I just returned to shockingly sunny Seattle after a week sailing the ocean blue on Windsurf, a Windstar Yacht, through the Caribbean Isles. I am tanned, relaxed and in possession of a vow not to drink for at least three days. It’s kind of like I took a wine-soaked detox from the travails of existence in the northern latitudes. Any detox that involves drinking copious amounts of vino is one I will always sign up for. As one fellow passenger on the boat put it- “we go on these cruises all the time because they’re much cheaper than rehab.”
By now you’ve gotten the picture that wine was a cornerstone of the adventure. How could it not have been, with the likes of Chappellet and DeLille Cellars providing literal boat-loads of the stuff gratis with the price of admission? DeLille is an old favorite of mine and I’ve written about their poignant story before. It was endlessly interesting to have a week of direct access to winemaker Chris Upchurch (and all the DeLille owners) since he knows the art and history of wine better than I know shoes. His beautiful wife Thea is an institution in the Seattle food and wine community; she regaled us with tales from her inspired life as well as bewitching us with her moves on the dance floor.
Chappellet is a new-to-me wine institution that earned a first class seat in my heart from my initial sip (which was given to me by ultra-charming owner Cyril Chappellet- straight from his own glass on morning one of the voyage).
I confess, I’m prejudiced against the tasting experience in Napa valley because of the whole “Disneyland for Oenophiles” vibe. Perhaps a tinge of that prejudice seeps into my opinion on wines from Napa in general. It’s not that I don’t think they’re premiere, it’s just that when I do my ordering, I’d prefer to give the old world and the underdogs pride of place over such a revered region.
Because of my admittedly-bitchy logic, I had been living under a rock when it came to appreciating the truly great winemakers in Napa. That sad deficit in my palate was rectified when I met Blakesley and Cyril Chappellet. They are the straight dope when it comes to people you want owning, running and constantly innovating a wine chateau that makes some of the biggest, baddest Cab this side of Bordeaux.
There is not a drop of false polish on either of the Chappellets. They do things like ride their horses through acres and acres of vineyards on a regular basis, tool around in a battle-scarred 70’s Landcruiser, and incite epic super-soaker wars while rafting down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. Cyril is possibly the best dancer on earth. Anyone who can make me look like less of an Elaine on the dance floor deserves such an accolade. He swears that someday I’ll learn to follow, but I just don’t think it’s in the cards. He teased me on a daily basis regarding my choice of onboard footwear- who says I can’t simultaneously rock the high seas and rock my Louboutins? Little does he know I’m having a customized pair of Lady Gaga platforms in his size sent straightaway to Chappellet.
Blakesley clued me in early on to the best thing about the boat at night- the Bridge Deck. Normally on cruises passengers don’t have regular access to the bridge, because it’s essentially the cockpit and there is a lot of sensitive equipment. When you do a sailing adventure with Fine Food and Wine Cruises, however, they charter the entire boat making normally taboo things accessible. Blakesley took me to the bridge deck one night where we got to talk to the pilot and chart a course using a funky old bronze protractor and a map straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean. The best part of the bridge is that it’s the most solitudinous place to be. You feel like you’re standing on top of the ocean like the girl in the Titanic. After a few glasses of wine, you even start to feel like Jesus walking on the sea, but don’t worry; you don’t have to make wine from water since there’s already plenty on board.
The final tine of the perfecta trident in terms of ensuring enjoyment on a charter cruise through the Caribbean is bringing Chef Jason Wilson along. In real life he does not fit into the great chefs are giant arseholes category at all, contrary to those who dare to believe otherwise. I take my Philip Treacy hat off to anyone who can cook an off-the-cuff Michelin caliber meal for 180 extremely picky travelers. I say off-the-cuff because Jason didn’t have much insight into ingredient availability until he stepped on board the ship. He had to come up with two extremely-detailed tasting menus complete with wine pairings, virtually blind. It’s obvious he has an inherent understanding of innovative flavor combinations, but also a deep font from which to draw artfully-orchestrated dishes that seem like they took months to execute.
The people you meet on an escapade such as this will be different from those on a typical large-scale cruise. Because the ship (with a maximum capacity of 300 passengers) is chartered with a focus on food and wine, you spend the week with a group of like-minded revelers. This translates to a. no screaming children b. fewer tramp stamps and mullets c. livelier yet classier nightlife (yes, I danced on a table, but only once and I wasn’t the only one).
If you have sea legs, like to dance, possess a second liver reserved for massive wine consumption, enjoy sunshine, take pleasure in food, and want to visit The Caribbean, The Mediterranean, or Tahiti, you should consider a gander at the upcoming schedule. It winds up being a relatively inexpensive vacation for all you get to see, experience, drink and eat, since it’s a one-time fee. More on island-hopping and shopping, foot-long bruises, boars who subsist on beer, and Russian magnates who buy thousand euro magnums of champagne just to spray at topless teenagers in a subsequent post.