Sonoma & Napa Counties, California ~ September 28 – October 1, 2014

chateau-montelena-grapes.jpg

Two years prior to this trip, Trey hated wine. So he said.

Whenever our daughters and I coaxed him to try a sip he’d wrinkle up his nose and grimace well before the sampling touched his lips. Already deciding it would be awful, his auto-responses would include squirming coughs, a flailing tongue, gagging, and sometimes spitting.

Remaining 2014 Collection

Trey’s culinary world was rocked at a family birthday dinner in 2012 when a sommelier offered him a complimentary glass of wine. Trey actually listened as the sommelier elegantly described how the bold complexity of Newton’s 2008 Unfiltered Cabernet Sauvignon would be the perfect complement to his steak. Before our eyes, Trey’s scowl turned into intrigue. “Sure, sounds good. I’ll give it a try.”

Trey had opened his mind, and with a single glass of red he understood that wine isn’t a drink, it’s an experience.

With our arrival in Wine Country, we were seeking the full intimate experience.

Arriving in Napa County
Arriving in Napa County

I had never seen grapes on the vine until we were passing our first vineyard with white grapes glistening in the afternoon sun. I was so captivated by their beauty, freshness and resilience, I made Trey stop the car.

Kendall-Jackson Sampling Grapes 3

I loved grape sampling and walking among rows of ripening bunches as much as I enjoyed tasting the final product.

Home base was a cute garage apartment Airbnb in Santa Rosa, a great central location with easy access to surrounding wineries via Highway 101 and Highway 12.Sonoma County Map

We loaded up with information pamphlets and maps at the Santa Rosa Visitor Center and set out to explore. We had no idea of the vast geographic range and number of wineries — there are over 400 in Sonoma County alone! That, coupled with our wee knowledge in wine, was overwhelming.

 

We chose to visit St. Francis first because Francis was Trey’s mother’s name. Also, who doesn’t love the patron saint of animals?

St. Francis was a good learning experience, a safe space to make mistakes.

 

We at least knew to order a cheese and charcuterie board to supplement our six tastings, that our enthusiastic steward stretched into ten until finally hooking us with an old vines Zinfandel.  First lesson learned: Pace yourself.

Kunde Winery
Kunde Winery

We limited ourselves to six tastings at the next stop, Kunde – a recommendation by our Airbnb hosts. The day was gorgeous and we sat on their patio watching barrels being hauled into their hillside cellar while waiting for the wine’s effect to settle.

Kunde Cellar
Kunde’s hillside cellar

We departed with a bottle of their rich, unique Red Dirt Red blend. Lesson two: You will buy wine, plan accordingly.

On our trek back up Highway 12 to Santa Rosa, we stopped at Ledson because the vineyard was lush and stately.

Ledson Winery
Ledson Winery

Yes, we judged the bottle by its label and had our best wine experience of the day. Our wine steward was eager to share his knowledge and Ledson’s wines, even those off the regular tasting menu. We left with a wonderful Chardonnay, a bold Barbera, and another valuable lesson disclosed to us by the steward… Lesson three: Share tastings, it’s cheaper and you won’t get drunk as fast.

We celebrated my birthday that evening with dinner at the Coppola Winery’s Rustic restaurant.

Trey at the Godfather's Desk
Trey with the Godfather’s Desk

A perfect setting for celebrations with plenty of Coppola movie artifacts to entertain fans, and of course we had the cannoli. (Not really, for some reason they didn’t serve cannoli.)

Still recovering from day one, and having learned to better pace ourselves, we visited only two wineries on our second full day.

Kendall-Jackson Windery
Kendall-Jackson Windery

Kendall-Jackson’s lawn is full of vines of all varieties for visitors to sample grapes straight off the vine.

 

The building and grounds are gorgeous, but our tasting experience was lacking. We realized that was more a result of familiarity than the actual product. Lesson four: Avoid the mass-marketed labels you are already acquainted with and instead seek smaller, boutique wineries for fresh, unique experiences.

Truett-Hurst Winery
Truett-Hurst Winery

With the next winery, Truett-Hurst, we were back to distinctive new flavors and experiences.

Truett-Hurst Vineyard
Happy sheep roaming Truett-Hurst’s vineyard

Two bottles of the 2013 Chardonnay please, thank you!

Russian River Valley
Russian River Valley

The remaining day was spent driving through the Russian River Valley and in the quaint town of Healdsburg.

Healdsburg, Ca
Healdsburg, California

 

 

After packing up the Escape Mobile the next morning to head to San Francisco, we had one more stop before leaving the wine country. A must-stop in Calistoga…

Chateau Montelena
Chateau Montelena – Calistoga, California

Following Trey’s wine revelation back in 2012, we watched several wine-themed movies. A favorite, Bottle Shock, tells the story of the 1974 Paris blind taste competition where California vintners first gained international recognition.

 

Chateau Montelena and its winning Chardonnay are the subjects of the movie, so of course we had to tour the winery.

Chateau Montelena Vineyard

The vineyards, gardens and surrounding hills are stunning, well worth the price of the tour which included a generous tasting session.

 

In addition to a 2012 Chardonnay, we purchased a 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Reserve and have yet to uncork either.

Final lesson: Sonoma and Napa Counties offer much more than wine. Next visit we will allow extra time for coastal hikes, and visiting the Armstrong Redwoods Reserve and the Charles Schultz Museum.

