When is a Vacation Not a Vacation?

I was talking to a coworker the other day, and she mentioned that she would be on vacation beginning the next day. So, of course, I asked where she was going. She responded that she wasn’t going anywhere; rather she was staying at home and would be doing a few little hikes and just hanging out with her daughter.

That reminded me of a question I am frequently asked when I say I’m going to Georgia, or Arizona, or Ohio, or anywhere I happen to be going off to. “Oh, do you have family there?” More often than I would like to think, people are genuinely puzzled by the fact that no, I do not have family there.

These scenarios just got me wondering – When is a vacation really a vacation? Of course, I can only speak for myself, but a vacation must include a destination – generally with a plane ride but a road trip can certainly count too. I know the concept of a stay-cation has been much in the news lately, but to me, hanging around home is sheer torture. I look at all the organizing projects I should be working on, all the clutter I should be tackling, all the deck painting, de-mossing, gutter cleaning, weeding, car waxing, light fixture changing that I should be doing and it just makes me depressed. I can only truly unwind if I’m not stuck staring at all that stuff, thinking about what I should be doing.

That isn’t to say that I never want to do these things, but I just don’t want to use my vacation time to do it. It is a conundrum. A friend of mine only considers it to be a vacation if it includes 5 (consecutive) days off work.

Sadly, I have no vacation on the immediate horizon (under either the destination/plane ride theory or the 5 day theory) – just a couple of weekend trips nearby for the usual – a wedding, a birthday party, a baby shower. All fun, all looked forward to, but all not vacations. Now a destination wedding is a different matter! Although I have to admit that a wedding in Washington, D.C. would be more of a vacation than one in Arkansas.

Over the years, I have been on some fantastic vacations – I have had some wonderful experiences and made some great memories.  Here are just a few from the last couple of years.

Crater Lake, Oregon - August 2011

Crater Lake, Oregon – August 2011

Relaxing with a Glass at Schmidt Family Vineyard - August 2011

Relaxing with a Glass at Schmidt Family Vineyard – August 2011

Gold Beach Whaler

Gold Beach Whaler – August 2011

Slate Run Living Farm

Slate Run Living Farm – Winchester, Ohio – August 2008

The Hanoi Taxi

The Hanoi Taxi – National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Dayton, Ohio – August 2008

The front entrance of Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle – San Simeon, CA – August, 2010

See, no snow on the sidewalks (or the roads)

Antietam National Battlefield – Sharpsburg, MD – February, 2008

The Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore Estate – Asheville, NC – June 2012

The Joseph Manigault House - Built in 1803 - Federal Style Architecture

The Joseph Manigault House – Charleston, SC – June 2012

Savannah's Colonial Cemetery

Savannah’s Colonial Cemetery – Savannah, GA – June 2012

Benson Vineyards and Estate Winery Patio Seating

Benson Vineyards and Estate Winery – Manson, WA – September 2012

An Elk Herd

Elk Feeding Area, near Hamilton, WA, September 2012

Male California Quail at Point Reyes National Seashore

California Quail at Point Reyes National Seashore – Point Reyes Station, CA – March 2013

Harbor Seal Outside Monterey Bay Aquarium

Harbor Seal – Monterey, CA – March 2013

The Lone Cypress - Estimated Age 250 Years

The Lone Cypress – near Pebble Beach, CA – March 2013

So, how about you? What defines a vacation?

Time to leave Arizona Already?

Our last day in Arizona, we had to fly out at 5 pm, so we needed to be at the airport and have the car turned in by about 3:00. We checked out of the hotel and headed a little south of Tucson to the Mission San Xavier del Bac. The Mission was originally founded in 1692 by Eusebio Francisco Kino, the same guy who founded the Mission at Tubac. The current church was built between 1783 and 1797, using mostly native labor and artists. The church was built under the direction of Franciscan Fathers Juan Bautista Velderrain and Juan Bautista Llorenz in the Moorish style, but the architects are unknown. I had seen the outside of the mission before, but Jon has never been. This time we visited the inside of the church, and it is amazing – the frescoes and carving inside the church are absolutely beautiful. A restoration process on the inside is outgoing, so there was scaffolding up and painters working in areas of the church. Keep in mind that this is still an active parish, and the building is still being used for worship. When you go, you will see that one of the towers remains unfinished. Apparently there are a couple of myths that explain why, but there likely isn’t any truth to either. The first myth is that the tax laws of the time exempted buildings that were under construction, and the other surrounds a belief that the tower would remain unfinished until “The Excellent Builder” came to finish it. I guess it will remain a mystery.

