Small Family Run Treasure
A highlight of my adventures in the Napa Valley was stumbling upon the valleys northern most vineyard. The Robert Pecota Winery only turns out about 12,000 cases a year. Robert Pecota and his two daughters run the show and tastings are by appointment only. My girlfriend and I were fortunate enough to catch one of the daughters, Andrea, setup for an appointment that never showed. We were happy to fill in!
Old Resort Town With a Hybrid Name
Native Americans visited this place to heal their sick with the hot mineral springs. The present-day town was started by California's first millionaire, Sam Brannan, who wanted to replicate the East Coast's resort for the rich and famous, Saratoga. Since this town was to be California's answer to Saratoga, it was logically called Calistoga.
The warm springs and geysers still figure prominently in the town's activities.
Water. Seventy percent of the Earth is covered by it. Doctors recommend we drink a liter a day. Patients recovering from brain seizure surgery, the lucky few that survive, are on a constant drip of water, to keep the brain hydrated. This keeps the swelling down. In turn, that relieves the pressure on the skull. Why am I morbid? I have been so, lately. A confluence of many events. I think it's the end of the world as we know it. The West has lost. God is no more. Allah is nigh. To me it's the same Entity, but its not so in the minds of zealots on each side.
With that cheerful start, lets get on to things we MAY have some control over. Napa Valley. One hour NE of San Francisco. Known the world over for its wines. The proud French wince each time a Napa Wine gets another 'Best of Class' award. Just the Napa name sells a lot of wine. Once again, its your lucky day, dear reader All 'Napa' Wines are not 'Napa Wines.' What? You say. What, indeed. A long time ago I read that 'Capitalism is the way to separate you from your buck.' Buck in this case is your dollar, AKA, money. All Napa wines are bottled in Napa. But are the grapes from Napa? Yes, but usually no. They may be Central Coast grapes, may even be Venenzuelan or Bolivian grapes, that were brought to Napa. Does that make them inferior? No. My point is, if you are paying a premium for something, you should get the real thing. So here are the three key words to check for on the back of the bottle: 'Grown, Vinted and Bottled in Napa.' You will be surprised how frequently one or two of those words show up. All three, and you got the genuine article, but OUCH! Look at the price. See what I mean?
Lesser known are the mustards of Napa. We know. But few 'auslanders' do. Between Napa and Sonoma Valleys, tucked into a corner, lies the town of Calistoga.
There is a bottled water of the same name. I always thought it was made in Calistoga. Its not. Its from the Sierras. Which is fine. Why it bears the towns name is what I have come to refer to as a Pinswang. Readers of my Austria pages will understand the reference. Those who have not, well, here's your chance. (Correction: 'Calistoga' water was once bottled in Calistoga. But the origin of the water is from the High Sierras runoff. The label makes you think its from Calistoga.)
Calistoga has other waters too. Not the bottled variety but the curative ones. Warm waters that will prune your fingertips in forty-five minutes and after sixty, will have you walking on air for the rest of the day. Then lull you into a deep, dreamless sleep. For soe prople, whose mind will not stop working, merely switch from a 'cogitate' mode by day to a 'dream' mode at night, dreamless sleep is refreshing. I speak from experience.
There are many spas downtown, including the Dr Whoosit?s Spa. For a better room rate, go a block or so, off the main street. Rates are 30% lower. And you are only a block away from shops and restaurants. If you do go there, do not miss the 'Ginger Chicken' at the only Chinese Restaurant there. .
"Man in Black"
Near Calistoga is a Geyser. Its no Old Faithful. Calistoga is not Yellowstone National Park. But it IS a geyser, and it spurts regularly. About fifteen to twenty feet, every twelve minutes or so. There is no evidence of Metamucil being involved. The first times I went there, the viewing was free. About ten years ago, I had friends over from Bavaria. They spent a few days in San Francisco, and then went on to a cottage in the Silverado Inn and Country Club, a lah-di-dah Golf and Tennis Resort in Napa. By the time I got there on a Sunday, they had pretty much been all over the area. That is when I thought of Californias' Old Faithful.' They liked the idea. Off we went.
To my surprise, the Geyser was now walled in and there was an entry fee of five dollars. My budget was tight then. I groaned inwardly, but forked the money out. To not do so would have been in bad taste. There is an old adage, German, I think that 'Das reichere Ihre Freunde, mehr Geld, das, geben Sie aus,' I think it says 'The richer your friends, the more money you will spend.' The man's second car is a 911 Carrera 4. You get the idea.
We went past the turnstile. Inside, little had changed. A viewing area, and about twenty five feet away, the Faithful gurgledand promised. I checked with a Ranger nearby. We had just missed the last performance. We went into the Gift Shop. Every wonder, natural or man made has its own Gift Shop. it's the rule. Usually these shops are a collection of kitsch, T-shirts and post cards. This was no different.
It was a lazy fall afternoon. The leaves were strewn around, amber and gold. They crunched as you walked over them. We found a vantage point. Read closer now, dear reader, for it is time to bring in the Man in Black.
Oh, he was there already. Time to bring him into the story. To our right was a group of people. About seven kids and maybe four or five adults. The kids were chattering excitedly. One of the men was dressed in all black. Cowboy Black. Black Shirt, Black Jeans (Wranglers, the country music fans brand of choice), Black belt studded with silver and turquoise stones, black bandana, black cowboy hat and black western boots. I studied the boots. Good quality, extremely pointed with high heels. Years later, I learnt that high heels were a dead give away, from a real cowboy from Texas in a conversation in Vegas. His name was Rudy. He told me that stirrup designs have changed since the days of the Wild West. Higher heels are now a hindrance. No self respecting real cowboy would wear them. See the kind of stuff you can pick up from my pages? Always the little factoid or two, insights available only to my readers.
Back to the Man in Black. He stood aloof from the rest. Yet, he was part of the group. Perhaps single. Perhaps angst ridden. He was doing his best to stand out.
My friend followed my glance. 'Johnny Cash,' he murmured. His sense of humor is drier than mine. I laughed inwardly. I can do that that.
The children?s chatter had now somewhat abated. Impatience was setting in. 'This was a stoopid idea' said a little boy. We all agreed in silence. A smile of understanding from my friends much traveled wife. As if to say, not your fault.
'Johnny Cash' splintered away from the group and headed to the rest room. No more than three seconds after he went past the entrance, Ole Faithful erupted. A coincidence? I think so. The geyser spewed steaming, scalding sprays into the air. We were downwind. We all got some. Cries of 'Cool!' from the children, 'wows' from the rest of us. It soared to about twenty feet and lasted maybe four or five seconds. Just as it was getting back to its normal state of gurgle, in the corner of my eye, I saw movement. It was Cash, zipping up hurriedly and back. He had missed it.
He wanted to stay for the next one. The kids would have none of it. 'C'mon, Uncle Tex, we got balloon rides at five!'
Uncle Tex, Man in Black.