Birthday Weekend, Part 3: Napa, Mt Tam, Muir Woods

Cloudy start to our estate tour! The dog is Jasper, annihilator of sticks.

Sunday started off with another round of Bouchon pastries (for the win!), coffee and juice.  We all went out to pick our favorite(s) and then ate back at the house.  We walked around the estate and saw the horse exerciser- a rotating soft gate that apparently makes the horse move along at different paces in the ring.  The horse we saw could pass for a unicorn, sans horn, and didn’t seem to mind nor was it breaking a sweat.

Sunny by noon!

Around 11, Mom’s cousin came over and it was really nice to catch up with him.  The day started off cloudy but by the time we all left at noon, it was another gorgeous sunny day.  I decided to enjoy the beauty of Marin County by going to Mt. Tam and Dad really wanted to see Muir Woods.

Top left is my favorite piece in the Hess, “The Metamorphosis;” Barrel Room and more art.

First, we went to Hess winery to check out the art museum and tasting room.  The tasting room is very cool and we went into their barrel room after the guy noticed us looking through the window and told us we could go in.    The modern art collection is varied and interesting even if some of the works make me feel like I can do it too (I probably can’t.  Probably).

Close up of my birthday flowers 🙂 and Oxbow Market

Afterward, we ate lunch at Oxbow Market.  Dad was craving pizza so we shared three pies from Ca ‘Momi.   It was excellent and such a good call!  Mom and Dad really liked walking around the market as we waited for our pizzas.  We sat outside at a table for four and really had a nice time.  Mom got her glass of wine comped by the guy taking our order inside, which just shows she still has it!

The road to the Mt Tam Peak is long but nice in that it eliminates that long walking part that some people don’t like about hiking.  There’s a 0.7 mile loop trail that gets a person to the summit so we all went on that.  There were some grumblings at the top about why the lookout tower wasn’t open (grumble, grumble) but the views were magnificent and I think overall, we were pretty happy we went for the hike.  Someone did point out that the views from the parking lot were about the same as the ones from the top though (One gues- Dad!).

Then we headed back down the mountain to Muir Woods.  My National Park Pass got us in for free (yay!) and we went on the 1 mile boardwalk loop that took us past three distinct groves and several other Sequoia sempervirens.  It’s pretty amazing and I’m glad we went to Muir Woods on the way back rather than add more time by going to Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve.  The trees in Armstrong are larger and the area is slightly less tamed (aka, no boardwalk) but sometimes, it’s nice to avoid too much car time.

Mt Tam and the Golden Gate!

Then, it was time to head home.  We drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and took the 280 back.  I had plans to make food at home but people were hungry and hungry now so we went to the best taco truck, Super Tacos El Conrro!  It’s a converted ambulance with four people inside making the most delicious tacos.  If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend.

We were all pretty tired when we got home but we splurged on dessert and shared some Dolce wine before going to bed.  It was the perfect end to a day!

Birthday weekend, Part 2: Napa!

After sleeping soundly in the guesthouse’s comfortable beds, we woke up to celebrate my birthday!  SMS and I were up first so we headed to Bouchon Bakery for pastries.  We ordered a delicious assortment including a croissant, almond croissant, chocolate almond croissant and pain au chocolat.  In order to disrupt the theme, we also ordered two cinnamon donuts that came with the hole.  Both were delicious.  The cake texture was incredibly perfect- I’ve never had a donut like it!

We brought the pastries back to the house where we ate and got ready for our day of strenuous wine glass lifting.  Our first appointment was at Schramsberg Vineyards for some sparkling wine, which seemed like the only civilized option that early in the morning!  But before the tasting comes the tour, which was excellent.  Rimpel gave us an overview of the winery’s history, including the role Schramsberg sparkling wine has had in international-US affairs and State Dinners.  After that, it was time to tour the cave!

Rows and rows of champagne- what a lovely sight!  See the pickax marks on the upper left?