Mission San Xavier del Bac

After the Mission San Xavier del Bac, we began the hour and a half drive back to Mesa, stopping on the way at the Casa Grande ruins. Casa Grande National Monument is in Coolidge, just northeast of the town of Casa Grande. The Casa Grande (big house) was built in the 13th century by the Hohokam Indians who farmed extensively in the area. The house is built of caliche, and at 4 stories tall, is visible from a long distance away. The Hohokam built an entire complex of adobe houses around it, and it was surrounded by a defensive wall. They also built an extensive irrigation system to farm the land, bringing in water from miles away, and evidence has been found that the Hohokam maintained extensive trade networks. No one knows what the purpose of the Casa Grande was, since it does not appear to have been used for communal living, but it was abandoned around 1450 A.D. It has stood against the elements since that time. Since 1932, it has been a bit better protected against the elements by a large roof covering the entire structure (it makes it look a little bit like an alien invasion). When you go, you will be awestruck at how large the Casa Grande is, especially since it was built entirely of clay. They didn’t have reinforced steel back then! The National Park Service museum there gives information about the Hohokam people, and what they know about the Casa Grande. It is certainly worth a visit.

Me with the Casa Grande

And just like that, we were wrapping up another amazing trip and heading home. It always make me a little sad to go back to the airport and wait for my flight home, knowing that I have to go back to the grind. But, it is worth it, just for those few days of fun.

Arizona – Saguaro National Park

The next day we decided to do something a little different and go over to the Desert Museum. The Desert Museum has outdoor exhibits featuring the local flora and fauna of the desert. Once you get inside the museum, you basically walk right back out into the desert. The cacti are labeled, but obviously the king of the desert here is the Saguaro cactus. If you can’t identify a Saguaro without a label, you have got a big problem. Then there are birds and coyotes and javelinas, which are like a desert pig. They have an exhibit area with a family of javelinas, which makes it easy to see them when ordinarily they would be hiding during the day. The coyote was hiding though, so we didn’t get to see him. We didn’t see any rattlesnakes either, but Jon was ok with that. They did have a collection of Zuni fetishes in the museum store that were reasonably priced, and some Indian baskets and ceramics, which were much more expensive.

After we went to the Desert Museum, we decided to go hiking nearby in the Saguaro National Park. For those of you who haven’t been there, Saguaro National Park has two sides, east and west. They are located on either side of Tucson, and have quite different topography. In sum it up succinctly, Saguaro National Park East has more saguaros. We went there first, and visited the visitor’s center to get a map of the area and some of the trails that we should go on. We found some suitable trails and headed out. We had a great time – the trails were relatively easy for us, but they gave some great close-ups of saguaros, and some really nice views as well. Of course, Jon being the klutz that he is, brushed up against a cactus and got a bunch of spines stuck in his leg. He wasn’t hurt, and honestly, I tried not to laugh. We also found a short hike that takes you up to some ancient petroglyphs.  They are difficult to photograph without a serious zoom lens, but really neat to see.  We watched the sunset, and I got some great photos, and we found that it gets quite cold in Arizona in January after the sun goes down. But it sure is pretty.

Desert Sunset

That evening, we were cruising around looking for a decent place to eat, and we passed by a steakhouse and wine bar called the Elle Wine Country Bistro that from the outside looked pretty pricey. And it was. But, you could sit in the bar and order from the bar menu and the prices were actually pretty decent. And there, I discovered Albariño. Albariño is a Spanish varietal that is gradually increasing in popularity here. It is a light white, with a crisp mineral taste. It has a hint of citrus, but is not overly fruity – very refreshing. I ordered that for myself and when Jon tried it, he kept wanting to steal sips for himself. I had a PoBoy sandwich or something along those lines, and it was absolutely delicious – Jon had the pound of steamed mussels, which were also excellent. Next time we are in the area, I’ll certainly head back there.

The next day, we did Saguaro National Park West. This is the side that has fewer Saguaros, and more in the way of scrub brush. It is still beautiful, but different. In this area we went hiking and enjoyed the warmth – it was the first day I could wear shorts and a tank top and still feel warm. An older gentlemen asked us if we would like him to take our photo, and after he took the photo he gave us a pen and told us that Jesus loves us. I’m not sure what happened to that pen!

