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The Weather Is Vine

Last night, Channel 8 Meteorologist Greg Fields and Rick Boyer of Robert Mondavi hosted a small dinner at Abacus to introduce the legendary California brand's new Solaire line of wines. Boyer, who is gearing up for his 32nd vineyard harvest later in the year, is the winemaker behind the new Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay and Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon...but we were interested in another question entirely: why was a baby-faced local weather personality hosting the party?

The answer to that question became apparent as a first course of baby arugula with Gorgonzola and white balsamic vinaigrette appeared, along with detailed color-coded and contoured maps of the state of California. (At this point we also realized why our editor assigned us the tedious task of taking notes on coastal topography--he never was much for schoolwork.) To sum up the lesson that followed, Solaire aims to take advantage of the unique microclimates--love the buzzwords attached to food and wine these days--of some of California's lesser-known wine-growing regions in order to produce affordable wines with unique character.

Boyer explained the intricacies of this strategy in a speech peppered with phrases like "heat summation units" and "root stock trials," which we were sure he learned in some MBA program. We'll also be honest and admit that we were only half listening while enjoying the cool Solaire Chard. Its balanced notes of tropical fruit and golden honey paired well with the blue cheese-rich salad. Food-friendly, with only the slightest hint of oak, it complimented the dish rather than overwhelming it with wood.

And he's trying to tell us this is a California Chardonnay.

As our second course arrived (cedar smoked salmon with parsnip mash), Fields chimed in with his two cents on weather and wine. He and his wife took an interest in wine while vacationing in Napa, and that, combined with his 20-plus years in meteorology, gave him the perfect perspective on the subject of the evening. He also waved his hands and smiled while he talked, just like on TV.

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The addition of local weather personalities to these introductory dinners (which have taken place across the country in recent weeks) is meant to make them more interesting than the usual meet-the-winemaker schtick. It works. Fields and Boyer got the whole vineyard-focused/microclimate/heat summation point across without putting everyone to sleep...as far as we could see. But as the second wine of the evening began to flow (the Central Coast Cabernet Sauvignon), the conversation turned away from business as we all started loosening up.

Someone launched into a story about a Mötley Crüe concert on one side of the table, and at the other end, our old pal Arnold Wayne Jones from the Voice did his best to make wine come out everyone's noses. It would seem that his recent harrowing flash flood adventure did little to dampen his spirits.

If you'd like to serve Mondavi Solaire at your own impromptu party, it's available at Centennial and Goody Goody for $14.99 (Chardonnay) and $16.99 (Cabernet).

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