Thursday, July 25, 2013

St. Helena

Okay, trying to catch up a bit on the posts--a few days behind as we've had either no internet or only spotty connections for several days.  Anyway, Saturday morning, July 20 we pulled out of Monterey and headed back out onto Pacific Coast Highway to continue our northward path toward San Francisco.  All along this glorious highway we enjoyed magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean, lovely wildflowers along the way, some spots of sun, and lots and lots of fog shrouded steep rocky cliffs high above the sea, with waves crashing mightily against the rocks.  Sometimes the fog was so thick you could not see very much, but that's part of the magical allure of this coast.  It just holds such surprises as you round a bend, when you've been seeing all of just a few feet of visibility on the ocean to great bursts of sunshine lighting up the rolling waves and stark rocks.  And, driving this road in an RV also gives you no shortage of breathtaking moments!!  Sometimes there is very little clearance against the rocks and with some folks coming toward you apparently thinking they are entitled to more than one lane!  Anyway, the other thing that kept coming to our minds was how incredible it was that Todd rode this road on a bicycle when he was in high school.  He did some summer trips with the American Youth Hostel Association, and one summer he was on a trip where they rode from San Francisco to San Diego, much of it along this highway.  Folks there are some incredible hills--no, make that mountains--to climb.  When we called him to say how much this made us appreciate even more the magnitude of this trip, he was telling us about how members of the group would shout out warnings when a big truck was coming up around them so the riders in front would be prepared--he said they would have to lean away from the truck to avoid being sucked in by the wind draft--and since they were riding south, this means they were on the ocean side of the highway, meaning they had to lean out toward the ocean!!  Very impressive!

Anyway, we managed to hit San Francisco in mid afternoon.  We had thought that since it was Saturday, we wouldn't have too much trouble with traffic--wrong!  Don't know if it's always like this on a Saturday afternoon, but traffic was incredible!  Anyway, we just faced it head-on and drove right into the teeth of the traffic, and headed toward the Golden Gate Bridge.  This has long been one of our favorite drives, across this bridge, and it was fun to do it again, even with all the traffic.  It's always wonderful to see the lovely multicolored houses along the streets as you drive through Everyone's Favorite City, the hills and the excitement.  As we neared the bridge, it brought back memories of many years ago when we came out to San Francisco when we were both into distance running, and we ran across the Golden Gate Bridge, right at sunset--it was a glorious day, very clear, and the sun was going down right about the time we were at the halfway point on the bridge--a wonderful memory!  This day, the fog was pretty thick, as you'll see from the pictures, almost completely obscuring the top of the bridge superstructure as we approached, and for most of the way across the bridge we really couldn't see too much on the water.  But as we passed the midpoint of the bridge and headed on toward Sausalito, the sun began to show itself and it was quite nice.

After San Francisco, we drove to St. Helena, in the Napa Valley, to visit our good friend, Audrey, a Methodist minister whom we met several years ago when she started coming to Cherry Log to work with Dr. Craddock on a book she's writing.  She stayed in our cabin in the mountains and with us at our house as she came to Cherry Log several times over the last few years.  So we were excited to get to see her again and be able to be in her church on Sunday morning.  It was such a tremendous experience driving through the vast agricultural areas of the valley before coming into the wine country--fields and fields of strawberries, lettuce, artichokes and other vegetables.  We stopped at several roadside stands to load up with fresh fruits and veggies.  Then to hit the wine country and see the miles and miles of lush vineyards on both sides of the highway, for as far as the eye can see, and going up the gently rolling hillsides--just a gorgeous sight to behold!  When I turned 40, Trisha surprised me with a trip where we flew to San Francisco, rented a car and drove up through the wine country and we had stayed at a B & B in St. Helena then.  Alas, neither of us could remember the name of the place or its exact location, so we aren't even sure if it's still in operation, but many of the other places we did recognize and it was great to relive some of those memories, too.

