Friday, July 20, 2018

San Antonio's Mission San Juan

Along the Mission Trail

Mission San Juan Capistrano was the last of the five San Antonio missions we were to visit that day.  I hate writing comments like this, but here goes . . . if you start to run out of time, you can probably skip this one.  It was lovely, don't get me wrong, but what you see today isn't what you saw back in the 1700's.  There are a few stone ruins on the property, but very little is original.
These stone buildings were reconstructed to look authentic and I found it interesting that the Franciscans still live here (if you can believe the signs.)   But, to me, it all seemed fake.  I didn't see a soul.  Where was everybody?

There was even a gate barring access to the altar.  And yet, this church is still part of the Archdiocese of San Antonio.  They hold services here on Sunday. You'd think someone would be around!
Granted, a theft occurred in 2000 when three old (and priceless) statues were stolen from the altar.  So what we see today are well . . . fake, too.  I'm telling you . .  a stage set!
I couldn't shake the feeling that maybe there were one too many of these missions built along the San Antonio River.  This one was founded in 1716 in eastern Texas, but moved here in 1731.  It was always a small mission.  The local natives never really stayed permanently.  They came and went.  Its largest population was around 265 in 1756, but that number dwindled to 58 by 1790.

The community was self-sustaining but always small.  Fields of corn and ranch lands surrounded the walls and there were workshops within to teach the Indians how to cure hides and make iron tools. 

There is a burial ground opposite the church, which was interesting, but that's about it.  We were in and out of this place in under an hour.  

And so we said our goodbyes to the San Antonio Missions.  It had been a long day of touring.  Mission Concepcion and Mission San Jose were the highlights--Spanish Baroque beauties.   Mission Espada was charming and I admit that San Juan, although quiet and small, brought a certain satisfaction to the end of my pilgrimage.

I had persevered and seen them all--the five San Antonio Missions that make up the latest World Heritage Site in the United States.  

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Marchesi Winery

100 Pacific Northwest Wineries

2.  Marchesi Winery

We spent a very enjoyable hour among Marchesi's Barbera grapes last Saturday afternoon.  I told my son later that evening if he ever needed a romantic spot to take a date, this was it.  It's a little different from your standard "stand at the counter and taste a flight" experience.  Tables are scattered around an outdoor patio and in between the grape vines.  The staff comes around and pours the various wines so the experience is very one on one and personal.  It's more like being at a restaurant than at a wine tasting room.  We noticed the mouth-watering plates of salami and cheese and were very tempted, but we stuck with the wine only.  Next time!

Marchesi is all about the ambiance and that is exactly what the owner, Franco Marchesi, intended.  He wanted his customers to feel like they were in Italy, his native country.

As a young man he worked as a sommelier for a cruise ship.  He then settled in San Francisco and became a wine buyer for an Italian Restaurant, eventually making his way to the Columbia River Gorge where the climate reminded him of Northern Italy.  He planted his favorite Italian grapes in an abandoned apple orchard in Hood River, Oregon and today we are enjoying the fruits of his labor.

That afternoon we tasted a Pinot Grigio, a Rosato and four reds.  The 2016 Barbera was our favorite, but his Mezzo & Mezzo, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir was also velvety smooth and extremely flavorful.  His wines have earned many awards and I have noticed since moving up here from California, how many Italian grapes are planted in both the Columbia Gorge and Columbia Valley AVAs.  I am being introduced to wines I didn't get back home in Santa Barbara--Sangiovese, Nebbiolo and Barbera.  All wonderful.

Because it was so hot, we ended up buying a bottle of Pinot Grigio for our summer wine collection.  We only live a few miles away so we will be back this winter to purchase a few bottles of red.

During the summer, the wine tasting room is open every day from 11-6.  During the winter it is open only on weekends.  I understand they have heaters out on the patio during this time.  How romantic is that!  

Marchesi Winery--A slice of Italy in Hood River, Oregon.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Mission Espada

Along the Mission Trail
San Antonio, Texas

The Mission San Francisco de la Espada complex in San Antonio would make an ideal location for a western film.  It is near perfect.  A little sister to the larger stone churches a few miles to the north.  Its facade is Alamo-esque.  There are foundation ruins, a stone well and picturesque gardens.  But best of all--very few tourists.  This little mission at the far end of the long National Historic Park in Texas gets lost in the shuffle.  How often have I heard family and friends say, "If you've seen one mission you've seen them all."

Not true.

This mission is the oldest of all the San Antonio missions.  It was founded in 1690, but moved to its current location in 1731.  The circular bastion was added in 1824 and like the Alamo, intense fighting took place here during the Texas revolution.

But before that?  This mission was a dynamic community with local Coahuiltecans making up most of the inhabitants.  They recognized the advantage of learning new skills, especially related to irrigation and agriculture.  Starvation had been a constant threat in this part of the world.  The natives also learned blacksmithing, weaving and masonry.  In return they were expected to convert to Christianity and maybe, hopefully, become proper Spanish citizens. 

Of course, we all know what happened.  Epidemics were catastrophic and once secularization occurred, all the neophytes disbursed.  And yet . . . while going through the small museum on site, I learned that this little mission still plays a big part in the local community.   There are actual mission descendants living nearby.  The Franciscans are back, living a simple life and disbursing religious sermons at Sunday Mass.  There is a Head Start Kindergarten at the south end of the complex.  There was once a parochial school but it closed in the 1960's.

The interior of the church is very simple and reminds me more of the California missions, rather than the elaborate Spanish Baroque ones.  It seems to fit the mood of the place.  This is a place for reflection.  In this blog, I have often commented how the Spanish strategy to colonize the natives didn't work, but as I walked around Mission Espada, I changed my mind a bit.  Here, the Franciscans actually succeeded.  The community reflects a Spanish/Indian heritage.  It was adopted wholeheartedly and continues to influence people's lives even today.

