Winery Tour ~ Cuvaison Estate Wines ~

This photo portrays a warmth and a love of good wine that the sterile tasting room and staff could not match.  The Truchard was disappointing in its humble facilities, but Cuvaison has no heart at all. We stepped into the tasting room with a guide, which is not the average tourist’s practice;  there was a staff of two at the tasting counter and neither bothered to greet us or to even look up.  Our guide, with My Napa Guide, who was excellent and well informed by the way, introduced our group and informed the staff we’d like a tasting.  

They then looked up, nodded and looked down.  Our guide was a bit surprised but left discreetly out the front door.  We sat down at a hightop table inside while I reflected on what just occurred.  I am a businesswoman:  I look to increase customer allegiance and  promote my product at all times.  My reflection was thus:   that tour guide that wasn’t even acknowledged and wasn’t even offered any water on a hot day, brought them affluent customers who are every retailer’s delight. We came to Cuvaison on his recommendation and he was dismissed as if he was a solicitor.

My blood began to boil at such cavalier and ignorant conduct;  I wandered over to the window to cool off, saw a group being attended and overheard they were “club members” which meant apparently that the staff was completely occupied;  mind you we were the only party in the tasting room.  We waited some more chatting idly while I wondered briefly what the Cuvaison Club Membership had to offer and whether at this point I would be inclined to participate.    

Finally staff came over and asked if we preferred a white or red tasting. Apparently it was one or the other.  We chose the white. He poured the Estate Chardonnay.  I don’t know if poor service can affect a tasting but we were not impressed;  all that I can recall was that it was wet. Sometimes a little humor is required in ridiculous situations.

Cuvaison was founded in 1969 by two engineers from Silicon Valley in Calistoga.  They began with 27 acres and today there are over 400 acres. In 1998, Cuvaison purchased the 170 acre Brandlin Vineyards which was quite a coup in the wine world as the Cabernet Sauvignon that was grown on the steep and rocky slopes was an intense and elegant cabernet that could not be grown in the lower climes. The name “Cuvaison” comes from the french term for the period of time when grape juice is kept in contact with the skins and seeds during fermentation and maceration.  Further, this is most critical for red wines as the proper “cuvaison” allows color, tannins and aroma to infuse the grape juice and thereby create the glorious depth found in the most complex red wines.  

There are always “splendid” personalities and John Thacher was or is such an individual.  He served as Cuvaison’s premier winemaker for decades; was elected as “Winemaker of the Year” by Wine and Spirits Magazine in 1988.;  became President of Cuvaison in the same year and vanished in 2002.  I have googled him to no avail.  He seems to have completely disappeared into ether.  When someone of his talent and standing in an elite industry disappears in such a fashion, my blood hound tendancies are piqued.  

The name Cuvaison also has sentimental value for me:   I had a bottle many years ago that was quite memorable and that is quite another story, but that story propelled me towards the counter.   Staff looked up.  

"May I help you?"  

"Yes, I am considering a purchase, possibly a pinot noir."  

He handed me their brochure and looked down. Perversely, I held my temper,  and in a manner totally uncharacteristic of me, meekly reviewed the brochure as indicated and selected the Pinot Noir 2011.  Price?  $38. Shipping, staff noted, would be about $15.  Fine. I paid and we left.  

That was on the 27th. On the 29th my account paid $122.00;  I can’t wait to find out how $38 and $15 and tax totalled $122.  I wrote an email to club@cuvaison.com on the 9th asking them to explain;  the wine has not been sighted yet; I live in southern California.  I am morbidly intrigued by whether their “customer service” will indeed offer any service at all. I intend to update as events unfold.

It’s truly remarkable how dismissive the staff of a winery can be.  Why would they be too busy attending “Club” members (who are existing customers) to promote their brand and garner new customers?  Most of the public that walks through their doors does not live next door;  in fact, they have travelled for greater distances, most likely, than we at greater expense (we came from southern California)  in expectation of not only a fine experience but the adventure of sending a few bottles home. The non-service at Cuvaison  truly baffles me because in this economy, a retailer must exercise a good deal of energy to capture new customers as the resources of current customers may drastically change overnight.  Apparently, Cuvaison has all the customers they need and they have absolutely no concern for future customers.

