Sunday, December 8, 2013

Considering some new roots in Napa

Mono Lake
Racing the fall of darkness, we made quick work of getting to Reno, only making one brief, leg-stretcher stop at Mono Lake along the way. Despite our determination, darkness teamed up with rush-hour traffic and the sun had long disappeared below the horizon by the time we made it to Reno.

As a little girl, I had spent a lot of time with my Mom’s friend, Paul. He wore a red foam clown nose, often, and took me to see amazing shows in NYC, where he was a police officer for many years. I haven’t seen Paul in almost 10 years since he moved to Reno, so it was wonderful to have the opportunity to catch up with him and his wife Lena.
Thanksgiving Prep
With the weather looking clear for days ahead, we knew we would be able to settle in and spend a few days with them, including Thanksgiving, without having to worry about making it over the mountain pass into California. 

Being Russian, Lena treated us to her dessert speciality: sorbet with mint and.. you guessed it… VODKA! Paul whipped up an amazing Thanksgiving feast for Roel and I, imparting some of his recipe secrets as we chopped, diced, stuffed and table set, like good little sous chefs. Being in a home with people who really are like family to me, was a very special way to spend Thanksgiving and I was extra grateful that Roel’s first Thanksgiving was made so special. 
Lake Tahoe
We rode through the beautiful Lake Tahoe area, thinking we would find a place to camp in the Folsom, California area as Roel had seen that there was a State Park there… Except that we won’t pay $35 to sleep on an uneven, excuse for a patch of grass! How is it even logical to charge that much for camping!? We continued on until we found a wildlife preserve that didn’t say “no camping” and had a convenient little clearing right next to the parking lot. It was our first night camping in moderately warm temperatures (it didn’t drop below freezing overnight) and it was wonderful.

We were out bright and early the next morning, on our way to Napa Valley and just as excited as small children on Christmas morning. During our time working in wineries in Australia, we have grown accustomed to tasting through various regions on a regular basis and have obviously been “deprived” of this favored hobby of ours during the last few months. (Sorry, South Dakota.) 

The Hess Collection: Roel: "Now THIS is art!"
Armed with a list of recommendations from friends who worked, visited or grew up in Napa, we set out to make our way through as many tastings as we could pack into the days ahead of us. (For those of you who are concerned about us riding while tasting, we are extremely cautious about this.
The Hess Collection
We do in fact spit out every taste (although, I think a sip or two of reserve Cabernet may have made it down my throat), we hydrate before, during and after each tasting and we snack throughout the day.) We stopped off at Hess, as much for the wine as to view their incredible collection of art. Next up was Cliff Lede, where we had a

really wonderful tasting experience. Their "Bordeaux" blend smelled so good, I wanted to be able to wear it like a perfume. And then we checked out the Mondavi Christmas Extravaganza, where the carolers made up for the disappointing wine. I suppose you can’t expect much with event like this… oh well. 

That night we were quite stressed about finding a place to camp as California appears to be fairly well-gated, fenced off and locked-down. But eventually we found a road to a park in the hills and pulled off into a cluster of trees just outside of the closed gate. It didn’t say “no camping” : )
But our reprieve from chilly camping temperatures seemed to have ended. We got up early the next morning in case there would be a ranger coming to unlock the park gate and fortuitously, we were just pulling away on the bikes when a homeowner who apparently lived up the hill from the park came down the road on his morning walk. 
Our morning walk
We checked out the town of Calistoga figuring we could find a warm place to have coffee and pass some time with free wifi until our lunch date with a girlfriend I had worked with at Two Hands Wines in the Barossa Valley, Australia. The Calistoga Roastery fit the bill perfectly and we sat ourselves at the end of a long table with a good view of the bikes. 

Before long, a group of rather interesting people began to gather around the table. A lawyer, viticulturist, a doctor, and eventually another overlander… Jeremy has been around the world 2x+ in his Land Rover and is now awaiting his next adventure in the hills of Calistoga! These gentlemen and some of their lady friends, get together on a daily basis at the Table of Knowledge and swap stories. They even have a fantastic calendar that they’ve put together which hangs on the wall next to “their” table. We had indeed found a special place and some special people. While Roel was absorbing some knowledge, I went outside to chat to some gentlemen riders who were checking out our bikes. Paul and Lindsey were from Petaluma and not only did Lindsey offer that we could stay at his home if we needed a warm bed and a shower, but they asked if we would be willing to come talk with their Motorcycle Club on Wednesday. We exchanged contact information and they went off on their way to enjoy the last warm riding day to be had according to the forecast. 

As we left the Calistoga Roastery, Jeremy offered that we could come camp at his place that evening and we promised to see him later. 

We had a nice brunch with my friend Chelsea, and then we rode off in search of our next exciting tasting experience. We rode up a beautiful road to Pride Mountain, where we hoped to taste some of their award winning, high-ranked Cabernet. After 20 minutes of hair-pin turns going up into the mountains, we
Pride Mountain
arrive at Pride Mountain’s gate, which said that tasting was only available on appointment. Given that we didn’t have mobile reception, we decided to ride on and see if Pride Mountain could make time for us… And they did! David led us through their caves where they store barrels and barrels of Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and so forth. We enjoyed expressive and concentrated tastes from several barrels before being led back into the tasting room to enjoy a taste of their finished products. It is not always obvious as per how some wines come about a high rating from the gurus in the industry, but in the case of Pride Mountain, it certainly was.

The caves of Pride Mountain

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