Driving Miss Mobley: A Wintertime Odyssey in California Wine Country. Act IV, Scene 1 (Santa Cruz).
[The scene opens with an interior shot of Stockwell Cellars’ high-ceilinged Fair Avenue winery and tasting room. It is 12:45pm].
[Esther and Boke are seated in the back right corner on a solidly built wooden bench mounted onto steel support beams constructed by the winemaker himself, who is a welder by profession. They are sipping Santa Cruz Mountains wines by the glass: a 2017 Regan Vineyard Pinot Grigio Ramato and a 2014 Reagan Vineyard Merlot].
[“Still the Good Old Days” by Sheryl Crow featuring Joe Walsh plays in the background from tasting room speakers].
[The pair sip their wines accompanied by wooden bowls of saffron salted popcorn, shelled green pistachios, and Marcona almonds with rosemary].
E: Dude, this skin contact Pinot Grigio totally rocks. There is salinity balanced by yellow stone fruit and just a hint of earth at the end. It makes me rethink the whole Santa Cruz Mountains growing region, to be honest with you.
B: They grow more than Pinot and Chardonnay, that’s for sure.
E: And the Merlot! It’s delicious in a just-picked, wild berry sort of way that is herbal and light rather than overly ripe, thick, or fruity. Who needs to spent $70 on a bottle of Pinot when you can drink a Merlot this good for half the price? Screw you, Alexander Payne, for ruining Merlot forever.
B: Guys like Eric don’t give a shit about Hollywood movies. He’ll keep making Merlot until you pull the grape clusters from his cold dead hands.
P: That’s the the winemaker here?
B: Yes, as well as being the owner here who went from forging metal for a living to crafting Santa Cruz Mountain wines full time. Son of a blacksmith. [points behind the tasting room bar] That’s the anvil that belonged to his dad. It’s pretty awesome, if you ask me.
E: Totally! I mean, I had this spot reviewed by one of my writers, except that now I realize that his tag line, “The Central Perk of Wine,” was fairly faint praise. Stockwell deserves much better than a fucking Friends allusion. And the music they’re playing is pretty great, too! This Sheryl Crow album is fantastic.
B: Sure is. Sheryl, she never gets old. Like Kris Kristofferson, Keith Richards, Neil Young, James Taylor, Emmylou Harris, Mavis Staples, and Willie Nelson — all of whom sing with Sheryl on the album, by the way — she’ll just one day fade away, slowly, like a really good Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot that has passed its prime after a couple of decades in the bottle, I guess.
[Esther looks at Boke with a hint of respect].
E: Not bad, dude. You do know your wines! How’d you learn so much about this shit, anyway?
B: I got into wine late. Too late to make a career of it, probably. Unlike you, who was probably born with a bottle of Barolo in her hands.
P: It helps to start early, that’s a fact. But you’re not answering my question. When did you first feel the magical pull of the vine? When did the wine mystique really hit you?
B: I remember this mysterious looking case of Ravenswood old vine Zinfandel arriving at the Foreign Language Center where I worked when I was at Williams. The director had ordered it from Sonoma for some big faculty party at the end of the semester. He went to Berkeley, which explains the Zin thing, I guess. Ever since, I’ve wondered what it is about those pre-Prohibition vineyards that make people stock up on wines made from them by the case, like it’s a pirate’s treasure or something. For a history major like me, it was an a-ha moment I’ll never forget.
E: You know that Gallo closed the Ravenswood tasting room and shut down the brand after they bought it, right? Nothing but envy and corporate greed, if you ask me. To them, wine is all commodity and no culture. The more they make, the richer they all get, and they’ll experiment in the lab until they get the formula right.
B: Frankenstein wines. Winemaking for the masses, who so deserve better.
E: Exactly. We all should be drinking better, honestly made wine in this country. Not just those who can afford it, like us. That’s the Holy Grail, dude.
B: Holy Grail quests never end well.
P: Maybe, but I just wish that corporate mergers weren’t such a huge part of the California wine scene. They are, and so I have to cover them because that’s what counts as news. If a major winery is bought or sold, I have to report on it. Not the most glamorous part of my job, by the way. People tend to overlook that part. Same with labor relations in the vineyards, wildfires threats, climate change, gender and racial disparities in the workplace: the works.
