Tasting Wine Older than Me: 1974 Stag’s Leap, 1977 Grgich Hills, 1976 Chateau Montelena

1974 Stag’s Leap

Lifting our glasses for a toast, my heart pounded as the rich, red liquid – 14 years my elder – awaited its fateful tasting high in the air. Cameras flashed to catch the 1974 Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon’s historic opening both for its age and story, while I fidgeted with excitement and salivated for a sip.

A surreal journey, I could hardly believe I was even there and this was only one ounce of the adventure.

The trip began with a tweet. Continue reading

Buick Tweet House Road Trip: King Estate

What do you get when you invite four social media enthusiasts together for a wine road trip? – a tweeting good time.

Joining the journey south, I met the #BuickTweetHouse group for dinner Tuesday night in Eugene at King Estate. Packing in some serious social media power, the crew rolled in a tad late but in style in the burgundy, Buick Enclave that we would be driving to the Napa Film Festival over the course of the next few days.

Holding social media luminaries like Tweet House founder, Steve Broback @sbroback, wine enthusiast, Barbara Evans @SeattleWineGal, and innovative social media strategist for GM, Lisa Gilpin @lisagilpin – it was an understatement that I was nervous. But my excitement for the awaiting adventure ousted the clammy hands and trebling toes. And after a sip of King Estate’s, soft pink rose, Luminous, the conversation settled in like the comfort of friends and the trip really began for me.

Though I’ve been to King Estate a few times for food and wine, this was my first dinner at the restaurant.

Starting with a dollop sized crab cake that was flawlessly crispy on the outside and meltingly delicious within, the food and hospitality shined from first bite. Paired with the Luminous, the crab cake’s saltiness balanced well with the very light sweetness of the wine.

For dinner I enjoyed the Oregon Albacore Tuna, seared rare. It was phenomenal. The outer edges of the tuna were lightly cooked giving each bite a touch of flaky goodness and then the soft, pink inside exemplified the fresh taste of the tuna. Served over carrots and other vegetables with a rich – yet not over powering – buttery sauce, and paired with the new release, 2010 Signature Pinot noir, my entrée disappeared as if I hadn’t eaten in days.

A consensus that each dish was mouth watering worked its way around the table with the buzz of swift moving forks and deep satisfying ummms and ooohs.

To top it off, The Restaurant at King Estate, led by Executive Chef Michael Landberg, uses seasonal, organic ingredients in every dish whenever possible. Mostly grown in the estate’s organic gardens and orchards and then deliver to the crafting hands of the chefs, the food used to build King Estate’s delicious menu shows off the fantastic regional offerings and are artfully paired with the winery’s award-winning wines.

Between sips and folk shoveling of the gourmet dinner, iPhones snapped twitpics and sent exclamations to the twitterverse of the royal quality of the food and wine. Lifted like a celebratory clanking of glasses, we gave a social media cheers to King Estate.

King Estate tour

Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, Day 3

Another restless night sleep as if my brain couldn’t stop pedaling through the night and then we attacked the third and final day of our Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway adventure. After two days of 40+ mile rides, my legs were no longer tired, my arms no longer sore, and my brain on overdrive – yet still excited to get in the saddle.

The morning started with the continental breakfast at The Grand Hotel in Salem, complimented by a gluten free P&J sandwich that I had pre-packed just in case earlier in the week and two cups of coffee. Caffeinated, we kicked off the day with a visit to the Travel Salem offices and the Salem Capitol building.

Owling at the capitol building

Signing an imaginary bill into law at the Governor's desk.

Then we put on feet back on the pedals.

The most difficult section of the bikeway for traffic and direction, we maneuvered our way through the busy mid-morning traffic in downtown Salem as we eased out into the suburbs and finally to the countryside.

Greeting us with fresh air and wide open fields, the roads weaved north through scattered beautiful flowering fields. From acres of acres of cauliflower and trimmed hop fields, this section of the scenic bikeway was by far my favorite. Taking the trail at a relaxed pace, we glided through the remaining valley and enjoyed the end of fall sun on our backs. Only missing one turn along the way, the day flew by.

Biking into Willamette Mission State Park

Passing through Willamette Mission State Park, we goofed around in the park fields and wandered the hazelnut orchards. Here I also decided to take a bite out of the pavement with the only crash of the trip. In true Kelsey fashion, I tripped over my own pedal in slow-mo while trying to turn around from a dead stop. Luckily I came away with just a few skinned knees and a small break on my camera.

