Riding the vines of California; Part #2

Blaska put 438 miles on a Harley Davidson Sportster (the Iron 1200 model) in four days of riding from San Franciso north through Marin County to wine country in Sonoma and Napa Counties last week (4/9-13/19). (We began our story here.)

Sonoma Highway, aka California Hwy 12, is that county’s main winery thoroughfare, albeit more spread out than neighboring Napa County’s California Hwy 29, which is cheek-by-jowl vineyards (fun) and bumper-to-bumper traffic (not so fun)..

Indeed, that is the particular beauty of wine country: the neatly tended agriculture mixed and matched with the wild of the forested mountains. Interspersed with modest red barns and opulent tasting rooms, some modeled on French villas with gushing fountains. All gardened with a profusion of blooming flowers, azaleas, wisteria, midnight blue lobelia, all manner of succulents, roses, and my favorite, the orange California poppies that grow wild here. We saw no tulips or daffodils.

Mt. Veeder bike alone

The HD Sportster Iron 1200 on Mt. Veeder Road, Napa County

Temperatures were consistently in the high 60s except for a cloudy and cool Thursday, which dictated a day to visit the tasting rooms with the lovely Lisa. A culinary note: even the hamburgers come with a side salad of fresh greens with a light vinaigrette. Eating healthy is a phobia here.

So is exercise. No matter how steep the climb, there were bicyclists as gaunt as Ethiopian refugees churning up the hillsides, noses down, helmets just above the handlebars.

Trees here were allowed to grow right up to the sides of the roads; few side roads have shoulders, which makes almost every road a scenic byway.


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Day One threw us west toward the Pacific Ocean and California Hwy 1. It’s cooler out there, windier, fewer trees, more bald mountains. We drove through Bodega Bay — stopped at the successor restaurant to the one in which Hitchcock’s “Birds” was filmed (the original burned down). Then on to Jenner, five miles north. 

I asked the proprietor of a modest eatery on a cliff overlooking the ocean (great portabello mushroom sandwich) what was the town’s principal business. She answered “bird watching.” Hitchcock chose wisely.

The way back took us over California Hwy 116, as twisty as a twizzler through majestic California redwoods so close to the pavement one could reach out and touch them, save for an instinct for self-preservation. The towns along the way — places like Monte Rio and Duncans Mills — are little more than a fire department and a tavern, unpretentious as a chicken dinner fund raiser.

The road parallels the Russian River, which is its own viticultural area (much like Medoc in Bordeaux). Korbel brandy and sparkling wine and Rodney Strong are vinted here.

map-napa-sonoma-wine-countryThe following day I traveled east across the Mayacamas mountains along Trinity Road. More twists combined with a crumbled road surface turned my knuckles white underneath the fingerless leather gloves. Where I could take my eyes off the next blind curve I marveled at the ingenuity of building mega-homes this far up; some of the driveways had to have been 20 degree-rises or more.

Scorpion helmet CA 1

on California Hwy 1

Trinity Road took the HD Iron 1200 to the more manageable Mt. Veeder Road and ultimately to the Silverado Trail, well into Napa County. On a whim, veered east onto Highway 128 (aka Sage Canyon Road), maybe my favorite. Wide and freshly poured pavement, few signs of human intervention (beyond the dam on Lake Hennessey) and almost zero traffic. Nirvana! 

Pulled off the side of the road to sit on a hillside to hear the rushing stream well below, largely hidden by spruce and oaks. The only thing missing was my lovely Lisa, who just doesn’t ride. 

Her choice and mine. Blaska postponed the wine tastings until after each drive but there is an element of danger in motorcycling. Mistakes are less forgiven, nothing between you and the idiot in the next lane but a layer of leather, no seat belts or airbags.

All part of the thrill of life.   

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Riding the high wine country on two wheels; Part #1

After his decisive but not unexpected defeat for Madison school board, the Policy Werkes prescribed some two-wheeled therapy for its proprietor, David Blaska.

Wisconsin weather being as fickle as Madison voters, Blaska retreated to the Werkes’ west coast offices in sunny California during the second week of April. Brother Richard and wife Margaret have homes in San Francisco and Sonoma and were gracious enough to put up with this old coot, who expresses his thanks.

