Thursday, February 28, 2013

Frangipani Winery

100 California Wineries

The quiet rural setting of Frangipani Winery in the Temecula Valley of Southern California, is a wonderful place to wile away an afternoon.  My travel buddy and I sampled six of their wines:  three whites and three reds.  The  Viognier, the Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc were all light and crisp.  Each had just a hint of fruit, which makes these white wines so perfect for those fast-approaching warm, sunny days.

Don Frangipani, owner and winemaker, is best known for his aromatic reds.  We tried the Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petite Syrah.  The Merlot was, by far, our favorite.  This wine is aged for 24 months in French and American oak barrels. The rich, fragrant blackberries, currants and licorice flavors are quite intoxicating.  We swirled and swirled, delighting in the aroma, before we even took a taste.  We bought a bottle on the spot.
We also bought the Viognier, hoping to keep it  for a special occasion.  Our anniversary in June perhaps?    However, we failed to inform our son of this.  Wine has a way of disappearing very quickly in our house.  Anyway, a few days later,  he popped the cork and poured a glass.

"Man . . . this is really good," he said.  "Where did you get it?"

My travel buddy and I looked at each other.  Uh-oh.

My son felt horrible when we told him, but we just laughed.  "Better get two more glasses," I said.  "Today just became a special occasion."

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Churon Winery

100 California Wineries

It is six a.m.  I am wide awake.  Restless.  Eager for the day to begin.  The view of Temecula Valley from our hotel room balcony is enticing.  I want to walk among the vines.  Soak up the early morning rays of sunshine before the sky turns dark.  There is a storm brewing.  If I'm going to get outside today, I better go now.

I quickly throw on some jeans, a warm cashmere sweater and lace up my hiking boots.  I grab Mimi from the van and we set out.  The air is cool and moist.  The whole vineyard is blessedly empty except for a few rabbits who are shocked to find someone up this early.  They stare at me, perplexed, before scampering off through the vines.

The Inn at Churon Winery is a lovely boutique hotel that sits on top of a hill overlooking eleven acres of vineyards in the Temecula Valley.  My travel buddy and I have been curious about this wine making region in Southern California for years now, so we finally decided to check it out.  The Churon Inn is one of the most romantic hotels we have ever stayed at.  I gasped at the oversized bathroom with its giant tub.  The walls were papered with a floral print and oh, the view!  That first evening we took our glasses of viognier from the wine bar and went back to our room for a picnic on the balcony.  Wine tasting is free for guests; as is a huge breakfast in the morning.

Two high school buddies, Chuck Johnson and Ron Thomas, met at a high school reunion and decided to go into business together.  They purchased the above property in 1997, planted grapes in 1998 and opened the doors of Churon  (using the first three letters of their names) in 2001.  Chuck has since retired and the winery is now run by Ron and his wife Judy.
The last thing I expect to see this morning is a hot air balloon.  The sky is turning darker and darker, but there it is--rising higher and higher over the vineyard.  I am transfixed.  Those lucky people!

I race back to the hotel.  My travel buddy needs to see this.  I force him out of bed, put on a pot of coffee and together we (literally) watch the world float by.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Mission San Diego de Alcala

Along the Mission Trail

What a thrill to finally visit the very first of the twenty-one California missions.  It is the mission that almost wasn't.  How different our state history would have been if that fateful day did not occur on March 19, 1770.  

Father Junipero Serra had arrived here, accompanied by Captain Gaspar de Portola in July of 1769.  They had been part of a land expedition to finally occupy Alta California on the orders of King Carlos III of Spain.    The king feared the Russians were encroaching into territory which belonged to Spain through "right of discovery" nearly two hundred years ago.  Getting here from Baja had been extremely difficult for both the land and ship expeditions.  Half of the men lost their lives.  So sick and weakened when they finally arrived here, no permanent buildings could be erected.  With little water and poor soil, food was running low.  Men continued to die from scurvy.  The tiny settlement was attacked by local Indians within a month.  Converting any of the natives seemed like an impossible task.  A decision was made to abandon San Diego and go back to Baja if a supply ship did not arrive by Saint Joseph's Day, March 19th.

History is full of interesting twists and turns.  Just before the sun set on that day, a ship was spotted sailing into the bay.  The San Antonio was heading for Monterey, completely oblivious of the mission's plight, but she had lost an anchor and was forced to land before continuing her journey.  Had St. Joseph answered the padre's prayers?  I doubt it, but nevertheless, the mission was saved.  Father Serra wrote in his journal that if San Diego were abandoned " . . .centuries might come and go before the country would again be revisited."  Would our streets, cities and parks have Russian names instead of Spanish ones?  Such alternative histories are interesting to ponder.
Mission San Diego de Alcala continued to suffer.  In 1775, the mission was attacked and burned to the ground by local Indians who resented Spain's presence on their land.  The pastor, Fr. Luis Jayme, was killed that day and is considered the first Christian martyr of the new California.  A decision was made to move the mission six miles east to a better water supply.  Even so, it remained the poorest of all the missions.  It did not achieve any success until twenty years later when several hundred Kumeyaay natives finally started to convert to the new religion and live on mission grounds.