We did have a good hike though, and after our hike we headed into downtown Tucson to check out the sights there. We parked and found our way to Old Tucson, which is a little tourist area in a complex of 19th century adobe buildings. And in the middle, there is a courtyard where you can sit and have a beer with your lunch. Again, I had the opportunity to be baked in warmth, a phenomena that is sorely lacking during the northwest winters at home. As a matter of fact, right now I’m really missing that.

We poked around the shops, looking at Navajo ceramic pots, Zuni fetishes (theirs were much more expensive than the ones at the museum), paintings and framed photographs, and we decided to buy a little Navajo pot with a turquoise embellishment and burned horse hair decoration. It’s a neat technique really, where you take a piece of horse hair and you burn it against the pot. It leaves a zig-zaggy line across the surface of the pot. That little pot is sitting on our china buffet at home, reminding me of a great trip.

Then we went to the Tucson Art Museum. They had an exhibit on Ansel Adams photographs that I really wanted to see. His photos are really something – the way he captures the light and shows the contrast between light and dark, all with black and white film. He really had a talent, and was adventurous enough to go to the spot where you could get the great photo that others couldn’t get. They also had a neat exhibit on antique furniture, mostly Asian, but European and American as well. I can imagine all the cool furnishings I could decorate my house with, if only I had that kind of cash.

Outdoor Mural at the Tucson Art Museum

That evening, we went to a concert at the Hotel Congress in downtown Tucson. Jon found out that The Girls were playing at show with $10 tickets, so he booked them online before we flew out for vacation. The Hotel Congress was once one of the ritzy hotels in Tucson, and it has been restored. It is now a boho place, focusing on the the younger eclectic crowd and booking popular bands. Of course, if you stay there, you might as well go see the band, because you won’t be sleeping upstairs. The show was good, and we enjoyed ourselves. Of course, we were up way past our bedtime, and I was pooped by the time we got home.

Tubac, You Say? – Never Heard of It!

In January 2010, Jon and I took a trip down to Tucson, Arizona for 4 days. Anyone who lives in the northwest understands that winters here get dreary, and at some point, it becomes necessary to save oneself and escape to someplace sunny and dry. We flew down on a Saturday, and got to Mesa as the sun was beginning to set. We got our rental car quickly because we didn’t have to wait for checked bags, and were soon on the road headed south to Tucson.

My parents had gotten us a GPS for Christmas the month before, and we brought it along, thinking this would be a great time to try it out and get a lot of use out of it. The GPS came with two cords, one to plug into the car, and one to plug into the computer to download new maps. Of course, I only brought the one to plug into the car, and of course, I brought the wrong one….  Oops.  Live and learn, and never forget how to read an actual, paper road map. Luckily, I had brought one along. Our GPS had enough battery life to get us to Tucson, but then we had to rely on those good old map reading skills that we were taught in school. Wait – we didn’t learn that in school? Where did we learn how to read road maps?

On the way, we ate dinner in a chain restaurant that I had never heard of called Mimi’s Cafe. It has a New Orleans Jazz theme, and it was actually pretty good. We enjoyed ourselves, and the wait there was 10 times shorter than the Olive Garden. And it was a good thing we stopped when we did, because if I had gotten much hungrier, hostages could have been taken. So, after my tummy was full and my nerves were soothed, we continued our trek down I-10 to the Comfort Inn.

Our Comfort Inn was just a couple of miles outside of downtown Tucson, and conveniently located to the things that we wanted to see and do. The one drawback was that there wasn’t much in the way of food right near there. The hotel had a continental breakfast, so we had one meal out of the way each day. But they did have a clean comfortable room with cable, and that night after settling down, we discovered Pawn Stars. If you haven’t heard of Pawn Stars, it is the guilty pleasure for anyone who likes antique stores, history, estate sales, or Antiques Roadshow, combined with the absurb reality of people in Las Vegas pawning their treasures to get gambling money (they never say that’s why they want the money, but I’m convinced that 90% of them will head right into the casino with their cash). Jon and I were transfixed. When we got home, we discovered that my mom already knew all about Pawn Stars, and she didn’t tell us! Oh well, I guess we only get so much with basic cable – the world continues without us.

