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President’s Day Weekend 2018: Snowshoe Day!

The second day of our trip, we had an amazing breakfast, which was included in our room price.  Then we headed out to for our first weekend snowshoe.  I showed Paula how to put her snowshoes on – it took a little doing, but soon we were on our way.

Paula and me snowshoeing

We hiked the Trail of the Shadows for our first hike, which is a fairly short, level loop hike directly across from the National Park Inn.  I have always liked this hike, because it takes you past the cabin of Elcaine Longmire, the son of James Longmire, who first established Mount Rainier as a tourist destination by touting the hot springs in the area as medicinal (they weren’t).  There are also some ruins of the structures built around the springs for use by the tourists.

The Trail of the Shadows also has some amazing old growth forest, with giant Western Red Cedars and other trees that have lived in this forest for hundreds of years.

Towards the end of the loop, we decided to hike up the hill for a bit on the Rampart Ridge Trail.  We knew we weren’t going to do the whole trail, but we hiked up the hill for a while and rested when needed.  Paula had a great time, and I was so happy to have a new snowshoeing friend!

We went back to the lodge and had a lunch from the cooler we had brought with meats and cheeses.  While we were eating, the power went out, and then came back on.  We learned later that they had switched us over to a generator after the power went out, because a tree had come down over the road leading into the park.  No one was getting in or out for several hours, which meant we had a really quiet afternoon!

My car – day 2

After lunch, we hiked over the bridge near the Inn to go check out the river and a few historic structures on the other side.  The Longmire Wooden Truss Suspension Bridge is a suspension bridge that was built in 1924.  You can drive across it too, but it doesn’t lead anywhere for cars on the other side of the bridge.  The snow was coming down, and it was so beautiful!  There is really nothing like the peace of a lightly falling snow – the sounds are muffled, and it just makes me happy to see the landscape covered in white.

We came back to the Inn and got hot chocolate (we may have added a little homemade liqueur) and sat on the porch for a bit, enjoying the afternoon.  We had a late lunch in the restaurant (lunch there is cheaper than dinner), and were able to skip dinner because lunch was so filling! I had a burger and fries.

Our evening was spent drinking wine, playing games and socializing in the game room.  It is nice that not having cell service, phone or TV encourages people to come together and actually talk!  There were several nice people at the Inn that weekend, and we had a chance to hear their stories.  We even talked about all coming back the same weekend next year!  It was a great end to another really good day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Vet’s Day Weekend 2017: Annapolis

Day 1, Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Last fall, I decided I needed to take some time away, so I booked a long weekend to the East Coast.  Flying cross country is always tough; for this trip I had to be on my airport shuttle at 4:10 am, which means getting my taxi at 3:40 am!  I never get to bed before about 10 pm on nights when I am flying out the next morning, so you can imagine the sleep deprivation.  It is so worth it when I get to board that plane though!

My flight was direct – and absolutely uneventful.  I got my car, and made my way to Annapolis; it was only about a 25-minute drive there from the airport.  I stayed at the State House Inn, a historic hotel that was originally a house.  There are only 7 rooms, so it is really more an inn than a hotel – without breakfast though.  They do have an agreement for room service from the Italian restaurant below.  The State House Inn is over 200 years old, and perhaps as old as 300 years; however, there aren’t existing records that show when the house was built.

The State House Inn

The upper stories are home/inn, and the first floor is commercial space (this floor is only visible from the back side of the house).  It has undergone a variety of restorations, with the the most recent addition to the building in 1900. You can see the bones of the original building from Chancery Lane, which they say is the most photographed site in Annapolis because of the view of the illuminated dome of Maryland’s State House (you know I had to see that for myself).  The alley was supposedly used by George Washington returning to Mount Vernon on December 23, 1783, after resigning his commission in the State House (there are stairs, so he must not have gotten on his horse yet).

MD State House, from Chancery Lane

Their website indicates that it is owned and operated by Naval Academy graduate Lieutenant Commander Marc Lucas, but I talked with the manager during my stay and she had indicated that there were new owners, so it is likely that the website is outdated.

For dinner, I headed across the street to the Red Red Wine Bar for a flight of wine and a charcuterie plate.  The wine flights and meats and cheeses were delicious!  They have a huge selection of  wines by the glass and the bottle, and also have an extensive selection of whiskys, for my whisky drinker readers.  The atmosphere was very nice, and the server was excellent, explaining all the flavors on the cheeses and meats so I could choose what I wanted.  After my light dinner, I spent a little time wandering the quiet streets of Annapolis, looking in the shop windows, before heading back to the Inn for bed.  Overall, it was a quiet evening, considering that most of the day was spent traveling.  I was excited to see the sights the next day!

I chose an international red wine flight

 

My flight, with wine details

Walla Walla 2017: Wine on the Way…

Day 4 – Monday, May 29, 2017

The last day of our trip we headed out of town, stopping at Sleight of Hand Cellars along the way.  I had known about Sleight of Hand, but never been, and Lelani had found them and decided that should be where we went.  Of course, she didn’t have to twist any of our arms…

Sleight of Hand has a Magician theme.  Their wines are delicious and have magician themed names!  The tasting room has is brightly decorated in a modern theme, and they have a ton of music posters (many are autographed) and magician posters on the walls.  They also have records – over 2,000 of them – they always have something playing on the record player!