Written by LadyJoss Setpember 8, 2013  on the Napa Valley Tour 

Footnote:  Jamie Glidewell, the wine club sales manager responded to me this morning, the 9th - well done Jamie - and graciously cleared up the anomalies.  The shipping was delayed due to the holiday on monday and the warehouse was closed the last few days of August for inventory.  She, I’m assuming she  is correct, because I don’t see Jamie Glidewell listed on their roster of team members on their website; but “she” will speak to the staff and enquire as to why that delayed shipping time was not passed on to me, the customer.  Apparently she has no clue as to the nature of her  staff’s thorough incompetence or ambivalence.  If it were me, heads would roll, but that’s just me.  

As to the bill discrepancy?  She submitted a copy of the invoice which listed as follows:  

$20 taste/tour glass gone  (3)  $18.52   for $55.56

$38 pinot noir 2011

tax $8.42      shipping $21   total - $122.58

Being on holiday, and being at a reputable establishment I signed the tally without reviewing the sums (my mistake)  with the assumption that what the staff was telling me was true.  There would be a charge for the wine, shipping (about $15) and of course I expected the tax.  Ahh, the wine was delivered mid sentence.  The weight of the package was exactly 3.4 pounds.  Our estimate on shipping, for we have a commercial account with a national carrier, including an adult required signature  is $11.  I would be greatly surprised if Cuvaison is actually being charged $21 for the same shipping weight;  and I believe the staff was correct in their casual appraisal of $15;  which leads me to believe Cuvaison is either padding (actually doubling) the true shipping charges or their purchasing department is incompetent in being gouged themselves.  Cuvaison, this customer would normally not blink at the tasting charges being added without notice but gouging customers with shipping charges?  Tssk Tssk!  The hallowed name of Cuvaison being dragged into the sleazy realm of “Buyer Beware?”  

Perhaps Cuvaison could tutor at the heels of Amazon who has become the Tyrranosaurus Rex of the retail industry ( who has my undivided attention and admiration) and who is feasting on the remains of giant retail dinosaurs; gobbling up the competition; and they have fast tracked to supremacy by keeping to a simple motto:   “Do what it takes to make the customer happy and they will be faithful for life.”

Jamie, you ended your letter with this lovely statement “Please let me know if there is anything else I can do for you.”  I applaud your sincerity, but now I leave it to you and Cuvaison to decide “if there is anything else” that you can do for me because to be honest I’m about to just give away the Pinot Noir without tasting (which would only deprive myself of a serene and luxurious moment sampling said bottle after hours); Cuvaison could have easily been the highlight of this season’s Napa Valley Tour.  And, do beware, I am a serious Yelper (I love this Ralph Nader of the modern consumer;  many retailers have improved their services and therefore their revenues through the administrations of my exacting pen) and I have my fingers hovering over the keypad daily;  poised to strike or applaud the purveyors of my retail experience.  I will be delighted to inform other unaware travellers to the modern but unfriendly aerie of Cuvaison exactly what they may expect in a visit.

