Cambria – California

We indulged today. We rationalized that since this was our last real vacation day before heading for home, we’d make the best of it. I don’t know how the day could have been any better.

Today started out by trying to make reservations for tomorrow night, Friday . . . Labor Day Weekend. We tried every combination that we could think of, but all the places on our route were already booked for the weekend, except the KOA, and they wanted a minimum of a three-day stay. So we planned an alternative route.

Solvang
Solvang is a Danish community in the San Inez valley and is a big weekend tourist attraction.

We had planned on swinging by Solvang, a Danish tourist town north of Santa Barbara. It was purely for medicinal purposes I assure you. The only thing we needed were pastries called Danish Waffles. They look like a flattened hot dog bun. They’re two sweet phyllo pastries glued together with a creamy filling that has a touch of raspberry jam for a tart flavor. They’re addictive, and there’s only a few places in California to buy them. Two of them are in Solvang.

We left at 11 for the eighty mile trip down for lunch and we got to the bakery at 12:15. Anne and I split a sandwich (the bread was sourdough made fresh in-house this morning, yum!) and for dessert, we split one of the waffles. There is no graceful way you can eat one of these things without it exploding all over the table, the car, the bed . . . where ever. The crumbs are everywhere and they’re too good to leave, so you wind up sucking them up from the table-cloth. Oh, I must warn you that these things are about 1400 calories apiece.

Queen Anne Eats a Danish Waffle
There is no graceful way to eat a Danish waffle. The sugar phyllo dough explodes when ever you take a bite.

We ordered another half-dozen to go (Anne’s already tossed back a couple, they’ll never make it home) along with a bucket of Danish cookies. We had time to make it back to Paso Robles, hit a couple of wineries and still make our five o’clock dinner reservation in Cambria. We pulled it off even after driving down the old creek road.

One of the wineries we  always stop at is York Mountain. As readers of my newsletter already know, this place holds a lot of memories for me. It is the oldest vineyard in the area dating back to 1889. My original visit was with my first wife on our honeymoon in 1968. I was hooked then and have returned regularly.

York Mountain Rebuilt
The new owners of the York Mountain Estates have carefully crafted a new cellar using the original hand-made bricks and capturing the essence of the historical building.

The last time Anne and I were here, the original cellars were badly damaged in an earthquake and the state condemned the building. I was saddened that the owners had sold the property and that the historic building would be destroyed. When we stopped today, it surprised me to see a different but very familiar cellar being readied for the public. New owners have taken over the property and they didn’t want to lose the building either. They painstakingly disassembled the cellar, brick by brick, then numbered the bricks. They built a steel reinforced concrete structure and covered the new shell with the original bricks (in their original  sequence). The new cellar has some modern touches to it, but it brought tears to my eyes to see how lovingly they captured the feel of the original. As for the century old redwood tree, planted by the York brothers . . . it’s alive and well, looking more stately than ever next to the new building. Bravo!

The Old Creek Road
On my first visit to Paso Robles and Cambria, the only road that crossed the mountains was Vineyard Road, and it was this old neglected tree-lined back-road. Along the drive, you cross the ridge and see the ocean twenty-two miles away.

Dinner was wonderful. Anne had her favorite rack of lamb and they even had my favorite; duck breast served in a cherry-port wine reduction. On top of that, we splurged on a bottle of Cabernet that we sampled yesterday. Somehow, I even managed to get through the dinner without spilling red wine on the white table-cloth.

We learned a new trick yesterday and after dinner we used it. After leaving the restaurant, we stopped at the town liquor store. There, we found most of the local wines we liked at a discounted price. We picked out a bunch of bottles that we liked at the tasting rooms and saved about 25%.

So we had a good day. We wined and  dined, laughed and enjoyed each others company. We deserved it . . . for tomorrow will be in Bakersfield. It’s not the armpit of California, but you can certainly smell it from there.

jw

Willamette Valley – Oregon

I want a job where my sole responsibility is visiting wineries and tasting the varietals they offer. I think I’d be good at it, and I promise I wouldn’t spit anything out. Who am I kidding? Like any job, it would be a drag after a while, but it would be fun until my liver gave out.

