Thursday, September 23, 2010

Back to Florida!

Well, we've been back a few days now and have been busy as can be, getting back in the swing of things. It was a great trip to California and a welcome change of pace, so now we are renewed and ready to get back to focusing on Equinox and such! We stopped out at the yacht yard to see how things are progressing; Equinox was out of the paint shed and back in the yard area. We checked to see how things looked, and were delighted with her cap rails and other freshly painted items! The rails are gleaming, and  look just phenomenal! The bottom painting is next, and the props freshly tuned and ready for their new spurs. All coming along well! We topped off the water tank and made sure the battery chargers were on and doing their jobs before heading out on other errands.

Equinox on the hard at AYC, prepped for fresh bottom paint
We're hosting a lot of unexpected visitors this week too, with various friends from the Bahamas to Bermuda being in town. One dear friend from Harbour Island was in the States, and he stopped by for a great visit just a few days after we returned from California. A fun, impromptu get-together, including a great dinner at Ian's Tropical Grill here in Jensen Beach. We'd also been in touch with our Bermuda friends prior to Hurricane Igor's arrival there -- wanting to let them know we were thinking of them all -- and discovered that some of our friends were already visiting in Florida! SO, we will be getting together with them this coming weekend! Fun!

The 107-year-old Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse
Happily, yesterday I had a chance to spend the afternoon on the water! Our friends Karen and Kerry  off Concrete Idea recently bought a new center console, which they call Know Idea. Like our Tingum, it's perfect for fishing and exploring the rivers and waters here! Since the weather was too windy (thanks to Hurricane Igor) to go offshore and fish, Karen and Kerry invited me to spend the afternoon aboard  Know Idea with them and three other friends cruising and enjoying the sites of the ICW. We cruised all the way south checking out the views of the mangroves, seagrasses, marshes and wildlife along the Jensen Beach to Jupiter Inlet Aquatic Preserve. It was a beautiful cruise on a glorious day, and we  all enjoyed it! Finally we reached Jupiter Inlet, where the Loxahatchee River flows into the Atlantic and is the only natural inlet on the East Coast of Florida.

Our destination: Guanabanas! It's a great little tropical getaway down in Jupiter, well-hidden amongst its lush landscaping and banyan trees. Situated right on the water, Guanabanas has superb food, drink, and half-priced happy hour appetizers, as well as live music in the evenings. We enjoyed a late afternoon bite (the slow-smoked chicken wings were to die for!) and relaxed under the cabana, enjoying the misters and cool shade. A fun time was had by all! I can't wait to make a return trip in Tingum sometime!

Walking into Guanabana's from the dock
Colorful and fun chairs await you!
Karyn relaxing in front of Guanabana's

Friday, September 17, 2010

Traveling in Style!

I thought I'd include a few unrelated but fun details of our trip, while I'm thinking of them. Transportation was one such issue, since we needed a large vehicle in order to accommodate our bikes, the large Samsonite-like bike boxes and our luggage. We needed a van or an SUV to have room for everything but most of the rental car companies wanted outrageously exorbitant amounts of money for the larger vehicles, nor would they take out the rear seats so the bikes and luggage could easily fit. It was a bit of a dilemma until Ron came to the rescue.

No one has ever accused us of lacking style when we travel...but we really our did ourselves this trip! Ron came up with the brilliant idea of forgoing all the usual rental car companies, and rented us a great Ford van, courtesy of .... U-Haul! No back seats, lots of was perfect! And, a bargain to boot: $19.95 a day, plus mileage! Let's just say that we definitely made an impression each time we arrived at a vineyard! If we weren't being directed around to the delivery entrance, then folks seemed to think we were planning on walking in to buy several cases on the spot! Clearly, we had the right vehicle for that! It was actually great fun, bombing around Sonoma and Napa in our bright white new U-Haul amongst the fancy, flashy cars and limos! Style, indeed! 

Ron at Cakebread Cellars, in our shiny new rental van

After a fabulous week of cycling and wine provisioning, we wrapped things up and headed down to Santa Cruz to spend a few days visiting with Ron's step-brother. There, we realized our U-Haul was nothing special, as we were just one among many. There were vehicles of all types and fashions, from bicycles and cars, to campers and trucks, either decidedly down-on-their-luck or decorated beyond belief. We especially liked the outrageously funky and stuffed-animal-decorated RV of the "Revival-ution Party"...not sure what they stand for besides an affinity for attention! This guy seemed to be everywhere in Santa Cruz, though, as we saw the camper several times. 
Tailgating could create a "chocolate mess"! 

