Wineries of Hood River, Oregon

The Historic Gorge White House

The Historic Gorge White House

We couldn’t have ordered better weather in the Gorge though if we were windsurfers, we might be disappointed. The water is like glass today and it’s reflecting all the hues of the rocks surrounding it.

In all the years I’ve lived in this area, I’ve never done much more than visit a couple wineries, have some lunch and head on down the road. Today we’re spending a night and enjoying some of the wineries we’ve yet to visit.

Our first stop at The Gorge White House was a fantastic introduction to all this area has to offer. Self dubbed the Visitor Center of the Gorge, The Gorge White House carries wines from all over the Columbia Gorge so, riding on the coat tails of a New Yorker who visited earlier and bought a case, we could’ve tasted 16 different wines at $1 per taste. What’s particularly convenient is we were able to taste several wines from the Washington Side in one location.  Aniche Cellars has a stand out Albarino that traditionally pairs nicely with paella. Albarino is not a wine you see often around here.

Viento’s 2006 Vento was a big, beautiful, bold blend of Sangiovese, Barbera Grenache and Syrah. Be still my heart. The blend lover that I am, we chose a bottle of The Pines 1852 2010 Big Red made with Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Our pourer, Joanne, was knowledgeable without being pretentious and attentive without being overbearing. The welcome mat to the Gorge has been well placed with Joanne and The Gorge White House.

A few bonuses on The Gorge White House property are u-pick flowers, a food cart that’s kicking out great lunch fair and beer and cider tastings (ciders made on site).

Just up the road on Hwy 35 sits Wy’East Vineyards looking a bit like a very large produce stand from the outside. They’ve added comfy outdoor seating and you can bring your own picnic fixings to enjoy with their pastoral view and wonderful wines. Never claiming to be a white wine lover, I did enjoy their 2011 Tilly Jane probably because it was a blend and on the tarter side. True to form, however, their 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon drew me in. I’m a Cab girl. The tasting room here is well designed; cozy interior for brisk days and fantastic outdoor space for the sunshine we were enjoying.

Wy'East Vineyards outdoor seating with pastoral view

Wy’East Vineyards outdoor seating with pastoral view

Mt Hood Winery, also located on Hwy 35, has a grand tasting room. Glass front A-frame with vaulted , wood-lined ceilings studded with skylights and supported by stout wood beams. This winery is definitely event-focused. The reds here were consistently terrific. From the Grenache with a hint of pepper, to the spice in the Estate Pinot Noir to the perfectly balanced Summit Red blend, to the smoke in the Malbec to the smooth mouth feel of the Syrah with an intoxicating nose.

Our next stop was providence because all the information we had told us they wouldn’t be open. Marchesi Vineyards was open…and then some. Sandy was our pourer and hostess. She is the wife of the Italian winemaker who came to the area years ago, fell in love, purchased this land and the rest is our good fortune. Delight in the space as well as their Italian varietal wines. It’s like sitting in a green house in the middle of a garden. As Sandy sliced salami with a 105 year old meat slicer shipped from Italy by the winemaker’s father before he died, it was nearly enviable how content she was with the life her and Franco have made for themselves here in Hood River. Dolcetto, Barbera, Primitivo, Nebbiolo/Barbera blend…these are not wines you consistently taste at one winery and certainly not common varietals in the area. Of course, the 2009 Sangiovese did me in. Turpentine, pepper, fig and dark berry flooded my cheeks and I was suddenly craving spaghetti with a chunky sauce.

Marches Vineyards' cellar cat, Ischia

Marches Vineyards’ cellar cat, Ischia

Now we’ve been to Pheasant Valley Winery a couple of times but it’d been quite a while. We were met by their arthritic winery dog. Even still, he obliged us by sitting as still as he could on the slippery concrete floor so we could ooh and aah over him. The owners and staff at Pheasant Valley have a huge heart for dogs and dog rescue. Pheasant Valley’s Old Vine Zinfandel is made from the oldest vines in Hood River which is an impressive note. I do enjoy the Pinot Noirs in the Columbia Gorge more than the Willamette Valley. They have a softness to them with hints of vanilla, toast and cherry that I prefer. Their Barbera flirts its potential but needs time in the bottle to soften its edges. The Tempranillo, as I’ve found in other places today, clings to the teeth like tea steeped too long and really needs to be paired with food to appreciate what it has to offer. Probably my favorite was their 2009 Syrah with a big berry, deep spice and heavy plumb taste complimented by a dark chocolate nose.

The Pines 1852 has a tasting room located in downtown Hood River so we high tailed it over before they closed. The gal who greeted us said we were her first customers all day and we were there 30 minutes before she closed. Regardless, she was very nice and informative. Sadly, I do not have my tasting notes for this location but would certainly recommend it since we purchased a bottle of their 2010 Big Red at the The Gorge White House. I understand they’re relocating to a smaller space but will still be in the downtown area.

