Thursday, August 9, 2007

Up, Up, and Away with Hot Air and Wine

On the next day, which was Saturday, we pulled our luggage a couple of blocks to the Hertz rental center. I won't even get started on the Hertz rental car center other than to say it was a horrible long hour and a half waiting outside while all these people moved cars around in a chaotic fashion and no one seemed to be leaving with a rental car.

Anyways, we got into our little red car and headed north out of the city of San Francisco. We were on our way to the wine country - Sonoma. Historically, Sonoma is the original place where wine making started. The town of Sonoma began in 1823 when missionary Jose Altimira declared Sonoma Valley as the best site he had seen for a new mission. We really loved the city of Sonoma, it has the Sonoma plaza which is a town square and is the largest of its kind in California. It was built in 1836, turning Sonoma from a mission town to a Mexican style pueblo. It also has the original city hall which is in the center of the Plaza and was originally designed with four identical facades so that merchants from any side of the square could say the City Hall faced their businesses. All around the Sonoma plaza where unique shops. Our favourite was the cheese shop. We stopped there as soon as we got into town and bought some cheese for our picnic at one of the wineries for that afternoon.

The first winery that I wanted to go to was called Benzinger's Family Winery. This winery interested me because they had a tram tour which consisted of you riding along in a wagon through their vineyard and the "farmer" explaining how they produce their wine. On this 85 acres of vineyard the Benzinger family uses organic and Biodynamic wine growing practices.

The Massey 375 tractor pulls a tram of visitors through the Sonoma estate vineyards, gardens and wildlife sanctuaries for a 45-minute adventure in winegrowing. Along the way, we stopped to take a closer look at the vines, taste the grapes.We also got to learn more about the site-specific farming practices and enjoy the breathtaking scenery. We also got to visit the underground estate caves and our tour ended with the wine tasting in Glen Ellen tasting room.

We really liked this winery as it was all organic and I enjoyed the tour, as I didn't know much about wine making, and now I know a little bit more. We then headed off to another winery called "Imagery". This winery is owned and operated by the Benzinger Family, so we got a free wine tasting at this location from the Benzinger farm. Eager to make the wines at Imagery more distinctive, the Benzinger Family established this new and remarkable wine facility. The focus at this winery is small case production of several varieties including some unusual types. The Imagery Artist collection of wines features beautiful labels created by various artists. The tasting room features a gallery of wine label art as well as other works of art. You won’t find any of these wines for sale in stores or restaurants. The wines are sold only through the winery. We really enjoyed Imagery's wines and here we decided to join the wine club. This means that 6 times a year we will receive 2 bottles of wine from them. The wines where very tasty here, and the different labels all with the Benzinger Parthenon on it made it so unique. Each artist is given the creative freedom to make the label as he or she wishes, however it must contain the Benzinger Parthenon, which is located on the Benzinger farm.

It was here, after our many wine tastings, that we had our picnic. We sat under a tree and had fresh sour dough bread, cheese, fresh strawberries, and danishes. It was really lovely.

We then headed back to the town of Sonoma to check into our Inn. We stayed at the MacArthur Place which was located just blocks from the Sonoma Plaza. It was a 64 room Inn which was originally a prestigious 300 hundred-acre vineyard and working ranch with prized horses. We stayed in the original manor house, which has 10 rooms and was built in 1850. This place had a spa, which I didn't have time to utilize, it had a heavenly outdoor pool, and lovely gardens. This was a great day. The only downfall was that I had one heck of a cold at this time. Good thing there was no close ups of me because me nose was pretty raw!

Now, the next day I had a surprise for Ryan. I had told him as soon as I saw him when I got to San Francisco, I guess I am not very good at keeping surprises. I had booked a hot air balloon ride for the next morning with a company called Balloons over the Valley. With the help of the concierge at the MacArthur Place, we were booked on a 5:30 am excursion to balloon over the Napa Valley. Now, like I had said earlier there was a lot of fog in the San Francisco area, well it followed us to Napa. So when we got picked up at 5:30, Amy, our driver, said that we would be flying over an area called Winter's because the Napa valley was too foggy and we wouldn't see anything. This turned out to be to our benefit as we learned later. The balloons can not go as high in the valley as they can in the area that we we went. And it was very clear that day, we could see upwards to 70 miles, all the way to Sacramento. We went up with 14 other people and we went to a height of 3800 feet!

Here is a couple of ballons getting inflated. A fan is used to blow cool air into the balloon. Later the burners are used to heat the air as the balloon lies on the ground. Gradually the balloon will rise to an upright position.This is our balloon getting inflated. It was called Journey.

This is looking up into the balloon from where we were standing.
Here we are getting ready for take off. We had great location for good views during our flight.
Here is our shadow as we started to drift away. They fly in the early morning because it is the time when the earth is at its calmest. Just before sunrise is when the weather is the coolest and the winds are the calmest which is ideal for ballooning. We were in air for probably about 1 hour and 1/2. We went up to a height of 3800 feet. It was very quite up there, no one really spoke. It was very peaceful.
Here are some pics from our flight...


This was our landing spot. We were in constant communication with our "chase crew" on the ground. One of the guys had to run up that long lane way and ask for permission to see is we could land in their field. We received permission and landed on the far side of this picture.This is a picture of our "chase crew" turning around as we had originally planned to land near that cemetery, all those white specks are crosses, but we had to fly on as the air currents were not going to let us land.Here I am back on land as they roll up the balloon and push out the hot air and put it away until the next flight.

We then headed back to Napa for a Champagne brunch celebration. We received a pin saying that we had flown in a hot air balloon, and we bought a couple of photos from the ride.

Sonoma was definitely the highlight of our trip. We loved the Sonoma valley's beauty and bounty of the wine country. We enjoyed the winery tastings and the tour. The hot air balloon ride was a superb way to end our stay in Sonoma. As I said before, it was just so peaceful and surreal just floating on air - all your worries seemed miles away. I would highly recommend both Sonoma and Balloons over the Valley for a great vacation.


pam said...

Looks like you had a great mini romantic vacation. I'm glad you could get away, lucky you!


Oh girl, you are living the dream!!! That is so celebrity that I can see Martha's eyes squint with envy...

How fabulous, you must be so happy to have memories like these :)

Thanks for the been a tough couple of social life whatsoever...well except for the grand relationship I've been developing with the potty. We greet eachother cordially each day.

Wondering if you're coming to JL's tonight? It'll be my second time out since the conception of little, and I'd LOVE to see you.

Please say a huge sorry to Pam for not having her over yet...

The Rebelo Family said...

What a fantastic trip - I'm living vicariously through you! Man, do I miss travelling! Hope to catch up soon, I'd love to hear the stories in person, though it was great to read and see all the pics you posted!

Shaina said...

Well written article.