Just outside the parking lot, a man is offering free rides in a Buick Enclave, official car of Sonoma County Wine Country Weekend, but he isn't getting any takers. "They're free!" he calls out. But the walk up to the ranch is pleasant, good exercise considering the gourmet calories that lie ahead, and oddly enough, perfumed with cedar. Note the "elk horn" style vineyard trellis. Sure enough, this is an E&J Gallo property, purchased from the MacMurray family in 1996.
Front and center, Lagunitas Brewery is pouring "Daytime" IPA. How's business at this winetasting event? Nonstop, says the Lagunitas man, adding the old saw, "It takes a lot of beer to make great wine!"
Meanwhile, in the old horse barn, a Pinot Noir seminar has just reached the perilous question-and-answer part of the program: Could they comment on the relative merits of 2008 vs. 2009 and blah blah blah? Winemaker Jeff Pisoni saves the day with a colorful analogy: "The '09s are kinda like the really forward, outgoing, superfriendly person that you really love, the first time you meet them; the '10s are . . . You know there's a good person in there, but they're kind of sitting back." By the by, the MacMurray Ranch 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($27) has upfront aromas of woodsmoke, cayenne, strawberry jam, cherry cola and grilled raspberries. Can't say much for the mid-palate, but the finish is firm.
Under the Russian River Valley tent, Jon Phillips is selling a doubting Debbie on his Inspiration Vineyards Syrah. She's got a small plate of smoked squid with pesto from one of the many restaurant food-pairing stations, but she has preference for Viognier. Phillips wins a new fan. "I've got to tell my boyfriend—I found a Syrah I like!" she exclaims.
Inside another barn, here's a pour of MacMurray Ranch 2009 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay ($20)—sweet creamery butter, golden delicious apple, lemon custard, sticky but not sickly palate—and a photographic history of the property, which popular actor Fred MacMurray purchased in 1941. And, as if to bookend the exhibit, here's Fred's daughter Kate, leaning thoughtfully on a stall railing, speaking with a small group after a scheduled tour of the property.
In the end, everyone streams out toward a fleet of black luxury short buses, or their own cars. Honestly, it's hard to pick out the designated drivers, but the CHP is there to help. But wait, here's a long queue in the opposite direction. Done, finished, with wine, these people can't get enough Lagunitas IPA. A young woman in the industry assures me, "It takes a lot of beer to make great wine!" It just never gets old.