Tag: Wine Country

Wine Country Trip: Part 4 Biking

Alright, this 4 part series on my trip to wine country is finally coming to a close. You can catch the other pieces, by clicking below:

 Part 1. Sonoma
 Part 2 .Napa
Part 3.Gardens
One of the things I was most excited about on this trip was the opportunity to bike my way around Napa and Sonoma. Because of our schedules, I did two separate rentals. One in Sonoma and one in Napa. This gave me an opportunity to try out a couple of different kinds of bikes. I searched on-line, read reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor and decided to rent through Wine Country Bikes in the Sonoma town of Healdsburg, and Napa Valley Bikes Tours in Yountville. Both shops provided maps and excellent guidance and suggestions. Highly recommend either. Napa Valley Bikes tours has a sister shop in the city of Sonoma (called, guess…….yep, Sonoma Valley Bike Tours). However, because we were staying at Korbel, Healdsburg was both closer, and in the area I wanted to ride.

Day One: Sonoma, Wine Country Bikes

Wine Country Bikes is located a couple of blocks outside downtown Healdsburg. They rent Trek bikes with a variety of options from Hybrid/fitness style Trek 7200 to high end Trek Madone road bikes for those wanting to feel like Lance Armstrong for the day. I knew our day riding in Sonoma would be the longer and hillier of our routes, and decided to go with their Trek 2.1 Road bikes. These bikes were nicely equipped with a computer to track mileage, time and speed, a back rack and expanding trunk bag big enough to hold a bottle of wine, or pair of shoes, a jacket or lunch – or a combination of the above. They’d also swapped out the standard pedals for a set of Shimano SPD Sport clips. A couple of spare tubes and a multi tool completed the package.

Well, not quite….the rental also includes free roadside service within the area shown on their guide maps. Which proved to be a good thing.

Wine Country Bikes location in Healdsburg gives you the option of heading south towards Windsor/Graton/Sebastopol for a much more challenging hilly route, west out River Road towards the coast, or north through Dry Creek Valley. We choose to head north, creating a 26 mile route through somewhat rolling terrain (a bit over 1000ft elevation gain/loss). The shop suggested that with winery stops, lunch etc this would make a good days ride.

We rode a quick tour of Healdsburg then west to pick up the southern end of West Dry Creek Road (which parallels Dry Creek Road). The shop had warned us the only place to pick up lunch would be the Dry Creek General Store, requiring a quick mile across Lambert Bridge Road (and the actual Dry Creek) then back after grabbing our lunch to go. The plan was to continue onward with the lunches, picnicking at either Preston or Bella. The plan got slightly altered when in a bit of deja vu to our Ride for the Arts experience, my husband got a rear flat.

We aired up the tire, and it immediately went flat again. Neither of us are adept bike mechanics, so decided that rather than waste time and add frustration, we’d take advantage of that roadside service. They were out quickly with a new bike – actually just pulled the rear tire off that one and swapped it out and off we went. Cute metal sculptures at the corner of West Dry Creek and Lambert Bridge.

At the north end of Dry Creek Valley we stopped at Ferrari Carano, having been told I shouldn’t miss the gardens. Thought we’d picnic here, but signs said no picnicking. Did take advantage of the chance to try their wines, then headed next door to Dutcher Crossing winery. So glad we did. This small independent (not nationally distributed) winery is owned by a woman from La Cross, WI. Has an old time bicycle as its logo. Provides a lovely, scenic picnic space. And has great wines – we even joined their wine club.

Still not sure where the whole day went. Never did make it to Preston, or back over to Quivra to tour their gardens. Next time.
Day Two: Napa, Napa Valley Bike Tours
As the name implies, this company leads a lot of tours. The carry Specialized bikes, a brand I am fond of – now owning both a road bike (Dolce) and hybrid/all trail bike (Ariel). The napa terrain along Rt 29 and Silverado trail is much flatter than Sonoma. For this day, we went with Sirruis, Specialized hybrid/fitness model. The shop also rents  road bikes (Roubaix and Dolce models), full suspension MTB, tandems, and electric bikes.  The women on the yellow bike on the right of the picture above is on one of the electric bikes – her husband rented a regular bike. And they were already arguing as they pulled out. That might have been a pair to follow. NOT.

