Bay Area Day Trips

The Passport Experience

Passport Day.  I have been waiting for this for two years.  Every time I’ve tried to attend, something has stood in my way.  Funds.  Work….Work.  But behold!  Finally, I have Saturdays off!  So on November 16th, I trekked my way across the Santa Cruz Mountains in pursuit of excellent wines!

The nicest thing about the Santa Cruz Mountain Wineries Passport is that you don’t have to use it on Passport Day.  It is good for two years at any of the wineries included, any day that they are open.  Ah, but that is the tricky bit:  many are open only once a month, some only on Passport Day.  Thus, I tried to prioritize our Passport schedule based on winery availability, visiting those that are rarely open to the public on Passport Day and saving the others for a normal day.

We began our trek at Dancing Creek Winery, immediately breaking the “only visit wineries that are rarely open” rule.  But here’s why:  this location hosted two other, smaller wineries so that our first stop encompassed three whole wine tastings!  Don’t worry, we ate a large breakfast.

Stepping out of the car was like stepping into a fairy tale.  The sun shone brightly through the tress, alighting on scenic benches and patches of forest floor.  The trees rose majestically around us, evoking a sense of eternity in peace.

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It was the kind of place to make you forget about the wine all together and just enjoy the beautific surroundings.

Of course, we didn’t.  We were here for wine!  Narry a beautiful tree could deter our determination!

Let us just say that Dancing Creek Winery’s offerings did not match its surroundings though it did exceed its fellow winery, Villa Del Monte.  Both wineries produced earthy, bold reds that really just did nothing for me.  Granted, that is exactly the kind of wine in which I find the least pleasure.  There were a few exceptions:  Villa Del Monte’s Cabernet Sauvignon was surprisingly palatable for one who avoids the varietal, and Dancing Creek’s late harvest Zinfandel, Late for the Dance, turned out to be my only purchase for the day.  On the whole however, the wine was hardly noteworthy.  Which is really too bad considering its grounds.

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Dancing Creek’s Wines

But a third winery had set up on the grounds just as we were about to leave, and Clos Tita turned out to be one of the day’s gems.  A new winery, it was only serving three wines and wasn’t even in our passport book, but god was it worth the stop!  Each wine was highly flavorful and completely unique.  The Pinot Noir Cuvee was fruity but not sweet with perfectly balanced flavor.  Yet their Estate Pinot Noir was the real find:  one of the most interesting wines I have ever experienced.  “Pepper” is a word often used to describe bold reds, but it is usually not a literal description, more an indication of spice.  In this wine, you could actually taste pepper.  At the same time, they balanced it with an earthiness, creating perhaps the most unique wine I have ever tasted.

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Once we had finished marveling over Clos Tita, the time came to move on.  The owner of Dancing Creek suggested we head down the road to Bruzzone, and I am very glad we followed her advice because their Chardonnay was exquisite.   Though I prefer whites, I generally do not love Chardonnays.  As I have made my way across the Santa Cruz Mountains, it has become very clear to me that the varietal just isn’t my thing.  I don’t know what exactly Bruzzone does to their Chardonnay, but I really wish everyone else would follow their example.  Their 2010 Estate Chardonnay was so light it was almost carbonated, and while I could not taste the oak, the wine retained a depth of flavor that was just delightful.  Plus, they had food!  And by that time, we were starting to need it.

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By the time we got to Nicholson Vineyards, it was definitely time for lunch.  It may perhaps have been smarter to eat at the beginning  of our time there instead of the end, but my cohorts were determined to get in another tasting before breaking.  I did at least get to sample some of Nicholson’s yummy cheeses before we began.

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Nicholson Vineyards

I must say that after the 20+ wines we had had so far, my taste buds were beginning to complain about overuse, so I can’t say that I was able to fully experience any of the wines from this point on.  That said, most of Nicholson’s wines seemed to me to be pretty standard to the area with the exception of their Old Vine Zinfandel.  They must know they were on to something with this Zin because it is a limited release, and it was a strain not to buy a bottle for this fruity, flavorful wine.