The first 1/6 mile of the cave was hand-cut by Chinese workers who were out of work after building the trans-Continental railroad.  The pick-ax marks are still there!  It reminded me of the cave system in Yokosuka.  The caves were pretty awesome, especially now that they’ve been expanded and hold millions of bottles of sparkling wine!

Rimpel reviewed the champagne making process, which is pretty cool.  First, the wine is made similar to any winery.  Then there’s a secondary fermentation that happens within the bottle when sugar, yeast and wine are added.  The bottle is capped with a beer bottle top and left to age fo
r several years.  Prior to bottling, the bottles are inverted and twisted in huge holding racks by “riddlers” over the course of a few weeks to get the yeast to settle out right above the cap.  At the end, the neck is placed in glycol to freeze the neck, the cap is removed, the ice plug shoots out and a cork/cage are placed.  The process was fascinating and Rimpel explained it really well.

Happy frog in the Schramsberg pond!

After all that walking through the caves, it was time for the tasting!  We went into a small dining room and had two Blanc de Blanc, one Blanc de Noir and one Rose. They were all fantastic.  A nice surprise was the J. Davies cabernet sauvignon in the middle.  It was surprisingly delicious.  It was full-bodied and really, really smooth.  I loved it!  Mom signed up for the wine club and I don’t know, I may soon be joining her!  (Oh wait, I just did!)

After our fantastic tour, we walked through the gardens which were really beautiful.  Napa in the Spring on a sunny day is absolutely gorgeous.  Then we headed into Yountville where I had bought tickets for the Taste of Yountville event.  The event went from 12-5 and featured a lot of different restaurants and local wineries.  There was also a tour of the French Laundry gardens, which three of the four of us liked (Dad!).  We had a great time walking up and down the street, grabbing our bites to eat such as shrimp and grits, mini-slider and ribs while washing it down with multiple wine tastings.  I think it would have been dangerous if we spent all afternoon there!

View from the Far Niente’s main house balcony

Instead of spending all afternoon in Yountville, I kept an appointment I had made at Far Niente for 2 o’clock.  SMS and I are Nickel & Nickel members, mostly for the complimentary tastings!  Ok, ok, the wine is good too.  But the tastings are so expensive that by joining the wine club, it almost comes out even between the shipment costs and the complimentary tasting benefit.  Since SMS and I had been to Nickel & Nickel before, we wanted to try Far Niente.

Far Niente Caves.  Old vs new label on the right.

Our Uber drive out there was great because I got some awesome insights as to when you do and do not want someone throwing up in your car.  I would have thought you’d never want someone to throw up in your car but how wrong I was.  Cornell taught me that you get reimbursed $400 by Uber and the place he uses to clean it up only charges $160.  So on a slow night, it really helps you come out ahead.  I said I’d be tempted to buy fake throw-up.  He said he’s thought the same thing but that the last rider gets charged so someone would probably complain.

Tasting time!

The tour was also amazing.  Reed walked us through the winery and described the process.  We also walked through the caves, which were among the first in Napa.  The caves were really cool although different in appearance than Schramsberg.   In the caves, we went into the wine library which was an awesome sight.  I wanted a bigger bag so I could sneak a bottle away.  I kid, I kid (mostly).

The car barn and a view of the main building

The tasting was great.  The highlight for me was trying Dolce, an incredible dessert wine that I have a bottle of but never tried.  It is so sweet and delicious!  We also had two chardonnays and two cabernet sauvignons.  The wines were paired with excellent cheeses and really, it was completely delightful.  The balcony door was open, the breeze blew through and the whole scene was so idyllic.

After Far Niente, we headed back to Yountville via Uber.  We caught the last hour of the festival and we had a great time.  Then it was back to the house to relax until dinner.

Dinner was at Ad Hoc, a Thomas Keller restaurant.  It was nice to have a birthday dinner in such a quintessential Yountville restaurant.  The short ribs supplement and cheese course were definitely on point.  The salad and dessert were also pretty good. The service and ambiance left a little to be desired but no matter, with great food and great company, it was an awesome end to a great birthday.

We got home around 10 and even though we wanted to build a fire, we were done!  We all went to bed, looking forward to more weekend adventures the next day!

