Hopes, Dreams, and 100 Bottles of Wine

Posted January 3, 2021 – Narrated by Carmen
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“May you drink well enough to drown the envy of youth in the satisfaction of maturity.”

      – Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon & Three: Romance, Law & the Outrage of Grace

Well, hello 2021. We’ve been hoping to see you.

2020 taught us a lot about praying, hoping, dreaming … and drinking.

Last year, Jim and I lost some precious people – good friends and a close family member – to Covid-19 and cancer.

So, yes, we are hurting. But this LIB pilgrimage was born of pain – the pain of losing our dear mothers within months of each other. So the journey continues, little changed from before except for these surprise visitations, subdued as the flutter of a baby birds wings, that seem to say, “remember me.”

Richard, Jim’s brother-in-law was a veteran and a motorcycle enthusiast. Way back in the 80’s he loaned us his RV. Who loans his tent-camping brother-in-law his new RV?! But, more than that, Richard made Jim’s sister happy.

Richard

Nina was our friend most likely to be typecast as an angel or a super-heroine. I remember her as a gifted yoga instructor, a witty conversationalist, the life of the party, a horse-whisperer, a baker, a magnificent writer and the adoring mama of a girl she called Sonoma. And, oh yes, she strived to save the world.

Nina

We’ve known Steve since we were kids. He channeled his grief over the death of his young daughter into a mission to be a chaplain for firefighters.

Steve

Their work continues as they journey beside us on the frontage road.

My favorite book, The Canterbury Tales is about a rag-tag group of plague survivors taking to the road in the Spring – there’s nothing like the end of a pandemic to get people out of the house looking for a different view, a word of hope, a bit of good cheer, some sort of healing, and a good stiff drink to loosen the tongue and blurt out a bodacious story.

“What wine goes with Cap’n Crunch?”

      – George Carlin

So, here is our story about how we accumulated 100 bottles of wine in Beauty, our 30′ Airstream trailer.

Food heals. Wine makes us feel young.

So, the average LIB breakfast conversation is loosely centered around what we will eat and drink when the sun sinks into the horizon like cold butter on a hot griddle … followed by pressed garlic, fresh herbs and Gulf shrimp finished with a sizzling splash of Pino Grigio.

So, before and after we left our technician, Vinnie, with more important matters to deal with, we traveled through wine country killing time and stocking up the LIB wine cellar.

If you walk a mile in my shoes, you’ll end up in a wine bar.

      – Unknown

The famous LIB wine cellar was created by Beauty’s previous trailer-daddy, Larry Cook, and it holds up to 24 bottles of wine. Now, you might say, “Whoa. That’s a lot of wine to carry onboard an Airstream,” and we would agree if we didn’t do it all the time with no problems.

And 24 bottles of wine is just about right when we’re camping for weeks in backcountry or spending the winter in dry counties in the Deep South or any time at all in Utah. By the way, 24 bottles of wine only weighs 72 pounds. Regardless, it’s a necessity.

Yet, we tend to be frugal about wine. We spare no expense for fresh, high quality groceries, but we usually drink wine with dinner and sometimes we drink wine after dinner.

So, we look for deals. Wineries are a great place to find bargains – especially when we buy cases. And with complimentary overnight parking for a minimum purchase at participating Harvest Hosts locations, it’s easy and inexpensive to set out on an epic bargain hunting expedition.

“A glass of wine is good for your health. The leftover in the bottle is good for your morale.”

      – Unknown

The moment we arrive to a winery, we put the anxieties of the real world behind and concentrate on the establishment’s unique dream, personality and passion which we often discover is embedded in the signature features – the well kept grounds, views of the countryside and the intimate tasting rooms where we meet the earthy winemakers and farmers who make all this magic happen.

It’s always a bonus when we are invited to walk through the vines with a glass of grape. Retiring to the trailer, we settle in for a rustic dinner of local produce – cheese, dates, figs, almonds, walnuts, oranges, avocados – and then, weather permitting, we stargaze before turning in for the night. Next day, we do it all again …

Well sure, there must be better ways to live, but so far we haven’t discovered a downside to the vineyard touring lifestyle.

Since the pandemic began we sometimes wonder why we do anything else.

“Wine improves with age. The older I get, the better I like it.”

      – Unknown

Here are the details of the LIB 2020 California Wine Crawl.

Hanford Ranch Winery

At Hanford Ranch, we were greeted by Preston, our host, who guided us to a generous and shady space, on the gorgeous grounds.

Melissa, Preston’s wife and business partner, gave us a fabulous tasting experience.

