Friday, May 18, 2012

Living the Dream in the Valley

I’ve been writing bits and pieces of this post since we returned from California nearly two weeks ago.  It’s been so busy since we’ve gotten back that it has been nearly impossible to sit and capture my thoughts.
Vacation was blissful.  It was filled with the best life has to offer – quality time with my husband, remarkable food and wine, breath-taking scenery, and wonderful people.  It was the perfect time to celebrate life and to put cancer a little further in the past.
One of the things I enjoyed most were the stories shared by the people we encountered.  As I get older and as anyone who has had cancer or a similar experience will tell you, life is about being in the moment.  Furthermore, enjoying life is about recognizing those moments and appreciating them before they have passed you by.  I am grateful that I during my vacation I was able to recognize these wonderful moments as they were happening and fully experience the joy!
A highlight of our trip was a private Napa tour we took with Dave from the Napa Wine Project.  Dave and I corresponded prior to our trip, and I told him that I wanted to have an “off-the-beaten path” experience.  Robbie, being an amateur winemaker, loves to talk to other winemakers about the craft and I knew that he would enjoy this type of tour immensely.  Dave did not dissapoint.
The first place we went during the tour was Sciandri Family Vineyards where we met with Ron.  They have a beautiful 20-acre state and currently produce an estate cabernet sauvignon.  I loved sitting on his back porch eating cheese and drinking their estate cabernet while Ron talked about their family heritage and how they got started in the wine making business.  We listened as he showed us a small row of grapes smuggled from Italy that he had planted for the enjoyment of his grandchildren. 
Next he took us to meet Emil Tedeschi from Tedeschi Winery.  We ate lunch at a picnic table outside of his winery, while he told stories about how he started a winery in Maui of all places.  Robbie’s favorite moment of our vacation was when Emil pulled out his grafting knife and literally showed him how to graft a grapevine.  Emil was one of those salt-of-the-earth types and I loved that he spoke as a farmer that works hard to produce great wine.    
The last place Dave took us that day was to meet with Heather Brakesman at Summit Lake Vineyards on Howell Mountain.  Her parents started the winery before she was born, and she grew up in the Napa Valley.  We spent time enjoying a spectacular view, drinking wine, and playing ball with a relentless labrador.    She told us about how all she longed to do while growing up was to get out of the valley.  Now she is back, and listening to her kids talk about how there is nothing to do in the valley.  Her language was colorful and she had a great laugh.  I could have sat there all day.
Even without Dave as our ambassador, we stumbled onto some great people all on our own.  Our week started with George Hendry’s two hour tour of his winery.  He was a straight shooter who had obviously done some hard work during his time, as shown by the wear of his shoes, the roughness of his hands, and the aged skin that had spent many long hours in the sun.  But I loved his cantankerous demeanor and hearing him talk about wine with great passion and a suprising level of understanding.
I think this is one of the first vacations in which I was content to sit for hours and just listen to stories.  I took photos to remember rather than be able to show the amazing places I had been.  The wine was great, but not nearly as great as sitting on a deck listening to music while we listened to someone’s story.
If you ever make it to Napa, I highly recommend veering off the beaten path and looking for the hidden gems.  The big name wineries are great and we did spend some time hitting a few of those.  But those are definitely not the stops that are still resonating with me after I've gotten home.

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