Our main Napa ride was an easy 16 mile loop from Rutherford across to Silverado Trail down to Yountville to look around, have lunch, then back up Rt. 29. Just enjoying the scenery and leisurely riding. Did make a fortuitous stop at Bottega to see if we could get reservations.Open Table said they were booked – sometimes doing things in person pays benefits. Dinner here was my favorite of the trip.
We kept the bikes over night – which allowed us to do some early morning riding around the vineyards at property at BV. Such fun. Riding over the dirt, discovering the grape vine covered pergola in the picture at the top of the post. Seeing the workers put up netting to keep the geese out of the vineyards. One of the highlights of the trip.

Fortunately, for this rental we did not need to use Napa Valley’s roadside assistance! They do offer it free within a fairly large area around their shop. Even telling us we didn’t need tubes or tools, because all we had to do was call them. As mentioned before, both shops provided excellent maps and advice, helped fit the bikes, supplied the pedals to match our bike shoes, and of course, helmets and locks. Great companies, great bikes, really nice people.
Can’t wait for my next trip out there. Will be much more bike riding next go round! 

Wine Country Trip: Part 3 Gardens

Recently returned from a 5 day trip to the California wine country of Napa and Sonoma counties. This was a personal/pleasure trip with professional overtones (and perks), as my husband is “in the trade”. Splitting the trip review into 4 sections:

Part 1. Sonoma
Part 2. Napa
Part 3. Gardens
Part 4. Biking
Wine country grows more than just grapes. The climate with it’s sunny, hot days, cool nights, fog filled mornings and mild winters is ideal for ornamental gardening – well, ideal with a bit of irrigation, because there is that no rain from May through September issue to deal with. Most gardens here use responsible drip irrigation systems, and minimize large swaths of lawn and other water hogs. In fact, the gardens may be one of my favorite reasons for visiting out here.

The gardens at Korbel Champagne Cellars in Guerneville have been at the top of my list of must visit and re-visit gardens for some time. When Adolf Heck bought Korbel from the Korbel family; he and his daughter restored not only the Korbel family house, but also the gardens. Close to the house are some formal bed areas.

Old garden rose aficionados know that OGRs are a mainstay of the gardens, particularly around the old homestead (my old CompuServe friend and rosarian, Rosemary Simms, raved about the varieties in this garden). Unfortunately, mid-August is not prime rose season. There were a few blooms sprinkled throughout the property, including an all time fav of mine, the Hybrid Musk, Buff Beauty.

Because we were fortunate enough to be guests of Korbel and staying on property, I had leisurely access to the property – both around the Korbel homestead and throughout the winery grounds. The area around the vineyard house, where we were staying,  provided a small glimpse of what was to come.

Most of the grounds are not a formal garden, rather they contain mixed borders – an incredible mix of perennials, annuals, flowering shrubs, evergreens and trees. Throughout paths and walkways invite you to explore.

Just down the path from the vineyard house was what appeared to be the gardener’s office and nursery area. On my early morning stroll through the grounds, saw ample evidence of the crews needed to maintain Korbel in such beautiful and impeccable condition.

Can you imagine being able to do your morning walk/run through this grand scenery?

The pool area is fun to visit, shaped like a wine bottle, surrounded by gardens and areas for entertaining.

In addition to the roses, other plants are repeated throughout the property. Dark leaved dahlias, agapanthus, hydrangeas, and surprise lilies ( lycoris?)

The Korbels originally purchased the property for it’s lumber to fuel their cigar box business. Remnants of this time and the lumber town provide a charming feel as you wander the gardens. The brandy tower built by Fredrick Korbel as an exact replica of the brandy tower he saw outside his cell during his days in jail under Hapsburg rule in Czechoslovakia.

While I may have had insider’s access to wander the grounds, the public has a not to be missed opportunity for garden tours, offered in season Tues-Sun at 1 and 3 pm. I’d call ahead to ensure a spot! Korbel Cellars: well worth the 13 mile scenic drive out River Road, for both the champagnes and the gardens.

