As luck would have it, my fiftieth birthday fell on a Saturday. My wife planned a trip to Sonoma, where we would tour some wineries in a VW Kombi, and do wine tasting. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, when my parents lived in Kenya and Nigeria, we would go everywhere in these Kombis, better known in the US as the ‘VW Bus’. So, it had sentimental value for me. The idea was to leave the kids at home, and go for a day trip, just the two of us.
I admit, at first I was not sure it was a great idea. Turning fifty is not something I’ve been looking forward to with great excitement. But it slowly grew on me. I love wine, Volkswagens and vinyards. What was there to not like?
We left early in the morning and got to Sonoma exactly at 10:30 am despite a few twists and turns. Luckily, the parking lot we chose to park in turned out to be the place where we were supposed to meet. There was the green Kombi just a year younger than myself, already waiting for us with the driver, Tommy, and one couple (Dani and Logan). There was to be a total of 3 couples including us, so we waited for the last one.
They came within minutes and we set off for the first winery – Liana Estates. It turns out, they are taking entries for a new name, because this one is being disputed by a Liano from Italy, who says the name is too similar to his, which he uses for his own wines.
In the meantime, we started chatting among ourselves. It was instantly obvious that the company we had was just fantastic. Dani and Logan were a young couple from the University of Nevada in Reno. Dani had just graduated with a degree in journalism, and Logan would graduate in the winter. They had met in Italy where they had gone to study as part of their program, and were together for just 2 months. Logan was to turn 23 on the Monday.
Tommy, our host was a young guy just out of high school. But he knows a lot about wine-making and has a friendly and vivacious personality, just the right type for a trip like this.
Rebekah and Nate lived just a little south of Chicago, Champaign, Illinois, where Nate is a teacher, sports coach, and entrepreneur. Rebekah is a wedding photographer, which interested me immensely because it is what I have been thinking of doing for a while recently. We were to have several interesting chats about this along the way. Nate also had his birthday the same day, he had turned forty. Like us, Rebekah and he also had three children, that they had left behind with family, so we had that topic to talk about as well. Strangely enough, on a previous wine tour in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek near Cape Town, we had also met a family with three children and we had many family conversations with them too!
The wines at Liana were the best, but I think after a while we lost track of what we were having. Partly because we were drunk, partly because the company was too interesting, and we were really just very interested in getting to know more about each other and chatting. Here’s a photo of all of us: from left, Rebekah, Nate, yours truly, Gayatri, Dani and Logan.
At Liana, Tommy showed us the fermentation vats and barrels, and explained the wine-making process as well.
We had lunch at the Sixteen 600 Winery tasting house. The lady there explained a bunch of things but I was too drunk at that point to care – I just heard a few words about organic wine, vinyl records and something else. Lunch was a fabulous salad, with cheese bread. That helped a bit with the alcohol.
After that, we set off for the last winery, Buena Vista, which also happens to be California’s oldest premium winery. The tasting room is beautiful, with two floors. The upper floor is a gallery with a straight staircase leading up, next to a lovely chandelier.
We had plenty of time at Buena Vista to sit on some comfortable sofas and carry on our conversations. And watch the stuffed peacocks in the corners. For a while we were also just standing around the wine tasting bar and looking at other people below doing the same thing.
Before the tour ended, we stopped at some vineyards at the side of the road, and took many photos. Here’s one with our green ’69 VW Kombi from West Wine Tours.
And here’s one of Rebekah taking a photo of Dani and Logan with her Canon EOS 5D MkIV clad in red, that she uses for her wedding photography business.
Every good thing has to end, and so it was with our wine tasting tour. Tommy deposited us all in the parking lot, three unbalanced couples tottering their way back to their cars with their purchases.
Gayatri and I decided to stay in downtown Sonoma for a bit till we got back to our senses for the almost 2-hr drive back home. Walking around, we found Figone’s a family-owned business that specializes in olive oil and balsamic. It was the smell that drew us in from the sidewalk, it was so mesmerizing. Frank, the owner told us that he had started a line of body products too, that by itself would sustain his business, but we told him that he needed to keep the oils just because of how the smell would get him more customers. Here he is, with his wife and daughter.
The oil tasting experience was new for us. Frank gave us a lot of different types of oils and balsamic in these little cups. Frankly, I would have liked it better with some bread. But the concoctions are quite tasty, we had a lot of fun trying so many.
The drive home was anti-climactic but uneventful. We got home to this lovely cake selected by my kids. I cut it the next morning with my proud and happy parents looking on and cheering via Facetime video.
I don’t know whether I should be happy or not having got to 50. I reflect a lot these days on how I have lived my life so far, and what I should do in the years I have left. But I’m eternally grateful for the wonderful family and friends I have, the irreplaceable experiences, and the chances I get to meet so many new and fabulous people all the time, from all over the world. I couldn’t ask for more.