Of all the pourers we visited with today (and we met some stellar people), Kate at Springhouse Cellar won the gold ribbon. She was absolutely delightful…or was it all the wine we’d already had? No, it was her. She was just the kind of gal you’d sit and enjoy a bottle of wine with. Their 2009 Petitie Syrah and 2011 Sangiovese took me over the edge. Full bodied, food friendly and some pepper in the Sangiovese…just the notes my mouth craves. Springhouse Cellar has a couple features that make them truly unique. They’re housed in a “turn of the century fruit cannery and distillery” so from inside you look down on the old walls of the distillery and that’s where they hold some spectacular outdoor events. The old roofless walls make for terrific acoustics and transport you to Italy…well, by the second or third glass, maybe. Additionally, they have 10 wines on tap. It’s a funky set up that was the perfect ending to our whirlwind Hood River winery adventure.

view at Mt. Hood Vineyards

view at Mt. Hood Winery

Standard

New Mexico…it’s all about the sky.

Over the years I’ve read many books about artists relocating to New Mexico for the light in the sky and wondered was there really something special about it? How could the sky, the same one I look up into, look that much different some place else? Sure, I’ve been places where the beach is vastly different from the Oregon Coast or the birds that migrate are different due to the climate. But, the sky? Ah, yes, the sky…we’ll get to that.

Taos, New Mexico

Taos, New Mexico

After a long day of flying that included too many connections and thunderstorms, we arrived at the Albuquerque airport but one thing I’ve learned from my mom over the years is to start at the furthest store first and make your way home. So our week in New Mexico began in Santa Fe. After settling into our well-appointed and centrally located hotel, we headed straight for El Farol (Spanish for ’The Lantern’), the oldest restaurant and cantina in Santa Fe, with live flamenco music in the bar. Our meal consisted of an array of tapas complimented by glasses of Tempranillo in a setting that smelled of old wood with the sounds of Brazilian jazz wafting into the main dining room. This is exactly what I’d hoped I’d find in Santa Fe.

A good night’s sleep and some scrambled eggs fueled us as we ventured into historic Santa Fe unwittingly bumping into the beloved Holy Spirit Espresso on San Francisco Street. Established in 1993, locals pour out onto the sidewalk in part because Bill makes a smashingly great cup of coffee but, also, the place is small; no where to sit and only one or two people can fit in the post card-covered shop.

So much to see in the historic district. We admired the architectural gem that is the Lensic Performing Arts Center (built in the Moorish/Spanish Renaissance style). The French Romanesque Cathedral of St. Francis tempts you from Santa Fe Plaza, such is its size. Loretto Chapel, located on the Old Santa Fe Trail, was built in 1873 to resemble Gothic Revival-style Sainte Chapelle in Paris and contains the much-touted ‘Miraculous Staircase’ which appears to defy engineering and is made of extinct wood. A couple blocks south sits San Miguel Mission said to be the oldest church in the United States still in use (built in the early 1600s). Rounding out our church-themed tour was Santuario de Guadalupe on Guadalupe Street reputed to be the oldest shrine in America dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe (c. 1781).

Our self-guided tour of the State Capitol proved surprisingly interesting. At first glance, one can see it resembles a sun symbol and the interior of this building is dedicated to the art and artists of New Mexico. An amazing highlight for us was Buffalo by Holly Hughes of Socorro, New Mexico. It is her rendition of a buffalo head using recycled items in cleverly symbolic ways (old paint brushes to form the bridge of the nose represent the first cave drawings and “one eye is a lantern, symbol of light, hope, strength”). It was fascinating. A tribal town hall meeting was being filmed by local news media and their passion drew us in to observe and reflect.  The Cross of the Martyrs is located on a hilltop just beyond historic proper. This 76 ton cross stands 25’ high and honors the memory of more than 20 Franciscan priests and numerous Spanish colonists killed during the 1680 Pueblo Revolt against Spanish dominion.

To lighten the mood, we headed for Upper Crust Pizza on the Old Santa Fe Trail which proved to be an excellent choice not only for the good food but inviting outdoor seating and affordable local wine. In contrast, the recommended La Casa Sena in historic Sena Plaza was a bit of a disappointment certainly not for their ample selection of fine wines but rather the pretentious atmosphere that it is cloaked in. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the rooftop bar of the Coyote Café on Water Street. I can tell you the atmosphere is lively, the iced tea refreshing and the guacamole was fantabulous.

A full day must be set aside for driving the High Road to Taos. The scenery, businesses and memories are amazing. We happened upon Estrella Del Norte Vineyard & Tasting Room which had such picturesque grounds and, having never tasted New Mexico wines, we were immediately fans. Another magical side trip was Santuario de Chimayo in Chimayo, obviously a pilgrimage and

Satuario de Chimayo, a pilgrimage in Chimayo, New Mexico

Satuario de Chimayo, a pilgrimage in Chimayo, New Mexico

we’d never been to such a place. It was pastoral, introspective and powerful. Lunch on the High Road was at Sugar Nymph’s Bistro in Peñ asco which was recommended by our hostess at Estrella Vineyard. This quaint bistro in the middle of seemingly nowhere strives to use the freshest ingredients in every dish and a meal here will not disappoint. About 12 miles northwest of Taos sits the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, unnervingly blown up in Terminator 4. Its observation deck looms 565-650’ above the river (depending on the publication) making it an incredible rush of an experience.

