There are certain experiences that evoke good, bad, transcendent and humorous memories. One of my humorous moments was provided by a Sonoma wine, La Crema, and is a gift that keeps on giving.

I cannot see a bottle of La Crema without thinking of a fun evening in a posh hotel bar with a group of relatives, one of whom inquired after the establishment’s house white. The response was, “La Crema chardonnay.” This was great news, as it happened to be his favorite quaff. He promptly ordered up a glass for himself and his wife.

The rest of the group ordered various cocktails. When the tab came, to his dismay his was the largest. He was charged $18 per glass for a generic La Crema, likely priced at the time for about $15 per bottle.

Though many years have passed since that incident, he still has not let it go. Others who were in the group continually tease him, asking if he will be serving a La Crema when hosting dinner at his home.

This story came to mind once again this past week when I received a press release announcing that La Crema is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

To the goldie oldie like myself, La Crema was considered a luxury brand when it hit the market. Its very name exuded luxury and sophistication.

When founded in 1979, its original name was La Crema Viñera, meaning “Best of the Vine.” It was probably wise to drop the “Viñera” from the name, because “La Crema” rolled off the tongue of novices with more ease as the brand was introduced.

As American wineries go, surviving 40 years is a long time in America’s short wine history. Many primo wineries have gone through buyouts and mergers with big wine conglomerates. Some properties have become so valuable that owner families cannot turn down the mega-millions offered for them. Others have sold because there are no family members interested in staying the course.

La Crema is somewhat of an anomaly celebrating its 40th anniversary. Part of its staying power is the fact that it is part of the Jackson (as in Kendall Jackson) family of fine wines, based in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County, Calif.

The late Jess Jackson, founder of the renowned Kendall Jackson brand, was among the first to recognize the potential for grape growing in the Russian River, certified for its uniqueness as an American Viticultural Area in 1983.

This area was recognized as a unique area because of its cool climate, influenced by its proximity to the cold winds blowing off the Pacific Ocean and the cooling morning fogs that envelop the area.

It is these conditions that make cool-climate varietals like chardonnay and pinot noir thrive. Fruit from these cool-climate vineyards has long been the workhorse for La Crema’s chardonnay and pinot noir.

Basic but good, La Crema pinot noir and chardonnay can be found in the $17 to $20 range on local wine shelves. Pricier single-vineyard bottlings might require a special order.

As we wish happy anniversary to Le Crema, we mourn the loss of the region’s only fine wine store, Tyson Fine Wines and Things in Anniston.

Shop owner Janet Tyson Prosser says that after after 12 years of wine sales and 650 wine tastings, she and her husband, Dave, are retiring to things unknown. Her last day for special orders will be Sept. 20, and her shop will close on Sept. 30.

We wish Janet well. Her ebullient personality and the hospitality of her shop, a favorite gathering place for people from all walks of life, will be greatly missed.

Pat Kettles writes about food, wine and spirits every other Wednesday. Contact her at