Between the Barrels: 3 Top CA Wine Clubs to Join or Give as Gifts

My friend Megan joins us on L’occasion today to share her wine club recommendations.


Aside from having a ridiculous amount of wine in her basement, Megan is not an aficionado. She’s a writer, but not a wine writer. Her bias is simply memories and taste. These suggestions come from her heart (which is evident in her writing) and they illustrate, deeply, how wine compels us to enjoy this life we live on Earth.

I’m caught in my tracks by this piece because she shares how she and her husband spend some of their precious free time with wine. Free time is currency when you have three tots singing Frosty at 6:00 am. Even so, she will open a bottle with her hubby any night of the week, just to see him smile and enjoy a glass of memories.

Last week she sent me a picture of her youngest boy, in his high chair with a snack. “Snack in the office so mom can keep working. Thought you’d enjoy.” This moment is miles and sippy-cup-filled miles from a Napa tasting room, and still…when we read stories like the one she tells below We Are There. I love reading, and this is why. Because it takes us there.

Enjoy her recommendations and please share your own. If you’ve been to one of these spots, please let us know in the comments section.
Please help me welcome Megan, author of Running the Dream, Living with Boys as she lets us into her wine-crate-filled world in Minnesota today. All words and pictures below are hers:
Remember Me?

Ladera 3

My husband bought too much wine. Our guest room still has a no-vacancy sign. Wine boxes are ready to topple the once comfortably quilted and inviting bed. Some murmurings shared over Monday night football tell me a local wine shop does offer affordable, secure and temperature-controlled wine storage. If the guest suite opens back up, I’ll be sure and alert my fellow winophiles (you might find something hidden under the armoire).

Tis the season we say: so it’s time to forget the storage and focus on the prize. The gifts which can offer both tantalizing tannins and warm, fireside stories in one galactic winter’s evening. Today I invite you to California, along with my beautiful friend and our gracious creator of L’occasion. What can your love of wine give this most wonderful time of the year? Let us bask in the glories of turtle doves, lords leaping, ladies dancing and toast, toast, clink, clink, repeat.

We belong to several wine clubs in the Napa Valley region. Our wine adventures are not numerous, wild or exotic but for now we are satisfied. Three boys make it challenging to scamper off coast to coast or cross continent. Maybe one day when little guy is using the toilet or at least peeing outside (we raise them right). There you have it, all my credentials in a finely scribed vestibule, just the beginning of our entrance into the world of coveted wine. We may not have time to travel but we make time to savor, to collect and converse over many a bottle.

If You Love the Art of Wine

The view from Howell Mountain, Napa Valley

Hall Winery is nestled atop Howell Mountain; if I close my eyes I can see the winding road and set my mind on this grand, magnificent scene. I’ve never been hooked on fairy tale endings (I’m a real girl, things happen) but I do believe Kathryn Hall has hers: a true culmination of art and wine. We just received the book (gifted to us as members) A Perfect Score: The Art, Soul, and Business of a 21st Century Winery. I will not review because honestly I haven’t read it (no time, see paragraph 3). But I confess we love the wine (my husband’s favorite) and the winery experience is unprecedented. The land is lush and the art on display is a collector’s dream, even the flower vases are works of art. Visit their website to find out more about the membership opportunities and events. If you have a chance to taste in the basement, adorned with massive antler chandelier do tell. I’ve always wanted to sip under an antler chandelier.

If You Love the Heart of Wine

Darms Lane Property in Napa Valley

If you are looking to warm a loved one’s heart this season, consider gifts from the vineyards and beckon them to an experience. Perhaps send a sampling of your favorite bottles or share a new club membership with the neighbor who loves to toast Merlot too or the sister who never drinks red but loves bubbly. When you enter the club scene it’s more than vino and beautiful bottles. You get the story, the hand-crafted, embossed history of pride, tears and sweat transcending generations. And so I introduce you to Darms Lane.

We drove up and I could smell the dust, feel the wind and knew home wasn’t too far. The Darms family comes from Oklahoma, not my birth place but a place I know, a place where love resides. You are beckoned to sit on the porch, gaze upon Linda’s hillside and feel connected, welcomed into the story.

Their Cabernet is made in honor of Linda Bump, co-owner of Darms Lane Vineyard who passed away from Ovarian Cancer. Darms donates $25 from each bottle sold to the Ovarian Cancer Research fund to aid in the search for methods of early detection and an eventual cure for ovarian cancer. You never question the reason, this beautiful tribute to Linda; it presents itself over and over. We belong to Darms because we realize we all belong together. I wince at another shipment no matter the sender (we have no place to put it ya’ll) but even I admit when the Darms Lane wooden box arrives at my door I know two things: I am going to love this wine and I love remembering the sweet, affectionate, salt of the earth folks who made this all happen. They brought tender-hearted work and compassion to my doorstep. I am humbled.

If You Love the Work of Wine
dirt road_near Dunn ready.jpg

A Napa Valley Dirt Road

During a trip to Napa, one of our last stops led me to a family farm. I know family farms. Grown and raised on what crops mean, what the rain can make or break and how dusty hands calculate the most scientific predictions you will ever witness. My family grows beans and corn, raised cattle, sometimes pigs, rarely puppies. The Dunn family raises and cultivates grapes. Our appointment at Dunn Vineayards was set, so it seemed. Just as we gave up and turned around the umpteenth time, finally we saw the tiny sign that read “Dunn”.

We scoured the premises for signs of life and immediately fell into a trance when Mike Dunn emerged from the vines and began to tell the story, the family secrets. I felt like I was sipping my first vintage with a dear uncle named Mark; he would love this guy. The way of the vineyards, the work of the vines—the work that puts dirt under those fingernails and never quite resolves, we don’t really want it to dissipate. Mike and his dad grew together, learned together, yearned together and have made spectacular wine only available to those who dare to explore, excavate and travel the road not taken (Walt tells it best). If you have a friend or family member who loves a good grassroots story and an excellent Cab, enter the world of Dunn together—you won’t look back, you won’t regret taking the road less traveled.

The Finale

I should point out a wine club membership or gift can include some phenomenal fun-sies: the surprise I never knew I needed this and now I can’t live without it corkscrew and handy decanter towel. Yes I said towel just for your cute little decanter (it really works)! Above all this you feel invited, you feel part of the inner circle.

And we all want in between the barrels. We want cellar access at its finest. Maybe we get it, maybe we don’t—I imagine they’ll never tell. But know this. A wine membership is no joke, you should love the wine, and you should get to know the wine.

Not personal shopper knowing, rather the inner workings of your tribe knowing. And I do believe you have advantages, cost savings and first sips before it hits any shop shelf. And some very coveted bottles will never see a shelf; they are too delicate and too sturdy: juxtaposition at its finest.

Sometimes it’s about being on the right list at the right time. But mostly our adventures have led to deeper friendships, heartier laughter and stories dripping from the vineyards waiting to be told again and again. We have a bottle for each child’s birth year, from the places we first ventured together. The places we first dared to say, ‘hey we know nothing, so let’s go for it anyway’. Come away: venture to give something extraordinary this season, the gift that says experience over expenditure and love over Santa’s nice list.

We can be naughty now and then, good wine gives us permission.

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