It was a perfect day for a harvest party in Sonoma County’s signature wine town, Healdsburg. And it was my first. My lucky break came when my boss, Mark Stevens, asked if I wanted his ticket. A scheduling conflict had come up, and alas, he couldn’t attend. I had to think about it for about half a second, then told him I would take one for the team and go. (Later, Eric Flanagan said Mark should be paying me double-time for working on a Saturday….)
I made the short drive from my Windsor home to Healdsburg, parked in a gravel parking lot and was promptly bussed up to the winery on West Dry Creek Road. In exchange for my ticket I was handed a shimmering glass of the signature Viognier, which was creamy but light and the perfect introduction to a day spent drinking wine at noon. I sat on the deck in the sun and admired the view of the famed West Dry Creek Valley. From there I made my way to the tents and felt compelled to go with the Pinot Noir while I sampled the Liberty Duck with Polenta & Fig Jus (which was amazing, I had three of those!). I am a huge fan of Pinot, so that was a no-brainer, and it was deliciously paired with the duck.
Then I headed to the the Hog Island Oysters stand, manned by a biologist who was a wealth of information on oysters. I adore oysters, and I appreciate them even more after learning about all the things that make them so unique and tasty. One of the best things I learned was that oysters, like wine, have a terroir. Hog Island Oysters are grown in Tomales Bay, CA and have a distinct flavor that is unique to that particular spot in the ocean. Ever wonder what that whitish round disc is in an oyster? It’s a muscle and makes the shell open and close. Because muscles store glycogen (another name for sugar), when you eat that part of the oyster you will notice–if you pause to really taste–a distinct sweet flavor. And I did!
And like wine, every oyster is unique. Some are skinny, some are fat, some are in between. Which you prefer depends on your taste (like the dark meat/white mean debate). I definitely gravitated towards the fatties, which were marked by a creamy, luscious layer over the main body of the oyster. The amount of fattiness is somewhat determined by sex (oysters are gametes, so they can change sex when they feel like it, based on the environment). Females–you guessed it–tend to be fattier and more abundant during “good” years. I ate about half a dozen oysters, which was nothing when I discovered another party goer claimed to have downed no less that three dozen! And it almost goes without saying that in order to fully appreciate the oyster, I had to pair it with the signature Flanagan Chardonnay. I am not a big chard fan, so I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Full bodied and fruit-forward with just the slightest hint of oak. Very nice.
The pizza oven was energetically worked by two pizza chefs, and though I normally don’t eat pizza, this was not your normal pizza. It was rustic. Authentic. And had an impressive wood-fire oven to go with it and a seductive, lively fire. It was the archetype of a thin-crust pizza pie, a “pizza margherita”, adorned simply in the colors of the Italian flag: green from basil, white from mozzarella, red from tomato sauce. Oh–and a few, lightly roasted thinly sliced purple onions on top for a beautiful accent of extra flavor. This I paired with the Flanagan Cabernet Sauvignon. I found the Flanagan Cab to be respectable and well-mannered…”structured” as they say. It was not as heavy as some of the Cabs I’ve had recently, and I enjoyed its ability to be serious and casual at the same time. If that makes any sense.
Finally, the grand finale was the Syrah. The very nice woman in charge of the Cab and Syrah station would not let me try the Syrah before the Cab. She warned me: The Syrah is very large, very strong, very bossy. I love bossy and I couldn’t wait to try it. And this I did, with three of the gorgeous little dark chocolate macaroons, each crowned with a dollop of tart cherry and cream. It was the perfect finish to a perfect afternoon of drinking amazing wine (thank you Flanagan and Cabell Coursey) paired with exquisite culinary delights. I’ll say one thing: those Flanagans really know how to throw a party! Thank you!
And thank you, Mark Stevens.
–Michelle Magnus, Mark’s assistant