Also since the good people at Kress made this article possible, if you are in South Jersey, stop by today and during the holidays to get a nice bottle of wine by good people. You know they are good, I married into their family 😉
I went on a trip to the California wine country and I found America. I wasn’t looking for her by any means. I wasn’t interested in finding picturesque landscapes that would make pretty post cards, but I found them and in a very American way: in a car and just driving.
As soon as we landed in San Fransisco International, we scrambled to get the rental car and we just went. My wife and I drove almost 100 miles away from the city and then took the whole route back on the iconic Route 1 coastal highway. There are miles of unmolested landscape and ocean. Mountains, fields, and for huge stretches, no people… it was fantastic. We stopped and stretched our legs, checked out some scenic stops and then we kept moving on. We had some authentic Mexican food at little road stop and then we continued to Napa for the night (and got snagged in a few hours of iconic American traffic).
The next morning we headed off to Sonoma for a private tour of MacMurray Ranch. This ranch was owned by Fred MacMurray, star of “My Three Sons”. The scope of this place blew my mind. It is 1100 acres of fields and mountains. The Gallo family purchased the property in the late 1990s after MacMurray died and converted it into a vineyard. Fred’s family is still involved with the property which is a nice touch.
The idea of holding that much property is astounding to me (not in a critical way). Past generations seemed to understand that you can’t over manage the land. Fred MacMurray left hundreds of acres alone (Gallo actually has a policy about that as well which is very cool). After we toured the ranch, we were taken down the road to see one of Gallo’s other non-public vineyards that was massive. I am going to do an actual write up about these places for Drinking Made Easy, but for the sake of this post, just walk away with the idea of land as far as the eye can see with mountains, trees, and in some cases grapes. I think I understand the imperial-land-grabbing-blood-lust of our forefathers.
The primary reason we went to California was to see Ryan Adams. I covered that already (read here). The show was great and the venue was small and intimate. It was a perfect night.
The next day we headed to San Francisco. We spent most of the day walking around the city without an objective. We went to China Town and Little Italy. We ate a nice dinner recommended to us by one of the local bakery owners (Michelangelo’s if you need to know). By the time we finished it was dark, so we took a cab back to the hotel and called it a night.
Tuesday morning we found ourselves on Golden Gate Bridge. We walked across as far as we could but didn’t get to the end because it was closed. We spent some time in the Golden Gate Park, walking up and down hills before it was time for lunch. We wanted to do Dim Sum. We went to an authentic dim sum place. Too authentic. I was excited when we walked in and saw only Asian people – I knew this place was the real deal. But then I noticed no menu and servers walking around with carts. Nobody really spoke English and I didn’t know what I was ordering. I managed to get my hands on some beef soup during the 30 minutes we were in there (one bowl), before we decided to split (paying was also interesting, I don’t think I was supposed to get up and pay myself – oh well). We ended up back in Little Italy which was not the plan at all, but we had a nice lunch at the Stinking Rose and we were served by Count Dracula, who was very nice (no I will not explain any further).
We walked around the city some more to burn off lunch and then went back to the hotel to clean up. I booked dinner reservations at “The House of Prime Rib” and decided that I needed to get in an extra run to burn off what I knew we going to be a calorie fest in the evening. I managed to get the gym completely empty and it overlooked the city in a small panoramic room. It was dusk and I was able to overlook the city which is a nice way to spend time on a treadmill.
Dinner was completely insane. This place served only one thing: Prime Rib. Salad, two sides. That’s it. It was perfect. Going back to my ghosts of America, this place was a call back to another time. Martinis and red meat. Baked potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. Classic.
In the morning, we found a nice little place (Honey, Honey) to get a simple breakfast and got ready for our flights home. Of course the flights were delayed and we ended up in Vegas, but that is all part of travel in the modern age. It is hard to get mad when you look down and see hundreds of miles of untouched landscapes and realize that there is still room to grow.
When Ryan Adams announced he was taking a break a few years ago I really wondered if he was going to play live again. Articles about Meniere’s disease and burn out made it seem like it could be a long time before a tour would be a reality. In the spring, Ryan announced select dates in Europe and I started putting away some money for a trip to California (Europe was too expensive, and I figured he might do a few dates near his home), he surprised many with a full blown tour. Long story short: I get to see him twice this year, as you can see in this review, I have no complaints.
