Updated: Jun 17, 2019
“Travels and travails on the wine road”
It was July of 1976 and I was on my first “wine trip” as an eager young tyro after a few years of selling wine at the Village Corner in Ann Arbor. Accompanied by an equally avid co-worker, Steve, we hopped into his old (and temperamental) VW Bug and headed toward California wine country.
Sponsored by the store, we were on an educational expedition and charged with the mission of returning with wines we didn’t see in Michigan…especially Zinfandels for a planned, extensive tasting survey.
It was the days of the “long-haired hippies” and “Okies from Muskogee” so leaving Michigan, particularly a tolerant and progressive Ann Arbor, was a bit shaky if not downright scary.
While passing through Utah, we ran out of gas (a malady of inexperienced youth) and I had to find a station while Steve stayed with his car. I was picked up almost immediately as I hitch-hiked, by a trucker who dropped me off near a gas station. Renting the container and filling it with the needed fuel, I began to hitch-hike back to the car. This time however, I had no luck being picked up but found myself being taunted by the locals that stopped and sped off as I approached the vehicle. I wound up walking all the way back to our car with the container of gas. My arms felt as if they had stretched three feet long from the weight of the gas and container, and my nerves frayed from the worry of what might happen to me on the way. With renewed energy for the car and its’ weary occupants, we entered California.
The trip was a stimulating exploration of the both famed old-guard estates and the newer young lions including intensive sessions with Bernard Portet at Clos du Val, Ric Forman of Sterling Vineyard fame and notable sessions with the principals at Mayacamus, Mount Veeder and numerous other wineries, especially and most endearingly an unexpected lunch with Eleanor McCrea on the patio of her Stony Hill home with small lizards skittering around our feet.
Dazzled and energized, we made our way south which resulted in a fortuitous and unscheduled stop at Ridge where it seemed half the town was picnicking on the hill. I got engaged in an interesting conversation with a knowledgeable guy who turned out to be the owner/winemaker Dave Bennion, who generously provided me access to several of the famed older bottlings from the cellar.
Things had gone better than we could have ever expected, but it was time to return. We loaded up the Bug with over three cases of Zins and four cases of our own and headed home, ready to share our booty. As we entered Utah a tire flattened on the bug and we found ourselves delayed as before. While the tire was being repaired, Steve and I grabbed a bite to eat at a nearby restaurant. During the meal the local "good ole' boys" stared and taunted. We rushed the food and left. Picking up the repaired bug, we headed for Colorado and in doing so, noticed that our "welcoming crew' were hot on our tail in their pickup trucks. Needless to say, we were again fearfull for our safety. Scared and intimidated we made it into Colorado where the trucks finally backed off.
Though the car was sluggish with its cargo, all went well until we neared Vail…the Bug just wasn’t up to scaling the “Great Divide”. With Steve hanging out the driver’s door managing the steering wheel and with me pushing from behind, we conquered the last fifty yards or so until we made it over the hump. Thankfully it was all downhill from there.
P.S. Once home in Ann Arbor, we arranged an all-day cook-out with about 25 people and 40 Zins. It was quite an intoxicating day.