Back in Taos, there’s so much to see in and around the Plaza including historic Ledoux Street but we didn’t spend much time here. Fast tracking it back to Santa Fe, we took Hwy 68 and stopped at Embudo Station situated on the banks of the Rio Grande. Lights strewn from the trees, a Flamenco guitarist/vocalist and keyboardist adding another layer of atmosphere to this 1880 railroad station-turned restaurant and brewery made this a truly magical evening but, alas, I believe it is no longer in existence. Keep your eyes open. Maybe another restauranteur has purchased it.

Atalaya Mountain Hiking Trail near St Johns College (which is a gorgeous location for a college) is approximately eight miles roundtrip and ends at 9,121’. The trail itself isn’t that difficult but, given Santa Fe is the highest capital at  7,000’ above sea level, it can be difficult to breath. Truth told, I didn’t enjoy the hike but the views at the top were my reward. An afternoon spent poolside with a bottle of the fabulous 2007 Black Mesa Sangiovese we bought at Estrella Vineyard hit the spot.

Our last morning in Santa Fe I treated myself to lemon curd ricotta pancakes because I’ve never had them and they sounded delightful. Oh, I was so-o-o right. Twenty five miles southeast of Santa Fe lay the ruins of Pecos Pueblo on a mesa along the Santa Fe Trail. Meander the 1.25 mile self-guided trail or take a guided tour and allow its history to wash over you as you imagine 2,000 people calling this pueblo home at its height.

Author underground at Pecos Pueblo along the Santa Fe Trail

Author underground at Pecos Pueblo along the Santa Fe Trail

As much as we loved the High Road to Taos, I do not recommend Albuquerque from Santa Fe via the Turquoise Trail. The sites along the way have received positive reviews but they just felt like tourist traps to us. The only place of note, in my opinion, was the town of Madrid which had some nice art galleries and an ice cream parlor.

Albuquerque had some delightful experiences to note. St. Clair Winery & Bistro sits a few blocks from the historic area. Another opportunity to enjoy some New Mexico wines and buy a bottle for your room. Do, do, do ride the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway. At $20 a person, it’s steep on many levels but worth it once. The Tramway, built in Switzerland, travels almost three miles up the west slope of the Sandia Mountains to 10,378’. Operators ride the roof routinely but standing inside the tram was daring enough for me. Hiking trails, a reasonably-priced restaurant and soaring views greet you at the top. The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History is a real treat with a Manhatten Project exhibit, replicas of Little Boy and Fat Man and well-versed volunteers who can answer virtually any question you might have about the history of nuclear weapons.

A typical Albuquerque street scene

A typical Albuquerque street scene

Petroglyph National Monument has a few hiking trails where one can see petroglyphs. We chose Rinconada Canyon said to have 1,200 petroglyphs four to seven hundred years old. Due to vandalism, we did not see many and some looked suspiciously like Bart Simpson but some petroglyphs were obvious and exciting to spot.. A word of caution. The canyon is very hot so be sure to have water with you and do be aware of snakes in the area. Tingley Beach near the Biological Park has trails around fish ponds and a train for small children. It’s a peaceful place to escape to. Another outdoor space to enjoy is the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park. There’s an observation room inside as well as forested trails which spill onto the banks of the Rio Grande. Locals abound in the evening walking their dogs and enjoying the cooler temperatures.

Researching this trip I found many pueblo tour options. We chose Acoma Pueblo and it delivered.

To be specific, our guide and his enthusiasm for his people and heritage was contagious. Nicknamed “Sky City”, Acoma Pueblo adorns the top of a 367’ sandstone bluff and is still inhabited to this day. It is history with a heart beat. A highlight for us was walking back to the Visitor’s Center via the ‘hidden’ rock staircase used for so many years that there are hand holds worn into the rock and stairs that look like dry ice billowing up from the path.

In downtown Albuquerque, I made the comical mistake that The Library Bar & Grill on Central Avenue was affiliated with The Library Bar in Dallas. Young gals dressed in VERY short plaid skirt and tied up tops, it was more like a Hooters by another name but we stayed anyway. It was afternoon and our waitress really was a sweetheart. Ironically, I feel compelled to warn you about a place we saw on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives called The Standard Diner which was so bad that my crab cake po’boy stayed with me all night even after gargling twice. Kelly’s Brewery is a cheerful spot that’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner all week with plenty of outdoor seating. Originally a gas station and then a car dealership, Kelly’s is a popular spot due to their friendly staff, great atmosphere and large menu.

Oh, the sky. It is brilliant. More brilliant than any sky I’ve ever seen. There’s something about the contrast of the mountains with the pink hues in the sky that makes you stop dead in your tracks when you see it for the first time. I mean, consciously realize you’re seeing a sky you’ve never seen before and you freeze. You’re mesmerized and there’s this flood of artistic brilliance that overwhelms your senses and in that instant it makes complete sense that people pack up all their belongings and move here without scarcely a second thought to it being the best decision they’ve ever made. To them I tip my hat and raise my glass…pretending it’s a glass of New Mexico wine.

