WINE & TRACTOR RIDES
This weekend was absolutely wonderful although I was so exhausted this morning I was unable to get up and go work out. I totally overindulged and had a tummy ache - but it was worth it. Totally.
Friday Roseanne picked me up and we headed off to the airport. I had gotten everything into my fashionable green bag and was feeling very proud of myself. The fact that the bag is fashionable was confirmed on the flight home last night when the man sitting next to me commented on how great my bag is as I shoved it into the teeny tiny spot between two massive black bags that selfish inconsiderate people carried on - luggage that should have totally been checked and that's just one more thing I hate about flying coach.
Anyway - we arrived about 6pm into Oakland and had to board a BUS that drove us practically to another town, to the rental car center. I had rented a car in Oakland before and I could've sworn that I had just walked across the street to get it so I was feeling a tad freaked out and disoriented. Turns out that this was just the temporary center - so I wasn't making it up! We got a zippy little Toyota Corolla, turned down the Buick SUV because gas is just as expensive up there as it is in L.A. and we were going to be doing some traveling. The Toyota had a CD player so we rocked the PM Dawn as we headed up to St. Helena to stay with the Greens.
I haven't seen Dave and Renee and their kids since Jack was a baby and now he's a 2 year old who has very strong opinions and can melt your heart when he says, "I wuv du," or "wead me a stowy," in his deep, raspy voice. Hannah is almost a teenager, very mature and super fashionable. Dave had run out and picked up dinner from a place around the corner and damn! that was good food. We drank a wonderful wine called Roth which is a new label that he's launched at Lancaster Estate, where he is general manager. It was so great to see them and hang out. They've been living up there for about 4 years and I forgot how much fun it is to spend time with them in their home.
The next day we walked over the new house that they are building. A house that Renee has designed from top to bottom. Even with just the framing up I could feel that this was going to be a wonderful space for them to entertain and raise their family. St. Helena is a small town at the north end of the Napa Valley, about 9 miles south of Calistoga which is the top. Hannah had a soccer game in Calistoga so Roseanne and I went and hit a couple wineries and then met the Green's for lunch at Wappo Taco. If you go to Calistoga and eat there I recommend the delicious Carnitas tacos with the lemon garlic sauce and grilled onions. Yum!
I love Hwy. 29 between St. Helena and Calistoga because the trees bower overhead and the road is lined with vineyards. They had an early crush this year so the rows of vines were devoid of fruit, are starting to turn light green and golden. When we went tasting we looped around through Calistoga to the Silverado Trail which is one of my favorite roads anywhere. There were miles and miles of vineyards and fall foliage was in full color. Unfortunately I didn't eat a substantial enough breakfast, and got more buzzed than I wanted to be at Cuvaison so that was pretty much that for me.
After lunch we headed down the valley to the Sullivan Estate. Shaun Sullivan and Dave knew each other when they were kids growing up in Hancock Park. Shaun's father Jim was a graphic designer back then (he designed the logo for American Bandstand) with a love of wine and a passion for winemaking. In 1972 he moved his family up to 30 acres in Rutherford and started making wine. Dave called Shaun and made an appointment for Roseanne and I to meet him at 3pm. We pulled down the gravel road between the rows and rows of vines and drove toward the large house at the edge of a pond. Actually more like a small lake. Shaun wasn't there when we first arrived so we started tasting and their wines are excellent. The walls of the tasting room feature art created by Shaun's sister Kelleen. She is, quite simply, an amazing artist. I fell in love with a piece that hangs over the tasting table of wine bottles with special labels calledQueen of Hearts. She works with paint and collage which gives her work a depth and texture. I would love to live with something she made in my home.
Shaun showed up and I immediately asked him if he had a tractor. I was pretty sure he did and I really wanted a ride. I LOVE farm equipment and riding a tractor through rows of grape vines is my idea of bliss. He laughed - apparently when you ride a tractor all the time it's just not that exciting, in fact he said that the hum of the motor makes him sleepy - but he agreed to take me for a ride. Yay! First we went around the house to the pond where we were met by Zaza their beautiful golden retriever. She was carrying a lemon that she very much wanted someone to throw for her. We meandered over to a block of Merlot grapes and Shaun explained the difference between the Merlot and Cabernet grapes - you can tell by their leaves and if I had any botany vocabulary at all I would explain, but I don't so just take my word for it - they're different. Nex we walked over to the Cabernet vines and there were still some small, dark purple grapes which we plucked and ate and he explained that when the seeds in the grape are brown then they are ready for picking. Not knowing there were seeds I had pretty much decimated the grape and had nothing to look at, but I figured he'd know.
The tractor ride was wonderful - the sun was low in the sky and the light over the rows was golden. A flock of geese flew overhead. Apparently they can destroy a harvest, but it was very picturesque. I stood on the tractor step and hung on as he drove me down the rows and I imagined what it would be like to wake up early in the morning and watch the sun come up and the mist dissipate over the vineyard. Roseanne didn't want to take the ride but I made her because how often are you gonna get the chance to do something like that?