When Mexico gained its independence in 1821, the mission was given to Santiago Arguella by Governor Pio Pico "for services rendered to the government."  The land was broken up into ranches.  In 1853, the U.S. military took control of the buildings but like many of the other missions, they were soon abandoned.  There was a brief period between 1891 and 1908 when the Sisters of Saint Joseph used the compound for an American Indian school.  The mission we see today was rebuilt in 1931 and is an active parish within the Diocese of San Diego.  In 1976 it was bestowed the honor of "Minor Basilica" by Pope Paul VI.
It's a lovely mission to visit.  There are mosaic tiles of the Stations of the Cross and beautiful statues and paintings throughout the site. There's a museum and an interesting re-creation of Fr. Serra's living quarters.

The mission bells were of particular interest.  They played a very important role in mission life, calling the newly baptized neophytes to Mass, work, meals and siestas.  The bells' unique rhythms signaled danger or death.  Or joy!  How easy it is to forget not all was doom and gloom.  Weddings, fiestas and feast days were all celebrated with a long, joyous ringing of the bells.

A baptism was taking place inside the church on the day we visited.  We were happily allowed to enter.  I can safely say that Mission San Diego de Alcala is no longer the poorest of the missions.  Clearly, it enriches the lives of many, many people.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lunch at The Del

One of the few surviving wooden Victorian hotels in the world, the Hotel del Coronado on the San Diego Bay is a destination hotel.  Its red turrets are iconic.  Its architecture is grand.  Its view is magnificent.  No wonder the film industry has used this site for so many movies--The Stunt Man, Some Like it Hot, Mr. Wrong and The Easy Way, to name only a few.  That she has not burned to the ground like so many of her grand old sisters, is short of a miracle in fire-prone California.
The hotel's big red turret is adorned with a giant gold bow in honor of her 125th anniversary this year.  Eleven U.S. Presidents, beginning with Benjamin Harrison, have walked along her corridors.  Many famous people like the Prince of Wales in 1920, L. Frank Baum, Babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh, Charlie Chaplin and more recently, Brad Pitt and Madonna have all stayed here.  Included in this roster are many famous ghosts, as well.  All these grand hotels seem to have them.  Makes sense, doesn't it?  Spending eternity in a beautiful resort sounds like heaven to me!

Last weekend, my travel buddy and I, along with my brother and sister-in-law, sat out on the Sun Deck Bar for a delicious relaxing lunch.  With a Coronado Golden in one hand and a basil chicken sandwich in the other, life doesn't get much better.  Knowing that Kansas City was experiencing a white-out blizzard at the very moment the hot sun was warming our backs, made us feel both guilty and giddy.  My brother recently bought a home in San Diego.  He's spending half the year here and half the year in Kansas.  I have a hunch, however, it's only a matter of time before he's a full-time Californian.

And we'll be back.  Having lunch at this National Historic Landmark is something I wouldn't mind doing again and again.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Queen Califia's Magical Circle

This magical kingdom rises above the winter landscape in an explosion of color.  My travel buddy did not know what to expect.  I had decided to keep it a secret.  "This better be worth it," he complained as we took a detour into Escondido on our way to San Diego last weekend.  I drag the poor guy to art installations all over the state of California.  Some are bad.  Some are good.  This was WOW!

Located down a path in the middle of Kit Carson Park, it is not an easy place to find, but definitely worth the effort.  I guarantee once you enter the black and white maze and step into Queen Califia's realm, you will not want to leave.
This incredible sculpture garden was created by Niki de Saint Phalle.  I discovered her work while visiting Paris in the 1980's.  Her voluptuous female figures across from the Pompidou Center were more memorable to me than anything in the Louvre.  I only learned recently that she moved to La Jolla in 1994 for health reasons and fell in love with our state.  In honor of California, she created this garden around the mythical black queen, Califia, after whom our state was named.  The garden took four years to complete.  Sadly, the artist died in 2002.

Queen Califia was created by Spanish writer Garci Rodriquez de Montalvo around 1500 in his novel Las sergas de Esplandian.  Califia, a powerful female warrior, lived on an island filled with gold and riches.  She and her army of women flew to Constantinople on a flock of griffins to join the Muslims in their fight against the Christians.  She was defeated and taken prisoner.   In the book she eventually returns to California for further adventures, but she is no longer a pagan.  She is a married Christian woman!
Queen Califia rules over her kingdom on a tall griffin-shaped temple.  Underneath the temple sits a large golden egg, representing the fertility of women and the birth of humanity.  Around her are eight totemic sculptures, each with images of a powerful female figure.  Massive, undulating snakes line the garden walls reminding us of Eve's downfall in the Garden of Eden (lest we get a bit too uppity!).
We marveled at the colors, textures and patterns of the mosaics.  Each piece of travertine, agate, quartz and turquoise is highly polished and positioned  . . .well, perfectly.  "This is not outsider art," my travel buddy commented.  "This woman was a pro."  She used mirrors, as well, so the sculptures are reflected from where ever you stand.  It is an absolute delight.