Standard

Packing tips for a European vacation

Packing for a European vacation – or any vacation of two weeks or more – can seem almost as daunting as planning the trip itself but it doesn’t have to be. I have traveled to Europe three times for two-three week visits each with nothing but a 19” rolling carry on suitcase and a Rick Steves Civita day pack. Prior to our first European vacation, I worked for Hilton Hotels and went on conventions with other travel associates with this same carry on and a small purse. My travel companions were always astonished that I could pack dress skirts, suit jackets and heels for a full week with so little weighing me down.

I should caution you that I am not a clothes hound, I’m not a hair girl and I have no idea how to do a smokey eye. But I still think I’m representing America just fine whether traveling abroad or within our borders.

Me...in Cortona

Me…in Cortona

The trick really is to plan your wardrobe around similar colors. Below is a detailed list of EVERYTHING I packed on our first trip to Italy Sep/Oct 2006. For example, my ‘Paris’ skirt matched three tops and another skirt matched two tops so there’s five outfits right there. I aim to pack half as many bottoms as days I’m gone. In other words, if I’m gone 15 days, I aim for a combination of 7-8 skirts/pants. Also, whatever outfit I choose to fly to my destination in is the outfit I fly home in. That’s two days I don’t have to think about and I try to wear my thicker outfit on the plane so I’m not packing it.

I am not shy about washing things in the evening or taking advantage of a washing machine if one is available (which I never count on) as opposed to packing 16 pieces of underwear. Shucks, that’s just no big deal when you consider how much precious cargo space that underwear is going to take up. It also doesn’t bother me in the slightest to wear an outfit two-three times on a long trip. Seriously, none of the people you’re going to meet wine tasting in the French country side will have a clue you wore that same outfit having dinner along the Cinque Terre. Isn’t the whole point that you had dinner along the Cinque Terre not what you wore doing it?

I love Rick Steves’ packing cubes. They come in a set of three but I only use two. I suppose I could use the second smaller one for my cosmetics but, since they’re mesh and have holes, it’s not ideal. You really can pack more in a suitcase with these cubes. I don’t understand it. It’s the same space but it works somehow. Another great thing is I put my day clothes in the large one and my night clothes, work out clothes, miscellaneous in the second one so it’s just easier to pack and unpack this way.

To roll or not to roll, that is the question. I roll most of my clothes but not all of them. If I’m packing jeans or pants, rolling just seems bulky to me so I lay them flat but I roll my shirts, sweaters, just about everything else. Oh, a word about these ‘pack able rain jackets’. I have a thick Columbia Sportswear rain jacket that’s made of PVC material and has a hood. I rolled it like a shirt, it flattened out perfectly, put it in a cube and was very glad I had it when were caught in Tuscany for a couple days in the wet and muck. My point? Specially designed clothing is often times not necessary. Try what you have first.

Can I just tell you how much I love my cosmetic bag? I bought one from Nordstrom when I was a teenager. It was ripped on the inside and starting to wear on the outside but I loved it because it’s clam shaped so it opens more fully than another designs. Plus, the inside material was durable and I was having a hard time finding a durable replacement. Finally, I found my bag on Etsy. It’s colorful and makes me smile whenever I reach for it. Measuring 2.5”x 6”x 9”, it comfortably fits everything I use. I keep my liquids in a quart-sized Ziploc and take that out before going through security.

My colorful cosmetic bag...and everything else.

My colorful cosmetic bag…and everything else.

When you’re a girl, container sizes become important for travel. We have a lot of liquids. You don’t think about it until you have to pack them in a quart-sized plastic bag. So, I’m always on the look out for just the right containers. I label them as to their content so I don’t use face lotion to wash my hair on accident.

A word about exercising on vacation. I exercise four-six times a week at home and I really try to fit it in on vacation but I’m not a jogger so sometimes you just have to let go, walk more briskly through towns, not go crazy at dinner every night and just look for hills to climb and fortresses to conquer. Some trips are more conducive to daily physical activity than others. Have another glass of wine and you won’t care as much.

Scanning my packing list you may think “I don’t need that” or “Why didn’t she list that” but that’s what makes me confident anyone can pack this way. I don’t have an advanced cell phone so I use paper maps, paper itineraries, a paper day planner, things someone more electronically inclined won’t pack. My husband carries the camera but, if I did, that would fit fine in my day pack. I don’t bring a blow dryer, hair spray or any other hair products. You might. I’ve packed hiking boots in place of Tevas, swimsuits in place of jeans. I’ve exchanged khakis for a skirt, tank tops for sweaters. Any trip I go on, these are the only two bags I use. I don’t go naked. If I run out of toothpaste, guess what, people in Germany brush their teeth and they buy toothpaste at this thing called a store. And if you’ve not been to a store in Germany, what a great excuse to go into one. I love stores in other countries. They have a lot of the same stuff but a lot of stuff we don’t have or it’s packaged differently. It’s just part of what makes leaving the comfort of your couch a fantastic adventure.

The end result. Everything you need for 2-3 weeks.

The end result. Everything you need for 2-3 weeks.

This list was for Sept 19-Oct 4, 2006 throughout Italy and created 12 separate outfits.