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Instead, we brought our tastings to a picnic table and feasted on cheese, bread, fruit, and cookies in classic wine-tasting fashion.  Nicholson was not as idyllic as Dancing Creek, but surrounded by vines and trees with the sun basking on the walls, it was still a nice place for lunch and a much needed palate cleanser.

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Despite the rest, as we arrived at Martin Ranch, I was done.  I had exceeded my tasting capacity for the day, and I really didn’t want any more.  All my taste buds wanted was water.  This may, just possibly, have contributed to how much I did not care for the wines at Martin Ranch.  Though to be perfectly honest, I doubt I would have enjoyed them anyway.

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Apart from Having Unexciting Wine, Martin Ranch Was Crowded!

Most of the wines they were tasting were pretty standard reds, and by that time, I had had so many of them that all I wanted to taste were the whites.  The really frustrating thing was that Martin Ranch, unlike most Santa Cruz Mountain wineries, actually had whites.  A variety of them even!  But they wouldn’t let me taste them which made me like them even less.  I finally convinced one of the pourers to open a Sauvignon Blanc for me, and it was like a breath of fresh air.  It was light and crisp, a little grassy flavor, but certainly a relief after so many reds.

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The Grounds Were Spacious Though

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And Vast

As we walked away from Martin Ranch, there was still time to visit one more winery, and one of the ones I was most interested in was just around the corner.  But by this time, we were all pretty beat.  There was talk of quitting.  Dare we put our livers through any more trauma today?

Dare we did.  And it was so worth it.

Fernwood was not as flashy as most of the other wineries we visited.  There were no spacious picnic grounds, no vines climbing sun-drenched walls, no sunlight peaking through redwoods.  It was just a metal storeroom in the middle of nowhere.  We drove past it on our first try because it looked so little like a tasting room.

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Fernwood Cellars

But in my experience, the simplest of tasting rooms can bring forth the tastiest wines.  This was certainly the case for Fernwood.

Like I said, I like whites, and my favorite varietal is the Riesling.  Sweet yet light, it complements my taste buds more than any other wine.

Fernwood had more than just a Riesling, it had two!  A dry and a late harvest!  Generally, late harvest whites are a little too sweet for me, but this one was so smooth and sweet without overdoing it.  It was fabulous.  The reds were good too, particularly the Sidecut, a Syrah and Zinfandel blend with a smooth flavor and nicely balanced tannins.  My friend bought an entire case of it.

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We were lucky we persevered and tried Fernwood because it was one of the best wineries of the day!  Proof that you shouldn’t judge a winery by its cover and a fantastic end to our tasting.

Because after that our bodies really were done for the day, we trekked back to Santa Cruz for some Thai food, some chocolate, and lots and lots of water.

I enjoyed the passport experience.  We got to try A LOT  of wine, but the wineries were spread out enough that no one experienced alcohol poisoning.  No one got drunk that day.  Our driver didn’t even need to take a break.  It worked out rather nicely.

It would be helpful if the region had a little more variety, but each winery had at least one wine that was in some way unique, and there were several places we hope to visit again.  In the meantime, I will look forward to using our passports at all of the wineries that are open everyday!

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Categories: Bay Area Day Trips, Local Travel, Northern California, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Mountains, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Guglielmo’s Bottle Your Own Wine: Not Even Worth $5

Until recently, I worked every Saturday.  This creates a whole host of problems whilst trying to have a life.  Oh the number of parties I could not attend or was forced to be horribly late to.  It definitely takes a toll on your social life.  And your wine-snob development!  I couldn’t go to passport or really any other daytime wine events.

However, for the last couple of months, I have been working Sundays instead, and this has opened up a whole new world of wine events!  Guglielmo‘s Bottle Your Own Wine day was one that I had wanted to try for a long time but could never make with my previous work schedule.  Last weekend, I finally was able to attend.

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It was so not worth the wait.

And wait we did.  I knew this event was popular, but in my naivety, I did not expect to wait very long.  Fifteen minutes, maybe half-an-hour was the most I expected.  If I had known I was facing an hour-and-a-half long line, I would never have gone.

Unlike most of their patrons, I was in it for the experience, not the $5 wine.  I thought it would be cool to fill my own wine bottle and slap my own label on it, watching as it was corked.  The whole wine-making process is highly intriguing to me, and seeing a glimpse of how it all works attracted me to this event.

