I don't know about the rest of you, but Thanksgiving festivities have left me with a killer case of indigestion that several reputable antacids have been unable to alleviate. Who needs to eat pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, apple pie, and berry pie all in one sitting? Well, I did, apparently. It seemed like a good idea at the time, especially the sweet potato pie and pumpkin pie. That's like dating two hot cousins at once. 'Course, the aftermath seems to be comparable as well. What was I thinking?
When everything from calcium to bismuth seems to be letting you down, the only thing left to do is get off your keyster, go for a waddle in the tawdry splendor of the crisp Autumn sunshine, and let nature take its course. With my family, that involves car trips along the coast and a host of exploratory adventures fueled by my father's slavish devotion to the Travel section of the San Jose Mercury News. My childhood is haunted by memories of wading ankle deep through cow muck or trudging up narrow mountain paths in search of an elusive, dizzying view some travel reporter or blasted AAA guidebook columnist chose to rhapsodize about. My father's idea of family character building seems to always involve long, boring car rides punctuated by periods of sweat, discomfort, and physical exertion. Bless him for it.
For all our bellyaching as children, my father's sense of adventure provided, and continues to provide, my siblings and I with both fond memories and some truly rich life experiences. It's from him that I learned the philosophy of being a tourist in your own town. His busy schedule as a Silicon Valley IT executive meant that free time for family getaways was hard to come by. Instead, our weekends were full of day trips to nearby points of interest, scenic stops, and historic sites. Pops would work twelve to sixteen hours a day, often six days a week. However, Sunday was family time. He'd be up at 6am, regardless of when he'd gotten home from the office the night before, and spend the morning poring over the paper, maps, and that confounded AAA guidebook. Around 8 or 9, he'd rouse us from our beds with yet another long car trip planned. These days, Pops still works just as much as he used to, if not more. However, his kids have more or less flown the nest. The only time left for family outings are those brief periods during the holidays when we're all home at the same time.
The last time I was able to attend one of Pops's newspaper-inspired jaunts was exactly one year ago, right after Thanksgiving. My grandfather was visiting from Taiwan, so it was an extended outing with three generations, including a nearby aunt, uncle, and cousin. Pops had read about Château Julien Wine Estate, a small winery in Carmel Valley with complimentary tours that included wine tastings. The possibility of free wine caused my father's ears to metaphorically prick up, which is how I found myself wandering Château Julien's beautiful vineyards while fighting post-Thanksgiving indigestion and a hangover.
Founded in 1978 by a couple from New Jersey, Château Julien Wine Estates was patterned after rustic wineries the couple had encountered during their travels in France. While the operation was still relatively tiny after 22 years, its staff seemed dedicated to creating a quality product. As advertised, the tour was informative and free, without any strings, hard sells, or obligations to buy. Instead, we were shown each of the different stages of wine production. Since wine was a mostly undiscovered country for me, I found our guide's talk captivating. A savvier enthusiast might have considered it very basic. I wouldn't know. I'm not a savvy enthusiast.
The part of the tour we were all looking forward to, the wine tasting, arrived quickly enough. We were given six wines to sample, half white and half red. The wines were fairly pleasant, although oakier than I like and a bit young. I read on their website that a good portion of Château Julien's business is providing house wines for restaurants. Most of the wines I tried were what I would have expected if I'd ordered a standard house wine at a mid-range dining establishment. However, Château Julien's port was a pleasant surprise. Full bodied, yet not too sweet, its higher alcohol content was a great remedy for the Autumn chill. My grandfather went back for three refills.
Unsurprisingly, given that is was free, the tour finished in the winery's gift shop. My family was impressed enough by the port that we ended up buying a few bottles to drink later that evening. As we traversed the winding mountain highway that led back to our family home in Saratoga, I came to a startling revelation. I'm becoming more and more like my father. There was a time in the not-too-distant-past when I would have been consumed by boredom during the entire trip. I would have found the tour dull and the drive tiring. Instead, I'd enjoyed exploring the beauty of nearby Carmel Valley with my family, and spent part of the return journey planning a weekend getaway touring Southern California wineries with Cat. It involved maps, an article I remembered from the LA Times, and even my oft-maligned AAA guidebook.
Château Julien Wine Estate - A great place for an aspiring wine enthusiast to learn about wine-making and walk off a night of gluttony.
Château Julien Wine Estate
8940 Carmel Valley Road
Carmel, California 93923