Napa Marathon Weekend

Although Napa is fairly close by, J and I decided to make a short getaway out of our trip.  On Saturday, we met up at the Runner’s Expo in the Napa Marriott.  There we picked up our bibs, our duffel bags and tech shirts.  The lines weren’t too long and things were well organized.  I also tried several Nuun flavors at their booth.  They weren’t terrible (great recommendation) and if I ever needed to get into hydration supplements, I’d probably pick the watermelon flavor.

After the Expo, we booked it over to the Whole Foods to get our other swag bags.  The bag was awesome!  Lots of drinks, bars and little snacks.  Not everyone got one so I’m glad we hustled over to pick one up. 
There was a lot of rain but we were becoming happier with the developing forecast that was predicting little rain the next morning.  We headed up to Calistoga to check into our hotel and then headed downstairs to the restaurant for an early dinner.  A lot of dishes were shared.  SMS and I got pizzas and his mushroom pizza seemed to be the table’s favorite dish.  It was generous with the mushrooms and the cheese was perfectly paired.  It was pretty delicious.
Then it was off to bed.  I didn’t sleep all that well because I was more nervous than I thought.  But I woke up feeling fairly rested and most of all, excited!
After the race, we headed to Oxbow Market for lunch.  I really sold the group on the place saying it was like “a food court in a big shed.”  But no one put up a fight and when we got there, A&J really liked it.  A suggested that it was more like a food hall in a European Train Station and that is definitely a better description.  We went to Kitchen Door, which is a restaurant with its own seating section.  I didn’t want to have to deal with hovering and snagging the limited tables in the central area.  It was really crowded and I didn’t have the energy!  The food there was great.  I enjoyed a plate of Singapore noodles.  SMS had a delicious beef tartare breakfast plate.  My favorite was A’s salmon eggs benedict.  Those were pretty phenomenal.  
Next, we went to Hess and Alpha & Omega for wine tastings. When in Napa!  We met a really nice group in Hess that we talked to for a bit.  J and I wore our medals all day and they were definitely conversation starters!  Maybe I’ll start wearing it all the time!  But, yes, wearing the medals helped us identify fellow runners (most everyone recovers so nicely once the race is done!).  We also talked to people who were curious to know what event had shut down the roads earlier in the morning or thought that the idea of a marathon was cool.
For dinner, we went to Evangeline in Calistoga.  My favorite dish was actually the pickled vegetables.  They were so good!  They were crisp and fresh tasting, even though they were lightly pickled.  Amazing!  I also had the salmon appetizer for dinner.  It’s delicious although my description isn’t- salmon with creme fraiche on a hash brown. 
I was a little less impressed with the maitre’d initially because he tried to seat us outside on the patio saying, “It’s heated.”  Um, no.  It’s raining and there are tables inside that I just called about and you said were free.  I think it was because we had a toddler with us but guess who is awesome?  That kid!  He is so cute and well-behaved.  And sure enough, he was quieter than some of the other patrons.  So, even though I sometimes cringe when I see kids at a less-than-family friendly restaurant, there are definitely some kids who can handle it.  

Napa Valley Marathon 2016 Recap

This past Sunday, I ran my first marathon in 11 years!  It was the culmination of a pretty awesome training program.  I was really happy that I stuck with the 18 week program and it’s all due to having an incredible training partner.  I never would have done it on my own, which I’ll be honest, I don’t totally like admitting but hey, if I need some external accountability and another person to get me to stick to my long runs then so be it!  I’ve also made a great friend in the process so this whole experience was much more than just the race but since that was the goal, let me tell you about it!

At the Expo for our number pick-up

So, J and I decided to stay in Calistoga the night before the race.  This allowed us to “sleep in” until 5:45 rather than wake up even earlier in Napa to catch the 5:15 shuttle.  We walked over to the race and a couple of notes for future reference.  One, the Calistoga Roastery opened early so we could have had real coffee instead of lukewarm instant made from tap water.  The lukewarm instant was all part of the experience but if you’re looking for slightly higher quality coffee, the coffee shop apparently provides on marathon Sunday.  Two, the traffic in Calistoga was highly overstated by the race organizers.  It would have been very easy to drive and find nearby parking if one wanted to avoid the Napa shuttle departure time.  I wouldn’t show up five minutes before start time but still, nice to know.

