More Postcards from the Wine Country

As we wrapped our stay in Sonoma and headed towards the Russian River Valley and Healdsburg, we found all kinds of backroads and wineries to explore:

We ventured through the section of the county called “Chalk Hill Road”. It’s really unique because this tiny area contains it’s own appellation of wine and grapes.

We stopped at the Chalk Hill Estates along this route and sampled some really excellent wine. In fact, we bought three bottles and got a nice discount from the tasting room manager – he was very knowledgeable and helpful. I wish the overcast sky did this winery and the grounds justice, but you can check out the website and see for yourself!

Sure enough, as we drove up over Chalk Hill and landed in Alexander Valley, we found sunshine at the Hanna Winery. Very nice folks and because it was a slow Monday, the tasting was on the house!

We stopped for lunch at a quaint little place called the Jimtown Country Store that served gourmet sandwiches and ice cold beer – we dined in the adorable patio adjoining the store!

After a relaxing day we headed to the Grape Leaf Inn in Healdsburg. It was a really nice place with more food than I could ever possibly eat at breakfast, and a really cool speakeasy in the basement where they served wine every night. I’m not sure how the managers of this Inn remain svelte, but they do. Very hospitable and all around great service!

One of the many interesting things we found out about Healdsburg is that you don’t have to drive very far to see tons of great scenery, and yes, more wineries.

We headed out to West Creek Road and managed to do all of the following in one relaxing afternoon:

The Twomey tasting room was another nice one we liked, they had a great Merlot which we uncorked that night, and since they were crushing grapes, they gave us a peek the the barrel room:

I wish you could have smelled the combination of the grapes and the French oak in this room. I swear I would wear it as perfume if I could, it was that fragrant!

The next fun place we stopped was called Arista. Arista has a gorgeous picnic area and a stunning oriental water garden. They sent us out with a glass of wine to tour the grounds and enjoy the day. They don’t have a wine club but you can add your name to the “A” list which gives you an opportunity to buy wine twice a year – no catches, just the chance to buy great wine. Yes, I’m signed up, quelle surprise!

We then took a little break from wineries and headed to the Armstrong Redwoods Reserve:

The redwood trees are amazing. Thankfully, someone in the early 20th century thought they they should be preserved, and thus this refuge was born.

My camera could do not justice to the height and width of the trees, but here you go:

On our way back, we hit the wineries we didn’t get to on our Redwoods adventure:

Porter Creek wineries take pride in their organic farming and have a quaint tasting room where you are greeted by Diego, the official mascot:

Believe it or not, we had another equally beautiful drive along the Dry Creek roads a few days later:

Lambert Bridge definitely had the most tastefully landscaped picnic grounds in the area. They have a huge pizza oven they fire up on the weekends, and we stopped and chilled out there for awhile, soaking in some rays.

One of my very favorite places was Bella, where they built a man-made wine cave for their tastings and wine dinners:

It was nice to cool off inside their cave, and even better to taste the dessert wine they called “chocolate in a glass”!

We had some comfy Adirondack chairs to sit and kick back on!

If the wine and view weren’t enough, Bella also had some entertainment on hand in case you were bored:

Just down the road from Bella, we saw a sign for Raymond Burr, and thought, is it possible Perry Mason owned a vineyard? Answer: YES.

Apparently Perry and his partner bought land many years ago and started a small winery. It was kind of poignant that he passed away just as the first crop was harvested and bottled. There was a lot of memorabilia in the tasting room, including his Emmy awards. The manager told me to on on ahead and grab that Emmy and take a photo. How could I resist?

Our favorite wine we tasted was from a place called Zichichi:

A small family winery, this was our favorite wine, hands down. We went into the barrel room and tasted wine straight from the source. This wine was being aged in oak until March, when a batch of it will be bottled and winging it’s way to our house!

The Ferrari-Carano winery was beautiful, in a kind of over the top way. There were fountains, terraces, and ornate gardens. Very much like a piece of Italy:

Our final stop of the day was at a place we like to refer to as the Disneyland of wineries; Coppola.
Francis Ford Coppola like to dabble in wine and in fact, has several large wineries in Napa and Healdsburg. Wine is so-so, but all the movie memorabilia is pretty wild:

The original cast list of the Godfather. OK, now I’m gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse. I’m going to stop boring you with my vacation photos!

