Thursday, July 28, 2011

California Vacation 2011 - Part Five

Day six of the trip began with breakfast in our room.  Yes, blue skies again greeted us for our morning departure.  We ran by Starbucks to snag some drinks and then hit the road.  The leisurely drive lead us back to Napa Valley, as it offered many more enticing destinations yet to behold.  This would be our last full day so we planned to drive to the furthest winery away first thing in the morning and then spend the day working our way back toward Sonoma.

On the highway between Sonoma and Napa you can't help but see Domaine Carneros dominating the hillside.  It was early in the morning so they were not open yet but the French style architecture begged to be photographed.

Domaine Carneros

After a quick stop at Domaine Carneros, our next destination for the day would be Mumm Napa.  They are a sparkling wine producer and offer tastings out on a picturesque veranda.  The Ansel Adams photo gallery was another highlight to this unique place.

Mumm Napa

The town of Yountville looked to be a fun stop for lunch and more sightseeing.  There is free public parking right in the heart of town and there are shops and restaurants within a short walking distance.  The well known restaurant The French Laundry (owned by Thomas Keller) is located in Yountville.  Just a few doors down we found lunch at his Bouchon Bakery.  We sat on a shaded bench outside the bakery and enjoyed our sandwiches while shooing off the hungry birds.  A large marketplace offered fun shopping from local artists and featured the signature store of Napa Style.

Bouchon

The French Laundry restaurant
Yountville Marketplace
The next two wineries we visited were just walk through and photographic visits.  Clos Du Val and Andretti have really unique buildings as seen in the pictures below.  Walking out of Andretti I heard the distinctive sound of radial engines and caught a glimpse of two Stearman's flying over head.  A few moments later a Howard DGA roared by.  I bet they all had the best view of the valley that day!
Courtyard at Andretti

Candice and I both agreed that our favorite winery was Coppola's near Geyserville.  My second favorite was Jacuzzi in Sonoma.  We stopped in at Jacuzzi on our way back into Sonoma towards the end of the day.  Being that I am such an aviation enthusiast you think I would have spotted the propeller art work on the Jacuzzi sign out in front of the winery.  No, it was my wife.  She pointed it out and said we HAD to stop in.  Well, of course we did!


The Jacuzzi family is best known for their whirlpools and spas, but they have also built a magnificent winery.  The stone building has a two room tasting area, one for wine tasting and the other for olive oil tasting.  We spent equal time in both.  The propeller on the sign?  In reading a history of the Jacuzzi family I learned a piece of history I had never heard.  Before whirlpools the family made irrigation water pumps and before that they made propellers.  Cool.  An aviation link to a common name!  Check out their web site - Jacuzzi


The Jacuzzi winery is right next to the Sonoma Valley airport so I drove us by to see if there was any airplanes we hadn't seen before on the ramp.  A T-6 and Stearman were taxing out for rides as we pulled up.  I was taking pictures when Walt, the owner of the Ryan ST we saw earlier in the week stopped to visit with me.  We talked vintage airplanes for a few minutes before he went on his way.  It is always good to meet the owners of the airplanes featured on my web site face to face.
Walt Bowe's Ryan ST
With some daylight and energy left we made another swing through the Sonoma square.  A little shopping to find something to take home to remind us of the Sonoma area.  Is this weather for sale in one of these shops?  We want to by some of that!  Oh look, ice cream!  Just the treat to finish off the day!

Once back at the Fairmont we saw that the pool side seating was quiet and fairly empty so we snagged our books and a notepad to go sit by the pool.  There was a light breeze and the temperatures were coming down.  We found some seats in the shade to enjoy being outside knowing that the Texas summer heat wouldn't allow much of this when we get home!  Candice did some reading while I jotted down my notes to write up this trip blog.  The sun light faded after about an hour so we turned in for the night.  Our last night before returning home.

Fairmont
On the last morning we took things slow and made a gradual departure from the Fairmont to enjoy our final few hours in Sonoma.  There is so much to see and do in the area that we knew we would have to plan another trip!  Our conversations for the day were full of what to see NEXT time.  The last lunch stop for the trip was at Sunflower Cafe, a place we had read about before we arrived.  It was worth the stop.  The servings were large enough to pack up a snack for later.  Those would come in handy later in the day as we hurried towards the San Francisco airport.