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Wine Filler

I never expected the wine to be good.  I assumed, correctly I think, that the wine we would be bottling was the leftover remnants of whatever the wine-makers didn’t want to bottle.  How else could it be so cheap?  And after trying it, I feel I can confirm my original assessment.  It’s perfectly fine for $5 wine, and while I admit that reds are not my favorites, especially from this particular winery, I do not think this bottle is worth much more.

That in mind, I was not expecting the mad rush of people that we faced upon entering Guglielmo.  The line would have moved pretty swiftly if the majority of patrons had not come bearing cases of empty bottles.  Perhaps I was naive, but it never occurred to me that people would show up wanting three cases of this swill, yet most of the people in line bore at least six bottles and often more.

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I think the label supports my theory that this is wine they just want to get rid of. Why else would they label it “table wine” and write in the lot number?

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The Fruits of Our Labor(ious Waiting)

Needless to say, I will not be attending again.  Maybe if the wine was better, I’d wait for it, but it’s really not that great, and once was more than enough to take in the experience.

Hopefully, passport day in a couple of weeks will be a better use of my newfound Saturday freedom.

Categories: Bay Area Day Trips, Local Travel, Northern California, Santa Clara Valley, Santa Clara Valley, Wine | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking for the Ultimate Bay Area Pumpkin Patch? Look to Uesugi Farms.

When you think of Northern California, there are some pretty distinct images that may come to mind:  the Golden Gate Bridge, Napa Wineries, Canary Row, San Francisco.  However, the vast majority of people would never imagine a farm.  And yet large swathes of the greater Bay Area are given to farmland.  Fresh, organic produce is a “thing” up here for a reason, even if we forget how close it is most of the time.  Today, I stopped by a genuine, classic farm that is one of the few that would be at home in the Midwest:  Uesugi Farm’s Pumpkin Patch.

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Far more than the average corner lot covered with straw and pumpkins, Uesugi Farm is a one-stop shop for all of your family-friendly Halloween needs, complete with decorations, corn mazes, hay rides, even a pumpkin chucker…and of course, lots of pumpkins.

The Winners for Largest Pumpkins

The Winners for Largest Pumpkins

The attractions were actually quite good.  The pumpkin chucker resembled a massive canon and seemed to have the power of one.  It claims to send the pumpkins to their doom at over 90 miles-per-hour, and I don’t doubt them.  Those pumpkin grenades were lethal.  Needless to say, their line was one of the longest on the farm.

The corn maze was quite impressive as well.  Two acres in size, it actually took us at least 20 minutes to get through even with our trivia guide.  We thought it was pretty clever that you could choose trivia on different subjects to point you through the maze, even if it didn’t actually help navigate that much.

Traversing the Corn Maze

Traversing the Corn Maze

However, my favorite part of the pumpkin patch was the pumpkins themselves.  Most commercialized pumpkin patches do pumpkin sales as more of a side business, and they are inevitably over-priced.  Not here.  The selection was vast, and the prices were very reasonable even before you take into account their 2-for-1 deal on all normal pumpkins.  It was almost worth the gas out there to save (at least) $13 on our 2 large and beautiful pumpkins.

Our Pumpkins

Our Pumpkins

When I was a kid, I loved our pumpkin patch.  Though in the midst of the Southern California suburbs, it had lots of activities, great pumpkins, and a truly authentic feel.  Although it has since turned into a Walgreens, I think of it often when October roles around and often find myself looking for another like it.  Uesugi Farm gave me hope that my kids may yet build memories as fond as I have of my pumpkin patch.

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Categories: Bay Area, Bay Area Day Trips, Local Travel, Northern California | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Winchester Mystery House

The Winchester Mystery House on a Perfectly Spooky Rainy Day

The Winchester Mystery House on a Perfectly Spooky Rainy Day

Despite living very close to the Winchester Mystery House, San Jose’s only real tourist attraction and the most haunted place in California according to many, I had not been since we moved here until today. This is greatly owing to the fact that I visited while in college and found the experience lacking.  Still, it just didn’t seem right to leave this nearby landmark unexplored during our residency.

