Tuesday, August 04, 2009

I've got wine, yes I do!

I've got wine, how 'bout you!?!

Okay. After quite the delay, I've finally finished posting the rest of the California trip. Join me, won't you? (Here's a reminder of where we left off if you're short-term memory challenged.)

After checking in at the MacArthur Inn (and spa, thank you very much), we get this show on the road with our very first winery visit! Whoop whoop!

Winetastinghappytimesyay! Let's go, let's go, let's go!

Derailed momentarily by the gargantuan trees.

Okay! One down, a few hundred to go. Better get cracking. On to Bartholomew Park.

And after stopping at a deli to pick up picnic supplies, we headed to yet another - Benziger, where we had a yummy lunch in the gardens.

Waiting for our tour to start. Benziger is a certified biodynamic (sustainable, organic, etc...) winery and we learned lots about what all that entails. It was very interesting at the time but I won't go into it here for I imagine it's somewhat less so when you're not a) riding around the vinyards in a tractor-pulled tram or b) drinking copious amounts of wine.

We squeeze in one more tasting at Imagery (an affiliate of Benziger) before calling it a day.

But we get started right away the next morning. Let's get down to business here. I've got a lot of wine to taste and only five days in which to taste it. First stop of the day was Gisele Bundchen...or something like that.

It's a tough life. Rushing to make it to the next winery... He looks stressed, no?

Chateau St. Jean - check.

And then off to Ledson (upon recommendation from some friends of ours) where we were plied with very generous pours and ended up signing up for their club - two cases a year. We got our first case last week and oh my lawd that is some gooooooooooood wine.

While the convertible was indeed awesome, I do have one recommendation. Spray your scalp with sunscreen. Because mine got burned and for the past two weeks it has been peeling and that's just super great fun.

Next, we were off to a very special spot. Oakville Grade, a hillside in Napa where we got engaged. When we got there, we were surprised to find that La Famiglia was no longer there and there was a new winery in its place - Diamond Oaks. But it didn't matter much. The view was still there.

We stopped at Oakville Grocery for picnic supplies and reminisced while we ate.

That night, we had reservations for the dinner we had been waiting for. We ate at Bistro Jeanty almost eight years ago, on the same trip when we got engaged and we absolutely loved it. We'd been talking for years about wanting to go back there and had actually started to worry that we'd built it up too much in our minds.

To put it mildly, we needn't have worried. It was just as fantastic as we remembered. The chef is known for his tomato soup served in a puff pastry and I'm not trying to be snooty here but I fully believe that you have not truly lived until you have tasted this masterpiece. Unsurprisingly, we grossly overate and almost had to be rolled out on stretchers.

Back to work the next morning... What can I say about Pride? Freaking amazing. It's up on the top of a mountain and you could very well die getting there but oh boy is it ever worth the risk.

You have to book your tour in advance but it's free and it was the best tour of our trip. We did tastings along the way. On the porch, in the caves, even a barrel tasting...

Then our guide took us out into the vineyard to see the grapes and see more amazing views.

One of the coolest things about Pride is that it sits on the Napa/Sonoma County line so it has to label its bottles depending on which half of the vineyard the grapes come from. My right half is in Napa and my left is in Sonoma!

(Note to self: Never ever wear flowy top with slouchy shorts again. EVER. Unless of course there is ever an instance in which I want to look ten miles wide.)

Ohhhh, Schramsberg... Here come the bubbles!

I'm already in love with this place.

Their mascot, the froggy...

Which naturally stood in a pond full of frogs...

And even frogs-to-be! I don't know if I'm the only one but I had never seen tadpoles at this stage before and I was totally blown away by it. I only remember seeing the tiny little newborn tadpoles. These were about five inches long and were starting to grow their back legs.

Into the caves... Pssst! Those are walls of bottles of sparkling wine, as far as the eye can see.

A taste? Don't mind if I do.

One last stop for the day at St. Francis.

Whassup, bro?

After a nap, we headed into the village of Sonoma for yet another amazing dinner at Maya, a mexican place on the main square. But first, a walk through the park.

What is it with the trees in California???

And this was our nightly routine... Back to our suite for a glass (or two or three) of wine in front of the fireplace.

What better way to start your day than a tour and tasting at another winery that specializes in the sparkling variety? If there's one, I don't know it!


Check it out! It's my champagne flute! Get it?? Do ya? You know, flute like the instrument and flute like the glass??

Jason's reaction? "Alright. We gotta get you some lunch."

Then we were off to Cline. We had been here before on a previous trip but wanted to go back because we really love their zin and some of it you can only taste at the winery. If you're not familiar, may I suggest you try a Cline Cellars zinfandel? They are truly exceptional and a very good price.

We had such a fun tasting here because there was an older gentleman working there who was from like two counties over from where I grew up! He's retired to Sonoma which is not a bad gig, eh? This is quite a coincidence because this is very very very Small Town, USA territory I'm talking about. It's not like being from New York and meeting someone else from New York because, you know, about a billion f-ing people live in New York. About ten people live where I'm from. What are the chances I'd run into one of the other nine slap on the other side of the country?

And oh my God, how much fun there is to be had before you even get inside!

One final stop at Schug before we had to hurry back for our body scrubs and massages.

Relaxing on the balcony after a tough day of wine tastings and spa treatments.

I loved the courtyard area of our little resort. Gorgeous vegetation everywhere, fountains flowing... It's impossible to not be relaxed here.