The other winery garden we spent some time in was at Ferrari Carano at the north end of Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma. A bit more formal, large swaths of annuals, but still beautiful. The wines are pretty grand, also.

We had a laugh here, when I told my husband if he ever decides to erect a statue in my honor, he had better *not* place it behind a bed of marigolds. Yuck.

Moving from the purely ornamental to the functional, but still highly beautiful, while riding the bikes into Yountville for lunch, we stumbled upon the kitchen garden of the French Laundry. Impeccable. Proving that vegetable gardening can also be art. And making me want to eat at this restaurant the next time we visit – no matter what it takes!

One winery garden we didn’t make it to, but I want to on a next visit is Quivira. Located on West Dry Creek Road, this organic winery has a large bio-dynamic ornamental and vegetable garden. We passed it on the bikes, and hoped to get back. Alas, we didn’t have time.
Speaking of bikes….that’s up next.

Wine Country Trip: Part 2 Napa

Recently returned from a 5 day trip to the California wine country of Napa and Sonoma counties. This was a personal/pleasure trip with professional overtones (and perks), as my husband is “in the trade”. Splitting the trip review into 4 sections:

 Part 1. Sonoma
Part 2. Napa
Part 3. Gardens
Part 4. Biking

While both areas produce great wine, enjoy an excellent climate, are incredibly beautiful, and have more than their share of wonderful restaurants; there is a slightly different feel to the two counties. Sonoma has more of the agrarian, and almost hippy feel; while Napa seems more upscale. Or nouveau riche or something. Both are great in their own way. I’d be content living in either.

So, it seemed appropriate that upon leaving the quaint Korbel vineyard house in Sonoma, we would spend the next two nights at the BV Rutherford House…or better put mansion. The Rutherford House is a 10,000 sq foot mansion Chateau and Estates (owners of Beaulieu Vineyards) uses for hospitality and training.

The first floor is set up for entertaining, wine tasting and other large public events.

The second floor contains five guest suites, a communal living/relaxing space and office/work area. We were staying in the BV suite – others were the Carneros suite, de Latour suite, Hewitt suite, Sterling suite and Rutherford suite. All names rich in Napa culture (not to mention Chateau and Estates wines).

I loved the kitchen and outside spaces.

We had this all to ourselves. Literally. The security guard had given us keys to the house and our suite when we arrived on Wednesday, and did not see another person in the house until we were loading the car Friday morning.

In our previous 2 nights at Korbel we’d discovered some great local cheeses (both in our well stocked kitchen and at the Duck Club), and in addition to bringing the leftovers from Korbel, we’d made a stock-up run at a fabulous market in Sebastopol in Sonoma county – Andy’s Produce. Each night I’d put together a wine and cheese tray, and we’d debate front veranda or back deck. The veranda won. I mean, how could it not with this view.

We enjoyed some great meals in Napa. Breakfast each morning at Pacific Blues, outside of which I noticed this delivery truck. And was able to enjoy my fav, Blue Moon with lunch at Hurley’s. Where I devoured the two course “Vintners special” of a watermelon feta salad and fettuccine with diver scallops and a saffron cream sauce. OH my. But the most memorable meal of the whole trip was at Chef Michael Chiarello’s Bottega. Yes, I admit to being a Top Chef fan girl – and this will make my 3rd “master’s” restaurant meal. The short ribs were to die for. Amazing. I must go back. Not to mention I earned a foursquare Top Chef badge for checking in here. BONUS!

We only visited one winery in Napa – Provenance Vineyards. Having the opportunity to taste 3 vintages of Hewitt vineyard Cabernet side by side. Yum. A bottle of the incredible 2006 Hewitt Cabernet followed us home as did their Winemakers Reserve Blend and a couple of bottles of the estate Sauvignon Blanc. Great stuff – plus their Director of Winemaking, Tom Renaldi, is an avid cyclist , both mountain and road. In fact one of our servers was telling us how Tom was trying to organize a ride from Napa to Tahoe. Now that would be one heck of a ride! We may not be up to such a ride – but a couple of Provenance Vineyard bike jerseys also made their way into our suitcases.

