Wine Country

Marilyn and I just came back from a nice time in California celebrating a slightly late 30th anniversary.  We started in Santa Barbara, then drove up the coast through Big Sur to San Francisco, and finished in wine country at the tail end of Harvest.  The photo above is one of a small number of grapes that have escaped the annual Harvest.  It was really interesting how the entire Napa and Sonoma valleys were alive with excitement over harvest.  Here at home many different crops are grown and they all mature at different times.  But in Napa there is only one crop - grapes and wine - and September/October marks the time of harvest!

We learned a lot about the surprising number of variables and impact the land and weather have on the grapes they grow and the wine we drink.  The vines are planted all over the place - on the flat valley floor, on hills, and up the slopes of the mountains.  They abruptly stop in some areas, only to start again a small distance later where the volcanic soil creates perfect conditions.  We learned how different grapes thrive in the northern Napa Valley where it is about 10 degrees warmer than the southern valley due to fog from the nearby San Pablo Bay.  Slope of land, amount of sun, amount of fog, drainage of soil, angle of sun, what's planted between rows of vines - all of these things affect the quality of the grapes and wine.

The rolling hills, the mountains forming the Valley, the autumn colors from the grapevines planted row after row, and late the summer flowers all make this an exciting area to photograph too.  The only problem, is it is hard to get up for sunrise and good photographic light when you are enjoying wine and great food all day long!


The California Coast

Of the eight days we spent in California, we had beautiful sunny days with cool air and warm sunshine for seven of them.  The only day it rained was the day we set aside to drive up the scenic Big Sur coast from Santa Barbara to San Francisco.  Of course I whined a little about the weather - Marilyn will claim I whined the entire way!  In fact, we almost didn't go.  The forecast called for a flash flood warning in the Big Sur area below where a forest fire burned this summer and they warned of landslides.  But we decided to go and while it was not the beautiful sunny day I had hoped for, we did get a hint of how magnificent this area of coast must be.  

We made our way up the California Coast on a ten hour scenic drive up Pacific Coast Highway 1 (did I mention it was cloudy, rainy and foggy!).  We drove through the home of Split Pea Soup (Buellton CA), through the garlic capital of the world (Gilroy CA) and we added a little gas to the tank at the mere cost of $6.59 per gallon in the middle of nowhere.  When the road climbed up mountains on the coast - we could see almost nothing.  When the road dipped down to sea level, we got a hint of how great a sunny day would have been!  And just at the tail end, there was a small break in the clouds where we actually saw some late day golden sunlight.  The two photos below give you an idea of the better conditions we had during our drive.  It was still fun, and now we have another reason to go back.  After the drive up the coast, we spent two nights and a day in San Francisco before heading to Napa.


Santa Barbara

Our California trip started in Santa Barbara - an area Marilyn has always liked.  It's sometimes called the Riviera of the United States - with it's great weather, palm trees, oceanfront location and hillside background.  We met up with an old college friend who was in our wedding, but whom we hadn't seen in 25+ years.   We had two great dinners with him and his wife and caught up on 25 years of life!  The conversations and dinners were fun - it felt like that 25 year gap had disappeared.  The two photos below are from the Santa Barbara Harbor.  The Harbor holds sailboats and yachts but there is also a working section.  The mix of boats and activities is very interesting.

Our friend and his wife own a small Inn in Santa Barbara called the Casa Del Mar Inn.  If anyone is looking for a great place to spend some time, we definitely recommend Santa Barbara and please stay at Casa Del Mar!

Brian ReitenauerComment