Saturday, September 1, 2007


A quick post since we don't have much bandwidth. We were in Tahoe for the last few days, a great place. We did an amazing mountain biking trail called the Flume Trail courtesy of a recommendation from Sara's cousin Greg (see Portland) which followed along the rim of the lake and gave us some great views. We are continuing south towardYosemite, we'll update with more info soon. See the pictures in the album, we were able to get those up.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Wine Country, part deux and trois

Day 2 in Wine Country.

We started the morning with a nice breakfast at the B&B, met a couple from Texas and a couple from upstate New York, both nice to speak with. We took the 10:30 Ravenswood tour which takes you through the winemaking process from start to finish. We went out into the vineyard to taste the grapes on the vine (surprisingly very sweet), see the different varieties and see how they grow all the fruits. We saw the harvesting equipment and then went into the barrel room to sample a few wines that were about a year away from bottling. Sara and I agreed they needed the extra year, not very good quite yet. Then we hit the tasting room to taste the same wine, but with the extra year added on… it was vastly different and much better on all points. We tasted most of the Ravenswood wine they offer direct from the winery, some good ones, but on the whole most were just average, even the reserve line at about $35/bottle. Keep in mind that the Ravenswood we buy in the grocery store (vintners blend series) is so far down on their totem pole, they barely acknowledge it even exists. After Ravenswood we hit a few more wineries as we headed up Highway 12:

-Valley of the moon – cool place, weird staff, we didn’t really like many of them.
-Chateau St. Jean – Terrific wines and great historic buildings and grounds that provided a nice place to picnic
-Blackstone – not so good, nice staff
-Arrowwood – great wines, nice staff, a phenomenal cabernet sauvignon from 2002 which retails at $100/bottle!
-Castle (across from the street from the B&B, I like walking home)… Sara had gone off shopping at this point, and the lady could tell I wasn’t going to buy anything. I think she may also have been missing her soap opera that I could hear in the back room, so she put me through 10 wines in 4 minutes; it was like playing power hour.

The evening was topped off by the Sonoma Farmers Market that is set up in the square every Tuesday night. Live music, lots of stands with the usual fruits and veggies, flowers, and honey, and several nice hot food vendors. We took the chairs, a nice bottle of wine, got some food and sat in the town square, people watching until the sun went down. Sonoma has a great hometown American feel and this was on full display Tuesday night, as you could tell when the locals are able to enjoy their paradise-like town and stock up on goods before hiding from the tourists each weekend.

Day 3 – Napa

We headed over to Napa today to sample some wine from a different part of the area. Napa lives up to the hype. Although the traffic was bad, even for a Wednesday, the wines were just about all terrific. The tasting assistants at most wineries were extremely knowledgeable and very professional. We had to pay for just about all of them to taste (10 bucks for a 5 wine flight) and several we needed appointments, but we managed to weasel our way in without one. Overall a class-A place for wine and tasting experience.

Clos Du Val (not Clos du Bois) – we basically opened the place up at 10AM so the guy was waiting for us at the door. He showed us the trellising systems and then did a very thorough tasting on several great chardonnays and bordeaux style reds. Sara loved the Pinot Noir.

Stags Leap – the winery that beat the French in 1976 and put California wine on the world stage. Terrific, heaviest pours we saw in three days, practically an entire glass with each taste, yikes, it was 11am. Luckily we were sharing the tasting.

Sterling, owned by the Disney Family… nice view, fine wine, annoying staff.

Plumpjack – A recommendation from Tara & Matt. Terrific wine, great experience with no crowd hidden off the highway… two here that Sara and I declared the best for a particular varietal tasted thus far (Syrah and Merlot)

V. Sattui – an original wine maker to the region. A nice place for lunch with a deli, although it was over 100 degrees at lunch time today.

Robert Mondavi – the father of Napa, we didn’t taste any wine but the grounds were cool.

Cakebread – great wine with a tasting focused on food pairing… excellent.

We decided to do what most tourists here probably do when finished tasting their 60 dollar bottles of wine and discussing things like a citrus nose, jammy color and soft tannin finish… we spent the evening at the town laundromat, reorganized our car (home) and got pizza and beer. Ahhhh, wine country.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Wine Country, Day 1

After an evening of Italian food and drinks in North Beach, we left San Francisco and headed for the Sonoma Valley, a.k.a. “wine country”. Before getting to the first day in wine country, a few thoughts on SF… Apologies to those out there who are die hard SF fans, but we weren't in love with it. Admittedly, we are not very touristy people so we didn’t do Alcatraz, nor did we drive up the crooked street, so right there some would say we missed it all. Don’t get us wrong, we had a great time, the scenery was nice when the sun was out and the food was good, but otherwise we will likely not return. The nostalgia of the steep hills, street cars, white facades and golden gate views were drowned out by the knock-you-over crowdedness, impossible to park in, extremely over priced underbelly of the city.