Before the pandemic, Hanford Ranch served as a popular wedding and concert venue – and, though it is more quiet these days, the beautiful grounds are a sight to behold.

Later, that night, we gathered around the campfire to chat with Preston and Melissa and fellow Harvest Host members from Lake Tahoe.

It was one of those magic moments when all the elements come together … perfect weather, crackling fire, fascinating company, great conversation and top-notch wine.

Hanford is only a few miles from Vinnie’s Northbay Airstream Repair, so this was our first visit.

“Always keep a bottle of Champagne in the fridge for special occasions. Sometimes, the special occasion is that you’ve got a bottle of Champagne in the fridge.”

      – Hester Browne

Gnekow Family Winery

A Harvest Host member suggested we visit Gnekow Family Winery in Collegeville to try their excellent Old Vine Zinfandel which was being offered at a price we couldn’t afford to pass up.

Okay, truth is, we went kinda crazy. But it was crazy hot that day, so we lost our minds and loaded up on the Chardonnay and the Rosé.

And all that lovely wine is still serving to fill the gaps throughout this rough covid winter.

We still have enough onboard to spill over into 2021.

Thank you, Gnekow.

“When it came to writing about wine, I did what almost everybody does – faked it”

      – Art Buchwald

Bon Niche Cellars

We read great things about Bon Niche Cellars. The owner – a veteran – once lived in Naples, Italy where I lived in the 60’s – so, I just had a good feeling about it. In the last year, we’ve met several retired veterans who are now winemakers or brewers who support veteran relief programs.

As we drove up to the gate, we were greeted by a staff member who guided us safely to a primo spot on the hill with a spectacular view of the valley below where rows of late-autumn vines glowed like a million paper luminarias against the sunset light.

The countryside here is enough for a landscape artists life work.

Horses graze beneath shady oaks on the golden hillsides, owls swoop low over barn roofs, a man with a walking stick herds goats home for the night.

For those who love non-pretentious and intimate wineries that keep it simple, you can’t beat Paso Robles.

Bon Niche took it a step further by inviting us to help with the last four rows of Cabernet Franc.

Well, sure. Why not? So early next morning we masked up and joined the harvest.

Someday I will look through my photos and submit an entry for their wine label contest.

“If I ever go missing I’d like my picture put on wine bottles instead of milk cartons. This way my friends will know to look for me.”

      – Unknown

Four Sister’s Ranch

Just what the doctor ordered. We were graciously welcomed by our hosts Michael and Serena (both are M.D.’s) to their 500-acre ranch with 400 acres of vineyards.

They have grown wine grapes here since 1989 and produce wine for renowned wineries all over the world and just recently started producing under the family label, Four Sister’s Ranch, after their four daughters.

Michael, the farmer, and Serena, the winemaker, have a genuine passion for this work. We pulled in during the late afternoon, and even after a full day of running the shop, this amazing couple had energy to spare.

Creative. Relentless. Infectious. It was a joy to be in their company and under their care.

We bought some bottles and we walked back to our quiet camp spot feeling such gratitude for being in this healthy, blessed place.

“… taste, color, bouquet; it’s manifold graces; the way it complements food and enhances conversation; and its sovereign power to turn evenings into occasions, to lift eating beyond nourishment to conviviality, and to bring the race, for a few hours at least, to that happy state where men are wise and women beautiful, and even one’s children begin to look promising.”

      – Robert Farrar Capon

DeBellis Ranch

Okay, DeBellis Ranch was not a winery but whatcha bet we drank some wine there?

This was our first time to tour Acton in Los Angeles County, a fascinating off-the-beaten-path frontier town.

All those childhood summers on my grandfather’s farm in Alabama still nurture a place in my heart for small family farms – and especially those with pick-your-own tomatoes.

We were welcomed by Mike and AnnJanette DeBellis who provided baskets so we could harvest our own herbs, flowers, tomatoes, berries and other organic produce from their tidy, pesticide-clean and beautiful garden.

AnnJanette is a florist as well as a farmer. She grows, harvests and arranges clean pesticide-free flowers for all occasions and her work is amazing.

We were delighted to discover Acton and this sweet enterprising and community-minded family farm.

“Who is this ‘moderation’ people are always telling me to drink with?”

      – Unknown

Vista Ranch

It was hotter than a two-dollar pistol but we wanted to visit my cousin, Miriam. There’s a saying in our family, “Miriam can do anything” and it is no exaggeration. She restored her mid-century cottage all by herself, planted a covid garden that can feed her entire neighborhood, is a world traveler and speaks oh, I don’t know how many languages now – and, oh yes, she knits.

