by David Carpenter, Cima Collina Wine Cub Member
Something that is easy to overlook to experienced wine enthusiasts is the idea that, from an outsider perspective, wine tasting and wine appreciation can seem very daunting and inaccessible to the uninitiated. However, those of us who have been lucky to have experienced the warm, welcoming atmosphere and straightforward, inclusive environment of Cima Collina winery in Carmel Valley know better. It certainly was my personal experience, as someone who just a few short years ago felt that enjoying fine wine was something reserved for “other people” like an exclusive, secret society that had passed me by. I had been wine tasting a few odd times with some friends and had vaguely enjoyed myself, but I had never really come away from these experiences feeling that I “got it” as others did. For me, the change came only in 2014 when my girlfriend Kelsey and I took a trip out to Carmel Valley on a sunny afternoon with no real intentions other than to escape the coastal fog. We had some free tasting cards that we had received from one place or another and after some debate we decided to visit Cima Collina more due to the uniqueness of the name than any concrete reason. This single visit changed the trajectory of my entire life, showing the power of what great wine and a personal approach can do in even a brief time.
Jeffrey Andrews, who is a weekend constant at the Cima tasting room, was that person who first reached out to me in an incredibly human, down-to-earth way the very first time I walked through the doors. I arrived with not much more knowledge than I preferred reds to whites in the past, and I was never treated as though I needed any more experience than that; no prerequisites were required, just a good attitude and a willingness to talk and listen and keep an open mind. I feel today more than ever that Jeffrey’s open, sincere approach to all things in life unlocked the door to wine appreciation for me in a way the somewhat haughty, austere experiences of the past never did. It didn’t take more than thirty minutes to realize that I was amazed by each successive wine on the tasting list and it was an easy decision to join the wine club on that first visit, as I could picture myself taking wines like this home and enjoying them with fresh home-cooked meals. The parties, events, and even discounts that came with the membership were for me, at that time anyway, almost beside the point and secondary. I just knew I wanted to be a part of this magic wine oasis I had stumbled upon, and to support such a business and secure for myself the assurance that I could come back anytime I wished and enjoy the fantastic wine. And today this is still my litmus test for any winery, regardless of the quality of the wine itself; do they have this human, inclusive element that is often missing from so much of our daily lives? Do they make you want to participate in their quest for success and help spread the word to those you love?
Of course it helps that the wines at Cima are also incredible, and incredibly versatile, which I came to learn over the last several years as my curiosity turned to hobby and then became near-obsession. I was exposed to a nice assortment of varietals, and also the opportunity to try many variations on the same varietal simultaneously, raising my awareness of the broad range of smells and tastes that wine can elicit, and I was always welcome (actually encouraged) to ask any questions, no matter how facile, and to actually follow my palate as opposed to trying to conform to popular consensus. These are the hallmarks of learning to appreciate wine that I try to pass onto others myself when I pour tastings. The mystery was suddenly gone and it was replaced by a different kind of magic, one that felt like something I could actually learn and grow within.
The attitude of fine wine presented in a friendly, accessible, inclusive way absolutely extends from our experiences with Jeffery to encompass every single person working at Cima Collina. In the years since that first tasting we have been fortunate enough to enjoy several amazing harvest parties at the breathtaking Hilltop Ranch estate; meet Annette, the charming low-key winemaker and converse over barrel tastings; and generally befriend many of the employees who bring this character to Cima Collina. We’ve seen the new tasting room manager Amy bring added warmth and neat new ideas to the tasting room, which for us has come to feel like a second home. And of course we’ve had the opportunity to see so many delicious and unique wines come and go as Cima has grown. They never have stopped attempting to try new and interesting things, and sharing feedback with Heather or Shawn over a pouring has always been a delight. It still amazes me how grateful they are to hear our sincere thoughts on each wine, and continually re-confirms my initial desire to help and support their endeavors. We have done our best to squirrel away some of our favorite vintages, but there is never-ending excitement in knowing that there will always be new, amazing wines just around the corner. And no matter how Cima has grown, or what new ventures they have progressed to, they have never lost that straightforward, inclusive feeling that has always been there from the first moment.
We look forward to countless years of continuing to enjoy the wines and people of Cima Collina working in tandem together to make a place of such happiness and festivity that we cannot help but share it with everyone we know. Ultimately, what they taught me about wine is perhaps the oldest and most-important lesson there is, far more valuable than any specific knowledge of how to taste or what processes produce what result; we have learned that wine has a magical ability to bring together great people, to unite us all in friendship and give us something exciting to share, and make us feel included as humans. That is why I treasure my membership at Cima Collina Winery.
A note about the image:
Wine Club members David Carpenter and Kelsey Barker drinking up the air and soil in the Chalone AVA and Pinnacles National Park for Earth Day. They had a bottle of Cima Collina Chalone Pinot with their picnic in the cave while it rained, then had the the Antle Mourvedre at dinner back at camp. How appropriate!