Wore on plane

Bra

Underwear

1 white ribbed tank

1 long-sleeved button up sweater

1 pair jeans

Belt

2” wedge sandals

Inside 19” rolling carry-on

2 Rick Steves packing cubes (1 large, 1 small)

3 pair underwear

1 slip

3 short-sleeved shirts

2 short-sleeved sweaters

2 long-sleeved sweaters

1 long sleeved top

3 skirts

1 pair linen pants

1 pair Capris

1 zip up hoody

1 pair Grecian sandals (packed under packing cubes in plastic bags)

1 pair boxer shorts for sleep

1 t-shirt for sleep

1 pair of footies for walking around apartment/hotel room

1 exercise bra (??)

1 rain slicker

2.5”x 6”x 9” cosmetic bag

Suitcase interior zippered compartment

Deodorant (I use a solid not liquid)

Earplugs

Netline flexible clothes line

Hairbrush

Laminated copy of passport (Make sure you have a copy at home also, just in case)

Suitcase exterior zippered compartment

Any printed trip information

Cosmetic bag -dry

Q-tips (in 3”x 4” Ziploc pouch)

Powder brush

Blush brush

Tweezers

Eyebrow brush

Eyeshadow (quad case)

Blush

Razor

Face soap (I buy an Aveeno bar, cut it in half & put it in Ziploc bag)

Cotton balls (16)

Toothbrush w plastic cover

Dental floss (small case)

Hairclips (3-4)

Cloth pony tail holder

Cosmetic bag – liquids (stored in quart sized Ziploc for security)

Baby oil in .25 oz container (remove eye makeup)

Toothpaste in 1.3 oz size (can always buy more in Europe)

Body lotion in 2 oz container (can always buy more in Europe)

Shampoo in 2 oz container

Conditioner in 2 oz container

Face lotion in 1 oz container

Face makeup in .5 oz container

Mascara

Eye lubricating drops in .05 oz container

Hydrogen peroxide in 1 oz container (for astringent and/or first aide)

Eyeshadow primer in .37 oz container

Nasal spray in original 16 gram container (prescription)

Rick Steves Day Pack

Long-sleeved, hooded sweater jacket

Floppy hat

Teva sandals (wrapped individually in plastic bags)

Snacks for plane (ie homemade granola bars)

Key to our house (secured on O-ring sewed into bottom of this daypack)

1 really good guide book

Maps (I’m old fashioned and, if we’re driving, I want a map of the area)

Sunglasses in soft case with lanyard and cleaning cloth

Pen

Nail file

Nail clippers

Tube of Carmex

Cash

Euro (we always land with some ready to go)

Pocket planner (I’m old fashioned; it has phone numbers, etc)

1 credit card

1 ATM card

Medical card (Don’t know how useful this would be but it takes up very little space)

Passport

Standard

New York City; where friendly locals abound

Much has been written about New York City. What more could be added? How about, it’s a friendly big town that’s easy to get around in. That was our experience on a recent, first-time visit to the Big Apple.

We decided to embark on this much-anticipated but high anxiety trip using the excuse that an artist friend I’ve had since the 7th grade lives in Jersey City with her family and it was high time to pay her a visit. Using her lovingly restored 3 story brownstone as base camp, we navigated the ferry at Liberty Landing to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty before taking another ferry to Battery Park. We later realized taking the PATH to New York City, we could’ve caught a free ferry that would’ve taken us to these two top sights but we wouldn’t have been able to disembark the ferry and walk around.

Ellis Island could take ½ a day or more depending on your level of interest but we chose to walk around a time line exhibit which was a little quicker and still thought-provoking. Photos of the stunning interior hall do not do it justice. It is unfathomable to imagine the millions who passed this way. The Statue of Liberty was as vibrant as Ellis Island was somber. We were thoroughly entertained by watching other tourists capture the Statue in just the right way on camera. People are truly creative.

Statue of Liberty from approaching ferry

Statue of Liberty from approaching ferry

While waiting for our stamped time to enter the 9/11 Memorial, we found ourselves in the Episcopal Church across from the World Trade Center site. This was apparently the closest church to the site and became home to relief workers during the rescue and recovery effort. Inspiring exhibits of thank you letters, pictures of workers being fed, sleeping and praying in this sanctuary during such a horrific time adorn the church. The quiet of this place is in stark contrast to the Disneyland-sized line to enter the 911 Memorial. Once inside, the masses disperse and you’re left to take in the two eternity pools set in the footprints of the once-famous Twin Towers. Standing at one of the pools looking down into it tracing the water flowing down, I could see how some would embrace it and some would be disturbed by it. The ‘Survivor Tree’ was less controversial for me. It was the closest tree to one of the buildings to survive though it was reduced to an eight foot stump. There’s a brief description of its story in the Memorial flyer and its scars are so obvious that its growth becomes an even greater testimony. Standing in front of it, I was caught up in the loss and the hope to the point of tears.

Our second commute into the city we took the PATH from Jersey City Grove Street Station to the New York City World Trade Center Station. Ten minutes later, we arrived. Wow, that was ridiculously simple. There we were in the midst of it all.

Armed with three walking maps because that’s just my travel personality, we hit all the big attractions we‘d yet to see. We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge with thousands of our closest friends careful to stay in the ‘walking’ lane but I admit to skirting over to the ‘biking’ lane from time to time because sometimes I’m a bobble head tourist like everyone else but not when I find myself on a pilgrimage. To reward ourselves for exercising what little patience God gave me, we stopped for ice cream at Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory giving us energy to turn around and do it again. Had it been closer to lunch time, however, I did note some inviting restaurants in the area particularly on Fulton Street.