That’s how Queen Anne and I spent the afternoon, and ‘they learned us’ a thing or two about Oregon wines. Most of the wineries in the state are in the Willamette Valley, a broad river valley that stretches from Eugene to Portland. The west flank has a low coastal range of mountains and the Cascades separate the valley from the high deserts to the east.

View From Erath Vinyards
The four tasting rooms we visited were an area known as the Dundee Hills. Although we stuck to four, we could have easily worked the area for a week.

What grows well here is the Pinot Noir grape, because of the weather and the soils. When you visit a tasting room, you may sample one of these or one of those, but a half-dozen Pinots. Two of the four places we visited had two bottles of the same wine, but only the vine location or the year set them apart. Although they had the same general taste, their personalities were distinct. Choosing which to buy was a matter of personal preference, both were excellent bottles of wine.

Willamette Farm House
There are gobs of photogenic things to shoot in the Willamette Valley. In this case it was an abandoned farm-house along the back-road.

Another fun thing about visiting tasting rooms is the presentations. The large vintners have lavish gardens and a showroom full of ancillary things for sale. The smaller growers may only have a room at the back of the farm-house. Production size is not a good indicator of the quality. The better known labels do offer bottles not available in . . . say, Costco. They have labels marked ‘Reserve’ or ‘Private Reserve’ which are low volume hand crafted wines. Our experience has been that these bottles are substantially better than what you would buy off the shelf.

Pine Grove
Only in New Zealand have I seen crop forests planted as dense as here. It’s so dark inside the grove, I wouldn’t be able to shoot without a tripod.

So much for the fun part . . . back to work. Tomorrow we will be on the move again. This time to Grant’s Pass in southern Oregon. We’re only going to stop for a night and the next day we will head to the coast and Eureka, California. Anne and I never actually visited the town, although we stayed nearby. We’re excited to check it out.

jw

Silverton – Oregon

Capital Theater
Sunday evening, we went to Yakima’s old town to find a place for dinner. As we sat at our table, I noticed this theater across the street and went outside to shoot it and particularly, the restored painted sign on its side. Since it was cloudy out, the shot came out OK, but bland. When we finished dinner, the sun dropped below the cloud’s edge and lit the place up, so I decided to re-shoot the scene. However this time there was a group of young women doing a photo shoot of their own, so I included them into my composition.

After a wonderful day of sampling Washington wines yesterday, we continued on our journey south this morning. Our route took us down the east side of the Cascades till we reached the Columbia River. After crossing the bridge into Oregon, we drove through the ever windy Columbia Gorge, where even on a Monday, there were plenty of wind surfers skimming the white-capped river. Then, just short of Portland we turned south through the Willamette Valley.

Hydro-Electrical Dam on the Columbia River.
There are several dams along the Columbia River that produce gobs of electricity. Although they cause their fair share of ecological problems, it was the power these dams generated that made it possible to produce aluminum on an industrial scale. Aircraft industry used that aluminum to build the planes that helped the allies win WWII.

We’ve stopped in Silverton, a place we’ve visited before more than a fifteen years ago. It’s a couple of miles north of the 45th Parallel; the halfway line between the north pole and the equator. When we were last here, Silverton’s downtown was a cluster of empty historic buildings waiting for re-purposing. Now, they’re filled with boutiques, restaurants, and antique shops. It was fun to walk the couple of blocks trying to find someplace for dinner, but it was Monday, and most of the businesses were closed.

Downtown Silverton
An example of the carefully restored buildings in Silverton.

We chose Silverton because it’s a convenient base for exploring the vineyards of the Willamette Valley, Oregon’s wine country. It’s going to be a rough day tomorrow, because we have to sit down and whittle the list of stops down to six. That seems a good number for us to taste without getting our taste buds confused.

Sllverton Mural
A new mural is being painted on a blank wall of a Silverton Building.

After we leave here on Wednesday, we’ll head toward south Oregon then make our way over to the Pacific Coast. We want to spend some time along the coast before we go through the Sonoma/Napa Valleys. As much as we’d like to add some of those bottles to our collection, they may be out of our budget. There’s no harm in finding out, is there?

jw