August 29th, 2011

…a game called ‘What If’.

Couple of weekends ago, we were fortunate enough to travel to the Texas Hill Country again. We were surprised when the same friends we traveled to Napa and to the Texas Hill Country asked us to go with them and help celbrate their anniversary. We always have such a good time around them and have decided we make aweome traveling companions.

This time we visited different farms, restaurants, and such that we didn’t visit the last time. We even toured a Distillery that made whiskey and got to taste the mash and the White Dog (warning: Do. Not. Smell. It. In fact, don’t taste it either, but definitely don’t smell it. Can you say goodby to any and all nose hairs?) Ouch!!

One winery we visited had a small graveyard on the premises with an old cyclone fence protecting the graves from outside intruders. The graves dated back to the 1800′s, some of the engraving faded to where you had to trace the letters with your fingers to make out the writing. Watching guard over the tombstones was a large stately tree, it’s branches tall and strong, and surprisingly in good condition considering the Texas draught.

Having permission from the owner, Tracie and I respectfully and quietly tiptoed into the sacred grounds and went from grave to grave reading what was written about the deceased.

The first one was for a baby. Nothing more was stated except the little girl’s name and that she was only two years old. So sad. Our imagination was peaked and we wonder what happened to her.

What if it was due to an accident? Or what if she caught a disease like cholera or influenza that struck through the area killing babies and adults alike? Or a disease like the measles that is so easily prevented nowadays with vaccinations?

Next to her lay who evidently was her father. The name was listed along with the date of death and then strangely and weirdly enough under that was ‘killed by’ and the killer’s name listed.

Wow!

What if they listed the killer’s name so all could remember who did the awful deed of killing another human being? Or what if the deceased was totally the scourge of all who’s bad and the person who killed him was listed for bragging rights?

Next to him was his wife and evidently the mother of the little girl in the grave. According to the date listed of her death, she lived another thirty years after the death of her daughter and husband.

Tracie and I continued to the remaining few graves and although the names were different from the first three, we couldn’t help but wonder if they were all related in some way.

What if the mother/wife remarried and the rest were her new family? Or what if she never got over their deaths and never remarried and the graves belonged to other members of her family. Again, so sad.

The most interesting grave of all was the one right in the middle of the graveyard. All the graves had headstones and small footstones exactly the same as this one did but with one exception: The top of the grave – the entire length of it – had a large cement slab over it.

This dude was definitely not rising from the earth any time in the next eternity or so!

What if he was buried with something that was so priceless they hoped to deter grave robbers?

What if he had a terrible disease (I think of diseases a lot, but only because of my medical backgound – just sayin’) and if dug up would cause a world disaster like in the movie Contagion.

What if it was a monster buried under that cement slab?

We finally left through the rusted gate, our imaginations running wild.

But so did GW’s and Paul’s. LOL! They thought they way we were rooting around the graveyard for so long we’d dug someone up!

See how easy and fun it can be to play ‘what if’?

Asking ‘what if’ has caused many a story to be weaved. I bet even Harry Potter started out by JK Rowling thinking ‘What if there was a little boy with glasses who lived under the stairs and was a wizard but nobody knew…’

Now you try it. ‘What if’….and you fill in the blanks. And let your imagination soar. You’ll be surprised where it can take you.

~Sandy

July 9th, 2011

To celebrate the July 4th weekend, GW and I took a long weekend to head south and visit some old friends I haven’t seen in quite awhile.

Saturday night started out by going to a honest to goodness real cowboy saloon. I wasn’t aware of exactly where we were going so had on my white jeans, black top and sandals. Kinda looked a little out of place on the dance floor among all the blue jeans and cowboy boots. Surprised to see the new (or new to me) trend of the girls now wearing short-shorts with their cowboy boots. Some looked pretty good and, of course, some couldn’t pull it off. But I believe that if it makes you happy and feel good about yourself, wear what you want.

We shared appetizers (the brisket nachos were my favorite. Thinking of trying those at home) with a few drinks and I stuck with my White Zin. I wish I could drink beer, but just don’t like the taste. A longneck brew just seems the appropriate drink for a place like that. You know, when in Rome and all that.

The dance floor started out being a little lonely, but it wasn’t long before the regulars were out there in full swing. Literally, almost. GW and I danced to one of my favorite slow songs and, let me tell you the man can dance. Of course, he proved he could hold his own on the dance floor at his daughter’s wedding. The photographer even included a short video of it in the video collage he put together.

Who knew?

Anyhoo, we discovered the darts area and all of us separated into teams and played a few games. This was the first time I’d played a real live game (although we’d put up a ‘real’ dart board in the garage over a year ago) and we all had a blast. I ‘doubled-in’ (don’t ask) once on a 17 and was feeling pretty happy about that although my team still lost.

