As fate would have it, on a recent trip to Sonoma with Husband, this wine spy was on a mission to find Uncle Guido in Napa Valley. Do I even dare? I recall childhood memories of him drinking grappa and sharing Italian prunes, but never knew what happened to him. Stopping by Dean & Deluca on the way, I grabbed a crusty baguette and cheese…ok, and two glasses of wine. A lovely woman with skin as smooth as the finest panna cotta tapped me on the shoulder and said “Excuse me honey, but where did you get those hot Leopard boots you are wearing?” (Look, for me, sneakers will never really be feminine, and anyway I don’t play sports). I shared my source and she shared the fact that years ago a man named Guido from Italy started Charter Oak Winery in St. Helena. Are you kidding me? Her timing was exquisite! Quickly recognizing I shared a common passion for food and art with the owner’s of the winery, she insisted I meet them. Intrigued, this Stalker gal with more chutzph than Zues, made a mad dash into town, leaving the baguette & cheese on the counter. Damn, where’s camera man “Dutch” when you need him?
Charter Oak Winery is a combination of two arts and two passions which come together under one roof. Stepping into the wine cellar I was greeted by Layla, a woman so full of life you want to bottle her up in a mason jar and take her home. She shared her rich family history and at first glance the old dusty images on the cellar wall resembled my family. Hmm…I wondered, could this be my Uncle Guido’s vineyard? Husband Rob and son David, are winemakers who use century-old Italian methods grandfather, Guido Ragghianti, taught using the same principles. Guido was still picking grapes and drinking a bottle of wine a day at the ripe old age of 98. Stalker style! The wine cellar is frozen in time as if Grandpa Guido stepped away for lunch. His apron hangs on a nearby hook and reading glasses carefully resting on a wine barrel paint a picture of days gone by. Rob continues to uphold the family legacy of producing wine. Having never taken an art class before, Layla began painting every day. Two years later her concept, “Cityscapes”, have become her signature style and have gained her international-level cache. Layla’s harshest critics are not Gallery owners but “her girls”, one of a kind chickens who all inhabit a chicken coop decorated with her art. No, I didn’t find my Uncle Guido but they had me dreaming of putting down my own wine country roots. It felt like family, clinking glasses and sharing stories. A place to which you want to return, again and again, all thanks to those leopard boots. Once back to the hotel, while getting my summer glow from a bottle of Charter Oak Zinfandel with Husband I whispered, “I love you.” Husband asked, “Is that you or the wine talking?” I replied, “It’s me, talking to the wine.” Salute!