Saturday, March 5, 2011

Mustard, Mud, and Music Festival

Today marked the beginning of Calistoga's annual two-day "Mustard, Mud, and Music" weekend involving wine and mustard tastings and live jazz scattered at different venues throughout Calistoga.

In the 4 years I've been here, I've never attended, so today was the day! I figured parking might be crazy and I also figured I might be a little affected after wine tasting, so I took the Napa VINE bus (route 10 N, as usual) and was there in an hour, right before the festivities began at noon. Like many events around here, things were a bit confusing at first -- I saw people walking around with orange flyers about the event, and I saw officials (volunteers?) handing out information and informing people on the street. Yet... there were no signs anywhere or indications of where to go to get the admission ticket (which was actually a plastic wine cup and a bracelet with tear-off tokens for 10 wine tastings). Eventually one of the ladies told me to go to the "Chamber of Commerce" to purchase admission, yet the signs read "Visitor's Center", not Chamber of Commerce. Heck, I've worked here for 4 years and it's STILL this confusing, so I can only imagine what it felt like for tourists.

Being a local, I got a discount ($22.50; normally $30 per person) and headed out... music started up on the main stage soon enough at around noon, but the website about the event had been pretty vague about how it worked or when things were happening. Music started at noon but wine pouring wasn't officially happening until 1:30, so I wandered around quite a bit. However, it did give me a good chance to notice some of the shops and venues that I normally just walk right past and pay no attention to!

I can only presume that this is part of the purpose of the event: to draw people into the boutiques and shops and restaurants. Unfortunately for me, many of these are places I would never normally visit if they weren't pouring wine inside: "Mudd Hens" sells bath, spa, and beauty products; "Mud Puddles" being a clothing store for young children; "Sugardaddy's" and "Attitudes" being fashion boutiques; and "Ace Hardware" simply being a weird place to have wine, though this is one of the local establishments I've found a need to visit on occasion.

Wineries included many of the local tasting rooms but also several small-scale or custom-crush pourers who don't even have a tasting room, so I wanted to be sure to give some of those a try and figured I could save visiting the existing tasting rooms for another day. The wines I tried were: Envy Wines, Raymond Vineyards, Alienor, W.H. Smith Wines, Castello di Amorosa (because it's normally $25 to visit and taste, so I wanted to a sneak preview to see if it's even worth tasting there!), August Briggs, Madrigal Vineyards, Kenefick Ranch, Laura Zahtila, Bennett Lane, Casa Nuestra, Sterling Vineyards, and Tofanelli. I didn't bother with Chateau Montelena because I've tasted at the estate and, famous as they may be, the wine was not great (despite being way overpriced); Frank Family Vineyards was also pouring, and I do like their wines but have already tried them before.

Yes, I know that's more than 10 tastings. The fact of the matter is that they were not all collecting the tickets. Another fact of the matter is that I probably drank too much wine (the woman at the bus stop while I was waiting for my ride home kept looking at all of the swarms of people in disgust and talking to me about all of the "borrachos" -- "drunks"). I would say that the wines were overall hit or miss, with the best that I can remember were Kenefick Ranch 2006 Cabernet Franc, Bennett Lane cabernet Saugvignon, W.H. Smith Pinot Noirs, Alienor Sauvignon Blanc, and Casa Nuestra Symphony.

The free mustard sampling at CalMart was also a nice experience (supplemented by a big, juicy Saag hot dog on a stick at $1 each) -- plenty of different flavors here, with my favorites being Wine Country Honey Truffle, Wine Country Merlot Spice, Napa Valley Whole Grain, Good Housekeeping Apple and Spice, and CalMart's own Cherry BBQ and Sweet Onion and Bacon blends. The finale of the tasting booth was a wonderful cheese called "Red Dragon": a soft Welsh cheddar made with whole mustard seeds and brown ale (and, if I'm not mistaken, a hint of horseradish). It was delicious and I was sold on the spot -- went in ans bought a small wedge, even though it's not cheap at about $22 per pound. I also brought home jars of honey truffle and apple spice mustard.

As for music, it was certainly nice to have around... I didn't sit and concentrate on any one performer, other than spending about 10 minutes listening to Susan Sutton (keyboard and vocals, with accompanying upright bass) at the Brannan Cottage Inn, because it was a nice, relaxing, secluded environment and the mellow music was great to accompany some chilled-out wine sipping. I was also impressed by Bob Culbertson's fancy fingerwork on the "Chapman Stick", a string instrument in which you play notes with both hands simultaneously. In this way, it's like a guitar but almost played more like a piano. Culbertson was certainly a pro at it.

All in all, an enjoyable day and I'll probably try it again next year. I'll also be sure to ride the bus again, and possibly do fewer tastings and/or drink more water. Not sure which would be the solution, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to be hurting in the morning.

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