My first piece of advice while visiting is not to bring your 3-month-old.  Those pesky spirits were not good to little Zoe, and my poor friend had to duck into many a room to comfort her as we went along.

My second word of guidance is to just give into the cost.  Coupons are hard to find (at least coupons worth bothering with), and there really is no denying that the Winchester House is overpriced.  It’s either worth it to you or it’s not.

If you’re on the fence, it’s probably not worth it.  The house is cool, but the cost is pretty exorbitant for what you get.

However, if this is a place you want to see, it is pretty cool.  Speaking as one who loves all things supernatural, I could have done with more history of the hauntings associated with this house, but even though the tour concentrates more on the house and Mrs. Winchester, it’s pretty creepy.  I am thoroughly convinced that if I had gotten lost from the tour, I would not have been able to escape without walking out a door to nowhere.

Sarah Winchester was the widow of William Winchester, one of the makers of the Winchester rifle, when she started building the house.  Despite her vast piles of money, her life was not a happy one.  Her only child died in infancy, and she was widowed long before her own death, cursed to spend the rest of her days alone.  After losing her daughter and husband, she consulted a psychic about her misfortunes and was told she was troubled by the spirits of the many, many people killed by the Winchester rifle.  The psychic told her to build a house that would never be finished, and thus began the Winchester Mansion.

Meant to confuse and appease spirits at once, the house was under construction from its beginnings until Mrs. Winchester died in 1922.  She made the plans for its construction herself and was very involved in the building process.  The result is an unfinished house with staircases that lead nowhere, doors that open onto twelve foot drops, staircases made for hobbits (small ones), and a labyrinthine series of passages that I imagine confused the hell out of her servants.

Entering the Winchester House is like stepping into an old Victorian house that went through World War II.  Since it is unfinished, many a room looks…wrong.  The house is so ornate, but the unfinished rooms show piping or the interior of the wall, almost like the world’s tiniest warehouse.  Juxtapose that with the gorgeous ballrooms, fireplaces, and stained glass windows that could easily be found in a European mansion, and you really lose a sense of where you are.  The house really is a maze too.  Some rooms have four exits but only one entrance, some closets open onto walls while others have secret doors to other rooms, and some doors have no purpose whatsoever.  Even paying double the going rate, I’m surprised Mrs. Winchester was able to keep the house staffed.

Mrs. Winchester Was a Fan of Stained Glass Windows

 Outside, the house is much more normal.  It’s huge, and it’s very tasteful.  The gardens are well groomed and filled with roses and statues.  You would never know how crazy the house is inside just by looking at it.

Despite the Weird House, the Grounds Are Quite Nice

I’m glad I went on this tour.  I still think it’s overpriced, but it is an interesting bit of history that you just won’t get anywhere else.  It’s also an amazing look at what endless amounts of money can do for you, especially if you are an eccentric old lady.  Few places on the west coast offer more history or such a refined abode.  It is one of the rare quirks that makes San Jose interesting.

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Categories: Bay Area, Bay Area Day Trips, Local Travel, Northern California, San Jose | 2 Comments

Time to Stomp on the Grapes

There is no time quite like fall at a winery.  The grapes are ripe and being harvested.  New wines are revealed.  All around you, the leaves are changing in a display worthy of a state with actual seasons.

Fall is a great time to settle down with a nice cup of red and start preparing for winter.  It is also a great time to check out winery events!

If you have money to spare, and you are looking for a fall winery party, I would check out V. Sattui’s Crush Party.  Alas, I do not have money to spare, so I cannot go nor have I been in the past, but it looks like a lot of fun.  They take you through the wine production process with a good, old-fashioned grape crushing…with your bare feet.  There’s really nothing quite like people telling you it’s OK to squish a giant vat of grapes by stomping on them.

Watch and tell me this doesn’t look like a ton of fun:

Fall also means passport days are upon us!  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the awesomeness that is winery passport days, this is the time when you can try any winery you choose for a flat rate.  Wineries that generally do not do tastings are open and all sorts of special stuff can be found like barrel tastings and food pairings and vineyard tours and unique wines not generally available to the public.  Passports are split up by region, so take a look at where your favorite wineries are and mark your calendars!

