The Quixote Winery is a hidden gem among the better known wineries of the Napa Valley. It’s located on the east side of the valley in the Stags Leap District. Having returned from Spain in June with a fascination for Antoni Gaudi’s designs, a friend suggested we check out the winery.
The whimsical architecture is like nothing else in the valley. The original winery owner, Carl Doumani, was fascinated by Don Quixote the Novel by Miguel de Cervantes. In his search for somebody that could create a winery to fit his vision he commissioned Friedensreich Hundertwasser, a Viennese artist and architect.
We visited the winery on August 27, having made a reservation the day before. Tasting is by reservation only, although you might be able to get same day reservations. We signed up for the White Label Experience that included an estate tour and a tasting of five wines paired with a plate of gourmet cheeses. With just two of us we had a rather exclusive tasting. It was a delightful experience and we left with three bottles of wine. This is a small winery. The estate vineyards cover 27 acres with Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
If you are planning on visiting the Napa Valley keep in mind that there are some 400 wineries with tasting rooms, and the valley includes some 16 distinctive appellations, each with it’s own distinctive soils and climate that lend themselves to different varieties of grapes.
The Los Carneros AVA at the southern end has a cool climate moderated by marine winds from the Bay and soils dominated by a clay-hardpan. This region produces Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Thirty miles to the north the Calistoga AVA with warmer temperatures and rocky volcanic soil is better suited to thicker skinned grapes such as Cabernet, Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah.
Oh, and after our wine tasting we drove the short distance to Yontville where we split a Pulled Pork Sandwich at the R+D kitchen; a delight to the palate after the wine tasting. There’s no shortage of options for wine and food in the Napa Valley and the surrounding areas.
So much has happened in the past few weeks that I’m going to have to back up to July 25. That’s the day we climbed in our truck-camper and headed to Markleeville for an extended weekend of camping and birthday celebration. The main event was our Granddaughter Annabelle’s first birthday.
We made it a five day weekend, leaving our place on July 25 and driving to Markleeville, a small town on the Eastern Sierra located at 5500 feet elevation. It’s about a 200 mile drive, taking us about four hours with a quick stop for a picnic lunch on the way. Our destination was the Markleevile Campground, a US Forest Service Campground with 10 sites. A lovely location with a stream running through it and a very attentive and helpful camp host.
Having settled into camp it was birthday time. July 25 is Joann’s birthday so we broke out the cake and celebrated.
Over the course of Friday and Saturday our campsites filled up. By Saturday evening we had 24 people, five dogs and one parrot. These folks are all seasoned campers and quite adept at entertaining and feeding a crowd.
We had pork shoulder cooked in a dutch oven on Friday evening. It’s a mystery to me what seasonings went into those ovens, but the resulting pulled pork was beyond compare and it made delicious tacos. Sunday morning was a Mushroom and Brie Breakfast Strada and Sunday evening was Chicken Cordon Bleu on Sunday evening.
And of course no camping experience is complete without Smores. So the evening found us toasting marshmallows on a campfire and making a sandwich of the hot toasty marshmallows with chocolate and graham crackers.
In addition to family fun in camp, we did manage to get in some hiking, take in a blue grass concert at an event in town and visit Grover Hotsprings. To see more photos click here.
Thursday, July 18 found me on the water gain with my BASK paddling buddies. Our launch site was the public boat ramp in Sausalito. Anticipating heavy traffic on the commute across the Richmond-San Rafael bridge I decided to get an early start, and to my surprise the traffic was light. I was way ahead of schedule.
The plan was to paddle to Angel Island. When I stepped out of the car though, I got caught by a gust of wind that nearly blew me off my feet. Not good conditions for paddling to the island. I decided I’d wait until my buddies showed up before unloading my boat. At 10 am there were four of us on the boat ramp, discussing plan “B,” which was to hug the Sausalito shoreline and paddle out to Yellow Bluff.
At 10:30 we were on the water, paddling north along the shore. We paddled past the yacht harbor, under the piers of The Spinnaker Restaurant, and passed the ferry dock. Once passed the Trident Restaurant we had a bit of a slog straight into a brisk wind, but only for about 20 minutes when we found ourselves in fairly protected water.
Yellow Bluffs is a popular spot for kayakers who want to play in some dynamic water. The tide, current, wind and swell can make for some lumpy water. Not a good spot for beginners, but fun for those that want to practice some more advanced skills. Conditions today were just moderately bumpy.
When I’m paddling in lumpy water, I’m not taking pictures. It’s time to keep both hands on the paddle. We paddled past the Bluff and on towards the Golden Gate Bridge. Then it was time to turn around and head for a little beach just north of Yellow Bluff where we landed for lunch. We found an abandoned kayak on the beach. Full of water and gravel.
Our return trip was a breeze, literally, since we had the wind behind us pushing us along. Paddling back past the tug boat Owatonna. Want to live on a tug boat? This one is for sale and outfitted for four people as a live-aboard. Then it was back to the boat launch. We were off the water at 2 pm, having paddled 6 miles. You can see more photos here and you can view a track of our paddle here.
