Along the Silverado Trail

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, October 11, 2017 8:29 PM

The Silverado Trail runs mostly north, from just northwest of downtown Napa. You get to it off Trancas Street. It’s a long, glorious road, lined on either side by wineries and acre after acre sporting row after row of grapes. It is the official red grape growing region of Napa Valley and includes the famous Stag’s Leap district of 20 wineries and some 1200 planted acres of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel, and even a little Chardonnay. There are actually 2700 total acres in the area, and wineries include Baldacci, Chimney Rock, Hartwell, Pine Ridge, Silverado, Stag’s Leap and more. A 1973 Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon took top honors in red at the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting made famous by the fabulous film Bottle Shock. 

We have spent many a lovely day wandering up and down the Trail, meandering through tree lined drives to get to wineries in order to taste wines, and undoubtedly, to buy some as well. For Bobbi’s 50th birthday, we rented a phenomenal house on top of a hillside, surrounded by 25 acres of planted grapes, and visited Chimney Rock, Stag’s Leap, Baldacci, Hartwell, and Pine Ridge to name just a few. I think we could have all lived happily up there for the rest of our lives. A stunning view, surrounded by deep red wine; where the hills roll and fold into one another and the weather is glorious. 

I am a wine lover and have been since first discovering Napa in the mid-1980s. It is a passion that has only grown. My husband shares this passion, as do our best friends in the world, Roy and Bobbi. There is something about being amongst the vineyards and in the wineries, about the musty smell of grapes fermenting, the dedication of those who make wine. There is pride there, rightfully so. Wine, to us, is art. It is exquisitely crafted for bouquet, color, and taste. It flows into a glass, leaving long “legs” in its wake. To me – to all of us – it’s food, something to be tasted and savored, explored and celebrated. As the Italians say, in Latin, in vino veritas. In wine, truth. 

For the last several days, I have watched in horror as the vineyards and wineries of Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino have exploded in flames. I have read the stories of workers standing next to wine makers and owners, trying desperately to save their structures, their wine aging in wooden barrels; their grapes. Several of our favorites have been destroyed including Signorello, off of the Silverado Trail. 

I don’t know what makes one building susceptible while another nearby survives. It’s not important anyway. Regardless, the destruction, the devastation – the fear is visceral and real. 

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been there, because I consider Napa and Sonoma, indeed wine country, one place where I feel most at home; maybe it’s that I remember the feeling of peace that I experienced when we were there. It’s something that’s hard to find these days, and now it’s made even harder. 

California’s wine industry contributes $57 billion to the state’s economy and is responsible for 325,000 jobs. It’s also produces great, lasting, liquid art. My heart breaks for those who have lost their homes and their livelihoods, for those who have lost loved ones, including pets.

I watch the flames and weep.

Tonight I remember driving along the Silverado Trail and marveling at its absolute, unassaulted beauty. I celebrate that memory and send my love to one of my favorite areas on the country. Tonight, I’m raising a glass.

The curious case of the slipper at the top of the stairs

by Lorin Michel Saturday, April 27, 2013 2:35 AM

About a month or so ago, Kevin decided to try something when we went for a walk. The something did not actually involve us being outside but rather Cooper being inside. Since we got him in October, we had been putting him in his kennel each time we would leave the house. We just thought it was better for him, from a feeling-secure standpoint. It was also better for us from a knowing-he-wouldn't-destroy-the-house-while-we-were-gone standpoint.

This first trial of trust would only be for 30 minutes or so. We figured, what could possibly go wrong? Of course, we knew exactly what could go wrong. He could chew the wood shutters. He could chew the leather couches. He could pull all of our dirty clothes out of the hamper. Unroll the toilet paper. Empty the trash. He could pee on the walls.

As it turned out, he did nothing at all but lay in the entrance way, probably staring at the door as he anxiously awaited our return.

We were thrilled. We were proud. We were encouraged that he really was turning into the good boy we always knew he could be. So we started leaving him out when we went to the store, or out for dinner, or to The Wineyard on Thursdays.

Which is where we pickup our story. Last night was Thursday, which means date night which means wine tasting. We took Cooper for a walk a little earlier than usual (5:30) so that we could shower, get cleaned up and leave around 7. The Cooper walk is just a little over a mile so he gets a bit of exercise. After the walk, he gets the last cup of his 2 1/2 cups of food a day. He's gotten all of the energy out of his system, as well as everything else, on the walk. His appetite has been sated. He's content. It's nap time. Us going out has become a regular happening; he's used to it.

We kissed his nose, promised him we'd be back soon, told him to be a good boy, and with that, we were off. Yes, we felt a tiny bit guilty about leaving if only because the face. The face looks like this: eyes wide, a bit scared, a lot lonely. The mouth is closed. The head is slightly tilted. It's Cooper putting on his very best cute. It's a face that says "how can you leave me?"

It's not easy. But we do it.

Last night we tasted wine from a place called J. Rickards. It's in Napa Valley, on the Silverado Trail next to Silver Oak, and they've been there since the early 1900s. Their Zinfandel was fabulous; their Petite Sirah equally so. Didn't much care for the cab. We laughed with the people we've gotten to know, noshed on pretzels and sipped wine. We gave hardly a thought to what might be going on at home since nothing ever does.

On the way home, around 8:15 or so, we stopped to pick up a couple of salads to-go. The sky was newly dark; straight ahead, a huge moon hung just over the road, lighting the way home.

We came in and the little face was there to greet us, tail thumping, butt wiggling. Where have you been? We petted him, rubbed on him, kissed his nose again and I walked toward the bedroom while Kevin took the salads into the kitchen. I rounded the corner at the bottom of the stairs and stopped. Something caught my eye. It was at the top of the stairs, sitting on the edge of the landing, parallel to the step. My right slipper.