Around these parts, we have…

Santa Clara Valley                        October 5 – 6                        $30
Santa Cruz Mountains                  November 16                        $45
Napa and Sonoma also have a continual passport deal.  For details, see sonomapassport.com and napavalleypassport.com.

Harvest Festivals abound this time of year as well in all parts of wine country.  The big wineries all have their own, but check out these to see a bunch of wineries at once:

The Sonoma County Harvest Fair encompasses three days worth of wine tastings from over 150 wineries, complete with food, demonstrations, seminars, and a FREE grape stomping competition.

If you’re looking for something a little more wine-centric, Reserve Sonoma Valley offers special peeks at wineries generally closed to the public along with food pairings and winery tours.

Of course, there are tons more harvest and fall events all across Northern California, so be sure to check with favorite vineyards for their festivals.  Which fall wine events are you favorites?

Categories: Bay Area, Bay Area Day Trips, Food, Local Travel, Napa, Northern California, Santa Clara Valley, Santa Cruz Mountains, Sonoma, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Becoming the Fish

Growing up in Southern California, I loved the beach.  My parents used to say I was a fish I spent so much time in the ocean.  I loved the sun and the surf, and as I grew older, that love only grew stronger.  Naturally, I have never lived anywhere as warm since going off to college.

Northern California has beaches.  Some of them even have sand.  But they’re not really what you’d call swimmable.  The water is perfectly all right most places, but it’s cold.  Really cold.  As in “I need a wetsuit” cold.  Sometimes even “I need a dry suit” cold or “let’s call the whole thing off” cold.

So of course I’ve been trying to swim in it ever since arriving in Berkeley at the age of 17 (i.e. a long time ago).  While there, it was basically hopeless.  The only beaches remotely near Berkeley were in San Francisco and Marin, and it was so cold up there I shouldn’t even have bothered.

However, since moving to San Jose, the closest beach has been Santa Cruz, and this is where I pinned my hopes.  It gets sunny in Santa Cruz.  I wouldn’t say it gets warm, but it does at least progress to “not cold” occasionally, and the water is a touch warmer than the surrounding areas.  Thus, I made it my goal to go swimming in these frigid waters if it killed me (which was always a possibility).

Easier said than done.  I could have just donned my wetsuit and gone in that way, but I was determined to swim without it at least once if only to prove it could be done.

I started small, braving the cool air enough to get in a bathing suit and wade in.  It took a whole summer for me to get past my knees, but finally I made it in to the hips.  Alas, there I was stuck.

You see, I could have just plucked up my courage and ran for it, jumped in, then run back out again.  I’ve done that sort of thing before.  Once on a family vacation, my brother and I jumped in a 39 degree hotel pool–in the rain–before running out screaming to the jacuzzi.  This was different.  The most difficult part of my task here was not getting in the ocean, but enjoying it, even if it was just a little bit.

For me, this experiment to see whether I could swim in Northern California became rather a test to see if I could see myself living in Northern California permanently.  That’s not to say I even think that will happen, but it’s certainly possible, and I really just can’t live here forever if I can’t go swimming.  And there is no point to going swimming if you can’t enjoy it.

It took two-and-a-half years for me to get in over my head, but this last Monday, I finally succeeded in actually swimming, sans wetsuit, in the Pacific Ocean off Santa Cruz.  It didn’t last long, but I did get a kind of sick pleasure from finally accomplishing this eight year long goal.

And it actually wasn’t that bad once I was in the water.  It took me a long time to work up to it, going in to my knees, then my thighs, my waist, and finally the whole Nicole.  But once I was under, I managed to swim a bit without wanting to kill myself, and it was all right as long as I kept moving.

Until it wasn’t.  When I got out, I tried to stick around for a bit, but as I huddle in my towel, I realized that wasn’t going to happen.  The cold went bone deep and stayed there until we had driven back to San Jose, and I had spent a long time in a very hot shower.

Still, I did it.  I proved I could swim in Northern California waters and not be completely miserable.  On a day when it’s 90 degrees in San Jose, has been for the past four days, and the ocean has had the entire summer to warm up.  Woot.

Now the real question is can I do it again?