The next morning, fresh faced from watching Pawn Stars early into the morning, we got up and decided to head down to Tubac. Tubac is a artist community, i.e. tourist trap about 30 minutes north of the Mexican border. It is a sleepy little village with art galleries and shops galore, and a couple of restaurants. If you don’t want to do any shopping, this is probably not the place for you. We poked around there for awhile, marveling at all the handmade furniture, oriental carpets, and beautiful paintings that we can’t afford. We did buy a little matching pottery spoonrest and sponge holder to take home with us. There is a furniture maker there who uses burled wood and wood with various knots and imperfections, and then fills the knots with crushed turquoise and seals it in. The result is a table with streaks of turquoise running randomly across the top or side of the piece. It is absolutely beautiful, and one day, maybe I will have one. We had lunch in a Mexican cantina restaurant called Old Tubac Inn, with the best salsa. The food was good, and went well with a cold Corona. It would have gone a little better with the beer if the restaurant hadn’t been quite so cold though.

After lunch we headed over to see El Presidio de San Ignacio Tubac, which is now a state park and historic site. Tubac has a long and colorful history – it was first settled by non-natives in 1691, by Jesuit missionary Father Francisco Eusebio Kino, who set about building farms and missions and converting the natives. By 1751, the Pima Indians were tired of being dominated and revolted, destroying the Tubac settlement in the process. When they were defeated in 1752, the Presidio de San Ignacio de Tubac was built and garrisoned with 50 troops, to prevent further revolt. Captain Juan Bautista de Anza II was stationed here from 1760 until 1776, and during this period, he led two overland expeditions to California, the second of which resulted in the founding of San Francisco.

The mission was moved to Tucson in 1776, and it fell into ghost town status until the Spaniards reactivated it in 1787. It was a stop on the route of the overland ‘49ers, who lured away most of the residents. When the US finally purchased the area in 1853, Tubac was a ghost town again. A mining company was established in 1856, bringing new life to the area, but only until it busted in 1860. Tubac was seized by Confederate troops during the Civil War, but only until the Union got it back a few months later. Apache Indians periodically raided the site from the 1750’s all the way through the 1860’s so there was never much peace and quiet in Tubac. Geronimo finally surrendered in 1866.

The current town site was established in 1882, and seems to have been a sleepy village ever since. The artist community was created in 1948, when artist Dale Nichols formed the Artist’s School. The Presidio site became a state park in 1959. Who knew a tiny little artist town could have seen so much? The site is a mix of ruins and buildings that have been preserved from the 18th and 19th centuries. It is certainly worth a visit, and we even watched the cheesy video at the museum (they really need to update it).

After touring the museum and the grounds at El Presidio de San Ignacio Tubac, there wasn’t really anything else to do in Tubac, so we headed towards home. We knew that there were wineries in the area, so we decided to take a detour on the way home through Sonoita. We didn’t have the whole afternoon, but we gave it a go and found Kief-Joshua Winery. Arizona’s wineries use mostly grapes from California, because the plantings in Arizona are relatively new. I imagine that as the industry grows, they will begin to use more Arizona-grown grapes. Kief-Joshua is an elaborate house, with slate floors and a large tasting room that look like it was accommodate a fairly large special event. That said, the tasting bar itself wasn’t very big, and curved around in a way that made it tough to fit more than about 4 people.

The server was a young guy who seemed to know quite a bit about their wines, and we started off with a Chenin Blanc that I wish I could get in Washington. It was nice, crisp and fruity, perfect for a hot summer day spent in the sun. I still remember it fondly, and hey, if any of you are going to be in Elgin, Arizona anytime soon, could you pick me up a bottle? The rest of their wines were ok, but nothing to write home about. They have a neat logo on their glasses of a gnarled old grapevine though.

We only had time for one more winery, and it was open until 6, so the guy at Kief-Joshua suggested we head over to Wilhelm Family Vineyards. The winemaker served us herself and it was obvious she took great pride in her wines. The atmosphere in the tasting room was friendly and comfortable, and we talked to a Hispanic woman who told us that the way to make a great guacamole is to add feta cheese. She’s right, it does give it that something different (we should do that again sometime soon.) Jon and I both liked Wilhelm’s Zinfandel. She also had an herbed wine concoction called Gluhwein, a German traditional drink, where you added a mix to wine. It was pretty good, but I wasn’t sure we would ever drink our wine like that. Before we left, she signed our bottle of Zinfandel for us (unfortunately, it was a felt tip marker, and it got a bit smudgy). So, we headed back towards our home away from home with a couple bottles of wine to drink over the next few days of our trip.