Written by LadyJoss September 9, 2013

The Winery Tour Begins~
Our first vineyard on this fascinating Napa Valley Tour is the Truchard and I am disappointed.  Our guide, oh yes, David comes to mind as the fog from last night is relenting just a bit; is nowhere around as he’s picking up the replacement vehicle;  refer to “Flights of Wine at the Bounty Hunter” for further details.  
But besides the disappointment in the absence of our guide and being left rudderless you might say; the very nature of wine grapes (not to be confused with the snacking variety) is that they require intense sun and rocky terrain to pack incredible levels of sugar into those gorgeous packets of grape juice which means the landscape is  rolling hills with no vegetation other than grape vines and there are no expansive canopies of trees to provide shade on this 400 acres of incubating grapes;  none, nada, zip.  
Without success, I try to suppress rich images of Tuscany (a romantic vison of a winery); a large villa surrounded by the outbuildings of a farming community with the bleeting of sheep and the sqawking of a plump goose reaching its demise in time for dinner.  The view of the Truchard is very unlike my romantic vision and the image on the website is rather pituresque only because the lens captures a wide sweep of verdant vines.  The real view is dusty and featureless with an unremarkable main house that looks tired and in need of those meticulous paintbrushes on Cannery Row.
The traditions of tastings not that many years ago, of colorfully labelled bottles spread out on a cloth covered trestle, with well cured cheeses and an assortment of breads and crackers are long gone. This morning, we have a guide who carries a bottle in one hand;  a few glasses in the other and steers us toward  a blank picnic table for decanting.
But, to be fair, it is bottling day which the guide lets us know is an event that by itself makes this tour unusual.  It’s a tense and uncertain day for the winery for many reasons but the most disruptive being the very loud rumbling of the machinery.   
As we stood and stared at the massive truck, stretched out like some reptilian monster with hoses spiralling in several directions, we learned that the smaller wineries don’t bottle their own wines which to me was a very obscure fact. I naturally assumed that each winery while waiting for their first crops to mature would be gathering together the necessary equipment; barrels, corks and press, labels, etc to bottle their own. But today, the bottling of wine has become a very precise science.
This massive beast valued at $1.5 million has all the equipment and room to pump this year’s finished vintage from the vats, then pour into bottles, cork and trundle down a moving belt to labelling and packing; all within minutes.  Were the movies just lying to us about grapes being stomped and workers slipping in the vats?  
Touchard opens the vineyard to guests and we were fortunate to walk past ripe and redolent grapes such as above to observe the somewhat harsh conditions under which such hardy vines thrive. The grounds are expansive spreading over 400 acres of fertile but spare hillocks divided into varietal plantings of vines some of which prefer a mix of rocky and sun while others prefer less sun and lower climes and the sleuthing out of which varietals prefer what is quite a study indeed.  It requires years before the vintner harvests the results of all his careful horticultural decisions.  
Truchard seems to have sidestepped the capricious nature of precipitation by creating their own resevoirs and pumping irrigation to the vines.  By this means, they are able to continue irrigating through possibly 3 years  of insuffiicient rains and still keep the vines healthy.  
We began our tastings with a 2010 Chardonnay that had a wonderful nose and though I have listened to various sommeliers wax eloquent over the years with skepticism and good humor;  having observed once again the complexity of winemaking up close I have a new appreciation for the passion required to become a somellier.  A Sauvignon Blanc is a touch herbal; a Zinfandel is spicey;  and a Cabernet Sauvignon we found  can feature Black Cherry, Plum or currant flavors.  
3 flights later, we are invited to enter the cellar; a cavernous laboratory with carefully controlled temperatures exhibiting both French and American oak barrells all in various stages of winemaking. Hoses ran along the floor, a reminder of the beast outside that requires vast quantities of vintage to complete its job.  It would have been lovely to have a tasting within these caverns, but we chose the wrong day and we shall have to return.    
Written by:  LadyJoss on September 5, 2013 The Napa Valley Tour

The Winery Tour Begins~

Our first vineyard on this fascinating Napa Valley Tour is the Truchard and I am disappointed.  Our guide, oh yes, David comes to mind as the fog from last night is relenting just a bit; is nowhere around as he’s picking up the replacement vehicle;  refer to “Flights of Wine at the Bounty Hunter” for further details.  

But besides the disappointment in the absence of our guide and being left rudderless you might say; the very nature of wine grapes (not to be confused with the snacking variety) is that they require intense sun and rocky terrain to pack incredible levels of sugar into those gorgeous packets of grape juice which means the landscape is  rolling hills with no vegetation other than grape vines and there are no expansive canopies of trees to provide shade on this 400 acres of incubating grapes;  none, nada, zip.  

Without success, I try to suppress rich images of Tuscany (a romantic vison of a winery); a large villa surrounded by the outbuildings of a farming community with the bleeting of sheep and the sqawking of a plump goose reaching its demise in time for dinner.  The view of the Truchard is very unlike my romantic vision and the image on the website is rather pituresque only because the lens captures a wide sweep of verdant vines.  The real view is dusty and featureless with an unremarkable main house that looks tired and in need of those meticulous paintbrushes on Cannery Row.

The traditions of tastings not that many years ago, of colorfully labelled bottles spread out on a cloth covered trestle, with well cured cheeses and an assortment of breads and crackers are long gone. This morning, we have a guide who carries a bottle in one hand;  a few glasses in the other and steers us toward  a blank picnic table for decanting.

But, to be fair, it is bottling day which the guide lets us know is an event that by itself makes this tour unusual.  It’s a tense and uncertain day for the winery for many reasons but the most disruptive being the very loud rumbling of the machinery.   

