History is Found Amongst the Vines...

One of the most surprising finds, for me, was the amount of incredible history that exists in Napa Valley.

We began our lessons at Chateau Montelena whose rich history began on a chilly fall morning when Alfred L. Tubbs spaded over and inspected the soil where he thought of planting estate vineyards. He had heard the Napa Valley was the best place to grow grapes in California. A deal was struck, and in January of 1882 the San Francisco entrepreneur owned 254 acres of rugged land just two miles north of Calistoga at the base of Mount Saint Helena. The soils are well drained, stony and loose - perfect for the vines he would plant.
Its final chapter began with the renaissance of Chateau Montelena Winery and the Estate vineyard in the early 1970s. Under the leadership of Jim Barrett, the vineyard was cleared and replanted, and the Chateau outfitted with modern winemaking equipment. He assembled a team to oversee the vineyard and winemaking, then grew and contracted for the highest-quality grapes in the Napa Valley. In 1972 wines were made for the first time. Decades later, this celebrated family-owned winery continues to thrive with Jim's son Bo Barrett at the helm.
For those who are oenophiles, this winery was the subject of the movie, Bottle Shock. The 2008 American comedy-drama film is based on the 1976 wine competition termed the "Judgment of Paris", when Chateau Montelena's Chardonnay defeated French wine in a blind taste test. The competition put Napa on the map.
Over the years and for various reasons, the Chateau changed hands. Prior to its final chapter, the Franks bought it as a retirement place and created Jade Lake as a reminder of their home in China (1958). This serene place is considered one of Napa Valley's most beautiful sanctuaries, home to a variety of fish and wildlife, and surrounded by weeping willows and native fauna.
We found ourselves in the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park exploring the Pioneer Cemetery, resting-place of some of the original settlers. The cemetery is an interesting place to visit and is currently under restoration to return it to its original, mid-1800’s condition.

It exists on the grounds of White Church, named after Asa White, a Methodist-Episcopal saddlebag preacher, better known in history as a circuit rider or itinerant clergy (arriving in 1850).
Son of Reason Tucker, Stephen was one of the pioneers of the State, having crossed the plains in the Summer of 1840, in company with four of his other brothers- so interesting!
Our final history lesson of the day involved a to visit California Historical Landmark NO. 814 BERINGER BROTHERS WINERY.
Built by Frederick and Jacob Beringer, natives of Germany, this winery has the unique distinction of never having ceased operations since its founding in 1876. Here, in the European tradition, were dug underground wine tunnels hundreds of feet in length, thus demanding a future explore.

This amazing home, completed in 1884, was Frederick Beringer's former residence and is now the centerpiece of the expansive Beringer property. Exhibiting the fine, detailed craftsmanship of the period, the Rhine House has beautiful exterior stonework, stained-glass windows and interior wood paneling. Built at a cost of about $28,000 (with the 40 panels of stained glass accounting for $6,000) the Rhine House is a classic example of ornate Victorian architecture with its many gables, turrets and ornaments. And the perfect stop in our history tour for today.

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Some Natural Beauty of Napa...

Bob and Jenny are mushroom hunters. Being with them demands an explore of foliage which involves tramping through the woods. One never knows what one will find.



The beauty of these funghi is undeniable.





While not a mushroom, this banana slug was equally as slimy and intriguing.

The view that took my breath away and had me yelling, "Stop the car!" was the profusion of yellow. During winter, a fine carpet of mustard blossoms overtakes Napa Valley vineyards.
More than just a feast for the eyes, mustard is a feast for the vines, as it thrives just until bud break, when it is then turned under to mulch and provides valuable nutrients and phosphorus to the emerging grape plants.
I'm loving Napa Valley!

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Hubcap Ranch...