After traveling in Spain for a month, and then jumping back into work projects, I managed to get back on the water last week, July 11, to join some of my kayaking buddies for the Thursday Lunch Paddle.
We launched from Loch Lomond Yacht Harbor in San Rafael and paddled out around the Marin Islands before heading toward China Camp. The weather prediction was for afternoon winds with gusts to 25 knots in the afternoon. When the prevailing wind is up, paddling along the Marin coast can provide some protection with Mt Tamalpais and the Tamalpais ridge blocking the wind when it’s from the west. There were six of us on the water: Bill, Susan, Danny, Alan, Joann and myself.
Contrary to the prediction though, when we launched we found ourselves paddling into a SE wind, but once rounding the Marin Islands and heading North the wind gave us a bit of a boost. The Marin Islands are part of the National Wildlife Refuge and they are closed to the public, but still interesting to paddle around.
We rounded Point San Pablo, and paddled past the quarry towards China Camp, but upon reaching McNears Beach we decided it was lunch time and we landed there and found a picnic table for lunch. When it was time to get back on the water we had a group of kids from an outdoor education program that were curious about our boats and our gear, and they were eager to help us get our boats back on the water. You can see a couple of kids helping Joann with her boat in one of the photos above. The predicted wind never materialized so we had an easy paddle back to our launch site with a bit of an assist from the ebb current. Our track out and back covered seven miles. You can see the track of our paddle here.
Olot is a bustling town of 34,000 located in the foothills of the Pyrenees about 70 miles north of Barcelona. It is surrounded by the Parc Natural de la Zona Volcànica de la Garrotxa. There are over 40 ancient volcanoes and lava flows in the region which are now cloaked in thick woodland. We were in Olot as part of our Macs Adventure walking tour, arriving by foot on June 5. The town provides an excellent base for hiking and exploring the Zona Volcànica.
We spent two nights at Hotel Can Blanc, pictured above, a lovely converted Catalan farmhouse that now serves as a hotel. It’s located right next to the Parc Natural de la Zona Volcànica so it provides easy access to excellent hiking.
For dinner we walked the short distance to La Due Restaurant. Here we discovered Patatas de la Deu, which has to be the most amazing potato dish I’ve ever tasted, and unique to the volcanic cuisine of this region of Catalonia. We didn’t expect the food to be such a highlight of our trip, but such as it is, we gained a real appreciation for Catalan food. The website for Cuina Volcanica says “a regional cuisine based on a traditional, creative and daring recipes, which increases the restlessness and culinary curiosities of the area. ” If you’re visiting Olot, the La Due Restaurant is worth a visit for dinner.
And of course the architecture is always interesting. The architecture of Olot runs the gamut from traditional Catalan farmhouses to Modernista architecture such as Casa Gaieta (the pink house below) to modern.
And on the subject of architecture, the market, Mercat D’Olot, is worth noting. A glass jewel box full of glamorous displays of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, and everything else you’d expect to find in a local market. The South side of the market has a green wall covered with lush vegetation.
We bought fruit and snacks and had coffee on the outdoor plaza. You can see more photos of Olot here.
The Mercado de la Boqueria in Barcelona is a fascinating place. The intro on the website says “Welcome to the best market in the world.” I’m not going to argue. With over 200 vendors selling everything from Iberian ham, to chocolate covered strawberries, to exotic spices the Boqueria is a feast for the eyes and ears and likely to pique your appetite as well. And as a photographer, there’s no shortage of photo opportunities. Well worth a visit if you are in Barcelona, and it’s something you can do on a moments notice, unlike many venues that require buying tickets in advance. The market does close for a number of holidays, so check the schedule before you visit.
The market is open from 8 am until 8:30 pm and easy to get to on foot or the metro. We visited the market on two occasions and made it our lunch stop. We noticed that many of the stalls, particularly the fish vendors start to close up shop in later in the afternoon. We feasted on Iberian ham, bread sticks, fruit salad, empenadas, oysters on the half-shell, chocolate dipped frozen fruit bars and a variety of other foods. The fish market offers every kind of sea food you can imagine; fish, sea urchin, clams, shrimp, octopus, squid, mussels and more.
It’s a busy place with both the locals buying food and tourists taking in the visual feast. I went crazy with my camera capturing the vendors, the stands and people shopping. You can see more photos here.
While Barcelona is not without it’s share of architectural wonders, one that is worth a visit is the Palau de la Música Catalana, the Palace of Catalan Music. We visited the Palau on May 29, our first day in Barcelona.
We bought our tickets online well before arriving in Barcelona. Best to buy tickets ahead of time since this is a poplular tour.
This structure is basically a jewel box for musical performances. The main concert hall is surrounded by stained glass windows with a spectacular stained glass ceiling over the middle of the hall. The hall was intended to be a garden for musical performances.
Built between 1905 and 1908 by the architect Lluis Domènech i Montaner, the Palau de la Música Catalana is an example of Catalona modernist architecture.
Adjacent to the concert hall is the Lluís Millet Hall with a large balcony with columns symbolizing flowers of every kind, in a tribute to nature. I only wish that we had had time to hear a concert here.