The Old Guy rented a bike through Eagle Rider, a national chain featuring several makes of motorcycles. They have an outlet on San Francisco’s busy Mission Street attached to the local Harley Davidson dealer.

David w helmetFor Sonoma County’s mountain and valley twisties, a Harley Davidson Sportster seemed about the right speed, as opposed to a big touring bike, which you might want on the Interstate or the wide-open spaces. No need for cruise control on these roads!

Truth be told, I expected to encounter a beater on the floor of the Mission Street dealer in San Francisco. Instead, a brand new Sportster 1200 Iron awaited me with all of 17 miles on the clock. This model is a beauty pageant winner; black dual exhaust, blacked out primary case and fins highlighted by stainless steel bolts. Tank and fenders are what HD calls “twisted cherry” red. Mini-high rise handlebars and a small cowl around the headlight completed the picture on this one-up stunner.

I had this baby for five days at $139 a day plus another $35 per day for theft and damage insurance.

Thank Saint Steven Jobs for his Map app to get me out of SF, although it insists on zig-zagging me through turn after turn in search of the shortest way out, as the crow flies. Navigating SF’s vertiginous hills demanded coordination between left-hand clutch and right-hand braking while working the gears.

This was my first extensive use of a full-face helmet, which you got to have if riding without a windshield. Had purchased a Scorpion (brand) helmet with a built-in sun visor. Compares favorably to a much more expensive Schuberth and, at $260, about a third of the cost. Had a wireless Cardo wifi installed into the helmet. Helmets are mandatory in California.

There is no better bucket list than crossing the Golden Gate bridge on a Harley Davidson. It is an experience the word “exhilarating” was invented to describe. 

Set up shop at brother Richard’s hacienda north of the village of Sonoma; it borders the BR Cohn vineyards. Never did dip in the pool but did dip into his wine fridge. As is our custom, we left youngest brother and his spouse with more vintage than we found.

The hills were green as they usually are in spring. They’ll turn brown by fall. All but the oldest-growth vines were springing to life. Workers ran tillers between the staked rows, some of which climbed up the foothills of the low Mayacamas mountains that separate Sonoma County from Napa to the east.

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Sonoma was briefly the capital of newly independent Alta California, the town square (the largest in California) still flies the Bear flag from the revolt for independence from Mexico in 1846. The 1832 mission was the final and northernmost established by the padres and the only one under Mexican (rather than Spanish) rule. The barracks next door reflects the Mexican government’s nervousness over the advance of the Russian bear southward to Fort Ross (for Rossiya) on the coast.

An oddity: A transplanted Wisconsinite started California’s commercial wine industry. Count Agoston Haraszthy left Hungary to found the Wollersheim winery on the other side of the river from Prairie du Sac, then pulled up stakes (so to speak) to establish Buena Vista winery in Sonoma in 1857. 


Wine signs Glenn Ellen

Wineries, that-a-way!

Sebastiani, Kenwood, Kunde, and Ravenswood (famed for their zinfandels) are other big names here. We stopped at a smaller, more experimental winery, Imagery, located on the Sonoma Trail (the main road running down the spine of Sonoma County). Imagery is an offshoot of our all-time favorite wine stop, the Benziger family winery, which is located just west of the quaint village of Glen Ellen, which hugs the Sonoma River upstream from Sonoma itself. Benziger is next door to novelist Jack London’s ranch, now a state park. 

Unlike many of the wineries here with aspirations to French chateau vibe, Benziger’s has a family farm feel, including a fair collection of old tractors. 

On a previous visit the Lovely Lisa and her Old Guy drained a bottle of their sauvignon blanc on a modest porch outside the tasting room. I heard clanking and ran to a building to witness a bottling. The vineyard lies within the caldera of an extinct volcano. Benziger actively cultivate gardens to encourage beneficial insects to do the work that pesticides would perform elsewhere.

But many of the wineries here are little known; some vineyards simply sell their juice to the bigger labels.

Back in Glen Ellen, a sign on one of the buildings thanks firefighters for saving the town. We looked but saw no evidence of fire, save for that sign and a couple of others than warned of greater danger for mudslides.

