The YWCA held a fund-raiser on Friday, May 1, at the Sonoma Mission Inn in Boyes Hot Springs. This wasn’t the kind of thing I usually go to, but our department head, who is a new board member of the Y, had extra tickets, and it’s for a great cause, so I bought one.
The event was Wine, Women and Cheese. I know, you’re thinking, “Huh?” Remember where we are. The event was a lunch (middle of the work day; plainly people like me are not the target audience for this sort of thing) with wine-tasting, a woman wine-maker at each table. There were also tastings of local artisan cheese, provided, of course, by women cheese-makers, Laura Chenel the most prominent.
I kept trying to get the initials YWCA out of “Wine, Women and Cheese,” and I just couldn’t make it work, although it almost sounds like YWCA.
I took half a day off because I couldn’t feature going back to work for three hours after a gourmet lunch and three types of wine.
It rained. As I drove out to BHS, it poured rain. I got confused on the parking, and parked in a lot that was okay, but missed out on the specialness of valet parking. I have never been to the Inn before, although I know someone who does massage in the spa there. A pleasant valet directed me past the huge white pavilion that was our lunch area to the registration and reception. The inn has been redone in pink stucco, which isn’t as chi-chi as it sounds. It actually kind of looks right in that area. A gray sky brought up the vivid green of the lush lawns and threw the vats of colored flowers into high contrast. I was sure I wouldn’t know anyone until I found Jo (our department head) and Jerry, the assistant director who had also decided to go.
A pleasant man with an English accent directed me and took custody of my umbrella. To my pleasant surprise, a voice from the crowd said, “Hi, Marion,” and the person working the registration table was a former EW! She volunteers for the Y and she has done this fund-raiser for a few years. This made me feel better as I walked into the reception area that was jammed with about three hundred fifty people. Right at the door, like Chinese temple dogs, or the Zen markers for Hope and Fear, stood caterers with trays of Sauvignon Blanc or champagne. I started to skirt around the edges, the only place I’m ever comfortable in a crowd, and then I decided, no, I’m going to be bold and plunge right into the center. So I did. I’ll never do that again. Clear across the room, on the other side—like, there is absolutely no possible way they could have been farther away—I spotted Jo, Jerry and Jerry’s partner Bill, sipping champagne. Bill looked like he always looks; classically handsome and impeccably turned out, as did Jo. Good thing Jerry and I were there to represent the common people.
Jerry tried very hard to get me a class of champagne but I assured him I was fine. Did I mention that it was about 11:40 in the morning?
Then we were directed back to the pavilion for the lunch and the “program.” I had to retrieve my umbrella, and Jo had to find her husband Alan, so Jerry and Bill went on ahead. Umbrella recovered, I was getting in line into the pavilion when I noticed a young blond woman walking toward us, carrying a Spring Mountain Winery bag.
I said, “I think you’re our wine-maker.”
She said, “Table 28?”
We agreed that it was Table 28 and I guided to her where Jerry and Bill were standing. Her name is Leigh Meyering. She looked very young. Jerry asked her how she had managed to do some much at such a young age she gave the standard response, “I’m not as young as I look.” Okay, she might be thirty. I think she doesn’t realize that as you age, your definition of young becomes more elastic. Jerry also asked why a Napa county winemaker was participating; she said the woman winemaker at Ravenwood was a friend of hers from UC Davis and invited her. She said that as a girl she had been interested in engineering and had studied that for a while, but it wasn’t what she thought. Wine-making seduced her because it was scientific, which she likes, but creative also.
The appetizer; goat cheese custard with olive tapenade, served with the ubiquitous Sauv Blanc. Spring Mountain’s SV tasted like a spring day in a glass; very fresh, but not quite as sharp –oh, sorry, crisp—as some others I’ve had. Leigh said this is because they barrel age it, so it has “more weight on the palate” (I have no idea what that meant, exactly) and, my words, not hers, is mellower. The wine term is “buttery” or “creamy.” Really good, anyway. The cheese custard thing was velvety and a little bland, but set off the olive flavor perfectly. Over the steady roar of conversation in the big white tent came another roar, and we looked out the transparent plastic windows at a silver curtain of rain.
Main course; filet mignon, Yukon gold mashed potatoes, and a chard and blue cheese gratin. Served with a Cabernet and a tug-at-your-heartstrings-video about domestic violence and the Y’s programs to help the victims. It was short and pretty good, although they made some completely unsupported statements like, “This is one of the largest crimes in Sonoma County,” (really? Show me the pie chart,) and, “With the downturn in the economy, domestic violence is increasing,” (yeah? Okay, show me the line graph). I suppose I’m being picky. The cabernet, nice, but frankly the least impressive of the three wines at our table. The filet was very good and good-sized for a lunch portion. If there could have been more of anything on that plate for me, it would have been the gratin.