Our final stop on this California trip was the Livermore airport to see a gorgeous Spartan Executive.  The connections I have made through my web page featuring Spartan Executives lead to a meeting being set to see Spartan Executive serial number 11.  Steve Marini was gracious enough to take time out of his day to open the hangar for us to see his beautiful ship.  He shared his story of seeing a Spartan at a young age and how he came to own a Spartan of his own.  To say he is enthusiastic about owning a Spartan is an understatement!  He gave us the full walk around tour and let me sit in the cockpit.  Our visit was too short as I could have listened to Steve's stories all day!  Take a look at the pictures below of his magnificent ship.  Thank you, Steve, for your time.  You have an amazing piece of aerial art!  (Look for Steve and his Spartan on display at the Reno Air Races this September.)





Steve and Dan


The clock was ticking and now we needed to race towards SFO.  It took awhile but our Prius finally got up to highway speed.  We made it across the San Mateo bridge and slid right into the rental car return at SFO.  Candice and I both let out a big sigh and breethed in our last deep breath of cool California air.  Time to go home.

It has been about two weeks since we returned from our vacation.  Texas has been on a hot streak with over 20 straight days with temperatures over 100 degrees.  You can imagine that my wife and I have mentioned almost every day that we wished we were back in northern California where it is about 20 degrees cooler!  Maybe next summer we can stay longer.

Links - see our Ryan and Spartan web pages at Another Time

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

California Vacation 2011 - Part Four

The amazing vacation weather continued on the Wednesday morning of our trip.  Bright blue skies greeted us as we walked out of the hotel to cross the street to breakfast.  It was back to the Barking Dog for a to-go breakfast.  The goal was to make it up to the Sterling winery by mid-morning for the aerial tram ride to the top of the hill.  Our route had us driving over the hills on Trinity Road to the northeast toward St. Helena.  Candice and I mentioned several times on the trip how we wanted to steer clear of the bigger towns and visit small town America.  The winding road over to the Napa valley gave us amazing views of the scenery near small town America!

Napa valley is surrounded by green hills and more wineries as far as the eyes could see.  Is there a way to get a better view of the valley?  An airplane ride would sure to it!  There is another way, as well.  Find your way to the hilltop Sterling Vineyards via their aerial tram!   The commanding white stucco building on the hilltop offers amazing views down the valley and up towards the 4,300 foot tall Mount St. Helena.  We wandered around on the self guided tour and sampled their wines.  The tram ride, tour and tasting are worth the money and effort to visit Sterling.


Tram ride up

View from the aerial tram

Sterling


Tram ride down

As it approached lunch time we asked for some suggestions from the local at Sterling and they gave as many choices on the high end of the price scale but we decided just to find the closest place we could off the highway near St. Helena.  What we found was Gott's Roadside.  A fun walk up, outside diner that looked to be out of the movies.  Good burgers, sweet potato fries and a milkshake.  Good fuel for more sightseeing!

The town of St. Helena is picture perfect.  Are we sure there are not movie cameras following us around?  This main street and its shops, again, looks just like a movie set.  My one antique store find was vintage aviation travel stickers to add to my old suitcases at home to make them look like I have traveled the world.
St. Helena
Next on the touring was the winery called V. Sattui.  The grounds are covered in lush greenery and flowers.  The buildings are rustic and stone faced with an old world look.  They have a great wine tasting room, gift shop and deli bar.  We escaped the warm afternoon sunshine by visiting the underground wine cellar.


Cellar at V. Sattui


The tour continued on to two more wineries.  We stopped in at Rubicon (another Coppola owned estate) and Robert Mondavi.  Both stops were just for picture taking and a short walk through.  We kept the pace slow and took a few pictures of the scenic views and unique architecture.
Entrance to Rubicon
Rubicon
Rubicon
Robert Mondavi
Our family friends, the Sampson's, that we stayed with on day one, recommended that we make it to dinner at Mustards Grill in Napa.  That place was worth the stop.  Outstanding food.


