Farmer’s Market in Vienne

While I was in France I had the opportunity to visit one of the most amazing farmer’s markets I’ve ever seen.  It was beautiful and I was really surprised at how cheap the food was, in particular the cheese.  Feast your eyes on this!

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DSCN0083 DSCN0084 DSCN0085 DSCN0086 DSCN0087 DSCN0088 DSCN0090 DSCN0091 DSCN0092 DSCN0093 DSCN0094 DSCN0095 DSCN0096 DSCN0097 DSCN0098AND cute dogs as well!  I bought three “rounds” of cheese, two yogurts and a baguette for 6 Euro.  My friend and I sat on a park bench and ate our breakfast.  (Because I ate cheese for breakfast, lunch and dinner while I was in France!)  It was totally delicious and memorable.  If you find yourself in the Northern Rhone, this market is a must on the to-do list.

Late Harvest Roussanne at La Rosine

During my visit to Cote Rotie I had the opportunity to participate in picking late harvest Roussanne at La Rosine vineyard, one of the estate properties of Domaine Michel & Stephane Ogier.  The first thing that struck me about the site was how green the vineyard floor was.  The reality for us after three dry seasons in California is that everything around us is completely brown, including the oak trees.  My eyes were so soothed by the beautiful green grasses.

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A lot of the ground cover is familiar (see the fillaree in the photo below?).  And I was surprised to see that there are mushrooms everywhere too!  We don’t see those much on the vineyard floor in California.

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The first thing I learned is where the definition of  “back-breaking” work comes from.  At home the cordon height is about waist height on me, or 46″ from the ground.  In Cote Rotie, most of the vines have fruit zones only 8″ from the ground.

Notice how low I have to crouch down to reach the fruit.

Notice how low I have to crouch down to reach the fruit.

I was literally on my hands and knees picking grapes in this vineyard.  Imagine doing squats all day long.  My quads were experiencing muscle exhaustion relatively quickly, and I’m in pretty good shape.  I was thinking as I was picking that I could give them some insight on how to make this job infinitely easier…simply raise the height of the fruit zone.  But I didn’t take into consideration that they use the heat that radiates off the soil to help ripen the fruit on the vines in this cooler than Paso Robles climate.

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La Rosine is just outside of the Cote Rotie appellation, and it is relatively flat in comparison to most of the vineyards that I visited.  Still, there were some moments while picking grapes when I found myself using the stakes to hold myself in place.  At some other vineyards, I used them like ski poles to climb uphill.

Something that I saw in Cote Rotie that I would like to bring home to the vineyards in Paso Robles is the straw that they use to tie shoots to stakes.  It’s economical, biodegradable, renewable, and it doesn’t girdle grapevines.

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We picked the botrytis covered grapes into buckets, and then transferred them into bigger boxes for transport to the winery.

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Liquid gold!

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Côte Rôtie , How Do I Love Thee, Let Me Count the Ways…

I returned home on Tuesday from a little over a week in France where I spent some time learning about the vineyards and wines of Cote Rotie.  It is a truly beautiful part of the world, and I learned a lot by visiting.

I stayed in the tiny village of Ampuis, at Domaine Michel & Stephane Ogier.  My hosts were generous beyond words, and they made me feel immediately at home.

The village of Ampuis

The village of Ampuis with the iconic vineyards of Cote Rotie in the background.

This is a phone booth at the railroad tracks!

This is a phone booth at the railroad tracks!

I spent some time “working” in the cellar, but VERY carefully.  I found it to be nerve-wracking working in someone else’s cellar.  Although the work is generally the same, we all do things differently in the winery and our cellars are private places, really.  I didn’t want to overstep or make any mistakes, but I had to get into the daily work routine in order to learn about the differences in the local processes.  The staff at the Domaine was great!  So capable and fun to work with.  It helped immensely that everyone spoke English, but I made the decision to spend some time learning French for future visits.  As is the case when you travel to new locations, if you allow yourself to have an open mind about things, there really is so much to be learned.

