Valentine’s Day in wine country offers so many opportunities to show your sweetie how much you care. This year we celebrated the day with the Mello Cielo bus tour at Ruby Hill Vineyards!
We had experienced the retro-chic Mello Cielo bus tour before as part of a dear friend’s birthday celebration, but on this special day, Ruby Hill embraced the spirit of Valentine’s Day to deliver the perfect vineyard tour for couples. We purchased our tickets well in advance, which was great because the tour was totally sold out!
We were greeted by one of our favorite wine guides, CJ, who was to be our guide and driver for the event. He handed each of us a glass of some Ruby Hill Sparkling, which is always a good way to get a group of strangers to bond. After a brief overview of the day’s itinerary, we made our way out of the winery to the Mello Cielo bus and got ourselves ready for our tour.
The Mello Cielo bus is truly unique, with the individual seats made from wine barrels and the vertical hand rails decorated with painted iron grape vines. Every inch of the bus, inside and out, portrays an irreverent expression of Ruby Hill’s love of wine. Even the ceiling is decorated! CJ got us all seated, then he started the bus and drove away from the tasting room. Next stop: grape vines!
CJ drove us into the Ruby Hill vineyards, pointing out the recently grafted grape vines as we drove past one of the vineyards. He explained that a plot can be changed from one varietal to another by lopping off the old vines at the top of the main trunk, then inserting a sprig of the new varietal into a slit cut into the trunk. Because the root stock has its extensive root system intact, the grafted plant produces usable fruit years faster than planting young vines. Who knew?
We drove around various vineyard blocks for a while before stopping at the top of a gently crested hill with an incredible view of the Livermore hills. We left the bus to look around as CJ refilled our wine glasses, this time with their 2017 Sauvignon Blanc paired with Ritz crackers. CJ explained that the buttery flavor of the Ritz worked well with the crisp fruit of the Sauvignon Blanc, and who doesn’t enjoy some Ritz?
We next rode to the production facility that is located in the back of the building housing the Rubino Estates Winery, the sister winery to Ruby Hill Vineyards. As we approached the building, CJ told us that the Rubino building was modeled after the original Ruby Hill winery which burned down. This new building is somewhat closer to the road than the original, and features a facade made of bricks from the original building.
We went through the back door where we saw several large stainless steel fermentation tanks just inside, along with enormous stainless aging tanks and oak barrels stacked to the ceiling. After a bit of education on the process of making wine, CJ got out a wine thief and invited us to taste some 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon directly from a barrel. Although the wine was more than a year away from its debut in the tasting room, it already showed great fruit and complexity. We look forward to tasting the final product!
We next drove around the building and went into the Rubino tasting room. CJ poured their 2016 Sanviovese, which turned out to be Judi’s favorite wine of the day! We spent some time looking through the lovely wine-themed merchandise as we sipped. Just as our glasses became empty CJ called us back to the bus. Time for more fun.
The bus took us to a reconstructed water tower in the middle of a vineyard. We entered to find a large square table already set for a food and wine pairing. As we settled in, CJ told us that the original water tower had burned down many years ago, leaving behind a wildly twisted iron ladder that was now hung from the ceiling as a bit of artwork. It certainly would not work as a climbing aid.
Our first pairing was their 2016 Livermore Valley Reserve Chardonnay with prosciutto panino and green olives. The buttery vanilla notes in the Chardonnay made a fun contrast with the umami of the prosciutto and the acid of the olives. CJ next paired the 2016 Rubino Estates Barbera Riserva Collection with a salami baguette with honey mustard jam. Everyone loved the spicy highlights of the jam against the dark fruit of the Barbera. Our favorite pairing was their 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon paired with some aged cheeses. The creaminess of the cheese danced with the tannins of the Cab in a most delightful way. The tasting came to a delicious conclusion with their 2016 Cielo Viola with a berry medley and chocolate almonds.
CJ then collected us on the Mello Cielo bus and drove us back to the Ruby Hill tasting room. As we had our final taste, their Solera Dessert Wine, CJ passed out some lovely Valentine’s Day remembrances and invited us to enjoy a tasting at the bar. The gifts were quite a thoughtful touch: wrapped chocolates and single-serve bottles of their sparkling wine.
What a great way to celebrate Valentine’s Day! Next on our agenda: a special home-cooked meal and a fun movie. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!
About the Author: John grills a mean steak and is always in the market for another wine fridge. Believes that if a winery has more than 10 employees, it's probably too big. Buys wine faster than he drinks it, but who cares?