Napa Valley: October 2006 Archives

By M.L. Hilton

(NAPA, CA) -- It takes a bit of practice: getting inured with the beauty and ever changing scenery of the Napa and Sonoma counties. I haven’t gotten there yet, and hope that I retain enough youthful enthusiasm for my entire life to be delighted by what my eyes bring me each day.

This morning had that remarkable October Harvest weather that is *perfect.* A full compliment of hot air balloons had lifted lazily off from their launching pads, like a bubble expressed by Mother Nature herself. They drifted one-by-one into the morning sky that was almost more colorful than the ornamental flying machines.

The air itself smells of wine, and you can see (and I giggle at it) smashed grapes that have lost their balance and fallen into street intersections from the gondola trucks traversing the Valley. I have been visiting wineries lately, and have stepped over many a man-made mud puddle that is the color burgundy. Dusty, dirty, and grape-stained workers are everywhere bearing a look of fatigue that is offset with a glint and a tired smile that lets you know they are on the home-stretch.

Tasting rooms are packed, at least on the weekend, and traffic is slow along the major wine roads as awe-struck tourists stop every few feet to photograph the vines which undulate fall colors like moiré fabric.

I am not irritated by them. I myself uttered “wow” audibly three times during a commute to Calistoga -- even though I was alone in my car. Today, anything that slows me down, keeps me looking and experiencing, is a blessing. The alternative is sitting here in front of this computer.

by M.L. Hilton

(NAPA, CA) -- I am sitting in front of my computer in comfort clothes. The day has turned achromatic, and though not cold, the overcast drives away any feeling of warmth.

Yesterday and the day before, we enjoyed a luminous headlong descent into autumn - leaves shouting out from trees and vines in a riot of colorful expression. It's the last party before winter's dormancy and it looks, and feels, amazing.

I have spent my last two weeks eating my way through some of Napa and Sonoma's most interesting restaurants, diving into tasting rooms and drinking mostly pinot noirs and sparkling wines. My waste line and flagging muscles say I need to stop, but the autumn keeps nudging me on: Enjoy us, enjoy us - winter is coming soon. Like my years, with senior-citizenship right around the corner, I am feeling camaraderie with the leaves: unwilling to be bound by anything other than the inevitable march of time.

During the early part of October, I have celebrated new friendships and new opportunities across the Napa and Sonoma wine country. We started our culinary party in one of my favorite places - Della Santina's just off the Sonoma square; enjoying also Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg; Angele in Napa, and Friday's meal at Zare was colorful, complex in its flavors, and we were attended by a most engaging server.

Breakfasts (because once you embark on eating well, why stop at dinner?): Of course Gordon's Café in Yountville, a really great Sunday Brunch at Brix (also Yountville) and the BEST oatmeal I have ever eaten at Costeaux French Bakery & Café in Healdsburg.

In between that all? Life would not be fully worth living without several trips to Bouchon Bakery in Yountville. Sometimes the services gets a bit, well French, but you can overlook that once you have selected, and are enjoying, your sandwich or treat.

If perchance you bump into me in the next week or two, and I look a bit distracted, give me some quarter - it is more likely that I am just satiated and bulking up (perhaps emotionally) for the long, cold trip through winter.