So, even though it was 120 degrees in Merced, Miriam showed up to our overnight digs at Vista Ranch with several flavors of homemade ice cream.

Dr. Miriam Barlow is an evolutionary biologist on the faculty at UC Merced, and Antibiotic Resistance is just one area of her expertise because Jim and I failed to resist any of her ice creams. Miriam knows stuff. Just sayin.’

“One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters. But with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue. As you choose, but get drunk.”

      – Charles Baudelaire

24 Brix Winery

Driving through the heat wave, we stopped for a night of refreshment at 24 Brix Winery. How hot was it? So hot that every time we opened the door to our air-conditioned trailer a determined alligator lizard tried to jump in. I’m sure this lizard, born to better things, would have been an excellent house guest – make the beds, wash the dishes, make a pallet and sleep on the floor – nevertheless we resisted her charms and placed a bowl of water out to distract her.

Much as we would have liked to hang inside the cool pueblo winery, we didn’t want to take a covid risk. And, because it was much too hot to sit outside, Jim masked up and purchased a few bottles of their chilled, refreshing, pesticide-free Sauvignon Blanc. So we took the last of Miriam’s ice cream out of the freezer, popped open a bottle of Sauv and watched Antartica webcams.

“In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria.”

      – Benjamin Franklin

Crystal Basin Cellars & Highway 50 Brewery

The great thing about summertime in Merced is cooler temperatures are not far away in the higher elevations at the base of the Sierra Nevada. Camino, a small agricultural community on the I-50 gave us two reasons to pull off and spend the night – Yes! A side-by-side winery and a brewery! Crystal Basin Cellars & Highway 50 Brewery

– and both had bands playing that Friday night.

This is an authentic California hangout with a provencial working class vibe.

The socially distanced outdoor area set impossibly along the bare raw edge of the 50 was wildly exciting and scenic.

In the future we will drive out of our way to go here. In fact, I want my retirement home to be right next door.

Now, in the first week of 2021, about a dozen bottles remain from our 2020 California Wine Country Tour. No bottles have been broken and even with all the climate inconsistencies – due to traveling through freezing and dry territory into humid and warm and then a cold snap – we’ve had no spoilage.

There’s no moral to this story except, “When life gives you a pandemic, make room for wine,” one of life’s simple graces. And, if you are living in an Airstream, just stuff those bottles inside fluffy winter microfibre socks and then cram them back into those cardboard cases. Of course, you’ll have to shuffle them around a lot, step over or around them, so be sure to place them carefully.

And here’s to your best year yet … your best journey … your best adventure.

May 2021 make it happen.

Cheers!

“Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, not the flowers that bloom in the spring of super-spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.” 

      – Robert Farrar Capon

If you want to see our exact route, click here.

*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.


53 thoughts on “Hopes, Dreams, and 100 Bottles of Wine

    1. Oh yeah! We’re finishing our last bottle of zin tonight. Gotta go back to Cali and stock up.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      LIB

    1. Thank you, Rosemarie! I guess driving around and drinking wine is pretty adventurous these days. We are grateful to be able to share.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      LIB

    1. I know, right?! While we were on this tour I mentioned to Jim that when we get too old to drive we’ll have to hire a driver. Maybe – when covid is under control – wine country tour busses will replace the cruise lines. They have dance floors and some even have tennis courts and swimming pools. Those fancy tour busses are quite plush.

      Thanks for being with us Georgette!

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      LIB

    1. Thank you for the chuckles – they pair nicely with this merlot I’m drinking.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      LIB

    1. Paso is our favorite wine country, Barbara. Thank you for recommending it. Every time we go there I look at property listings, too! They have a beautiful golf course with a nice locals restaurant on the bike path.

      Love and miss you!

      Carmen & Jim

  1. Oh if only we could bottle the essence of you and Carmen – eyes and hearts open always – joy and loss felt deeply. Toasting to the balance you always seem to find. Cheers to 2021!

    1. Thank you, Lisa. Raising a glass to you. Be blessed this year.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      xoxo

      Carmen & Jim

  2. Love this post so thank you! Very sorry for the loss of great people this year. But thanks for your upbeat and great posts! We too live in our Airstream full time so love reading what your doing!

