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When visiting Napa Valley for the first or fifteenth time, the number of wineries and, quite frankly, the prices can be overwhelming. How to know which Napa wineries are the best to visit? Which ones are especially worth the $30-50+ tasting fee?

One way to get the most out of an experience in Napa Valley is to focus on one area and, better yet, attend a special event that gives you exclusive access to the wineries. I recently had the opportunity to attend Stags Leap Vineyard to Vintner and would highly recommend it for anyone who wants to know Napa Valley better.

The Stags Leap District is located in eastern Napa Valley along the southern portion of the Silverado Trail. It’s best known for cabernet sauvignon; in fact, the Stags Leap Winegrowers’ Association calls itself “Napa’s neighborhood for world-class Cabernet.” It includes 17 wineries in the Stags Leap AVA: Baldacci Family Vineyards, Chimney Rock Winery, Cliff Lede Vineyards, Clos Du Val, Ilsley Vineyards, Lindstrom Wines, Malk Family Vineyards, Odette Estate Winery, Pine Ridge Vineyards, Quixote Winery, Regusci Winery, Shafer Vineyards, Silverado Vineyards, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Stags’ Leap Winery, Steltzner Vineyards, and Taylor Family Vineyards.

The history of the Stags Leap District goes back to the mid-19th century when the Silverado Trail was just a quiet horse path. The first winery, Occidental, was built here in 1878 (now the current home of Regusci Winery), and winemaking developed here until phylloxera and Prohibition took their toll on the Napa Valley wine country. But in 1961, the region’s first Cabernet vineyards were planted here–at a time when there were only about 800 acres of Cabernet in the whole United States! Later, in 1976, the Stags Leap District became instantly famous when, at a blind tasting held in Paris, nine French judges awarded first place to the 1973 Stags Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon.

Regusci Winery

Our first stop of the day was an early one, at 9:00 a.m. for a “Vineyard Walk and Talk” called “Stories from the Frontline.” The family of Regusci Winery offered us coffee & pastries before heading into the vineyards where they recounted stories from the night the Napa fires came within feet of their property. As Jim Regusci walked us around the property, he stories of how, with the help of family and the community, they were able to fight off the fires and eventually bounce back.

Jim’s wife also took us on a mini tour of her spectacular garden (she holds a Master’s degree in horticulture) and showed us the produce stand that is always available for the vineyard workers and guests.

Learn more about Regusci Winery here.

Tip: Make Clos du Val your first stop once the open houses begin at 10:00. They serve delicious breakfast crepes that would make a nice introduction to the day before the richer foods served at the other locations.

We didn’t really want to leave Regusci Winery, but we had so many more places to explore! We decided to try a couple of places located a bit off the beaten path, and I’m so glad we did! Just down the Silverado Trail, we came to the sign for Quixote and Stags Leap Winery and took a small road that leads into the hills. As we approached Quixote, we drove through a tunnel of walnut trees that leads to the unmistakable architecture of Quixote Winery.

Quixote Winery

Quixote is a small boutique winery set in the hills off of the Silverado Trail. What struck me first about the winery is the unique architecture. It took me a couple of minutes to place it but then remembered the work of Hunterwasser that I saw during my time in Europe and my art history undergraduate studies. The rounded shapes, bright colors, soft geometric patterns and quirky details are unmistakable. (And this is his only design in the United States!).

But the winery also stood out for its small production Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah — a favorite of us both! (I’m trying it from the barrel below.) Plus, the vineyards are organically farmed.

As if the location, architecture, wine and organic farming weren’t enough, Quixote also ended up being my favorite stop of the day because of the food pairings that were offered: veggie tapenade on pesto crostini, arancini with pea puree, Moroccan chicken with lemon tahini sauce, Asian marinated short ribs with micro greens, and a cheese platter that was hard to keep away from.

Learn more about Quixote Winery here.

Stags Leap Winery

One of the area’s historic wineries, Stags Leap Winery welcomes visitors for an intimate view of the winery for this event. After eating wood-fired pizza and strolling their beautiful gardens, we were invited to walk around the inside of the manor house, which dates from 1891.

This winery also served as a reminder of how much we love the people of Napa Valley. Everyone was welcoming and friendly and happy to share the property and classic Stags Leap wines with us.