[Opening Act: Jason Isbell]
Normally, I do a little research on opening acts, but I have been so busy with work that I completely forgot to do it. When Jason Isbell walked on stage and announced he was Muscle Shoals, Alabama I whispered to my wife “I wonder if he is in The Drive By Truckers” thanks to an piece I heard about them on NPR. He quickly confirmed my suspicions.
Isbell was sublime. I am so glad that I didn’t know much about him or his material because I had a chance to absorb his performance without any expectations. He is an outstanding guitar player and singer. Isbell has a natural way of bantering with the audience that comes from experience. Jason did a song that was based on a conversation with his dad that really sent a shiver up my spine. I can’t wait to get home and track down this guy’s back catalog because he is such a good songwriter.
[The Main Event: Ryan Adams]
Ryan Adams was excellent in every way last night. Since the venue held under 1,000 people and the show was billed as an acoustic performance, it was a very intimate. The one thing that stood out to me (after having gone to several Ryan Adams concerts) – is just how good his voice sounded. Ryan’s ability to convey emotion through his voice is often overlooked in favor of his prolific songwriting, but his voice might be the greatest weapon in his arsenal.
This was most definitely a thank you show to the fans. He played the perfect mix of “greatest hits”, new tunes, and fan favorites. Since he was solo, he tweaked several songs to make up for the lack of a band. The subtle changes were welcome and kept me listening for the changes. Ryan did a really nice solo at the end of “I see Monsters” that was new but fit perfectly. I am not going to rattle off every tune Adams played, but I am happy to have witnessed live performances of “Winding Wheel” and his piano version of “New York, New York” (they were awesome).
Ryan bantered with the crowd throughout the show. There was no tension. A few people in the crowd shouted out requests, but Ryan took it in stride and moved on with his set list. He broke out several improvised songs about people moving around going to the bathroom (it was funny, he kept asking them to come back, “Its not 2004!”). And the end of the main set, Adams soaked in the applause of the crowd. I have been to several Ryan Adams concerts in the past where he ran off the stage at the end of the show, it was nice to say thank you properly this time.
Ryan came back out and did a few tunes with Jason Isbell. He ended the show with an old Whiskeytown song “Jacksonville Skyline” – it was a fitting and satisfying ending to a memorable performance.. This show was a mutual love note between Ryan and the crowd and I am really glad I had a chance to witness it.
I can’t do a concert review without sharing crowd experiences. I thought I was going to break the curse last night and not have any issues with an audience member because this was a fan oriented show. Wrong. There were four girls in front of us that talked THE ENTIRE TIME. At first the main offender was trying to keep it low, so it was easy to ignore her, but as the night progressed they all got sloppy drunk. She had to sing every song. She was told several times to quiet down, but as they got drunker she just laughed. Did I want to push her down the steps at the end of the night? I can’t say (yes). Oh well – at least she knew the words…
Ryan posted this clip from the show on his facebook page
Sorry I haven’t posted for a few days, the urge to write wasn’t with me and as I read the previous days blogs, I was like… eh. I like to stylize my writing a bit more, but my heart is not in it because everyone in California has been so nice and lets face it, I am usually a mean bastard when I blog. But for the sake of my own memories, let me get this stuff written down as quickly as possible.
On Thursday, Allison’s dad had made reservations to the Sterling Vineyard. I wasn’t too exited about that as we had a bottle for dinner the night before and I didn’t like it. Before we went to the vineyard, Allison suggested we stop at a state park that was on the way, and I was all for it it. We got there and started on a trail… we did about an hour of walking before I realized we were totally unprepared for a hike – no water, not the right shoes or clothes (in case we ran into poison ivy or lots of mosquitoes) and most importantly, we didn’t have a map and the trails were not that clear. So we turned back and headed to Sterling a little early. The grounds at Sterling were not as manicured as the other vineyards, but the natural beauty surrounding us made up for it. The cool thing about Sterling is that you get to take a gondola to the main vineyard and that is awesome and you get to see a great view. We did the tour and I will say that the wine was the best of the three vineyards we visited. I don’t like white, but the stuff they gave us was OUTSTANDING. We hit the gift shop, got a few bottles and went on our way. We stopped at a few cool houses that looked like castles and then went back to the hotel.
For dinner we ate at a place called Cuvee near our hotel. So far the best dinner since we got there. Allison had braised beef in a red wine sauce and I had pork shoulder in a sauce. (I am just writing that down so I can read this next year and try to remember what it tastes like).
We then went to bed and rested for day 4….
