Our feline neighbor is back and enjoying himself on one of the terraces behind CatSynth HQ. You can see his face through the glass bricks, albeit in a Cubist sort of way.
Nothing wrong with his being there. I for one love to see cats enjoying themselves. But his presence brings out both Sam Sam’s curiosity and territorial instincts, and she was quickly back up on the ledge to investigate – and to assert her territorial claims. We managed to capture a bit of it in this video.
It definitely makes a bit nervous to have Sam Sam up there, but there really is no stopping a determined cat. It’s also a reminder that I need to replenish that wine rack. The one bottle that remains is from Armida Winery, whom we featured in a CatSynth video back in June.
I found myself back again in Napa Valley wine country a couple of weeks ago. Specifically I was in St. Helena to meet Elsie the Library Cat. I am not a morning individual, but Elsie apparently is, so at the early hour of 7AM, I headed up from San Francisco, crossing two bridges before exiting the I-80 onto Highway 29.
I have written about traveling through the Napa Valley on Highway 29 before, specifically in a post from 2007. Once again Highway 29, multiplexed with Highway 12, was a parking lot south of the city of Napa, so I was once again able to snap a photo at almost the same exact location. It was quite theraputic to do so, chasing away some of the demons of 2007, which themselves chased out the demons of 2000. The road has been upgraded into a better expressway, and Highway 221 (just a short connector to downtown) is now signed.
The traffic thinned out north of Napa as the road narrowed north of Yountville. Here the landscape is dotted with modest vinyards and over-the-top mansions and tasting rooms. Finally, I arrived in St. Helena, my favorite town in the region. I pulled into the library parking lot around 9AM, just in time for my visit with Elsie.
Elsie is a very sweet cat, and quite playful at times despite her advancing age. With her black coat, she reminded me a bit of Luna, though Elsie has mismatched-colored eyes compared to Luna’s emerald green. She and the staff of the St. Helena Public Library were great hosts and extremely welcoming of me and my video project. If you haven’t already seen our CatSynth TV feature on Elsie, you can watch it here.
It was still relatively early when I finished at the library, so I headed to the main street in town for brunch – a protein-heavy heuvos rancheros and some additional coffee seemed like a good idea after the morning video shoot and before heading out for wine tasting.
My main winery destination was Flora Springs, also in St. Helena. In 2014, I had come here for both wine tasting and a photo shoot – you can see one of the photos in this old Wordless Wednesday post. I had selected it because of the modernist architecture and interior design, but I enjoyed the spicy bold reds as well. Plus they have a patio that is lovely on a warm afternoon.
The same qualities that attracted me to this winery four years ago were in play again – the modern style and bold red wines. I particularly liked the Trilogy red blend and the Holy Smoke single-vinyard cabernet from Oakville. This visit was also featured on CatSynth TV.
Having enjoyed a full glass of both the Trilogy and Holy Smoke along with tastings of the standards, I decided I shouldn’t do anymore tasting for a while. But I still wanted to some more exploring. So instead of heading straight back south, I turned east onto Highway 128 in Rutherford towards Lake Berryessa, with the goal of finally completing the route. (Yes, I am weird that way.)
The narrow but well maintained highway took us out of the valley and into the hills to the east, winding our way through several canyons. The central towns of the Napa Valley were largely spared from last fall’s devasting fires, but here along Highway 128 one could still see some of the scars from the Atlas Fire. The green wooded hillsides were periodically streaked with bands of ashen gray and bare trees. But even within those bands, one could see bits of green. Some of these were trees that were spared during the fire, which jumps from one tree to another, as well as new growth replacing the burns. It’s amazing to see how quickly nature bounces back, especially compared to human development. It will take a bit longer to replace the homes, wineries and other businesses, and the mental and emotional scars may never heal.
Eventually, the highway aligns to the southern shore of Lake Berryessa, an artificial lake created by damming the Putah Creek. It’s quite large and major center for water recreation. I was just there for the visual aspect – I was particularly curious to see the “Glory Hole.”
The Glory Hole, which as also featured in a recent Wordless Wednesday post, is an internal spillway for the reservoir. When the lake gets too full, the water drains out through it like a bathtub. This happened in 2017, and must have been amazing to see.
We followed the highway down from hills into the Sacramento Valley, where it ends in the town of Winters. I had stopped here on the way to Portland a few weeks earlier, so had already shot some video. But that one is still a work in progress…
See more of California’s Napa Valley Wine Country and many other fascinating places in our Highway☆ app, available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
We are excited to introduce a new semi-regular feature here on CatSynth: Mensa Cat Mondays. On various Mondays we will present the Mensa Cats cartoons of J.B. – that’s Jason Berry of Vacuum Tree Head. Enjoy!