Kief-Joshua Winery

And with that, we headed home to enjoy our wine.

The Party Bus

In March of 2010, for Jon’s mother’s birthday, the family rented a party bus for 16 of us to tour the Woodinville wine country. It was nice to have the benefit of a designated driver, although towards the end of the day, I’m not sure what the driver thought of us. That said, the bus was equipped with a stripper pole (I assume for bachelor parties), so in all likelihood we were really tame compared to what he has seen on his bus. The weather was great, it was sunny and I wore a light summer jacket instead of the winter coat I have still been wearing lately. Funny how we remember those details.

So, we got on the bus and headed to our first winery of the day, DiStefano Winery. DiStefano is a family owned winery. We had a large group, and Jon’s uncle arranged for us to have a mini-wine tasting course, with fruit, bread and cheese plates. It was pretty amusing when random people kept wandering in and the owner had to keep telling them that it was a private party. The owner and winemaker led us through his lineup of wines. They have a Sauvignon Blanc that is delicious, but not a crisp clean, Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is more like a Viognier or a big buttery Chardonnay. Which is why Jon loves it. Curiously, we opened a bottle the other day, and on the third day, the wine does take on a more crisp, apple taste – which made me very happy.

The DiStefano Lineup

We also tasted a red blend called Sogno, which appealed to all.  It is most Cabernet Franc, with a little Cab Sauvignon.  It tastes like berries, which I enjoy in a red wine.

The Rose was also very popular. I really liked it a lot and so did several members of the group. I didn’t get it that day, but I would if we go back soon.  Unfortunately, according to their website, it looks like it is currently sold out. One of the wines that we didn’t try that day was their Petit Verdot, this is a varietal that is typically used in blends, so I’m excited to try this wine.

After we left DiStefano, we headed over to the warehouse district and visited Patterson Cellars. Patterson didn’t make any white wines, but we tried several of their reds.  Looking at their website now, it looks like they have added a white or two to the lineup though.  I thought that their wines were too bold and heavy for my taste. I prefer a softer, more approachable red. Even Jon, who likes a bold Cabernet, was not all that impressed with their wines. Our tasting at Patterson was relatively quick, so we had a little bit of time to head to another winery.

After Patterson, Jon, our moms and I headed next door to try out Edmonds Winery. Edmonds is a smaller shop than many of the Woodinville wineries, family owned and they run the tasting room as well. I have talked about Edmonds before (they have a wine called Bentley, named after the winery dog), but I can’t say enough good things about their wine. The ones that we tried were excellent and very reasonably priced. The low point here was that my mom and I both bought a bottle of their Gerwurtraminer that he was closing out. It wasn’t marked as a sparkling wine, but when I drank it, it definitely had carbonation, and seemed off. It was certainly past its prime. Later, when mom opened hers, it was better, but not great. Lesson learned – you can’t win ‘em all. I’ll still come back.

In between wineries, we had a great time making fun of the long lines of cars that got stuck behind us on the hills.  The Party Bus was like the Little Engine That Could, chugging up the Woodinville hills with the weight of 16 winos.  I’m sure they loved us!  Jon’s cousin did a mixed CD of tunes for the day, so we got to rock out with the best of them too.

Matthews Estate was the last winery on the list for the day. Again, they focused on red wines, and did not have any whites. However, I believe that they now have a Sauvignon Blanc that I’m curious to try. Matthews really knows its business. Their reds were all very good, but with high prices they aren’t everyday drinking wines.  We did buy a couple of bottles of their Blackboard Syrah, which is a charity wine that donates a portion of its proceeds to schools.  At $22, it is nice to get an affordable wine and do something nice for the community as well.

We ended out day a bit happier and louder than usual, but a good time was had by all.

Woodinville Warehouses hold neat surprises.

Facelli Winery was another stop on our September day trip to the Woodinville warehouse district.  This was my pick, and I chose them because they specialize in the harder to find Italian varietals.  I’m intrigued by wines that you don’t see often, and Facelli has a Barbera and a Lemberger.   They said a Dolcetto is in the works.

Facelli is family owned and operated, and the family is serving in the tasting room.  They make many different varietals, and are really friendly.  You can see the pride that they have in their wines.  I picked up several, because they have some truly unique wines.