After a few final days in Santa Cruz, it was time to head home. Both Ron and I were more than ready to do so, and after such a great trip, we're ready to return our focus to the numerous details we have ahead of us to prepare Equinox for this winter's cruising. Thankfully, while we were gone none of the hurricanes marching across the Atlantic made landfall nor caused damage in the US, so our timing for travel worked out well! Next up: back to the boat!

Monday, September 13, 2010

More wining, dining and biking

Chateau Montelena's entrance

Well, our torrid pace of biking, wining and dining continued throughout the weekend! Friday was Ron's birthday, which we celebrated with a gorgeous bicycle ride south on the Silverado Trail, followed by a semi-private library wine tasting at Chateau Montelena up in Calistoga. (In case you haven't seen it, Chateau Montelena is featured in the movie "Bottle Shock", and several scenes of the movie were indeed filmed there. It's the story of the early days of California wine-making, featuring the now infamous, blind Paris wine tasting of 1976) We had a great time, seeing the grounds and learning more about the winery's history, as well as learning interesting facts about the movie and its filming. The Chateau and the surrounding grounds are gorgeous -- we enjoyed our tour there immensely. And yes, we acquired yet another case of wine for the boat!

Gorgeous fountain and landscaping by the side entrance
Outside the front entrance
The private room where we had our library tasting

After our informative and fun visit at Chateau Montelena, we returned to the Harvest Inn for a bit of pampering. We indulged in massages in their redwood grove next to the vineyards; after all our bicycling, they were most appreciated and felt fabulous! Dinner was at Press, in St. Helena, where we enjoyed a bottle of Cakebread's Dancing Bear Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon with some of the most delicious steaks we've ever had!! The outdoor patio with its fireplace and view of the vineyards and mountains was stunning at sunset, and the perfect complement to a great day!!

Ron perusing the menu at Press, before dinner
Post-dinner, enjoying a bite of dessert
Saturday and Sunday offered up more beautiful weather, and again, more bicycling, doing rides of 38 and 18 miles, respectively. After lunch, as we didn't have any other reservations for tastings lined up, we simply winged it, and stopped in at Duckhorn for a taste of their wines on Saturday afternoon, and concluded our time in the valley with a stop at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars on Sunday. The highlight of Saturday however, was our dinner at The Martini House in St. Helena. As we walked in and headed downstairs to their warm and welcoming bar/lounge area to await our table, we passed a small party of four near the stairs. Ron recognized that one of the diners was none other than...Carlos Santana! (I double-checked it myself with a second look and indeed, the hostess confirmed it as well later as we were seated ourselves.) We saw him again as he and his friends walked out, looking relaxed and happy, without fanfare or interruption. It was pretty cool, and a nice touch to wrap up our week here! All in all, we had a glorious time as this was a vacation truly enjoyed!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Red, red wine...

...and whites, and even rose! Our provisioning has continued apace, for after three days of soaking up the scenic vistas of Sonoma and sampling the wines at a number of wineries and vineyards, we moved over to northern Napa Valley. We were reluctant to leave Sonoma's MacArthur Place, for we fell in love with our accommodations there, but were eager to explore the Harvest Inn in St. Helena, where we were delighted with our room's vineyard views! Napa Valley is spectacular with its fields of green grapevines against the jutting mountains!
Ron checking out our room's back patio view at the Harvest Inn

We stopped in at Stags' Leap Winery on the way to St. Helena; it is one of the Stag's Leap Appellation District's oldest vineyards, with plantings going back to the 1893 when Horace Chase first built his Napa Valley vacation home there. Within the Napa Valley, regions have emerged that possess distinct microclimates and terrains, imprinting recognizable characteristics on the grapes grown within them, and Stags Leap appellation is the first area in the United States to be approved based on the distinctiveness of its soils. Stags' Leap Winery is quite the estate, and through the years has been through various incarnations as a working ranch, resort and vineyard! Nowadays, the numerous outbuildings on the estate's beautiful grounds are used for accommodating visiting wholesalers or other folks in the business. (Note, Stags' Leap Winery is not to be confused with Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, another famous vineyard down the road in the same district.) It was an impulsive stop for us, but one we really enjoyed. Ron, normally a red wine man, was amazed at Stags' Leap's crisp, cool and dry Savignon Blanc and Rose wines -- so much so that we bought several bottles each for drinking on the back deck of Equinox on those hot, sunny evenings! More wine provisioning accomplished!

