Finding the Fun in Napa Valley

Our contributor takes a tour of California wine country
Abbey Wade Colgin Cellars is located in California's Napa Valley.

Anyone can write about the wines they tasted on their tour of California’s wine country; wine reviews can be found nearly anywhere you look online these days.  This considered, I feel (and fear) we’ve turned drinking wine into too serious of an activity.

And where’s the fun in that?

So instead of writing about all of the amazing, and mostly exclusive, wines I had the luxury of tasting, I would like to talk about the people and the smiles behind the wine you pour into your glass every evening, calming you down after a long day at the office. And, like wine, those people range from refreshingly light and bubbly to indulgently rich and elegant.

Winemaker Don Van Staaveren greeted us inside the walls of Three Sticks Winery, a 7,200-square-foot warehouse that screamed cool bachelor pad more than it did accomplished winery. He’s wearing an arm splint, khaki shorts, a flannel shirt, and weathered boots. His face and hair are delightfully kissed by many days spent in the sun and surf and when he laughs, his eyes show the age of a man who has lived a lot in his day. He can easily blend in with the crowd and no one would know they were walking among such a pioneer in Sonoma winemaking. He’s warm and kind and gentle. Even as he poured our 2012 barrel tastings (a rare treat), he did so with such a gentle hand, arm splint and all.

I sat next to Von Staaveren at dinner later that evening and we traded bites, constantly bumped elbows due to the splint, and talked about everything but wine.  After spending time with this man, I undoubtedly see the connection between him and his work. Von Staaveren chooses to not crush his grapes during his process, and I would expect nothing less from the most gentle man I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing a bite with.

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