Oh, California. Caaaaaaaalifornia I’m coming home. Will you take me as I am, strung out on another man? California I’m coming home.
Woke in a San Francisco airport hotel, after an evening of travel that verged on Kafkaesque. Managed to make my way back to the airport, commandeer a rental car, and head north towards Point Reyes. I made a brief stop in San Rafael for an organic single-pour coffee, and browsed both a bookstore and record store while the caffeine . In short, a perfect day had before noon.
From San Rafael, made my way to the coast through Samuel Taylor State Park. The drive was so beautiful I laughed out loud. Who am I to be so lucky to drive this road, free of all traffic, through enchanted forests winding through the hills, and the forests that give way to the rolling gold California hills that lead, finally, to the coast. I’m laughing all the way, and sometimes crying, because everything is too beautiful, and I wish my eyes were cameras because I can’t trust my feeble mind to record and store the passing scenery with any accuracy. I’m a midwestern girl, all the way, I know this by the way my stomach drops hugging the turns up, and then down to the coast at Point Reyes. I’m a flatlander but dammit if California doesn’t lay claim to a little piece of my heart every time I go there.
The last time I stopped on the coast was a night I slept along the PCH after a Jerry Garcia band show at Shoreline. Jerry Garcia was alive then – so it’s been a long time. Does everything increase exponentially in beauty and gravitas as you age? Was I so consumed with romantic politics or rolling joints that I didn’t even notice the stupendous, ridiculous stupid beauty of this place? But I did love it. I remember the crouching oak trees and the hills like ripples on some great wavering tablecloth hovering over the mantle of the earth. But we never lingered in Marin, or on the coast for that matter. We were headed for Humboldt, or bust. This time I’m headed only to Limantour Beach, and then on to Napa for the night.
The beach was, as promised by the Australian ranger at the visitor’s center, “a bit blowy” but perfectly, wildly, awesomely beautiful. I walked some length of it, and waded in far enough to feel that terrifying pull of the Pacific around my ankles (again, I’m from Wisconsin). On the drive from the beach, out of the canyon and towards Napa, I listened to Lucinda Williams and sang all the way. At around four I made it to Sonoma and thought it might be time for some wine, as I’d begin to dip into valleys crisscrossed with vineyards, and let’s face it, that makes you thirsty.
I passed the first sign for the Robledo’s Family Winery without slowing, but at the second sign, turned in and followed the winding road back past the rows of vines to a dusty parking lot next to a small outbuilding and a larger, barn-like tasting room. Children chased around the parking lot, and American and Mexican flags flapped in the wind. As I opened the door to the tasting room, laughter and the smell of wine enveloped me. I made my way to the bar and cozied up for a tasting.
The Robledo’s Winery is the ‘first tasting room in the United States established by a former Mexican migrant vineyard worker and his family.” I befriended a couple, the male half of which kept going on about his half-Mexican heritage. By way of proving this he dotted his speech ‘my madre’ this and ‘mi abuela’ that. The man pouring our wine was the founder’s son. He kept the wine coming, the couple were regulars, had wine memberships. They assured me the wine was consistently delicious and I can confirm that in my experience, it is. I had a full tasting of five wines, and a white port, because come on, white port? When it came time to settle up, they offered to give me their club discount, and the server suggested I be their complimentary guest for the month. They were drunk, so sure! So everything is coming up Jennifer, free Sonoma wine! Off I go, making the remaining 15 miles to Napa in no time, and a room at the (wait for it) Chardonnay Lodge.
It was nearly dark by the time I checked in, and I called Adam flush with wine, with the country-side and with the freedom afforded one with a rental car, a hotel room and very few plans. I spent a quiet evening in Napa, at a place called City Winery, because it seemed like a good place to drink Pinot, eat a burger and listen to a duo play guitar and violin. They did an inspired versions of Little Wing, so I ordered a second glass. After dinner I walked the length of the small downtown, contemplating a drink, but the solitude of my hotel room beckoned. I couldn’t think of another thing that might better my day, so I called it. It was a very good one.