Well, except for a few from San Francisco, because you need to see the Chinese cultural event we got invited to while strolling through Chinatown…


A Postcard from Wine Country

I’ve finally sorted through a bunch of my vacation photos and have some stuff suitable for viewing. Hopefully I will not come across like the nutty lady on my local cable access channel who shows her Alaskan cruise slides to the local Chamber of Commerce. (Yes, that is a real show where I live. It’s like an infromercial that sucks you in.)

There is nothing like hitting the wine bar when you get to Sonoma:

There are tasting rooms all around the town square. Bryan, our wine bar sommelier gave us a taste of just about everything at the Sonoma Wine Shop. They knew their stuff and will ship stuff based on your tastes.
Thumbs up!

Our B&B was really cozy and cute. We stayed in this two story bungalow:

This place was called Bungalows 313, and I would highly recommend it. 2 blocks from town yet quiet, and it was really nice to stretch out in the living room with a wood stove and some tunes.

The courtyard was also lit up a night with a fountain running. Can I just say music to my ears? Talk about sleeping like a baby!

There are a ton of things to do in Sonoma; you can hike and bike the wine trails or do like we did – drive, take a hike, and then drink some wine. A great outing to take is to Jack London Historical State Park.

Jack if you don’t remember, was author of “Call of the Wild“. He and and his wife were quite the adventurous pair, and they traveled the world, took dangerous sailing trips to Tahiti, Australia and Hawaii. You could definitely say they lived life large! Here’s view from one of the hiking trails:

The park also backs up to one of the most famous wineries in the area, Benzinger:

Their wine is available most places commercially, but they do have one of the prettiest vineyards in Sonoma and a great tour of the grounds, too!

Here’s Leo taking a break in the shade at another great winery, Chateau St. Jean!

Among our favorite wineries in Napa was Ehlers:

They web site says by appointment only, but since it was a quiet day and we had gotten a referral from Pine Ridge wineries, we were welcomed with open arms. They have great wine club there, and as you can imagine, we joined and already have our first shipment stored in the wine rack. Now I have to resist the
temptation to crack a bottle immediately, which is hard when you have done nothing but drink excellent wine for 10 days!

And to take a little break from wine, we sampled some bubbly at Mumm’s! They had a gorgeous terrace where you could sit and gaze over the vineyards.

One of the highlights of our trip was a hot air balloon ride. The morning we were scheduled to lift off, Napa Valley was fogged in, so we had to travel south to another valley to launch. They told us they already had to do that 65 times so far this year!

We had 10 balloons launching that morning:

This gives you an idea of the size of the balloon. It’s enormous and take a ton propane to get the canopy afloat.

Up, up and away!

I still can’t believe I wasn’t petrified of being 1500 feet up in the air. But you really don’t have much sensation of height or movement. It’s quiet up in the air, yet you can hear people and dogs on the ground quite clearly.

Our very clever pilot, Kim, rigged a digital camera to the balloon so he could take a shot of us up in the air. Leo and I are in the back left of the basket.

The pilots actually have little control where they land, so we ended up in someone’s back yard. They were totally cool with it and the kids thought it was the best thing ever! They jumped up and down and cheered
for us! The parents got a bottle of champagne for being so nice, too.

I actually hopped out and helped steer the balloon towards a dirt road. The nimble ones get all the fun!

And here we are safely back on the ground!

Finally, we were treated to breakfast at Domaine Chandon:

That’s pretty much the first part of the trip. Believe it or not, it got better as we headed north to the Russsian River Valley! Shall Meg bore you with more travel tales and really spectacular shots later on this week? Yes, she will, so stay tuned!


I Can’t Help Myself Friday. The Pain Edition.

OK, I return from a relaxing vacation, only to be struck down by the Baby Jesus of Bethlehem muscle spasms. Never did I truly appreciate the art of bending over until a few short days ago. But with the aid of some muscle relaxers and an ice-pack, I am able to tolerate the back pain. And thank you Dr. Kate for the drugs, because I’m apparently going to need them this political season. Shall we check out some of the candidates?

First of all, Delaware, WTF?

Did a pack of chimpanzees elect her to be State Treasurer and subsequently become a contender for US Senate? I personally would like to see her trot a cross-bred unicorn and mouse on the Senate floor. It would be tiny enough so she could impale herself on it, right?

The mystery remains on how Alvin Greene became a nominee for the Senate.

Oh crap! Wrong Alvin:

Alvin, an unemployed veteran has been sporting a tee shirt around South Carolina that says “We Don’t Make These Things Up!” It’s an ode to all that is spectacular about the Low Country, full of such luminaries as Mark “Appalachian Trail” Sanford and Jim DeMint. And hey, Alvin, too!

