Local Attractions & Things To Do

Moving Forward (in Spite of it All)

Posted on May 14, 2020 by michelle_magnus

It’s not a stretch to say that what we are all experiencing right now with the COVID-19 pandemic is something none of us have ever seen before, expected or even imagined. I will be 73 next month and can certainly vouch that this is a first. The Corona virus has put a spotlight on the horror of a global sickness, something most of us never thought much about. Like 9/11, we are being confronted by things none of us ever wanted to contemplate and like 9/11 what we are discovering is that we have been caught asleep at the wheel.

Almost as bad as the virus itself is the generalized feeling that we should have been better prepared, “someone” should have known better (perhaps our government) and that this never should have happened in the first place. But similar to 9/11, it seems there must always be a first time and one cannot be prepared for everything, despite our best intentions. Like terrorism, the viral pandemic doesn’t care about a level playing field or being fair or the assumed sanctity of borders. And it makes even the most mundane things, like an errand to the grocery store, an undertaking fraught with risk and inconvenience as we head out armed with masks, hand sanitizer, and the awkward and unnatural maintenance of a 6-foot social distance. Indeed, we have never seen anything like this before, young or old.

As the daily news continually reminds us of what not to do, the question remains: What is left to do and what is best to do? For me, I have found that maintaining my own personal sanity and a positive attitude is at the top of the list and possibly one of the biggest challenges—and the biggest accomplishments. Despite the fact that “normal” has left the building, life still must go on.

To celebrate that intention, my wife Connie I and headed out to Stinson Beach for a long hike on Mother’s Day.* It was a perfect day for a long, hard hike due to a cold front that had blown in the night before, changing temperatures from the mid-90s to the mid-70s. Both of us having spent an idyllic childhood in Mill Valley, we were up to speed on where to park in Stinson in order to access the trails by foot. We were rewarded by a perfect day full of panoramic ocean views, spring wildflowers, old growth redwoods, and the feeling that we are truly blessed: out and about and enjoying all the beauty inherent in our glorious North Bay lifestyle……almost like normal.

As they say, we will get through this. And there are some things, like our beautiful corner of the world we know as “the North Bay area” that will endure and continue to offer up all its wonders to those who choose to live in this magical place we call home.

 

–Mark Stevens

May 2020

*Note: There were numerous courteous groups on the trail and when passing, we all applied our masks.

(More about the trail: The Steep Ravine Trail takes you to the Pan Toll Station, and from Stinson Beach to the Pan Toll station it is about a 1500 foot elevation climb)

A historic harvest and a changing market: Napa’s growers navigate grape glut

Posted on November 25, 2019 by michelle_magnus

Article courtesy of Napa Valley Register by Sarah Klearman

They’re the classic drivers of any market: supply and demand. Experts say that unfavorable conditions in both have presented the region’s wine industry with a grape glut — a challenge in the form of oversupply.

It’s not that this year’s harvest was particularly large, according to Jon Ruel, CEO for Trefethen Family Vineyards, but rather that last year’s harvest is on the mind — and in the tanks — of many wineries.

“When we talk oversupply, it’s the hangover from 2018,” Ruel said, noting that 2018 gave way to a harvest of historic proportion. “For wineries, it’s not hard to remember just how big 2018 was, because a lot of (the wine) is still in the pipeline.”

On the demand side, according to Glenn Proctor, partner of the wine brokerage firm Ciatti Company, the market for wine experienced a “pullback” beginning in 2017. The majority of 2018’s harvest was contracted — meaning grapes were spoken for — but the size of the crop itself, the largest picked to date in California, “exacerbated” the glut situation the industry finds itself in today, Proctor said.

In 2018, wineries crushed a staggering 612,833 tons of grapes, up more than 20% from 2017. Harvest was especially flush in Napa and Sonoma counties; growers harvested a crop that was about a third larger than usual, according to Proctor. He said spot market prices for uncontracted fruit this year hit a steep decline, with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes—a relative market strength—selling for less than half of what it sold for in 2018.

“2019 has been a year where it’s tough to sell grapes and bulk wine, because most of the buyers — wineries — already had sizable inventories because of 2018,” he added.

John Hughes, owner of H&H Wine Brokerage in Napa, said he’d seen notable price deflation in the market this year. Earlier this season, he brokered a deal that saw Napa Valley Cabernet go for $12 a gallon — about a third of its regular price. Even starker, he said, was the price at which some Napa Valley grapes were selling: his firm saw “quite a bit of movement” at $1,500 per ton. That’s just a fourth of what grapes — at around $6,000 or more per ton — normally sell for.