To wind down the day we drove through the town of Napa to see what the town had to offer.  It has fudge to offer!  The Vintage Sweet Shoppe must have been calling out to us.  The fudge was just the dessert we needed after a day of touring!

The sun was casting longer shadows over the hills as we made the drive back to Sonoma on highway 12/121.  Another fun, full day.  One more full day to come.

Monday, July 18, 2011

California Vacation 2011 - Part Three

We awoke to another cool, sunny California day so we walked to the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn diner called Big 3 for breakfast.  True diner feel and true diner food.  With the two hour time difference from Texas we were trying to get on schedule when our bodies needed food!  Over breakfast we planned our days route up towards Geyserville.

Highway 12, that goes right by our hotel, took us northeast along the edge of the hills toward Santa Rosa.  There are large estate homes, ranches and wineries all along 12.  A white and red trimmed Cessna 170 caught our eye sitting at the edge of a field nestled against the trees.  It didn't appear to be much of a runway.  Just a field that was big enough for a local to slide in and out in his own personal airplane.
170 in a field
Back on track we continued on to the north.  Some traffic slowed us down as we worked our way through Santa Rosa to catch the 101 North.

Our first stop of the day was the Clos Du Bois winery.  It was a short walk through to take a few pictures and move on.  The architecture of the buildings in this area had us taking pictures at every stop.
Clos Du Bois
Just across the 101 was one of Francis Ford Coppola's wineries.  Formally the Chateau Souverain winery, it has been remodeled and looks like a 1930's resort!  Walking up the entry stairs the building captures your attention.  The pool area, vintage cabines and pool cafe take you back in time.  The building is magnificent inside with its soaring wood beamed ceilings and dark wood features.  Movie memorabilia fills a large round showroom and featured center in the room is a Tucker car.  (Coppola made the movie Tucker, staring Jeff Bridges.)


Coppola entrance

Dan and the Tucker

View from inside Coppola


Pool Side

After the self guided tour we made our way to Rustic the on site restaurant for lunch.  The hostess took our name then noticed my Cessna t-shirt that I was wearing and asked if I was an aviation enthusiast.  Why, yes!  She asked if I knew the name Will Whiteside.  I remembered the name and knew of his racing at the Reno Air Races in his Yak-3 and the Mustang called Voodoo.  She was a friend of his.  Small world these aviation circles.

We were enjoying our lunch and about half way through the lunch the hostess returned to our table to give me a phone number.  She had called Will Whiteside, told him about my aviation interest and he mentioned we should give him a call.  OK, twist my arm!  Now armed with his phone number we discussed visiting him at the Sonoma County airport.  Well, we ARE close by!  We finished up lunch and stepped up to the wine tasting bar.  We made notes of our favorites before heading back towards Santa Rosa.

Next stop was the Kenndal-Jackson winery.  It was a brief stop as I made a call to Will Whiteside to see if he would show us his Yak-3.  He said he was expecting my call and invited us to meet him at the airport!  Visiting wineries and touring airports!?  THIS is a great vacation!

We followed Will in the gate and he lead us to his hangar.  For about 45 minutes he showed us his restored Warbird and told us stories of how his aviation interest began.  From flying with friends to transitioning up through various aircraft types to racing powerful, vintage Warbirds around the pylons at Reno.  Nice guy, cool airplane.  Great side trip.  Thanks again for the tour, Will!
Yak-3 "Steadfast"

Dan trying on the Yak

Dan and Will Whiteside
By now it was late afternoon so we headed back towards Sonoma.  A quick swing through the Ledson winery for pictures and then on to Chateau St. Jean winery.  Chateau St. Jean is another architectural gem.  Are we in Italy or still in northern California?  At least a small piece of Italy and its architecture.
Ledson

Chateau St. Jean


Candice and Dan in the gardens of Chateau St. Jean

Now that we had a fun, full day behind us we slid back to our inn and ate a light dinner in our room.  Feeling like it was Texas time we turned the lights out at 8:30pm local time.  Two full days still ahead!  We need the rest!  Part four to come.

Links - Clos Du Bois - Coppola - The Tucker - Will Whiteside - P-51 "Voodoo" - Ledson - Chateau St. Jean