After another white zin, it wasn’t long before the girls and I were on the dance floor line dancing and laughing ourselves silly. The guys just watched and laughed themselves silly at us. I promised GW I’d teach him how to line dance, but need to brush up on the old ones and learn some of the new ones.

Sunday night was spent at a barbeque eating ribs and chicken and grilled corn on the cob and an awesome salad. It was awesome just visiting and catching up.

Monday night was spent at another barbecue (different kind of ribs, different seasoned chickens, different type of grilled corn on the cob so everything was wonderful and, well, different). They had a pretty impressive firewords display at the end of the night.

It appears everyone had a great time getting to know GW. But I expected that.

Next day came the long ride home. Poor GW. He puts up with me either talking my head off or not saying a word, my head deep in a book or doing some tweeting or some such. But he never complains, he just smiles a lot and says he finds a lot of ‘humor’ in what I do.

Thank the good Lord he likes to laugh because I seem to do a lot for him to laugh about.

All in all, we had a great time and looking forward to our next trip. In the meantime, will be working on my dart game and my line dancing.

~Sandy

February 13th, 2011

So, last night GW surprised me by taking me to the new Japanese Hibatchi House in town. It was the first time I’d ever experienced having a Japanese chef cook right in front of you and it rocked!

We sat at the U-shaped table between a family of four and a younger couple. A waitress took the food orders and brought out a soup that was clear with a few bean sprouts floating around and a salad of lettuce and cucumbers that had a special dressing on top. Both were very different and very tasty. I had a glass of White Zinfindel and GW tried some kind of Japanese beer. The wine was very cold which is just the way I like it and the soup hot, the salad cold and crisp.

The chef comes out and introduces himself and then starts the show. He was pretty funny and entertaining, but our table was kinda of dead and not interacting so we just watched and talked to each other.

Food was fabulous! Great flavor without leaving you so full you’re miserable. We had a $10.00 coupon off, but they don’t take it off the bill, they give it to you in a gift card. Very clever. Now we have to go back to spend the gift card.

But I don’t mind. At all. One of my favorite things is to eat with chopsticks. And drink good wine.

Not necessarily in that order.

Thanks, Babe! Had a great time last night!

~Sandy

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January 29th, 2011

“Your words are my food, your breath my wine. You are everything to me.”

~Sarah Bernhardt

Sadly, the last day of our journey arrived. With our luggage packed and the rental car filled with gas, we headed back to San Francisco. Crossing over the Golden Gate Bridge, I marveled at the splendor of everything we experienced in the past five days. From a bridge that was considered one of the modern Wonders of the World to the many varieties of delicate grapes that grew on the vines, to the friendships developed and deepened, it was a time that will forever live in our hearts.

We decided to spend the morning before our flight left at Fisherman’s Wharf. We strolled up and down the docks and ate the famous clam chowder at a small restaurant on the water. We stood at the end of the dock, hoping to see some of the porpoises that frequent the bay, but was told that due to the fishermen complaining about them, measures had been taken to keep them away. While sitting and eating our clam chowder, GW, Paul, and Tracie all spotted some, but I never did. Could see the ripples in the water where they had surfaced and then dived into the depths, but never saw any of them.

After lunch, we walked the streets of Fisherman’s Wharf and visited several shops. Soon, it was time to leave for the airport.

We didn’t exactly leave our hearts in San Francisco, but we did leave a part of it in the Wine Country. GW and I agreed it was the best vacation we’ve ever taken. It is indeed a fact that we will be visiting again soon.


San Francisco’s famous Fisherman’s Wharf


Fresh Crabs


A view of Alcatraz


A familiar sight on the streets of San Francisco


ATT&T Baseball Park ~ Home of the San Francisco Giants


A view of the marina


Several restaurants that line the streets

Thanks for letting us share our memories with you!

~Sandy

January 5th, 2011

“Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words.”

~Plautus

Before leaving, we were able to tour the BR Cohn Winery whose owner, Bruce Cohn, used to be the manager of the Doobie Brothers. Needless to say, in the winery were lots of memorabilia regarding that time in his life.

We shot over to Domaine Chandon where we tasted several kinds of Sparkling Wine (not allowed to call it Champagne unless it comes from Champagne, Franceso be forewarned). They gave us the two champagne glasses (can I say that or are they sparkling wine glasses?) to take home with us.