Wall of barrels

Wall of barrels

I think it was most impressive for me to see the vineyards there.  Slopes that we would never consider planting in Paso Robles were covered with grapevines in Cote Rotie and Condrieu.

A vineyard in Condrieu

A vineyard in Condrieu

In those very steep spots, almost all of the work is done by hand.  The row spacing is too tight for equipment (in many places the spacing is 1.1m between rows and .8m between vines), and the slope is so steep that equipment cannot safely be used there anyway.

A photo of the schist "soil" that is found on the Cote Brune slopes.

A photo of the schist “soil” that is found on the Cote Brune slopes.

Spraying is done by hand with backpack sprayers.  Horses can be used in a few spots for tilling, but other than that they rely on good old-fashioned hard manual labor to manage the vineyards and bring in the crop.

Classic training of vines in Cote Rotie

Classic training of vines in Cote Rotie

I was so impressed with the vineyards that I am determined to try a small block “Cote Rotie Style”, here in Paso Robles.  I plan to plant a block at my own vineyard, but I’m licking my chops looking for another willing participant who is open to experimentation and wants to give it a shot.  (Yes John, I’m talking about you.)

A vineyard in Condrieu

A vineyard in Condrieu

I found the wines of this appellation to be classic and exemplary, consistently showing remarkable finesse, chic style, and lasting sophistication that is the marker of the region.

A beautiful view

A beautiful view

Since I’ve been home my colleagues are asking, will I change my winemaking style now that I’ve seen how they do it in Cote Rotie?  I don’t think so.  If I learned anything there it is that terroir is king.  I have to make wines that showcase the terroir of Paso Robles with a little bit of my personal flair somehow shining through, and those wines will be a lot different from wines made anywhere else.  That’s the point of it all, don’t you think?

Yosemite High Sierra Camps Day 3: May Lake to Sunrise Camp

We left May Lake as soon as we could after breakfast because we knew that we had a long day of hiking ahead.

Leaving May Lake

Leaving May Lake

This was the first day of the trip that I felt really good.  No headache, nausea or fatigue.  I had figured out at this point that all camps with showers also stocked soap so I threw away my soap at May Lake.  Anything to save carrying a couple of extra ounces!

The distance we had to cover was 8.25 miles, with only a small elevation gain from 9270ft at May Lake to 9400ft at Sunrise.  So why did it feel like we were hiking uphill all day long?

Beautiful views leaving May Lake

Beautiful views leaving May Lake

Only a little over a mile from May Lake we crossed Tioga Road and arrived shortly after that at Tenaya Lake.  It was still early but we took a long break to let the girls swim in the lake for a while.

Tenaya Lake

Tenaya Lake

Tenaya Lake

Tenaya Lake

After leaving Tenaya Lake we walked through a forest of fir trees with little meadows in between.  At one point we noticed hundreds of beautiful butterflies flitting around in some wildflowers and we stopped for a while to watch them.

Back on the trail

Back on the trail

Watching Butterflies

Watching Butterflies

Lunch was another stop along the trail and was delicious as usual.  The HSC staff packs amazing lunches that you order the night before and pick up in the morning before you head out.  We found that one lunch was more than enough for two people. We used 3L camel back bladder inserts in our packs for water  and found that most days we arrived at the next camp close to empty.  We did have a filtering device with us in case we needed to refill along the trail.

Break for lunch

Break for lunch

The place where we stopped for lunch was the beginning of a very long and strenuous uphill climb.  Imagine climbing granite stairs for three hours, but the stairs were so big that you couldn’t just put one foot in front of the other.  It was one foot up and then bring the opposite foot up to the same level to meet the other foot and so on.  I don’t remember exactly, but I would guess that we climbed about 1 mile in those 3 hours.

On our way to the top we passed two hikers who were experiencing real exhaustion.  We were legitimately concerned that they may need to be rescued.  On our way to Glen Aulin on the first day we did meet two trail rescuers who are employed by the park.  They were running, and one of them was barefoot!  In fact, we encountered many barefoot hikers, and when my husband’s boots started to bother him on the second to the last day of our trip, he became a barefoot hiker too.

