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333. Triple Winery Hike (08/03/03)

Hikers (20): Alan W, Barbara, Brenda, Hoy, Jane M, Jinglan, Kendall, Miwako, Neel, Patrick, Peter, Richard R, Richard S, Roger, Rus R, Steve, Sue, Taylor, Wei-Kai, Wendy R
Distance: 3 miles
Rating: 1 difficulty, 7 beauty

Write-up by Peter

We had to do something special for the 333rd (although the reason for this is not entirely clear), so I chose a Triple Winery Hike. The main idea was to get back to our INCH roots and actually consume more calories than we were to burn off. I chose to go to Livermore instead of the Napa and Sonoma wineries because (a) it's closer to home, (b) it's a lot less crowded, (c) the owners are a lot more personable, and (d) they don't charge for tastings! As for Napa and Sonoma, in the words of the immortal Yogi Berra, "It's too crowded. Nobody goes there anymore".

We met up at the Fenestra Winery parking lot at noon, just in time for the opening of the tasting room. The owner, Lanny Replogle, personally came out to the parking lot and welcomed us in. When does that ever happen at Napa?

1, 2, 3 ... INCH!

After doing the mighty INCH cheer and welcoming two newbie Richards to the group, we walked across the parking lot and into the tasting room. Whew! That was a tough hike. Did I mention that most of us were decked out in full hiking gear? I actually brought my backpack along to fill up with bottles of wine.

It was nice and cool in the tasting room, and the friendly staff brought out 20, yes 20, different wines for us to sample. I could see we were going to spend a lot of time here. I sampled at least 10 wines here, and I have to say there was not a bad one in the whole bunch. I don't know much about wine, but I know what I like. Every once in a while I'll throw out a term like "buttery", "stemmy", or "nice finish", but that's just for show. Walstra was knocking 'em back and babbling about having to be true to his Dutch heritage and support Fenestra. I could tell he was half-drunk already! I ended up buying a Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot, and a nice oakey Cabernet. Roger went for a whole case, and Hoy and a bunch of others split another case. All right! Time to move on .....

Our original plan was to go from here across the road to Thomas Coyne and then to Livermore Valley Cellars, which was a couple of miles away, but Lanny told us that there was major road construction up ahead and suggested a different route that would take us to Tenuta Vineyards and then around the back way to Coyne. Sounds good to me. He even called Tenuta to give them up a heads up that we were coming and also offered to keep our wine in the cellar until we got back. I give Lanny an A+ for excellent customer service.

We had to walk along Vallecitos Road for the first half-mile of the trail to Tenuta. This was a little dicey as the oncoming cars were going at a pretty good speed and there was not much room along the side of the road. Sue and a couple of others were a little nervous -- time to get them more wine before the buzz wears off! Fortunately, the trail soon turned off the main road and into the private road leading to Tenuta.

We walked along the sprawling vineyards towards the main building (it was too small to call it a chateau). There were beautiful views in all directions. This is a brand new winery, part of the Ruby Hill development. You can get a custom house built right in the winery itself for a mere $5-6 million. I told Sue that if she bought a house there, I would offer to be her butler.

After what seemed like an eternity, we finally arrived at the tasting room. The owner, Ron Tenuta, seemed like a nice fellow but I think he was overwhelmed by our large and thirsty group. He was serving up 5 wines, and we sampled all of them. Mmmmmm! Again, not a bad one in the bunch. Roger went for a case (this guy's not messing around), and bunch of us, again led by Hoy, split another case. I purchased a Chardonnay (buttery!) and was strongly tempted to sit outside and drink it on the patio while enjoying the sweeping views of the valley, but I could sense the crowd was itching to move on.

From here, we continued on through the vineyards, along the back road to Thomas Coyne. We briefly stopped to admire some huge buzzards that were sitting on a fence. A bunny rabbit went racing by, but they paid no attention to it. They were waiting for bigger prey -- us! There were a couple of moments where we thought we were lost, thus making it a true INCH hike, but at least we had an excuse this time -- we'd each sampled at least a dozen wines so far. Fortunately, Rus came to the rescue and led us out of the wilderness so that we would not be roadkill for the buzzards.

I didn't catch the name of the lady pouring wine for us at Coyne (blame it on the wine), but she was also very friendly and had some good stories to share with us. The wines here were a little different from any that I had had before. Their "Quest" was an interesting one, as were the Viognier, Cinsault, and Grenache, which had a unique hint of strawberry. By now, I was more in need of food than wine, so I didn't purchase anything, but I'm pretty sure Roger bought another case of something.

From Coyne, it was only a half-mile to complete the loop back to Fenestra. The hike was now officially over, so about half the group dispersed. The rest of us decided to forage for food. The lady at Coyne had recommended we go to Stoney Ridge Winery to eat, as they had a nice Italian bistro kitchen. That sounded great, so we headed out -- rapido, rapido!

The winery was on the other side of town, and not that easy to find. There was no sign outside, and the entrance was a small dirt road between a couple of shacks behind an ugly chain link fence. Note to Stoney Ridge -- you really need to improve this! But we were so hungry that we would have eaten off a subway platform at this point, so we went in. There was a great smell of garlic in the air. Mmmmmmm! My mouth was watering. But wait -- the kitchen had just closed for the day! Damn!

Fortunately, all was not lost. About a mile back down the road we came across a great little rib place, Emil Villa's Hickory Pit. I enjoyed a great BBQ beef sandwich, and bunch of INCHers dug into a hearty platter of baby back ribs. They call it the family dinner, but it's more like food for a family of lions (yes, I know it's called a pride). I don't think those guys will need to eat meat again for a few weeks. An excellent ending to an excellent day! I am happy to report that we easily met our goal of consuming more calories than we burned off.

My subjective winery report card: Fenestra - A, Tenuta - B, Coyne - B, Stoney Ridge - D (although the grade could be improved if they send me some free samples -- hint, hint).

P.S. Sadly, Rusty had to miss this hike as he was standing on line to get tickets for Gigli.

Richard R's 1st leaf
Richard S's 1st leaf
Taylor's 150th leaf

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