Also, we covered the Provenance vineyards where we laughed until we cried at the taste testing. The woman behind the bar kept pouring GW more than the allotted amount for the tasting and shorting the other guys. She kept saying he reminded her of E.F. Hutton because when he spoke, everyone stopped to listen. P thought she was just flirting with him, but GW was not as impressed because he thought E.F. Hutton was no longer alive and wondered EXACTLY what she meant by that. We thought it was hilarious and are still laughing about that. Personally, I wouldn’t blame her as I think he is cute also, LOL! And it’s not just because he is my husband.

We also visited the Arrowood Vineyards in the Sonoma Valley and Nicholson Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Each place was beautiful and interesting and produced great wine. At the Nicholson Winery, they were setting up for a wedding so we didn’t travel far outside the testing room, but we got a great picture of the little church on the mountainside (see below).

Just so you know, we didn’t just travel from winery to winery.

We visited a wonderful little Irish pub in downtain Santa Rosa (name escapes me).

Ate at the famous and unique Willi’s Bar which was so different from anything I had ever had before. They served unique food on these ‘small international’ plates. Each one of us picked out about 3 or 4 ‘international plates’ and shared them – family style – with the whole group. I tried some dishes I have never had before and they were awesome!!!

The last night there, we had made reservations at the Culinary Institute of American (CIA) where the renowned school had their students cook for us. The menus are printed on paper as they change on a daily basis depending upon the availability and what the students are cooking that day.

Again, the food was top-notch and to die for! By all the special restaurants we visited, I was pretty spoiled by the time we got back home.


B R Cohen Entrance


Doobie Brothers Picture in the Winery


Domaine Chandon entrance


Small church in the Santa Cruz Mountains at the Nicholson Winery


Culinary Institute of America first course


Culinary Institute of America


Culinary Institute of America pastry chef

to be continued for wrap up….

~Sandy

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January 3rd, 2011

“Wine gets better with age. The older I get, the more I like it.”

~Anonymous

I have always wanted to visit a castle. So when a tour at the winery Castello di Amorosa presented itself, suprisingly enough, all of us jumped on the opportunity. Well, not all of us. D & A was headed back to Texas and since it was our last day in California, we, along with P & T decided to see what a real castle was like. (See pictures below)

First a little history:

In 1993, after decades of researching and studying medieval castles throughout Europe, Dario Sattui began a humungous building project. The 121,000 square foot Castello includes 107 unique rooms, 8,000 tons of hand-squared stones, 8 levels (4 below ground which we had the pleasure of touring), 900 feet of caves, a completely hand-painted Great Hall (which was so totally awesome), a drawbridge, moat, dungeon and torture chamber (which included a ‘hot seat’, torture rack, a chopping block, and an authentic, antique, actually used back in the Medieval times Iron Maiden which we got to actually see it, ewwww!) a consecrated chapel, and one of the most impressive wine barrel rooms in the U.S. constructed with ancient brick Roman cross-vaulted ceilings (Dario bought and had shipped back to the states and paid the labor of professional brick layers of this type to come over and lay the bricks).

The castle has 30 acres of vineyards surrounding its great, hand-chiseled walls, gates, and guard towers planted with Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes which produce low yields and intensely flavored wines. While touring the level which housed all the barrels of aging red wine, our tour hostess, Kerry, (who was quite funny and totally awesome) opened a barrel and let us all taste some of the red wine that was not quite ready for bottling. It was a unique experience to be able to do that and I thought it rocked.

Then she took us to a separate tasting room from the public and behind this awesome brick and wood bar, served us wines that we tasted and, of course, bought some to take home. See picture below.

For GW and I, that tour of the castle, along with the Nashville in Napa experience, were the highlights of the trip. Not to mention our ‘meet the deer on the mountain top experience’, but we won’t go into that, LOL!


Outside view of the castle turret


Different view of the castle turret. Forgot where we were at the time of the picture taken


Castle courtyard where they actually hold parties and balls


Castle Chapel


This was our tour guide, Kerry, who had been raised around vineyards for many years. She was very knowledgeable and was a hoot to be with! I wish I could remember her name.


Castle Greatroom where in Medieval times, everyone met to eat and conduct business. This is the actual room that was in one of the recent Disney films Bedtime Stories. They also filmed the Bachelor here.


This is where the King and Queen sits. Disney bought them for the film and then donated them to the castle.


The dark spots under the arches are openings where oil would be poured upon those attacking the castle.


This is where the archers would stand to shoot their arrows. Note that they were designed where he could easily have enough room to shoot to the left or the right.


These are the foot stands for the archers who would be shooting over the wall.


This torture device is where the saying ‘being on the hot seat’ comes from. They tie you to the chair and then light a fire underneath and slowly roast you. Ewww!