At the top of the steep climb there is a lookout where you can see Half Dome and another trail that breaks off from that point to go to Clouds Rest.  We  stopped there for a photo op and came across a really fun group of ladies who were visiting from Montana.  They were doing calisthenics and we joined in.

Half Dome in the distance

Half Dome in the distance

A big accomplishment to get to this point!

A big accomplishment to get to this point!

Exercises on the trail

Exercises on the trail

At this point, we figured that we had to be getting close to camp.  Boy were we mistaken!  We continued to climb and came to a beautiful high meadow full of amazing green grasses, flowers, trees and a beautiful pond.  We decided to go for a swim.  One touch of my toe in the water revealed that it this beautiful pond was really nothing but melted ice a degree or two away from turning back into ice again.  I passed on a swim but changed into my shorts.

Pond of Virtual Ice

Pond of Virtual Ice

Are we there yet?  How much further?

Are we there yet? How much further?

The next challenge that we faced on this day was another uphill climb, the last push before reaching the true top of the mountain.  One of the girls had the biggest meltdown of the trip at the realization that she would have to climb again.  The rest of our party went on without us while I stayed to talk her down from her panicked state.  This set us back about 20 minutes.  When we were able to continue we walked through a wooded area and I had my first and only experience during this trip of having “the creeps”.  I don’t know why or what, but something was making me feel uneasy.  I radioed my dad and found that they were not far ahead of us on the trail so that made me feel a little better.

Finally we could see some little bits of white through the trees.  Tents!

We were relieved to have finished a very challenging day.

The views at Sunrise Camp were beautiful.  There are no showers at Sunrise due to the lack of water at this camp.  The toilets are composting toilets, but they were smell free.  There was very little water for handwashing, which I didn’t really like, and no swimming at this camp because there are no water features to swim in.  After a long day like that, we were so tired that we didn’t care.

Deer in the mule corral

Deer in the mule corral

We loved to see the mule trains bringing supplies

We loved to see the mule trains bringing supplies

We went to bed early but sleep was hard to come by because the staff at Sunrise Camp were hosting prom that night.  “Prom” is a celebration that the staff from all of the other High Sierra camps attend.  Imagine finishing up the dinner service at a camp many miles of strenuous walking away, getting dressed up and then walking to prom at Sunrise Camp, partying with your friends and then walking back to the camp where you work to prepare and serve breakfast the next morning.  That is what these guys did!

I would definitely rate the walk from May Lake to Sunrise Camp as very strenuous.  For me it was the hardest day of the trip (physically and mentally).

About Sunrise Camp

About Sunrise Camp

Big Achievement for a Little Girl

Big Achievement for a Little Girl

Moonrise at Sunrise High Sierra Camp

Moonrise at Sunrise High Sierra Camp

Next up: Sunrise Camp to Merced Lake.  My favorite!

Yosemite High Sierra Camps: Day 2 Glen Aulin to May Lake

I didn’t sleep very well at Glen Aulin.  Maybe it was the excitement of being on the hike, maybe I was cold…I can’t really remember.  But I do remember one little critter that played a big role in my sleepless night.  It was a deer mouse.  As soon as we jumped into our cots I started to hear a little something nibbling away at a plastic wrapper.

We spent a good amount of time explaining to the girls that we couldn’t leave a scrap of food, a single chapstick, a tube of sunscreen, even a crumb from a granola bar, in our tent cabins because of the bear situation in Yosemite.  Apparently I was not clear that those guidelines included empty granola bar wrappers, because both girls left one in their backpacks.  The deer mice descended on our tent and in a matter of seconds, chewed holes into the girls backpacks (Yes, this was the FIRST NIGHT of the trip) to get to the empty wrappers.  I heard the noise and got out of bed, found the wrappers and hung the bags from a hook so that they would be off the floor.

That wasn’t the end of the deer mice.  We would continue to see them at every camp.  They left their poop in the bear boxes, where our snacks were kept, and they scuttled around in our tents each night that we were on the trail.  I didn’t think much of it at the time, but at the end of our trip I had reason to think about it a lot.

