Sonoma, October 2013

We’ve figured out that a key to this nomadic empty-nester middle-aged couple lifestyle is being opportunistic.  Followers of our blog know that we vacationed in California wine country just this past summer.  We loved it so much that when we were approached on for an October exchange, we didn’t have to think about it much: she had a family wedding in Atlanta to attend and offered her Sonoma weekend home in exchange for a week.  Count us in.  It was our first home exchange, and in our next blog we’ll share our thoughts on this whole exchange thing.

This trip was also an opportunity for us to test out this whole “Travel-Work-Play” concept we’re developing (yes, a new euphemism, the product of more than a few wine tastings): a balance of work and play while in an interesting location.  Harvest time was winding down.  It had been so beautiful and green in July, and for some reason it hadn’t occurred to us that the vines would be in fall colors and dropping their leaves. The browns, golds, and reds were a beautiful contrast to the vivid greens of the summer.  And while it was record hot temperatures in July, it was downright cold at night in October (in the high 30s and low 40s).

The Carneros Valley, Sonoma, California
The Carneros Valley from Gloria Ferrer’s Terrace: a great
place to enjoy a bottle of bubbly

Work-wise we took advantage of being on the west coast for a couple of partner and client visits, which preoccupied Tuesday and Wednesday.  We also took advantage of the time zone differences and worked early hours (Chuck took a 5:30 client call Thursday morning, which was surprisingly not intolerable with some good coffee), and then purposefully took Friday entirely off and did our best to unplug from our cell phones for a long weekend (we didn’t have to leave until Monday).

Of course the purpose of a visit to wine country is to visit wineries, but we also threw in a couple of other interesting things.  We re-visited a couple of the wineries we had seen (and joined) before, including Korbel (another great lunch on the deck at their cafe) and Ravenswood (we got to take their tour this time, which was fantastic: if you get the chance, definitely take their 10:30am daily tour).  Some of the fantastic new winery discoveries we made this time were Hook & Ladder (a top-notch Cab Franc and a surprisingly splendid Merlot) and Saddleback (another great Zinfandel).  Also of note: the beautiful grounds of the St Supery and Gloria Ferrer wineries (pictures included in this blog).



St Supery Vineyard
St Supery’s Front Yard

A hugely noteworthy winery visit was our trip to J Rickard’s winery.  We had purchased a bottle of their Zin on the recommendation of our local wine store and had decided it would be good to pay them a visit if we got the chance.  As we drove up, we knew it would be no ordinary Napa/Sonoma valley wine tasting experience: we parked between a farmhouse and a barn (with a sign proudly boasting “Darn Fine Barn Wines”) and were greeted by a dog and a mustachioed gentleman who turns out to be Jim Rickard himself.  Mr. Rickard spent an hour and a half with us, and it was the most educational, one of the most enjoyable, wine experiences we’ve yet had.  We did a side-by-side comparison of old vine zin and young vine zin to taste the remarkable difference: the young vines had been grafted from the old vines so were genetically identical, they were adjacent to one another and receiving the same weather in the same soils, and they had been made into wine by the same man (Jim himself).  All other variables held the same, the difference is only the age of the vines, and it makes a huge difference in the finished product.  We are proud member’s of Jim Rickard’s wine club.

Gloria Ferrer Bubbly
Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs

Another noteworthy activity this trip was our visit to the Jack London State Historical Park just outside of Sonoma.  We’re all required to read London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang in junior high, but few know that London wrote dozens of other books and was quite the early 20th century adventurer.  He was wildly famous in his day and with his wealth he acquired this property and called it his “Beauty Ranch”.  The land and vistas are simply beautiful and it’s easy to understand why he fell in love with this spot.  He tried his hand at farming and pioneered a number of techniques (who knew?)  He and his wife were in the process of building a gorgeous, spacious mansion (they called it their “Wolf House”), but it burned to the ground before completion.  Only the stone remains stand today, a monument to unfulfilled aspirations (not just his).  London died early, at 40, of kidney disease.

Modern airline travel often leaves us frustrated, but a couple of airline experiences this trip were so positive they warrant special recognition.  We took a day trip on JetBlue for a business meeting, and being our first ever trip with JetBlue we had no expectations either way, but it was a positively delightful experience: easy check-in, friendly people, clean planes, on-time flights.  We’d gladly fly JetBlue again.  Also, the Long Beach airport was an absolute traveler’s dream to get in and out of, and while there was no club to enjoy, the outdoor wine bar experience more than made up for it.  Next time I fly to LA, I’m going to consider using the Long Beach airport.  Finally, a special call-out to Delta (who we fly on a lot owing to our living in Atlanta): on check-in for our return flight, Jennifer at Delta’s SFO desk offered to switch us to a direct flight (we were booked for a connection through LAX).  Since we had to pay the flight change fees, she comped us part of that in bag check fees: we wound up paying Delta more overall, so Delta came out ahead, but she didn’t have to do what she did.  So kudos to Jennifer and Delta for great customer service and a win-win business outcome for both of us.
Food-wise, I can point to a couple of restaurants that we particularly enjoyed while there: Campo Fina in Healdsburg (wonderful brick-oven pizza and wine) and El Molino Central in Sonoma (great Mexican, tasty tamales, and a cool atmosphere).  Oh, and also The Fremont Diner in Sonoma: a wonderful diner and home-cooking sort of place with a don’t-miss breakfast offering.

We’ll leave you with a picture and transcript of a Jack London quote that we think summarizes our philosophy pretty nicely (and probably the philosophy of most travelers):

Jack London quote
Our New Credo

“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” –Jack London


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