I brought home their Magician’s Assistant Cabernet Franc Rosé and their Conjurer Red Blend.  That isn’t to say I didn’t love all their other wines, because I did, but they are a bit above my price point, starting at $45 for their varietal reds.  I did get a tank top though – which I love!  Lelani found a Prince Purple Rain themed tank top there too!

Me at Sleight of Hand – I’m not sunburned – it’s just the red umbrella above me

 

Lelani took this photo, not realizing I was photo bombing her!

 

After Sleight of Hand, it was time to get on the road and start working our way home.  We stopped in Yakima for Miner’s Burgers – Home of the Big Miner Burger – these burgers are huge!  Trust me, if you go, split the fries.  One order of fries is probably enough for four people if you plan on having a burger to yourself!  Especially if you have a milkshake, and trust me on this too, you should have a milkshake!  Miner’s has been a Yakima institution since 1948.  We left stuffed, and happy.

Waiting for our burgers!

Our next stops were the Fruit and Antique stand in Selah, just outside of Yakima, and the Thorp Fruit and Antique stand.  I love going there!  We all spend some time poking around and checking out the fruit, gourmet foodie items and antiques.

Brandon, me and Lelani waiting for Joel

Soon enough, it was time to hit the pass and get back over the mountains toward home.  The traffic was just as bad on the way back and this time I was awake for it!  It was, however, the end of a really great friends weekend…

 

Moab 2015: Castle Creek Winery

Upon leaving Canyonlands, we had a little bit of time before we had to make the long drive back to Salt Lake City. And it just so happens that a little way outside of Moab is one of Utah’s few wineries! I wanted to go!

Castle Creek Winery is located 14 miles up Highway 128, a scenic drive along the Colorado River. It also happened to be the route of most of Jon’s half-marathon the previous day, so I had the opportunity to see what he was up against. There was a long… uphill section that looked really tough! There are lots of campgrounds and trail heads along the highway that look like they would be perfect for exploring – if only we had more time.

The winery is on the grounds of a resort ranch. You can stay there, and it looked like activities included horseback riding, swimming, rafting, hiking, and of course, the winery. There is also a museum on the grounds that we didn’t have time to check out.

The sign seems more weathered than it should, given the age of the winery...  I sense a theme...

The sign seems more weathered than it should, given the age of the winery… I sense a theme…

Our tasting was interesting… A complimentary tasting included 5 samples, which let us taste all but one of the wines. They were decent but not complex, fine for everyday drinking but they wouldn’t hold up to age. None had much in the way of structure or tannins. But that isn’t what made it interesting. Our server did that all on her own. She was nice enough, but was an older lady who was very worn – I didn’t smell smoke but she had the look (and the voice) of a ‘several-pack-a-day-for-several-decades’ smoker.

I asked about the history of the winery, and her response was to urge us to go downstairs and watch the video. When we didn’t appear to be moving quickly enough, she kept prodding until we felt we had no choice but to go. Downstairs was odd. We found ourselves in a random cold, dimly lit hallway with glass windows facing out onto the dark production floor. And, as she promised, there was a 5 minute video explaining in extremely general terms the history of the winery and their production story.

Other than telling me that Castle Creek Winery played an integral part in changing Utah’s laws to allow for wineries, I learned nothing. Well, that’s not quite true… I had learned my lesson, and did not ask further questions upon emerging from the “dungeon.” That made the tasting go really quickly. That said, the wines were fine, and several had beautiful labels, so I bought one bottle to enjoy in our hotel room that evening and we got on our way…

Picturesque truck

Picturesque truck

And because the winery didn’t inspire me to take any photos inside, here’s a photo of what I hope is an authentic historic school outside of Moab.  I say I hope because it shares its parking lot with a gas station.

A historic schoolhouse - I hope...

A historic schoolhouse – I hope…

We made the long drive back to Salt Lake City in order to fly out the next morning. Another great vacation had come to a pre-mature end…

Two Good Cabs

I’m not a huge fan of Cabernet Sauvignon, particularly not Washington made Cab.  I too often find that drinking some of those big, bold Washington Cabs is like chewing on a hunk of wood.  Dry oak.  But I have had a couple recently that have surprised me, in a good way.

2010 La Playa Claret

This is a big wine, and while it isn’t predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, it still has quite a bit of Cab.  The blend is 41% Petit Verdot, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc and 4% Carmenere. It is a big tannic wine, but it isn’t too dry though – it has a nice balance.  On the nose, there is the strong scent of tobacco.  On the palate, it has flavors of stewed plums and leather.  It was harvested by hand and aged for 8 months in French and American oak.

This wine really reminded me that living in Chile was the main reason I started loving wine.  And I do love Chilean wine!  I really should drink a lot more of it.