Anton Ville is a small winery with only five wines.  Their white, called Harmony, is a Viognier and Riesling blend, which is light and fruity summer white.  At $15, it is also very affordable.  They do a great job with their reds as well.  They offer a Merlot, a Cab. Sauvignon, a Cab. Franc, and a Merlot based blend.  The wines are much more refined than I would expect from a startup winery.  The reds have been aged for a long time, with the 2005 vintage currently selling.  I’ll be looking forward to seeing what else they put out.

Guardian Cellars was certainly the standout for the day.  The vibe in their tasting room is young and hip, and they have their walls covered in concert posters from bands that Jon likes.  They have good music playing, and they make you feel welcome.  They offer a Sauvignon Blanc, called Angel, and a Cabernet Sauvignon.  They also offer several blends, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cab Franc.  One word about their wines: Excellent!  Strong, oakey, Cabernets are not my style, but Guardian Cellars wines are so balanced that they appeal to a variety of palates.  We are lucky enough that our local wine store carries Guardian Cellars wines, and we have purchased several.  We will certainly visit again.


On New Year’s weekend, Jon and I were heading down to Portland to visit family, so we took a day to ourselves and headed over to one of our favorite wine regions… the Willamette Valley.  We have vowed to go to at least one winery on each visit that we haven’t been to before.  It was New Year’s Eve, which I thought would be very busy, but surprisingly, there weren’t many people out and about.

Our first stop was to Torii Mor winery.  Jon has had their flagship Pinot Noir, the one you can get at the grocery store, but I have never tried their wines.  We sampled their Cote D’Mor Viognier, the Reserve Pinot Gris, the 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, the 2008 Deux Verres Pinot Noir and we finished off with their 2006 Syrah Port wine.  I enjoyed their Viognier, but found the Pinot Gris to be not fruity or crisp enough for my taste.  Jon and I both thought the Willamette Valley Pinot was a light and easy everyday drinking wine, but it lacked much pizazz.  The Deux Verres Pinot Noir was very nice, as it has a more robust flavor.  The Port wine was excellent, with a strong flavor that would be great poured over cheesecake or ice cream.  The server was friendly and talkative, and the atmosphere was nice.  We were alone the whole time we were there, so having a personable server really made a difference.

After leaving Torii Mor, we decided to turn right and go up the hill instead of heading back down to Highway 99.  We passed a couple of wineries that looked interesting, but were closed for the New Year’s holiday, so those will be ones we want to visit in the future.  We stopped next at Maresh Red Barn Winery, which for us was a complete unknown.  They have been in business since 1970, but apparently just sell from the winery.  They are located in a 100 year old barn, which had antique glass windows and an amazing view.  This would be a great place to visit in the summer too.  Here we had five wines, a Pinot Gris, a Chardonnay, and three Pinot Noirs.  The Pinot Gris was the standout here.  It has clean and crisp, with green apple flavors.  The Chardonnay was very good too, but unlike a traditional Chardonnay – this one was completely unoaked.  Their three Pinot Noirs were light and fruity and were all very soft.  I would have preferred a bit more from the Pinot.  We purchased the Pinot Gris, and after leaving, I think we should have purchased two.

Next up we headed to Sokol Blosser, which we have been thinking about visiting for a while.  The atmosphere here is more contemporary, with a a younger vibe.  They have a huge floor to ceiling window in the tasting room that looks out on Mount Hood, which was clearly visible on the day of our visit.  The view was spectacular.  Our servers were both young and hip, but knew about their wines.

Sokol Blosser is a certified organic winery and practices sustainable farming techniques.  We tried their Pinot Gris, which was very well done.  It was another crisp, clean fruity Pinot Gris, that will be perfect when the temperatures warm back up.  We sampled three vintages of their Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, which is a blend of all their blocks of Pinot Noir grapes.  We started with the 2008, and finished with the 2006.  It was interesting to see how the 3 vintages were so different, with the ’08 being a great balanced Pinot, the ’07 being very soft and light, and the ’06 being a robust strong Pinot.  Jon and I both liked the 2008 best.  Jon really liked their 2007 Goosepen Pinot Noir, which is a single vineyard wine, but I thought it wasn’t different enough from the ’07 Dundee Hills to justify the difference in price.  We finished our tasting with the White Riesling Dessert Wine, which was a lovely sweet dessert wine.  Sokol Blosser was our untried winery star for the day – we both really enjoyed all of their wines.