Next Shaun took us into a huge barn where the wine was fermenting in huge silver vats. We got to smell "lees" , it smelled like heaven, a combination of current and berry. Apparently it is made up of the skin and seeds that are left in the bottom curve of a wooden cask when the wine has been bottled. It has the consistency of yogurt and tastes very sweet. We got to taste wine from the vats in various stages of fermentation. It was just such a special experience and Shaun is a wonderful, knowledgeable and funny guy. I could go on and on about everything I saw and learned, but you kinda had to be there.
It was after 5pm by the time we left the Sullivan Estate and we had to go all the way down valley to Napa and then a bit west to Carneros. The wedding, the reason I was up there at all, was to be held at the Carneros Inn and it was dark by the time we arrived. The property is set up in regimented blocks of cottages and when we were driving through trying to find reception Roseanne commented that it looked like military housing with all the corrugated tin fences. And it did because it's so new that none of the landscaping has really grown in yet. When it does it will look like a community of cottages similar to what housed the migrant workers that historically work the vineyards.
Except when you get inside those cottages they are vastly different from how the migrant workers lived. There are plasma screen televisions in every room. The bathrooms have heated stone floors. The beds are dreamy and the linens are cushy - lots and lots of huge feather pillows. There is a fireplace in every cottage and a private patio, where you can use the outdoor shower should you choose. And if it's not 40 degrees outside. It's cold in the valley this time of year. I forgot about that.
We were late for the champagne reception but got in with enough time to say a quick hello before the families took off for their rehearsal dinner at Angele. We headed back to our room and sprawled on our beds and I so could've gone to sleep right then. It had already been a very long day and it was only 6:30. Eventually we rallied and headed into downtown Napa for dinner at Zuzu, a tapas restaurant that was very crowded. Which seemed strange because that is one sleepy town. We didn't want to wait so we walked around the corner to a place called Tuscany and grabbed seats at the bar that ran along the open kitchen. The restaurant was cozy for such a large room. The food was delicious and our waiter was a hoot. I love him lots because he packed my dessert to go - a bowl made of chocolate and filled with white chocolate hazelnut mousse. I was too full to eat it, but just had to have it.
When we got back to the hotel about 10pm, Shaun called and wanted to know if we were up for going out as the birthday party he was attending was over. I was in my p.j.s but willing to entertain if he wanted to come all the way down. It's funny, to drive a half hour to go somewhere in L.A. is expected and normal, but it felt like he was having to make quite a haul coming down from St. Helena. But he did. And he brought a bottle of 1999 reserve Cabernet that is probably some of the best wine I've ever had. Roseanne and Shaun and I hung out and watched Harold and Maude on the flat screen as the fire burned and shot the shit till 1a.m.
I completely passed out and didn't move until about 8a.m. the next morning when I put on my coat over my pajamas and went over to the Boonfly Cafe to get breakfast and coffee and bring it back. Most likely I was hungover, but I was moving really slow. And once back in the room proceeded to pour coffee down the front of me - like all over - as I lay in bed and watched football. It would've been great to just lay there all day, but there was a wedding to attend so I jumped in the shower, a large room with enough room for about six people and shower heads coming out of everywhere. It was kind of like bathing in a carwash - fun!
Our friend, my old roommate Richard showed up, having driven in from San Francisco and got ready with us and then the three of us walked over to the orchard and watched the guests arrive. There were two rabbis and one of them had on the wide brimmed hat that the Hasidic guys in my neighborhood wear when they're walking around. They were both sporting extreme beards. The rabbi who performed the ceremony had a beautiful voice as he sang the prayers. As I looked at the bride I nudged Richard and said, "Is she pregnant?" Because this is a woman who has a tiny little dancer's body and she had lost her waistline sometime in the last couple of months. The ceremony ended with the crushing of the glass and cries of Mazel Tov (and that song started up in my head again - damnit!)
As we sat around the beautiful pool on the patio of the Inn's bar/restaurant the bride came over and told us she was indeed pregnant - and this is a good thing because they've been trying. They're having a healthy boy! The food was delicious... and probably too rich because I ended up with the aforementioned tummy ache and found a bottle of Tums in my bed this morning. I think I was eating Tums in my sleep! We drank even more wine. Oy. And left about 5pm to head back to Oakland so we could fly home.
The far away car rental center was surprisingly easy to find and we jumped on a bus that dropped us off at the airport where we got our boarding passes, cleared security and were able to get on an earlier flight. This was a very good thing because when they gave us our new boarding passes for the new flight they told us that our 8pm flight was delayed till 10:30! I was in my wedding clothes and if I'd gotten stuck on the delayed flight I would've pulled my coffee stained pajamas out of my fashionable bag, put them on, gotten in the fetal position and cried.
As it was I was home by 9:30 with a sick tummy, but it was from having a really great time so it was worth it. I am going back soon! And next time I hope Shaun let's me drive the tractor!