Learn more about Stags Leap Winery here.

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Happy Friday! What do you have planned for this weekend? We are going to a very special event in Napa Valley on Saturday and then relaxing with family on Sunday. I’m starting a new exercise regimen — I went for a short run today and bought a tennis racket so I can play with Noah (who’s just learning) and Rodrigo. There are lots of public tennis courts in my neighborhood, and I’m kicking myself for not starting to play earlier. Such a fun game.

I’ve been very busy in my teaching job lately, so I haven’t been able to keep this blog updated the way that I’d like. But the semester is almost over (just over 2 weeks left!), and I’m looking forward to sharing stories and photos and summer travel with you.

In the meantime, some of my favorite links for your weekend reading:

I just finished this series about the Rajneesh cult in Oregon in the 1980s. Fascinating!! Have you seen it? You may also want to read this and this about some of the details that the documentary overlooked.

The new lynching memorial museum is opening and it looks incredible. It’s time we confront our past.

Amazon’s raising its Prime membership price 20%. Here are 6 ways to cut that cost.

Anyone else looking forward to the Starz Sweetbitter series? I wasn’t crazy about the book (everyone else seemed to like it!) but am curious about the show because I think it will translate better on the screen.

Have you read The Female Persuasion? I picked it up on the “Lucky Day” shelf at my neighborhood library and have noticed everyone talking about it since (but I just started it). Next up: An American Marriage

A look at what it’s like to live in those artist apartments (Warehouse Artist Lofts) in the revitalized Historic R Street District of Sacramento

A guide to this year’s cultural celebrations in Europe

The way to my husband’s heart: quick pickled onions. So good on tacos/burritos, although he ate them straight out of the jar!

Have you seen this documentary about three identical strangers?

I had the pleasure of getting to know this food blogger recently, and her recipes, like this salad, look so so good!

My favorite purchase lately: it’s perfect for covering up at work.

And I’m crazy the new Day Glove flats from Everlane. I wasn’t sure at first but now wear them as often as I can. Comfortable enough to wear all day.

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This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Hive. The opinions and text are all mine.

This post is sponsored by Hive.

Earth Day is today, and this year I’m thinking hard about how we can make a bigger difference. Despite our deep appreciation for nature and our concern over climate change and environmental degradation, I have to admit that reducing our carbon footprint isn’t so easy.

We have several habits in place already: I drive a plug-in hybrid that gets almost 100 mpg, we avoid unnecessary driving and short-haul flights, and we try to maintain a low-polluting lifestyle by minimizing our electricity use, recycling and reusing, and eating little meat.

Plus our house has a lot of windows, so we rarely use the lights during the day.

But there’s one thing that’s been bugging me: we use too much energy in our home. Our local energy providers send us a home electricity report, and every time, it shows that we use more electricity than our neighbors. I thought we were conscientious enough about energy use that we’d use less energy, not more!

That’s why I was excited when Hive reached out about their smart home packs and their new partnership with OhmConnect, which allows families to earn money for reducing their energy use.

What is Hive?

Hive is a leading smart home brand in the UK that recently launched in North America. Hive offers four smart home packs designed to meet the individual needs of each household. I recently received the Hive Welcome Home pack, which lets me adjust heating and air conditioning, lighting and appliances from wherever I am — convenience + energy saving!

The main item is a beautifully designed Hive Active Thermostat. Fortunately for me, it’s simple to use! It allows me to adjust heating and cooling from my phone. I love this feature because I often wake up in the middle of the night feeling too hot or too cold, but the idea of walking downstairs to adjust the thermostat is just too much at 3 a.m. With Hive, I can just grab my phone and adjust the temperature from bed.

I can also reduce energy usage when we’re not at home. In the blazing hot California summers, I can keep the house warm but then adjust the temperature when I leave work so that when I arrive, the temperature will be just the way I like it. With this option, I can use very little heating or cooling when I’m gone but get the temperature more comfortable by the time I get home.

The Hive Active Plug can turn things off or on when we aren’t at home. Instead of leaving my laptop plugged in all day after it’s done charging, I can turn it off by adjusting the smart plug from my phone. A small way to conserve energy that adds up over time!