In the morning, I got out of bed and as soon as my feet hit the ground I did two dry heaves into the trash can.  Super fun.  I made my mind accept the fact that I was not going to let this get me down, and I got the girls and myself ready for the day.  After some brekkies and hot chocolate we set out on our way to May Lake.  I can only guess that I had a mild case of altitude sickness.  I was really surprised because Glen Aulin is not very high, in fact, we had walked to a lower altitude that first day from Tuolumne Meadows at 8775ft to Glen Aulin at 7800ft.  Anyway, I felt pretty crummy when we got started but after about an hour I was fine.

Heading out from Glen Aulin to May Lake

Heading out from Glen Aulin to May Lake

 

Looking at the view

Looking at the view

The hike to May Lake was 8.5 miles with an elevation gain of 1470ft, from 7800ft at Glen Aulin to 9270ft at May Lake.  The terrain on all of the HSC trails is such that you have to watch where your foot falls with each and every step, so I spent a lot of time with my head down, looking at the trail, stopping every once in a while to look around at the scenery.  I often thought to myself that I would like to do the loop on a mule someday so that I could look around for a change while the mule concentrated on where he was stepping!

It turned out to be another beautiful day on the trail.  We walked through what the girls and I thought was a fairy forest, full of ferns and kind of boggy, but thankfully without a lot of bugs except for a few mosquitoes.  Soon the landscape changed and we found ourselves walking over wide expanses of granite.  It was a little hot against those rocks, and we imagined that it was a place where mountain lions would live.  After we crested the rocks we came to a beautiful meadow area, full of flowers and grasses and so serene that it was easy to imagine living there until you considered that food would be difficult to come by and the area was covered in snow and ice for a good part of the year.

View from up high

View from up high

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Entering the meadow after crossing the granite section

Entering the meadow after crossing the granite section

About this time the girls were tired (and so was I!) and we figured that we were getting close to May Lake.  Which leads me to another thing that I learned on this trip…a mile on flat ground not carrying a pack is something completely different from a mile on a rocky trail in the high sierras with a pack on your back. We would often check our map and see that we only had 2 miles or 3 miles or even 4 miles left to go, which sounds like nothing.  At home I run 4.5 miles on hilly terrain in about 40 minutes, a pace a little faster than a 10 minute mile.  For most people, normal fast walking pace is a little faster than 4 miles an hour.  In some instances on the HSC loop, we were lucky to cover 2 miles an hour or less.  It often felt like climbing stairs for miles.

Tired girl

Tired girl

We didn’t see any other kids who were doing the whole loop.  Our girls were definitely the youngest hikers and even the staff at the camps were very impressed with their ability.  Some friends asked me when we returned if I would recommend the HSC loop for a family vacation.  If your kids sit around playing video games and watching TV, and are not active in some type of sport on a regular basis (both of my girls are on a swim team where they swim for an hour and a half each day from March to November) then my answer is definitely no.  I’m not saying that we didn’t have breakdowns because we did.  The girls averaged about one breakdown a day, each.  But after a short rest their resolve was restored and we would be back on our way.

After the beautiful meadow, we walked for maybe an hour or two more before we came into camp.  I was so happy to see those tents!  After a nap and a shower I felt great.  May Lake is a beautiful place.  The camp is a short hike from a parking lot on Tioga Rd (maybe about a mile if I remember correctly) so there were a lot of kids at the camp who were vacationing with their families.  The girls loved this because they had kids to play with.

Outside our tent at May Lake

Outside our tent at May Lake

Taking time to plan our walk for the next day

Taking time to plan our walk for the next day

Journaling before bed

Journaling before bed

May Lake is like a mirror!

May Lake is like a mirror!

We had one of the best meals of the trip at May Lake.  The black bean soup was so delicious!  I am a soup lover anyway, and they served soup at camp each night.  The soup was always my favorite part of the meal.  It was perfect in the cool mountain air and so good after a long day on the trail.  We also had a really yummy dessert at May Lake that the girls and I still talk about.  It was a pie with chocolate chip cookie crust, a thin layer of whipped cream, and all kinds of fresh berries like strawberries, raspberries and blackberries on top.  So good!  I swore I would recreate it at home but I haven’t done that yet.  Berry season will arrive soon here on the Central Coast so I’ll have to remember to give it a try.