Categories: Bay Area Day Trips, Local Travel, Northern California, Santa Cruz | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Finding Refuge in Carmel

This week, Daniel and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary in the beautiful town of Carmel.  This oceanside gem may well be the most beautiful place I have ever been.  To put that in perspective, I have been to Jamaica and Hawaii, Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, the Grand Canyon, Egypt, Paris, Greek Islands, Cinque Terra, and basically everywhere in California.  But Carmel just has something the equal of which I have never seen.  Between the ocean, the cypress trees, and the gorgeous coastline, Carmel exudes natural beauty, and it’s houses and downtown area are adorable without taking away from the beauty that’s already there.  Carmel also has much to offer in the food and wine areas, and I try to visit whenever I head down to the Monterey area.

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We began in Carmel Valley with a fabulous lunch at the Vineyard Bistro.  It was adorable!  We sat outside, surrounded by trees, my skin baking in the sun.  I had the most amazing tortellini in gorgonzola cream sauce.  It was rich and flavorful without being overpowering, and I am quite sure my arteries were in danger of bursting afterward, but I didn’t care because it was SO GOOD.  It was a really nice place to sit and enjoy each other’s company, lazing about in the sun.

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We couldn’t very well visit Carmel Valley without tasting some wine, so we wandered over to Chateau Sinnet‘s tasting room nearby.  Having done very minimal research ahead of time, I had seen their tasting flight contained 7 wines for $7 which is a pretty good deal, so we went for it.

Apparently, we should have looked around a bit more.  The wine was perfectly decent.  The White Merlot was unique and tasty, and if we didn’t already have a ton of wine at home, I might have bought a bottle.  We both enjoyed the Cabernet Franc and the Late Harvest Zinfandel as well, and the prices were really reasonable.

The Tasting Room Manager who was anything but.  We agreed after that he was the worst pourer either of us had ever had.  Usually, pourers are either relatively reserved, giving you the chance to concentrate on the wine, or they try to engage you in conversation, about the wine, your day, or whatever else they can think of.  In my experience, the best pourers are friendly and chatty, know a lot about their wines, and are eager to share the information without pushing it.

This guy was just about the opposite.  He was disengaged, talking super fast but monotone as if he were reading from a script.  And he pushed the hard sale which is just stupid when you’re talking about wine.  No one wants that, and we may actually have bought a bottle if he had just shut up.  As it was, we were both ready to get out of there as quickly as possible to the point of leaving before we had finished our last taste.  We practically ran to the car once we got out the door.  Suffice it to say, I will not be going back.

And then we entered nirvana.

The main event of our trip was Refuge.  It is similar to a spa in that people visit for relaxation and renewal, but the how is unique.  The Refuge Experience consists of cycles of heat, cold, and relaxation.  If you do it according to their plan, you heat up for 5 – 10 minutes in a hot tub, sauna, or steam room, immediately cool down in a cold pool for as long as you can stand it (up to 1 minute….I definitely never made it that long), and then relax for at least 15 minutes before starting the cycle over.  You are primarily outdoors, surrounded by trees and crystalline pools with waterfalls flowing down the rocks.  The setting is idyllic and very conducive to relaxation.

However, the process itself was at times rather rigorous.  Normally, heat and I are good friends, but the sauna and steam room were both much hotter than I was comfortable with, and I couldn’t stand to be in either for long.  The steam room was so steamy that I could not see the back upon entering, and the steam was laced with eucalyptus which made it hard for me to breathe.  I must admit though, I felt a lot better after sitting in that steam…you know, once I got to the relaxing part.

The cold pool was, well, really cold.  Actually, I should say the “cool” pool was really cold as I never could get in the 37 degree “cold” pool past my thighs.  They wanted full submersion, and at 50 degrees, trying to stay in the cool pool for even 30 seconds was difficult.  However, the process did make me feel better after a few rounds, and the relaxing portion was just that.  I almost went to sleep more than once, and coming out of the cold makes you feel a lot warmer than I would have expected while you’re relaxing.

I tried to do the cycles their way, but after the first hour or two, I started spending large amounts of time in the “warm” pool between cycles.  That was truly relaxing.  But I do think there is merit to the cycle system because Daniel and I both felt great after.  Our skin looked amazing, and for both of us, that is not an experience we often get.