We ended our day at Chehalem, one of our old standbys, which is always excellent.  We tried their Pinot Blanc, which was very good.  There aren’t many Pinot Blanc varietal wines out there, so I’m always looking for good ones.  Jon and  I also both love their Cerise, which is a wine that is Gamay Noir blended with Pinot Noir.  Gamay Noir is a grape similar to Pinot Noir, but it has a strong delicious cherry taste.  Chehalem always does a great job with their Pinots and this year’s are no different.  Everything they have is delicious – you can’t go wrong whatever you buy.

It was certainly another day well-spent in the valley.  Can’t wait to be back again.  I don’t have my camera cord here, so I’ll post pictures soon.

Woodinville – The Wine Country of Warehouses, Part 1

We took a day in September to drive down to the Woodinville winery area.  It is a little out of our way, but hey, it was raining at home, so what better way to enjoy an afternoon when you have to be outside anyway?  It poured on our drive, but by the time we ended up in Woodinville, it was a blustery, but not rainy, afternoon.  We arrived a bit early, and a lot of the wineries don’t open until noon on Sunday, so our first stop ended up being a place that wasn’t on our list.

Novelty Hill-Januik’s facility was very modern looking, with cement walls with wood accents.  The interior is minimalist, and kind of cavernous, and reminded me of all the bachelor pads we see rich men on tv living in.  There are actual two partner wineries here, Novelty Hill and Januik.  Mike Januik makes the wine for both.  You can choose different flights, $5 for their “Columbia Valley” tasting, or for $10 you can choose either their “King Cab” or reserve wine flight.  When you choose a flight, then you get to choose four wines from the list to taste.  I went with the $5 flight, and Jon chose the reserve flight – we frequently strategize this way, because most places don’t have a problem if you share.  The first drawback was their tasting room servers were predominantely young, college age women who didn’t seem to know anything about the wine they were serving.  I love getting the opinion of the server on what wines they like and how they describe the wine they pour.  Our server didn’t have much to say at all, but she did have a beautiful blue topaz pendant and ring set.  I digress.  Anyway, back to the tasting.

Novelty Hill/Januik Tasting Room

Here’s what we thought.  Their wines were decent – not outstanding.  The 2007 Novelty Hill Stillwater Creek Sauvignon Blanc was a good clean white.  I really enjoyed it.  Their Januik 2008 Chardonnay had an oakey nose, but was not all that oakey on the palate.  It was a nice medium bodied crisp apple Chardonnay.  Jon would have preferred something more buttery and oakey, but I liked it.  The Januik 2009 Bacchus Riesling smelled crisp and had a lot of mineral smell.  But I was disappointed with the taste; it tasted flat to me.  It wasn’t overly sweet though like many Rieslings are.

Of the reds, there were several that were very good, but I’m not sure it justifies the prices.  Their Januik 2007 Champoux Cab Sauvignon had nice light oak and a good balance – we both really enjoyed this one, which is unusual for us to both like a Cab Sauvignon.  The Januik 2006 Klipsun Merlot was a bold Merlot which Jon liked.  He also liked the Januik 2007 Lewis Syrah – he liked it because it was not as jammy as many syrahs.  The Novelty Hill 2006 Columbia Valley Syrah was more suited to Jon; he thought it was strong and bold with a lot of fruit and oak.  I thought it would be better with a bit more of that jammy taste that Jon complains about.

I guess to sum it up, the wine was good, but it had that big business wine feel.  I would have preferred more of that small winery feel.

Pre-conference tasting in Chelan

I had a conference to attend the third week of September in Chelan, WA, which is one of the newest designated AVAs. For those of you non-wine junkies, AVA stands for American Viticultural Area, which is a designated wine grape-growing region in the United States distinguishable by geographic features, with boundaries defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), and United States Department of the Treasury (thanks, wikipedia!). I’m not sure why the Department of the Treasury is involved, but hey, I guess that is our government at work. The bummer is that Jon had to stay home and work, so I was on my own in such a beautiful area!

