Leaving the Mormon church three years ago created an opportunity to rethink everything we thought we knew about our lives, including the consumption of alcohol. We asked ourselves questions like “is it actually evil to drink wine?” and “if we did drink wine, what kind of effects would it have on us and would we turn into massive drunkards?” and “why did Joseph Smith have a propensity to bring in young girls into his household as maids and foster children, and then end up secretly marrying them behind his wife’s back and having sex with them?” Well, the answer to the first two questions was to book a trip to Napa Valley and go have our first taste of wine! The third question’s answer is because an angel with a sword threatened him to do those things or the angel would destroy him. What possible other explanation could there be??? Duh!
Now just to set the stage, Molly and I knew *nothing* about wine. The amount of wine knowledge that we learned was that there were red wines and white wines. And that California was supposed to be the best wine in the country, if not the world. But if you asked us if we loved Cabernet Sauvignon, we would have asked you if she was a French actress that we needed to see in the latest James Bond movie.
Driving up from the Oakland airport to Napa Valley was a nerve-wracking experience. Imagine never having alcohol in your life and now as an adult with teenage children, you were heading into the lion’s den of iniquity. Our thoughts quickly went to “will we be able to drive after we sip on a few samples of wine?”, “will we even like the taste?” and “will we be struck down with a bolt of lightning when our lips touch the glass?”
We hesitantly pulled into our Napa Valley hotel and checked in to our room. I hadn’t performed any type of research at all on where to go for our first wine experience, but I was sure the concierge could help us out. I told Molly to wait in the lobby and I would figure it all out for us. Down to the concierge desk I went!
Throat clearing – “um…uh…..hi there…um, ok this is going to sound a bit weird but my wife and I are exmormons and just left the church a few months ago and we kind of, uh, would like to try some wine for the first time in our lives…”
“Are you serious?!”
“Yeah, we really don’t know what we are doing, but want to go somewhere cool for our first experience. To be honest, I haven’t been this nervous since our honeymoon!”
She giggled and started to think about where we should go. “Do you have any ideas on the type of wine you would like to try?”
“We honestly know absolutely nothing about wine, so we were hoping you would make a recommendation for us?”
She thought about it for a moment and then made a reservation at Castello d’Amarosa in Callistoga. It was explained to us that the owner of this winery reconstructed an entire Tuscan castle in the Napa countryside, and she thinks we would enjoy the tour and the wine. I handed over a tip and away we went for our first wine tasting!
On the drive to the winery, I’m sure Molly was thinking about what would happen if I turned into an alcoholic after my first tasting and I was just hoping that the wine would turn Molly into a wild beast! Tit for tat…
As we drove past all the beautiful vineyards and massive wineries along Highway 29, we were both shocked about how incredibly stunning the landscapes were and how much money must be dedicated to making wine. If we had ever driven past vineyards and wineries in the past, our Mormon lenses made them invisible to us, but now our minds were blown over how incredible and expansive everything looked to us.
Parking the car at the castle, we both were wondering if we should change our mind and just go back to the hotel and maybe try a sip of wine in our room in private. But as we were already there, and the castle looked like an Italian castle, we decided to suck it up and brave the wine tour.
I walked up to the ticket counter and gave them our names for the reservation. “Hi, um… we are here to taste some wine?” “Oh yes” she replied, “I have your information right here! Would you like to participate in the normal tasting or the reserve tasting?” “I have no idea what that means but the reserve is more expensive so I’m assuming that means it’s better, so we will take that!” I think she thought I was messing with her because she laughed and told us that our group would be leaving on the tour in a few minutes and to have a seat in the chapel.
“How fitting! We are sitting in a chapel, getting ready to drink alcohol for the first time in our lives.” I thought as we waited for the rest of our group to join us. Molly and I tried to distract ourselves from what was about to happen by talking about how magnificent the chapel was, and how we couldn’t believe that this building existed in California. “My stomach feels a little nervous…” Molly said as the tour got underway.
We had about 10 other people with us as we started the tour of the upstairs of the castle. We were shown the main floors of the property which consisted of a courtyard, turrets, a large dining room, bedrooms – with all the materials brought over from Italy and reconstructed brick by brick. And then we moved onto the production facilities where the wines are made. As our guide described the process of wine making and how the grapes were brought in at exactly the right time, destemmed, crushed, extracted, vinified, and barreled, our minds were blown. Neither of us had any idea of the hard work it took to create a wine and put it in bottle. The smells of the oak and fruit, the history of the property, the passion of the winemaker – everything that was shared with us over that hour completely blew our minds and it’s something we will never forget (unless I get dementia of course and then all bets are off!)
As the tour progressed, we descended into the bottom 6 floors below the ground and got a tour of the torture room, the prison and also the seemingly unending tunnels filled with barrels of wine, all stored perfectly at a natural 55 degrees. We were so enthralled with what we were experiencing, we totally forgot that we were going to have to taste some alcohol soon. And then suddenly – duh, duh duh!!!! We walked into the tasting room and we were ready to begin. Luckily we were at the very end of the table away from the rest of the group. Nervously we took our seats.