Two roads diverged in a wood and I
- I took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference.
-Robert Frost
Part of the excitement of travel is the discovery of new things. It is even more exciting if that discovery is shared. While traversing the back roads of Napa, we stumbled upon a true treasure.
On a meandering road through wineries, pastures and once grand farms, a road our hostess, Cyndy had traveled often, I caught a glimpse of a glimmering object, a beacon if you will. As we drew nearer, we saw hundreds, no thousands of these chrome sunshine reflectors. It wasn't until our van full of oglers pulled over that we truly discovered "Hubcap Ranch" or in more official terms California Historic Landmark NO. 939. The very impressive sign read:
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOLK ART ENVIRONMENTS (Thematic) - LITTO - This is one of California's exceptional Twentieth Century Folk Art Environments. Over a period of 30 years, Emanuele 'Litto' Damonte (1896-1985), with the help of his neighbors, collected more than 2,000 hubcaps. All around Hubcap Ranch are constructions and arrangements of hubcaps, bottles, and pulltops which proclaim that 'Litto, the Pope Valley Hubcap King,' was here.
Wanting to know more about this interesting stop and to embrace multiple photo opportunities, we wandered about. At the end of the long driveway, we met the current owner Mike, grandson of Litto, who was welcoming and informative.

We were shown the most prized and rare hubcaps and licence plates affixed to small sheds. Some of the car logos were ones we knew nothing about, everything from an Arnolt to a Wescott. This museum was also a school of sorts. So how did this collection begin? Litto was so much more than his hubcaps, and his is a great story to be told, but this specific story began when he moved to Pope Valley in 1930. Access to the long narrow valley was provided by a rough dirt road that wound along his property. It wasn’t until 1960 that the county finally surfaced the road. But, for those driving on the earlier pothole filled, irregular and bumpy dirt road, it was not unusual to lose a hubcap or two. Litto began retrieving the errant hubcaps and placed them on his fence as a courtesy to drivers he thought would return to collect them.
Who would have thought that something lost, like a hubcap, could tell such a story and be a beacon for hungry tourists looking for a new discovery and that we would be so rewarded by the road less traveled?

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Napa for Wine & So Much More...

When our friend, Cyndy invited Bob, Jenny, Steve and me to her exceptional home in the Wine Country, we all accepted without hesitation.

After arriving, we headed out to explore. There was no better way to spend our rainy day than meandering through this beautiful valley with really fun friends.
We kicked off the weekend by arriving at Castello di Amorosa which was like driving up any Cypress-lined road in Italy. It was breathtaking and a bit surreal.
Hand-crafted Italian styled wines in an authentically-styled, 13th century medieval Tuscan-style castle. It doesn't get more spectacular than that!

Additional authentic features included are items one would expect to find on the grounds of a castle: a church, a drawbridge and a picturesque courtyard, in addition to a torture chamber, loggia, numerous secret passage ways, an outdoor oven, olives and a couple darling pigs.
What an incredible place to explore and one to which we will return.
Our most favorite place to be was at Cyndy's magical la maison du coucou (the house of the cuckoo).
Local delicacies were purchased to share.

New treats were created. These blue cheese filled, bacon wrapped dates were ambrosial!
Frequent trips to the wine cave were welcomed.
We each were to prepare a dinner. Tonight Jenny roasted vegetables and chicken-Exceptional!

What a comfortable and wonderful way to start our weekend!

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Exploring Mars with Curiosity...

This was our first time attending a presentation hosted by UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center. TERC, located in Incline Village on the campus of Sierra Nevada College, leads research on the water quality, physical processes and ecology of Lake Tahoe and its watershed. It also educates and has some pretty cool hands-on exhibits.


We chose an excellent first foray into TERC's monthly lecture series with this presentation by Dr. Dawn Sumner, from UC Davis and the NASA Mars Science Laboratory team. Dr. Sumner is on the team that launched the Curiosity rover to explore Gale Crater on Mars. Her team has discovered lake and river deposits that show that ancient Mars was habitable by Earth-like life, although they have yet to find evidence that life was present.
For over an hour, Dr. Sumner shared photos and findings while oozing enthusiasm for all the work being done. While at times it was more scientific than I could wrap my head around, I left feeling very impressed, informed and hopeful.