As we stood and stared at the massive truck, stretched out like some reptilian monster with hoses spiralling in several directions, we learned that the smaller wineries don’t bottle their own wines which to me was a very obscure fact. I naturally assumed that each winery while waiting for their first crops to mature would be gathering together the necessary equipment; barrels, corks and press, labels, etc to bottle their own. But today, the bottling of wine has become a very precise science.

This massive beast valued at $1.5 million has all the equipment and room to pump this year’s finished vintage from the vats, then pour into bottles, cork and trundle down a moving belt to labelling and packing; all within minutes.  Were the movies just lying to us about grapes being stomped and workers slipping in the vats?  

Touchard opens the vineyard to guests and we were fortunate to walk past ripe and redolent grapes such as above to observe the somewhat harsh conditions under which such hardy vines thrive. The grounds are expansive spreading over 400 acres of fertile but spare hillocks divided into varietal plantings of vines some of which prefer a mix of rocky and sun while others prefer less sun and lower climes and the sleuthing out of which varietals prefer what is quite a study indeed.  It requires years before the vintner harvests the results of all his careful horticultural decisions.  

Truchard seems to have sidestepped the capricious nature of precipitation by creating their own resevoirs and pumping irrigation to the vines.  By this means, they are able to continue irrigating through possibly 3 years  of insuffiicient rains and still keep the vines healthy.  

We began our tastings with a 2010 Chardonnay that had a wonderful nose and though I have listened to various sommeliers wax eloquent over the years with skepticism and good humor;  having observed once again the complexity of winemaking up close I have a new appreciation for the passion required to become a somellier.  A Sauvignon Blanc is a touch herbal; a Zinfandel is spicey;  and a Cabernet Sauvignon we found  can feature Black Cherry, Plum or currant flavors.  

3 flights later, we are invited to enter the cellar; a cavernous laboratory with carefully controlled temperatures exhibiting both French and American oak barrells all in various stages of winemaking. Hoses ran along the floor, a reminder of the beast outside that requires vast quantities of vintage to complete its job.  It would have been lovely to have a tasting within these caverns, but we chose the wrong day and we shall have to return.    

Written by:  LadyJoss on September 5, 2013 The Napa Valley Tour


Beer is made by Men and Wine is made by God ..
~ Martin Luther ~ 1500s


Either give me more Wine or leave me alone. ~ Rumi 1200s ~

Flights of Wine at the Bounty Hunter ~

Appetizers:  House Marinated Olives - 4 types of olives marinated with fresh herbs, orange peel and slivered garlic - I adore Mediterranean olives;  four great cheeses with toasted almonds, candied pecans, fresh fruit and a baguette began a very good start on dinner and had I been alone, would have been dinner.  

Dinner: The Summer Market Salad with seasonal greens, fresh fruit and pecans with artisan cheese was a nice medley of gourmet greens, strawberries and warmly toasted pecans.  

American Kobe Sliders were seasoned perfectly, nicely plump and oversized for sliders.  The Shredded Beer Can Chicken wasn’t sitting on a beer can when it was delivered because of course it was shredded but it lost none of its piquant bbq flavoring and moist plump goodness in the shredding.  

Amazingly in the midst of all the carnivores we also ordered the Grilled Veggie Sandwich  featuring Portobello, eggplant, zucchini squash and roasted sweet peppers stacked high on a grilled potato bun with garlic herb aoli. 

The best part about this group (including our lovely friend from San Francisco who drove up by herself for this special event), was none of us were shy about sharing Chinese style so everyone got a taste of a big cross section of the menu.  And of course the wine:  we had flights (or maybe 2 or 3) of both the Angels’ flight Chardonnays and the big “Reds” the petite sirahs of El Dorado. 

Well, POne, was the dinner as good as you anticipated and did it fuel you through the evening’s Chapter 3 of “When Harry Met Sally Contradicted?” Did we in fact uncover new ground in Mars versus Venus?  

Our guest and I were engrossed in a conversation on women and glass ceilings in the corporate world and how they differ for an ethnically diverse woman in an American versus Asian company.  Well, since all 3 of us women are active in the business world and all 3 are enthnically diverse this was a very engrossing topic indeed.  So engrossing that I didn’t hear much of the conversation between Harry and Sally;  in reality the engrossing nature of the conversation I was attending was probably not as much responsible for my inability to follow their conversation as much as the spendid wine from dinner, a bottle of which seemed to have followed us to our room.