Refuge was completely worth the drive and the cost, and I fully intend to go back as frequently as possible.

Carmel is a place where I can always find tranquility wherever I look for it, but if you want the ultimate relaxation experience, Refuge is a good place to look.

Categories: Bay Area Day Trips, Food, Local Travel, Monterey, Monterey County Wines, Northern California, Restaurants, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Casa de Fruta: The Most Random Place on Earth

Huddled in the hills between the 101 and the 5 in Hollister is one of those off-the-highway places you’d expect to find somewhere like Kansas.  It’s cute, it’s clearly there for tourists, and most importantly, it is super random.

But not in a bad way.  Casa de Fruta has much to offer:  fruit, nuts, fudge, candies, wine, even entertainment.  It’s just hard for me to get over how in the middle of nowhere it is.

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Like any good roadside attraction, Casa de Fruta has a lengthy history.  It began in the 1940s as a cherry stand for the nearby orchard.  As per tradition, fresh and dried fruit can still be found in abundance at Casa de Fruta.  The family expanded into nuts as well, and I must say, their nut collection is varied and delicious.  My husband and I are big fans of the chili lemon almonds.

But these days they have much more to offer than just fruit and nuts.  Along with Casa de Fruta, there is Casa de Restaurant, Casa de Wine, Casa de Sweets, and even Casa de Choo Choo (hehehe).  Everything you need for a roadside stop to get the kids out of your hair for an hour.

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Waterwheel and Panning for Gold (Except Not Really)

 

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Peacocks Were Everywhere

Of these, I’d say Casa de Fruta is still the most impressive.  It has a wide selection of dried fruit and nuts with some offerings that are not so easy to find, like toffee-glazed chocolate-covered pistachios, fruit and nut rolls, and those chili lemon almonds.

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With my unrelenting sweet tooth, I of course had to check out Casa de Sweets.  Much of it was pretty standard candy, but they make their own fudge, chocolates, and chocolate-covered fruit and nuts, and it was all good.  My mind was not blown, but hey, when is homemade fudge not delicious?

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I cannot say I was impressed with the wine, but they did have some unique flavors.  Along with some standard whites and reds, Casa de Wine sports a line of fruity wines which were certainly intriguing.  It’s not every tasting room that will serve you an apricot, blackberry, or pomegranate wine.  I wasn’t a fan of all of them, but the plum was good, and the sparkling pomegranate I actually considered buying.  Alas, it, like all of their wines, was grossly overpriced.  You could basically get the same flavor from sparkling pomegranate juice for a quarter of the price.  BUT the tasting was FREE!!!  You know I love me some free, especially free wine.

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While I did feel like their products on the whole were well-made, they are all on the pricy side, and I just don’t think the quality justifies it.  It’s so easy to find good handmade candies, luxury nuts, and farmstand fruits in this area that are cheaper, higher quality, or both.  And if you’ve read anything else on this blog, you know good wine (read:  better wine) is about as easy to find near Silicon Valley as computer programmers.  But if you’re looking to find all of these things in one place, want a place with variety, or just need somewhere to stop on your drive south, Casa de Fruta is certainly worth a look.

Categories: Bay Area Day Trips, Food, Local Travel, Northern California, Santa Clara Valley, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How I Discovered Wine at V. Sattui

Once long ago upon a time, I was 21 and wide-eyed.  I knew nothing of the world of wine that did not end in a wine-soaked whine.  “What is this swill?,” I was heard to say.  I had never had good wine those days.

Then an anniversary came our way along with a graduation day.  “Let’s go to Napa!” was all we could say.

And my world turned upside-down.

I had been 21 for barely half a year when I visited Napa for the first time.  Having come to drinking late in life (as in waiting to do it legally…mostly), I had yet to disabuse myself of the notion that alcohol tastes yucky.  At that point, my forays into the world of alcohol mostly consisted of fruity or chocolatey cocktails and cider, the latter only because my drinking education began in Great Britain where I was of legal age before my 21st birthday (Strongbow rules!).  I hated beer and wasn’t much happier with the wine options I had partaken of so far.

