Sunday, May 25, 2014

Faron Young -- "Wine Me Up" (1969)

I'd like to thank the men that raise the grapes 
Way out in California
And I'm hopin' this will be their biggest year

Thirty-plus years ago, I had the privilege of living in San Francisco for about 18 months.

I went back to San Francisco recently to attend my sister's wedding, and spent a glorious Sunday driving from winery to winery.

The wineries were the man attraction of this trip, but the wildflowers -- like this California poppy -- were a nice bonus:

Most of the wineries I drove past in Napa and Sonoma last month didn't exist when I was last there -- which was in 1981.  

You can spend a lot of money tasting wine in Napa and Sonoma these days.  The typical winery charges $15 or $25 or more for a standard tasting, while special tastings that include food or private tours or educational classes can set you back $50 or even $100.

But there are still a few places that let you taste good wine in a beautiful setting for free.  

Did I focus my attention on those free joints?  What do you think?  (Does the Pope sh*t in the woods?)

My first stop that day was Cline Cellars, one the first wineries you come to on California State Route 121, which takes you to Sonoma.  Cline is one of the thirty-odd wineries located in the Carneros AVA -- or "American viticultural area" -- which is just south of the cities of Sonoma and Napa.

Cline offers a few whites, but most of its offerings are reds -- it is best known for zinfandels and Rhone-type wines.

Cline offers free tastings of its non-reserve wines, and charges only $5 for tastings of three reserve wines -- a bargain given the quality of what they pour.  The people who man the tasting room are cordial, the buildings and grounds are lovely, and they have one very unique attraction: the California Missions Museum.

The Cline Cellars tasting room
The California Missions Museum showcases handcrafted models of all the 21 Spanish missions that were built between San Diego and Sonoma (a distance of 650 miles) by Franciscan priests between 1769 and 1833:

Here's the model of the Santa Barbara mission:

The models were made for the 1939 World's Fair, which took place on Treasure Island, a man-made island in San Francisco Bay.  

The museum also has a life-size statute of Father Junipero Serra, who founded the first nine of the missions to be constructed:

The large and finely-detailed models were on the auction block in 1998, but the Cline family stepped up and purchased each and every one of them, then created the California Missions Museum to share them with the public.

The next stop that day was the Hess Collection, one of two dozen or so of the Napa wineries on Mount Veeder, which is north of the city of Napa and just west of SR 29, the main north-south Napa Valley highway.

When I lived in San Francisco, the Hess winery was owned by the Christian Brothers, a Catholic order founded in Ireland in 1802.  Swiss entrepreneur Donald Hess bought the property from the Christian Brothers in 1986.

The Hess Collection winery and museum
Like many of the wineries in the area, the Hess Collection has beautiful gardens.  Here's a lily pond that borders an outdoor courtyard:

And here's one of the water lilies from that pond:

Hess inherited his family's multifaceted business when he was a very young man.  He owns a variety of commercial and residential properties, but has focused most of his attention on making wine and collecting art.  Hess has established art museums at his wineries in Napa, Argentina, and Australia, and is planning to build a fourth museum at an Australian winery he recently acquired.

The Hess Collection tasting room
The Hess winery is a beautiful mountainside property.  The tasting room is handsome, but the main attraction at Hess is the art collection, which includes works by a number of contemporary artists.

The well-known artists represented in the Hess Collection include Francis Bacon, Morris Louis, Robert Rauschenberg, and Frank Stella.  Click here and you can take  an audio tour of the highlights of the collection.  

Frank Stella's "Sacramento
Mall Proposal #5" (1978)
Another highlight of Hess's collection are the large-scale hyperrealistic portraits by Swiss painter Franz Gertsch.  Here's one of them:

Franz Gertsch: "Johanna II" (1985/86)
Perhaps the most eye-catching work on display is "Hommage," by the Argentinian artists Leopoldo Maier:

Here's the view from one of the museum's windows:

In the next 2 or 3 lines, I'll tell you about visiting two wineries that I had last visited in 1979.

Based on the lyrics from "Wine Me Up" quoted above, I'd say Faron Young values quantity over quality when it comes to wine.  So he wouldn't have been all that interested in wine from the wineries I'm writing about -- unless someone else was buying.

"Wine Me Up" reached #2 on the Billboard "Hot Country Singles" chart in 1969.  Young had a long and productive recording career -- he had his first top ten hit in 1952 and his last one in 1974.  (All told, 37 of his records cracked the top ten.)  His biggest hit was 1961's "Hello Walls," which was written by Willie Nelson.

Nelson was a struggling songwriter when Young decided to record the song, which Nelson had sung for him when they met at Tootsie's, a legendary Nashville bar.

The last of Young's 43 LPs -- it was titled Live in Branson -- was released in 1993, when Young was 61.  Given that I turn 62 in a few days, that's not exactly encouraging.

Here's "Wine Me Up."  (Check out the hair on the second fiddle player.)

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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