The update I received the next morning was, that certain evacuation plans (plans where AB was to evacuate with me back to LA) were cancelled in favor of maintaining the original, no, the 2nd plan which POne knew to be the original plan to network in San Francisco with AB. I was confused when the plan was hatched and last night’s Wine flights weren’t helping;  I needed hydration now and Dear Lord, we had the real tasting on the Winery Tours today.  

I went downstairs and left AB to figure out which suitcase and which clothes were going where.  There was breakfast to tend to and a certain wine guide to meet at 9am.  Everything was well in hand, AB and POne had been fed;  we sat breathlessly in the lobby waiting for the valet.  And we sat, and we sat.  Half an hour later, the management discreetly and politely informed us,

"We certainly apologize for the inconvenience but the valet seems to have damaged the right hand mirror on your vehicle and do you think that you would want to manage driving the car anyway?"

At such moments my first impulse is to go screaming through the lobby, hop on the elevator and barge through the door of my lovely little room;  tell housekeeping to go mind their business somewhere else and jump into bed.

Thankfully, POne rose majestically to the crisis,

"Well, we’d best take a look at it first,"  and so we did; all of us.  We marched outside where the smart and very comfy Lincoln Navigator SUV was parked and stared.  Didn’t the management say, "damaged the right hand mirror?"  I thought perhaps it was cracked;  perhaps a little twisted;  perhaps a little dented.  "No."  Emphatically "No"!  It was hanging by a thread and perfectly useless.  "Completely and utterly useless", spoke the Guide, "And…dangerous as well!  Can’t drive it, shouldn’t drive it, won’t do!"  

Oh, by the way Avis Rentals roadside assistance is a joke.  Or perhaps Napa Valley was just too foreign a territory for them to service properly or even return a call?  It was good to see that the service at the Andaz responds to a crisis.  We were escorted back to the restaurant where smoothies were delivered gratis at full speed; a surprising development when during the whole breakfast experience, not an hour earlier, I had waited for a menu. Waited for water.  Waited for someone to take the order. And still waited for coffee.  Then in desperation I ordered AB’s and POne’s orders to go thinking that I could at least have my breakfast before they came down and though my plan was a good one, the results were terrible: my breakfast was delivered after their take out was waiting on the table and POne and AB arrived.    

Much wrangling and negotiation later, we left the property in the General Manager’s private vehicle to meke our first tasting appointment while our Guide went to fetch the replacement vehicle.

But I am quite pleased to report that serenity has finally smoothed the rocky waters surrounding Mars and Venus and it just goes to show that patience and a wonderful trip through Napa Valley minus the atrocious driving of idiot valets;  are effective strategies to promote peace talks and explore new frontiers between Harry and Sally. Although, privately, I think most of the ground breaking was accomplished at the Bounty Hunter which has magical powers of restoration and persuasion in their menu and cellar.  Amen.

Written by:  LadyJoss on September 6, 2013 on the Napa Valley Tour.  

Catherine and Heathcliff~

Catherine and Heathcliff~


The high school sweetheart is a phenomenon that I find difficult to comprehend or resolve.

Those high school days hold potent images and my memories of my first sweetheart hold a powerful allure.  He enjoyed his “bad boy” persona and used it well, to ensnare innocent young things like myself.

My first intoxicating taste of freedom was riding on the back of his motorcycle pressed closer to a boy than I’d ever been and deciding to deliberately break all the rules in my world to be with him.  And then, when a girl was just having some fun he leaned against an ancient, gnarled pine tree on a hilltop, where the temple gongs reverberated down my spine and asked me to marry him. 

I wanted to say “Yes, oh yes,”  in the feverish overdrive of awakening hormones but even at 16 I had a good deal of self possession.  There was something terribly wrong.  His passion was all consuming;  his affection was complete adoration;  he was my protector and my shield. And then if I looked at another boy, or if I didn’t respond the way he expected, a switch was thrown and I was Eve being thrown out of Eden with violent recriminations. Looking into his eyes, I saw the adoration but I heard the recriminations.

What to do? 

I said, “No” and because of that “No” I have been Catherine to his Heathcliff for 40 years. 

Now we both have grown children and I am single and he is not; which Heathcliff finds immaterial and  which has been the bone of contention over which we have snarled and debated for years.  But Heathcliff used whatever force was necessary to batter down this Catherine’s defenses:  the massive walls of her fears behind which she had sheltered for decades crumbled and through the release from fear, she found joy and a new yearning. 

