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!

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