Wine factoids we learned:

  • 1 acre produces approximately 2 tons of grapes
  • 1 ton of grapes make 60 cases, so
  • 1 acre produces 120 cases of wine, or 1,440 bottles of wine

More pics…

Chateau Montelena 2
Trey & Mart at Chateau Montelena

 

Kendall-Jackson Sampling Grapes 2

Lake Tahoe & Reno ~ September 24 – 28, 2014

Beginning in Red Lodge MT, and continuing for the preceding 45 days, we’d followed the first appearances of fall colors across the west and down the Washington and Oregon coastlines. Random wisps of cool air and pronounced temperature differentials had been nipping at our backsides, nudging us forward just ahead of autumn’s arrival.

With the unanticipated deluge that forced us out of the Redwood Forest, fall had officially won the race and taken over. Its conquest coincided with a planned eastward turn into the mountains toward Nevada…

 

the first of several detours that had us zig-zagging across, in and out, and down the state of California for the next month and a half. (See our California path on our “About” page.)

From Arcata, we followed the Trinity River via State Highway 299.

Trinity River, Hwy 299 toward Redding
Trinity River, Hwy 299 toward Redding

The river, changing leaves, grazing elk, along with a mix of rain and mist enhanced the gorgeous drive across northern California to Redding.

 

Still soaked and with an extra day, we stopped in Redding and checked into a hotel. After showering, we hauled our camping gear into the room, sorted and dried everything including our tent, which we pitched atop the spare bed.

Yelp and a hankering for comfort food led us to Nello’s Place for a cozy Italian dinner – one of our most memorable dining experiences in quality, service, and for being exactly what we needed when we needed it.

Dungeness Crab Cake, Nello's Place, Redding, CA
Dungeness Crab Cake, Nello’s Place, Redding, CA

Funny how what first appears to be a mishap ends up being a beautiful gift. These magic-of-the-Universe moments occurred often on our trip, just as they do in life.

In frustration, we tread through life’s darkness and around its rough edges as best possible only to end up somewhere completely unexpected, almost like an award for making it that far. It is only then that you recognize the past’s challenges as beautiful puzzle pieces laid out behind you, perfectly placed together.

One only needs to take the time to notice.

Elk buck along the Trinity River, Northern California
Elk buck along the Trinity River, Northern California

Over the last shared bites of Nello’s cherries jubilee, our favorite dessert experience on the trip, we expressed our deep gratitude for simply being in that moment, and for the obstacles that had led us there.

North Lake Tahoe, California

To avoid driving around Lassen Peak’s mountainous roads in a thunderstorm, we headed south from Redding along the Sacramento River and into the Central Valley. The sun and blue skies soon appeared highlighting the valley’s olive and pistachio orchards…

Orchard in California's Central Valley

Barely an hour into our drive, the geography had completely changed. We found this to be true in most areas of California — if you don’t like the scenery, just drive an hour in any direction.

Heading into the Sierra Nevada Mts
Heading into the Sierra Nevada Mts

The clouds and rain returned after steering eastbound again into the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Heading to North Lake Taho

But, the weather was forgotten upon setting eyes on Lake Tahoe’s vibrant blue hues. We were captivated and regretted having less than 24-hours to enjoy them.

North Lake Tahoe, CA

That is until frigid air blew in with a storm foiling our plans to bike, and keeping us inside our small rented cabin for the evening.

Public Beach, Tahoe Vista, North Lake Tahoe
Public Beach, Tahoe Vista, North Lake Tahoe

All was good as our rustic cottage was comfy and adorable, and looked out onto Lake Tahoe.

 

Mart in front of our cabin

We watched from the warmth of our cabin as wind gusts and waves knocked around boats docked along the shoreline.

View of choppy Lake Tahoe from Rustic Cottage

Driving across the Mount Rose Highway the next morning, we were stunned to find a light snow had dusted the mountain and roadsides. Snow in September, another first!

Snow dusting Mt. Rose in September 2014
Snow dusting Mt. Rose in September 2014

Family Reunion – Reno, Nevada

Reno, Nevada Panorama
Reno, Nevada

Because Reno is the home of my brother and most of his family, a visit to the biggest little city in the world had been on our must-do list since our trip’s onset  We loved catching up with our family! And touring Reno…

 

a progressive, beautiful city surrounded by mountain vistas, and not at all similar to what Hollywood tends to project.

We spent an afternoon with my brother exploring the terrain and historical sites along State Highway 341, also referred to as the Virginia City Scenic Drive. We climbed along mountain edges, passing wild horses, and into the infamous silver-mining town of Virginia City.

Virginia City's main street
Virginia City’s main street

Take away the paved highway cutting through town, along with all the cars and motorcycles, and Virginia City appears closely to what I imagine it did in the 1800’s. With its redbrick buildings, colorful storefronts and covered wooden walkways, Virginia City offers visitors a taste of living on the outer edge of law & order in the old west.

Virginia City, Street Vibrations Rally
Virginia City, Street Vibrations Rally

Our visit happen to overlap the Street Vibrations motorcycle rally. Like in the Black Hills during the Sturgis rally, new and classic Harley’s lined Virginia City’s main street, augmenting the fun outlaw vibe.

Reno is a lovely city, and our visit with family was too short.

 

It was difficult to say good-bye; this was the last of many reunions on our trek and we still had two months of travel ahead.

Up Next… back to California, the Wine Country

More Pics…

View of North Lake Tahoe heading up Mt Rose Hwy
View of North Lake Tahoe heading up Mt Rose Hwy