Yet another feature we’re excited about is the Hive Active Light. These can turn on when a motion sensor notices I’ve arrived home. And because I can adjust them from my phone, I can turn lights on and off from wherever I am. When we travel, instead of leaving a light on all day and night to make it look like someone’s home, I can turn the light on whenever I choose right from my phone.

More details about Hive smart home packs can be found here.

What is OhmConnect?

Earlier this year, Hive launched a new partnership with OhmConnect, a California energy management company that allows subscribers to maximize energy usage in return for cash payment.

OhmConnect is a service for customers in several parts of California to offset energy by alerting them when they should save energy. For example, during peak grid consumption times (like afternoons in our California summers!), OhmConnect sends notifications so customers can earn credits for energy not used.

OhmConnect customers receive 20% off select Hive smart home packs, and users will be rewarded with up to 4,000 OhmCredit points when they purchase and activate the Hive Welcome Home Pack or the Hive Heating & Cooling Pack. I’m excited to see how these items will help us reduce energy use in our home and even earn us a little money back. A win-win situation!

What tricks do you have for saving energy in your home? How are you honoring the planet on this Earth Day?

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What are your favorite things to do when you travel? Whenever we travel, we look for botanical gardens. For us, it’s natural because we love plants — talking about plants, looking at plants, discovering new plants… In fact, since Rodrigo got a degree in horticulture in the early years of our marriage, plants have been something that connects us.

Then when our kids were little, we found that botanical gardens provided the perfect place for us to visit with them. They can get lost on the paths and make discoveries around each corner while we take in the nature around us. Much more fun than the city parks or playgrounds that my kids want to visit when we travel!

Before I tell you about our favorite botanical garden that we’ve visited, here are some of the others we’ve loved:

Na ‘Aina Kai gardens on Kauai:

The stunning botanical gardens & art galleries of Inhotim, Brazil:

The UC Berkeley Botanical Garden (one of our favorites!):

The UC Davis Arboretum:

The Mendocino Botanical Gardens (a must if you’re in the Mendocino area!):

The Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco:

But our favorite botanical garden so far is the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. Last summer we spent two and a half days in Edinburgh, and the highlight by far was our half-day visit to the garden. One of Britain’s first botanic gardens, it was founded in 1670 (!) to grow medicinal plants. Like most botanical gardens we’ve visited, this one is focused on research and education — discovering and recording plant species, preserving plants, and educating the public about the world’s plant life.

And, like so many attractions in the U.K., the gardens are free to the public!

The garden has a huge variety of plants to ooh and aah over, including some really impressive hedgerows.

Something special about the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh is its beautiful glass houses. The oldest one is the elegant Victorian Palm House from 1834 with tall palm trees that seem like they’re going to burst through the glass ceiling. Touring the glass houses requires a ticket purchase but is very worth the fee.

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How have you been? What are you up to this weekend? I’ll be out of town next weekend and have freelance deadlines, so we’re staying close to home this weekend. We’re going to meet friends for cider and music and head to Davis for the Wayne Thiebaud exhibition. Lately my favorite thing to do is lie in bed with my very old dog and watch Mozart in the Jungle. Have you seen the series? It’s addictive!

And now for those links! Have a wonderful weekend.

I just finished this book and really enjoyed it. The description of Florence made me feel like I was living there with her, but the fascinating look inside an eating disorder is what makes the book stand out.

And speaking of books, I just got this one from the library and am excited. Supposed to be so good!

David Sedaris hilarious as always

The most interesting home tour I’ve seen

Timothee Chalamet’s new movie

For a laugh (some of them are genius!): Women describing themselves as a male author would

20 books to read this spring

How to end screen time without a struggle

What to hang on your walls that isn’t art (love the plates and the plant wall!)

A wonderful way to spend a day in San Francisco with kids

100 ways to eat eggs

The secret “Michelangelo Room” in Florence opening to the public

Family travel experts share their favorite family trips

Spring clothes for work: loving these super comfy mules and this perfect blazer (wearing it almost daily!)

