Wine at the coast is a mixed pleasure. On the beach proper, it makes a fine accessory to good times, but not to good winetasting notes. And then there's the issue of glass. Sure, a fine time can be had with boxed wine and plastic cups—maybe throw in some soda and call it a cooler.
Advertisements in travel magazines and tourism brochures, however, make it seem that the major activity couples enjoy on the seaside is clinking wine glasses whilst silhouetted in the foreground of a golden sunset shimmering over the waves. And seafood takes to wine even better than water.
I made a little headway toward resolving these contradictions while wine surfing Bodega Bay—with just one taste of Mahoney Vineyards Carneros Vermentino ($21), a lean and lively pale white, perfumed as subtly as sea spray, that rides the edge of refreshing limelike acidity with deceptive ease. In a light, perpetual afternoon breeze, overlooking the partially sheltered waters of Bodega Bay from the deck of Gourmet au Bay, this was vino perfecto. My group reflected that while we don't get any actual fresh catch out of these waters anymore, hell, at least we've got great local wine. And the views.
Wine flights are efficiently served on custom wooden "surfboard" trays, an invention of the previous owners. Hard to believe this shop has been here on Highway 1 since 1995—for locals, the sign promising, "wine, gifts" is not a sure lure—but the new owners are a young couple who've done a good job of increasing its visibility and viability as a nice coastal joyride pit stop.
The wine racks stock a modest, eclectic selection of locals—Longboard, naturally; also Vision Cellars, Fort Ross, Fleur—weighted in the $20–$30 price range, and a few South African or New Zealand specials. The Chardonnay list, in particular, demonstrates both a savvy understanding of their clientele and a principled approach to the list. Plenty of unspendy bottles under $20 for vacationing fans of Americans' favorite wines and no run-of-the-mill big brands. Besides hooch, Gourmet au Bay is well stocked with gifts, wine ware and books; again, mainly eclectic, not the usual bric-a-brac.
The second wine off the board, a woody Mackenzie Chardonnay ($18), might have been better with the artisan cheese and cracker plate ($12). That's all for snacking, but Gourmet au Bay encourages patrons to bring a picnic or takeout lunch to enjoy on their deck (conversely, they've got a free corkage arrangement with local restaurants). Cold crab cakes and sparkling wine by the sunset over bay? Sounds like a date.
Gourmet au Bay, 913 Hwy. 1, Bodega. Wine surfing, $8. 707.875.9875.