By Diane Leone
On a recent trip to San Francisco to attend a conference, I found myself trying to decide what to do with my free time. Instead of the typical tourist things in the city, I decided on a wine-tasting trip to the Tri-Valley area and a trip to Sausalito.
After a 45-minute ride on the public transportation system (Bay Area Rapid Transit, or BART), the Tri-Valley area is still a cab ride away, so when you get off BART at the last stop — Dublin/Pleasanton — you will need to hail a cab. I found a cab at the curb and was off to Bent Creek Winery in Livermore, the home of several wineries. The afternoon wine tastings, held Friday through Sunday at Bent Creek, are free, and their website promised great wine (of course) and beautiful vistas.
The owners, Pat and Tom Heineman, were delightful and welcoming and ushered me in to the tasting room where I knew immediately I was in good hands with Forrest. He was an expert on all things wine. We started with a light sauvignon blanc, moved through whites into reds (including cabs, merlots, syrahs, and petite syrahs) and ended with ports. I realized that with the distance between wineries, no car and no designated driver, this would be my only winery visit for the day — but it was all I needed. It was a great experience.
The grapes on the vine were gorgeous. They would begin harvesting them the following Monday. Tom invited me to go outside and pick some, so I walked outside to the first row of vines and picked some grapes and brought them back inside. Forrest told me to eat one and tell him how it tasted. It was sweet and juicy, as one would expect. Next, he took another grape and put it in a gadget called a refractometer that squeezed it. According to www.wiki.com, a refractometer “measures the index of refraction. Specifically, it measures the phase velocity of a wave traveling through a substance, in relation to the phase velocity of the substance itself.” That sounds very techy to me. I prefer Forrest’s description: it tells you what the sugar content is, and when it’s just right, it’s time to harvest the grapes. Now that, I can understand.
I swirled glasses of wine, watching for the “legs” (how thickly the wine clings to and runs down the glass after it is swirled). I smelled their bouquet. I could drink as much of the wine as I wanted. Sometimes I finished the glass, and other times, I tasted it and poured the rest out. (Apparently, you don’t really have to spit the wine out.) There were crackers to cleanse the palate in between wines. There were candied pecans that brought out the best in some wines, and chocolate chips that really tamed the ports. It was a wonderful experience.
The sweeping vistas of other wineries on rolling hills of green took my breath away. The weather was perfect. With wine tasting and photos completed, I made my way back to the wine-tasting café and the cab ride back to the BART station. Forty-five minutes later I was back in downtown San Francisco. I had a great adventure, made some new friends and sampled a lot of incredible wine!
The next morning I walked to the Farmer’s Market at the docks in front of the Tower at Union Station. The morning was cool and bright and the Farmer’s Market was one of the best I have seen. The vegetables were brilliant in color and the flowers jumped out at you. The people were interesting as well. It was full of couples, people on bikes, people with their pets and children, all milling around, sampling the strawberries and grapes and drinking coffee. There were vendors selling everything from trinkets to original artwork along with the food. Inside Union Station, all of the vendors were open and there wasn’t anything to want for — from organic, locally grown and pressed olive oil to homemade hot chocolate so thick and rich you just had to have more.
I was on my way to catch the ferry over to the town of Sausalito. The ferry ride was brisk and windy but it offered great views of the Golden Gate Bridge (with some of the peaks already in the fog) and a nice view of the infamous Alcatraz prison — a trip for another day. The view looking at Sausalito and up at the mountains, with the homes built into the sides, is as breathtaking as the view of the bay looking back at San Francisco.
The downtown area of Sausalito is quaint and charming, with many great restaurants to choose from and plenty of shops to buy souvenirs and trinkets. Quite a few visitors exiting the ferry headed to a great seafood restaurant, Spinnaker on the Bay. I headed to Angelino’s for Italian. I found a seat at the bar and enjoyed not only the food and the beautiful view of the bay, but also the almost musical way the wait staff ushered people in and out while the bartender made espressos by the dozen.
I ordered a Pizza Margherita and a glass of pinot noir and enjoyed the ambience. The pizza was too much for me and made me think of Julia Roberts in a scene from the movie Eat, Pray, Love. It made me smile as I finished one last piece before I gave in and pushed the plate aside.
I arrived early to catch the ferry back, so I sat and watched the sailboats and kayaks in the bay. The best part of the return ferry was the entertaining employee with the megaphone who, in an excellent effort to entertain all of us waiting for the arriving passengers to exit, gave detailed and colorful instructions on how, when, where, and why to board the ferry. He really seemed to enjoy his job and his timing was perfect.
If you have seen the typical tourist places in San Francisco and find yourself in the city wanting to see new things, you don’t have to rent a car to find new adventures just outside the city.
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