When someone says California, the first thing that pops into my head is “Wine Country”. And accompanied by the phrase is the image of sun-kissed grapes, maturing with time, ripening with patience. As I breathe in the smell of those grapes my mind wanders to pulpy glasses half-filled with blood-red liquid and tiny bubbles along the edges. I imagine the light refracting through the liquid, the redness reflecting on a white table-cloth. And I heave a sigh, coming back to reality.
For a long time, I only fantasised about wines and wineries. And then I travelled to San Francisco for work. As soon as I knew the news, I asked my colleague about wine tasting tours. Lucky for me, my colleague had a friend whose family owned the renowned Robert Mondavi winery—before it was sold to a multinational beverage corporation. After the sale, however, the Robert Mondavi family bought another estate and now run it by the name of Continuum. My colleague arranged a tasting and a tour for my friend and me. Swelling with joy, I realised my fantasies could perhaps become reality.
One not-so-fine Saturday, we drove down to see the romance that’s Napa. It was the hottest day of the Californian summer. The government had issued heat wave warnings, and although tropical creatures, my friend and I had to brace ourselves with sunscreen and wet tissues. While my colleague drove, I stared out at the looming wineries, bunches of grapes enticing me all the way.
When we came to a halt at the top of a hill, under the scorching sun we saw grape vines extending in every direction. Juicy fruit hung on hinges waiting. Our host welcomed us with open arms—he’d come in to work on a Saturday just so we could get a whiff of their wine. We admired the vines while he explained the expanse of the estate. The Mondavi family owned all the hills our eye could see. That’s where they grew the flagship wine, while a little further down, he explained, is where they grew grapes for the sister wine, Novicium.
As if the sight wasn’t impressive already, our host made his narrative extra descriptive triggering awe and jealousy at the same time. He drove us through the vines, explaining the different types of grapes that grew on either side. While Cabernet extended on our right, more rare varietals took up the rest of the estate. Here and there amidst grapes we saw spice plants emitting flavours for the grapes to absorb. That’s how, we learnt, that natural spiciness comes into wine. We rode past Franc and Blanc, and far in the distance we caught sight of handsome olives hanging from their branches. Continuum Estate not only produces one of the elitist wines, but they also produce some of the highest quality—and much sought after—olive oil. After the outside tour, we went within the building where the actual magic would happen. We saw massive barrels awaiting harvested grapes.
Before moving further, our host directed us to the wooden plank that stood bearing a bottle and three glasses. As we approached the plank I saw Novicium, the sister wine. Unlike the flagship wine, this one is made from younger grapes and so bears tender flavours as compared to the bigger bolder one. Our host poured us each a generous amount and explained to us how we should smell, swirl, and sip the wine. A smile spread across my lips and as class creeped through my spine, I swirled and sipped. A mild sweet and peppery flavour touched my tongue and I held it in place trying to discern more. I couldn’t much. Rotating it in my mouth for a while, I let the juice dribble down my throat. The fruitiness with its complementary acidity refreshed me from within, making me feel oh so fancy.
According to our host, harvest this year would begin early thanks to the warm summer and the breeze that blew uphill. Nodding my head as if understood weather and its miracles, I put my head into a barrel and saw an intense hollow with a fan above. There were both oak and metal barrels, gleaming in the glory of newness. All around me were signs of grandeur and selectiveness—Continuum isn’t just any winery. Continuum is a luxury brand that ensures every drop of their wine is deserving of its price. Such was the care, and such was the process every grape went through.
“Let’s break bread,” our host announced leading us to a round table set amidst fresh wine barrels. On the polished wooden table were two glasses for each of us, along with a pitcher of cold water. In the centre was a platter of three cheeses, a basket of bread, a bowl of olives, and another of almonds. Right by the bread stood a green-labelled heavy bottle of olive oil.
We set our Novicium samples on the table. When I took my seat, I saw on my plate, a card welcoming me and my friends to the estate. It was a thoughtful gesture by the management to print out our names and the details of our tasting. And knowing that they went to all that trouble on a Saturday made me glow with gratitude. Before my elation could evaporate, our host brought out a bottle of the esteemed Continuum—the fanciest wine I’d ever see or be in the same room as in my lifetime. For the next 20 minutes, we ate and while we ate we drank our wines. I dipped my bread in the freshest of olive oil and sipped my wine with the creamiest of cheeses. It was my first experience with goat cheese which became an instant favourite.
I left the table a satisfied wine enthusiast. I’d realised some of my wildest fantasies in a single day, in a classy way, surrounded by friends I appreciate spending time with. At the end of it all, having thanked our host multiple times for his willingness, we drove downhill.
My heart, however, soared.