Oh Carly for CA, you are a total train wreck!

P.S. Carly, your little nun outfit looks ridiculous. Are you vying for Mother Superior of California?

Sharron Angle says creating jobs is TOTALLY not her problem! So what is it she might do for the State of Nevada, besides embarrass it?

Shall we end with Jon Stewart, who determines correctly, that we are truly run by a**holes.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Are We Run by A**holes?
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Strap yourselves in people, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Steel yourself against the robocalls and lame candidates by stocking up on your favorite beverage, and turning your phone off.

In the meantime, it’s Friday, so enjoy a cocktail later on. Cheers everyone!


A Day at the Beach with Mister Second Grade

Ah yes, back from vacation!

While I organize photos and prepare to dazzle bore you with my travel stories, let me recap a day at the beach last month with Little Mister Second Grade.

As you intrepid readers know, Meg and Ain’t Miss Beehaven spent a good portion of the last few months at the Cape helping their injured mother, who by the way, was a stellar patient all summer long. And on each of our trips, Little Matt was ready at the helm to take on any and all adventures that came along with each of our journeys.

He showed his Nana the ropes then it came to a wheelchair:

In fact, Matt was quite adept with all varieties of medical equipment, and could operate the hospital bed, the knee scooter, and wheelchair with great skill as the weeks went by. He was also super helpful in making sure everything was ready and waiting in it’s spot when it was time to hit the road with Nana, ensuring a smooth ride for a dinner out. And speaking of dinner, no macaroni or chicken fingers for this kid!

“Can I have a baked stuffed lobster, Mom?”

Sure Matt, how about a side of steamers and clam chowder, too?

Actually, it’s pretty delightful when an 8 year old thinks going to dinner with his aunt is like the best thing since sliced bread.

One lucky day we actually dipped our toes in the water and crashed for a few hours on the beach. And as expected, Matt provided the entertainment:

We had “how many sand castles can I build and be completely precise about it?” As many as you want, Matt.

And then, because it was a slightly breezy day, Matt thought if he ran crazily off the dunes with his beach towel, it might cause a soaring flight to the sun, akin to Icarus:

Little Matt provided many light-hearted and entertaining moments such as this all summer long, and his chipper little attitude gave us well needed laughs, and every time I looked at him I wanted to say:

“Please don’t grow up Matt! Stay your cute little second grader self!”

Matt told his mother he wanted to take acting lessons and go to Hollywood, I think so he can be on some show called the Wizards of Waverly Place with his imaginary girlfriend.

Guess what Matt? You probably will reach the sun, and provide rays for sunshine for everyone around you. Because you are that kind of kid.

Happy 8th Birthday Matt, and thanks for being such a cool kid all summer long! Your Auntie Meg will make sure you have something special just from me to you. Maybe your own kid blog?


And I’m Off…

CALIFORNIA? ARE YOU READY? I”M COMING.

Thank you blogger friends, for all your tips and suggestions on restaurants, wineries and all that other cool stuff! I’ve got my list and am ready to go.

The blog is going to stay home and rest, and we will both come back rejuvenated and ready very soon!

Au revoir!


Help Wanted

By now, you all know my penchant for reading the Sunday paper from cover to cover. In honor of Labor Day this year, I decided to read the ever sparse Help Wanted section to see what was up with the economy.

And a large ad, titled “HOUSEKEEPER” jumped from the page. The position was located in a tony suburb of Boston, and made clear you would be working on a private estate. And the usual blah, blah references, and yadda yadda background check and so on.

The position also required that you “live in” part of the time, but still have your own digs. And travel with the family. And assist with child care, cooking, cleaning and oh, I don’t know, turn cartwheels down a hallway, too?

Here was the best part. Apparently someone in that family stressed the need for a “laundress”. Laundress? Isn’t like a 19th century term for cheap labor? Not only would the laundress be required to slave over her washboard and galvanized metal tub, she would also be highly experienced at sewing sequins and delicately handling that person’s designer clothing. Seriously?

I did a quick check of Google, and being a housekeeper for a wacky family ranks pretty high up in the craptastic job department. I imagine being the laundress for fine designer clothing comes in at a close second. But to combine both heinous jobs into one?

Now if I could only meet the housekeeper a year from now and help her write her bestselling book, “I Laundered the Prada Wearing Devil Woman’s Clothing“, my life would be complete. Oh yeah, and maybe a hit movie too?