That planet has a considerable but moderate atmosphere.
So that the inhabitants probably enjoy a situation
in many respects similar to ours.
— William Herschel, 1784 

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Forgotten Bookmarks...

While I was a volunteer for our local museum, my job was to archive old books. Pressed within their pages were hidden treasures whose discoveries delighted me. I've recently found a kindred spirit in Michael Popek.

My newest book purchase and favorite thing is Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller's Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages by Michael Popek.
It's happened to all of us: we're reading a book, something interrupts us, and we grab the closest thing at hand to mark our spot. It could be a train ticket, a letter, an advertisement, a photograph, or a four-leaf clover. Eventually the book finds its way into the world-a library, a flea market, other people's bookshelves, or to a used bookstore. But what becomes of those forgotten bookmarks? What stories could they tell? 
While thrift store shopping, we discovered this 1949 book with a complementary article (c. 1950). I would never have thought to flip through an old book without this catalyst.  And while Mr. Popek's book is so fun to have, his daily blog introduces me to a new discovery almost every day. I am now a devoted fan of both.

Forgotten Bookmarks (the book and the blog) are a scrapbook of Popek's most interesting finds. Sure, there are actual bookmarks, but there are also pictures and ticket stubs, old recipes and notes, valentines, unsent letters, four-leaf clovers, and various sordid, heartbreaking, and bizarre keepsakes. Together this collection of lost treasures offers a glimpse into other readers' lives that they never intended for us to see.

I am now searching and discovering new and interesting treasures. What a truly exceptional find Forgotten Bookmarks is.

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The Wakamatsu Tea & Silk Colony Farm

Looking for something to do to make the weekend complete, Keri booked us on a tour of the Wakamatsu Farm, a unique and historically significant site. It was here that the very first Japanese immigrants settled.

Located just two miles from Coloma and despite the area being inhabited for thousands of years, it's a two-year period between 1869 and 1871 that made a huge impact on California's demographics and agriculture.
During our rain soaked walking tour, we learned that shortly after the American Civil War, Japan had their own, The Boshin War. In 1869, a group of 22 samurai and their families came to San Francisco and eventually found their way to the Gold Hill region. There, with the help of a benefactor, John Henry Schnell (a foreign-born samurai and arms dealer to the last Shogun), the Japanese purchased the land from the previous owner Graner (who had homesteaded it) and established the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm Colony.

Unfortunately for the Japanese, their agricultural experiment ultimately failed. By 1871, most of the Japanese settlers dispersed and the property was bought by the Veerkamp family. For over 125 years the Veerkamps farmed the land, grazed cattle and operated a family dairy. From the beginning, they worked to preserve the remnants of the Japanese Colony.
When the colony colapsed, a young Japanese woman named Okei, who had come with Schnell as a nanny, remained as a caretaker for the Veerkamps. Unfortunately, her stay would be short-lived. At the age of 17, Okei succumbed to an illness and died on the property. Today, her gravesite is visited by school children and Japanese tourists, paying their respects to a young woman who left her family and home to start a new life in California.



After touring the farm, we were brought indoors to learn more about life here. The farmhouse, which was built in 1854 and housed many of the Japanese immigrants, was a window into the lives of the various occupants. 

State historian, Kenneth Starr, said of this farm, "The culture they brought with them across the vast Pacific was destined, over time, to become not only a way of life for Japanese-Americans but a paradigm, a model, an example of reverence for the land, social cooperation, the struggle for community, and the challenges related to the blending of cultures that would turn out to be, each of them, so important to the past, present, and future of the nation-state called California."
Located less than 70 miles from Tahoe, this historical place tells a story that needs to be heard. And I'm so glad we were there to listen.

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