Every morning we've been out on our bikes riding some 30-40 miles a day, mostly along the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley. From its beginnings as a dirt trail along the eastern side of the valley, it became the first permanent road connecting Napa in the south to Calistoga in the north, stretching some 29 miles. The name "Silverado" comes from the road's history carrying quicksilver (mercury) wagons from the mines in northern Napa County. The quicksilver was eventually taken to the gold fields of California where it was used to separate gold from the ore or sand in which it was found. The road is incredibly scenic, winding along at the foot of steep valley hillsides and through sweeping vineyards vistas. The riding has been wonderful!

We reserved Thursday for a couple of our favorite wineries, visiting Cakebread Cellars and  Frog's Leap Winery. We were at Cakebread for a lovely, informative food and wine pairing, and whom should we meet walking from the parking lot among the vines but Bruce Cakebread  himself! (As is probably usual with all vintners/vineyard owners at harvest time, he was moving with harried purpose, but was immediately gracious as could be, showing us the way to the proper building where the food and wine experience was to take place. His welcoming attitude during such a busy time spoke volumes, and reinforced our feelings about such a classy winery!) We indulged and made sure a few bottles of their special Dancing Bear Cabernet was among others in our case of wine!

In the vines at Cakebread
Some of the many French oak barrels at Cakebread  Cellars 

From there, it was long and relaxed tour of Frog's Leap Winery. We toured their certified organic vineyards, where we tasted grapes right off the vine, and went from their pressing facilities, to their barrel cave to their Old Red Barn. Originally an old "ghost" winery from 1884, the Old Red Barn is the oldest board and batten building in the Napa Valley. Now beautifully restored, Frog's Leap is happy to continue the tradition of making fabulous wines there. The tour guides were clearly having fun, and seemed to enjoy the tour as much as we did, in keeping with their motto that they print on all their corks: T F W Y H F  -- "Time's Fun When You're Having Flies! "

           The old Red Barn, now beautifully restored

 View from inside the Red Barn
Beautiful flooring planks inside the 100-year-old Red Barn

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Wine provisioning has begun!

Fruit of the vine, almost ready for harvesting

It's been a great couple of days here in Sonoma!! We've started each day with a 30+ mile bike ride under crisp blue skies and warming sunshine, followed by lunch, and wine tastings around Sonoma Valley. We've indulged in a massage or two post-ride, along with some relaxation time in the outdoor hot tub...what's not to like?? We've hit the local organic hot spots for dinner in downtown Sonoma, eating outside, enjoying the cooling evening dusk. We just have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves!

Vineyards south of Sonoma, belonging to the Carneros Estate

One thing we have noticed though, is that one's perception of "flat" changes out here! The rolling hills of the wine country's valleys pale in comparison with the climbs into the surrounding mountains...let's just say we aren't exactly skipping to the top of some of the hills! (Forget the mountains...!) Cycling along Florida's Indian River is definitely not preparation enough for the climbs they have here. Be they ever so humbling, there's nothing like hills! California hills especially! Still, we're enjoying our rides immensely, and drinking in the glorious views and dry climate as we pedal.

More golden hills framed by vineyards

The wine tasting has been just as much fun as the riding. Each afternoon, we've stopped at one or two vineyards for tastings -- any more than that, and one's palate is shot! -- and we've had a blast. Yesterday we stumbled across a vineyard we'd never heard of, Little Vineyards, and in the interests of adventure, forged ahead and enjoyed a private tasting in their tasting room. We were delighted with their wine, and ordered a case for the boat!! We then stopped at the winery B.R.Cohn (owner Bruce Cohn being the one and same long-time manager of The Doobie Brothers -- who are performing here next month for a charity event!) where we of course had to buy several bottles of their special "Boaters Barberra"!! Ron also had to get a couple bottles of their "Riders' Red", as a nod to his Harley. 