J and I dropped off our sweat bags filled with our finish line supplies.  The race ends at a high school and shower access is available at the end.  We brought shower toiletries, towel, change of clothes and flip-flops/slippers (pick your favorite regional noun for flip-flops- just don’t pick “shower thongs”).

Next, I dropped off two 0.5L disposable water bottles with Honey Stingers taped to the sides.  These were transported to specific aid stations and laid out on a foldout table right along the course.  At 9.3 and 20.4 miles, my water bottle was waiting for me.  I ran with the bottle until the next mile marker and then put it in the provided trash bag set up at the base of the marker.   This ended up being a pretty awesome perk of being in a small marathon.  Even though there were plenty of water stations with fruit options, it was nice to be able to drink a little more water at two specific points while still being able to move.  In addition, I was happy to fuel with my known Honey Stingers rather than risk an upset stomach with a weird flavor goo.

So excited!

After a quick stop at the PortaPotties (plenty of toilets but you know, sometimes the less said about those things the better!  Ok, ok, there was a little bit of poop on the seat.  Eeeeemwwww!!!!), we headed towards the start.  After “The Star Spangled Banner,” we were off!  The RF trackers are now located in the bibs instead of the shoe chips I was used to from the 2000s.  J even signed A up for text message updates.  We crossed the tracker line and started running.

Our goal pace was 8:12 for a 3:35 finish.  Although this may seem obvious, I realized in the first two miles that we would have to run a little faster than that in order to finish the marathon in our goal time since there’s a little bit of distance added unless a runner runs the tangents perfectly, which we did not.  By the end, I think I had added about 0.2 miles to the total distance.  Not terrible, but something that needs to be taken into account.

We started out a good clip.  Our first mile was 8:18 but then we picked it up for several sub-8:00 miles.  We weren’t too far below 8 though, so I wasn’t worried.  I felt that we would do better with a slightly positive split.  There were two inclines, one at 2 miles and a slightly longer one in the 4th mile.  They were definitely doable and similar to the pedestrian overpasses we would run up on the Steven’s Creek trail.  I’m glad we had those small inclines under our belts but really, it wasn’t too bad.

The vineyards were beautiful.  The early morning light was gorgeous and there was so much vivid green punctuated by the fluorescent yellow of the mustard flowers.  There was a merciful break in the weekend forecast of rain that lasted about 4 hours just in time for our marathon.  We were so lucky!

It’s a no headphones race.  J and I didn’t talk to each other a lot, but it was fine to not have music.  It would have been a little bit of a nice distraction in the last few miles but whatever, we knew the rules!

Based on prior race reports, we were expecting a big hill somewhere between the 18-20 mile markers.  On the course elevation map, it looked like there would be a big incline right before mile 20 but when running it, I didn’t notice any significant change.  Because the elevation changes are fairly slight with this race, I think the scale on the course elevation profile threw me off.  I was happy not to encounter a perceptible hill challenge so late in the race!

J and I ran together for about 21 miles.  Around the 21 mile mark, we went our separate ways which was disappointing since we thought we could hang together the whole time but J was starting to get affected by congestion that had been plaguing her the week prior.  Argh, marathons are fickle like that.  You hope for the best, but illnesses and injuries happen.  I also think Winter/early Spring is challenging because of cold, flu and/or allergy season.

Around mile 23, there was a light sprinkle of rain but that was it for the race.  Very lucky!  My legs were becoming more and more leaden, but I was determined to keep pushing.  I felt like I could make my goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon and I wanted to leave it all out on the course.  I did pretty well effort and pacing-wise because at the end, I really didn’t have any juice to sprint it in to the finish line.  I just held my pace and crossed the line.  Hooray!  My Garmin time was 3:35:12 for the marathon and my official clock time was 3:37:10.