Fortunately for me, the conference that I was attending had a reception at the Tsillan Cellars Winery.  It is just a couple of miles outside of Chelan, and is a beautiful Italian style villa.  They had several whites and reds, and I was able to taste 3.  I started out with the Sinistra blend, which is 70% Sangiovese, 15% Nebbiolo, and 15% Barbera, which was delicious.  It was a nice soft red, that was smooth and easy to drink.  It was not heavily oaked, and I really enjoyed it.  Next I tried their Syrah, which was more bold, but still a nice balance between fruit and tannins.    We stayed for dinner, and I had their Gewurztraminer, and was a bit disappointed.  It seemed a bit stale, and didn’t really have the balanced sweetness that I was hoping for.  The food is a bit plain for the prices that they are charging, but all in all I enjoyed my visit.

I brought home two bottles – one was the Sinistra, and the other was their Syrah/Grenache blend that I didn’t try at the winery, but it was an interesting blend, so I wanted to try it.  At home,  Jon thought that it was too light and soft for his taste, but I really enjoyed it.  I would certainly buy it again.

And then it was time to head home…

Our last day in California was reserved for a trip to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.  I first heard about the Getty several years ago, when they were sued by Italy for knowingly acquiring marble statues and other Italian antiquities that had been looted from archeological sites.  Their former curator stood trial on charges in Italy.  The Getty has returned some of the items after it was determined they were stolen, but they still have other pieces that have suspicious origins.  It will be interesting to see how that all plays out.  Most of these items are housed at the Getty Villa, which is a sculpture museum on a different site than we visited.

We got to the Getty about 10:30 and parked in their massive bomb-shelter – I mean garage – and then came back up to ground level.  From there, you take a tram up the hill to the museum itself.  The views of LA are amazing, and when you see the museum, it is even more impressive.  The courtyards and buildings are made from marble and concrete, and are massive.  There are fountains and gardens with a manicured maze too.  And beyond paying $15 per car for parking, admission is free.  They offer little maps of the exhibits and the grounds, but I have to say, their map kind-of sucked.  Several times we wandered over to a building because I was sure that it was the one the map was pointing us to, only to find out that oops, that’s not it!

The Courtyard at the Getty Museum

Once we figured out our bearings, we started touring.  We started out in their Europeon wing, where they had art and objects from 14th, 15th and 16th century Europe.  Of course art at that point was mostly religious art, so we toured lots of Virgin Marys, Jesuses, and some John the Baptists.  There were some mythical depictions too, to spice things up a bit.  I liked their collection of drug jars.  Apparently the pharmacy jars of the time period survived in better shape than household goods, and many of them were quite ornate!  But, after awhile, you see one Virgin Mary, you’ve seen ’em all, so we headed to another section.

Exhibit two was documentary photography from the 1960s to present.  They had some very interesting exhibits, including a group of photos of Seattle street kids in the 1980s, and one titled “Kids with Money.”  Southern California kids with more money than they knew what to do with shopping, putting on makeup, and getting all dolled up for their 7th grade parties.  It was eye opening.

But the most powerful exhibit was a huge montage of photos from the Iraq war.  Instead of focusing on battle views, the photographer chose to photograph in operating rooms.  These photos of soldiers bloodied and torn apart brought tears to my eyes.  It doesn’t matter what your political affiliation is, to look at these photos is to understand that something has gone wrong in the world.  I left that exhibit feeling very saddened for those men and women and their families.

The last exhibit we had time for was their special exhibit on Gerome, who was a French artist in the mid-to-late 19th century.  I had not heard of him before, but I will certainly look up more about his work.  These works were also on loan from the Musee d’Orsay in France, which is currently undergoing renovations and has loaned many of their exhibits to museums around the world.  But back to Gerome – he paints with a very realistic style, which gives his works a near photographic quality.  He has the talent to pain humans and animals and objects flawlessly and his paintings sometimes have entire landscapes occurring beyond what is going on in the foreground.  His use of color is magnificent.  Jon and I were both very impressed.  Apparently, directors in the early 20th century often used his paintings as their inspiration for scenes in movies – they showed several still photos from early Hollywood movies next to one of Geromes works and you could clearly see that they copied directly from his painting.  If you have the opportunity to see this exhibit, you should.

The Horse Trader, one of my favorites

After we were done there, it was time to head back to the airport.  Of course, it is LA, so there was a traffic jam.  We moved very slowly back to the airport, worried about the time, only to find out that our plane was delayed anyway.  Our friends were on the same flight home though, so we ended up chatting with them before getting on our plane an hour late.  A pleasant flight home and a very late bedtime concluded our Southern California vacation.  Can’t wait to go back and explore some more!