Both of us tried to play it cool, but the whites of our eyes showed panic and we wondered if we could actually pull this off. Our host gave us a sheet of paper and we both looked at it with a blank look on our faces. “What should we do with this?” we asked. “Oh, you both have the reserve tasting, so you can choose any of the wines on this list to taste. Please pick 7 of them for each of you. We looked at each other and whispered “Did she just say to choose SEVEN wines each?”
To be honest, this list of wines could have been written in Chinese and it would have made just as much sense to us. We didn’t know the difference between a Chardonnay and a Cabernet. The only thing we did understand is that they were selling non-alcoholic grape juice and a dessert wine, which we quickly checked off to taste. Molly and I coordinated quietly with each other as we randomly checked off a bunch of different wines to try and of course, we were the last ones to finish filling out our forms.
“When I call out a wine, just raise your hand if you have it checked on your list to try” said the host. “Ok, we will start off with this beautiful wine from blah blah blah, vintage blah blah blah, dry blah blah blah, the finish is blah blah blah.” We both raised our hand showing that we had the wine on our list. The host came over and gave us a generous pour into our wine glasses.
“So…what the heck do we do?” Molly asked me. “I think we swirl it and smell it?” I said while watching what others were doing so that we could follow suit. Molly and I grabbed our wine glasses and started to swirl, which created a small tidal wave of white wine that flew over the rim and onto the table. Looking back, we believe that what we had in our glass was a Chardonnay from the 2013 vintage.
“I don’t know if I can do this.” Molly said to me anxiously. “Well, bottoms up!” I said as I took a big swig of wine into my mouth and tried to swallow. Molly followed my lead and did the same. We both looked at each other with fear in our eyes because we both thought it was disgusting! You see, when you are raised Mormon, you grow up with a palate that is only accustomed to sugar, fat and artificial sweetener. (More on the Mormon Word of Wisdom health code in a future post!) You don’t really ever partake of bitter, or dry flavors of any type of liquid. We really expected it to taste exactly like a welches white grape juice and when it didn’t have that exact flavor, we were shocked! Molly forcefully swallowed it and looked at me for help. “I can’t drink this…” she whispered. “I don’t think I can either” I said. “Well what in the world are we going to do. There must be ½ cup of wine in this glass and we have 6 more to go! And I think I’m already starting to feel tipsy!” Molly said under her breath. “It will be so rude if we don’t drink this, but I don’t think I can either.” I confided.
Scanning the room, we both noticed a small plastic trash can in the corner of the room with one of those flimsy plastic liners. Desperate times call for desperate actions, so we quickly came up with a plan. Molly would put the two glasses of wine behind her back, while I distracted the table with jokes so that she could run to the back of the room and dispose of the wine in the trash can! Molly swiftly grabbed the glasses and walked to the back of the room while I told a few dad jokes which made the table of guests laugh and within 30 seconds, Molly was back with empty glasses.
“How did you like the Chardonnay?” asked the host.
“Delicious!” we exclaimed, as we waited for the second wine to be poured.
Wine #2 quickly arrived, and it was another white wine! Another generous pour was offered and the previous situation repeated itself again, with both of us looking at each other in horror, and Molly sneaking the wines back to the trash can as I told a few more dad jokes. We had no idea how long we were going to be able to keep this up.
After only two mouthfuls of wine, Molly asked me “Are you even going to be able to drive us back to the hotel?” “I think so…” I said not knowing how I was supposed to feel after drinking any amounts of alcohol.
Wine #3 – a red! I whispered to Molly that because it’s red it *must* taste more like grape juice. Wine was poured, we sniffed and swirled – yup, smells like wine! Both of us took a gulp of red wine into our mouths and forced the liquid down our throats. “That’s even worse!” I told Molly as we again made the plan to dispose of the wine. Right then we noticed a few people take their glasses and dump their remaining wine into a decorative bucket in the middle of the table. We both looked at each other and started laughing hysterically.
“What’s so funny?” the host asked us? “Well, you are all not going to believe this, but this is the first time we have ever tasted wine because we just left the Mormon church and this wine tasting thing is not going very well for us. In fact, Molly has been sneaking our wine to that trash can over there because we didn’t know there was a place to dump out what wine we couldn’t drink!”
The whole room erupted in WTFs, and “Are you kidding me?” and “this is the best story ever!”
At that point, we had 12 “experts” around the table, ready and willing to give us advice about everything wine, what we should try next, and where we should go to taste. The host spent an extra amount of time trying to educate us a bit about the wine world and lead us down a path where we would have a good experience leaving the winery.
And we did have a great experience – when we tasted that $20 grape juice. You see, I grew up with my parents buying concord grapes in bulk and canning their own grape concentrate so that we could have re-hydrated grape juice throughout the year. I was a grape juice connoisseur, and this was the most delicious juice I had ever tasted in my entire life! And the dessert wine, Fantasia, was fantastic as well, despite the slight alcoholic taste. We walked out of our first wine tasting experience with a newfound respect for wine making, a memory that we will talk about until the day we die and 2 bottles of grape juice and one bottle of dessert wine. But also an experience that led us down a path of the incredible world of wine which we will forever be grateful for!