heads, she continues.

‘That means, a single woman getting laid. Like our Mandy here.’

‘Nicky! Please!!’ Mandy throws a faux embarrassment.

‘Actually she got burlaped, didn’t you Mandy?’ quips Christine.

‘What’s that?’ either Jan or I ask.

‘That means…’

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