Disc golf in Novato

My friend Peter and I had a blast playing disc golf last weekend. The game is simple, throw a disc (essentially a plastic disc that’s heavier, smaller and can fly much further than your average Frisbee) at a target. Golf rules apply, but the attitude on the course is laid back and relaxed. The course at Stafford Park in Novato is wonderful and laid out upon a series of oak-dotted hills that surround a lake. This time of year, when the grass is bright green and the lake is full, the course is especially beautiful. Here’s a gallery of some photos I snapped on the course.

Don’t worry, I’ll ditch this fresh air and outdoorsy stuff soon for more boozy blogging. It’s just been too nice outside.

To the top of Napa Valley

The Napa Valley floor as seen from the summit of Mt. St. Helena.

The recent spell of pleasant weather had Christine and myself itching to do a little hiking and so last weekend we were joined by Christine’s sister for a hike to the top of Mt. St. Helena.

This mountain, which is a volcano, is at the northern end of the Napa Valley and towers above Calistoga and the rest of the valley. During the winter it often is dusted with snow and the views from the top are expansive. Trailheads to the summit and the nearby rock formations known as The Palisades are in the Robert Louis Stevenson State Park that is located between Calistoga and Middletown on Highway 29.

The park is named after the famous author because he spent his honeymoon in 1880 camped out on the side of the mountain. There is a small memorial dedicated to the author about a mile up the trail. As we made our way up a switchback trail through oaks and pines, I thought to myself how wonderful it must have been to have stayed in the Napa Valley when it was still a rough and wild place miles inland from the civilization of San Francisco.

Robert Louis Stevenson spent his honeymoon camped out on Mt. St Helena. This stature marks the area where his cabin is believed to have been located. While staying in the Napa Valley, Stevenson wrote Silverado Squatters.

Then the valley teemed with wildlife and was populated with ranchers, farmers and prospectors passing through on their way to the Sierra Nevada. Higher up on the trail, we enjoyed vistas of gorgeous, forrested mountains that gradually gave way to terraced vineyards, large estate houses and then the valley floor covered in a patchwork quilt of roads, homes, vineyards and reservoir ponds. A far cry from what Stevenson must have looked down upon during his stay in Napa.

Aside from the first mile and a half, the trail consists of an access road. It’s not the most wild or rugged trail, but the even terrain allows you to just enjoy the views and let your mind wander.

The real attraction to the hike are the views from the summit. When we made it to the top, we could see the San Francisco Bay as well as the city of the San Francisco. The horizon was ringed with snow-capped peaks, and far off in the distance, we could make out the imposing, jagged peak of Mt. Shasta.

The hike up took us about three hours and we made it back down in about one hour. It’s a 10-mile back-and-forth with about 1,300 feet elevation gain to reach the 4,343 foot summit. We were surprised by how crowded the trail got as we made our way down so it’s best to get an early start. As we made our way down we passed bikers on their way up, several groups of mountain climbers scrambling up the various rock formations, a truck with hang gliding equipment strapped to the top and a couple of teenagers slinking off into the woods to do God know’s what.

There seemed to be a network of lesser known trails that hardcore rock climbers used to access the various rock formations that dotted the mountainside.

What I’m drinking … free wine!

Wine just tastes a little better when it's free.

I work at a winery, my wife works at a winery so we get lots of free wine.

It’s a great industry perk and I never tire of coming home to find a case of wine sitting on our kitchen table and Christine saying they had to clean out some inventory.

For me, the real bonanza comes when my winery is bottling. As I understand it, the line crew pulls a sample at different points of the day. They label these samples “End of Day” or “Lunch Break” with the date, and the lab crew will conduct quality control analysis if they have time. Often they don’t have time or need to do multiple tests a day so samples can end up on a counter in the lab and become take home wine. When I first started at Starmont they were just beginning a massive bottling of zin and I’d come home at the end of the week with two or three bottles.

Christine and I were joking the other day about starting up a custom label under the name “Lunch Break.” I thought it had a nice ring to it and gives one a sense of indulgent relaxation. We ultimately decided that Americans still have too much of a stigma about having a glass of wine with lunch during the week. (Myself, I like a couple of gin gimlets with a Coors chaser. Goes great with an egg salad sandwich!)

The most free wine I got my hands on came when I worked at Beringer. That winery bottles an insane amount of wine under myriad labels and the line seemed to be running every day. Once a day, me and the other interns would go down to the QC lab where there was usually a couple of cases of wine with ripped labels, askew labels or other small flaws that kept them from being shipped out.

When I my harvest gig at Beringer was done the pantry in my little one bedroom apartment in Napa was stuffed with something like 13 cases of wine. In the following months of unemployment, however, that stash was much reduced.

(I’m kidding about my usual lunches, I hate egg salad!)

This rat is now full time

Hola amigos, long time since I rapped at ya I know but I’ve been knee deep in lees and other winery muck.

But the good news: the fine fellows over at Starmont have brought me on full time. Now I can say I’m part of the wine industry and that profile photo of me on The Team page looks a little less pretentious.

I can’t say how much of a relief it was to hear that I was getting a full time gig. Especially in this economy and for someone whose career background is a little limited in terms of wine. But I worked my ass off during harvest and in the months after, crossed my fingers and it turned out OK. When I was hired, I was told I was going to be done after Thanksgiving, then it changed to the end of January and then Feb. 17. Well, on Feb. 15 they told me I had a full time job.

It’s been a crazy few months but now everything is looking much more settled. I’m going to keep doing cellar work for the meantime but when we get into this year’s harvest I’m going to be doing lab work and act as a liason to the winery’s custom crush clients.

Thinking about where I am now as opposed to last year, I find it a little wild. I’m also struck by the host of odd little skills I’ve picked up after working for almost a year in the cellar. Skills like:

• Hose wrangling, I can coil a hose or wire in a tight spool like a champ.

• Climbing or walking on barrels. When I first started at Starmont, I was afraid of heights. Now I don’t hesitate to jump on a barrel rack and scramble 30 to 40 feet high.

• A heightened appreciation for air pressure and fluid dynamics. When you’re transferring 12,000 gallons of Cabernet from one tank to another you better make sure it’s going to get there.

• The many joys of sulphur, or azufre. Purely sarcastic here, sulfur is some nasty stuff be it in power, gas or liquid form.

And plenty of other interesting little bits of knowledge too. (Like how invaluable Avery waterproof labels are to wine production.)