Thank the (wine) gods I consulted my wine connoisseur uncle before my trip!  I may never have found V. Sattui otherwise.

It was the first stop we made, and it opened my eyes to a whole new world.

Clearly, I had never had good wine up until this point.  V. Sattui changed everything.  For the first time, I tasted wine I not only tolerated but actually liked!  A lot!  So much so that even in our fund-deprived state, we bought four bottles between V. Sattui and its sister winery, Castello di Amorosa.  At the time, that was A LOT of wine for me, especially at Napa prices.

It was all so good that I had trouble choosing which bottles to bring home.  The Sauvignon Blanc was crisp and fresh, but the Off-Dry Riesling had that hint of sweetness and the Dry Gewurzstraminer that bold dessert flavor.  The Gamay Rouge had such unique strawberry accents, but could it compare to the sweet perfection of La Fantasia?  Not to mention the true dessert wines like the Madeira and the Port with strong flavors and subtle mellowing aspects that make these wines a delight for the taste buds.

Tasting Room
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These wines made me realize that with the right varietals and the right care, wine could be great.  I didn’t want to drink to get drunk, I wanted it for the flavors.

I was hooked.  The wines alone would have done for me, but pourers helped make the experience come alive.  They were all very helpful, very informative, and very liberal, allowing us to try extras when we just couldn’t choose or when they found something they thought we would like.

Picnic Grounds
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By the end of our trip, we had tried a wide variety of their wines as well as three food pairings and loved every minute.

And so began a life-long love of wine tasting.

Categories: About, Bay Area Day Trips, Local Travel, Napa, Northern California, Wine | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Escaping the Heat at Raging Waters

For those of you lucky enough to not live in the (non-coastal) Bay Area, this week is hot.  Really fucking hot.  Sweat drenching, AC blasting, please someone give me a popsicle hot.

For here anyway.  Arizona thinks this is hilarious.

Yesterday, the husband and I sought some much needed relief at Raging Waters.

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Note that this is Raging Waters, San Jose, not the bigger, better known, and ultimately more awesome Raging Waters, San Dimas.  While its Southern California counterpart would be considered by many to be the real Raging Waters, the San Jose version is still an excellent way to cool off.

Being a water-loving Southern Californian, I have been to my fair share of water parks.  Good water parks.  The kind of water parks with more rides than you can do in a day.

Keeping that in mind, Raging Waters, San Jose, is pretty decent.  It’s old, and I am not 100% sure everything is safe, but it’s big enough, and it gets the job done.

Upon entering the park, you are immediately met with an array of slides and food options.  In fact, it is entirely possible that there are more places to buy food than slides to ride.  A well-wetted path takes you past the kiddie pools, more slides, the lazy river, more slides, and finally to the wave pool, several play areas, and, you guessed it, more slides.

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Honestly, the variety in slides is pretty decent.  Nothing really repeats except for a few adult versions of several kid-friendly slides.  And while your initial decent into the park may meet with an over-abundance of stimuli, the farther back you go, the more everything is spread out.  We camped out in the back area which has lots of grass and only a few rides, giving you room to breath and actually relax.

 

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The Back End — Much More Breathing-Friendly

I would be lying to say the park is kept up well.  Paint fades as far as the eye can see, there are several rather worrisome slides from which large chunks seem to have been torn off, and then there are the leaks and splinters that make you wonder whether this was really such a good idea.

But the only parts of the park that have actually attacked me are the bottoms of the pools.  The wave pool and the endless river have alarmingly rough bottoms which is fine as long as you never fall and scrape your knee against the bottom, but those of us who do end up like this:

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That was me after the wave pool yesterday.  Normally, I wouldn’t care, but with the hot as Hell weather, there were rather a lot of people at the park yesterday, and as the day progressed, the water changed colors at a disturbing rate, making me wonder if exposing my innards was the best move.

But as long as you’re careful, it’s a perfectly fun experience.  You just got to know what to expect.  It’s not the best water park in the world, but it’s still a great way to cool off on a hot day and have some thrills along the way.

Categories: Bay Area, Bay Area Day Trips, Local Travel, Northern California, San Jose | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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