Why I ride

Roads hereabouts are heaven. Everything one could want atop a motorcycle, those being:

1) hills and valleys that exhilarate with the changes in altitude, 2) twisty roads that 3) reveal something new around every curve: a farmstead or vineyard here, forested hills there, next a rushing stream, there a rock cropping; 4) easy pull-offs for picture taking. Better yet, a small village for a quick bite. That usually means county roads rather than state highways.

Only on two wheels can you seemingly flow through the landscape, smell the air like a dog hanging out the window, sway left or right as you bite into a corner, then twist the throttle to pull you through, hear that satisfying BLATT! from the pipes as the air-cooled twins respond, then float down the hill in overdrive as the world unfolds before you.

There is a God and he was good to Blaska in wine country. 

More to come.

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Hail Mary, full of grace …

Few natural disasters have affected the unlettered field hands at the Blaska Experimental Work Farm as the burning of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. We’re still sorting out why that should be. Partly because of the Catholic heritage. A bit because we are francophiles here at the Manor. Certainly, of having seen the majesty of the place up close and in person and feeling, probably, what they must have felt some time near its completion in 1345 — overwhelmed.

Mankind needs to be overwhelmed; s/he needs to be something greater than oneself; if there were not a God we should have to invent Him lest we succumb to hubris. Tens of thousands of nameless artisans and common laborers came and went but grabbed a piece of heaven on the way.

Notre Dame burns

There is about the cathedral something immortal, even today. It still stands, albeit greatly damaged. Notre Dame is Paris, along with the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe but much more ancient. It was old when Columbus sailed. Those of us who identify as conservative (Blaska IS the Diversity!) value permanence. There is a responsibility there to the past, to the builders, and to the future — to bequeath that heritage. This is our inheritance; cherish it, use it wisely, leave it to the next generation.

The cathedral is what it means to be French, whose national identity is as much under assault today as any of the old and famous states, in Churchill’s parlance. The great gothic edifice is to France as the original parchment of the Founding documents is to us here in the U.S.A. Which is the good news. 

I do thank God, in the very literal sense, that this was not an act of political terrorism. Somewhere, some workman in one of the suburbs of Paris is wondering if it was he who forgot to switch off that glue heat gun and maybe said a “Hail Mary.”

‘The attic was known as ‘The Forest’

Made up of tinder-dry eight centuries-old wood. from the New York Times: Inside the cavernous cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, the last Mass of the day was underway on Monday of Holy Week when the first fire alarm went off. It was 6:20 p.m., 25 minutes before the heavy wooden doors were scheduled to close to visitors for the day.

A predict: France will rally around Macron to rebuild.

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The Left coast is even leftier

The provost marshal of the Policy Werkes made a surprise visit to our branch campus here on America’s Left Coast. The nutty ideas germinating here are bound to make its way to the Berkeley of the Midwest. Blaska filed this report:

San Francisco is considering an outright ban on vaping. Odd, that market-leader JUUL is based here. Odd that cigarettes could still be purchased while its safer alternative could not. Yes, vaping introduces addictive nicotine but none of the tars and other carcinogens that makes tobacco a health threat.

Two Bay Area legislators are doing their best to advance socialism. They would throw an extra tax on the largest corporations depending on how much they pay their chief execs vis-a-vis their workers — a tax rate up to 14.84% on companies paying their CEOs more than 300 times their workers. On average, the CEO of the top U.S. companies make nearly $14 million a year — 361 times more than the typical worker. The teachers union signed on as supporters. 

More than 1,500 doctors and hospital staff at the University of California-San Francisco have signed petitions to end the partnership with the Catholic Church. Abortions, sterilization, and transgender surgery, don’t you know.

Big fuss over a massive mural at San Francisco’s George Washington High School. “The Life of Washington” painted in 1936 under WPA auspices depicts (among many other scenes) Washington stepping over the body of a native American and slaves lugging bales of cotton. A school board committee recommends painting the whole thing over. It is the work of Victor Arnautoff, is considering a major artist and disciple of Diego Rivera. And a political leftist. His work can also be seen at Coit Tower, 

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

Authorities at San Francisco International Airport are struggling to deal with rising numbers of homeless people arriving at the International Terminal, many of them seeking shelter in the middle of the night after riding BART trains south from the city.