There's a plethora of wineries and vineyards to choose from, so we've had fun picking and choosing! Today we biked north through the wooded hills and steep dales of Glen Ellen (reminiscent of New England in some moments)  before cruising south on the main Route 12 through the Valley from Kenwood to Sonoma. After lunch we headed to Arrowood, a vineyard where we are wine club members, to sample some of their latest releases (again buying more wine for the boat). It was nice to come back and treat ourselves to their wine and the spectacular vistas of the valley from their porch! (Below are photos of Arrowood's tasting room, and the views!) The sunny weather has really set off the colors!

From there we explored new terroir, driving north to Kenwood and stopping in at Chateau St. Jean. (And yes, there IS a chateau...not sure whatever else I was expecting, to be honest!) What we've discovered is that many a winery's bottles that are available for sale in our part of the country are only a fraction of what is available if you go to the vineyard itself. Wineries sell special, small-case reserve bottles of wine only to their vineyard visitors or to their wine club members, and the quality of these special wines are fabulous. (In fact, I'd not seen any of the wines we sampled at Chateau St. Jean available in the stores out east. Clearly indicating we're not connoisseurs of any kind -- or else we simply shop at all the wrong places?!) In any event, it was a delight to sample these reserve wines! Who knows what tomorrow may bring?

          Entering the Chateau St. Jean grounds and gardens
Tasting room at Chateau St. Jean
Exiting the hall  where the reserve tastings are held       .        

Sunday, September 5, 2010

California Day Dreaming!

Ron and I are in California while Equinox is on the hard, and are really enjoying the change of pace and scenery! We arrived on Friday, and spent the holiday weekend in Livermore, visiting good friends Sarita and Ralph, under gloriously blue, cloudless skies, reveling in the dry warm days and amazingly cool nights, dining al fresco, sharing great stories, sampling lots of wine, riding our's been a marvelous time! 

Heading out to the vineyards in Baby, Sarita's 
classic 1970 VW Beetle convertible

Arriving in Style at Garre Cafe for lunch

One of California’s oldest wine regions, Livermore Valley played a pivotal role in shaping California’s wine industry. Spanish missionaries planted the first wine grapes in the Livermore Valley in the 1760s, and the first commercial vines were planted in 1840. In fact, nearly 80% of California's Chardonnay vines trace their genetic roots to a Livermore Valley clone. Needless to say, we totally enjoyed the charm and funky ambience of the small wineries in the area from BoaVentura to Fenestra to Thomas Coyne. The bicycling was lovely as well, as Livermore is a quiet valley, suburban but still somewhat sleepy and replete with ranches and farms on the outskirts. Everything is surrounded by golden slopes, with vineyards nestled among the vivid green of live oaks, pines, hemlock, cedar and of course, the undulating rows of vines. 

View of Livermore Valley from Thomas Coyne Vineyard

The BoaVentura tasting room/barn

An unexpected treat was a stop at Arroyo Windmill Grove, a vineyard that also had an olive oil press, so we indulged in an oil tasting! The local chianti wine vinegar and the varieties of olive oil were a refreshing change from the wine! (Not that we didn't enjoy the wine tastings!) Surprisingly, olive trees have been in California since the 1700s, introduced by Franciscan padres who established missions near San Diego. California has a wonderful climate for growing olives and producing olive oil, so olive trees flourished here. There are several varietals of olives currently being grown in California. The top 5 are Manzanillo, Ascolano, Mission, Barouni and Sevillano, although the Manzanillo olives are the dominate producer. Today, the state produces 97% of all the olive oil made in the U.S.

Olive oil tasting ahead!

Samples of oil with freshly baked bread. The chianti
wine vinegar is on the far right. 

Ralph, Sarita, Ron and Karyn on their back patio.

The weekend flew past...from wine tasting to mellow evenings on the back patio to watching "Bottle Shock" (about the California wine industry coming of age -- how appropriate!). After a beautiful 21-mile bicycle ride, we wrapped it all up with a great brunch at Wente Vineyards on Sunday. We sampled a bit more wine at the tasting room at Wente, and started our "wine provisioning" by getting a couple of cases of Wente's reserve Nth Degree before we said our goodbyes to head north to Sonoma and St. Helena for more bicycling adventures. It really was a lovely visit!! Cheers!