One unexpected day, Catherine found herself saying with aboslute conviction, “Yes, oh yes Heathcliff, I do want to be with you” and she was perplexed by the ease of those words.  The response in mid heartbeat was once again …violent recrimination. 

There should be a warning label on such personalities, other than the obvious and the label should say:  “Do not make plans based on this individual’s excessive affection; for as intense, unexpected and endearing as the affection may be, it is guaranteed to reverse in an  hour, day or week to fierce and bitter recriminations. Engage at your own peril”

Thus Catherine’s wounded heart leads her to conclude it is much better to be the observer in this “When Harry Met Sally Contradicted”  theory of human behavior than to be either Harry or Sally. 

Written by: LadyJoss on September 6, 2013 excerpt from “The Journal of Compassion”.


No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.
Heraclitus

The Andaz Napa Hotel

We have arrived in Napa, and relax for a moment in the lobby with our lovely friend who lives in San Francisco.  The porter attends to our luggage and we discuss the immediate plans of the evening: cocktails and appetizers with a wine tasting.

To the right of this group stands the hotel concierge with pen and clipboard hovering over an upright wine barrell  which makes an eye catching podium.  She is dedicated to assisting guests arrange tours of the wineries that provide wines to the hotel;  and with her able assistance, we very quickly arrange a guided tour for the morning.  There are no wine tours available in the late afternoon as the wineries seem to have the same hours and  close around 4pm.  

Angry Bird while mollified by the peace offering of the morning is definitely not happy.  He is just as aware of this condition as I am but for the moment, Patient One is enjoying his enviable position:  of being seated between two gorgeous females and contemplating the evening’s anticipated refreshments:  the best wines of Napa Valley served with spicey regional California cuisine.  

The Monterey coast slips behind us in our rear view mirror as we turn inland towards Napa Valley.  We kept along PCH Highway for many miles to enjoy these vistas and now we turn to the main purpose of our trip: Grape Country,  or was it the Mocha Frappe’?

One minute we were disucssing a rest stop and the next,  POne was asking me which flavor of Frappe’ I desired.  While I find chocolate in most forms to be irrisistible the sugar content makes the concoction deadly sweet for my tastebuds.  AB and POne promptly returned with one Mocha and one Mocha Carmel Frappe’.  I tasted each and they were divine so I decided to find out whether the sugar level was as deadly as I assumed.

Here are the facts in the Frappe’ versus Frappucino war:

The Frappe’ nutritional content in 16 oz is:  560 calories; 24 grams of fat  and  70 grams of sugar.  

The Frappucino nutritional content in 16 oz is:  370 calories; 15 grams of fat and 54 grams of sugar

I have been informed by many fans of both frozen concoctions that the Frappe wins in the taste factor:  it’s more like a milkshake, rich and creamy without much of a coffee taste.  But the Frappucino definitely has its fans with the deep coffee flavor and iciness that’s preferable in an adult coffee drink. 

The stats on my favorite indulgence, a slice of my fresh blueberry pie are:  360 calories;  17g of fat and I generally put in 1/2 cup of sugar in my pie which is 100 grams.  A pie gives 9 generous slices, so 100 grams works out to 11 grams of sugar per slice.  

My recommendation?  Come to my house for a slice of Blueberry pie.

Written by:  LadyJoss September 4, 2013 Napa Valley Tour

 

The InterContinental Hotel on Cannery Row.  How is it that an entire neighborhood is immaculately maintained;   especially when the buildings are mostly constructed of wood requiring arduous attention to the painting and repainting of trim?  They appear so much to be movie sets, and are very unlike the ramshackle rusty metal buildings of abandoned fish packing plants from my memories of  twenty some years past.

Written by:  LadyJoss on September 4, 2013 Napa Valley Tour

A Long Night on Cannery Row~

A Long Night on Cannery Row ~

The ocean mist crept along the roads as we pulled into the driveway of the InterContinental Hotel on Cannery Row in the middle of the night.  Just down the street, straddling the shores of the ocean, sits the Monterey Bay Acquarium which rose from the dedicated efforts of marine biologists such as Nick Nolte protrayed in the movie “Cannery Row”. When the movie was released in 1982, it was my first introduction to Cannery Row and the fascinating microcosms that dwell in the tide pools. The story itself is loosely based on the Steinbeck novel of the same name which spins a colorful story of the homeless citizens of Cannery Row engaging with “Doc”, who’s intent on new discoveries in marine biology.  