Next up in the HSC Loop: Day 3 from May Lake to Sunrise Camp.  A total ass-kicker of a walk.

 

Yosemite High Sierra Camps: Day 1

My family went on one of the biggest adventures of our lives this past summer.  We tackled the Yosemite High Sierra Camp (HSC) Loop.  It was easily one of the most challenging and best trips we have ever taken.  I highly recommend it and I think we will do it again someday.  I’m going to write about each day separately to share the whole story.

I don’t recall how I heard about the HSC Loop, or what made me decide that it would be a great thing to do with 8 and 10 year old daughters in tow, but I entered the lottery for a spot in November 2011 and was notified in January 2012 that we were awarded a reservation to the Camps in July 2012.  It turned out to be a great first backpacking trip because each camp provides a canvas tent with cots and bedding, plus breakfast and dinner each day, and the option to order a sack lunch to take on the trail.  This makes it possible to hike carrying only a day pack, although I carried an Arcteryx Axios 33 which is more than a day pack.  My husband also carried a 36L Osprey pack.  The two of us carried our own gear, plus our kids gear so that they only had to carry water, snacks and a jacket. My parents hiked with day packs.  Now that I’ve done the loop, I know that I could get away with carrying less stuff next time.  In fact, about halfway through the second day I was thinking, “What in the hell do I have in this pack?!?!”  I was ready to unload anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary for survival, like sunscreen, soap, etc.  And by the way, if you do this trip, you do not need to pack soap because it is stocked in all the camps for handwashing and showers.

My parents, who are seasoned backpackers that have done much of the John Muir Trail and extensive backpacking in the White Mountains, including all of the “Four-Thousand Footers of the White Mountains”, came along for the ride.  I must admit that having a team of veterans with us novices was very comforting.

Because we are farmers we have very physical jobs and lead active lifestyles.  We are fit to begin with.  In addition to our work, my parents and I do some running and walking, my husband and I do pilates regularly, and my husband is an avid surfer, mountain bike rider and overall hyperactive human.  Our kids are blade runners who are natural athletes.  All this to say that we did little beyond our normal lifestyles for physical training to tackle the loop.  Another bonus of being a farmer on this trip was that we are used to early bed times and waking up early in the morning.  The camps do not have electricity, so bedtime happens when the sun goes down and getting an early start in the morning means more time to play (or recover!) in the afternoon when you reach the next camp.

I am not a big traveler, as noted in one of my previous posts, My Travel Curse, so there is much of the world that I have not seen but I still feel comfortable making the statement that Yosemite National Park must be one of the most beautiful places on the planet.  I love going there, and every time I visit I find the landscape to be breathtaking.  Seeing Yosemite on the HSC Loop is seeing the Park in a whole new light.  On the Valley floor there are a gazillion people.  On the HSC Loop there are few.  I would guess because not a lot of people today are fit enough to walk to the camps.  The walk from one camp to the next was strenuous for much of the trip, and leisurely for bits, but always beautiful.

Our hiking itinerary was as follows: Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin, Glen Aulin to May Lake, May Lake to Sunset Camp, Sunset Camp to Merced Lake, Merced Lake to Vogelsang, Vogelsang to Tuolumne Meadows.  We opted to stay at Tuolumne Meadows Lodge the night before starting our hike, and I really recommend this option. It enables you to get an early start and to have some time to get acclimated since it is located at 8,775 feet.  The restaurant there is great, and we ordered a sack lunch to take with us on the trail.  We spent the afternoon exploring the Tuolumne River, which runs right through the camp, doing some fly fishing, and relaxing in preparation for our first day on the trail.

Exploring the Tuolumne River

Exploring the Tuolumne River

My dad couldn’t wait to try fly fishing.

My dad fly fishing on the Tuolumne River

My dad fly fishing on the Tuolumne River

Simon’s first cast got stuck in a tree.