New York skyline at dusk from Jersey City

New York skyline at dusk from Jersey City

Close to China Town and Little Italy coming off Brooklyn Bridge, we made it a mission to find cannoli that would rival what we had in Boston a few years back. Caffe Roma on Broome St. sufficed and their coffee and service surpassed our expectations. Feeling ever encouraged by our successes, we attempted our first Metro experience being dropped off at 51st Street. While waiting, though, a local observed our uncertainty and looked up the Metro ap on his phone to give us more information about times and stop options. This happened to us more than once and it was a wonderful surprise. We saw Radio City Music Hall, sat outside at Rockefeller Center Plaza and then walked to Times Square. Here, we paused again. Climbing the bleachers positioned in the midst of the Square, we sat and I was struck by the silence of the chaos. Quickly I realized no one in the bleachers was talking. They were all just as in awe, just as meditative and contemplative as we were. It’s a hard sound to describe but I grinned ear to ear being a part of it. One of those wonderful travel moments where you are abundantly aware of how similar we all are in this great big world.

Grand Central Station was a glorious surprise. I always have a loose itinerary of things I’d like to see and do when we travel but I don’t always know why I want to see something or research that site. I believe ignorance can sometimes be bliss. In the case of Grand Central Station that certainly proved true. I had no idea how gorgeous the ceilings would be, how vast the Station would be, that it would be lined with pastry shops, food markets, restaurants, clothing stores. I simply didn’t appreciate that it truly is a small city unto itself and it was an absolute treat to discover. Conversely, I did research Pete’s Tavern to find it’s the “oldest continuously operating restaurant and bar in New York City” and we were undeniably under whelmed by the pretense and expense though the ceiling and woodwork are notable.

Another PATH stop from Jersey City puts you on 33rd Street. The rivalry lives on; see the New York City skyline from The Top of the Rock or the Empire State Building. From the 86th floor viewing deck, the Empire State Building is taller than the 70th floor Top of the Rock viewing deck but sometimes bigger isn’t better and I felt out of touch with the city from that vantage point though my husband thought it was amazing. At $25 a pop, we’ll save The Rock for another time.

Speaking of amazing, we both agreed the frozen hot chocolate at the renowned Serendipity 3 is worth the price tag ($8.95 as of this writing). Decorated with Tiffany lamps and the stomping ground of the likes of Andy Warhol, Sarah Palin, Rachael Ray and Justin Bieber, it has been a welcome stop for weary travelers and jet setters alike for over 50 years. Sadly, my Jersey City friend had never heard of this place which just proves being a tourist in your own town is a worthy pursuit.

All these calories motivated us to walk to and around Central Park. There’s so much to see in Central Park and it’s been covered by countless so I’ll just say that finding the Balto statue was at the top of our list. For those who don’t know, Balto was a “sled dog who led his team on the final leg of the 1925 serum run to Nome” becoming one of the more famous dogs to transport the medicine that saved the children of that area from a potential outbreak. Seemed like as good a reason to visit Central Park as any and we have a wonderful photo of Balto & me to commemorate our moment.

As lovers of jazz, we listen to Jazz at Lincoln Center every week on our local station so it was only natural to walk across the Park to Lincoln Center to poke around. It’s not open in the middle of the afternoon but, luck be a lady, a very accommodating employee let us into Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola to gaze at the floor to ceiling windows and imagine what a perfect setting this intimate club is at night filled with some of the finest jazz musicians on stage and Central Park lit up as the backdrop.

Spending our days alone exploring the city while our friends worked, we took the PATH back to Jersey City each evening for dinner with them so didn‘t partake in much night life. However, we took in a couple noteworthy restaurants such as Defonte’s on the corner of 21st & 3rd Avenue which has been on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives as well as another DDD alumni, the Brownstone Diner located in Jersey City. We ducked into a quiet and cozy bar near Defonte’s called Exchange Bar & Grill and had a wonderful dinner in Jersey City on the roof of Skinner’s Loft.

There were many times the people of New York City extended themselves. From the people in the subway giving us directions to standing on a street corner looking at a map having locals walk up to us asking if we needed help to the very kind police officers who, unofficially, act as tour guides and do so with a smile on their faces to the Transit cops at Penn Station who helped us with our Newark Airport train. We had experience after experience of New Yorkers being friendly and proud of their big city. We were pleasantly surprised and humbled every time.

Standard

Applauding Walla Walla, Washington’s go-to tasting rooms

Walla Walla has no shortage of tasting rooms but the options are greatly reduced mid week. Never fear, there are still several wineries to be applauded for their commitment to being available every day of the week.

Walla Walla’s Eastside has the distinction of several tasting rooms on their airport grounds, many of which occupy World War II buildings once used by The 91st Bomb Group (think Memphis Belle). One can literally fly into the Walla Walla Regional Airport and walk to a dozen wineries.