The long night, became longer as POne in gentlemanly fashion requested a 3rd room when the front desk checked us in. The establishment was totally booked and AB and I expressed our sisterly compatibility and intent in sharing a room as we had reserved only two rooms. Somehow, POne felt that would not be comfortable for all parties concerned which led AB to consider that perhaps I wouldn’t be comfortable unless I had my own room which with further thought, caused her a good deal of consternation and distress.

All of this was just the normal measuring and adjusting of boundaries and proprieties of travelling companions but the hour was late and we had not had dinner. The question became should we drink or should we dine? The answer was: dinner first and then a drink. A quick foray across the street provided a bar that offered routine bar food with a floor show: couples slow dancing to the loud, bluesy cadences of a live band with a talented vocalist who had the right whiskey voice to power through the lyrics. However, as good as the music was, none of us were in the mood to watch couples dancing as they clung together in an alcoholic haze and we made a hasty retreat .

Sadly, tourism does not keep the kitchens open past 10 pm on Cannery Row; when we checked the next seafood restaurant , the staff closing down told us we were too late; we had missed our last chance for dinner by 10 minutes.

POne opted to retreat to the lobby lounge for a drink so we left him to his own devices and headed for room service. I ordered from their limited menu: Caesar Salad and a Smoked Turkey Sandwich on Artisan Bread with Avocado.

"No cheese, please," I told room service and , "Oh, please put the dressing for the salad on the side."

"Of course, I’d be happy to. Would you like the chips that come with the sandwich?"

"Oh, yes, that would be lovely." Was "yes" to chips a surprise considering the sandwich was minus the cheese and the salad was minus the dressing; well actually, on the side?  In my experience, there are creative ways to cut calories and fat from every menu without sacrificing taste but it does require slow and thorough communication.

The phone rang.  POne required AB’s presence for detente in the lounge.

Dimly, it occurred to my road fatigued brain that the course of these conversational storms could be much longer than I anticipated. Unlike the single central characters in “When Harry Met Sally”, POne was juggling a family life.  All along, my bet had been on POne and his ability to contradict Harry’s premise that no man can maintain a friendship with a woman unless he has secret desires for her.  But to my thinking, the intensity of these discussions were leaning towards substantiating Harry’s theory.  Would this evening’s drinks unhinge POne’s ego and libido as was inherent in the properties of alcohol or would he hold true to his course and remain on the pedestal of platonic friendship?

Room service delivered: everything was exactly as requested, except room service Caesar Salads (in most hotels including this swanky place) are blanketed with the driest, most inedible croutons on the planet.  I chastised myself for not telling room service to minus those blasted croutons. I quickly settled against the pillows and arranged the salad, sandwich and iced tea on the tray in the middle of the bed as my family knows is my custom to create  a “bed picnic” and stared down Lalu, my extra special best friend when food is around. She settled her muzzle down on her paws and fastened her soulful, big, brown eyes on my fork as it travelled from plate to mouth and down again. The turkey wasn’t salty or spicey, so I pulled off tender morsels and offered them to her one by one.

The door opened.

One look at AB’s face and I knew the summit hadn’t gone well. I listened. I nodded in all the right places and I threw in a snippet of my latest unfortunate encounter with my high school sweetheart which is another saga for another time; all the while encouraging her to dig into the Smokey Turkey with Avocado sandwhich and start in on the crisp romaine.  Ulltimately with much discussion, as we finished up our snack,  I gave her a great big hug and this counsel:

"I am very very sure that POne is a prince among men, as unaccustomed as we both are in dealing with a true gentleman, but it’s late and sleep is the best remedy. Everything will look better in the morning."

The phone rang.

POne was toasted. Even I, sitting across from the phone could hear the humorous incoherence of alcohol as AB rolled her eyes. He couldn’t remember his room number and on top of that, his key was somehow missing; he was distraught on many levels; and in his condition with his wonderful accent, I’m sure the desk clerk was doing his best to assist while stifling his laughter.  AB spoke to the desk clerk and everything was settled. POne somehow found his way to his room and we settled in for desperately needed rest.

Since this Mars versus Venus conflict did not involve me, I slept well, but the phone rang too early and I was summoned to breakfast.  AB had risen much earlier and stationed herself at a lovely table overlooking the patio facing the sunlit waters of the bay where calm eddies lapped at the pier.

