Sitting outside this fine summer evening with a glass of wine reminds me that I haven't written about my trip to the wine country from Memorial Day weekend.
The “wine country” to which I am referring is the Napa Valley, north of San Francisco. (This is not to be confused with the Santa Barbara wine country in Sideways). The heart of the wine country is corridor along highway 29 north of the town of Napa:
I'm not sure why I thought that weekend would be a good time to go. Highway 29 was a parking lot the entire way from its start in Vallejo through at least the town of St. Helena. It is a pretty undersized highway for such a heavy tourist destination, but one can understand why they may not want to expand it too much. It is, however, an expressway and freeway in area in and around the town of Napa (within the city limits, it was a full-on freeway). The reason this photo taken just south of Napa is so clear is because I wasn't moving.
It seems like they should consider upgrading the remainder to a freeway at least through Yountville, which is considered the start of the main wine country. At this point, 29 becomes a two-lane road amongst vinyards, eventually meeting up with highway 128 around St. Helena, which pretty much lives entirely off the wine and wine-tourism industry. 29 and 128 continue north through some of the most upscale vinyards before splitting at the resort town of Calistoga.
One of the main wineries I visited was in fact just a bit south of Calistoga. Clos Pegase was of particular interest not because of the wine per se (though the wine was quite good), but the owner's extensive art collection, mostly 20th century works. Among them are this monumental mobile by George Rickey:
George Rickey's work was familiar, having seen at least one other example at the New Orleans Museum of Art scupture garden during my trip last year.
This linear-geometric piece by Tony Smith really works with the rows of grape vines:
I often try to find just the perfect perspective when confronted with such strong lines. You can see another example (one of my favorite among my “art photos”) from the Getty Center in Los Angeles, one of several on my photography page (which I really need to update one of these days).
Another interesting geomtric metal piece, this one by Joel Shapiro:
Of course, the collection is not just abstract work. There were several figurative pieces as well, including this sculpture by Henry Moore, which appeared to have gotten the “John Ashcroft Treatment”:
Of course, they had wine, too. Of particular note was the cabernet franc. Most American winedrinkers will be familiar with cabernet sauvignon, which are often my favorite wines. “Cab franc” is another grape that is often used in blends, but Clos Pegase's solo version was a great discovery.
The town of Calistoga is perhapsa better known for water than for wine. Calistoga gives its name to brand of mineral water popular here at CatSynth (though they were not offering tours despite the “come visit us sometime” suggestion on the label). It is also known for its many hot springs and spas. But beer? Well, it did try a very distinctive beer from the Russian River (in neighboring Sonoma County), with a rather sweet taste. Ironically, this was at wine bar that I stopped into while spending time until a spa appointment. This particular bar called out to me with its metalic modernist trendy urban look and vibe, compared to the general rustic charm of Calistoga – there is a definite “look” that most resort towns in northern California have that looks like a hybrid of Gold Rush and New Age. Nonetheless, I think I picked the right alternative for myself, and also enjoyed this little pasta-and-goat-cheese nibble.
I definitely recommend a wine-country trip for anyone in the extended Bay Area, though maybe not on the busiest travel weekend of the year. Maybe not a good trip for those who dislike wine, art and spa treatments. We at CatSynth refer to such people as “strange and weird.”
napa wine wine country CA 29 CA 128 modern sculpture rickey shaprio tony smith moore cabernet franc calistoga