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It has been decades since we have visited the wine country, and our wine palette has dramatically improved, so we felt it was time for a return trip.
Our plan was to fly into San Francisco (better choice of flights and rental cars) and drive to the Napa Valley. Travel was easy - Monday morning we flew from Austin to Chicago. Then Chicago to SFO arriving late afternoon. Our Avis car was a Honda Hybrid - our first experience with a Hybrid. Our drive to Calistoga was less than two hours. There are excellent restaurants and small wineries near the Bergson Hotel. Out to dinner and bed.
It seemed that every home had a vineyard near their house. It was after harvest season, so the vines were empty and dormant.
Bigger house, bigger vineyard. With mowed grass between the rows of vines, this is probably someone's back yard.
We got a hint of the colorful leaf changes of the North East in some of the vineyards.
Wine Tastings are now by appointment only, and are not cheap ($120). One was at the Schramsberg-Davis Vineyards, where we had a private table, hostess, and menu. Like most of the tastings, we were not tempted to buy their wine at 3-5 times the cost of comparably satisfying wines from our grocery store.
The vineyards go along both sides of the street, as far as the eye can see.
Each row of grapes goes back "forever" - not just a little along the street.
There are at least 50 if not 100 or more bee hives, for the obvious purpose of pollinating the grapes.
Charles Schultz (Sparky) of Peanuts fame started in Minnesota but migrated to California, and spent most of his career here, with a museum to recognize his work. We spent several hours exploring the details of Shultz's history.
At the end of the entry great hall is a mural, 17 x 22 feet, made up of 2x8 inch tiles. Each of the tiles is a separate Peanuts cartoon. Look at the detail behind Jenny.
We had another tasting at Laura Michaels Wines where the owner of the vineyard came out of her home, escorted us to the tasting room (with her dogs), and chatted with us as we sampled her wine ($30 for each person). Outside of the vineyard manager Michael, all the other help at her small vineyard is part time.
We had a delightful dinner with a friend of a friend. One item on the menu at Gravenstein Grill in Sebastopol was "Liberty Duck Pappardelle" - Fresh Hand Cut Pasta, Duck Confit, Gouda Cream, Chili Flakes, Caramelized Onions, Parmesan. It was one of the most unique and delicious restaurant entrees I have had.
Still another vineyard, Hans Fahden, was up a very steep hill. One of the owners chatted with us as we sampled, and told us how her husband had a huge bulldozer, (featured on a 2016 wine bottle) so when the wildfires came, he went to the top of his hill to clear a firebreak around his (and a neighbor's) vineyards (it worked).
Later she gave us an additional large sample of the Viognier so we could sit in the sun near the entrance to the winery and enjoy it. Her husband, the bulldozer operator and owner, came by and chatted with us for perhaps a half hour. Delightful.
Thursday night we drove back to San Francisco and spent a night in a Hampton Inn near the airport. No Hotel valet to the airport because of covid, so we kept the car and returned it on Friday morning, before our flight to Phoenix then Austin. When we filled the gas tank we were pleased to have had a hybrid. Currently this is twice the price at home.
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