Girl Abandons Van for Wine: An Impromptu Tour of So-Cal Wineries

hearst ranch-winery-southern california, road trip- canada to mexico
Hearst Ranch Winery, San Simeon, California

DUMB LUCK AND RICH ENCOUNTERS: RED RED WINE (Labour of Love album) – UB40

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past one hundred years, then you’ll probably be at least vaguely familiar with the family name, Hearst. Whether it be the billionaire business tycoon, the historic castle, or most infamously, Patty Hearst; the granddaughter who became the 70’s poster child for Stockholm Syndrome.

Because I have certainly not been living under a rock for the past thirty of those hundred years, I had heard of all these things. What I had not heard was that this namesake also extended to a winery in Paso Robles. This was the first stop where my new found wine friends, Rob and Tammy, escorted me in their fancy, air conditioned Lexus. (If you are late to the party, ie neglected to read my previous post– for shame– I will allow you a moment to return to my main page and catch up. You’re welcome.)

We arrived at the Hearst Winery, a refined, santa fe inspired building, to an enthusiastic and familiar welcome. It was clear that my wine-loving friends were no average patron. We were immediately seated and poured the only chardonnay I will ever speak highly of, followed swiftly by an array of complimentary flatbreads. As the pouring continued from Petite Sirahs to Cabernet Franc, our conversation flowed as seamlessly as the endless string of delightfully free flatbreads.

Date night at Hearst Winery…

“I just think it’s so cool, you traveling on your own like this.” Roberto began. “A good friend of ours would find this entire thing so fascinating, wouldn’t he Tammy?”

I began to become suspicious, as only single girls know exactly how to do in an evidently unfolding situation such as this.

“He used to work at J. Lohr. Didn’t you say J. Lohr was your favourite Cab Sauv?”

“I did indeed.” We can smell it, us single girls. The less than subtle build up.

“Well, isn’t that funny. Actually, what’s funny is he left J. Lohr to come work here!”

“Yes, but Dear, remember he took some time off because of his back.”

“Yes, that’s right. Well then in that case, I bet you he’d be free right now to stop in and say hi!”

And there it was. Solidification of my sixth sense skepticism. I was being blind date blindsided.

“Let me give him a ring. He lives just off the property. He could be here in five.”

I found the bottom of my glass then waved it at our passing server. Not a second later, I was gulping a Petit Verdot while my surprise suitor made his way to join us.

He walked through the glass doors, his linen shirt gently accented with sweat, flapping in the mild breeze, his hair gelled just so, his baby skin, pale and cared for. He had a gait that seemed thought out and precise. After a delicate handshake, he sat at our table, cross legged and I breathed a sigh of relief.

One did not need any proverbial gay-dar to see where this impromptu meeting was going to lead.

As Rob talked the both of us up as though we were celebrated antiques at a Sotheby’s auction, we shared a silent understanding of our sincere friend’s failed attempt at playing Cupid and agreed to go along with it for the sake of good intentions and fine wine.

After casually picking up another couple boxes of reserve wine, along with the table’s entire bill, Roberto hauled us all into his Lexus, insisting we fit in one more winery before the day was done.

“Pedro! Como estas? It’s your pal, Roberto.” Rob spoke responsibly through the Lexus bluetooth as he drove the dusty, windy roads past infinite vineyards. “Yeah, Tam and I were hoping to come out for a tasting. We’ve brought some special friends. Are you still open? Ah, perfecto, my brother. See you shortly.” Turning his eyes to the rear view mirror, he continued. “You’re going to love this place.”

Pampered in Paso Robles…

This place was called Sculpterra Winery and Sculpture Garden, and for good reason. Among its flawlessly nurtured grounds were a multitude of dramatically striking sculptures; from copper fish skeletons, a towering bronze sleeping puma, to a naked baby encompassed by a maple leaf holding a bundle of grapes in each teeny, tiny baby hand.

The back garden was packed with women in sundresses and espadrilles paired with men in chinos and suede loafers. A mariachi band played amongst the amused murmurs of gradually inebriated guests. Pedro greeted us at the doorway, emphatically, with a tray of Rose filled glasses.

“Come with me. I’ve saved you a spot in the back room.”

We entered a room filled with vats along a long wall and a tasting counter perpendicular; overrun with people clinging to stemmed glassware. As we sipped whites to reds, sparkling to Primitivo, Rob gave yet another run down of my quest, to the point of perfection. Pedro was enthralled.

“And she works on a vineyard in Canada.”

“Get out! Que bueno!” He gave me a hug and patted me sturdily on the shoulder. “Why didn’t you say so sooner?! There’s something I’ve got to show you!”

Pedro disappeared then instantly returned, placing the largest bottle of wine I’d ever seen into my now trembling arms, sending me stumbling to keep my balance. On the label, in black and white, was the face of a Mexican man in a hat; the word HÉROE written across the bottom.

“Héroe means hero in Spanish. We made this series of wines and dedicated it to our workers in the field. Our heroes. You’re one of those heroes.” He pulled a t-shirt out from under his arm with the same black and white Mexican face printed on the front. “I’d like you to have this. You may not be our worker, but I know how hard you work, and I want you to know you’re appreciated.”

I was in awe. So in awe I nearly dropped the fifty pound bottle of hero wine.

winery-southern california-road trip
Heroe gift from Sculpterra Winery, California

“Do you like Pinot Noir?”

“I love Pinot Noir.”

“John, get this fine lady a bottle of our Héroe Pinot, on the house! And throw in a bag of our merlot pistachios. We grow them ourselves.” He smiled. “Do you like pistachios?”

“I love pistachios.”

