Tuesday, October 6, 2009

California Interlude!

After all our work to clean out the house and prep the boat to head south, Ron and I are enjoying an absolutely lovely interlude here in California. We're here for a number of reasons: 1) to visit Ron's step-brother for a few days, 2) to attend a class given by Arcturus Marine/American Bow Thruster regarding the care and feeding of our hydraulic system on Equinox and 3) treat ourselves to a wine country bicycle tour in the Russian River Valley area. Monday, Ron and I flew in to SFO (on a longer flight than usual due to wicked head winds) and drove up to Sonoma county, where we stopped in at Chalk Hill winery for a spontaneous tasting and tour after checking into our hotel. Talk about gorgeous country!! I'd forgotten how uniquely beautiful this area of the country is! After a long day of travel, the wine was all we needed to make it an early evening...

View of Chalk Hill looking east

Today, though, it was early to rise and boy, did we cover some ground!! We were up before dawn and in Sonoma early for a quiet morning walk around the old city square before we hit Sonoma Valley Cycles to rent a pair of Specialized road bikes for the day. We did a gorgeous 35-mile loop from Sonoma to Napa Valley and back, along the southern edge of the mountain range there. We cycled through hills and valleys of acres, acres and acres of vineyards, most part of the Carneros Estate and its Alliance growers' vineyards. It was stunning scenery!

Typical view during our bike loop through the southern
end of Sonoma and Napa Valley area

Great old truck by the entrance to one vineyard

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, stopping to take lots of photos, take in the scenery and replenish our water bottles, but still made it back in three hours. Thus, after we returned the bikes to Brad at Sonoma Valley Cycles, we were parched and in need of some ... wine! We hit the road and headed north to Arrowood, where we knew we could sample some fabulous wines in an even more fabulous setting. If we'd brought along some cheese, bread and olives, we could have sat out on their veranda overlooking the valley and really indulged, but...that will have to be next time!! Nevertheless, we joined their wine club, being delighted with the lovely reds that Arrowood featured during the tasting.

From there, spontaneity took over, and we took the narrowest of mountain roads, Trinity Road, to head up some 2000'+ over the mountains back to the east to Napa. Talk about hairpin turns, and NO guard rails....gulp!! It was intense, the way the road gave way to nothing but air at times. We loved the signs we came across: "Trucks with trailers not recommended" (Gee, no kidding!) or, even better, which we came across as we were most of the way up and over: "Warning: narrow twisting road ahead next 2 miles" (SO what the hell were we on before??) Frankly, the roads were wider and less twisting on the Napa side of the mountains, where the sign was! :)
Once down in Napa valley, we headed to Cakebread Winery to sneak in a tasting before they closed, but, alas....they only do tastings by appointments, so we were turned away. SO, we went next door to Sequoia Grove, and had the BEST TIME!! Serendipitously, we came in at the same time as another couple, who were very friendly and lovely to chat with during our tastings. It turned out that they were from Nashville, and that Craig was a major salesguy/distributor of Sequoia Grove in Tennessee. Thus, he knew Vicky and Jane, the two lovely women who were handling the tasting room crowds, and we all got along famously, having a great time talking and sipping. Of course, we joined the Sequoia Grove wine club too...one thing led to another, and before we knew it, we were invited to tag along on a special tour of the winery!! We got to see the loads of freshly picked cabernet sauvignon grapes being sorted and de-stemmed, (even got to taste a single ripe raw grape prior to pressing: juice is delicious but don't chew on the skin!) AND THEN...we went down into the Sequoia Grove cave, where the massive toasted French oak barrels are stacked, each storing wine for its alloted time. Vicky took us into this tiny tasting room down below, and using a "wine thief", extracted a taste of the latest wine for us each, right out of the bunghole on the barrel. It was sooooooo smooth and mellow --- HOW cool was that??? We LOVED it!! We bought a few bottles of wine to take with us, and a case to ship home, along with some titanium wine glasses for the boat -- all good!!

The freshly picked grapes awaitng de-stemming

The de-stemming machine in action

A few of the massive oak barrels below the winery

Vicky using the wine thief to pull some wine
out of the barrel for tasting.

After that amazing treat, we were famished (having missed lunch during our ride and then going straight to the wineries) so we reluctantly said our good byes and headed to Sonoma once again. We stopped for an utterly delicious dinner at Saddles (we highly recommend their lamb sirloin - perfectly done with sides of al dente steamed veggies and garlic mashed potatoes) before we returned to the hotel to crash for the night. Ah, what a day!

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