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After a cold and rainy March, spring is finally in full swing here in Northern California, and everyone seems to have spring fever! This is such a wonderful time to be in Northern California — the weather is nice, with lots of sunny, warm days but no oppressive summer heat or coastal fog yet. The days are long, and the people are ready to enjoy them. Here are my ideas for what to do in Northern California this month, but I’d love to hear your suggestions, too!

What to do in Northern California in April:

Wildflower hikes:

Where: various locations in the Bay Area and wine country and, for the best flowers, at Table Mountain near Oroville

When: now through May

Cost: Free or $5-10 for park entrance

Tulips and more at Jensen Botanical Garden, Carmichael:

This botanical garden just outside Sacramento comes to life in the spring with tulips, dogwood and Japanese maples. There’s even a garden path for the blind.

Where: 8520 Fair Oaks Boulevard, Carmichael, CA 95608

When: Open 8 am to dusk

Cost: I believe it is free, but there’s a photo permit fee for photographers.

“RFK’s Last Journey” at the SFMOMA

This exhibition looks at an event in American history, the funeral train ride of RFK’s body after his assassination, through the perspective of three different artists. It includes fascinating photographs of those who lined the railroad tracks to pay their respects. See the Washington Post’s review here.

Where: The SFMOMA, San Francisco

When: Now through June 10 (the museum is closed Wednesdays but open until 9 pm on Thursdays)

Cost: Included with general admission: $25 per adult, 18 and under are free

Arts in April in Napa Valley:

Throughout the month of April, Napa Valley will host various arts events to celebrate the art and culture of this region known primarily for its wine and food. Each weekend will be dedicated to a different town — Calistoga the first weekend of April, then St. Helena, Napa, and finally Yountville on the last weekend of April. More info here.

Where: Various locations in Napa Valley

When: The whole month of April

Cost: Some are free while others have an entrance fee

Photography Month Sacramento:

All April, local galleries and colleges from the greater Sac region will host exhibits, lectures, workshops and events to celebrate the art of photography. Check out the complete list of events.

Where: Various locations throughout Sacramento, Placer and Yolo counties

When: On-going through April

Cost: Varies but most events are free

Mendocino Sparkling Wine Festival

Join Mendocino County Sparkling Wine producers for a wine and food event with live music. Local foods specially chosen to match the different types of wines will be served and include fresh Tomales Bay oysters. Ticket price includes wine tastings and all the food you can eat. More info here.

Where: Terra Savia Winery in Hopland, Mendocino County

When: Saturday, April 7 12-3

Cost: $55 pre-purchased, $25 for designated driver tickets to include food but no wine

¡Murales Rebeldes! at the California Historical Society, San Francisco

This exhibition explores the medium of mural painting by Chicana/o artists in L.A. through eight works that were censored, neglected or even destroyed. Learn about the importance of murals to their community (before street art become trendy!) and their civil rights movement.

Where: California Historical Society, 678 Mission Street, San Francisco

When: April 7 – September 16 11:00-5:00, closed on Mondays

Cost: $10 per adult, $5 for students, free under 18

Earth Day celebration in San Francisco:

Earth Day San Francisco: Live music, speakers, earth-friendly exhibitors, eco-workshops, kids’ zone and, of course, organic food and drinks plus a tribute to the 100-year anniversary of Save the Redwoods League.

Where: Civic Center Plaza, San Francisco

When: April 21 11:00-7:00

Cost: Free

Boonville Beer Festival, Mendocino County

Definitely an event for craft beer lovers! Countless breweries will be pouring their craft beers at this outdoor festival. Live music and for-purchase food, no kids or dogs. More info here.

Where: Mendocino County Fairgrounds, 14400 Hwy 128, Boonville

When: Saturday, April 28 1:00-6:00

Cost: $45 in advance, $60 at the door

Sacramento Grilled Cheese Festival

The festival runs for two days but is sold out on Saturday. Sunday is all ages and will include live music, games, and a kids’ area. More info here.

Where: Southside Park, 2115 6th St., Sacramento

When: Sunday, April 15 11:00-5:00

Cost: $10 for Sunday

Picnic Day at UC Davis

UC Davis holds its annual open house to welcome the public to experience the best of the campus. More than 200 events including educational exhibits, music/shows, competitions, animal and athletic events, a parade and much more.