I stared at it for a minute or so. It wasn't comprehending. My slipper is never up there. It's always either under my nightstand or in the closet, and it's always with its mate. I called to Kevin, come take a look at this? He came. He stared. We both turned to look at Cooper who was standing in the living room, what?

I went up to retrieve the slipper. It was fine. No dog slobber, no teeth marks, no shredding. It was just ... there.

We're curious as to why after all this time, a slipper is now carried to the top of the stairs. The same thing happened today. Same slipper (the right), same position at the top of the stairs, same lack of slobber. Kevin has decided that in addition to mommy issues, Cooper also has a slipper fetish. I suppose. But it sure is, well, curious. And awfully funny. At least until the slipper ends up like Wubba I and Wubba II.

For the time being, I’m celebrating the curious case of the slipper at the top of the stairs. But if anyone has any wisdom to share in order to solve the case, I’m all ears.  

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Having a wonderful. Wish you were.

by Lorin Michel Saturday, March 16, 2013 9:47 PM

I was born and raised in the Northeast. The furthest south I got was Maryland where we lived for my freshman year of high school. We spent almost a year there, but it wasn’t far enough south that we didn’t get snow. In fact, if memory serves, we got quite a bit of snow. One of my closest friends still lives there and she regales me with snowdrift tales on a regular basis.

Most of high school was spent in New Hampshire, and by the time I went to college, I was starting to get a bit tired of the brutal New England winters, which of course explains why I went to the University of New Hampshire. UNH is located in the small town of Durham, in the southeastern part of the state, nearly on the border of southern Maine. We spent many nights and weekends playing in the bars of Portsmouth, the gateway into Maine, and a lovely little town. It’s often called the San Francisco of the northeast. It’s right on the Atlantic, has hills that rise and fall – though none as steep as those in the City by the Bay – and has fabulous places to eat. Many days were spent on the rock-crusted, cold-even-in-summer beaches.

My winters at UNH were spent trying to keep my boots dry and my feet warm as I trudged through snow and slush to class, slipping on hidden ice and generally cursing whatever gods were responsible. I graduated on a Saturday in May of 1984, with a Bachelor of Arts in English, Creative Writing, and left exactly one week later to drive myself across the country.

All my life I knew I wanted to be out West, so I pointed my 1979 Toyota Celica hatchback in the direction of Southern California. It didn’t occur to me to go anywhere in between. While I wanted to get out of New England, I didn’t want to be too far from an ocean; I just preferred an ocean that lapped at a warmer coastline.

I have a soft spot for the last remnants of waves as they spill onto the sand after first crashing with authority onto the water just off shore. That part of the wave is angry, but all of its bluster is gone when it finally inches onto land where some of it sinks into already saturated sand and the rest is pulled back out to sea. It’s one of the most soothing sights and sounds on this earth.

Recently I was invited to post some of my past blog meanderings on the Dwellable travel site. It was there that I discovered their new app for iPhone and iPad, of which I have both. So I downloaded it for fun, not expecting much other than the usual type-in-what-you’re-looking-for-and-wait-for-the-site-to-find-it, if it exists. I touched the icon on my iPhone and immediately I was treated to lapping waves on the sand, spilling clear and beautiful, one after the other. I smiled. This app had me at hello.

I’m not much of an app fiend. I only download the ones that I think I really need, like a flashlight app and Houzz, though I can’t say I absolutely positively need Houzz. It’s more of a fun app. With Dwellable I also have a very cool app, one that travels the country much like I once did.

For years now, whenever we go anywhere, Kevin and I find a house or condo to stay in rather than a hotel, with few exceptions, Chicago being one. We always stay at The Fairmont. I have nothing against hotels; I just like having a kitchen. Also, I like the quiet of a house versus shared, noisy hallways at 2 am. When Justin was young and we traveled to Hawaii (twice) and Mexico (twice), we found condos to rent. Our reasoning was simple: it was easier and cheaper to get up in the morning and make breakfast “at home.” We could also easily pop back for lunch and snacks. When we went to Maine several summers ago with my sister’s family, we rented cabins. When Kevin and I have gone wine tasting, up to Napa Valley as well as to Paso Robles, we always rent a house because we taste wine all day, which is tiring. The last thing we want to do is go out for dinner, so we buy food at the local grocery and cook. It’s the perfect night to a perfect day.

Dwellable offers homes, condos and guesthouses for rent in cities and towns from Maine to San Diego, even Hawaii. Their new app allows for finding those dwellings even when you’re on the road. It couldn’t be easier.

Atop the lapping waves is a simple search box that asks “where are you going?” Type in a destination and see what they have available. I put in Napa Valley since I was in the mood for a little wine and a number of offerings instantly appeared, neatly organized, with a picture, a price and rental name. I clicked on one called Wine Taster’s Estate because I’m a snob and I got a new page with pictures, amenities, a phone number and a website to visit should I require more information. The app has a dateboard to show availability for where and when you want to stay, a photo link and a map feature that shows exactly where your rental choice is located within the city/area you’ve chosen.

Unfortunately, Dwellable doesn’t have maps for all locations. They also don’t have a dateboard for all locations, especially for those that are new. It would be nice to have that feature, but at least the app is contrite about it, saying “Sadly, we don’t know the exact map location for any of these rentals.” It is sad. But not a deal breaker.

It’s easy to navigate and very fast. I kept touching Home just so I could go back to the waves. My only wish was that there was sound. Oh, well. Maybe on the next version. Still, it made me want to go somewhere, anywhere, to get away. Maybe back to Maui, something on Wailea, where the turquoise blue water fades to clear as it kisses the white sand. I have a rum and pineapple in my hand, the sun is warm, the breeze tickles and the Pacific is endless.

Having a wonderful. Wish you were … 

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