Eleganté Cellars, owned by a retired school teacher-turned-winemaker, makes an excellent first stop for some education and a unique treat. Although Doug Simmons’ 2007 Malbec was my favorite due to its boldness in taste and appearance, his ode to summers spent working in the strawberry fields is a gem. This strawberry wine will not be found anywhere else in the region. Its off dry characteristic literally tastes like crushed strawberries in a glass with none of the syrupy thickness one might equate to a fruit wine.

Adamant Cellars occupies the old mess hall and its tasting room is presided over by co-owner, Debra. I found all four wines poured to be extremely approachable as sipping wines but gaining in complexity with appropriate food pairings. Admittedly, Adamant won my vote for best wines of the day.

Our final stop on our mid week tour of the Eastside was Dunham Cellars. It goes without saying that they had many wonderful wines in their tasting line up. What was a surprise was the event space which can double as their tasting room when accommodating people like Nate are pouring for customers. Set in a World War II airplane hangar and adorned with winemaker Eric Dunham’s art, this space has something new and fantastical to cast your eyes on with every quarter turn. The setting marries perfectly with each pour although my favorite was the aptly named Trutina – Italian for balance.

Dunham Cellars in WWII airplane hangar

Dunham Cellars in WWII airplane hangar

Driving SR 125 (also known as 9th Ave) on the way to the Southside vineyards, you’ll pass the upscale sandwich shop Graze, a perfect place to purchase a picnic lunch. They even offer a convenient drive up window. Less than 10 minutes down the road you’ll see why lunching in this area fits perfectly into the day. Unlike most of the tasting rooms on the Eastside or Downtown, these wineries are surrounded by acres and acres of picturesque vineyards.

Northstar Winery’s signature is their Merlot and it’s a fun education to enjoy a side by side tasting of their Columbia Valley vs. Walla Walla varietals. Northstar also sells cheeses to enjoy on their patio or larger options of meat and cheese picnic packs.

Back down the road is Va Piano, featuring four families of vineyards; Bruno, Va Piano, Estate label and Black label.

Va Piano

Va Piano

Father Bruno Segatta is an artist, designs the Bruno  labels, has art displayed in the tasting room and visits from Italy a few times each year. While attending Gonzaga University, the Va Piano winemaker, Justin Wylie, met Father Bruno during a study abroad program and they’ve woven their friendship into this business venture. The Bruno label is intended as a more every day wine price point and they do a fine job meeting this goal. One can certainly taste the complexity increase through the labels.

Rounding out our sampling of Southside vineyards was Basel Cellars. We were told by Nate at Dunham Cellars, that this was an excellent choice for their wine, of course, but the estate is exquisite. Visitors are greeted by a wrought iron horse-adorned gate and the not-to-be missed wood carved entry door to the main house that cost $100,000 on its own. Yes, this was originally a $22 million private residence when it was built in 1995 and became a winery in 2002. The tasting room is set up in “one of the garages” near the main home. As one can imagine, these wines better hold up to the grounds they grace and they do an excellent job of that. What is a surprise is that their wines are considerably more affordable than most other wineries we’ve visited in the Walla Walla area. They proudly make a $20 bottle of Estate wine to compliment their higher price point portfolio and it is a delightful Claret.

Far more of the downtown (or Northside) tasting rooms are open daily. We chose Trio Vintners but, alas, they must have changed their hours since the 2013 guide went to press. I imagine this happens rarely but it’s something to be aware of. Directly next door were two other options. We strolled into Locati and our hostess, Alicia, was accommodating and amicable. Locati is actually an Oregon winery with a Washington tasting room so they’re considered a “specialty shop”. As such, they must carry another product so they feature an Oregon cider which introduces some to the promise of a cider tasting or two across the Stateline. Also available in their tasting room is a nice round up of cigars.  Of our five tastings, I especially liked the 2008 Sangiovese though their red blend, Innovation, was pleasant, as well.

Making our way back to our home base in Kennewick, we rounded out our day at a couple Westside wineries. Having enjoyed a nice Three Rivers Cabernet Sauvignon a couple nights ago, Three Rivers Winery on Old Highway 12 was an easy choice. With a Par 3 course onsite and free equipment available, this is a fun pre-dinner stop. Enjoy a glass of wine, kick around the Par 3 and soak in your beautiful surroundings. While Walla Walla is better known for their reds, most wineries do offer some nice white wines, as well and Three Rivers’ 2011 Sauvignon Blanc was one of my favorite whites of the day.

At Waterbrook, they’re excited to be pouring #71 of Wine Spectators Top 100 Wines of the World; a 2009 Reserve Merlot. That is quite a distinction but their Malbec with its wonderful peppery finish won my heart.

With over 100 wineries in Walla Walla to choose from, the options can be daunting. Ergo, a mid week visit is an excellent idea; fewer choices but no fewer fabulous wine experiences and a lot more elbow room at the tasting tables.

Standard

A Day Trip around SW Washington wineries

Today’s a great day to put an empty cooler in your car and drive to Battle Ground Bakery. Have them make you up some deli sandwiches for lunch and, while you’re waiting, enjoy a cup of coffee and a donut or muffin. Any choice will not disappoint.

Heading west on 219th St, take a left on 72nd Avenue and pull into Love Leathers Outpost.