“The market just won’t sustain that anymore,” Hughes added. “(Distributors) aren’t picking up wine at previous prices, so we’re marketing to a different group of folks.”

Those ‘folks’ are largely the millennial crowd — a group with a taste for “a different bottle of wine” than has been traditionally marketed by Napa, Hughes said, and a weak point for the wine industry. Proctor also cited competition from beer, spirits and new additions to the alcoholic beverage market, like increasingly popular spiked seltzers and even hard kombucha.

“It may not be focused at (all) age groups, but it is really interesting,” Proctor said, of the drinks. “We’ll see how the consumer chooses, which is good: the wine industry has to remain competitive and produce a high quality product.”

Ruel believes that won’t be difficult: though 2018 was notable for the quantity of the crop it produced, he says the quality of the fruit was notable, too.

“Napa’s wineries are in a position of having more wine than they need, so they’ll get to be especially choosy (with their fruit),” Ruel added. “That makes this a great time to be a consumer.”

There are a variety of ways with the oversupply, Ruel added. He’s spoken to vineyard owners strategically replanting some acreage this year, delaying future fruit production to correspond with market rebound. Wineries, on the other hand, could be purposeful with moving inventory, creating tank space for grapes.

That’s been the tactic at hand for Cliff Lede Winery, according to COO Remi Cohen. Lede Family Wines grows all of its own grapes and saw a large 2018 harvest, in line with industry trends, Cohen said. It helps, she added, that the harvest in 2017 was under average — globally, it was the lowest level of production in 16 years.

Cliff Lede Winery has a tank for each of its vineyard blocks, Cohen added, meaning it isn’t strapped for space. Still, though, the winery plans to push the release and thus the sale of its 2017 vintage up earlier than originally planned.

“Then we’ll be able to release 2018 early, and have more time to sell that — that’s our main strategy,” Cohen said, of moving inventory, adding that the excess is “a good problem” to have.

“We could have had two other problems: not enough fruit, or too much mediocre fruit. This is an opportunity,” Cohen said.

Proctor noted that in speaking with clients, he’s observed “adjusting on the supply side.”

“No one was making a whole bunch of wine, hoping there would be a buyer. People were cautious,” he said.

Hughes said much would depend on the size of the harvest in 2020. A smaller harvest could correct the oversupply — though Ruel noted that growers, as farmers, “never hope” for a small growing year. And Proctor pointed to the ever-cyclical nature of agriculture, which has long been at the mercy of supply and demand.

“Growers aren’t overjoyed, but they see a path forward,” Proctor said. “They’ve been through this before.”

We Live in a Beautiful Place

Posted on November 25, 2019 by michelle_magnus

Mark Stevens, November 2019

I took a few days off at the beginning of November to celebrate my wife’s birthday at a place that we both hold dear: West Point Inn on the wind-swept ridges of Mount Tamalpais in Marin County. For three days we hiked the numerous trails surrounding the Inn, ate delicious meals, and enjoyed the company of our two grown daughters who made the trip up to join us from their busy lives in the Bay area. This was a rare treat!

For those who are unfamiliar with the story of West Point Inn, it was built in 1904 and was a brief stop on what was then known as the “crookedest railroad in the world” where passengers could meet a stage coach bound for the beach. The railroad is gone now but the West Point Inn remains as an “off the grid” haven for hikers and a monument to the rich historic heritage of our region. The Inn offers sweeping panoramic views of the East Bay, parts of San Francisco, the Marin Headlands, one tower of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Pacific Ocean.

Back in the day, it was a place where trains met a horse-drawn stagecoach from Willow Camp (today’s popular Stinson Beach) and it provided hospitality for visitors at the westernmost point of the railroad—hence the name “West Point Inn.” The stagecoach service ended in 1915; between 1918 and 1920 the Inn’s porch was enlarged and a dining room added. The West Point Inn and its cabins are the only things left of the railroad and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1930 the railroad abandoned operations and the Inn came under the jurisdiction of the Marin Municipal Water District. The Inn became popular with weekend hikers but was abandoned during WWII due to lack of profitability. In 1943 volunteers began running the Inn and their ideas are the basis of how the Inn is run today.

West Point Inn remains a unique destination for many and a rite of passage among serious mountain bikers, where it’s argued that Mount Tam was the birthplace for that sport. To get a reservation at the Inn, members pay a $20 fee and volunteer for three workdays or public pancake breakfasts and can reserve 120 days in advance. Non-members are limited to a 90-day reservation window. The Inn hosts seven rooms in the inn, and five cabins where you can bring your camping gear and meals.

