California Wine Country, 2013

Sometimes when you do something you ask yourself, “Now, why didn’t I do that earlier?”  This was the case with our summer trip to California wine country, which, followers of our blog will know, has been on the wish list for a little while.  Lori and I flew out to San Francisco on a Thursday so I could meet with some colleagues Friday morning, and Susan (Lori’s sister) and Randy (Susan’s husband) joined us Friday afternoon.  We enjoyed Pier 39, the Fisherman’s Wharf area, and took a bay cruise between Friday evening and Saturday, then our best friends, Ty and Laurie, drove down from Seattle and met us at our vacation house in Sonoma county on Saturday.

I’ve been to San Francisco before on business, but this was the first opportunity for leisure.  We had a great time, enjoyed the seafood, and enjoyed the company of family.  In hindsight we should have reserved a visit to Alcatraz since they book up several weeks in advance, but I don’t know what I would have liked to sacrifice to see it without staying (or arriving) an extra day.

We absolutely loved wine country.  We rented a beautiful house overlooking a vineyard in the funky little town of Guerneville (we debated for several days how it’s pronounced before learning from a local that the e is silent; so it’s more like Gern-ville rather than Gern-uh-ville).  There was only 1 problem.  A couple of days before we left, Ty texted me, “They’re predicting a record heat wave in Napa/Sonoma: does the house have A/C?”

A Korbel vineyard from our rental house



The view from the back porch of our vacation house: a Korbel vineyard

So apparently, unlike here in the south, air conditioning is optional in houses in California.  I guess if the weather is (normally) 70 degrees year-round, what’s the point?  But the week we were there it was tipping the thermometer at 108.  And no, the house didn’t have central air, but it did have a single window unit in the dining room.  So we adapted by being out of the house during the hottest part of the day and huddling around the dining room table for coolness and great conversation when we were there.

Except for Monday of that week, when we went into the city with Ty and Laurie to see the California Academy of Sciences museum, we did winery tours and tastings every day.  I won’t blog a day-by-day, winery-by-winery account, but instead I’ll just point out some high lights.  Like learning that even the big name wineries, perhaps owned by global liquor distributing conglomerates, produce “artisan” or reserve wines, the delicious stuff often only available for purchase at the winery or (sometimes) if you join their club.  Some of our absolute favorite finds: Beringer’s ports and Korbel’s Cream Sherry.

Beringer Rhine House
Beringer’s Rhine House where the Beringer family once lived; it’s worth 
the splurge to do a tasting in one of the upper rooms


Beringer Wine Barrels


Beringer Barrels


Sonoma, California Vineyard


Someone’s future enjoyment still on the vines

We took quite a few tours and even more tastings (what’s the point of a tour if you don’t also get to taste; but conversely, you don’t have to tour to do a tasting), and there was something unique and interesting about each one.  Beringer’s caves are cool (in both senses of the word) and the tasting in the house’s upper room elegant and a delight.  Korbel’s tour was fun and surprisingly informative (like most people we’ve only ever done bubbly on special occasions, but we’ve decided that we need to recognize such occasions much more frequently): I can now extol the virtues of methode champenoise.  And for us budget travelers, the cost of the Korbel tour couldn’t be beat (free).  The tastings at Frog’s Leap, Simi, and Ravenswood exposed us to some new fave wines.  Unsurprisingly we love good, mild Zins, but it was refreshing to discover the pleasures of desert wines like port, sherry, and cuvee.

The California Academy of Sciences museum is located in Golden Gate park and, if you’re in San Francisco, it’s worth a visit.  I was particularly fascinated with the biosphere exhibit, not only for the ability to examine a rain forest from top to bottom and see the spiders that dwell near the bottom and the butterflies and birds near the canopy, but also for the architecture of the dome itself: a glass sphere within the building.  Also interesting and fun was the aquarium and the earthquake exhibit (I hear they have the occasional earthquake out there).

California Academy of Sciences
The glass rainforest biosphere at the California Academy of Sciences


Korbel vineyards tower


The Korbel tower


Lori waiting for Korbel tour to begin


Lori waiting for a tour to begin

Dining on the trip was nothing short of great.  I can’t remember all of the places we visited, nor the foods we had, but a few come to mind.  Blue Mermaid near Fisherman’s Wharf in the city served up a terrific steamed seafood platter.  We had a fantastic lunch at Mustard’s Grill in Napa.  Taqueria La Tapatia is a hole-in-the-wall Mexican place in Guerneville with great food.  And so far as winery cafe’s I don’t think anyone could do better than the cafe at Korbel.

On our last day in wine country, after saying goodbye to Ty and Laurie (who had a long drive back to Seattle ahead of them) we took in our last couple of wineries (we are officially Ravenswood Zinfomaniacs) and we visited the Charles Schulz museum in Santa Rosa.  Understand that when I was growing up, I read every Peanuts strip and owned a dozen or so Peanuts collection books.  To say I was (and still am) a huge fan of Charles Schulz and his comic strip is a terrible understatement.  I think it safe to say that Peanuts shaped my attitude toward life second only to my family and my faith.  So skipping this museum was not an option.  If you are a Peanuts fan, you owe it to yourself to go: I loved the theme they had on display when we visited (Snoopy and his brothers and–yes–sister) and only wish I lived close enough to see other themes as they put them on display.



Chuck and Lori in Napa, California



Chuck and Lori’s vineyard picture


Barrels of Mondavi Cab


Barrels and barrels of Cabernet Savignon


Susan, Randy, Chuck and Lori at Ravenswood Winery, Sonoma California


From left to right, Susan, Randy, Chuck, Lori at the Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma


Snoopy mural, Charles Schulz Museum Santa Rosa, California


A Snoopy mural at the Charles Schulz museum in Santa Rosa

Even great trips must come to an end, and though this was one fantastic trip, it ended with a terrible note: the morning we were to fly out of San Francisco was the morning the Asiana flight crashed.  Lori and I had just sat down at our gate when it occurred.  I noticed people looking out the window, so after a few curious moments I went to see what was going on.  What I saw left me with the gut-wrenching and helpless feeling that perhaps hundreds of people had just perished and there was nothing I could do about it; thankfully (and amazingly) I was wrong, but I never want to have that feeling again.  Of course the airport was closed and we had to stay an unexpected couple of days.  Randy and Susan got out the next day, but we stayed until Monday and did our best to enjoy an extra Sunday in San Francisco, having lunch in Chinatown and returning to Fisherman’s Wharf so Lori could satisfy a craving for crab.

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