Sunday, May 31, 2009

San Francisco to Carmel-by-the-Sea May 16

Muir Woods - Napa Valley May 16

It was our last morning at the Serrano. We had breakfast at Sears Fine Foods. In the 1970's Jay Leno interviewed a waiter from Sears Fine Foods named Sidney who was 108 years old and seated 50 customers per hour.

Robert had the Swedish 18 mini pancakes; I had the sourdough French toast. We ate at the counter. The waitress gave us a token to play the slot machine on the way out. Somebody did win it while we had breakfast. If you hit a jackpot you get a free meal on your next visit. Breakfast is served until 3 pm.

439 Powell

We picked up the car and drove to 1000 Lombard for our turn down the 9 hairpin curves of San Francisco's most crooked street.

this is also the view from the top, standing at the top looking out and not down

This flyer advertised an apartment close to the top of Lombard for $4,300 a month. One advantage to walking down or up the hill. I recommend down as a person who has experienced this hill in every known dimension.

Other transportation we saw were Zip cars and some by City Share. These type cars are shared by several drivers with a choice of compact sedan, convertible or truck. The car is parked in a lot with the key left in it. Reservatons are made by phone or online 24/7. The driver gains admission with a magnetized metal card which he scans out when he exits the car. A bill is submitted immediately online. Gas and insurance is provided, enough to cover $1 million per incident. Drivers get the car by the hour for a few hours a week for $5 an hour and 40 cents per mile = $6 an hour or $40 overnight per 24 hours and 10 cents a mile. Drivers have to commit to at least $50 a month useage, pay application fee of $30 and come up with a refundable $300 deposit. There is a trial program, $30 for 60 days with no contract or fees. If you are using the car to donate to Goodwill they give you $10 useage credit for up to 4 times a year. There are also discounts at other merchants for members. They clean & wash the car once a week.
We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, stopped briefly in Sausalito then hiked for an hour in Muir Woods to the left and north of the bridge. It is free to cross from San francisco but $6 to get back to San Francisco from the other side. The other bridge into San Francisco, the Oakland Bay bridge costs $4 to get back into town. The other route is Hwy 101 if you are on the San Francisco side of the Bay and there is no toll.

Muir Woods is the closest stand of redwood trees to San Francisco. It is in the mountains 17 miles north of the bridge.

We saw the wine train in Napa Valley. It goes from Napa to St Helena for lunch and dinner. If you must ride the train it is $50 a person. A 3 course meal is $99 and a ride in the dome with a 5 course meal with one glass of champagne is $125. You don't get to tour any wineries.

We toured Domaine Chandon, paying extra for a tasting plus the tour. Chandon came here in 1973 from france and had its first American vintage in 1978. They make still wines here plus sparkling wine. Their guest reception building has a roof that looks like a half cask and the lights in it are different sized globes and different heights to look like bubbles in a glass of champagne.

There was a garden of different vines to show us what the difference was. Chardonnay leaves are the broadest. There is a cousin of pinot noir, pinot meunier which I had not heard of before. I can see as I type this that the spell check on the coputer is as unfamiliar with that word as I was.

Domaine Chandon is a patron of the arts. There were some smudgy oil paintings, figure studies in the lounge. I commented that it was a good thing their wine was better than their art and another guest agreed, pointing out that the female figure in one nearby looked like a man. I said it was a man because you could tell due to his elbows being highter than his waist in the picture. She quipped, "Admit it, you are the artist."

Our tour guide was Denise. She served samples of a year old pinot noir in the cask room.

Our bartender was Marc in the tasting room. Robert had 3 glasses of a still premium wine, called a flight of wine. He had Chardonnay carneros, pino vnoir and pinot meunier. We did not care for the pinot meunier. It was sparky and sharp. The carneros was good and the pinot noir was ok.

I had a choice of premium or standard champagnes. I chose the premium flight. The Etoile chardonnay chanpagne was sublime, tasting of honey and almonds. The Etoile rose champagne was also very nice as was the pinot noir champagne. I prefer the chardonnay champagne. Champagne comes in 5 levels of sweetness - deux, demi sec, extra dry, brut and naturelle. There is no sugar added to naturelle. The difference between champagne and still wine begins with extraction of the juice. Still wine is crushed and chamapagne is pressed. Only the champagne made in France may be called by this name. Elsewhere it is called sparkling wine.

Etoile = stars. Champagne was invented in the mid-18th century by a monk named Dom Perignon. It was a lucky mistake. His comment when he first sampled it was " I am tasting stars!"

Curing rack invented by Madame Clinquot, originator of Veuve Clinquot

Some of the other guests were celebrating a special occaision. Their driver, Tab Borge waited in the parking lot with his 1947 Packard convertible. He told us he had purchased this vehicle from someone in Georgia and refinished it himself. He charges $125 an hour for a minimum of 5 hours for winery tours. He is a retired paralegal and was proof reading a deposition while he waited.


We had supper at a nice restaurant in Napa called Brix. It had beautiful flower gardens, herb gardens for the restaurant and producing citrus trees. Service was available on the patio under an arbor. It was so charming. In San Francisco it had been cold but it was about 90 degrees in Napa. The wine list was as extensive as it was expensive. $11 a glass, $40 a half botle for brands we had never heard of. There were bottles on the menu for up to $425 apiece so we had herbal iced tea.

Robert had the filet and I had the steak. My steak had a bed of spinach and was great. There was a basket of garlic toast and pieces of herbed biscuits with creme fraiche. This meal and the one the next day were the 2 most expensive meals we have ever eaten. It was over $100 for supper and this was with no dessert and iced tea to drink.

7377 St Helena Hwy, Napa

There was a dearth of places to eat and places to stay in the area that we could see. All we found on the highway from Napa to St. Helena was that restaurant and a mom and pop delicatessen. All the hotels inthe AAA guide were asking for a two day minimum, over $200 a night.

We have Best Western membership so called the reservation line and were able to get a room for one night in Napa after all. Our room had a lovely balcony and it came with a free breakfast at Denny's next door. There was also a Jacuzzi plus the swimming pool. With discount it was $175.00 + tax. My best guess is this is about twice what it should be worth.

Best Western in the Vines
100 Soscol Ave, Napa

There is a delightful film just out in dvd, Bottle Shock, based on a true story set in the Napa Valley. It was completed just in time for the January 2008 Sundance Festival and got a standing ovation later at Cannes. It is about Jim Barrett, lawyer who bought a broken down chateau with vineards and sets out to produce a world class wine.

Chateau Montelena was built in the 1880's by Alfred Loving Tubbs. The property originally had 476 acres. In 1972 when he was about 45 Barrett purchased 250 acres for $273,000, replanted Chardonnay vines and brought his brand, Cahteau Montelena to market within 4 years.

At that time California wines were not recognized by European connoisseurs. A Britsh vintner from Paris, Stephen Spurrier challenged California vineyards to a blind tast testing as a publicity stunt intended to prove the excellence of French wine.

The end result is that it changed the wine business permanently and wine from other countries and not only California began to get seriuos attention; South America, Australia, New Zealannd, Africa, Canada. Alan Rickman as Steve Spurrier is perhaps the actor in this film most are familiar with but it also stars Bill Pullman, Chris Pine, Freddy Rodriguez, Dennis Farina, Bradley Whitford, Miguel Sandoval, Eliza Dushkyu and Rachel Taylor. If I may say so it was perfectly cast and masterfully done. It is a great screenplay. One critic said it best, calling this film the equivalent of Rocky for wine afficionados.

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