This time around we spent three lovely days at the Inn, hiking, relaxing and spending time together as a family briefly reunited. It was a lovely and much appreciated pause from our everyday routine.  West Point Inn is truly a unique gem in our region and if you’ve never been, be sure to put it on your bucket list.

No, the Kincade Fire Didn’t Level Sonoma County. So Go Visit.

Posted on November 13, 2019 by michelle_magnus

Photo Courtesy of A. Rafanelli Winery

A. Rafanelli Winery in Dry Creek Valley is among Sonoma’s many wineries hoping to welcome travelers after the Kincade Fire. “We’re here. We’re ready. We’re waiting,” says winemaker Shelley Rafanelli.

Article courtesy of AFAR.com by Matt Villano


No, the Kincade Fire Didn’t Level Sonoma County. So Go Visit.

This past Monday was a glorious afternoon on the plaza in downtown Healdsburg. Not a cloud in the sky. Brisk, fresh air to inhale. Over by the fountain, a toddler busily placed leaf after leaf on the surface of the water and watched his “boats” float away. Under the gazebo, a gaggle of teenagers strummed guitars. Across Healdsburg Avenue, inside Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen, servers were buzzing around the dining room preparing for the dinner crowd. Through the windows at nearby stores, you could see shoppers buying shoes, clothes, and locally made art and knickknacks as souvenirs to bring back home.

Yes, this is the same Healdsburg that was threatened by the raging Kincade Fire last month. And, yes, that same fire destroyed more than 140 homes and most of a historic winery as it churned through nearly 78,000 acres of a largely unpopulated area in the northeast corner of the county. There’s no question that the fire harmed Sonoma County; days of forced power and gas shutdowns from the regional utility affected the entire San Francisco Bay Area.

Cal Fire declared the Kincade Fire 100 percent contained on November 6. A few days before that, this part of wine country was back to being as beautiful and vibrant as ever.

In Geyserville, Healdsburg, and Windsor, the three communities closest to the fire, small businesses run by local artisans are open for business. Restaurants, from hole-in-the-wall taco stands to the Michelin-starred Single Thread, are cranking out delicious meals. Heck, even Soda Rock Winery, which lost nearly all its modern production and visitor-oriented facilities in the blaze, is back to hosting weekend tastings in a 100-year-old barn that survived.

“People have a tendency to see images of burning houses or hear, ‘Natural disaster!’ and think the worst,” says Dave Hagele, Healdsburg’s mayor and a long-time resident. “The truth is that while this fire did a number on a whole bunch of wild land to the north and east, the part of wine country that people know and love is carrying on with business as usual.”

Understanding “the burn zone”

Perhaps the best way to explain the situation in Sonoma County is with simple math. There are 1,131,520 acres of land in Sonoma County, and about 78,000 of those were burned. That means less than 7 percent of the land in Sonoma County was affected by the Kincade Fire. Which means that more than 93 percent of the county was unharmed and today looks exactly as it did on October 22, the day before the fire started.

Sam Bilbro, owner and winemaker at Idlewild Wines, was frustrated with some of the negative press the region was getting after the fire, so he created an Instagram post that tells this story with a picture. The image depicts a map of the county with the burn zone delineated in red. Compared to the rest of the map, the red part is minuscule.

“You look at this map and you realize the fire was a really small part of Sonoma County,” he says. “Our cities, our forests in West County, our coastline, and the Sonoma Valley are as they’ve always been.”

Middle Reach of the Russian River

Posted on August 23, 2019 by michelle_magnus

One of the many perks of living in beautiful Sonoma County is having the Russian River at our doorstep. In addition to feeding numerous highly-acclaimed Russian River Valley vineyards, it offers an amazing riparian playground for us to enjoy.

The Russian River is the second largest river in the Greater San Francisco Bay area (after the Sacramento River) and was originally called the Ashokawna river by the Pomo Indians, which means “east water place.” In the early 19th century it began to be called the Slavyanka River (meaning “slav river” or “russian river”) by Ivan Kuskov of the Russian American Trading Company. They established three ranches near Fort Ross, one of which, the Kostromitinov Ranch, was along the Russian River near the mouth of Willow Creek. The redwoods that lined its banks attracted loggers to the river in the late 19th century. The Russian River has its origins at the Laughlin Range near Willits and is a southward flowing river that drains into Mendocino and Sonoma Counties.