Here is the rack that slowly tore you from limb to limb {{shudder}}.


Different types of helmets


Barrel we actually got to taste wine from


This is the arch that you can whisper into the corner and the person on the opposite side can hear you. It actually works! Not sure who this person was, BTW.


This is where to tour ended up. Cool, huh?


Then, of course, the store to buy your wares (souvenirs).


This is how they store wine for aging once the fermenting is completed. Notice no labels are on them. Why? Because they will not have to pay tax on them until they are labeled. Interesting, huh?

This tour is a must if you have a penchant for castles and history. I have so many more pictures of so many interesting things, but it is hard to include them all.

to be continued…

~Sandy

November 13th, 2010

“Wine gives a man nothing – it only puts in motion what had been locked up in frost .”

~Samuel Johnson

One of our favorite wineries we visited was Sterling Vineyards Winery.

A little background:

Back in 1964, British international paper broker, Peter Newton, visited California and, so impressed with the quality of California wines and inspired by the beauty of the Napa Valley, decided to broaden the interest of his company, Sterling International, and purchased a 50 acre piece of an already established vineyard that bordered Calistoga, California.

Between 1965-1967, he continued to acquire more property in the surrounding area. At that time, Napa Valley’s most popular grape grown was the Cabernet Sauvignon, but he made a bold and innovative leap and decided to cultivate Chardonnay, Cabernet Blanc, and Merlot. In 1969, Sterling Vineyards bottled the first Californian Merlot.

In 1977, Prince Charles of England, curious to see something of ‘interest’ built by an Englishman in the States, visited Sterling Vineyards. (If it is good enough for royality…LOL)

The winery continued acquiring land and in 1995 began a multi million dollar six phase renovation plan that has made it what it is today which increased production efficiency, improved quality, and met the exploding demand for ultra premium wine.

Pretty cool, huh? I am not sure why I get so involved in the history of each vineyard but I find it fascinating. When you are actually there, you tend to get caught up in each winery with their stories, their history, their uniqueness, and, of course, their wines. Each taste testing we did, each winery we visited was set up just a tad different and, like any customer related business, the people working there could make it fun or not. And we had fun at almost every one we visited.

I want to run a taste testing room in my next life, LOL!

To get to the winery, which was built on top of a mountain (they called it a knoll, but looked like a mountain to me), you have to take a tram ride to the top. Loved it! The countryside is beyond beautiful and loved that we could see Napa and Sonoma Valley from high up.

Once we got to the top, we were able to take a self guided tour through the winery and stop at certain points along the way to taste the wines. But the most favorite for all of us, was, once the tour was finished, we sat on the rooftop of the winery and tasted more wines.

It is really hard to describe the experience. The sun was shining brightly, the air cool and crisp, but not cold enough for jackets, the view absolutely breathtaking, the wines were wonderful and the company we were with were so much fun! No one had any issues about anything, everyone got along and was willing to try what the others wanted to do, and we never laughed so much!

We loved the Sterling Zinfandel and the Sterling Malvasia Blanca that we bought two bottles of each and actually joined the wine club with Sterling!


Sterling Winery


Entrance to the winery. Headed up the path to the tram.


Tram that takes you up the mountain to the actual winery


View of the lake from the tram


Up and up and up….


View of the bell towers on top of the winery


Oak barrels that store the red wine


Stainless storage for the white white


Rooftop we sat on to enjoy their wonderful wines


View from the rooftop


In the distance, you can see the Castello di Amorosa Winery (more on that later)


Isn’t the view gorgeous????


Headed down the mountain

Definitely looking forward to visiting this one again!

To be continued…

~Sandy

October 31st, 2010

“In wine there is health (in vino sanitas)”

~Pliny the Elder


Imagery Estate Winery

As I mentioned in my first post about the journey, each winery had a unique history and story to tell. And Imagery Estate Winery is no different.

‘It all started with a guy named Joe.’ So says the history of this unique winery. In the 1980′s, Joe Benziger moved with his family from New York to start a winery on Sonoma Mountain. After a few years, Joe decided that there were some vineyard lots that would be perfect to produce a series of small artisan wines.

Joe met up with a renowned local artist named Bob Nugent and Bob volunteered to design a label that could match the expressiveness and originality of the wine inside. Bob became curator of the Imagery Art Collection commissioning hundreds of international artists to design one of a kind artwork for Imagery Labels. You can read more of the interesting history of the winery here

Needless to say, it is fascinating. Each wine has a one of a kind label designed, never to be duplicated or repeated. Each artist is not limited by size, medium, or content but must include a likeness of the Parthenon replica that is on the Benziger Estate. It was so much fun looking through the art gallery of past labels and picking out the Parthenon. Some are very visible and some you have to search for. You can also buy prints in various forms of the ones you like.