The rest of our Napa days were spent on bikes…in both Sonoma and Napa. We’ll get to that in part 4. Next up the gardens…….

Wine Country Trip: Part 1 Sonoma

700+ pictures later, I ‘m back from vacation. 5 days in wine country with my husband. A personal/pleasure trip with professional overtones (and perks), as my husband is “in the trade”.

As the effects of so much good food, good drink (wines and of course, a beer or two), fresh air and sunshine wear off; I’ve been slogging through the pictures trying to figure out how to organize a blog post,a trip review. Realize that *a* blog post won’t cut it, but probably neither will posting 700 pictures – which even with editing out the crap ones is still close to 600. Decided on four posts:

  1.  Part 1. Sonoma

At least that’s my intent at this minute. This summer has not been great for getting all my mental ideas into blog posts, so we’ll see how it goes.

We’d flown into San Francisco on an evening flight, a delayed evening flight, arriving close to 11pm, and spending the night in the airport area. The San Francisco morning proved cool and foggy making conditions for viewing and picture taking at the Golden Gate Bridge somewhat less than ideal.

However, as we drove north the fog cleared, and by the time we arrived at Sonoma-Cutrer winery, for our first appointment/tour of the trip, the weather was perfect. Located in the rolling hills west of 101 at Windsor, Sonoma-Cutrer is known for their chardonnays, which are done in a Burgundian style. For the last few vintages they have been producing Pinot Noir, staying true to the Burgundy theme. We were met by Scott, the tour center director, who first took us through the vineyards, explaining their trellis styles, philosophy and general winery history.

All around us the views were stunning.

Next up a quick winery tour, where the workers were busy preparing for harvest; cleaning and moving barrels.

Finally, Scott took us through the wines. These have been some of my favorites since I sold them in my Kentucky distributor days in the late 90’s. It was a treat to sit out on their patio overlooking the tournament croquet courts (who knew the North American Croquet championships were played here each year – not I, not until this day).

Sonoma-Cutrer has an excellent line-up of wines. Until recently, they were only open to the trade. Our tour was arranged as members of the trade – so I’m unsure what the public sees on their tours. Nonetheless, if you love California Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown and produced in a Burgundian style, I highly recommend a visit!

Leaving Sonoma-Cutrer, we headed west out River Road toward Guerneville to Korbel Champagne Cellars where we were staying for the next two nights in their vineyard guest house. I’d stayed in this house in ’95 or ’96 while on a trip with the KY distributor – the only female manager on the trip, I had the house to myself, while the men stayed in the larger guest house. I love Korbel, not only for their méthode champenoise champagnes, but also for their gardens (more on those in part 3). The vineyard house is surrounded by a small portion of these gardens.

Korbel has a rich history with the Korbel brothers immigrating to California in the late 1800’s, fleeing Habsburg rule in Czechoslovakia. Originally purchasing the land for the timber, they first moved into brandy making, and then champagnes. Both of which they still produce today. The tour offers glimpses of both the history of the Korbel family (which includes the first female winery president in California) and the true process of making champagne known as méthode champenoise. And of course, samples of their excellent wines. On property is an excellent deli with ample picnic area, a charming gift shop, and the not to be missed opportunity for garden tours. Korbel – for the champagne lover, brandy fan, or gardener, it is a must visit.

While in Sonoma, we enjoyed several great meals, two in Bodega Bay – dinner at the Duck Club and lunch at Lucas Wharf.

We were charmed by the historic railroad district of Santa Rosa – home of Peanuts creator, Charles Schultz. Here we had a fabulous dinner at Lococo’s Cucina Rustica.

And in our family tradition of documenting accomodations, the charming vineyard house. Loved the view from the breakfast room, the well stocked kitchen, know my Mom would love that each bedroom included a flashlight. The hospitality and graciuosness of everyone at Korbel can’t be beat, and for that I say a huge thank you!
Sonoma County, the wineries of Korbel and Sonoma-Cutrer – a great start to a great trip……

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