Where: UC Davis campus

When: April 21, mostly 10:00-3:00

Cost: Free including free parking, but expect crowds and consider taking the Amtrak train if possible.


Conversations at Copia: “A Sea Change”

Each month, CIA at Copia (the Culinary Institute of America’s branch in downtown Napa) holds a weekend-long conversation on a topic that affects our lives and particularly the food we eat. By exploring the topic through various media–film, art, speaker panels–each month’s event is unique. This month the topic is sustainability and seafood, especially our local rivers and the bay, and events include wine, food demos, a panel and reception, and the film “Of the Sea.” More info here.

Where: CIA at Copia, 500 1st Street in Napa (the beautiful building next to Oxbow Public Market)

When: April 7-8

Cost: Each event is priced and ticketed separately and run $10-15 each. The film screening is free.

What are your favorite things to do in Northern California in April?

     

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While visiting Munich (twice), staying with a German family and studying at the Goethe Institut, I got a taste for life in Germany. The country’s ability to seamlessly mix the traditional with the very modern fascinates me, especially in today’s political climate. In this next post in my living abroad series, we find out what it’s like for a young family from the U.S. to live the slow life in a small town in Germany, from school forest days and following rules to the German take on family time and work. Thanks, Hayley

I live in a little town called Konigstein im Taunus right outside of Frankfurt, Germany along with my husband, Phil, and our daughters, Allie and Claire. We initially chose this town for proximity to our girls’ school and my husband’s work, but we’ve absolutely fallen in love with it. It has its own castle, which we can see from our bedroom window, a charming old town, and we’re surrounded by beautiful German forests and hills. I share some of our life in Germany and our travels on my Instagram and my blog (becausegermany.com).

On the decision to move there:

We moved to Germany a little over two years ago. My husband had been working for a German chemical company for a few years in the US when he was offered an expat assignment near Frankfurt. It was perfect timing for our family for a lot of reasons and we were definitely up for the adventure and the opportunity to travel in Europe!

A post shared by Hayley (@hayley_in_germany) on Feb 27, 2018 at 4:13am PST

On the challenges of arriving in a new country:

Honestly, the process of moving and the move itself was incredibly tough for us. International moves are really complicated and we encountered delays and the kids and I ended up living separately from my husband for almost two months. We also all got sick the day before our flights over to Germany and so were a mess, but we were immediately thrown into doing things like registering at the town hall, setting up internet, figuring out the grocery store, learning to drive, buying appliances, etc. It all just felt so overwhelming and intimidating at first.

I started feeling more comfortable with each new thing I learned to do. Once we got in our house and started to make friends and had time to begin exploring, we really started to fall in love with Germany.

A post shared by Hayley (@hayley_in_germany) on Mar 14, 2018 at 5:43am PDT

On making new friends from around the world:

We’ve been very lucky to have a built-in community through our daughters’ school. It’s an international school so most of our friends are fellow expats, from the US and around the world.

On a typical day as a stay-at-home parent in Germany:

As a stay-at-home mom, my typical day here feels strangely similar to what is was back in the US. It has been a transition for me in the past year since both my girls are in school all day now. I’ve added in volunteering a lot at school (and some lunches with friends) to my daily rotation of driving the girls around, errands, chores, etc. since I currently don’t plan to work while we’re living in Germany.

On the slow life in Germany: 

The pace of life here just seems so much more relaxing with a great work-life balance. My husband’s work hours and commute are much better and he gets six weeks of vacation a year in addition to 10 public holidays! I also love the emphasis on spending time outside; our family has adopted the German habit of taking long walks every Sunday. I also love that we able to experience a new culture and to explore so much of Germany. It makes every day seem like an adventure.

On the challenges of living in another country: 

The service culture here in Germany is just not the same as it is in the US. Something like getting a washer fixed can take weeks. The language barrier has also been really hard for me. German is a difficult language to learn and even after two years I don’t feel at all confident with my German.

On the pressure to follow rules:

Germans are definitely rule followers. For example, they will wait on a completely empty street for the signal to change before they cross the street! There are lots of rules for everything and they are not afraid to correct or stare down anyone who isn’t following them. 

