Driving Miss Mobley: A Wintertime Odyssey in California Wine Country. Act III, Scene 5 (Santa Cruz Mountains).

Ridge Vineyards

[Esther and Boke arrive a Ridge Vineyards about five minutes before their scheduled 11 am tour and private tasting. They set their backpacks down on a wooden picnic bench. Both hydrate with water from their bottles. Esther stops briefly in the restroom to freshen up before the tour before returning to take a seat next to Boke in the picnic area].

[Norah Jones’ “Shoot the Moon” is playing while they wait from a set of outdoor speakers hidden in the drought tolerant but still elegant landscaping].

[At exactly 11am, Jason, an experienced Ridge Vineyards tour guide, exits the tasting room and greets the two of them. He carries two wine glasses on a simple silver tray along with two small plates bearing almonds, olives, and dry salami slices].

J: Welcome to Ridge, Mr and Ms. Noble, I assume?

B: Yes’r, that’s raht.

E: Such a lovely location ya’ got here!

J: My name is Jason. I will be happy to show you around the property and then guide you through your private tasting of five of our estate wines. After that concludes, I would be happy to discuss wine club options and assist you in placing an order to be shipped home, but only if you’d like. Here at Ridge, there are no hard sells. We’re not Napa, and we don’t intend to be. We are happy just the way we are.

B: Wez glad ya’ll feel thut way as weahl.

J: I understand you hiked here from Page Mill Road, is that right?

[Esther and Boke both nod their heads].

J: How marvelous of you! Such a unique way to experience Ridge for the first time! It is your first time here, I assume?

[Esther and Boke look carefully at each other as they slowly shake their heads to indicate no. If their hesitancy is noted by Jason, he is to experienced a guide to show it].

J: Well, you’re here now. And on such a glorious winter’s day! That’s all that matters. May I offer you a class of our estate Chardonnay and a complimentary snack plate to refresh you before the guided walk through the vines?

[Esther and Boke gladly take the two glasses and plates].

J: Normally, I have to warn our female guests about proper footwear, but I can see, Ms. Noble, that this won’t be an issue today, now will it?

[All three gaze at her hiking boots and laugh].

P: Definitely not! I left tha’ Manolos in tha’ hotel fah this visit.

[All three laugh for a second time].

J: How charming a couple you both are! And as our only guests today, you’ll truly be receiving a private tasting experience like no other,

P: That’s wonderful!

J: I’ll just give you a few minutes to enjoy the wine and snacks before starting the vineyard tour. There are tasting notes on the menus underneath each of your plates as well. If you care about such things. Personally, I sometimes find that wine-speak sometimes can obscure more than it reveals].

P: Oh, I definitely agree with that!

[All three laugh again. Esther kicks Boke under the picnic table].

J: And may I ask from where you are visiting us from this lovely afternoon?

[Esther and Boke exchange glances. Clearly, they had not prepared an answer ahead of time. When they speak, they do so on top of one another].

P: Chahlston!

B: Keen-tuckee!

P: Loui’ville!

B: Suth Cawr’linah!

[Penelope recovers quickly and speaks up for them both].

P: What ma’ husband means ta’ say is that his side is from Kentuckah, while I am a born ’n breed South Carolinyan. We live in Loui’ville now but are thinkin’ a’ movin’ closah ta’ ma’ parents in Chahlston.

[Jason appears unfazed by the confusion].

J: Well, you’ll find that our estate Chardonnay is the perfect pairing with classic Low Country cuisine, especially shrimp and grits. And our Sonoma County Zinfandels would be delicious with barbecued pork. And who can resist a well made mint julep, especially in the heat of a Kentucky summer? One can’t live on wine alone, now can we?

[More laughter from all three].

[Boke sips from his glass of wine].

B: Well, this Monte Beller’ whaht ain’t ta’ shabby, Jison.

J: I am so glad you feel that way! Most people assume we only make red wines at Ridge, so we love to show people otherwise. I must tell you, however, that we only make Monte Bello Chardonnay in special years. It’s a stunning wine, full malolactic completed in 50% new French oak barrels with 50% neutral American oak as well, aged for 18 months before release. Simply put, one of the best Chardonnays we’ve ever released.

[Esther samples the Monte Bello Chardonnay as well and is clearly impressed].

E: I do declare: this here is the very BEST California Chardonnay I’ve evah tasted! Could I get anotha’ splash before we head on up into tha’ vines?

J: Of course you may! I would only be too happy to oblige.

