Life Travel – California, “It’s all about Love”

Napa to Sacramento, California – Day 3

It was a day of the famous and infamous; amazing wine and a flirty 87-year-old winemaker.  But ultimately it was all about getting to where I needed to be – in the company of one of the most important influences in my life….

Ahhh….the grape…

Comatose.  That is what I was last night.  After such a wonderful, albeit long, day full of wine tasting and new friends I doubt I moved a muscle all night.  In fact, waking up today was a slow, lazy process.  As I laid in bed, enjoying the peace and quiet of the house I replayed memories from yesterday and found myself smiling at the events of the wine tour and the antics of my new friends.  Thankfully, it was in that memory state that it hit me that I was slated to meet Nicole and Shana – and quite soon.  That lit a fire, and I was quickly up and moving, packing and making myself presentable in order to meet them at Rubicon Estates.  Chris, the thoughtful man that he is, once again left a yummy breakfast out for me.  I need to personally thank him, for without these acts of kindness I don’t think I could have enjoyed the wine I drank yesterday and today.  I said goodbye to Kent and Chris’ and set out for Rubicon Estates.

Rubicon Vineyards & the Coppola Estate

What I didn’t realize from the comfort of my limo yesterday was just how far away it was!  Needless to say I was quite late by the time I found the winery.  But it was worth the confusion and missed turns, for it is a sprawling, beautiful estate that made me drop my jaw in awe.  I found Nicole and Shana with a friend outside enjoying a nice Cappuccino, which I quickly ordered and enjoyed as well.  Rubicon Estates is owned by Francis Ford Coppola, and his family estate is still tucked away in the back by the hills behind this huge and breathtaking winery.  Nicole has been working there for about a month, and proved to be a very wonderful hostess.  That means she started us off right away with a tasting of their reserve wines.  I have to confess, that I finally drank a Chardonnay on this trip that I really enjoyed.  I learned the difference is that this Chardonnay comes from their stainless steel vats rather than French oak barrels.  I really liked the simplicity of the wine, and it wasn’t thick and buttery like most.  For many people, that’s exactly what they like about a good Chardonnay – but I am a freak of nature, thus most Chardonnay’s offend my palate rather than charm it.  This one, however, is one of only a couple on the Allison Chardonnay list, so my visit here started off with a bang!  The other wine that I fell in love with was their Rubicon blend.  We were in a hurry and I didn’t get the details, so will be asking Nicole so I can order some of this yummy wine.

Napa – such an easy place to make great new friends….

Thanks to her inside connections, Nicole took us through the special events room which is incredibly romantic, with huge oak barrels lining the walls and chandeliers gracing the ceiling.  Then we headed outside to “the knoll” which features an enormous water fountain at the top of a hill overlooking the Estate.  The scene from this spot gives you an eagle eye view of this part of the Valley, including Mr. Coppola’s Estate in the background.  It is as if you are in a movie, for what you see with your eyes is so incredible you believe you must be dreaming.  Nicole showed us the different types of grapes on the vine, which we tried and loved.  I stood there, in awe once again, of beautiful Napa and remembered to be thankful for the doors that have been opened to me since I arrived here through these fun and well-connected new friends.  Unfortunately, Nicole and the girls had to run so my time at Rubicon was cut short, but I have made a mental note to return one day and spend more time soaking in the spirit and beauty of this amazing place.