After dusting off my knees we checked out the biker and hiker camp at the park and test road the ferry crossing the Willamette River before embarking on the last ten miles of the ride.

With some flat fields and big sweeping curves, I road a good portion of the last leg alone. Thinking through each pedal… each mile, I kept just pushing myself further and further – another moment beyond what I imagined I could do and another moment setting expectations for what I could do in the future. So riding into Champoeg State Park was liking flying through the finish line ribbon for me. Only 7 months since having surgery for my Crohn’s disease and I finally felt like myself again – healthy, active, and alive.

The group survived all the way to Champoeg

More photos from Day three:

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Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway Day 2, Part 1: Albany

Delicious cheesy quiche

The best part about staying at a bed and breakfast, especially when on a biking trip, is most definitely the breakfast and at Pfeiffer Cottage our growling morning stomachs were tastily answered.

The second day of our Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway trip started out leisurely as we prepared our gear, gathered our belongings and made our way downstairs. As soon as I reached the last step, the scent of warm breakfast on the stove instantly awakened my taste buds.

The meal began with a glass cup of cantaloupe topped with a small dollop of yogurt along with a steaming mug of coffee and fresh orange juice. Next, the B&B owner and cook brought out a personal pan quiche with bright, spicy peppers and a side of tortilla chips and turkey, apple sausage. Paired with chunky salsa, the food was hardy yet light and fresh – just what we needed before the start of the second day of biking.

After breakfast with stomachs full and my head a buzz with the much needed caffeine, we walked to downtown Albany to visit The Albany Brass Ring, Historical Carousel and Museum.

An all volunteer based project, the Carousel in Albany is a unique community centerpiece in the works. Designed to be a family-friendly attraction in the heart of Albany, the carousel is being carved piece by piece with a projected completion in four to five more years.

“It’s a labor of love that is creating a sense of community,” said Gary Roberts, one of the many devoted and enthusiastic volunteers. “The city is really standing behind this project.”

From the outside the museum doesn’t look like much – just another worn down old building on the corner, yet as soon as you walk inside the colors and shining paint of the completed carousel animals overcomes the senses is such a moving way that it is hard to describe.

Hand carved with diligent detail, time, and love, each animal is a museum quality piece with a story. Funded through animal sponsorships, each carousel piece is designed by its sponsor and carved to their exact specifications. Themed with traditional, Victorian style animals from horses to salmon and dragons to roosters, the carousel will be one-of-a-kind when completed.

Roberts telling us the story behind "Harriett the frog"

Additionally, many of the animals carved are also one-of-a-kind, like Harriet the frog. Purchased by a family as a memorial for their mother, the frog is decorated with details and memories of her life. The frog wears a tan, straw gardening hat because their mother loved to garden and would always wear a similar hat. Tucked in the bill of the hat, a yellow rose, her favorite flower. A purple sash, her favorite color. A jar held tightly to her chest because she would always pick extras from her garden to give away. Each detail made as a silent, visual reminder of her life all the way down to a small carved, safety pin on the back, inside pocket of the frogs outfit – one son remembers his mom by the spare safety-pin always attached to her clothing.

Walking through the museum, Roberts shared just a few of these many special memories that will forever be engraved in this community art piece.

Each volunteer also continues to add more memories and history to the carousel with every wood shaving. In the eighth year of the project, the carousel has over 300 active volunteers and 118,000 recorded hours and growing. The carousel encourages anyone who wants to help to come lend a hand. Trained volunteers and carvers give basic instructions so visitors can practice on small rosettes and wood chucks.

Two volunteers from the McKenzie River area working on animal carvings.

Once all the animals and decorative pieces are completed (1 animal can take as long as 14 months to 4 years to carve, plus 10-15 layers of paint), the carousel will be erected in the museum’s current location on a 1909 donated Dentzel mechanism.

No detail is overlooked on this carousel project either, which also includes decorative wall panels and overhangs, jesters, small stationary animals for toddlers, and of course the brass ring.

Open Monday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Wednesday from 10 a.m. – 9 p.m., the Carousel Museum and Studio invites visitors to stroll through the building, watch the carvers at work, try their hand at carving, and become part of the project.

