One sunny Southern California day I went to work and found a message from Gregory Condes in my mailbox. At this time in my life I had only heard whispers about the man people call “The Sommeliers’ Sommelier.” It wasn’t until he invited me to join him on one of his Sommelier Safari trips that I really understood what those whispers meant.
The trip consisted of four days winding up mountains and driving through valleys in the heart of California wine country. With Gregory as the driver and his trusted colleague Scott Barber relaying stories on every detail of each location, the excitement was constant. The purpose of all this was to give us all a greater understanding and deeper appreciation of where our wine comes from. I wish I could tell you about every detail that happened along the way, but here are the highlights from each day.
Day One: Meteor Vineyard and Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard with Janzen
We start the day with a picnic at the famed Meteor Vineyard in the Coombsville AVA. Winemaker Dawnine Dyer is a seasoned pro, constructing cabernet sauvignon from Meteor Vineyard that is structured, inky, and finishes with a kiss of fresh tobacco and crushed graphite. The above photo is all of us sharing the greatest roast chicken from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc restaurant in the Napa Valley, paired with the fruits of Dyer’s labor.
Day Two: Philip Togni Vineyard, Emerson Brown and Seavey Vineyard
This day begins with us traversing along Spring Mountain AVA to see the legendary Philip Togni. This gentleman comes with a rich history in the wine industry, dating back to before I was born. With experience working for some of the greatest wineries in the world, he eventually found his home and vineyard on a ridge atop the Spring Mountain AVA. While barrel-sampling his latest vintage, it becomes apparent that I’m in the company of an icon.
Day Three: Hawk’s Vineyard, Porter Creek, and Calluna Vineyard
Three days in, and somehow every day manages to out-do the previous. With a tour of Alexander Valley AVA, Chalk Hill AVA, and the famed Russian River Valley AVA, the safari takes us on an exploration of Sonoma I’d only dreamed of. A tractor-led tour up Porter Creek’s Vineyard presents an opportunity to taste an extremely floral and spice-driven pinot noir, poured by the soft spoken-proprietor Alex Davis.
Day Four: Black Kite Cellars, Mathis Wines, and Bravium Wines
On the final day, we explore the southern appellations of Sonoma. An early morning glass of Black Kite Cellar’s single vineyard Gap’s Crown Chardonnay is like tasting a great Montrachet. As evening approaches and the sun begins to recede behind the San Francisco skyline, Gregory begins taking us back to the airport while making phone calls at every opportunity. It’s at this moment that I notice something incredible, inspiring, and humbling. After every phone call, whether it’s with the receptionist or a warehouse worker, he sincerely thanks them and tells them he’s extremely grateful for their support and time. After being pampered and educated through the great wine regions of California, I learn what it means to be taken care of by the “The Sommeliers’ Sommelier.”
If you’d like to experience one of the Gregory Condes Wines you don’t have to look far. They’re available at fine wine locations throughout Orange County, including CUCINA Enoteca, Hi-Time Wine Cellars and Montage Laguna Beach.