After some finish line pictures, swag bags and a congratulations kiss from SMS, we all met up and headed towards the gym.  There, J and I took showers in the two available stalls.  There were group shower heads but surprisingly, no one was in the locker rooms so we opted for the privacy of the stalls.  I don’t necessarily mind group showers but it’s sort of weird to opt for it when you’re the only one and there’s a nice individual one available.

I stepped into the gym and just as I entered, my number was called from the massage waiting list.  Score!  I got an awesome 10 minute massage from Julia, who was my new BFF.  Afterwards, we headed out for lunch, wine tasting and the rest of our Napa day.

Mumm Champagne!

I definitely recommend the marathon.  My only other experience is the Marine Corps Marathon in 2002, 2003 and 2005 so this was my first “small” marathon.  Significant perks include the option for water bottle drop-off for course pickup, showers at the end, kind volunteers, good time-keeping system and fast course.  There are two potential drawbacks based on personal preferences of runners. No headphones are allowed and there are a lot of lookouts trying to catch violators.  The second is that there aren’t that many spectators along the course.  There are about 10 easily accessible spectator stops based on feeding roads leading onto the Silverado trail.  Some people also watch from the end of their driveways and wineries.  I don’t need constant cheering but at the MCM, it is pretty cool that there are spectators along the entire course.  It’s hard to believe that that many people want to watch or cheer a bunch of sweaty runners!  So, the energy levels along the course are different but for me, that’s ok.  I appreciate both types of marathons although at this point, I think I’m leaning towards this smaller marathon as more of my personal favorite.

My #1 fan!

 

Napa Monday

Model’s

After a good night’s sleep I woke up to go to work Napa!  Yes!  I had the day off because my favorite godmother Auntie was in town with two of her friends.  Although their plans had been flexible (and good thing since the weather (boo!) had forced some outside activities cancellations), the Monday plan was pretty firm so we decided to meet up.

I’m so glad we did!  It had been a few years since I saw Maria and we had so much fun!  First, I drove up early in the morning to beat traffic (success!) and then I went to the Oxbow Market, which was closed for cleaning (fail!).  I did get a breakfast sandwich from Model’s Bakery in order to try their famous English muffin, which was pretty good!  Then I headed up the 29 with a quick stop in Yountville to see Bouchon Bakery.  Unlike the last time I was there, the line was non-existent (yay!). I ordered two macarons for SMS and, almost unbelievably, they made it home without me eating them!  I also tried a small amount of croissant which was good, but it’s been awhile since I’ve tried a croissant that I thought was truly sublime.  Maybe that’s too lofty of a standard for a pastry or, at minimum, a little over-the-top for any kind of foodstuff?

Cardinale Tasting Room with a cool time-lapse photo of a single vine

Then, I went to the Cardinale winery and pulled up to the guesthouse where my aunt was staying.  Ok, ok, I may have also driven on a field road since I took my aunt’s instruction of private road a little too literally, but fortunately, I didn’t get stuck in the mud or end up in a ditch so all’s well that ends well…

It’s a warehouse!

The guesthouse was gorgeous and huge!  It used to be the winery owners’ private residence and it was really amazing.  The views over the vineyards were incredible. Oakville is the center point of the valley so there were great views of the two mountain ranges and nearby wineries.  Immediately behind the house was a field with several small brown huts.  It’s actually a disguised barrel cellar with a grass roof.  The huts are the vents and even though it’s obvious that the grassy field has some sort of purpose, it’s pretty neat how circumspect they’ve managed to make a storage facility.

We had a great tasting at Cardinale, sampling Mt Brave, La Jota and two Cardinale cabernet sauvignons, 2008 and 2012.  The most exquisite, sophisticated wine was the 2008 Cardinale but I really liked the Mt. Brave wine.  It was full of blue notes and tasted like the mountain.  *Sigh* Someday, I will be able to pull off wine comparisons.  I’ll be honest- I stole the descriptors from our lovely and knowledgable guides since to me, it just tasted delicious!

After our tour, Maria and I headed to Mustards Grill for a great lunch with two of her cousins.  The food was delicious and we all talked a lot!  I had such a fun time and I hope I see my second cousins again soon!