B: I’d be nice to focus all the time on small businesses success stories like Stockwell, but I guess then you would be telling a false narrative.
E: Yes. That’s the problem. The truth, it ain’t pretty.
[Both take sips of their wine].
B: Still, you’ve written some amazing pieces lately and are doing a lot to push the limits of what’s possible in a mainstream wine column.
[Esther smiles but looks dubious].
E: If that is just another weak-assed effort at sarcasm on your part, I would throw this glass of Merlot in your face, but I like it too much to waste it on someone as undeserving as you!
[Esther finishes off her glass of wine, then wrestles Boke’s glass of Pinot Grigio away from him and does the same].
[A tall, well built man, Eric Stockwell, the head winemaker, walks up to the pair].
Eric: Hi, folks. You doing OK? Is everything to your liking?
E: These are wonderfully made wines, and the setting here is stunning. I’m pretty well traveled in wine country, and I’ve never seen anything quite like this before.
Eric: Compliment taken. Thanks. I took part of my metal-working warehouse and converted it into the winery and tasting room. It wasn’t cheap or easy, but we’re pretty stoked by the way it all turned out.
E: I can see why.
Eric: Tried our local Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir yet?
E: Next time. We’re on a ‘make Merlot great again’ kick at the moment. I’ll take half a case to go.
Eric: Great! We love making that wine every year. It’s from a higher elevation site outside of town that allows the grapes to ripen but still preserves the herbal notes and natural acidity that makes it age worthy and a perfect food pairing. Let me grab those bottles for you.
[Eric heads behind the tasting room bar to prepare the order].
B: See? This is why you got into wine in the first place, right?
E: To meet guys like him?
B: You couldn’t dream up a story like his even if you tried.
E: Why dream it up when reality gives us all we really need?
B: Because we are hardwired that why, I guess. To risk it all on something that everyone tells you is crazy, except the tiny voices inside of your head.
[Esther looks skeptical].
B: Reality could never match my dreams, Esther. You’re just too perfect a human being to know what that feels like.
E: There’s no such thing as perfect human being, dude. You may think that way when you live online as much as you do, but it’s all a digital lie. We dress ourselves up for the Internet. Successful people like me do. Maybe not people like you.
[B. nods his head, slowly].
B: I believe in the power of Internet to unlock the full powers of human self-expression. If we hold anything back, we all lose in the end.
P: Says the guy who drives a car for a living.
B: The Internet is the single best mode of unfiltered communication ever invented. If we hide behind masks, memes, and firewalls, then we’re no better off than when we started.
E: The Internet is a minefield, and you know it. No wonder you get torn apart on social media. You’re getting blasted to smithereens all the fucking time. If it’s not the trolls, the know-it-alls, and the haters, it’s Big Data, spy-bots, and malware harvesting everything good, honest, and true that you and millions of others are putting online for free. Dude, you gotta keep something in reserve, or you’ll die out there. And even on the Internet, dying sucks.
B: I know the risks.
P: Sometimes, I wonder if you do.
B: Now you sound like Pen.
P: Well, maybe you should listen to her.
[Boke is quiet, staring at his empty glass of wine. Esther realizes this and attempts to cheer him up].
P: Look, it’s Christmas Eve. Let’s celebrate this season right. Even Jews like me gotta party. There has to be more great wine out there just waiting to be discovered.
B: Oh, there is. And all within walking distance to where we are right now. But let’s slow it down a touch and savor the moment. This is the best day I’ve had in months. Maybe longer.
E: You got it, dude. And things can only get better from here.
[The pair get up from the couch, collect their purchased wine, and wave their goodbyes to Eric and his tasting room staff. They then wander outside to the sound sounds of “Nobody’s Perfect,” by Sheryl Crow featuring Emmylou Harris].
[As the music continues to play from exterior speakers, Esther and Boke meander slowly onto Ingalls Street, arm in arm, heading for a nearby tasting room].
[End of scene].