My 39, Day 19. 

Not until I stood in a Santa Barbara tasting room did I realize I knew squat about wine.

Somewhere between the cellar tour, the last sip of the flight, and my figuring out why the pimple faced high tops wearing kid in one of the tasting room pics looked so familiar (Andrew Firestone, easily 10 years pre Bachelor), I opened up to the hostess.

It’s not that I outright admitted to buying based on 1) newlywed budget and 2) label appeal. But in so many words, she totally caught my lower shelf drift.

She asked me a few questions in the way of varietal preferences, what I liked to cook, and how much I was willing to spend.

Standing there in a purchased just for this vacation sweater poncho (in my defense this was 2003, and they were all the rage), I stared at my glass in what I hoped conveyed sophistication, and waited for her to laugh me out of the tasting room.

Without a trace of condescension or product pushing, she educated me on everything from wine aisle shopping to argon wine preservers.

From that very next grocery run, I started paying more attention to what I brought home.

What I learned is that I’d never met a Pinot Noir I didn’t like. Even the $8 Mark West (sorry not sorry, wine snobs everywhere). No shame in a good table wine, amiright?

When I found myself Portland-bound this past summer, a day trip to Willamette Valley – the promised land of Pinot Noir production – was top of the itinerary.

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With only one afternoon to explore, I focused on the Dundee Hills and visited a handful of places. So much more enjoyable than my clueless first encounter in Santa Barbara, it was a day of eating (red wine and robust cheese and dark chocolate til I die, thank you very much), education (silt clay soil versus volcanic soil), and eclectic crowd mingling.

I suppose I’m still a bit label persuaded, as I made the last stop of the day at Vesta Hills, chosen solely for its hometown-ish appeal and my own curiosity.

With 45 minutes to closing my expectations were low.

Still, I was here and they were serving, so amongst the equestrian tour group, a fortysomething-ish couple, and a few millennials, I made my way up to the counter.

Just as quickly, I took my glass and stepped onto the wraparound deck. If there is anything better than an Oregon grown Pinot, it’s being able to enjoy it by an open air fire pit with the Pacific Northwest as your backdrop.

At five minutes to close, I wandered back in to pay, noting that the counter crowd was just as I’d left it before. Everyone else had thinned out, yet these folks clearly had no intention of packing up.

With a flourish, the flight menus disappeared, the “good” bottles came out, and from a corner counter record player, Lindsey Buckingham started singing about second hand news.

So glad I didn’t stay on that bottom shelf.