A ZinFull Weekend

Since we’re returning to our home in Bend soon, we had to take advanage of our friend Dave’s consistently gracious hospitality, and spend a weekend in beautiful Morro Bay, an exclusive tiny community nestled in California’s Central Coast. And as luck would have it, it was also the weekend of the annual Zinfandel Festival in nearby Paso Robles, our favorite wine country. While we enjoy an occasional trip to the Healdsburg area and the wineries of the Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys, we’ve pretty much stopped going to the Napa Valley wineries, as the area’s always too crowded, the wineries are no better than Sonoma or Paso Robles, and they’re all getting into the $20 range apiece for tasting.

Paso Robles boasts some of California’s best wines, and in particular, Zinfandels. The dry, warm coastal climate is absolutely prime for growing uniquely interesting wines. I’ve written extensively about this area, but some of our traditional favorites are Zin Alley (my personal favorite), Denner, Jada, Lone Wolf, Jack Creek, Whalebone, and the beautiful Eagle Castle estate, which looks spectacular when you’re cruising over lazy Highway 46 between Paso Robles and the coast.

To make this trip even more special, we got to meet our friend Dave’s new friend Mindy, who’s visiting from Colorado. She splits her time between Avon (near Vail) and a farm in Costa Rica, where she grows, eats, and gives away some wonderful sounding produce. Mindy has an enviable zest for life, and both inner and outer beauty that made a huge impression on us. And from all appearances, it seems that they’re getting along quite well!

Mindy and Dave handled cooking duties on Friday night, and it was a total treat. I not only didn’t have to cook, but I got to eat someone else’s great food! Great local tuna from Morro Bay, served over an amazing bed of peppers and onions, was outstanding. A great salad nd of course some local wines were all that was needed to round out an excellent Friday night feast.

Saturday’s tastings would take us to some of the usual haunts mentioned above, as well as a couple new ones. Mindy had never been wine tasting before (among the few negatives of living near Vail, I suppose!), so we opted to start at Zin Alley, a small winery that produces some of the best wines in the region. Frank Nerelli does a consistently superb job on the four wines he produces; Zinfandel, Port, Syrah, and a dessert wine that’s spectacular (and difficult to keep around once it’s opened). Four Vines Winery sits just below Zin Alley, and for some reason we’d never stopped there in the past. The tasting room sits behind a restaurant and fresh produce establishment, but it proved to be well worth exploring. Great zins (of course), and some amazing blends that generally don’t break the bank. They charge a $7 tasting fee, but you leave with a beautiful logo’d Reidel stemless wine glass in addition to some great tasting wines.

Our next stop on this warm, clear day was Denner, which sits a on a bluff a couple of miles north, on scenic Vineyard Drive. Denner is a relatively new winery, but they’re doing some great whites and reds. They make an amazing white blend called Theresa, as well as an excellent Viognier. Their blends include “The Dirt Worshipper,” which is a blend of 95% Syrah and 5% Viognier, a Mourvedre, a Syrah, and another blend called “The Ditchdigger.” Bought the wine and a Ditch Digger T-Shirt. All good stuff, and my “stash” of these reside downstairs … out of sight and temptation, other than for special events. And since Dave belongs to the Comus Club, we were treated to some of their rare, estate wines as well. Great winery, highly recommended. Both Denner and Jada are standouts in the ever-increasing selection of new wineries in the area.

Saturday night was my turn to cook for everyone, and Dave’s awesome kitchen made it a pleasure. Mindy asked for Italian food so I opted for a big pot of pasta, using some Italian sausage that I’d picked up the week before at my favorite meat store in the Ferry Building. A simple bruschetta with basil, olive oil, (lots of) garlic, and fresh vine-ripened tomatoes on local artisan sourdough bread, and a tossed green salad completed our little Italian fest. Since this was the best wine growing region in Central California, we had no shortage of reds to compliment the meal. I love cooking for friends, and doing so at their homes is always a treat. Tonight was no exception. I guess the pasta turned out ok, since Mindy also had it for breakfast the next morning!

We ended our weekend in beautiful Morro Bay and Paso Robles, saying goodbye to our friend Dave, and his lovely new friend Mindy. It was truly a memorable one, and this is saying a lot since we make lots of trips to that area. Unfortunately, we probably won’t be down there again for quite awhile. Next week will be our return to the beautiful Central Oregon town of Bend, and our incredible house that sits on the bluff across the street from the Deschutes River. Circumstances have both allowed and dictated that it’s time to move back home, and although it’s going to be a struggle returning to real estate, it’s worth it to live in such a beautiful locale.

This will be a week of “lasts” for awhile … We were treated to lunch at Joe’s of Westlake on Wednesday, compliments of our wonderful friends John and Linda. Hopefully, I’ll sneak in one or two more trips to my all time favorite restaurant, where looking at the menu became a moot point several decades ago. There will be a final trip to Toto’s, where I’ll undoubtedly order a “#2 pizza,” with salami, italian sausage, and mushrooms. Best pizza anywhere … always has been, since I was a kid. I’ll try for a final trip downtown, and specifically to my favorite meat store in the Ferry Building, and hopefully to Economy Restaurant Supply, where I buy most of my cooking gear. I don’t need anything, but I still have to make a final visit.

And tonight will be an early celebration of our first day of massage school. It was 4/4/04 when we entered the big Classroom B of Body Therapy Center in Palo Alto. First day of “Fundamentals of Massage,” which was the first 125 hour core class. We followed this with Advanced Massage and Bodywork, Cranio-Sacral Therapy, Acupressure, and elective classes in Deep Tissue, Hot Stones, Hydrotherapy, Chair Massage, and seminars in advanced “point” identification, sidelying technique, and neck and shoulder concentration. I also was fortunate enough to be a teacher’s assistant in several of the Advanced classes and the Chair class. Big fun … I like to think it taught me to rub people the right way!

Next Thursday will be the big move north. I’m hoping for clear weather, which is predicted, but isn’t evident, given the foot of snow they got last night. I’m about 90% packed, the 26′ truck is reserved, movers are arranged for both ends of the trip, and I’m ready to go. But it’s all bittersweet, as we’re both returning to friends, and once again leaving friends in the Bay Area. It was a very conscious move back in 2005, which followed extensive investigation around the country. Circumstances and the economy brought us back to the Bay Area in 2008, and the same is true of our return. We love Oregon, and the high desert area in particular. The mountains are spectacular, with the Sisters, Bachelor, Jefferson, and even Hood constantly in view. The river walk along the Deschutes is a short jaunt around the corner, and provides a beautiful 2 1/2 mile trek into town. Osprey nest on the other side of the river, high in an old abandoned tree top, great blue herons can be seen skimming just above the river which flows out of the Cascade Lakes from South to North, emptying in the great Columbia basin, which forms the boundary between Oregon and Washington.
I was born and raised in California, spent my early years surfing at Santa Cruz and Pedro Point, always played drums in local bands, attended local schools and colleges, and never gave much thought to permanently moving away. A brief stint in St. Thomas was amazing, and I spent some time in both San Diego and Chico, but the Bay Area was always home. I feel this has changed … although I’m not a native, Bend has become home. And I’m ready to be home.

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1 comment so far

  1. Anonymous on

    'Home” is really a place in our hearts, Larry. You and Risa will never move from ours. We wish you great happiness, success and contentment in Bend. And yes, you will get a call every time we hit Joe's because, after countless meals together, deliberating the menu with you is still the best part of the meal (although the garlic bread is coming up fast on the inside)

    Love & luck always to you both,
    John & Linda


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