Dining like royalty in San Simeon…

Just when I thought this day couldn’t possibly get any better, a proud and glowing Roberto turned to me with this…

“Tammy and I have a wine members only dinner to attend this evening at the Hearst Ranch in San Simeon. If I can manage to sway Debi and Jim into selling me another ticket, would you like to be our guest?”

I felt a single tear well up in my eye. I was Cinderella and they were my Fairy Wine-Member Parents. This may very well have been the happiest moment of my life. I struggled to form words.

“Yes. Yes. And yes. So much yes.”

“Great! We’ll drop Van Morrison off at the hotel. We’ll all take the car out so you can drink as much wine as you like then sleep in our parking lot.

“I love you.”

hearst ranch-winery-southern california-road trip-canada to mexico
Hearst Ranch, San Simeon, Californa

We showed up fashionably late. Everyone had gone inside the tastefully, country-chic barn and were sat at their assigned tables. There had to be over one hundred guests, mostly middle aged, all entirely wealthy. All I could think was thank god I brushed my hair.

The first of six courses came with affable introductions. Artisan toast point, apple fennel slaw, chevre, olallieberry heat glazed pork belly and a Julia Rose, paired with a couple closer to my age (who would prove to have little to contribute to the evening and eventually mysteriously disappear before the night was through), and a couple closer to my Fairy Wine Parents (who adore their three children, have as many houses as they do offspring, and support Donald Trump).

The second course was all about sports. Elote corn, Laughing Bird shrimp cucumber ceviche, Glacier Ridge Chardonnay, and an in depth run down of the past three seasons of Dodger highlights.

Course three was butternut squash, Cinderella pumpkin and roasted cauliflower soup, pomegranate aerial pepita and a Pico Creek Merlot. I don’t know what drove this course’s conversation because I was too involved in my Cinderella soup. Tammy didn’t like hers and offered it to me. As did the female Trump supporter. I had no time for petty conversation.

House cured beet lox, watermelon radish, golden beet, pickled onion, frizzee, baby lola rosa, crispy caper, blood orange vinaigrette matched with a Babicora Malbec was the fourth course. As I surveyed my plate, looking for what the hell could be baby lola rosa, I instead found the conversation veering in my direction.

“So you’re a traveler, are you?” Mr. Trump Supporter started. “A gypsy.” He added with a superior chuckle.

“Some might say.”

“Where have you traveled, dear?” This was from Mrs. Trump.

“Ah a few places. India, Ireland, England, Spain, France, South Africa, Netherlands, Turkey, Italy, Scotland, and soon Mexico!”

“Mexico is no place for a young girl.” The man’s tone darkened.

“You’re absolutely right.” I chimed. “If only there was a way to keep us all from going in or out.”

“Huh?”

“Nothing.”

“Which was your favourite, dear. Of places, I mean. You’ve been to so many.” Trump’s wife seemed sweet and sincere.

“London. It’s home to me.”

“How long were you there for?”

“If anyone asks? Two years. Actually? Almost three.”

“Overstayed your welcome, did you.”

“Harold. Mind your own business.”

“That’s the problem with kids these days. Give em an inch.”

I swigged the inch that was left in my glass.

The second last course nearly knocked my socks right off. Hearst ranch estate filet mignon, herb crust local wild mushroom, shishito pepper demi glace, elephant garlic yukon gold au gratin potatoes, honey ginger carrots and a Bunkhouse Cabernet Sauvignon. I was so wholly consumed by what I was consuming that when I heard the conversation take an unexpected turn, I nearly choked to death on my succulent steak.

“Well we know your guest is an illegal alien, Roberto, but we hardly know a thing about you. What do you do for a living?”

“I work for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

And there it was. In place of where my foot should have been, was suddenly a very expensive cut of beef, closing off my windpipe. I prayed to let it kill me.

“Don’t you worry, love.” Rob reassured me under his breath. “I work for the States. What happens in other countries is far from my problem.” Tammy didn’t seem as unphased. Tammy also worked for immigration and remembered me telling her I had recently worked in The U.S. I had a working visa. She no longer believed me.

The details of the final course were lost in a haze of excessive wine. The night wound down, and ended with me falling asleep, comfortably, on Roberto’s leather interior. When we reached their hotel, I traded his Lexus chariot for my affectionately shabby campervan pumpkin.

Disguised parking lot camp outs…

The next morning I woke with a dreadful headache and a missed call, and text, from Roberto.

Tried to wake you. Wanted you to join us for breakfast. We’ll blame the wine 😉 Left our room key under the mat. Help yourself to the shower, have a coffee, take your time. Room 105. Safe travels and keep in touch xx

I quickly threw together a bag and virtually soared out of Van Morrison at the thought of yet another beautifully steamy shower. Just as my feet hit the ground I was approached by the hotel’s security guard.

“Sorry, Miss. You can’t sleep here.”

“I’m not.”

“You didn’t sleep in this parking lot last night?”

“Certainly not. I merely came out to grab a bag from my vehicle.”

He looked indeterminate.

“So you’ve got a room here?”

“Uhu. 105! Great room, really. Very satisfied customer.”

“Right.”

“Well, I’ll just be making my way back then. You have yourself a wonderful day.”

I could feel his eyes follow me as I immediately realized I had no idea where room 105 was. I walked along the pathway. There was one straight line of two floors of rooms and seemingly no logic to the numbers on each door. I looked back. He was still watching me. I smiled and returned my attention to the passing doors. 326? How the hell was I at 326? The last door read 330. I’d have to turn back. Way back. So far back that I was now crossing the less than amused security guard.

“It’s a bloody maze, this place!” I feigned laughter, finally standing in front of 105. I slid the key in the slot and sent his way, one more audacious grin.

“Adios Muchacho!”

Click here to read more of my adventures at The Wanderess: Baja Bound by Campervan