An unexpected honor – to meet Mr. Grgic’ himself

Now, it needs to be told how I know about this next winery, to appreciate the incredible surprise and treat I received when I got there.  On my recent cruise in Tahiti, I sat at the Staff Captain’s table and he is Croatian.  He introduced our dinner table to one of his favorite labels – Grgich Estates.  Grgich wines are produced in Napa (there is also a winery in Croatia) and the winery is owned by a man named Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, yet another proud and amazing Croatian man.  It turns out that Grgich Estates is just two minutes up the road from Rubicon, so I excitedly turned left on St. Helena Highway and instantly found myself at this Croatian-inspired winery.  One of the things the Staff Captain pointed out to us is the Croatian flag on the bottom left corner of every bottle of Grgich wine, and I found that same flag flying next to our Stars and Stripes in front of the winery, as well as on walls and fountains throughout the estate.  I went in to the tasting room, really just to take pictures, and ended up telling the general manager my story and my interest in the winery.  He in turn introduced me to Maria, who is the personal driver for Mr. Grgich himself, who just happened to be upstairs!  They asked if I would like to meet him and take a picture.  Of course I would!!  Shortly, Mr. Grgich came downstairs and greeted me with a hug and a kiss.  He is a charming 87-year-old man, with an engaging smile and is, truth be told, a bit of a flirt.  He  always wears a beret, and today he offered to not only take a photo with me, but signed a book as well as a couple of bottles of wine.  We had a  wonderful conversation about Croatia, the winery, the M/S Paul Gauguin and I felt like a celebrity in his presence.  It was an honor to meet this gentleman, and I can now claim a special love of this wine, only mine has to do with the charming man in the beret with the twinkle in his eye who started this fabulous winery.  I was so excited about this unexpected meeting, I stayed longer and tried several of the wines with a very fun lady named Toni.  She shared a 2004 Cabernet which I have to honestly say took top honors on this trip, it was so lovely.  Of course it was also $140 a bottle! Damn I’m good!

After a few more pictures I headed to lunch and had a delightfully perfect one at Rutherford Grill, where I had a great spot at the bar where I could eat, drink more good wine and write, which I did until my computer decided it was time to sleep.  That was my cue that it was time to head south, to Sacramento and to my grandmother.  It was an easy drive, and with the help of my little Garmin GPS I found myself at my grandmother’s house in no time.

Grandma Millie

My grandmother lives with her oldest daughter, my Aunt Esther.  I have so many amazing memories of summers and trip with my Aunt Es, I feel doubly blessed to be able to see her as well as my grandmother.  I have to admit I had some butterflies walking up to their door – and all was well in the world when they answered and long, loving, tearful hugs followed.  You have to understand, my Aunt doesn’t just hug, she HUGS!  My grandmother, usually the picture of patience, didn’t wait long before demanding a turn and my heart nearly melted to see her and hug her and just be in her presence again.  Grandma still kisses you right on the mouth and giggles and you know, without question, just how loved you are by the look in her eyes.  This is the moment I have been looking forward to since I planned this trip – I am with my grandmother and all seems right in the world again.

I am quite sure these two wonderful women go to bed early every night – but this night was reserved for lots of conversation and catching up.  No urgency to sleep when there is such company to be had.  We had a simple dinner, a couple of glasses of wine and we talked.  We talked about great memories of my father and my uncle, who both passed away in their mid 40’s.  We talked about memories of camping trips, pita bread sandwiches and alfalfa sprouts and cakes we made with brilliant green icing.  We talked about hurts and heartbreaks, loss and anger.  Old memories were shared, some things I remembered and some things I never knew about my grandmother.  I have to tell you, it is hard to believe she is soon to turn 90. While she seems smaller in stature – she weighs all of 100 pounds – she is spry, mobile and agile.  She is also sharp as a tack, her memories clear and her mind pretty quick.  Aside of the awful and painful shingles she has suffered with for the past nine years, she is in remarkable health.  I refuse to talk to her when she says she is going “bye-bye” soon as I am not ready for that.  I am however impressed and thankful that she is still in such amazing shape for someone going into her ninth decade of life.  I am glad she has her memories and her wit, because I learned so much from her this night sitting around her kitchen table, just like old times.

We stayed up until well after 1 am – as if we were all teenage girls on a sleepover!  We looked at old family pictures and I learned all about her newest great grandchildren.  We laughed, we cried, we talked. And talked.  And talked.  The Earth stood still for a while….and I am grateful for this night, one I will never forget because these two very special women were once again with me.  It was as if a void in my heart was filled, and I am overwhelmed with the joy and love I feel from this chance to reconnect.  I realize just how fast life can pass you by – don’t miss it, don’t blink.  Love those when you can and never, ever take for granted the people who love you the most.  Most of all, I will always remember the smile on my grandmother’s face when I walked in, the love in her hug and the gratitude we all felt at being together again.  The way it is supposed to be.

Family.  What a gift… even with all our quirks and differences – family is home, it is where your heart is born and sharpened and ultimately given wings to carry love to new people and a family of your own.  Call it sentiment, call it corny – but I believe the circle of life is one of God’s most beautiful gifts to us mortals.  We just need to open up our eyes and focus, and see ourselves in the smiles and love of people like my grandmother.  I am humbled.  I am blessed.

I am loved.

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