We pay exorbitant real estate prices to live among the vines, but what exactly is this place we call Wine Country? What gives it its uncanny sense of place?

I decided to go on an architectural dig of sorts to see what artifacts would turn up in our wine culture. I think my findings will amuse you as much as they did this former Midwesterner. “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Here’s a glimpse of this unusual patch of civilization we call Wine Country, artifact by artifact.

1) An auction at a Montessori School in St. Helena had a heady line-up of wine, with one particular lot produced by cult cab wine consultant Heidi Peterson. You may recall Peterson set a record at the Napa Valley Wine Auction in 2000 for producing a six-liter bottle of Screaming Eagle that sold for $500,000. Keep in mind that this fundraiser is at a school where kids’ palates are more familiar with grape juice than fine wine.

2) In Healdsburg’s Circe, a shop on the square, I came across a $285
necklace that actually has white and red wine sloshing around in cube-sized glass enclosures. Circe reportedly owns the design, and ships Sonoma County wine to South America where the necklace is produced. Wearable wine has to be a first in Northern California’s Wine Country.

3) At Santa Rosa’s Mission Car Wash, on the corner of College and
Morgan, I spied merlot-scented, cork shaped candles and the book
“Drinkology: A Wine Guide to the Grape.” Since when did car washes have such refined offerings? When wine paraphernalia winds up in a car wash gift shop, I think it’s safe to say we’re truly immersed in a wine culture.

4) At the San Francisco Airport, I noticed a shop called “Wine Wisdom”
near United Airlines’ Gate 85. In a prominent display of “Pilots’ Picks,” include wines from Sonoma County, Napa Valley and Mendocino County. Some Sonoma producers in the shop include Sonoma Creek and Francis Ford Coppola. It appears our regional wines have reach into San Francisco, as well as the friendly skies.

5) At Luxe hair salon, on Santa Rosa’s

Mendocino Ave.

, red wine is served
to clients in the afternoon. Owner Cindy Mills says wine contributes to the
ambiance, and besides, people are ready to unwind with a glass of wine at the end of the day. I’ve heard several area shops serve wine. They’re what you call full service salons, ones that cater to hair, body and spirit.

Do you have an “I spy” list? If so, what are your discoveries? Maybe together we can make sense of this place we call Wine Country.