Back to the first day in Sonoma… since it is only about an hour north of SF, we arrived in the morning and got an early start to wine tasting. Rather than try to organize this into continuous prose, we will go down the list on what we saw and thoughts on each. Our day consisted of driving all over the place and it went something like this:
-Sebastiani (the foundation of Sonoma): large, impersonal and curt with an average wine flight. I have had good wines from them before so we were surprised and disappointed at our experience here, the building was cool however.

-Buena Vista (oldest winery in Sonoma – 1857, Carneros Region): our running favorite, phenomenal wines compared to most thus far. Wine lady tasting with us was great (Rhonda), the building, grounds, history, information displays were top notch. We may actually join the wine club, Sara for the chardonnay and pinot noir for myself.

-Bartholomew Park – small winery, 3500 cases a year sold only from tasting room. Nice whites, mediocre reds. Tasting team was nice and attentive.

-Schug Winery – okay wine, nothing special.

-Viansa – large place, first stop in Sonoma. We were suspicious when we saw two tour busses out front. We were right, the tasting room was a mad house filled with foreign tourists and a lot of rapid snapping cameras, so we turned around and left, no thanks.

-Jacuzzi Olive Oil/Wine – they had wine, but we wanted a break so we tasted olive oil. We love olive oil and always try it when offered, but here in the valley you don’t taste it with bread, you shoot it out of a cup and swish it around like wine. The experience is strange drinking straight oil, but you can really tell the difference that way. Most of the lighter ones and fruit/herb flavored ones were great, some were way to strong and tasted like axel grease.

-Gloria Ferrer – This sparkling wine cave (champagne, but not called that in America) is owned by Freixnet, the infamous black plastic wrapped average priced bottle that we are no stranger to around New Years Eve. The sparking wine we tasted was good, but the setting and view from the balcony tasting area was worth the tasting fee.

After a long day of tasting we checked in to our B&B, the Thistle Dew Inn. A nice little place 1 block from Sonoma Square that Tara recommended from their trip a few years back. We hit the local market (based on a recommendation from Gary), got some take-out dinner items, a bottle of wine (Buena Vista Chardonnay) and had a nice picnic meal at our B&B to finish day one.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Monterey and San Francisco

After the Redwoods we continued our move South along Highway 101 and 1. We planned on stopping somewhere along the coast and then heading into San Francisco the next day, but we never really found a nice place to stop. Not because it wasn’t nice, it just was so foggy and cold that we just kept driving and driving. At some point we decided it was a good idea to drive to Monterey and go to the aquarium, I think we misread the scale on our map. Our leisurely drive down the coast turned into a 11 hour marathon drive from almost Oregon to Monterey… probably 400 miles. We found this odd park (Veterans Park) in Monterey which was almost downtown. It was right next to an Army base so they played Taps each night at 10PM to take the flag down and Revel the next morning at 7 to run the flag back up. All of the soldiers did calisthenics or jumping jacks or just liked screaming for a half hour after the flag was raised, we couldn’t be sure, but it was loud and it ensured our early start. On Friday we hit the Monterey Aquarium, very cool… see the pictures. In the afternoon we did the classic drive through Pebble Beach, through Carmel-by-the-sea and down to Big Sur. It was a great drive with wonderful scenery, but we were not sure how people make entire vacations out of driving the coast but apparently many European tourists try. We returned to Monterey, found an English pub on the dock, enjoyed some beers while the sun set and few sailboats raced around the harbor. The following morning we awoke to the Army guys running the flag up and doing jumping jacks then hit the road toward San Francisco. We drove through San Jose, Redwood City, and Mountain View which is affectionately known as “Silicon Valley.” This area was the great stage for the boom and bust of the tech bubble several years back and still boasts the headquarters of many large companies like Oracle, Google, and HP.

Being my 29th birthday (8/25) we stayed in a hotel to celebrate (ohh, a hotel, how fancy!) in the heart of the Italian section of San Francisco known as North Beach. Because of our rooftop box on the car, it took us 2 hours to find a garage to stash the car for a couple of days since we have a high clearance. After getting some info from Tara (Sara’s sister) we set out to explore San Francisco. We had a great lunch at Molinari Deli and walked down to the waterfront. Fisherman’s Whart is a tourist trap but we had to go, so we did. For a birthday dinner we got some great traditional sushi at a local place that didn’t look like much, but our Japanese hotel owner said it was the only place he goes. To further drive home the birthday, we did a bit of bar hopping, hitting the Rogue public house and Rose Pistola for some scotch, funky cocktails, and jazz. It was a great birthday and evening out.

Today we continued our tour of San Francisco by learning how to use the bus system and hitching a ride over to the park at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. By the time we got there, the sun had burned off the fog and we got some great pictures. The sun was out and the sailboats were heeled over in the bay, it was windy but beautiful. Tonight, some fine Italian, then tomorrow we head up to Sonoma and Napa.