Sure, the hours boasting daylight are still short – but that's no reason to stay hunkered down in nesting mode. This is a fine time of year for a DIY Humboldt County wine tasting. The tourists have mostly faded away, making for quicker service and a more leisurely experience. If nothing else, this is a way to spend a day with great food, fine wine and mostly local nosh — three great reasons to start planning your adventure now. I'll provide a template; adjust to suit your preferences as necessary.
Step 1: Impose upon a friend or pitch in for a vacation rental in the pretty location of your choice. We ended up alongside the Trinity, admiring the panorama between sips. Highly recommended.
Step 2: Have a designated driver. This is non-negotiable (for obvious reasons). Make sure your desi is someone you trust to not only stay dry, but drive with competence. Humboldt County roads can be dangerous.
Step 3: Advise participants to bring a bottle and a dish to share. Cheese, chocolate, bread, olives and other suitable accoutrements encouraged. And it's easy to stay local — Cypress Grove, Humboldt Creamery, Loleta Cheese, Dick Taylor, Beck's, etc., will provide enough delectability to sustain wine tasters through the hours. If this party plans to wind up at the home of a friend, be sure to pick up something extra as a gift for the host.
Step 4: Start early with a hike through Arcata's Community Forest — I like the basic No. 3 to No. 9 to No. 1 loop, which takes about 45 minutes. Alternatively, a stroll through the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary will whet your appetite. Maybe a bike ride along the Hammond Trail? Whatever your exercise of choice, you'll appreciate having stretched your legs after the full day of indulgence and sitting comes to a close.
Step 5: On to a late breakfast. On a Sunday, you can adventure into Harvest, (835 J St., Arcata) for brunch. The wine bar wizards from Crush have opened the restaurant in the former home of 3 Foods, boasting "farm to fork" selections, including a variety of poached egg options — my people favored the duck eggs over the chicken. For those who prefer sweet to savory, the mascarpone-stuffed French toast is ever so fancy with its hazelnut and Gran Marnier batter ($13). I can vouch that the breakfast sandwich (sans bacon for me) checked all my personal deliciousness boxes ($10).
Yes, yes — but what about the libations? You want to opt for one of the specialty mimosas, available only at brunch. We ordered a pitcher of the orange juice and prosecco mix for the table ($25), and I opted to try the Ciao Bella ($9), a less sweet concoction made with grapefruit juice, essence of elderflower and a lemon twist. Think sunshine in a glass. (When the check comes, be sure to cover your desi's share in gratitude for chaperoning.)
Step 6: Pop up to Moonstone Crossings' Tasting Room (529 Trinity St., Trinidad). They will be very nice to you and you will think, "Perhaps we shall stay nestled in these sweet confines all day!" but your dependable designated driver will nudge you into remembering you have a plan. Buy a bottle of the Barbera if you haven't already ($22). (I also hear good things about Trinidad's new-ish Bergeron Winery tasting room at 359 Main St., but have not been there yet.)
Step 7: Onward to your friends' home — or vacation rental, hopefully scored at winter rates — with a stunning view. (The stunning view is not optional.) This is where you will break out all the various bottles and nosh. Even though appetites may still be sated from brunch, at least snack. Success is not getting drunk. Success is discovering more about the ways in which wine varies and later remembering what a lovely, lovely day you had. Did you invite your friend who knows far more about wine than you do and is able to articulate its characteristics? Smart thinking.
Some standouts from my experience: The aforementioned Moonstone Barbera, a very "fruit-forward" red; Stargazer's 2013 Lumberjack Red, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, with part of its proceeds benefitting Humboldt State University ($20); a delightfully bold 2013 Ducher Crossing Carignane, from a Healdsburg winery with local cred — winemaker Nick Griggs has Humboldt roots and parents who still live in Orleans ($36): and Coates' organic 2012 Zinfindel ($18).
Step 8: Make a list of your favorites before you forget which ones you most enjoyed.
Step 9: If staying in a vacation rental, carry on with your evening. Make sure everyone thanks the designated driver a few dozen more times. If heading home, profess your profound appreciation to your hosts. Don't forget to give them the gift you thoughtfully brought along.
Step 10: Every time you pour a glass from a bottle of wine that became a favorite because of this trip, take a moment to savor not only the aromas and lingering flavors on the palate, but the memory of this time you were part of a group of friends, adventuring and appreciating a particular part of this bountiful place we're so fortunate to inhabit.