Wine Tasting and Oak Apples

Once in Sacramento, how can we miss a visit to Napa Valley, America’s most celebrated wine region. Napa is best known as a booming wine region, serving up some of the top vintages and some of the best wines in the world. The rolling hills and sunny skies make the region a picturesque spot for a quick getaway.

Wine and wine tasting is the main draw. The valley with over 400 wineries to explore with rustic architecture – century-old castles to cutting-edge contemporary designs – is a great getaway spot.
We visited Beringer Vinery on September 02, 2022 for wine tasting. Beringer’s history dates to 1869, when Jacob Beringer, reached Napa Valley after sailing from Germany. He became cellar foreman for Charles Krug, one of the first commercial winemakers in Napa Valley. In 1875, Jacob and his brother Frederick, purchased 215 acres, known as Los Hermanos (the brothers), that became the heart of the Beringer estate.
Beringer has some of the most beautiful architecture in Napa Valley. The Rhine House, which Frederick Beringer began construction in 1883, is a 17-room mansion. The design is based on the design of his ancestral home in Germany. It was completed in 1884. There are 41 stained glass panels reflecting coloured light throughout the house, stenciled paint work on the walls, hand-carved wood panels and cabinets, etc. Today, it is the center of hospitality, holding wine tasting.
The Hudson House, built around 1850, was on the property when the Beringer brothers bought the land in 1875. Originally the house stood in the same location the Rhine House today. Frederick had Jacob’s residence, the Hudson House, moved 200 feet north using horses and logs in 1883. where it remains today.
The house was originally built by David Hudson, who was known for his involvement in the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846 in Sonoma, an event that was instrumental in California winning independence from Mexico.
After Frederick’s passing in 1901, then Jacob’s passing in 1915, Jacob’s children, Charles and Bertha Beringer, took over. While most wineries shut their doors at the beginning of Prohibition in 1920, Beringer continued to operate under a federal license that allowed them to make wine for religious purposes. Of course, Beringer went beyond selling sacramental wine to churches, which is the story behind the Whisper Sister label. After Prohibition, Beringer was the first winery to offer public tours, sparking wine tourism in Napa Valley.

In Napa Valley, I was surprised by the giant Oak Trees – not by their sizes and not by the littleness of the small acorns that grew on them, but by the Oak Apples.

The adage that Mighty oaks – from little acorns grow is a 14th Century old English proverb that has so much significance to many aspects of our everyday lives. It inspires us never to give up, and to always remember that great things do indeed come from small beginnings.

That’s what I knew about Mighty Oaks and Little Acorns until my visit to the Napa Valley.  There were Big Oak Apples growing on the Mighty Oaks too. 

An oak apple is not a fruit but a gall. Now what is a Gall?

Plant galls are abnormal outgrowths of plant tissues. They can be caused by various parasites, fungi, and bacteria. Oak apple galls are leaves that have developed into a thin sphere because wasps have laid eggs inside of the leaf.

Oak apple wasps (Amphibolips Confluenta) have a lifespan of over two years that happens on one single oak tree. The mother wasp lays her eggs at the roots of the oak tree. The larvae that emerge feed on roots of the oak tree. They develop into pupae, and then into wingless female wasps. In spring of the second year of the life cycle, the adult female wasps emerge from the ground and climb up the oak tree to the leaves. There they inject an egg into the veins of a newly growing leaf, and the gall begins to form.

As the egg hatches, chemicals and hormones released through fluid alter the leaf’s typical growth and the leaf develops into green round ball to create a secure tiny home for one wasp larva. In summer, the larva turns into a pupa, and then into an adult wasp. The adult wasp exits the gall by making a hole, and the galls turn brown and sometimes drop to the ground. Males and females mate, and females burrow into the ground to lay eggs and the cycle restarts again.

The mighty oak tree, the galls and the oak apple wasps teach us about the complexity of the natural world around us and demonstrate how native tree species support.  There are hundreds of insects that produce galls, even within a single oak tree. Other insects use different species of plants to create galls. And many other organisms sometimes take advantage of a gall one larva has created and repurpose it for their own use.

On September 03, Kumar Bala aka Nandu surprised me with a visit to Sacramento. Kumar and I are from the same batch at Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar, Thamizh Nadu. He is the Head of Life Sciences Strategy at Oracle with a focus on Medical Device and Pharma sectors. He lives in the Bay Area, about 90 minutes’ drive from Sacramento. We had lunch at Mylapore Restaurant at Folsom, about thirty minutes’ drive from Sacramento. The restaurant served the most authentic Dosa, Uthappam, Idli and other South Indian delicacies. It was indeed a great place to culminate our reunion and my California trip.

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