[Five minutes later, the three are seen walking through the vineyards along the slopes above the winery, accompanied by the sounds of ”Come Away with Me” by Norah Jones. The vines are in winter dormancy, with a bright cover crop of wild mustard and other soil-enhancing plants growing vigorously between the rows of vines. Esther and Boke pay close attention as Jason identifies the various grape varietals and blocks that are used to make the Monte Bello red blend for which the winery is so famous].

[The three then enter the wine cellar and admire the barrels of aging wine before being ushered into a small private room where ten individual wine glasses are set out, along with a small basket of bread, cheese, and a pitcher of fresh water with two drinking cups].

[Jason leads the tasting of five red wines (two different vineyard designate Zinfandels, an estate Merlot, and two vintages of Ridge Monte Bello Bordeaux style red blend].

[Esther and Boke are enjoying their roles as inexperienced wine tourists and delight in sharing their enthusiasm for the wines with Jason. He, in turn, is eager to share his extensive knowledge of Ridge wines and expertise in introducing them to first time tasters].

[When the tasting is over at around 1pm, Jason leads Boke into another room to discuss wine purchasing options. Boke Selects a bottle of Merlot and charcuterie board to accompany it by way of a picnic lunch on the outdoor patio. He also is seen giving Jason a $100 cash gratuity].

[In the meantime, Esther has slipped outside to bask in the afternoon sunshine and to check her iPhone for texts. As she does so, the outdoor music sound system can be heard playing “Don’t Know Why” by Norah Jones].

[An urgent sounding text from her food critic friend, Sol, catches Esther’s attention].

Sol: [Text] Call me asap E you gotta check this out!! Sol

[E. dials Sol’s number].

E: What’s up? What’s so urgent, Sol?

S: Is that dude around by any chance?

E: What dude? You mean Boke? No, he’s inside ordering us a bottle of wine and something to eat. Why?

S: I’ll be quick, then. He’s not who claims to be, E.

E: What?

S: His name isn’t Boke, for one. I think his real name is Brett. Brett Winters. And he’s no driver, either. I’m not really sure what he is, actually. But a real life redneck with only a grade school education he most definitely is not!

[Esther Double checks to make sure Boke is still inside the tasting room before speaking more quietly into her phone].

E: How is that now?

S: So, I was researching the new Thomas Keller Oaxacan place in Yountville, since I’m supposed to be reviewing it soon in . Tagline ‘cultural appropriation done right — question mark’ That sort of thing.

P: Your point being?

S: Anyway, I see this review on Yelp that is, like, way too good to be done by an average person, you know? Like it was written by someone with actual experience in food writing. An almost, but not quite sort of thing, you know? Not the three sentence bull shit most people normally write. This one was quirky and funny and definitely not the sort of thing we’d actually print in , but it was pretty damn on the money about all the important stuff.

E: Get to your point. Fast!

P: Well, I keep looking, and this same guy has, like, thousands of reviews on Yelp. It’s like an online art project or something, with cool photos and clever writing tricks and funny storylines and I’m like — wow — who is this guy? So I check out his other social media links and see from his profile pics its totally obvious its OUR guy. Or yours. Whatever.

P: Sol, you’re so not serious!

S: Except that I am, E., and there is no fucking way he’s your average redneck hillbilly. He’s smart as shit, for one. Hopkins PhD. ROTC. Military career. Research fellowship at Stanford, academic teaching experience, publication record, world travel — the goddamn works!

E: There’s no way we’re taking about Boke, Sol. You’re mistaken, obviously. You have to be.

S: I kid you not. Look him up yourself. I’m texting you his profile link from Yelp right now. Start there and follow the digital bread crumbs wherever they might lead. It’s unbelievable!

[Sol sends the text].

P: OK. Got it. I’ll check it out. I’ll start by seeing if he wrote a review for Ridge and go from there.

S: Wineries are one of his specialities. Tons of reviews of those. But he writes all sorts of crazy shit. It’s as if his mind has no filter.

[Boke now exits the tasting room carrying an opened bottle of Ridge estate Merlot, two Riedel wine glasses, a large wooden charcuterie board, two sets of silverware, and two cloth napkins. Very slowly and very carefully so as not to drop or spill anything, he starts to head in Esther’s direction].

P: Shit. He’s coming back now. Thanks for the info. Remind me to treat you to a tasting at Ridge next year. This place rocks.

S: Good luck confronting his ass with the whole redneck driver hillbilly thing. I only wish I could be there to see the look on his face when you do. Peace.

[End of scene].

I am a gender non-binary writer and founder of the eco-consultancy, sempervirens117.com. I live and work in the Santa Cruz Mountains, outside of Silicon Valley.

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