Wine is both a humble juice pressed from a grape and a drink of great depth and complexity. I’ve always had an appreciation for it, even as a freshman at UC Santa Barbara hanging out with friends as we worked our way through the Grateful Dead songbook and a bottle of Sebastiani Mt. Burgundy. But the epiphany that wine was something I could create came years – and many bottles of better wine – later, when I was living in Berkeley.
I was walking my dogs through the Berkeley Hills when I ran across an older couple and a younger guy pressing grapes in a basket press in their driveway. As I paused and watched, they invited me to come up the drive and have a look. The older couple told me they were helping Paul, the young guy who was carrying grape skins to his backyard. When I asked if they were making wine, they said, no, that they were making balsamic vinegar. But Paul, coming from around the corner, told me that he did make wine and asked if I would like to come into his garage to take a look.
His garage was a home gourmet’s dream. He had three big barrels of ageing wine. He let me have a sample. A glass-lined refrigerator ran along one wall of the garage and in it were homemade hams and sausages, curing. I came to learn later that this wasn’t any regular guy. This Paul, who invited a complete stranger into his food and wine laboratory, was chef Paul Bertolli, Alice Waters’ chef at the world-renown Chez Panisse and co-owner and chef at Oliveto.What a great introduction to winemaking from a man who was as down-to-earth and potential-rich as the wine we both appreciate.