To find out more about the Albany Carousel, see photos of all the animals, and meet the volunteers check out it online at: www.albanybrassring.com.

Here are more photos from my visitor to Albany:

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For more things to do, see & eat around Albany, visit the Albany Visitor Center:

250 Broadalbin St. SW, Suite 100 – Albany, OR 97321 – 541-928-0911

Day two bike ride story to come in Part 2.

Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway Day 1

“The most difficult step of the journey is the first.” ~unknown.

I started getting that gurgly feeling in my stomach more than 24 hours before the early a.m. departure. As if I didn’t remember between three-hour long training rides and frantic, last-minute gear shopping, my body had to remind me of what I was about to do. And as someone battling Crohn’s Disease, a gurgly gut is not a welcomed anxiety feeling – but all and all, I was stomach-achingly excited for what was sure to be an epic trip one way or another.

Three days, 139 miles, 4 bikes, 1 sag-wagon, and high hopes for a grand-old time on the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway.

Day 1: September 28 – Armitage to Albany – Mile 1 – 59

Meeting at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning at Armitage County Park just north of Eugene, we were all smiles. Despite, the cool fall air that decided to greet us for the get-up, my four co-workers and I were geared and ready to begin the journey north.

The group ready to take off from Armitage Park in Eugene

After a few commemorative photos and loading up the sag wagon with our suite cases and snacks, we were off. Today was to be our longest day, traveling 59 miles from Eugene to Albany via Brownsville – plus I foolishly tacked on six extra miles before the start of the ride.

The morning started with a deep, thick fog filling the sky. The sun filtered through as it masked the approaching hillside. (Boy was I glad that the sales man at Pearl Izumi’s talked me into that neon green windbreaker). My fingers frigidly grasp the handle bars of my borrowed bike as we cruised through Coburg and its antique malls.

The damp sky smelled like the sea – you could practically taste the salt in the air – and a strong headwind pelted the front line of our bikes. But there was no turning back now. Luckily, as we made the first turn of the day and crossed over I-5, rush-hour traffic, my anxieties and chill quickly dissipated as the sun burst through the heavy clouds and we made our way toward the hills leading to Brownsville.

Samara riding a Bike Friday bike from Coburg to Brownsville

The only ranked climbs along the entire Willamette Valley Bikeway, the slopes ramped up the forested foothills in small sections. With only two days of hill climbing practice out of my one month bike training, I prayed my legs would guide me to the top. Yet to my surprise, I tackled the inclines without even using my granny gear and then rewardingly sailed down at nearly 30 mph.

Now if only the next 30 miles were so gracious on my turtle legs.

“Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” ~ Greg Anderson

Before lunching in Brownsville, our group of tourist girls stopped for an exploration of the Living Rock Studios.

Built of Oregon agate, crystal, petrified wood, flagstone and other local area rocks, this house is a living graveyard for rock hunters. A ruggedly twisted two-story house that curves into a flowering tree with stone column limbs and canvas top, the museum was built by Howard Taylor stone by stone beginning in the 1960s.

Like a Where’s Waldo world for old-timer collectables and hooting owls, Taylor’s living daughter led us through the crafted house with a raspy voice as if telling a ghost story. And with the stone chill I wouldn’t be surprised if the late Howard Taylor or “Daddy” as the thin, sweater clad lady referred to him still roamed the home.

Stones, rocks, and cystals at the Living Rock Studios

Video from our tour of the entrance room of the house.

After the museum we pedal into historic Brownsville that shined with beautiful classic buildings, clean streets, and all that small town charm that any American city would be proud of. Settled in 1846, Brownsville is a quaint spot to spend the afternoon and check out its other claim to fame, filming locations for the movie Stand By Me.

For an energy loading stop we grabbed a bite to eat at Bella Cuccina, a small specialty bakery offering a delicious Mexican influenced lunch menu. I enjoyed three corn tortilla, chicken tacos and lots of refreshing ice cold water.

Popping a few peanut M&Ms in my mouth and my helmet back on my head, we put our tires back to the road. Still another 30 miles to go.

Around mile 40 my legs started to really burn. Further than I had ever biked in my life and I could tell from then on that it was going to be more a battle of the brain than really the body.

Along the mapped route, we took a short diversion to Thompson’s Mill State Heritage State, the oldest water-powered grain mill in the state located just south of Albany. Refurbished, the mill is now a park site with antique milling machinery and interpretive exhibits. Unfortunately until the river water levels rise, you cannot enter the mill because of safety concerns, yet still a great stop for the second half of the biking day.