An interesting detour if you make it this far is to see the old dam canal and aqueduct.  To assure constant flow of water from the San Antonio River, the Franciscans dug ditches along the contours of the river valley, but here the natural lay of the land prevented gravity from doing its proper job, so aqueducts were built.  It must have been a miraculous sight to see a land rich with peaches, melons, beans and corn where once stood a dry and dusty plain.

I am so glad we persevered that day and saw all five of the San Antonio Missions.  I reiterate to all those folks who say, "If you've seen one mission you've seen them all."

Not true.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Viento Winery

100 Pacific Northwest Wineries

Sure, why not?  Today I begin a second Blog within a Blog.  I started "100 California Wineries" several years ago, but only got to Number 11 before we abandoned ship and moved to Oregon.

Happily, the wines up here in the Pacific Northwest are excellent and my collection is growing.  This summer I am concentrating on crisp dry whites since the temperatures are soaring.  Paired with grilled salmon, a Chicken Caesar salad or shrimp scampi, life doesn't get much better than this.

  Please join me as I wine taste my way through Oregon and Washington in the years ahead.  Maybe this time I will actually make it to one hundred.

1.  Viento Winery

      Viento is located at the west end of Hood River, Oregon, on Country Club Road.  The attractive building with big glass windows can be seen from Interstate 84 and for the past three years, every time we drive by, I turn to my travel buddy and say, "We really need to go there."

Well, last weekend we did.

The flight included one sparkling wine, two whites and three reds.  The winery was especially proud of their 2016 Retro Riesling because it had recently been highlighted in Wine Enthusiast as one of twelve Rieslings to try.  As the editor put it, "It's a pungent take on the grape, with a piney aroma and massively concentrated fruit.  Peach, apricot and papaya flavors come into play, with enhanced acidity."   Don't you love it?  In my vocab, a wine is either "good" or "bad."  

I asked the young man who was pouring if I could try the Pinot Gris and he gladly gave me a sample.  It is my "go to" wine whenever I dine at the Riverside in Hood River.  I have fallen in love with its dry, crisp clean taste.  Okay . . . maybe I do have more to say than "good" or "bad."

We ended up buying two bottles:  The Gruner Veltliner and of course, the Pinot Gris.

The man behind Viento is Rich Cushman, a native of Hood River and a wine maker for over 30 years.  He owns a small vineyard next to the tasting room, but also has vineyards in The Dalles and in Husum, Washington.

The tasting room is open Friday to Monday from 12 to 5.  It's a lovely room--classy and modern and filled with sunlight.  The place was packed last Sunday afternoon, but even so, I felt we were given undivided attention by the young man who answered all our questions in great length.

Viento Winery--a great start to my 100 Pacific Northwest Wineries Tour!


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

San Antonio's Mission San Jose

Along the Mission Trail

Of all the five missions that make up the World Heritage Site in San Antonio, Texas, the Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo is the most beautiful.  Even in its prime, in the late-1700's, it was referred to as "The Queen of the Missions."

For one thing, it reminded me of the churches I saw in Spain and Portugal and this was exactly what the Franciscan padres had in mind.  It is a Spanish Baroque beauty with its elaborate statuary and stone architecture.  The colorful murals which once covered both its exterior and interiors, makes me yearn for a time machine that would carry me back to 1770.  The picture below is what I would see.

I liked touring this mission because I got a real feel of what it must have been like to live and work here.  After going through the museum, operated by the National Park Service, you enter the vast complex through a stone bastion, built to protect the mission inhabitants from Apache attacks.  Indian quarters made up three sides of the complex.  There were 84 stone houses built within the walls to house the neophytes that chose to live here.  The entire mission resembled a small town.

"Everything at Mission San Jose is arranged with such perfect symmetry that it provides the admiration of all who see it."   Governor Jacinto de Barrios

Indian Living Quarters open to the Public

Within the walls, this huge open space was once covered with workshops, a granary, a grist mill and school.  It is, of course, the church and convento at the far end, that is the real draw.

The mission itself was founded as early as 1719 by Father Margil de Jesus, a Franciscan padre who was a remarkable man.  He was born in 1657 in Valencia, Spain and died in 1726 in Mexico City.  In the museum, I learned he walked barefoot (!) across Guatemala, the Yucatan Peninsula, up through Central Mexico and finally to this region in Texas, converting Indians as he went along.  He carried only a staff, a crucifix and a book of hymns.  He received support from the Spanish crown to build Mission San Jose on the banks the San Antonio River.

  Much like Fr. Junipero Serra in Alta California, he left an enduring presence throughout the region.  It is said that upon his death, the mission bells rang of their own accord.  He is being considered for sainthood by the Vatican, and I suspect it will eventually happen.

The building of the limestone church was started in 1768 and finished in 1782.    It remained a mission until 1824 when secularization occurred and it fell into disrepair.  The Benedictines tried to revive it in 1859.  Their intention was to turn it into a monastery, but the American Civil War intervened and they had to abandon the project.  Interestingly enough, the mission became a popular tourist site in the late 1800's, early 1900's.  There are some wonderful black and white photographs of travelers picnicking among the ruins.
The Rose Window
Convento Ruins

I can understand the appeal.  Even today, after restoration, it is a very romantic site.  You can easily imagine you are somewhere in Europe, rather than the dusty plains of Texas.

Allow a couple of hours to go through the museum, the church and all the ruins.  San Jose was, by far, my favorite of the San Antonio missions.