If you’re into kayaking, boarding or rafting, here’s a little known but delightful section which you can access just below the Healdsburg Memorial Beach Dam that my wife and I recently discovered. The route is about 8 miles or so with the last mile at the level of the fish ladder dam below Wohler Bridge. This makes for good progress with a gentle fall for most of the ride and exposes a beautiful stretch of the river, in particular if you are a bird watcher…..

If you do not have a professional raft, rubber ducky or hard-shell Kayak you will be restricted from entering the river at Memorial Beach.  You can rent very sturdy inflatable Rafts for 1 to 3 people from Russian River Adventures, (RRA) (707) 433-5599, 20 Healdsburg Avenue near the Healdsburg Bridge. They provide parking and return from Wohler Bridge for a reasonable fee.

Keep Russian River Adventures on your speed dial—they are fantastic and a great resource for anyone interested in fun on the river. My wife and I had our own inflatable Kayak but for a small fee they brought our truck down to the Wohler Bridge Education Center where we were able to load our raft up and take off for home without the “Two Car Tango”.

This is a great service by RRA, because the education center parking area is closed to the public during the “Tourist Season” (to protect the downstream fish ladder dam). The parking area opens up for fishing season late fall thru the winter.

This is an idyllic scenic stretch of the Russian River that is relatively quiet and not bordered by roads or river front homes, etc.  Our day on the river was so enjoyable and made even moreso by an encounter with a very inquisitive Common Egret as tall as me!

–Mark Stevens, August 2019

 

Guide To Mendocino Wine Country

Posted on January 09, 2019 by michelle_magnus

Mendocino County is quickly becoming one of California’s top wine destinations. Featuring the famed Anderson Valley and highly acclaimed Pinot Noir wines, Mendocino is a beautiful mix of charming small towns and rugged nature.

Mendocino seems to have more than its share of natural beauty— the county is expansive, with many diverse regions, ranging from the expansive coast to the warm interior valleys. Defined by soaring redwoods, flowing rivers, an expansive coastline and, of course, lush vineyards, this county will not disappoint.

If you want to make a part of Mendocino County your own, check out our great listings in the area:

Take some time out in Mendocino and be sure to check out the following vineyards and resources as you plan your visit.

Balo Winery and Estate—This ultra-premium winery is located in the in the heart of Anderson Valley—far enough from the city to experience quiet country charm, yet close to the comforts and modern conveniences of town to attract plenty of wine enthusiasts.

Yorkville Highlands Vineyards—These vineyards represent approximately 30% of the entire Yorkville Highlands Viticulture Area. The property is comprised of eight parcels and offers numerous estate-building sites with spectacular views.

Talmage Vineyards—103± acres of premium vineyards in Mendocino County. This property includes 2 homes, an irrigation pond, plus barns and staging area’s developed for amazing events.

Towns and Regions

Check out this guide from VisitMendocino.com to you wrap your head around the various parts of the county. Explore the website to find a ton of useful articles and event listings as well.

“Mendocino County is not so much a place as a state of mind. Spectacular scenery, a sense of isolation, an aesthetic sensibility, and a strong sense of community are the standout highlights of a trip to Mendocino County.” READ MORE


Appellations

This article is a good overview of the various appellations in Mendocino County. In it you will find descriptions of the AVA’s and which notable producers call them home.

“The overarching “Mendocino County” appellation is home to a total of eleven American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).

One of them is named, simply, “Mendocino AVA” which largely nests together six smaller AVAs that you may be familiar with (Anderson Valley, Yorkville Highlands, McDowell Valley, Potter Valley, Redwood Valley, and America’s smallest AVA, Cole Ranch).

In addition, “Mendocino County” appellation also encompasses “Dos Rios” AVA, “Covelo” AVA, and “Mendocino Ridge” AVA.” READ MORE

 

This article from GuildSomm describes both the history of wine in Mendocino, as well as a detailed descriptions of the various AVA’s and their exceptional features.

Mendocino is a county with two faces. One face, the softer side, is well known. This is the coastal half that contains Anderson Valley, where delicate Pinot Noir and exceptional sparkling wines are enjoying increasing, and deserving, renown. The other face of Mendocino resides further east, in the cache of old vines that sprawl across the Redwood Valley appellation and surround the towns of Ukiah, Talmage, and Hopland. Here the vines have long labored without fanfare, their fruit blended into anonymity across county lines. But a growing number of vintners, both local and ex-county, are waking up to the remarkable quality contained within these venerable vineyards, and more attention is sure to follow. As exciting as the lacy creations of the coast may be, it’s time to turn our backs to the sea and our eyes toward the remarkably preserved historic legacy of inland Mendocino.” READ MORE

 

*map courtesy of mendowine.com