For our last dinner in Sonoma, we wanted to try an Italian place that had been recommended to us by someone at the MacArthur. It had all kinds of accolades but this little plaque almost sent me running out the door. "Featured on Rachael Ray's $40 a Day!" Rachael Ray makes my ears bleed and my skin crawl.

Though I'm not quite sure how she managed to squeeze a meal here into her $40 daily budget. Because our meal was, ummmm...how do you say...EXPENSIVE. Totally worth it though, mind you.

They have a gorgeous outdoor seating area with some serious overhead heaters. Because despite daytime temps in the 90's, it drops to at least the low 60's (maybe even upper 50's) every evening here in Wine Country.

The last morning, on our way back from breakfast of course I had to play in the giant chess set. I couldn't decide between acting like I was a giant storming the chess board...

...or scratching my head in consternation. So why choose? That's the beauty of digital photography.

One last stop for a tasting in the Russian River Valley at Ferrari Carano. Some crazy lady at an antique shop in Healdsburg insinuated that the Ferrari family were mafia connected but take that with a very small grain of salt. It may be true. It may be a completely false assumption she's making because it's a wealthy Italian family. It's more likely that she's simply cuckoo for cocoa puffs.

I feel like there was probably a story about this sculpture of a boar but who cares when you can just pretend it's eating your hand? Now that's entertainment.


So once we were finished with our last wine tasting, we set out on our scenic drive to reach our even more scenic drive down the US 1 coastal highway.

This photo doesn't even begin to do it justice but you can see a little bit of how windy the road was. It was constant hairpin curves, this way and that way... Not to mention, in most places the drop-off on my side was 1) insanely steep, 2) so deep I couldn't see the bottom, 3) only about two feet or so from the side of the actual road and 4) not protected with a guard rail. So basically, one wrong move and we die. Certain and instant death. Guaranteed.

Beware of bulls for the next 2 miles. Great. Exactly what you want to see when you're in a VW Beetle. A convertible VW Beetle. A red convertible VW Beetle.

So naturally, this had to happen. (And if you didn't see that coming, then I'm sorry to say that you don't know me at all.) Thankfully, I was the only bull we encountered on our drive.

Now, this isn't even that big for a redwood tree. Since their trunks have been known to grow to roughly the size of a small house you know... But still, we were awed by them.

Finally, we made it to the coast. It was amazing watching the temperature drop lower and lower as we wound through the woods. When we left Sonoma, it was in the mid 90's. Once we got to a certain point on the drive, it started dropping drastically. We watched it get down to 54 degrees! We stopped to buy a sweatshirt for Jason and a blanket for me.

If I didn't know better, I'd swear we were in Scotland... It was amazing driving along the cliffs with the ocean crashing on the rocks below. Scary as hell at times, but amazing.

Finally, we made it to Bodega Bay - a tiny little seaside town about halfway between Stewart's Point and San Fran. We had an awesome meal at a dive(ish) restaurant right on the water. I say dive(ish) because it was like a shack and had cheap tables and chairs but was actually pretty damn expensive considering the environment. It was so so so delicious though. Truly ridiculous clam chowder.

As we began to near San Francisco, the sun was out and shining beautifully so, like an idiot, I got all excited and hopeful that I might actually get a clear shot of that damned bridge. Could it be???

Ummm, no.

In fact, hell-to-the-no.

Not only was it a hell-to-the-no on the sunshine front, but here's some drizzling rain for you too! Enjoy!

I honestly don't know how it's possible that it can be pure sunshine and blue sky in Sausalito but as soon as you get near the bridge, it's like the insta-fog machine kicks on. I'd probably be upset if we didn't already have some very nice (and sunny) photos of the Golden Gate from a previous trip.

But as we were holing up at the W hotel for our last night in town, we didn't care much if it pissed down all evening. Because, you know, when you stay at the W...you stay at the W. You don't go out. You just go downstairs. People from all over the city are coming to the bar at the W. Why would you leave? You're already where it's at.

And hoo boy, were we ever. We partook in some of the best people watching of all time there. It was like dinner theatre. Except with no dinner. Just cocktails. Cocktail theatre! From where we sat in our cozy bar-facing booth, we watched so many desperate and boozy attempts at hook ups, I felt like I was on a VH1 reality show. There was even an Asian hooker in almost no clothes parading back and forth shaking her money maker. We spent about $140 on drinks that night but since it came with a show, we felt like we got a pretty good deal.

The view from our corner room at the W. Not bad...

And with that, the book is closed on another fabulous holiday.

(This post is probably riddled with typos but I can't quite muster up the energy to care quite yet.)


Alice said...

Lord, you've made me crave a glass (ok, really, a bottle) of wine at 11:30 AM! (well, you and the screaming baby...but I think it was mostly your post) I stayed at the W in San Fran a couple of years ago and remember the bar as a great place to people watch! Glad it's still the same.

Love the pictures and the tours...you have definitely made me want to go back!

MrsBlueberry said...

So jealous!! Looks like you had an awesome trip. I am dying to go back to wine country someday. Buena Vista was one of our favorites last time we were there and you have given me some great ideas about new places to see!

Suze - Cheshire, UK said...

I feel drunk just reading this post. Damn San Fran bridge... it's in cahoots with Welsh motorway signs. Just can't get a picture of 'em.

Anna said...

"One final stop at Schug before we had to hurry back for our body scrubs and massages."

...I hate you.

Peaches N Curry said...

Those trees are amazing... wow! Great write up about your trip as usual, def. making us want to go to wine country... or county? State?

Raquel said...

Thank you for sharing! What gorgeous pictures! I'm glad you had such a fun time... :)