“I swear, it’s a real thing!” I insist.
My dad groans. “Noooo, Diana.”
“It is! Some Sauvignon Blancs smell like cat pee!” I continue, perhaps a little too vehemently. “I’ll Google it!”
My mom and brother sit quietly in their respective seats watching the scenery pass by on our drive to Yountville for lunch. As usual, they are not getting involved. They know better – in our family silence is often the best response.
“Yes, here it is! ‘A classic aroma reference for some of the Loire Valley wines is cat pee,’” I read from an article on Answers.com. I hold up the phone for everyone in the car to see.
My dad sighs, still skeptical. “You better not bring that up to anyone.”
The exchange is one that’s typical in my kooky family – and one that's protypical of the three days we spent exploring Napa, Sonoma, Calistoga and the surrounding area for my dad’s 70th birthday this past weekend.
He, of course, told everyone he was turning “7.”
At least five times during every exchange.
But we all actually love each other. And have fun together even in those exasperating moments when we are chiding each other about cat pee, my dad is telling yet another person that he’s a Rotarian, I’m pouting because I have to eat a microwaved egg sandwich for breakfast since somebody didn’t get up on time, and my brother is taking pictures of a butt-shaped shadow with my camera.
Those colorful moments are what make us a family – what make us special and unique and worthy of our own half-hour sitcom on ABC following “Modern Family.” This weekend had its frustrations and comedic subplots, but when I look back I see the laughter and joyous memories.
I see us sitting on the patio at Larkmead Vineyards in Calistoga, sipping Cabernet Sauvignon and the well-balanced 2007 Firebelle Propriety Blend with Merlot, Cabernet, and Malbec grapes, during our private tasting at the winery.
I see us munching on Cowgirl Creamery goat cheese and homemade dried pears, while enjoying Groom Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz from the Barossa Valley region of South Australia with winemaker Daryl Groom and his lovely wife Lisa at their home. Their wines are impeccable, yet just as approachable and accessible as Daryl and Lisa are themselves. They are the type of wines you want to drink every night, and the Grooms are the type of people you want as your best friends or next door neighbors. We hated to leave.
I also see us on our last morning. The cold had snuck its way into the valley over night, and none of us (aside from my dad) were excited about walking outside to take a tour of the Sonoma-Cutrer Winery and Vineyard at 10:30 in the morning. But we were immediately charmed by our caretaker and the story of how the grapes become the beautiful Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs we were able to taste at the end our tour. While I don’t typically care for California Chardonnay, I fell in love with the crisp Les Pierres Chardonnay.
It was both easy and hard to say good bye to my family at the Oakland Airport on Sunday afternoon when we all parted ways. I was anxious to get home to my apartment where I don’t have to wait for the whole family to eat breakfast, and anxious to have space and control over my schedule. But, as I sat on the plane, waiting for it to take off for Los Angeles, I felt a pang of loneliness. I missed the noise. I missed the clatter of my family’s different personalities. I missed our discussions about cat pee, my brother’s sly winks and eye rolls, my mom’s sentimentality, and my dad’s insistence that he's really only “7.”
The weekend was a rare opportunity to exist how we did when we were growing up – in one house, under one car roof, with all hell breaking lose. It reminded me of just how lucky I am to have a family as kooky and infuriating as mine. Especially when there’s wine around.