My husband and I took Friday off and spend a long weekend at his folks’ vacation home in Cambria, wine tasting through Paso Robles with friends from college. We had the best time. Chatty fun playing vintner during a wine blending party at the always gracious (not to mention delicious!) Mitchella vineyards. A relaxing lunch on Calcareous Vineyard’s lovely patio. Rhone blends and Zinfandels and Syrahs, oh my at the other wineries. Fun and stories at the baseball winery, yes, baseball winery. A delicious dinner in, prepared by my talented husband. Some of the best Mexican street food style tacos I’ve had since my Oxy days. Games and port in the evenings. It was an absolutely fantastic weekend that looked like a neat combination of this:
Interspersed with a healthy dose of this:
So, about that baseball winery. Out in Paso Robles, down the Union Road wine trail just south of East 46 there is an absolute gem for baseball fans. Rio Seco‘s owner and winemaker is Tom Hinkle, a retired baseball scout and former Minor League Baseball player. Hinkle was drafted by the Detroit Tigers and spent several years in their farm system in the 1960s, coached baseball at Cal State Poly SLO in the 1970s and became a Major League Baseball scout in the 1980s for a full roster of teams over the course of roughly 26 years including the Padres, Cubs, Expos, Blue Jays, Tigers and Brewers. Apparently he is the scout who helped sign Randy Johnson among other names you would recognize.
Visiting Tom Hinkle’s winery is a kick. Rio Seco is everything a small family run winery should be – great wine, nice people, a friendly, no frills tasting room in one of the barrel rooms filled with constant glimpses into the business of winemaking, and plenty of locals stopping by which speaks to both the enjoyable nature of the wine and the excellent hospitality of the winemaking family. One of the Hinkle daughters or Mrs. Hinkle are the most likely candidates to pour your wine tasting and all are full of stories about the winery and Tom’s career. If you catch Tom in the tasting room, he is always willing to chat about baseball past and present. He is no Angels fan, judging from the not unfriendly but gruff “Oh. Halos fans.” my husband and I received the first time we visited. Eh, no one is perfect, right? But it was fantastic to hear his opinions on the standings and which teams were likely to make it to the playoffs when we caught him with a few minutes of free time over Labor Day weekend last summer. While I disagreed with him that the bulk of the Angels problem was losing John Lackey, even at that time he was saying watch out for the Giants who could go all the way. Apparently, the Hinkles are friends with Peter Bourjos’ family and it was a lot of fun for us to hear the retired scout talk about him so soon after he was called up from the minors.
Tom was not available this last trip, so we wound up chatting with one of his daughters while we tasted the new vintages. She told us that while Tom is retired, he still gets calls from former colleagues and several of the local teams asking for insight into a particular player so the baseball world is still very much a part of their lives. Rio Seco itself has a nice baseball theme running through it from their “All-Star line-up” of baseball themed wines, including the Grand Slam and Clubhouse Reds, to the Diamond Club wine club (a portion of this club’s proceeds are donated to the Baseball Scout of the Year Foundation each year) to the small mementos from Hinkle’s career in MLB and at Cal Poly SLO scattered throughout the tasting room/barrel room. Many of the events they throw are baseball themed and frequently involve other baseball scouts both current and retired. I am sorry I missed the Harvest Festival BBQ and playoffs analysis this past October and hope Rio Seco hosts some kind of preseason analysis event at Zinfandel Festival in March.
Oh, and the wine itself is really good. According to the Hinkle daughters, their parents refer to Rio Seco wines as being primarily Monday through Thursday wines, rather than weekend and special occasion wines. I adore that phrase and tend to agree with this assessment in the sense that all of Rio Seco’s wines are easily enjoyable, would be equally good on their own or with a meal and are priced such that opening several bottles in the middle of the week will not cause any strain on the budget…but I will happily drink this wine Friday through Sunday as well. My favorites are the #22 Zinfandel (named for the fact that this gem was the 22nd bonded winery in Paso, it’s got a deep blackberry and raspberry flavor with allspice, cinnamon and clove notes, typical of a Paso Robles Zinfandel) and the Grand Slam (a fruit forward table red with nice tannins that begs to be paired with pasta with a spicy marinara sauce, hard salami and cheese or a big juicy burger). Oddly enough for me, another favorite is Glee, a White Cabernet. To me, this is part of the magic of a tasting room. Leave your preconceived “oh, I only like red wine” and “we’re not drinking Merlot!” notions at the door and taste everything the winery is willing to let you taste. You never know, you might find something you weren’t expecting to like. As, lo and behold, I have found a non-dry rose I actually like. I am quite fond of dry roses actually, but seldom like sweet ones. The Glee is sweet without being cloying. It tastes like pureed strawberries with a hint of citrus, vanilla and light herbal notes. This is refreshing in the extreme and we like drinking it while we are barbequing the meat we will eventually serve with red wine at a party.
So, if you are out and about in Paso Robles and looking for a treat, or if you want to purchase a tasty baseball themed wine for one of your gatherings this season (they accept online orders) I highly recommend Rio Seco. I didn’t want to plaster MLBlogs with descriptions of the other wineries we visited on our trip because I don’t know enough of you well enough to know it this would be interesting for you. But if you have an interest in less well known California wines, I did write a couple of posts on the trip on my LiveJournal here and here.
You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball. Of course, if you are a baseball fan, you know that this hilarious line from Bull Durham is neither true nor meant to be taken as truth. Baseball has a simple basic premise, but the strategies, stats, rule nuances, different skill sets involved, and even the variations from ballpark to ballpark give the game a nearly epic complexity. No matter how well you know the game, no matter how many amazing things you have seen on the field, several dozen times a season you are going to see something that makes your jaw drop and causes you to jump up and down and scream with joy or outrage. Baseball is passion and infinite possibility – no matter what the stats and analysts say, on any given game day, any team can beat any other team. And that is why I love this game!
So why blog? I am a baseball fan with very few baseball friends. My husband and I are huge fans of the Angels and baseball in general, but few others in our circle can tell a double from a double play…and their eyes all tend to glaze over at the mere mention of a line drive or stolen base. I came to MLBlogs looking for great baseball talk and, seriously, you all hit the ball out of the park in that regard. I decided to start my own MLBlog to continue the conversation…or, rather, to pick up my end of it. I’ve been more of a reader than a commenter. The 2010 post season is nearly over – which was a good thing for the Angels actually; they definitely need some regrouping time – so I figure this is the perfect time for my own spring training. Let’s see if I can get this blog up and running smoothly in time for the 2011 season.