On the advantages of raising kids in Germany:

I love the approach to childhood here! Parents have a more relaxed and less worried attitude and I feel encouraged to let my kids take risks and be more independent. There is a lot of emphasis on kids playing outside: at school, my daughters have outdoor recess regardless of weather (and I mean it! 17 degrees and snowing? They’re outside!).

My older daughter’s kindergarten class has a forest day once a week, where they spend the day in the woods, playing in the creek, building with sticks, and looking for bugs. There is also absolutely no pressure on academics in German schools prior to first grade. I love that they are getting the freedom to just be kids.

A post shared by Hayley (@hayley_in_germany) on Mar 13, 2018 at 6:09am PDT

If Americans would be like Germans…

It would be great to have this amount of vacation time back in the US! I also think Germany is much more environmentally conscious than the US, everything is recycled here. When we go home to the US, I’m kind of horrified now by the amount of waste!

Hayley’s top tips for visiting Germany:

Germany is an amazing place to visit. The big cities are great, but also be sure to make time to visit some of the smaller towns and definitely explore some of the country’s natural beauty- the mountains in Bavaria are stunning and so are the Rhine and Mosel regions. You have to see at least one castle. Burg Eltz is my favorite (even over the more famous Neuschwanstein).

And of course experience all the delicious German food and beer! The bread culture here is huge and a daily trip to the bakery is an essential part of German life, so a trip to a bakery to take in all the choices in a must.

On what’s next:

We will be living in Germany for at least one more year, but we’re hopeful for an opportunity to extend our stay a few more years. Ultimately we are planning to return to the US; as much as we’ve loved our time here, America will always be home.

Read more: What’s it like to live in Bonn, Germany? and What’s it like to live in Munich?

Find out more about what it’s like to live in another country in my Living Abroad series.

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This post is sponsored by Zappos. All opinions are my own.

At the beginning of 2018, I hinted here on the blog that the previous year had been challenging for me and my family. Actually, 2017 started off just fine with a family stay in Brazil and then a perfectly average semester (my husband and I are teachers), and then included our trip to Scotland with moments of pure bliss that travel so easily brings:

What I’m wearing:

Brooks Levitate running shoes (order a 1/2 size up)

Brooks dash hoodie in black

Brooks ghost mesh crop running tights

Brooks fastforward crossback sports bra in black

Brooks distance tank top in heather asphalt

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With more than 400 award-winning wineries, Sonoma County wine country can be overwhelming. It can be hard to know where to go in Sonoma County for the best winery experience. There are many choices, but for people who love the outdoors and are looking for an off-the-beaten-path experience, Sutro Wine is the hot new choice in Sonoma County.

This winery’s unique tasting experience includes three of my favorite things: a walk in nature, delicious local food, and really good wine. As Alice Sutro says, it’s for “the intrepid adventurous wine lover — one who goes wine tasting in hiking boots not heels!” We loved it, and I think you’ll love it, too.

The tour:

About 25 minutes outside of Healdsburg, down the quiet Chalk Hill Road in Alexander Valley, sits the entrance to Warnecke Ranch & Vineyard, the 245-acre property where Alice and Eliot Sutro source their grapes, premium fruit grown by Alice’s aunt, Margo Warnecke Merck. The tasting experience begins at the small home where Alice and Eliot live with their two sweet young children (how cute is this family?!) and continues with a 30-minute easy hike on the property. Warnecke Ranch has been in Alice’s family since 1911, and several years ago she decided to move to the property to reconnect with her family’s heritage.

The walk at Warnecke Ranch, with the couple’s dog leading the way, begins with a stroll past the 45-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon vines (above) and a hillside of terraced Merlot vines, which provide the grapes for their award-winning wines. With Alice, it’s a chance to learn not only about this special piece of Sonoma wine country but also a bit about viticulture and terroir. Alice explains how Alexander Valley’s weather influences the grapes, how the property changes in the seasons, how sustainable growing practices are used, and how the vineyards have changed over time.

The hike continues past old oaks with views of the Russian River, Geyser Peak and Mt. St. Helena. Alice’s stories of the vineyards and ranch pay homage to those who lived here before her. Alice’s grandfather was John Carl Warnecke, an important 20th century architect who designed many well-known buildings, including the Eternal Flame memorial for JFK. He later made Warnecke Ranch his home and began planting grapes here in the 1970s with the old block of Cabernet that still stands today.

