California wine with friends, and more.


A gas station in Winters where everything about the town is pretty darn snappy.

Our love affair with California continued as we drove north from Palo Alto to the Sacramento area to be with more friends who we know from the Triangle X ranch in Wyoming. We would be continuing what we have coined “curbside camping with friends”, parking on the street outside their home and sleeping in a guest room.

And then a life-on-the road event intervened and we were once again reminded we are surrounded by “travel angels” on this pilgrimage. We had planned to break up the longish drive from Pescadero to Davis with a one-night stop at Anthony Chabot State Park in Castro Valley. This is a great location from which to plan a short trip into Berkeley or even downtown San Francisco. We arrived in the park at 10:30 on a spectacular, sunny and cool morning and were allowed on the site early. All was looking great

As Peter backed in and did one slight correction, the brakes on the trailer locked up. Again. Right. This is exactly what happened to us 12,000 miles ago in Amarillo. Texas when the sending unit from the truck failed and caused the Airstream brakes to seize up, landing us in Amarillo for a week while we waited for a part. The same thing now re-occurred here in California. The two of us went into autopilot to get to a dealer.

We unhooked and drove the truck into town, and scoped out Ford dealers nearby. After two unsuccessful contacts with dealers who told us they were “too busy”, we were referred to Ford Owners Customer Service, a 24/7 telephone service center.   This fabulous service for owners contacts dealers near you. They have much more leverage that what one person has, and our “travel angel” found a dealer about 30 minutes away who would see us a 7:00am the next morning to look at the truck and assess the situation. Bingo.


The most exclusive of reserved parking spaces we’ve ever seen!

Knowing we could call AAA and have the trailer towed to a nearby campground the next morning if needed, we decided to take advantage of the gorgeous day and do some site seeing. We drove half an hour to downtown Berkeley. We parked at the north gate of the university and walked around the beautiful campus. We learned that Berkeley (officially named University of California) is the only one in the system allowed to use the name CAL since it is the first university in the state’s system. The grounds are lovely and we got more “travel angel” help when three students on three separate occasions OFFERED assistance to us wandering (but not lost) seniors. After touring the campus, Peter got us over to the famous used bookstore in Berkeley, Moe’s, and five floors of holy ground for booklovers.


While waiting for the repairs on our F150, we had a fabulous breakfast at Buttercups in Walnut Creek. Here is Peter’s linguica eggs-benedict. As good as it looks!

The next morning we headed to Walnut Creek Ford. This dealership was hands-down the best run and most customer friendly dealer we have encountered on the road with a great concierge and a tightly run appointment service. The techs diagnosed the problem and were able to find the needed replacement part in inventory at another dealer. By 3:00pm, we had retrieved T2 from the campground and were on our way.

We headed up the road to visit friends in Davis for three days of easy, relaxed dinner conversations, breakfast chats at the kitchen table while we were still in our PJs, and evening wine outside on the backyard patio. Excursions in the area started with the charming little town of Winters, home of the studio where our friend is crafting his handmade guitars. We were both in awe.


Peter had a hard time choosing from among the great lunch and cheese offerings at Oakville Grocery in Napa.

We drove to Napa where we visited to two wineries – Artesa and Alpha Omega – after picking up lunch and snacks at the legendary Oakville Grocery. We experienced some amazing wines at the two beautiful, and very different, vineyards. After the full day we headed to dinner in Napa at a cafe that reminded me of the marvelous little restaurants in France, complete with a taciturn waiter.

We toured the UC Davis honeybee garden and the raptor rescue center, both very cool. More great evening conversation as the guys created memorable handmade pizzas, which we savored with equal parts of laughter and the warmth of time with friends.

From Davis, we traveled up the road to Chico for our final reunion. We missed the wonderful Chico Farmer’s Market where we had shopped on a past visit. This time we did get to the Sierra Nevada brewery, based in Chico, where we spent one afternoon touring and sampling some of their brews. The brewery just went completely off the grid this year, powering their operation with solar (thank you, sunshine of California) and an in-house gas turbine. Their bottling operation processes 600 bottles a minute in each of the two production lines, just to give you and idea of the popularity of their craft brews. At the end of the tour, in the sampling room, I discovered a new favorite lager, Old Chico Pale Bock.


The stunning Gothic arches of the Chapter house at New Clairvaux Abbey in Vina.

We then traveled to Vina, home to the Abbey of New Clairvaux. This monastery was founded by Cistercian monks who came to California in 1955 from Thomas Merton’s home abbey in Kentucky. The Cistercians, originally from France, had been known for their winemaking and vineyards where their grape varietals included Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.   Upon arrival in California, these monks purchased 600 acres and started planting a vineyard. Since 2003, their winemaker has been Aimee Sunseri, from a fifth-generation California grape grower and winemaking family. Under her careful and attentive attention, New Clairvaux has earned many national wine awards.

The other remarkable story about the Abbey is the reconstruction of their Chapter house.   The Ovila Chapel was an 800-year old Gothic chapel, built in Spain. It was taken down and in the 1930s, William Randolph Hearst bought the stones and brought them to the U.S. They sat in San Francisco for years and eventually wound up in the possession of the monks who are reconstructing the Chapel with the original stones following the markings made on the stones when it was taken down. The Chapel will become the monks’ Abbey church when completed.  We toured the reconstruction as it currently stands in its Gothic beauty and lightness and soaring height. We hope to return to the Abbey on future trips to the area to honor the sacred work of the monks in this astounding place.

After saying goodbye to our Chico friends, we left with an armful of grapefruits and more than a heart full of memories of our time together.

Off now to the Pacific coast and Big Sur in our California dreamin’ pilgrimage.


The shade umbrellas at Alpha Omega Winery in Napa cast the most beautiful of shadows on this incredible day we spent with dear friends.

Peter and Liz continue their pilgrimage to here, heading to Big Sur in their Airstream, as they make their way across the U.S.






3 thoughts on “California wine with friends, and more.

  1. Another great adventure. I am sure you both know the Cistercian history. They were offshoots of the Benedictine and Bernadine monks and were also called the ‘white monks’ due to the color of the choir robes they wore over their regular dress. They were known for their dedication to farming and hard work and were quite well known for their skills brewing ale! The journey continues….


    • Thanks, Joan, for the post. Interestingly, the Cistercians at Vina are now in a venture with Sierra Nevada brewery and producing ales (under the brand name Ovila) which are pretty tasty! Not sure if they have made it to the east coast yet…


Tell us what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s