Matt Villano, Special to The Chronicle
Friday, October 30, 2009
Those washed-up celebrities on "Dancing With the Stars" have nothing on me.
At least, that's what I told myself on a recent Saturday evening at Ceja Vineyards' Wine Tasting Salon, Lounge and Art Gallery in downtown Napa.
No, I wasn't fantasizing about my dance moves while I sampled the joint's whites and reds. Instead, I envisioned TV judges critiquing me while I shook my booty in the tasting room - part of the winery's "Salsa Saturdays" dancing class taught by Ariel Ceja, the general manager and co-owner's son.
Classes go from 7:30 to 11 p.m. The first hour is for beginners; at 8:30 p.m., those who consider themselves to be on an intermediate level can take the floor.
The cost of these proceedings: free.
This last detail appealed to uncoordinated me the most; after wasting money on classes in ballroom dancing a few years back, I was determined not to spend more money trying to learn how to dance again.
And the Ceja class wasn't half bad.
I arrived at the Wine Tasting Salon around 5:30 p.m., just in time for the winery's weekly happy hour. For the next two hours, some buddies and I lingered around the tasting bar to purchase glasses of Ceja's Cabernet Sauvignon and more moderately priced Vino de Casa. Some of the fellows in our group bought wine flights, too.
As we drank, some of us wandered around to explore the art. On display: a busy mural by Maceo Montoya that depicts the history of wine, as well as works by Paul Silva, an artist who works with copper, steel and aluminum.
Beginner dancing started promptly at 7:30 p.m. Ceja sauntered into the room, introduced himself, turned on some Latin music and demonstrated basic salsa steps.
The students paired up. I didn't arrive with a partner, but Ceja found one for me.
What followed were crash courses in basic Latin dances: salsa, merengue and cha-cha. At one point, Ceja even blasted some reggaeton and gave the group pointers on how to move to that.
"The key to these dances is feeling the music in your soul," he told our group of 10.
Sadly, thanks to my two left feet, I wasn't feeling much of anything except delusions of "DWTS" grandeur.
For this reason, I retreated to the bar when the intermediate class began and spent a good few hours sampling glasses of Ceja's finest. One of the nicest surprises: the winery's Bella Rosa, a crisp rose (of Syrah and Pinot Noir) with hints of pomegranate and rose petals. The Dulce Beso, a sweet white wine, was like Vitamin Water; I could have drunk the whole bottle.
The night ended around 11 p.m., when Ceja invited everyone back onto the dance floor for one last groove.
By that point, it didn't matter that I couldn't dance to save my life - the wine emboldened me to bust a move. Salsa, merengue, whatever; I danced so maniacally that at one point, I think I broke a sweat.
My moves definitely did not constitute a performance deserving of prime-time coverage on ABC. It was, however, a heck of a lot of fun.
Ceja Vineyards Salsa Saturdays: 5:30-7:30 p.m. happy hour, 7:30-11 p.m. salsa. 1248 First St., Napa. (707) 255-3954.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.