    1. Oh wow! That’s great! We should meet up. Thanks also for your condolences. It hasn’t really sunk in yet – the people who died this year. Other’s – acquaintances – have died this year as well. There should be a week of national mourning. Survivors guilt is a real thing and if we can all mourn together I think it would help. Thank you for being with us, Janaea.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      LIB

  3. We did a social distancing Washington wine tour last summer. Our AS Globetrotter was heaven on wheels!

    1. Hey Georgia!

      Oh yeah … sounds wonderful. Social distancing at wineries is easy. Most of them can provide a quarter acre per person. A LIB Washington wine tour must happen! I would love to hear more about your experience. There is a tour through Texas we’d also like to take in the Spring – begins in Austin. It would be wonderful to get your Globetrotter and our Excella together in a beautiful vineyard.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      LIB

  4. Brilliant storytelling. Be sure to visit Hess Vinyards, on Mt. Veeder. The art gallery Aline is worth the drive up in your tv.

  5. I appreciate the HH reviews! I will have to check out the one you recommend in Lodi since we live in Lodi. We actually go to HH close to home for weekend getaways.
    See you down the road.

    1. Hey Michelle! You might mean Gnekow or Hanford. Gnekow has a parking lot for overnighting. Like most of Collegeville it’s in a quiet rural area with almost no traffic.The tasting room is open but it’s best to call ahead and make an appointment. Gnekow isn’t a touchy-feely winery – it is more industrial, but they have some great wines and the price is right. I’ve been reading their blog – enjoying it quite a bit and learning more about wine history and production. https://www.campusoakswines.com/blog. If you meant Hanford in Galt, it is a wonderful location up on a knoll and secluded. Beautiful views in almost every direction and delightful hosts. Both have excellent wines.

      Yes! See you down the road. Till then …

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      LIB

    1. Hey Kellie! We loved that amazing view at Sander’s in Pahrump, Nevada! We were there on a super moon night …. what a spectacular display.

      Yes, Harvest Hosts opens so many areas up for camping which takes a load off the park systems and provides campers an alternative to crowded sardine-can style private campgrounds that charge way too much for an overnight stay beside noisy interstate highways.

      And every time we log in we see more and more hosts. We couldn’t be more pleased.

      Have a great time at Sander’s!

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      LIB

  6. Great post you guys. This is one of my dream trips. Thank you for sharing. So glad 2020 found some beautiful people, country and wonderful wine.

    1. Thanks Erin. One of the best things about having an RV is touring wine country in an RV. We’ve toured wine country for decades – stayed in hotels, B&B’s … – but the Airstream is the most luxurious way to hack this kind of tourism.

      This is also a safe form of tourism during the pandemic. And many of the growers and winemakers are hurting right now and appreciate the business – also many have overstock and are pricing cases for immediate sale.

      We feel safe at these locations because its rural, most have night security and the owners and/or caretakers reside on the property 24-7.

      The other reason we love it is the people … keeping a covid distance in a socially distanced outdoor area we get to make eye-contact with and converse with PEOPLE!!!!

      We are truly ALL in this together. We need to find ways to hack it together too!

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      LIB

    1. Great to hear from you, Claudia! There’s no time like NOW in wine country. The tasting “rooms” are probably not open right now due to the California Lockdown – but as soon as the lockdown is over the tasting “rooms” will be open for socially distanced, peaceful, relaxing and scenic tastings.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      LIB

  7. Where the heck do you carry all that wine? In the trailer? In the truck? I can see Jim pulling out the bedslide in the back of the truck and it being loaded with cases of wine. “Carmen, we have to ditch the kayaks because there’s no room for them now!” Another great post with inviting pictures. Always enjoyable to read your posts. But where does 100 bottles of wine go in an Airstream? Seems like an idea for a future post like Jim’s description of what stuff you carry and where it is stored. Or, I guess, just drink some more wine and the storage problem solves itself!

    1. Hey Steve!

      It’s a good thing we have superpowers and are able to leap over wine boxes in a single bound.

      That’s a great question. Thank you for paying attention. We do have a few photos of the chaos but decided to not post them and leave our situation to the imagination of our readers because we didn’t want to give the impression that what we did is normal or a recommendation. Or have to post a “DO THIS AT YOUR OWN RISK” disclaimer.