Love Leathers Outpost-Battle Ground, WA

Love Leathers Outpost-Battle Ground, WA

Although geared toward bikers (and I’m talking the motorized kind), they also sell jewelry, t-shirts and other interesting knick knacks. Pick up their monthly newsletter and make a plan to come back for one of their scheduled breakfasts or barbeques.

Back on 219th, your next destination is East Fork Cellars Winery just over one mile north of the 219th St intersection with 10th Ave. With potentially seven wineries to visit today, I recommend the swirling and spitting technique as opposed to swallowing unless you have a designated driver. East Fork has a unique setting in that it shares its parking lot with Pacific NW Best Fish Co. This place sells the most amazing fish tacos in their café among other things. Definitely peruse the market before or after your tasting.

Less than three miles away off NE 29th Ave is Three Brothers Winery. As is the case with many wineries, Three Brothers hosts a summer concert series so be sure to ask about the upcoming line up.

Taking nothing away from the craftsmanship and artistry of other wineries in the area, Bethany Vineyard is arguably the big daddy of visual mastery. The expansive view as you meander up the drive is equal only to the whimsical pond that is made the backdrop of many weddings and special events. This might be your perfect place to enjoy the picnic you’ve been carrying around with you.

Belly filled, it’s time for a bit of an adventure.

Moulton Falls Winery tasting room

Moulton Falls Winery tasting room

Thirty five minutes away, in a pastoral setting near a railroad crossing, sits Moulton Falls Winery. For your efforts you will be rewarded by an impressive tasting room. Walking in, you are overtaken by the smell of wood and the vastness of the space and then envy the group who’s scored the leather couches in front of the woodstove (or become the envied). Moulton Falls teams up with the Chelatchie Prairie RR for wine runs throughout the year so be sure to inquire about their 2013 schedule. Keep an eye out for Jake, their Great Pyrenees mix who looks like a golden retriever on steroids.

Less than 15 minutes SW brings you to Heisen House Vineyards which has the distinction of being a National and State Historic Site. In addition to tastings, they have scheduled festivals throughout the year. If you’re in the mood to poke around a quirky country store, be sure to take a left out of their drive onto NE 279th St and pull into Heisson Store, home of the politically incorrect yet uproariously funny Red Neck board games as well as other locally made gifts and foods.

Heading back toward downtown Battle Ground, be sure to stop in at Olequa Cellars on 142nd Ave but be aware they‘re not open every Saturday. Brian’s wines are worth the time it takes to plan and prioritize. The unique name comes from the type of soil in our area.

If you’re still standing and able to distinguish a Riesling from a Sangiovese, you’re in for a treat because a five minute drive takes you to Rusty Grape Vineyards and, fortunately, they’re open until at least 9pm. This place has a lot going on; live music, movies on the lawn, craft fairs, wood fired pizza, craft beer, oh, and wine.

Admittedly, this is an aggressive wine tasting tour coupled with some fun pit stops so you might want to break it into two different days. We have a lot of award-winning wines being grown and blended in our area. Make it a point to get out and explore for yourself.

Standard

A Day on the East Side (Camas, Washington)

At the corner of 4th and Cedar in downtown Camas, Natalia’s Café has been earning enthusiastic reviews from locals and out-of-towners for several years. With breakfast fare consisting of stuffed French toast and crepes as well as several omelet options, this is a great start on a day of great stops.

Display at Navidi's Oils & Vinegars

Display at Navidi’s Oils & Vinegars

Stepping out onto the tree-lined streets of Camas, take the morning to browse unique clothing stores such as Lily Atelier and Luxe or home décor stores like Lizzabeth A, The World Works and The Cupbearer. These last two in particular are part of the ‘up cycle’ movement where a glass fruit bowl, for instance, is turned into a beautiful bird feeder. The Cupbearer also carries a line of wonderfully crafted wine furniture made by the shopkeeper’s father out of used wine barrels. At Navidi’s Olive Oils & Vinegars you can taste all of the oils, vinegars and sea salts carried here. Dubbed as a specialty food store, there’s more to Navidi’s than the name suggests.

About three miles east along Hwy 14 is Washougal, home to Pendleton Woolen Mills Washougal Mill since 1912 when it was purchased primarily for weaving capabilities. Their 45 minute informative and entertaining tours are free and given at 9am, 10am, 11am and 1:30pm Mon-Fri. At the end of the tour, take time to browse their extensive store filled with the beautifully dyed blankets you just saw being made.

Directly across Hwy 14 from the Pendleton Woolen Mill is the entrance to a multi-use trail that runs along the dike and drops down onto Cottonwood Beach Park or you can continue the full three miles into the Steigerwald Wildlife Refuge where there’s another trail that meanders through the refuge called Gibbons Creek Wildlife Art Trail. Whatever you decide, this is a great spot for a late picnic or a place to ponder after a long stroll in a beautiful setting.

Fifteen minutes from the park heading back to Vancouver off the 192nd Avenue exit is English Estate Winery, the oldest winery in Clark County. Set amid buildings dating back to 1915, the 20 acre homestead is at once comfortable and elegant. Come to enjoy a tasting, some live music, food offered on Friday nights, or find a favorite varietal and savor the day a little while longer.

 

Standard