With dessert came the auction. Now, while I’ve been demurely sipping each of the wines, others have been chugging glasses full. The sound in the pavilion is a steady roar, drowning out the rain now, punctuated by high-pitched trills of laughter. This, of course, is exactly what the event designers were counting on. Get a bunch of rich people together in a room, feed them well, wine them up and then get them to spend money, which they came planning to do anyway.
Ziggy the Wine Gal was going to host the auction, but she also brought in a ringer—Daryl Groom, an Aussie wine-maker. I didn’t know who he was, but I Googled him later. He currently has a San Francisco based wine experiment called the Foggy Bridge winery and has all kinds of wine-maker awards. He was pretty funny and pretty high-energy.
Lot Number One was a strange auction item; Pay the Y’s Bills. They auctioned off the privilege of paying the rent at the women’s shelter, food at the women’s shelter, or security either by the month or the year. The rent, for a year, was $6,000 (this was not a competitive bid, they just took everyone who raised their paddle). Three people bid. Five people bid to pay for food for a year ($3,000). When they got into the monthly bids I lost count, but Ziggy said, “We raised $30,000 just now.” That was under ten minutes.
Other lots included dinner and wine events, and two wine collections; Harvest Fair 2008 winners, and the women winemakers’ wines. You could bid on dinner for eight at Zasu with Ziggy and Duskie Estes, the executive chef at Zasu. The bids hit the thousands within a few seconds. (So I get home and I’m telling the Sig-O about this and he goes, “What did you bid on?” What did I bid on? That’s hilarious!)
When it got to the women winemakers’ lot I leaned over to Jerry and said, “It’s going to for $4,000.” He said, “What? No way!” The bids continued to climb and I said, “Maybe $4200.” It turned out I was right the first time; $4,000.
There was silliness, especially around the “Three Amigos and Two Dudes” dinner and around some Aussie hats that Daryl brought. There was hilarity and competition, and I think they raised well over $100,000 in less than forty-five minutes.
I’m sure my politically conservative friends would heartily approve of this method of separating rich people from their money.
In all the excitement of the fund-raising part of the event, I almost forgot about how great our third wine was. In fact, as Jerry pointed out two or three times, “Marion got us in trouble by making us taste it first, before the dessert course.” I did, I take full responsibility. The wine is a red called Elivette. It’s a blend, I forget of what; maybe Cab Franc and Pinot Noir and one other. Early in the meal, I had poured a little into the designated glass and smelled it. I just smelled it, that’s all. I said to Jerry, “You have to smell this.” It smelled like flowers, earth and candy. In a really good way. Once you’ve smelled it, you just have to taste it, and it tasted like wine, flowers, earth and candy, or how I would imagine earth and flowers to taste. And candy, but not too sweet. And there’s a reason I’m not a wine writer. Jerry tasted it and yelled, “Oh, my God!” and made Bill taste it. Then Alan had some, then Jo, while Leigh looked on in what I now realize was well-disguised disapproval. “This is amazing!” we all said.
Leigh politely said, “This is a wine that I like when it’s older. You’ve got a baby here. Many people like it at this stage, but I like it when it’s aged about five years. Right now you have a beautiful, tightly furled rose bud of a wine.” She brought her hands up, one fisted, the other covering it, connoting a bud. “This wine unfurls as it ages,” fingers unfurling, “and becomes a full, open rose.” This was wine code for, “You cretins! First of all, it’s too new! Secondly, it’s the dessert course wine, so stop drinking it!”
Of the three wines at our table, and I liked them all, Evilette is the one I would buy. Jerry and I said, so casually, “Buy one to drink now and one to cellar for a few years.” Sure. Eighty dollars a bottle. Buy two. I mean, you have to pay $25 just to get a tour of Spring Mountain Vineyard!
Eighty bucks a bottle. I was just so out of my element.
The afternoon reminded me of several things. I’m not rich. I hate crowds. There are rich people in Sonoma County and they are prepared to be very generous if you manipulate—I mean approach—them correctly. And, I’ll never fit into the rich wine crowd. Ever. A seat at the edge of the party, so I can watch the goings-on, suits me fine.
(to find out more about the YWCA, or to donate, go to www.ywca.org/sonomacounty. For more information about Spring Mountain Winery visit www.springmountainvineyard.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)