I was invited to sit next to POne and immediately understood the storm was not over. With a sigh, I took my seat, still reflecting on the movie set condition of the buildings (architecture being another great passion of mine). They were mostly wooden structures with beautifully painted trim whose appearance spoke of constant and rigorous painting and repainting.  After greeting both AB and POne, i quickly glanced outside and was rewarded with an engaging tableau.

A few hotel guests were standing on the deck tossing pieces of bread into the air causing a circus of seagulls with dazzling white plumage to launch themselves and dive for the deck.  Seagulls are greedy and scrappy creatures and in such settings they lose all natural caution. They were careening into one another, hustling the tourists for bread pieces that were too big to carry and dropping them on takeoff over the water. One unlucky fellow couldn’t change course fast enough to recover and since all eyes are obsessively fastened on the carrier of the bread a fleet of his buddies were already diving underneath the surface to purloin what he had lost. Another almost crashed into the window when his brakes slipped on the deck.

But the real view was behind them:  my shoulders squared and my breath became deeper as my horizon shifted from the crystalline acqua of the serene bay to the early light highlighting powdery blue skies sifting through fluffy mounds of whipped cream clouds.

True to my prediction the morning was much better: when AB had her mixed berries and smoothie, all the tension and angst of the night before dissipated and sunshine infused her face.

I am a cook and the satisfaction or reward of what appears to most people is a thankless and arduous passion is in the expressive faces of such foodies as AB after one bite of well seasoned fare. Her expression after a taste of one of my muffins plump with blueberries and crowned with cinnamon and walnut streusel is angelic ecstasy. She is a divine audience and I owe her many many more tasty revelations.

POne had 2 eggs with chicken apple sausage and after consulting AB, he added an English Muffin.  Breakfast is never enticing for me unless it’s Sunday Brunch at 2pm with peach champagne mimosas but nonetheless, I ordered a poached egg with sourdough toast and a cup of coffee. How could a morning not be lovely with attentive service, good food and the hilarious squabbling and antics of well fed seagulls?

POne decided to use the good food to his advantage and offered an apology to Venus. The look given in return was skeptical. He then told the following story.

"I realized last night, while I was drinking, that I hurt my best friend terribly. While I was trying to fix a situation, I created another problem and it was my fault."

"Well, POne, you are saying the words that every Venus loves to hear," I spoke encouragingly while watching AB’s reaction to his soliloquy. She was softening just a little, but to give credit its due,  I think that feeding her was his best tactic.

"When she’s upset, I’m upset, as you saw and I didn’t sleep until 6am this morning." My guess was that she didn’t get much sleep either, by the fatigue in her eyes…and here we were having breakfast at 9 am.

POne pulled a beribboned box out of his pocket and placed it in front of her,

"This is to show you how truly sorry I am; I was at the jewelry store across the street. It’s run by a couple who were very interested in why I was buying jewelry at 9am . I told them I had fought with my best friend and that I needed an apology offering. They asked me what you looked like. I told them you were beautiful. The man turned and looked at his wife and said,

‘She’s beautiful too, but I’m pretty sure she doesn’t look like your friend.’ Venus nodded, drawn into the story reluctantly, while I laughed.

"They showed me every pair of earrings in the store that would go with dark hair and brown eyes until I pointed at these. Do you like them?"

She took them out of the box delicately and unveiled stylized spirals ending in question mark stems of precious metal that reflected the morning light within burnished lines. She placed them in small lobes and turned her head for my review. “They’re lovely,” I breathed. As she turned her head this way and that i handed over a small compact mirror. She surveyed her reflection, noted the perfect length of the earrings and the artistic crafting of the spirals that finished in a slim stem and nodded her head with pleasure that found it’s way to a small smile.

"Am I forgiven?"

"Oh, yes," she said ever so politely, "Thank you so very much. I love the gift, but I think it would be better if you didn’t need to apologize."

He and I exchanged rather thoughtful glances and considered the gentle rebuke. And then she gave him a briliant smile: a smile from the heart of Venus that every man adores and we both sighed. The world is truly a better place when Venus is happy.

So ends Chapter Two in the saga of “When Harry Met Sally Contradicted.”

Written by:  LadyJoss on September 4, 2013 Napa Valley Tour

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