Several years ago, Mrs. Dynamite and I visited Napa Valley for the first time. We enjoyed touring the Valley, tasting wine at a bunch of places, and quickly found a favorite in Vincent Arroyo Winery. When we returned to Napa several years later, I was shocked at how much things had changed: most of the wineries we visited seemed to have become purely commercial "Disney" enterprises - come in, pay a tasting fee (and these weren't $5 tasting fees, I'm talking about $10-$20 for tastings!), get a mass produced treatment, and leave. We didn't even go to any of the big name cookie cutter places you'd have heard of even if you've never been to Napa.
However, on our second trip, there was one thing that hadn't changed - the friendly treatment and extensive service at Vincent Arroyo. Although I am, of course, a big hitter, the folks at Arroyo don't know this, and took us on a back room tour, letting us taste their finest wines straight from the barrel - just because that's how they roll. Now, I'm hesitant to spill these secrets, as I don't want everyone to storm Arroyo winery and ruin what makes it so special - the fact that it's a smaller, less trafficked winery, which allows it to give its guests special treatment. Also, they actually care about customer service, clearly, which is especially essential in their field, as the wine tasting experience can be almost as important as the actual wine. The memories we have of Arroyo make their wine taste better to us - because we think back to the experience every time.
This year, we were in Sonoma, for the impending nuptials of the legendary Dirty Dave, and the Big Show, Erik the Nit, and yours truly treated our respective ladies to a Saturday of high class wine touring, courtesy of Dave Rasmussen at Eclectic Tour. Thanks to Dave's inside knowledge, we found another fantastic gem in Hawley Winery, a tiny family run operation in Dry Creek Valley. Mrs. Dynamite and I picked up matching t-shirts at Hawley, along with a bunch of wine.
Sunday morning, we wanted to take the Big Show and his woman to Arroyo, so they could see what we'd been raving about for years. I surprised everyone by wearing my new Hawley Winery t-shirt. "Isn't that like wearing the competitor's logo?" Mrs. Dynamite wondered, but I explained that I'd use it as a reverse psyche out to show Arroyo that they weren't the only play in the Kid Dynamite playbook, which would get us superstar treatment.
After calling to set up an appointment, we arrived at Arroyo around 11am. As we got out of the car, Vince himself came out of the shop, and put me to the test early: "What do you want?" He gruffly shot at me. Being the savvy consumer I am, IKWTFHW (I Knew Who The Fuck He Was) and calmly replied, "We want to taste your wine!" Having passed the test, Vince cracked a smile, put his arm around me, and led us into the tasting room, which is part of the winery. We were lucky that they had just finished bottling, and thus had a barrage of wines for us to taste - Arroyo sells a huge portion of their wine via standing customer annual orders (which I have, of course), so if we were there a month later they'd probably have been sold out of lots of stuff.
Having noticed that one of their vineyards was brand new, with tiny vine saplings, I asked Vince what had happened, and he responded by explaining that the grape yields in that vineyard had deteriorated due to old age, and had to be replanted. After pouring us fresh tastes, he led us out to the vineyard, where he got down on his knees, digging with his bare hands at the foot of the vine, and showed us how they grafted the vines onto the root stock. I was unaware that they don't plant "Cabernet" or "Merlot" - they plant a root stock that's suitable to the climate in that particularly place, and can then graft their choice of grape varietals onto it. Watching the patriarch of the Arroyo wine family digging in the loose soil with his bare hands to give us a lesson on a perfect September Sunday morning, we all smiled, feeling lucky, and I pitied the poor suckers paying $50 for an ounce of Opus One further down the Valley.
We ventured back inside to taste the rest of Vince's offerings, and Mrs. Dynamite insisted I add 3 bottles of the Cab Reserve to our order, which I promptly did. By this point, Vince was entertaining some other guests, but must have been within earshot, because when I asked the lady who was adjusting my order if it was possible to order some more of their 2000 Cab right now, she replied that I'd have to wait until they have their annual library sale. Vince popped back over, and asked, "Would you like to take one with you?"
That's an easy question. "You know where they are?" I asked him, as it had been explained to me that until the library sale, they didn't even know what their inventory of past releases was.
"I have it in my cellar," Vince explained. Ummm - ok - the guy whose name is on the wine is offering me bottles from his cellar? Let me think about it...
"Absolutely, thank you so much," I was pretty impressed.
Vince returned with his hands full, and explained to me, "I brought you three bottles - the 2000 cab, the 2001 cab, and the 1991 cab." I was speechless, shocked at the privilege. I looked at the woman who had been helping me, and made a motion to her that said "how much for these," but Vince cut me off - they were his treat. "You just have to tell me how you like them," he requested - DEAL.
Now - was this treatment a result of Vince fearing he'd lose me to Hawley? No - of course not - I'm guessing he was happy to have a young couple who clearly enjoyed his wine (that's me and Mrs. D) bragging in front of him to our friends (Big Show and his fiancee) about his winery, and relished our enthusiasm and the joy we got from drinking his "work." He was eager to share his wine, and I hope he knew it would be the highlight of our trip, and he should also know that it will make us loyal customers for life.
I'd like to say that we packed the wine up to bring home and save for a special occasion, but we didn't want to risk packing them in our luggage, and also, we were already in California for a wedding - a special occasion indeed. Within an hour, we'd gotten our bounty back to the hotel, and did a side by side comparison of the three wines, savoring them alongside a few cigars I'd brought along. So how did we like the wines? Vince, the answer is simple: they were unforgettable. Thanks again.
Kid Dynamite's tasting notes:
1991 Cab: "Holy crap that's good. This must be what really good wine tastes like."
2000 Cab: "This is an old favorite of mine - my go to "luxury" wine that I don't break out when I have company over - I want to hog it for myself"
2001 Cab: "I'm amazed at how similar this tastes to the 1991. Not quite as balanced, but seems a lot "smoother" than the 2000 Cab. Wicked good. This was Mrs. Dynamite's favorite."