The mill's grain silos.

Closing in on the 50+ mile mark, we curved our way along a small two-lane road, through a beautiful fall color-changing canopy of trees and past a beaten down one room, white wooden church before finally crossing the bridge into the neighborhoods hugging downtown Albany.

The biking day ended as we rolled up to Pfieffer Cottage, a 1909 Craftsman Bungalow converted into warm, bed and breakfast located just off the downtown. We were greeted with hot showers, a claw foot tub and a cheese, cracker and salami appetizer. Soaking my legs in the tub and scrubbing off the pesty dust from the back of my calves, I allowed my body to finally relax. Enveloped in the aroma of citrus body wash and daydreaming of the cold beer and dinner I was about to have from Calapooia Brewery, I temporarily turned my brain off for a quiet moment of bliss.

Fifty-nine miles down, only 93 more to go. “I can do this,” I thought as I melted further into the bubbles.

More Photos from Day 1

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If you go:

Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway – Albany to Brownsville and Brownsville to Eugene Map & Cue Sheet

Living Rock Studio

Open Tuesday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. this unusual museum is a not to miss stop in the quaint town of Brownsville. Just be prepared to take your time – it can be a bit of a long winded tour, also don’t go alone!

Bella Cuccina

122 Spaulding St. – Brownsville, Oregon – 541-466-5902

Thompson’s Mill State Heritage Site

Open seven days a week from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. for self-guided tours.

Boston Mill Road – 541-491-3611

Pfieffer Cottage

Accommodating for everyone from bikers to honeymooners and the regular football fan crowds, this bed & breakfast has a comfortable living space and lovely outdoor sitting area for relaxing – plus the hand-prepared breakfast is wonderful!

530 Ferry ST SW – Albany, OR  97321 – 541-971-9557

Calapooia Brewing Co.

Brewing local, hoppy microbrews, Calapooia sends suds with delicious flavor straight into the hands of Albany residents at their restaurant and brewery. Open Sunday – Wednesday, 11:30 – 10 p.m., Thursday, 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m., and Friday & Saturday, 11:30 – midnight. I highly recommend the Chili Beer Chili, with its just-enough spice, and a side of tots. As for beer, I’m always a sucker for the IPA.

140 Hill St. NE – Albany, Oregon 97321 – 541-928-1931

The Tree Hugger In Me: Eugene to the Redwoods

In two weekends of road trip extravaganzas and less than seven days, Sarah and I drove the entire state of Oregon twice – plus some if you count those wrong turns.

This past weekend to finish off the southern half of the state and check another off the Bucket List, we travel three hours south of Eugene to Ashland to visit friends. With another late start, we swerved through the curvy, valley-filled turns of I-5 South during sunset for some miraculous palate splashes against the wooded hillsides.

Line of traffic as the sun sets

Quizzing Sarah on vocab with my feet up on the dash, I made inane sentences in hope that she would remember them for her GRE test on Monday – but in reality it just made us laugh until we cried and miss our exit. Luckily we noticed just in time before crossing into California at one of those creepily pitch black turnarounds like where horror stories start.

After catching up with our friends, we hit downtown Ashland to explore and grab a drink. Stopping at one of the only open clothing stores on the way to the pub, I found an “Oregon, America’s Happy Place” shirt that I just had to have and ultimately ordered online once home. Then we continued to the Black Sheep for an authentic British beer at this English style pub. With high ceilings and long dark drapes against the memorabilia covered walls and red telephone booth in the corner, the pub added interest to the evening and a few wise-crack accents.

Yet this bar was not our only foreign trek of the weekend. Rising and shining, the next morning we set off for the wild and unknown land to our south –California!

In two hours time we crossed the border – no fruit in hand of course – and made our way into the Redwood forests.  In the land of the giants we exploded these towering limbs that burst from the ground at Jedediah Smith State Park. Filled with dense undercover of ferns, the whole forest circled upward in a gradient of green and brown to the sun break branches. Here I found out that I truly am a tree hugger!

Sarah and I LOVE TREES!

After enough bug bitten time in the forests we spent the remainder of the afternoon playing in the river, jumping off roads and hiking up the beautiful shallow stream.

Here are more photos from the trip:

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