It’s the latest expression of the region’s increasingly visible homelessness crisis … which this week declared a state of emergency over surging crime, rampant fare evasion and “quality of life” issues.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors last week unanimously rejected a 63-unit apartment complex, including 15 below-market-rate units, because it would cast an evening shadow on a two-acre park. A shadow lasting an hour and a half. On the longest day of the year. Over 18% of the park’s surface.

The board also unanimously passed Mayor London Breed’s proposal to start spending money raised by Proposition C, the November ballot measure to tax big businesses to fund homelessness programs. 

Coincidence? Blaska reports, you decide.


Says not to use on sidewalks. Yeah, right

One sees the occasional Tesla in Madison but here in the City by the Bay the vehicle is bidding to overtake the Beemer. And you can rent electric scooters and mopeds curbside here, via a smartphone app, of course.

The city is indignant that President Trump wants to dump illegal immigrants on this sanctuary city. Speaking of sanctuaries, Julian Assange loses his sanctuary at the Ecuadoran embassy in London because he wouldn’t clean up the bathroom or mind his kitty cat.

Like the evil “Chucky” marionette says in those humorous Spectrum commercials, “House meeting!”

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Who will teach the parents?

Just catching up with events in the Mad Madison school district, this time at Leopold elementary school. Thanks to Dylan Brogan of Isthmus, one of the finest reporters in town, we learn only this week of an incident four weeks ago, well before the Spring school board election.

Children lie about what happened at school? Who knew?

Parents turn a behavior issue into a racial incident? Forget it, Jake, it’s Madison.

Most disturbing, school district P.R. person urges the news media to spike the story? Of course.

Ten-year-old girl alleges principal smacked her in the face. Mother over-reacts.

“Where is the fucking principal? I’m gonna beat her white ass,” the kid’s mother screamed outside the principal’s office, according to the — get this! — 32-page police report. Five police officers respond, two of whom are African-American but not black enough for good ol’ mom. She called the officer, “an Uncle Tom with a white dick in your mouth.”

The kid’s uncle gets in on the act, threatens to kill police.

Roll the video. Never happened. Police should but do not arrest mom and uncle for disorderly conduct — regardless of whether the child was struck or not. School district official encourages Isthmus to spike the story. The real take-away: for perhaps the first time, one, lonely school district official sticks up for the educator.

Thank you T.J. Mertz, for becoming the first MMSD official to back up a teacher/school principal or, at the very least, not throw them under the school bus before getting all the facts. Of course, he was defeated for re-election. Paging Rev. Alex Gee — can we preach school discipline? Michael Johnson of Boys & Girls Clubs, can we encourage parents to set an example? Ananda Mirilli and Ali Muldrow, can we start by banning the F-bomb at school board meetings? Just to set a better tone?

Blaska’s Bottom Line: Thank you Ali for buying dinner at The Sardine last week. Enjoyed our mutual Debate #7. Good to see John Nichols and Mary Bottari there. Thanks for buying dessert. Blaska bet Muldrow $50 that the Open Enrollment statistics three years hence will show more Madison residents fleeing district schools than the net 804 leaving this school year.

I’ve already spent the $50, Ali.

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Kids, you don’t have to listen! It’s Madison!

Monday, 8:35 a.m. Officers responded to the McDonald’s on Regent St after a caller reported approximately 12 teenagers engaged in a brawl outside the business. Upon officers’ arrival, the group dispersed immediately and attempts to gain any additional information from those leaving in different directions were unsuccessful. No victim(s) were identified at the time of this entry. Investigation continuing.

10:23 a.m. Officers responded to East High School after staff called to report a student/suspect (15-year-old AAM) with a weapon. Upon the arrival of MPD, the suspect’s backpack was searched and the facsimile weapon/bb gun was recovered. The suspect was taken into custody and charged with Possession of a Dangerous Weapon on School Grounds. Investigation continuing. Kids!

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