Keep your eyes peeled for the great white egrets that hang out in the trees and perch on logs in the ranch’s pond.

The tasting:

After the walk, visitors continue for the tasting at nearby Jimtown Store. For $35 per person, the tasting includes three wines (Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon) and a large charcuterie board that can easily be a meal for two or more people.

The wines:

Their wines have won medals at the the prestigious San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition: the 2014 Merlot recently won Gold, the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon won Double Gold, and the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon won Double Gold. Their wines have also earned many 90+ point ratings in various wine reviews.

The wines are made in very small quantities, but, at $28 to $50 per bottle, are an excellent value considering the quality of the wines and terroir of the Warnecke Ranch.

Sutro 2014 Merlot

A personal favorite, this wine personifies what I love about a good California Merlot. Blended with 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, it has more complexity and lush, round flavors than a typical Merlot. Bright ruby red in the glass with lively aromas of plum, berry and chocolate. Layers of delicious red fruits combine with subtle savory undertones. The tannins are strong yet the wine is smooth, perfect with food or without.

Sutro 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

This Cab is a dense violet in the glass and opens with rich aromas of plum, black cherry, dark chocolate and leather. Luscious dark fruit flavors predominate with hints of licorice, graphite and oak. The wine has a rich mouthfeel and strong tannins that make a powerful, balanced wine. It’s an elegant addition to food, and we loved it paired with the flavor combinations on our charcuterie board. 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot.

The wine labels:

The elegant, minimal wine bottle labels are Eliot’s design. The image of the two birds was inspired by an image they saw together in the Baptistery in Florence, Italy, and the white birds represent the white pigeons that Alice’s family have raised on the Warnecke Ranch.  

The bottom line:

I highly recommend the Sutro Wine tasting experience if you want to learn about wine and grape growing in an intimate setting, if you love being outdoors and appreciate nature, or if you want to try a unique tour and tasting experience in Sonoma County. The tour and tasting are, in my opinion, a good deal at $35 per person because the food pairing is a meal in itself, and the wines are fantastic. Plus, it’s a breath of fresh air to meet people like Alice and Eliot who are so deeply connected with the land and eager to share that experience with others.

See here for more information about visiting Sutro Wine.

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I recently taught my students a unit about recycled materials and green design, and it opened my eyes to the many uses of found materials, from reusing structures like shipping containers and busses to salvaging glass and old car parts for new homes and restaurants. We learned that reusing materials is not only good for the environment  but also saves money. A restaurant that’s made by assembling and remodeling used shipping containers (like The Federalist in Sacramento) is much cheaper than one that has to be designed and built from the ground up.

Soon after that my family and I spent a long weekend in Sonoma wine country and came upon a town full of whimsical “junk art.” As soon as we approached Sebastopol on one of the small rural roads, past little farms and fields of yellow mustard, we noticed some colorful sculptures here and there, perhaps pointing out the entrance to a local business. But we were headed for the best place to see the “junk art” of Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent: the street they call home, Florence Avenue.

This quiet residential street just outside the center of town is lined with typical Northern California homes– quaint bungalows and Victorians with xeriscaped front lawns of native plants and succulents or raised beds of seasonal vegetables.

But soon after turning onto the street, we spotted colorful metal dogs and cats on a front lawn, and then a skeleton driving a red motorcycle, and then a waitress caught mid stride running with a tray. House after house is decorated with the art of Amiot and Laurent.

As you continue down the street, you’ll notice one house in particular because it’s loaded with these sculptures, including a huge dinosaur (above). That’s the home of the artists. Patrick Amiot creates the sculptures and his wife, Brigitte Laurent, paints them. You’ll also notice that the art lining the street creates a fun sense of community. 

My kids, ages 10 and 7, loved this outing. They tried to figure out what the different pieces of found objects were (Are the eyes made out of headlights? Oh look, this guy has a wrench for a nose!) and by the end started making a list of their favorite pieces.

Learn more about Sebastopol’s “junk sculptures” in this recent Washington Post article.

Have you seen recycled art like this before? I’d love to hear about it!

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