Last night was the annual Trash Audio party that occurs during NAMM. It’s an opportunity to meet a lot of makers and enthusiasts of esoteric and DIY electronic instruments in a quintessentially southern Californian setting: a backyard pool party. It was great to meet some of the people I have gotten to know through writing this site.
Matrixsynth hosted a little wine bar of sorts, with his own Analog Reserve (red) and Digital Reserve (white). They were quite good, actually.
The theme of this weekend’s Photo Hunt is addiction, which leads to the obligatory catnip photo for Weekend Cat Blogging:
Of course, Luna’s real addiction seems to be grass:
Not only does she enjoy her little pot of grass, but will also immediately find blades growing out of flower pots on our patio (something I wish she would not do).
Lest we pick on cats entirely, we at CatSynth have many other “addictions”:
This is perhaps still my favorite red-wine photo from the archives.
Here are some colorful cocktails, which also symbolize our “addiction” to color and geometry:
Sometimes the visual aspect is better than the taste.
We at CatSynth are certainly addicted to our environment, our life in the city, the visual stimulation, our home, music, playing with cats. In truth, one needs only to browse the pages of this site or visit our photo gallery to witness images of “addiction.” Blogging itself is an addictive activity, and indeed must be in order to be successful.
Sitting outside this fine summer evening with a glass of wine reminds me that I haven't written about my trip to the wine country from Memorial Day weekend.
The “wine country” to which I am referring is the Napa Valley, north of San Francisco. (This is not to be confused with the Santa Barbara wine country in Sideways). The heart of the wine country is corridor along highway 29 north of the town of Napa:
I'm not sure why I thought that weekend would be a good time to go. Highway 29 was a parking lot the entire way from its start in Vallejo through at least the town of St. Helena. It is a pretty undersized highway for such a heavy tourist destination, but one can understand why they may not want to expand it too much. It is, however, an expressway and freeway in area in and around the town of Napa (within the city limits, it was a full-on freeway). The reason this photo taken just south of Napa is so clear is because I wasn't moving.
It seems like they should consider upgrading the remainder to a freeway at least through Yountville, which is considered the start of the main wine country. At this point, 29 becomes a two-lane road amongst vinyards, eventually meeting up with highway 128 around St. Helena, which pretty much lives entirely off the wine and wine-tourism industry. 29 and 128 continue north through some of the most upscale vinyards before splitting at the resort town of Calistoga.
One of the main wineries I visited was in fact just a bit south of Calistoga. Clos Pegase was of particular interest not because of the wine per se (though the wine was quite good), but the owner's extensive art collection, mostly 20th century works. Among them are this monumental mobile by George Rickey:
This linear-geometric piece by Tony Smith really works with the rows of grape vines:
I often try to find just the perfect perspective when confronted with such strong lines. You can see another example (one of my favorite among my “art photos”) from the Getty Center in Los Angeles, one of several on my photography page (which I really need to update one of these days).
Another interesting geomtric metal piece, this one by Joel Shapiro:
Of course, the collection is not just abstract work. There were several figurative pieces as well, including this sculpture by Henry Moore, which appeared to have gotten the “John Ashcroft Treatment”:
Of course, they had wine, too. Of particular note was the cabernet franc. Most American winedrinkers will be familiar with cabernet sauvignon, which are often my favorite wines. “Cab franc” is another grape that is often used in blends, but Clos Pegase's solo version was a great discovery.
The town of Calistoga is perhapsa better known for water than for wine. Calistoga gives its name to brand of mineral water popular here at CatSynth (though they were not offering tours despite the “come visit us sometime” suggestion on the label). It is also known for its many hot springs and spas. But beer? Well, it did try a very distinctive beer from the Russian River (in neighboring Sonoma County), with a rather sweet taste. Ironically, this was at wine bar that I stopped into while spending time until a spa appointment. This particular bar called out to me with its metalic modernist trendy urban look and vibe, compared to the general rustic charm of Calistoga – there is a definite “look” that most resort towns in northern California have that looks like a hybrid of Gold Rush and New Age. Nonetheless, I think I picked the right alternative for myself, and also enjoyed this little pasta-and-goat-cheese nibble.
I definitely recommend a wine-country trip for anyone in the extended Bay Area, though maybe not on the busiest travel weekend of the year. Maybe not a good trip for those who dislike wine, art and spa treatments. We at CatSynth refer to such people as “strange and weird.”