Updated: Mar 4, 2022
“That line you’re standing on divides Sonoma and Napa counties,” Andy says. I stand with one foot in each county and look out over the line that cuts through the grapevines in front of me.
“More dividing lines. They’re everywhere,” I think.
A friend connected me with Andy, at Pride Mountain Vineyards. Earlier that day, I’d driven a long winding road through a valley and up a mountain. I passed RVs parked on raw dirt among needleless evergreens — markers of where glorious homes once sat.
The drive was a haunting past nature had blazed through. At one point, I questioned who would build a winery at the end of such a treacherous road, but then I climbed to a hilltop where the Pride property rambled down to a pond, up to a ranch-like winery, and over what seemed like miles of gorgeous vine covered hills.
“It’s so beautiful,” I say.
As I look over both sides of the dividing line, I ask, "How does the fact that the winery sits on two counties affect production?”
“Well, there are different laws and taxes for each, and we have a production facility for each county," he says as he points to buildings on either side of the line, "but the wine production process is pretty much the same. Let’s go check out the wine caves.”
The wine caves tunnel through mountains like secrets carving out space for buried treasure. We stop by a fork in the barrel-filled tunnels and taste an amazing Merlot. “This is Merlot?” I ask.
“Yes.” Andy laughs. “Amazing how that one line from Sideways really gave Merlot a bad name.”
I laugh and think about how true that is. One opinion or prejudicial idea can stick with a person, group, culture, or wine forever.
We walk through the tunnels to a gorgeous room with stone walls, a wooden ceiling, and plush sofas covered in cozy pillows. I decide I never want to leave this room. As Andy pours a Syrah, I take a deep breath and settle into the sofa, so grateful for the distraction. The last few days, I’ve been sucked into hours of coverage of Russia’s war on Ukraine. Watching families huddled in basements. Bombs exploding. Women walking their babies miles to Poland’s border. I’ve been checking for updates about my Ukrainian co-workers while trying to focus on meditating and praying for peace and feeling sick in my gut.
“You must get to meet a lot of interesting people,” I say, attempting to focus on the present.
“It’s funny,” Andy says like he’s reading my thoughts, “I meet people from all over the world. And by and large, people everywhere want the same things. They want to love their families, have a safe place to live, be healthy, and every once in a while, drink some wine.”
I think about the dividing line between Napa and Sonoma. Different counties and slightly different laws and taxes, but very similar processes. I wonder how we get from slightly different laws and similar processes to giant rifts in beliefs.
Is it one bad line from a movie like, “I am not drinking any f*cking Merlot!” that twists our ideas of what’s true and false?
I take another sip of the Merlot. It’s delicious. In fact, I like it more than the Syrah.
“You know, there are ruins of an old winery on the property. It was built in 1890 and it burned down during Prohibition,” Andy says.
“Was it a wildfire? Like one of the ones that burned all the homes along the road up here?” I ask.
“More like when a mortgage and insurance policy rub together,” Andy says.
“Ohhhh,” I say and take another sip. Later, I do some research and discover that wineries like the one on the property that burned during Prohibition are called “ghost wineries.” Before Prohibition, California had about 700 wineries and by the time it was over 13 years later, only about 40 had managed to survive. The ones that did produced wines for religious ceremonies or bootlegging.
I think about the first person to plant vines on this property over 130 years ago and the resiliency of the land that survived fires, Prohibition laws, divided county laws, and changing ownerships. Different people, different beliefs, different owners, and Pride Family Wines is still there producing incredible wine.
Andy pours red wine into my glass and says, “This is our Claret Reserve.”
“I’ve never heard of a Claret,” I say as I hold the glass up to my nose and sniff. My head dizzies from the rich scent.
“It’s technically a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and a little Petit Verdot.”
I take a sip. My taste buds feel like they’ve just been born. It’s ridiculously delicious.
“Oh my God,” I say.
“I know.” Andy laughs and smiles. “This is the wine we drink at our Christmas party.”
It makes sense that the most magical wine of the most pride is a blend; a rich combination of divided land, different laws, combined heritage, and resilient history, fully worthy of celebration.
PHOTOS: 1. The Sonoma/Napa county line 2. Barrel-filled wine tunnels
3. The gorgeous room I never wanted to leave
4. The ghost winery
5. & 6. Beautiful vistas at Pride Mountain Wine