They just opened a Total Wine near my home. It represented the cherry on top of a major renovation in the city of Northridge. To people outside the San Fernando Valley, Northridge is known as the city that completely collapsed in the epicenter of a 1994 earthquake. To us valleyites, Northridge is the prideful centerpiece of our smog ridden home. It doesn’t house the cornucopia of pornography found in Chatsworth and Van Nuys. It doesn’t have that aura of undeserved self-absorption exhibited in Sherman Oaks/Toluca Lake/ Studio City. It didn’t house the Jacksons or Phil Hartman’s death like Encino. It doesn’t pretend it’s not part of the valley like Woodland Hills. It’s far too white to have the undercurrent of danger you’d find in my hometown areas of Sylmar/San Fernando. And it’s not so underwhelming that it could be used as Daniel Larusso’s hometown in The Karate Kid (“Not that boy from Reseda!”) It’s the perfect valley location for an up and coming wine behemoth to plant its flag.
My wife Charger Gal and I aren’t exactly what you’d call wine connoisseurs, but we do enjoy us the vino fairly regularly. We first got involved with the great grape alcohol during our 5th wedding anniversary dinner. The bottle was a 2005 Stag’s Leap Petite Syrah. It had a dark beautiful color with rich aromatics that yielded a smooth & supple taste with an earthy & spicy finish. Now I don’t know what the Hell any of that means, but it tasted damn good. Thus our wine odyssey began and we took a trip to Solvang with a few of our friends. Charger Gal was incredibly excited to take notes on the plethora of wines we were about to imbibe. She grabbed a pen and paper, tasted the first wine, gave pensive deliberation to her review, and wrote quickly. I leaned over, eager to see what insight had been captured.
Thus marked the end of Charger Gal’s brief foray into wine critiquing. We came home and settled into being regulars at a family owned wine bar also stationed in Northridge. The family missed the notice that it’s the people behind the bar who listen to the problems of their customers and not vice versa. While I basked in hearing their multitude of over the top mini dramas, I put the over/under for their existence at 12 months. They beat me; they lasted 14. It’s now a Bob’s Big Boy.
Charger Gal and I watched the Total Wine go up piece by agonizing piece. Anytime there seemed to be a pause in the process, we looked over at the faded Walgreen’s sign that had spent well over a year hanging above the space formally occupied by a Tower Records and feared the worst. (Special Note to the Tweeners who haven’t known double digit existence without a Team Edward/Team Jacob discourse: Once upon a time, if one wanted to obtain music they liked, it required a trip to a mystical place called a record store. Bring it up to mom and dad sometime. They might just burst into tears of pride over your knowledge of such things.) Finally, we were informed that the store was opening in just about every way possible: Color booklet ad in the mail, color booklet ad in the newspaper, email, sky writing, pony express, Jehovah ’s Witness at the door. You name it, they did it.
Now at this point, a lot of you are thinking to yourselves: “Why are you making such a big deal out of this place? I have a Bev Mo near me. Maybe the aisles are small and there’s about 37 different ways to break something that I’ll inevitably have to pay for, but it gets the job done and on occasion, they have certain wines that cost a nickel for a second bottle.” Allow me an analogy: Remember the iconic opening scene of Star Wars? Well Bev Mo is the Rebel Spaceship and Total Wine is the Imperial Cruiser. The place is massive. There’s room in the aisles for carts to pass each other without attempting the Malachi Crunch on an unsuspecting browser. It’s actually a pleasant temperature and not so cold that you need your winter gear to walk around. The bathrooms are clean. (NEVER sell this short. Even in a new business, the toilets go to Hell in a hand basket in no time flat. If they’re keeping the place they least wish to frequent spic and span, you know the rest of it passing the white glove test.) 8,000 different wines. 2,000 different spirits. 1,000 different beers. Dan Aykroyd alcohol! Seriously, any place that houses booze from a Blues Brother you gotta frequent, right?
As we walked around taking in the never ending rows of alcohol, we came across the wine tasting area. We approached and were courteously informed that in addition to the first vendor before us, there were two other vendors in the back area, each pouring tastings from five of their wines. The cost for this trifecta of red and white joy? 10 cents! That’s right, you could get 15 ounces of wine for even less than the 15 cents Tupac kept trying to make a dollar out of. We dropped a dollar in the contribution bucket, decreed they could keep the change, and ventured into the tasting area.
The rep for the first vineyard greeted us with a sheepish grin and a solemn nod. There are 3 types of reps for visiting vineyards. Type one, like the pleasant but silent gentlemen before us, is the actual winemaker. They’re never rude or dismissive, but have as much charisma as the object your computer is sitting on. We made our way through his wines, looked at each other, and made the same proclamation:
A worker kindly escorted us to the back tasting area and we came face to face with a man who was clearly the second type of rep; the salesperson for the vineyard. They always seem to be involved in vineyards ran by brothers, possess Pat Riley hair, tanning butter tans, and talk a mile a minute in the hopes their verbal misdirection will lead you to buy a bottle of all their wines just so you get them to stop talking. I’d like to tell you this obvious ploy didn’t work on Charger Gal and I, but the bottle I am staring at as I write this would say otherwise. At least they offered a dollar off coupon.
We slid over and came face to face with the final type of rep. Type three is a woman who no doubt was quite the looker in her day, but hasn’t received the memo that her time atop mount hot chick has passed. She dresses in attire that is slightly too revealing for any age, always accentuates the word succulent, and ends each soliloquy that bestows the virtues of each wine with a wink. I’m a big Simon and Garfunkel fan, so with Mrs. Robinson humming through my head I purchased another bottle.
We now moved about the store, marveling at the numerous choices and impressive decor. That’s when we saw it: A Stag’s Leap Petite Syrah. We approached, wondering what the cost would be in such a fancy store. We’ve never found a bottle for less than 45 bucks. Charger Gal scanned at the price and smiled at me. I looked down, rapt in anticipation.
Our euphoria from discovering our most beloved wine at an Ebenezer Scrooge approved price led us to purchase a few more bottles, some exotic beer for Charger Gal, and a pack of Clint Eastwood Man With No Name style cigars for me. We checked out and made our exit, but not before looking back at our new weekly hangout.
Welcome to the valley Total Wine. Damn glad to have ya.
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