The “cottage!”  My aunt is in the far left background.

Then, it was chill-out time at the “cottage.”  We made a quick stop at Oakville Grocery, where we bought a delicious Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam cheese.  We made a significant dent in it when we got home.  Then it was time for me to head back to the other Valley (Silicon).  *Le sigh!*  But I couldn’t be too sad because I had such a wonderful day and to see my auntie was a (too) rare treat!

Warehouse view at twilight- end of a great day!

Napa Finale

Beautiful Sunrise!

Our last day in Napa was abbreviated since we had to head back to an afternoon OR case (me) and a flight (Linda and Rip).  I did go for a 5.5 mile run in the a.m. which was farther than I wanted to go but that’s what happens when there’s an unanticipated road closure along the shorter route.  The run was gorgeous since the sun was rising and Napa was shrouded in riverlets of fog.  I even saw a hot air balloon.

Breakfast was amazing at the B&B and then it was time to go.  *Sniff*  It was a wonderful weekend and one I hope to do again in the future.  I had such a fantastic time with SMS, Linda and Rip.

Napa Wine Tasting Day!

 

The Fab Four at Jericho Canyon
We woke up and rolled straight out of bed to an awesome breakfast!  Our B&B Wine Way Inn features a great breakfast spread every morning.  We had a dutch pancake in a castiron pan, blueberry muffins, yogurt and granola, roasted peaches and French-press coffee.  Yum!
After breakfast, I went into town to  pick up some picnic treats and fill up the car.  Don the Driver came over shortly thereafter and we were off to the tastings!
Another shot of Jericho Canyon
Our first stop was Jericho Canyon.  It’s a small, family-owned winery that cultivates 40 of its 100+ acres.   We met our guide Brittany and headed up the hill to view the spectacular view from the top.  The vineyards were a gorgeous green and golden hills, trees, scattered buildings, cliffs and vineyards made for a very picturesque viewing point.  We took in the view for a bit while Brittany explained some of the history of the place.  Then we headed back down and into the cave where we looked at all the barrels before sitting down to a tasting.  There were some great reds and we all liked the wines a lot.  The tour was just the four of us and it was really awesome to have such a focused experience.
Nickel and Nickel Barn
We had to go a little earlier than we would have liked but we were heading down the road to Nickel & Nickel, a single-vineyard per wine winery that SMS and I really enjoyed a bottle from recently during a fancy celebration dinner.  We arrived a few minutes late but we joined the group in the parlor of the main house and listened to the rest of the overview.  We toured the grounds and saw several restored barns that had been brought in from other parts of the US.  We walked past the equipment used in the production process before ending up in the barrel cellar, which is different than a barrel cave even though they look about the same inside. I think it has to do with whether it’s dug into the ground vs. a hillside.
Then we went into the dining room and had a wonderful tasting of 4 cabernet sauvignons and 1 pinot noir along with 3 delicious cheeses.  The wines were exquisite and we had a really great time.  I joined the wine club a few days prior, mostly to offset the cost of the tastings but after the tasting, I’m really looking forward to the wine now too!
The porch of Venge
After Nickel & Nickel, we headed to our picnic lunch, which we had in a park in Calistoga.  Then we went to our last vineyard of the day, Venge.  Venge had a beautiful porch overlooking the vineyard and we had a nice time kicking back and enjoying the wine.  Our pourer was a pretty funny guy, some of it unintentional on his part.  Some his adjectives weren’t the best (“disgustingly big”) and he sort of botched the story about the wine being named in honor of the owner’s dead dog.  I referred to it as Dead Dog Wine from then on out, which I think was missing the point.
Afterwards, we returned back to the B&B.  We stopped in at the Tank tasting room so SMS could try out the pinball.  Then we had a glass of wine back at the inn before heading to JoLe for dinner, which was another hit!  I had scallops with grits and okra, which was pretty delicious.  We headed home after sharing dessert and wishing Linda a Happy Birthday one more time.  It was a great day and we really had such a great time!