Jason Keil

Jason Keil is a writer whose work has been published in the Phoenix New Times, AZCentral.com, Phoenix Magazine, and OnMilwaukee.com. He also co-hosts the podcast What The Fork.

Wrath of Grapes Cliffnotes

Billy's premonition was true. Our guide had said as we began the tour of the Roblar Winery in the Santa Ynez Valley in California it would be all downhill after we left the gorgeous scenic vineyards he showed us with pride.

This was the first stop on the Grapeline Wine Tour my wife of five days had signed us up for when we were planning our honeymoon. Since my knowledge of wines comes from one famous "I Love Lucy" episode and the movie Sideways, I assumed a half-day of mediocrity. 

We were beer drinkers and we know what we like. Wine, on the other hand, seemed intimidating. There seemed to be all this work required in order to get the best taste from what you were drinking. You had to have certain glasses and hold them a certain way, swish the liquid, make sure the grapes were grown in the right conditions, eat cheese and crackers, have a refined palate, and most importantly, have a fat checkbook. 

Also contributing to our lowered expectations, everyone we had seen when we arrived in Solvang, California seemed to be card-carrying member of the AARP taking advantage of a weekday discount the hotel must have been offering those with nothing but time on their hands, money in their pocket, and a dwindling life expectancy. Even after a lively discussion with a retired Beverly Hills Cop at our hotel the night before, we expected to not see anyone in our generation on the tour.

We were relieved when we walked on the bus to find a fun tour guide like David, the driver on our 5 hour tour of wineries on Santa Barbara County, as well as several people in our age bracket who were visiting from the Colorado Springs area. 

They were all eager to assist us in our crash course in grape fermentation and it was Billy that brought it to my level. For example, he explained that chardonnay is supposed to have a buttery taste. He put it on the amusing scale of Land O' Lakes to Parkay. Also, certain grapes need to grow in distressed conditions, which he ranged from Santa Barbara to Compton. He even took us out to the vineyard to explain how vines were grafted on so the winery can produce different grapes while keeping the same root structure.

I learned more about wine in 45 minutes than I have from any pop culture touchstone that was grape related. Like any good salesman, he wasn't selling us wine. He was selling us the winery itself, and he had us sold on Roblar pretty quick.

Then as Billy had predicted, none of the other wineries came close to giving us the knowledge he was able to impart or the quality Roblar delivered, though some excelled in certain varieties more than others. Now we knew what to taste for after we brought our nose to the glass and deeply inhaled. I don't want to say I gained a palate in mere hours, but I knew I couldn't go back to drinking Two Buck Chuck. Unfortunately, one guide almost insulted us by saying the brewery we went to the night before "sucked." We actually had liked the beer and food they had served, despite the fact we didn't want to come back anytime soon.

The fun continued after the tour as we visited Avant Tapas and Wine with our new friends from Colorado Springs. The restaurant menu told us what wines go best with the food they offered. Once you ordered your meal, you could visit what can be best described as a "wall of wine." You stick a credit card type device near the wine you want to try and choose if you want a sample, half glass, or full glass of your selection. Once you press the button, the wine is dispensed.

Before the day was through, we had purchased 6 bottles of wine to take back with us on our long journey back to Arizona, which is 6 more than we had expected. David even gave us a souvenir wine opener as a wedding gift and a souvenir of our first wine tasting. If it weren't for friendly knowledgeable people telling us at least what to look for, we would have remained ignorant to the pleasures grapes can offer our palate.