      The answer is … when we were on the road, we distributed the cases evenly throughout the trailer in places where they could not slide around as we ascended and descended steep mountains and hills on the windy roads. We kept most of the cases in the front half of the trailer when we were on the road. When we were in port, we moved the cases under the table – where Pico’s comfort bed usually is and (where he goes when he’s tired of us – he missed it) and also beside our beds … soooo, yes, we had to crawl over the boxes to get in and out of bed which contributed to stubbed toes and very bad words during those nocturnal stumbles to the bathroom. When we were working on the trailer at Vinnie’s, we had to store the cases in the truck and at the end of the day put the all back in. Yep, it was a mess and a lot of heavy lifting … but that’s life sometimes. Not a GOOD idea, but it was, at least, a FUN idea. We just say, Covid made us do it. But next time we will probably refrain from carrying more than our vault capacity (24 bottles) … and maybe just one or two more cases on future wine country escapades.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      LIB

  8. Hit up Bob Gerken at Butterfly Creek winery in Mariposa. It’s near Yosemite’s west entrance. The guy knows the park and his white merlot is yummy. Plus…if you get in good with him, he might just let ya camp there at the farm 😉 He’s the Admin for the Yosemite Trails Facebook group. Lots of fun!

    1. Thanks Kimberly!

      Our annual trips to Yosemite usually involved a stop at a small winery in Groveland. We would stock up for our two-week tent-camping trip. Great memories. Back in the day I think there was only one or two wineries, now I think there’s over a dozen. Great place for a wine tour!

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      LIB

  9. What a great post! It truly made me very happy… and perhaps a bit envious! Cheers, my friends to a fabulous new year. May it be safe, happy and filled with wine!

    1. Laura! We are ELATED to hear from you! I think that calls for a drink! Yes? Cheers to you and Doug. May this year bring the best to us all.

      xoxo,

      Carmen & Jim

    1. Jihong! Thank you so much for following our journey. We are still in love with this lifestyle – maybe even more during covid than before. Even though our choices are limited by closures, we are finding so much joy as we dine at home more and observe wildlife. I bought a new bag of wild bird seed to increase my chances of getting some good photos of cardinals, and on the bay a pod of dolphins stopped by my boat to visit. Life is good.

      Happy winter to the Snow Queen!

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      LIB

  10. What a fun, inspiring and informational post. We love Harvest Hosts AND were in Paso in late 2020 with friends. We are based in Austin but travel in our Airstream about 9 months a year. So a Hill Country wine tour would be so much fun. We spend our wine time in Fredericksburg and LOVE Becker and Grape Creek wines.

    Hope to see you down the road. Bert

    1. Hey Bert!

      When the pandemic winds down, we’d love to take the Texas Wine Trail.

      https://texaswinetrail.com/map/

      I think Becker is on that list.

      Also, we’ve recently learned about a great wine trail in Ohio.

      If you think we might be in your area, feel free to email us – maybe we can meet up at a winery.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      LIB

    1. Serena and Michael, it is our pleasure. Thank you for the great tasting and excellent wines. We hope to return to Four Sisters!

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      LIB

  11. Well, that sounds (and reads) like a perfect summer to me, especially during Covid. A multiple-week wine tour, including accommodation on the premises. Wine is one of my good friends as well, but we usually stick to our $4.99 favorite bottle of red California blend from Trader Joe’s – which is a dollar cheaper in that state. It never disappoints. 🙂

    1. Hey Liesbet! Wonderful to hear from you!

      Our favorite bargain wine at TJ was a straw bottle chianti for about $6 that they don’t sell anymore. Next time, we’ll try the California Blend. Thanks. I wish there was a TJ down here in Florida. Wine is pricy here but at least the oysters are affordable. The only place we’ve found bargain wine AND oysters is in South Texas on the Laguna Madre – a region that grows closer to my heart every day.

      Cheers to Roaming About!

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      LIB

      1. Yes, check out our favorite bargain wine in TJs! It’s called Terrain Vineyards and is a California 2016 red blend. If only I knew how to add a photo in a comment…

        The only (strangely) affordable alcohol we discovered in Florida last winter was our favorite rum (from Nicaragua). It’s called Flor de Cana and Winn Dixie was selling it on sale for les than $20 for a 1.5 liter bottle and it came with a free 2l bottle of coke (which didn’t fit in our fridge). No freezer for ice cubes. So we bargained with them and they gave us a free 1l bottle of coke instead. 🙂

        1. Thanks for the tip! Terrain Vineyards sounds like a good party wine. If this bad Florida weather keeps up, maybe we’ll start drinking rum 😉

    1. Thank you Sabrina! Happy New Year to you, too! As always, wonderful to hear from you and know that you are with us.

      Safe and Happy Travels!

      LIB

  12. Loved the post, hearing about the wonderful wineries and all of your adventures makes me want to buy an RV and travel throughout the country.

    1. Gunny, glad you enjoyed the post. It was a hoot to travel between these vineyards, meet the owners, and enjoy the refreshments. Traveling in an RV is quite an exciting lifestyle that may not be for everyone, but we sure love it. Thanks for following Living In Beauty.

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