Pictures of Day 3:
Yesterday, Allison and I didn’t have any appointments so we decided to go to Muir Woods and Sausalito. We had a great ride over and when we got to Muir Woods I decided we should do a 5 mile loop with a great view of San Francisco. This loop was 3.5 miles uphill and then 1.5 down. For a guy that does an hour of cardio a day and lifts weights, this was HARD. Poor Allison was cursing me the entire time but she kept up. Once we got to the top and we saw the Pacific ocean we were like, lets get the hell out of here. The way down in some ways was worse, very hard to keep your footing, but when it was done… I was glad we did it.
After our little adventure we were hungry, so we headed into Sausalito for lunch. Pretty town, totally a tourist trap. We found a resteraunt right on the bay. Of course it was seafood (I don’t eat seafood), but I managed to get a ceasar salad. One funny part was when a european couple sitting behind us stiffed the waitress on a tip and she came out and totally called them out on it. It made us laugh. Nice meal on the water and an overall great day.
The ride home took hours because of traffic which sucked. We ordered in last night from the hotel and watched a terrible movie. Went to sleep early because today we leave for San Francisco.
I would consider this the first official day of the Honeymoon. I woke up and wrote the first days blog while Allison slept (like she is doing now) and then went down to the little gym to get what was left of the wedding booze out of my system. When I got back she was showered and ready to go. I got ready and went down to the main lobby for a quick breakfast. We ate and ran.
We got to the car and headed for Highway 29 to Oakville which is really where the vineyards are. We arrived at the Mondavi Vineyard early, but the people were very nice and accommodating. Allison’s dad got us a reserve wine tasting (the best press from the best section of the vineyard) but we decided to take the tour first so we could work our way up to the best wine.
Our tour guide Melvin was awesome (I have lots of video which I will YouTube when I get home). He told us all the things to look for in the grapes, the pressing process, how they add the yeast, etc. I had lots of flashbacks to pressing wine in Uncle Freddy’s backyard and the smells of fermenting wine reminded me of Nate passed out on a dining room table. The wines we tasted were all very good. We had a few whites and some reds. I should have written the names down, but I didn’t – I will say that the whites were very good (even though I don’t like white wine). The grounds at Mondavi were fantastic so we hung around til 12:30 drinking.
At this point I had a nice buzz and Allison and I thought it might be a good idea to get lunch. Melvin the tour-guide suggested a place called Mustards down the road. Off we went. Mustards looked like a typical established east coast deli but with new wave California decorations instead of pictures of dead comedians and jazz musicians. We ordered drinks while waiting for a table, Allison got some pommigranite drink and I got a cucumber and vodka infused drink (Tony – they put cilantro in it and I laughed). Allison got a spinach ravioli with goat cheese for lunch and I got rabbit sausage. It was all very good and we headed out to the Opus One Vineyard to close out our tours.
Opus One’s main building was nothing short of spectacular. It had a terrace on the third floor where you can see the entire vineyard/operation, the rooms were stunning, even the basement was awesome. Our tour was a little faster and the guide wasn’t as cool as Melvin. The wine itself was dark and roasty-flavored with hints of chocoloate. Mondavi gave us more to taste at their tour which was nice to get a sense of comparison.
We headed back to the hotel, and chilled for a few hours and then went to dinner. We went to a place called Downtown Joe’s in downtown Napa. Like any typical downtown area, there was no parking, so I had to circle around until I found something. The food was typical bar food. Wings, burgers, pizza and it wasn’t anything to get excited about, we ate a pretty light dinner and then headed back to the hotel.
That was pretty much the long and short of Day 2. Day three we have a tour of the Sterling Vineyard and I am curious to see how that goes. More to come….
This one is going to be short and sweet boys and girls. Allison and I left for California at 4 AM EST yesterday. No issues with the flights, everything was on time. We had a little layover in Chicago and I was sad I didn’t have time to see the Great White City. We arrived in San Francisco at 11:21 AM. We had to stand in a long line to get the rental car (a Chevy Bolt? I will say the little bugger has some zip to it). We got to Napa Valley by 2:30 PM (the airport really killed alot of time). The famed Cali traffic didn’t rear its ugly head.
We checked into the hotel, tried to find a snack – seems like Napa Valley shuts down in the afternoon Europe style. We eventually found a little Italian place to grab a sandwich. We got back to the hotel, walked around a little bit, took a little nap, went to dinner at the hotel (very salty), and then went to bed.
Sorry the first day was boring, I didn’t take any pictures. Now its 7:30 AM and I got time and energy to annoy some people…