Getting untangled

Getting untangled

After a good nights sleep and a hearty breakfast the next morning, we packed up our bags and started on our way to Glen Aulin.  This was the easiest day of the trip.  The scenery was unbelievable, and it was a good day for everyone.

Starting out

Starting out

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Lunch time

Lunch time

Most of the trail from Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin is relatively flat.  In fact, the elevation at Glen Aulin is 7800ft, so we actually walked a bit downhill.

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Still Smiling!

Still Smiling!

This was the easiest day of the trip, and we arrived at the camp by 2pm, giving us plenty of time to swim in the ICY cold but beautiful, crystal clear water, and to explore around the camp.  The waterfall into the pool at the camp is unbelievably pretty, and the sound that it makes can be heard throughout the camp.

Almost there

Almost there

The Falls at Glen Aulin

The Falls at Glen Aulin

Exploring around camp

Exploring around camp

All meals are served family style, which gave us a great opportunity each night to meet new people.  Some of the other hikers were with us on the whole loop, but most only did a portion of the 49 miles.

After dinner we watched the sunset, then hit the sack.  I went to bed feeling a little sick, and really proud of my girls for finishing the day with a positive attitude and a smile on their faces.

Sunset Light

Sunset Light

Up next: Day 2.  Things got a little more challenging on the hike from Glen Aulin to May Lake.

My Travel Curse

My Home Sweet Home

I am cursed when it comes to travel.  Here are the examples that make me believe this is so.

On a family vacation in Hawaii my kids were running and playing on the grass, like normal kids do.  One of them fell, like normal kids do.  I could tell by her cry that something was wrong.  I told myself to take a chill pill.  That night she didn’t sleep and the next morning she wouldn’t use her arm.  A trip to the ER in Hawaii followed where we were told that they were so busy that they would not be able to see her before our flight later that afternoon.  When we landed in San Diego we took her to the ER there where it was confirmed that she had broken her left arm.

The first time I ever left my kids to go anywhere far away I went to the Masters in Georgia with my dad.  When I left that morning my younger daughter (same one with the broken arm) cried and begged me not to go.  When my plane landed in Atlanta she was at the ER with a bad case of strep throat, unable to even keep down fluids.  I wanted to turn right around and come home.

Fast forward a couple of years.  Now we were in San Diego to fly to Boston.  Since we had a few hours I thought I would take the kids to the park to burn off some energy.  The same stunt woman daughter fell off the top of the play structure, breaking her elbow.  Another ER visit, missed flight, etc. followed by a two week vacation to a lake with a 5 year old wearing a cast.  What do you do with a 5 year old who can’t swim on a vacation where the main attraction is swimming?  Not super fun, for anyone.

On a flight to France I was seated next to a completely sick French woman who coughed and blew and snorted exactly 4.7 inches away from my head for the 11 hours that it took us to get to Paris.  Then we arrived in Montpellier and got into our rental car which was the size of, oh, a large recycling bin. We started driving through the streets that are one-and-a-half cars wide (for two-way traffic) and shaped like coiled up snakes.  It was very similar to being trapped on the Space Mountain ride at Disneyland indefinitely.  I couldn’t roll down the window fast enough, and my poor patient husband couldn’t pull over fast enough, and I puked on the window and into the crack that the window disappears into when you roll it down.  Not one of my best moments.  But after a shower, a thorough teeth cleaning and a nap I was back in the saddle.

We just returned from a trip to New Hampshire where we had a great time.  On my way to the airport two things happened.  First my house sitter called to say that the “big pipe” that fills the water tank, well, it was leaking.  Like, a lot.  Then my tire pressure light came on.  I had a giant screw in my tire.  Perfect!

And to top it all off, in July we had one of our absolute best family trips ever.  We did the High Sierra Camp loop at Yosemite National Park.  I am going to write more about it later.  Can you see where this is going?  Yes my friends, we stayed in the tent cabins where six people have now contracted hantavirus.  The incubation period is 1-6 weeks, and we have successfully completed 3 weeks of incubating without any symptoms.  I’m hoping for the best but given my track record…