Saturday, July 29, 2006

Travel: Northern Cal & Wine Country

Travelling north of San Francisco - follow Route #101 to Route #1 exit (near Sausilito). Route #1 North provides a road that hugs the coast and occasionally dips inland, providing a beautifully scenic ride alongside the mountain, ocean and woods - reminicent of the Pacific Coast Highway portion of Rt#1 between LA and San Francisco.

You will soon hit Muir Beach off of Rt#1. Muir Beach is a small town with a small postcard-like beach surrounded by craggy cliffs and deep blue water.
The water is too cold to swim so nearly everyone was just relaxing and playing on the beach (we went in July).

There are trails that lead you to the top of the cliffs providing great overlook views of the beach and surrounding coast. The trails can be a little steep - so having ur beach sandals or being barefoot may be a mistake ... my cousin Jess came with me on this trip and she tired after a 1/5 mile trek up the cliff trail and on the way down she started muscle cramping.

Muir Woods is also a popular tourist destination with one of the greatest redwood forests in the world. We stayed at a Best Western in Petaluma. Big shout out to Bert Melendez who resides here - an artist, comic book author and aspiring script writer - runs great summer camps for kids in Northern California and rocks all the Renaissance Fairs in the region. Petaluma is a nice town right off of Rt. 101 which provides an excellent launching point into the roads of wine country.

We decided to hit Sonoma and Napa valley - Jess kept mentioning how much she enjoyed Mondavi wines so we decided to visit their winery. So we travelled on 29 North toward the town of Oakville. This choice was a home run.

We paid a somewhat pricey $25 per head for the Mondavi tour but by the end of the tour we were blessing this bargain. The tour guide was a straight up pimp - with a smooth voice and flow schooled us extensively on the geography, science and business of wine and wine-making.
The tour started with a history and geography lesson inside a small room followed by a walk outside, alongside the vineyards while he explained the nuances of temperature, grape hang time, grape skin width and how they all influence the "flavor tones" of a wine.

The tour went back inside as our guide explained what happens once the grapes are picked and sent inside where they're crushed by baby midgets in a bucket... seriously !! I was shocked too !! ..... ok ..... ok ..... the grapes are de-stemmed and then squeezed by specialized machinery and placed into special barrels. Wineries use primarily wooden barrels to "age" the wine and are important since they adjust the "flavor tones" significantly and add that "nutty wood" flavor that some wines enjoy. The wines are kept in these barrels until they're ready to be bottled up and sent to alcoholics in NJ (like my cousins Jess and Val).

Last but not least, the tour ended with a great wine tasting. We were given a couple glasses of white and a couple of reds while being schooled on aerating wines and how California wines compare to French wines. We were also provided California rolls (salmon) to help reset our palate between tastings.

Wine country was great.... some more pix.

(click on pix for larger shot)

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