Audrey lives in the church's parsonage, and, can you believe it, it's located on Vineyard Street!!  How appropriate.  She has a wonderful back yard, with lots of lovely flowers blooming in all colors, and just on the other side of her fence is a gorgeous vineyard, stretching up the hillside.  Just lovely!  We sat outside on her patio and enjoyed a lovely dinner she fixed, watching this hilarious proprietary hummingbird who has staked out her yard as its private territory!  It sits up perched on the same branch on this tree, just watching to see if any other hummingbirds would dare venture into the yard to sample the sweet nectar of the beautiful red and orange flowers just below the tree.  When another hummingbird would come, this one would swoop down and engage in a furious fluttering and battering, chasing it away.  Occasionally it would leave its perch and fly off, but obviously not too far, since when this happened another hummingbird would use this chance to fly in for a quick swig from the flowers, but the yardbird would appear out of nowhere to chase away the interloper!  Audrey said this has been going on for some time, and it was really funny.

Since Saturday night is a school night for any clergy who's preaching the next morning, we left her to her study and preparations and stayed in the RV  in her driveway so give her the space she needed to get ready.  Sunday morning she left early, of course, so we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and then walked the several blocks downtown to the St. Helena Methodist Church, a beautiful little white wood sided church that's been there since 1857.  It was a wonderful service and Audrey preached a really terrific sermon.  Everyone there was really friendly and we enjoyed being with her and her congregation.  After the service during the fellowship hour she introduced us to the vineyard manager for Frog's Leap, who is just a wonderfully interesting fellow.  His parents were married in this church and he's grown up for most of his life here.  He explained how his vineyard utilizes dry farming, where, unlike the majority of other vineyards, they do not use any form of irrigation, beyond what nature provides.  It's a more labor intensive method, and they get a little less production than other vineyards, but, as he explained, it's the more traditional way of growing grapes that has become almost a lost art.  But his uncle taught him how to do it and now he's teaching his daughter, who will one day take over from him.  He arranged to comp us a tour and tasting at Frog's Leap for the next day, which was really nice.  Audrey also introduced us to a man in the congregation who apparently is one of the largest landowners in Napa Valley, and who donated a hundred acres of prime vineyard land to the local community college to expand, and to build affordable housing.  What an incredible testimony to doing a good deed!!

Anyway, since her birthday is coming up at the end of the month, Audrey's children and their families, who live about an hour and a half away, were giving her a birthday party that afternoon, so she briefly showed us around the town before she had to take off to drive to the party.  But, on her recommendation, we had lunch at a restaurant called Cindy Pawlcyn's Kitchen and it was outstanding!  She had told us to be sure and get the eggplant fries, done completely gluten free, and some kind of deliciously light dusting of sesame seed flower and they were just divine!  After lunch we enjoyed an afternoon of exploring the shops and galleries in downtown.  We found a wonderful health food store where we were able to stock up on some goodies for the carhouse.  Then we mosied on back to Audrey's where we spent the rest of the afternoon on her back patio, reading the New York Times and watching the hummingbird stave off yet another wave of officious intermeddlers!

Audrey was bringing her 6 year old granddaughter, Yasmin, back for a couple of days, but by the time they got back it was way past her bedtime, she she tucked her in quickly and then came out where we all enjoyed a beautiful full moon.  The next morning we were able to meet Yasmin, and she is just the most precious little girl--so precocious, smart and totally entertaining.  She was floored that Santa had come to visit her grandmother--"Grommy, I didn't know you knew Santa personally!!"  So for the rest of the day she and I became the best of friends--she peppered me constantly with questions about the elves, what they were doing, how they made all the toys, etc.  When I looked up her name on Santa's List and told her she was on the good girl list, she began to ask if this friend or that friend was on the naughty or nice list, too!  I gave her a picture and after a bit she asked if I had another one for her younger brother, since "Santa, if I only go back with one and show it to Zane, then he and I will fight over it and Daddy will have to take it away to keep us from fighting, so please can I have one for Zane?"  How cute!  Later when we all took a long walk around the neighborhood she and I were walking a bit behind Trisha and Audrey, and she just took my hand and it was so sweet.  Later when we went to the grocery store,  she and I were in line when I bought a couple of things and she said to the checkout clerk, pointing to me "That's Santa, you know."  It was so much fun!  After lunch we went to the Frog's Leap Winery for the tour which was really interesting.  Trisha enjoyed tasting several of their wines and, though I don't imbibe, I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the process and how they make their wines.  It's a lovely setting, and if you're ever in the area, I highly recommend this tour.

We said our goodbyes to Audrey and Yasmin after the tour and headed on up the road.  On our way out of town we passed the Berringer Winery, which was one of our favorite tours on my 40th birthday trip.  The main building is a beautiful old house, built as an exact replica of the old home place in Germany of the two brothers who founded the winery when they came to Napa from Germany many years ago.  Since we were there on our trip in the week between Christmas and New Year's, they still had the place all done up in Christmas finery and it was just spectacular!