2011 Revelry Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Jon poured me a glass of this wine when he couldn’t offer me any more La Playa, because…. you guessed it… he drank it all.  Revelry is a Walla Walla winery, sourcing their fruit from several areas in the Columbia Valley.  Although they are a fairly new winery, with their first vintage in 2005, they have managed to secure fruit from several elite vineyards, including Sagemoor Vineyard, and vineyards on Red Mountain and the Horse Heaven Hills.

On the nose, I got lots of blackberry, and on the palate, it had medium tannins and wasn’t super dry.  It was a fruity Cab, almost slightly jammy, but in a wonderful balanced kind of way.  Not a fruit bomb by any means, but certainly more fruit than your typical overly oaked Washington Cab.  I loved it!  The grapes for this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon came from various vineyards, including Red Mountain, The Wahluke Slope, Horse Heaven Hills, and the Walla Walla Valley.  It spent 12-16 months in the 100% French Oak barrels, with 30% being new French Oak.

Jon and I both loved these two wines, which is unusual because we tend to go for something very different in a big, red wine.  If you have had either one, let me know what you think!

An Impromptu Stop: Foris Vineyards

You want to know one of the best things about Oregon Wine Country?  The signage!  Well, that, and the wineries!  Oregon has some of the easiest wine country to navigate, thanks to hundreds of little blue roadsigns pointing you to the wineries.  Even if you didn’t have a map, or a GPS, or a guidebook, you could find some wine!

On our way back from a satisfying day trip to Oregon Caves National Monument, we saw a few of those winery signs and decided to make an impromptu stop at Foris Vineyards.  Of the four of us, Jon was the only one who had heard of Foris – but his dad doesn’t really pay attention to wineries or wine so really, only three of us count on this score.  But Jon had heard good things, so drove a few miles down the country road, following the signs and ended up at a little tasting room in the front section of a wine production facility.

Foris Vineyards is family owned and operated by the Gerber family, and has been since 1971.  That’s when Ted Gerber and his wife purchased the property; they planted the first vines in 1974.  For awhile they sold their grapes to other wineries, but in 1986 they began using their grapes to make their own wine.  Currently about 80% of the grapes they use are estate grown.

My fabulous mother in law at the Foris Tasting Room

My fabulous mother in law at the Foris Tasting Room

When we went into the tasting room, we were warmly greeted by our server.  When we told her that we had just been to Oregon Caves, she asked which ranger had given our tour.  When we told her, her eyes lit up and she explained that he frequented the tasting room on his days off.  Just another reason why National Park Rangers are so awesome!

We were guided through the lineup, and I found myself really enjoying the reds.  We were able to do a side by side tasting of their two Pinot Noirs; one their flagship Pinot and the other the single vineyard Pinot from the Maple Ranch vineyard.  Both were delicious!  Their Cabernet Sauvigon and Cab Franc were also very good.

My mother in law really enjoyed the Fly Over Red blend and their sweet Moscato.  The Fly Over wines show that this wine-making family has a great sense of humor; these wines are named for the fact that because the Illinois Valley of Oregon is one of the most remote wine growing regions in the nation, many members of the national wine press will never come out to witness these wines being made.  So the folks at Foris simply wave at the planes overhead, because you never know who is “flying over”.

A few of the wine awards Foris has received

A few of the wine awards Foris has received

Jon came in and out of the tasting room to sample my wine at his leisure, and then settled with his father on the Adirondack chairs outside.  Linda and I took our time enjoying the wines and chatting with the server.  Soon enough, we were on our way back to our home away from home by the river, to swim in the pool, eat dinner and wile away a relaxing evening, with a newly opened bottle of wine.

HIP 2013 Sagemoor Farms Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Smoky blackberries.  That’s the nose I get from our second mixed case wine. Jon decided to open this wine on a weeknight, and we hoped that it would be better than the first wine from our mixed case of wine.

2013 HIP Sagemoor Farms Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

2013 HIP Sagemoor Farms Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

This wine is produced by The House of Independent Producers (HIP); it is a second label for Hedges Family Estate in Benton City, WA.  The marketing materials describe it as, “a lean, angular, racy, penetrating, crystalline structure is excellent for those drinkers looking for a more conservative fruit approach. Too many times this grape is abused with oak perfume and picked late, like an old man, wrinkled, soft, and complacent. Take your Cabernet Sauvignon young, tight, transparent, and leave the Jam bombs for your sugar drinking friends. It’s time to taste the varietal, not the brand.” 

With that description, I was curious to see if I would like the “young” version with the “conservative fruit approach.”  Not to mention, I don’t think I would enjoy drinking a wrinkled, soft, complacent old man!  Yuck!

After pouring it into the glass, the color is dark garnet red.  It is quite beautiful actually.  Nothing like a wrinkled old man.  The nose is blackberry and smoke, making me a little bit nervous that it would be a big heavy Cab that I wasn’t going to like.  But the first sip eased my mind, with flavors of black currant and earth.  It has medium tannins, which I liked, because it doesn’t overwhelm.  But it has enough structure that someone looking for a big Cab will still be able to appreciate it.  In my opinion, this is a wine that does it right.  It makes me want to try more from the HIP!

And at $12.49, it is a perfect wine for a week night – you don’t need a special occasion!