Reason for the Parthenon? According to Winemaker Joe Benziner, it is the connection of the Imagery Winery to his family’s Benziger Winery.

Cool, huh?

The entire wine tasting bar is lined with these small ceramic pieces, both big and small, and you can actually pick out the ones you like and buy them. We bought two bottles of wine from Imagery. One, a Muscato de Canelli (love muscato wine!) and a bottle of 2009 Wow Oui which is a single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. We had fun searching the bar for the stone magnets that matched both labels and bought them to bring home. Somehow I am going to figure out how to showcase them with the matching wine bottles. Hmmm… will let you know.

Could only find a picture of the Muscato label.


2009 Imagery Estate Muscato di Canelli


Parthenon mural inside Tasting Room


Inside the Art Gallery


Mural inside the Art Gallery

To be continued…

~Sandy

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October 24th, 2010

“Always carry a corkscrew and the wine shall provide itself.”

~Basil Bunting

Chateau Montelena Winery

Front of the Chateau entrance

Two miles north of Calistoga, Chateau Montelena Winery sits on 254 acres of rugged terrain at the base of Mount Saint Helena. Built in 1882 it became the seventh largest winery in the Napa Valley. Winemaking halted during the Prohibition and the winery was sold to Yort and Jeanie Frank, who was looking for a place to retire. The Franks, inspired by the Chateau, found a perfect area to excavate a lake and landscaped it to reflect the Chinese gardens of his homeland. It was called Jade Lake and consists of two islands, not open to the general public but available to their wine club members. You can, however, stand next to the entrances to the footbridges that connects to the islands and feed the fish and waterfowl. Marveling at the way the footbridges were built crooked, I found out that, according to Chinese legend, evil spirits can only travel over water in straight lines.

I found it very interesting that the Chateau was like a mini-castle and the gardens and lake was of Chinese architecture complete with weeping willows and native fauna. But somehow it works. According to their brochures, it is considered to be one of the most peaceful and beautiful sanctuaries in Napa Valley. It was indeed very enchanting.

A little more interesting history here…

Back in 1976, the Chateau Montelena Winery entered their 1973 Chardonnay in a ‘blind taste testing’ International Wine Tasting competition in Paris, France and their 1973 Chardonnay won, beating out the French and Italian wines. This, supposedly, is what put California on the map for winemaking. Here at the Chateau, the movie, Bottleshock, was filmed about the historic event and you can even take a special ‘Bottleshock’ tour. We didn’t take the tour, but when we got home, we rented the movie and really enjoyed it. It was fun watching the movie and saying, “Hey, we were there…and there…”

Jade Lake

Small waterfall in front of the Chateau


Different sizes of wine bottles

To be continued…

~Sandy

October 11th, 2010

“Nature is the art of God.”

~Dante Alighiere

Sorry to be so long in getting back to this. Have been so very busy. Just got back from the Texas Wine Trail Tour in the Texas Hill Country, but that’s another tale for the blog later.

We are also nature lovers so the whole group took in what the area had to offer.

First on the list was the Petrified Forest. According to their information, over three million years ago, a volcano in the direction of Mt. St. Helena erupted and fire, ashes, and molten lava came out and coursed down the valley which now lies the Petrified Forest. It actually states that this is the same pale yellow, sandy ash in the soil that we walked on during the visit.

The Giant

Rock of Ages

Next we visited Old Faithful Geyser of California in Calistoga. NOT to be confused with the Old Faithful in Yellowstone. Somehow this Old Faithful didn’t have the ‘umph’ that Yellowstone has. It spewed about every ten minutes and left you with the baffled look in your eyes wondering ‘is that all there is?’

But it was interesting to find out that the barometric pressure, the moon, the tides and the earth’s tetonic stresses determine the height the geyser shoots and the time between the eruptions. They’d had an earthquake a few weeks before so it was kind of puny while we were there.

Out in the field next to the geyser, they had a small herd of goats that would ‘faint’ if you frightened them. Imagine that, fainting goats. What will they think of next. Of course, GW and the guys wouldn’t THINK of trying such a thing. Not them. Absolutely not.

Thar she blows...

...and again...

Um...Boo?

Hey! I said, Boo!

**Note: no animals were hurt, frightened, or felt the least bit faint during our visit.

Last, but not least on the nature tour was the Redwoods. One word. WOW!

No way to describe the feeling of being around something that grand and that old. And I am talking about the trees, LOL!

The Old Colonel Armstrong

to be continued…

~Sandy

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