So we made our way  through Sonoma Valley and ended up in Caspar, just outside Mendocino, for the night.  We knew we didn't want to miss going back to Mendocino on this trip--on my 40th birthday trip we discovered this jewel of a town and it was love at first sight!

Some shots of some of the vast agricultural fields, with these beautiful rows of flowers bordering the end of the rows of crops

Look at this rich, black soil--no wonder stuff grows so well here!

 Fields upon fields upon fields of artichokes--I had never seen them on the plant up close before

Interesting statue along the road--not sure exactly what/who it is or its significance

Streets of San Francisco

Heading up to the Golden Gate Bridge
 Pretty foggy!

 But on the Sausalito side, some sunshine!

 Beginning to get into wine country

St. Helena Methodist Church

Beautiful vine covered building, housing a restaurant
 Views as we walked around downtown

Random orange trees in the middle of a parking lot!

Just finished enjoying Cindy Pawlcyn's wonderful gazpacho with crenshaw melon slices!
 Beautiful courtyard at the restaurant
 Glorious flowers all around downtown
 Beautiful lady I happened to catch in this photo with flowers to match her purple blouse!!

 An amazing sight--this hamburger stand, Taylor's Refresher, or Gott's Roadside, apparently has such a reputation, the line of folks standing to order at the outside window is never ending!!

 St. Helena Hotel
 Fascinating building downtown

Audrey's lovely back yard--the tree to the left is where the watchful hummingbird hangs out!

 An old shutter from the church--note the lion at the bottom of this picture, and the lamb in the next shot

 The vineyards just over her back fence

Sweet, sweet little Yasmin!
 Audrey and Yasmin picking blackberries on our walk--man were they sweet!
 Lovely sculpture in someone's front yard
 Another front yard sculpture
 Holding hands with my new best friend!

Everywhere you turn, vineyards, vineyards, vineyards!
 Beautiful hydrangeas
 Lovely rose in this same yard

 Olives on the tree!

Amazing lemon tree in the yard of Audrey's friend, as we neared the end of our walk
 Yasmin was so excited because she was going to get to come back to go swimming in Patty's back yard pool later in the day.

 Some lucious grapes on the vine--anywhere you are in St. Helena, you can be walking past a front yard and then all of a sudden you're in the middle of a vineyard!
 Yasmin drew this lovely mural, showing all 4 of us on our walk!  It's now taped up inside the carhouse!
 Gotta love those animal crackers!

Enjoying a scrumtuous lunch!
 Yasmin was insistent on a picture in front of the big tomato!
 This is a unique copper sculpture, smack dab in the middle of the outdoor patio seating of a restaurant called Tra Vigne downtown--water flowing out of the overturned pitcher--really quite interesting.
 Like any 6 year old, Yasmin figured that any puddle is for the stepping into!
 Entrance to Tra Vigne

Driving into Frog's Leap
 Our tasting tour guide showing us some ripening grapes
 With their dry farming techniques they have wider spaces between the rows of vines, where they grow vegetables, then plow them back into the soil to replenish some of the minerals and other nutrients the vines take out
 In this close up, you can see some of the grapes that are in the process of turning from green to purple--fascinating to see some of them half and half of two different colors!
 I love how the vines shoot out tendrils to grab hold of the wires

 Their gorgeous flower garden
 The Frog's Leap weathervane on top of the fermenting barn
 Apple tree on the way to the fermenting barn

Some of the massive stainless steel tanks where the freshly pressed juice is fermented

 Freshly picked grapes go into the bin, up the conveyor and into these huge presses, then into the fermenting tanks

Inside the curing barn
 These barrels are rotated, and from time to time, wine is pumped from one barrel to another, to get better and more even textures

 Trisha getting a new sample!

On the drive out of St. Helena, toward Mendocino


  1. Hi I'm Heather! Please email me when you get a chance, I have a question about your blog! LifesABanquet1(at)

  2. Oh Jack...I felt like I was there with you all! Just beautiful. I really enjoyed hearing about precious.

    Mary Lou

    1. Yes, Yasmin really is a precious little girl--like Trisha said, I was in Santa heaven!

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