We stopped at the park before we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. We’ve been lucky with the weather in San Francisco; it’s been sunny every day. Whenever we’ve looked towards the bridge however, the clouds have been low and rather dense. Today the skies were clear. There wasn’t a cloud. We had a couple take our picture at the highest point of the park, but I decided I wanted one of us at the bottom, with flowers and not metal bars, in the foreground. The people we choose at the bottom weren’t the best photo takers. Ah well.

As soon as we went over the bridge and down the mountain, the temperature shot up about 10 or 15 degrees. It was practically instantaneous. I had always heard about the Marin effect, but I didn’t quite believe it until I actually experienced it.

The drive was relatively easy. We planned the trip well in that we weren’t coming to wine country on a weekend. There are still crowds.

We decided to take a tour of a winery, and were told by the nice lady at the Visitor’s Center that the Benzinger tour was quite good. They have what is called a biodynamic winery. “A step above organic,” is what people say that it means. Not only do they not use pesticides, but they also have a healthy ecosystem within their winery. The tour was good — worth the $10 they charge a person. Included in that is a tasting of four wines. All pretty good. Of course, I liked the most expensive red reserve the best. But we’re on vacation, so what the hell. We bought a bottle.

Benzinger is at the northern part of the valley, and the farthest away from our hotel. We worked our way back from there. We stopped at two wineries on our way here, and were not treated as well as we should have. At one, the girl working would just pour it for us and say “and this is our 2003 cabernet” and leave it at that. But she would take care in explaining the tasting notes to everyone else there. We didn’t buy any wine from her. Of course, it wasn’t all that good either. The next winery was a little bit of the same. The gentleman taking care of us did start out explaining the wines to us but he became distracted by some other customers who were apparently getting some wine shipped. We were left at the counter alone and unattended to for quite a while. Another guy came buy to see if we wanted a second tasting. We told him no, we just needed to pay for the one we had. But he couldn’t ring us up for whatever reason. Eventually, the other guy came back. He was very apologetic and gave us an additional tasting of two wines that were not supposed to be available to taste. Both were very good and we decided to take a bottle of the Saryah (which we just discovered we like). The last winery, Charles Creek, which has a small tasting shop and gallery in Sonoma was our last stop. The girl there was very attentive. She treated us spectacularly, explaining the wines, telling us the little stories behind them. We also bought a Chardonnay from her. All in all it was a good experience, but I felt like we weren’t taken seriously by some people. Lord knows why. Everyone here is a tourist.

Sonoma is very quiet. Especially on a Monday. We did a little shopping in town — I bought 6 bars of olive oil soap (most of the wineries also have olive trees). We made it back to the inn in time for their daily wine and cheese reception in the main lobby. The wine wasn’t anything particularly special — just your standard red and white — but still good. I don’t think they make really awful wine here. Anyway, this group of older people (in their 60s probably) came down. There were three couples. A few of the women were really complaining about the quality of the wine. Brendan and I are sitting there thinking, it’s free people, get over yourselves and enjoy it. One woman in particular is pretty vocal about it, making sure to talk to each of the others to say how the wine isn’t bad; it’s just not to her taste. Of course, everyone knows that she really means it’s bad.

After a dip in the jacuzzi, Brendan and I headed back into town to the Irish pub for dinner. After all the wine we’ve had today, a pint (of Boddington’s) sounded really good. We had just finished talking about how the old people at the hotel were slightly rude when they walked into the pub. The men came first. They were perfectly happy with the choice and were scoping out the room for a place where all of them could sit. Then in came the women. One of them seems pretty easy going. She would have been fine. The other two however, were awful. One asked the owner of the pub what the best restaurant in Sonoma was. The other said she could manage to find something that would do. After a whole lot of hemming and hawing they left. Thank God. I can’t wait until we see them again at breakfast!

The landscape here seems strange to me. Except for the grape vines, everything is brown. The grass in the square here is green, but that’s it. Mostly it all looks very dry and very, very brown. It should get greener as we go north towards Eureka.

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Brendan joined the party on January 2, 2004. He's cool now.

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