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Humor October 2016

Ernie's World

Hidden Gem

By Ernie Witham

We had been instructed to “continue slowly up the private two-way drive for two miles, watching carefully for oncoming cars.” The steep, winding road was the exact width of our Honda Civic.

“The blind cow walks into the barn door,” I whispered into the handheld microphone.

“Excuse me?”

“That’s my secret password,” I whispered again.

“Just give them the name,” my wife said.

“Ernie,” I said.

There were some muffled voices on the other end, finally: “Are you married, Ernie?”


“Great, can you put your wife on?”

We were in St. Helena, California, in the Napa Valley sitting at the gate to Kuleto Estate, a winery open by appointment only. They had sent us secret directions via email with the warning that cell phone reception would “run out on the Silverado Trail” which meant that we could easily get lost, but we probably wouldn’t run into any absent-minded teenagers walking around looking for Pokémon.

“How about ‘the bright moon makes the coyote smile?’”

“Wife please.”

We had started the day at Calistoga Spa Hot Springs with a final dip in the geothermal mineral pool. Pat and I had stayed at the spa, while Bob and Sally had camped nearby. After two days we were all a bit pruney but quite relaxed.

Now Bob was driving the camper home, not wanting anything to do with the narrow country road we had to take “past a spillway and dam to a fork in the road at the back of a lake.” Sally had stayed with us for the last winery visit of our two-day extravaganza. And, to help with the directions.   

“We need to keep an eye out for mile marker 13.68,” she had told us then counted them down. “Eleven point zero eight, just ahead.”

Pat and I joined Firestone Winery in the Santa Ynez Valley, which is now owned by Bill Foley. It is one of a dozen he owns in this country, including Chalk Hill, Foley Johnson, Roth Estate, Kuleto and several more in the Napa/Sonoma region. They all offer free tastings if you have the magic “Foley Food & Wine Society card.” It’s now the card that deserves the expression “Don’t leave home without it.”

The gate at Kuleto still hadn’t opened so I was about to conjure up another secret password, but Pat grabbed the mic and gave them her name. They gave her a code for the keypad and the gate opened and closed immediately behind us.

“I saw a scene like this once in a zombie movie that came on at three in the morning.”

“Swell,” said Sally, as she rolled her window up.

We had been instructed to “continue slowly up the private two-way drive for two miles, watching carefully for oncoming cars.” The steep, winding road was the exact width of our Honda Civic.

We were greeted at the winery by a nice man named Greg. I asked him if anyone ever drove off the side of the road and how they would even know if they did.

“We check for broken branches on the way down every evening,” he said. So if you go to Kuleto and drive off the edge, remember to break stuff on the way over the cliff.

We were told another group would be joining us for our tour of the grounds. They were a little late and I think they were about to send workers down looking for errant tire tracks when we heard an engine. And then – I’m not kidding – a huge stretch limo pulled up. A group of young women climbed out and kissed the ground.

Greg started us out with a nice glass of Moscato and a warning. “The ground is uneven in places,” he said, “so please be careful.” He was looking right at me.

Pat Kuleto, a restaurant entrepreneur, bought the wilderness mountaintop property in 1992 for his country estate, then quickly learned that it was prefect for creating world-class, high-altitude wines, so he built the winery. There are now 85 acres of vines on the hillsides in a number of unique micro climates. Bill Foley bought Kuleto in 2009.

After the tour we sat on the large porch and were served four more delicious wines. We bought a nice Zinfandel and then headed to the car.

“Want me to drive?” I asked.

“No,” said Pat and Sally in unison.

So I sat in the back and kept watch for large vehicles, broken branches, and – zombies.


For more adventures please check out: Ernie's World the Book, and "A Year in the Life of a 'Working' Writer" This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit:

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