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.