Monthly Archives: September 2011

Walla Walla Wineries

After the Round-Up, Ruth, Diane, Steve, and I traveled 40 miles north of Pendleton to Walla Walla wine country.  We made it to three wineries–Basel, Va Piano, and L’Ecole–barely a start.  At Basel, which is generally said to be the most beautiful in the area, we were told that in 1982 there were 2 wineries in the Valley.  Now there are 174 with an average of 2 new ones every year.  Why is this happening?

It’s quite simply a great location for viticulture.  Despite it being northerly, the area has an extended growing season.  Summer sunshine and cool nights enhance flavor without affecting natural acidity.   The soil and drainage are perfect too, making it ideal for producing especially dynamite red wines.  Basel makes only reds, and the ones we sampled were exceptional.  We bought an 07 Cabernet Sauvignon to open for a special occasion, like a day without rain (we live in The Northwest).  As we sampled, the pourers made us take a test.  What are the six Bordeaux varietals?  Answer:  Petit Verdot, Carmenere, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

If this had been an actual test, we would have failed.  But there has been such a wine explosion in Walla Walla that its Community College has wisely started a program for folks like us.  Students get an Associate in Applied Art & Sciences Degree after 2 years of taking such courses as Plant Physiology and Science of Wine Making.  Its website promises, “hands-on experience in winemaking, viticulture practices, and wine sales.”

There are 2 other higher education facilities in Walla Walla, Whitman College and Walla Walla University, one of about a dozen private Seventh-day Adventist schools in the United States.

We drove into town and had lunch at excellent Olive Marketplace and Cafe and couldn’t help but notice this town’s prosperity.  This is fueled by the wineries, a prison, the 3 schools mentioned above, and Key Technology.   Key makes food processing products found on 6 continents, and its corporate headquarters is here.

Va Piano, “Inspired by Tuscany”, has an intimate tasting room in a building that, indeed, looks Tuscan.  Justin and Liz Wylie, its owners, know what they’re doing and make smooth, complex wines including some attention-getting whites, like a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc with 5% Riesling.  We left with Bruno’s Blend VII.

L’Ecole is one of the more recognizable Walla Walla wineries with wide distribution and lots of awards.  Wine & Spirits Magazine, for example, has named it “Winery of the Year” nine consecutive times.   L’Ecole’s tasting room is in an old schoolhouse 14 miles west of town in Lowden.  Take the stairs down to the restrooms to see a water fountain that would present a challenge to anyone past the 2nd grade.


Pendleton Round-Up

This past weekend, Ruth and I went to this year’s Round-Up Finals with friends/neighbors Steve and Diane.  Saturday was Wrangler National Patriot Red White & Blue Day, and the National Guard fly over that accompanied the Anthem caused chills and hoots.

From 1 to 5 pm we were highly entertained with stirring events like Saddle Bronc, prizes claimed by Taos Muncy, and Bull Riding, won by Howdy Cloud.  I love both cowboy and horse names with What’s in Your Wallet, Nasty Water, and Fraid Knot hard to beat among the latter.

Rodeo scoring’s as fixed and rigid as a mean teacher’s rules.  For example, “Rider loses points if toes not turned with spur in contact with horse.”   This attention to detail makes watching events a challenge to match the excitation.

There are rodeos in 24 States, all but five of them west of the Mississippi.  There’s one in New Jersey called the Cowtown Rodeo in Woodstown.  New Jersey?    And the Pendleton Round-Up doesn’t even make‘s “List of  Top 12 Rodeos Every Fan Should See” where the National Finals in Las Vegas ranks only 7th but carries this edict, “you must see it in person at least once.”   For me to have mentioned this omission Saturday, however, would certainly have gotten me booed by 17,000 fans. Round-Up’s in Pendleton’s blood and I’m sure that’s partially why True West Magazine named it 2011’s Top Ten Western Town in the US.

The Pendleton Round-Up has a long, multi-hued history in a town that definitely has western allure.  Among its stores are Montana Peaks Hat Company, which crafts custom-made cowboy hats guaranteed for life, and a number of saddle makers and leather artists.  Alas, we browsed a Pendleton woolen goods store downtown and discovered that everything we picked up had been made in China.   That inflamed.

The first Round-Up in this city down in a deep crevice carved by the Umatilla River whooped up the citizenry in 1910 making the one we attended, our first, the 101st.   Locals like Gail Nelson at the Chamber of Commerce got wide-eyed when recalling last year’s 100th anniversary extravaganza.  No matter what year, Round-Up takes an entire week what with parades, dancing, concerts, carnival rides, food vendors, awesomely outfitted Native American participants, and the like.  Kids get out of school. Gail only had 45 minutes left until her duties ended for the day so she, like us, could head for the Finals.  She told me with both amazement and pride that when dawn broke Sunday morning there wouldn’t be so much as a speck of paper on streets filled with revelers until late Saturday night.  Not unexpectedly, a lot of beer is consumed throughout to the extent that we were treated to a tribute at the Finals, “For those who’d rather have good livers than be good livers.”

I definitely recommend Pendleton, especially during Round-Up.  In fact, Ruth and I picked up next year’s schedule–Saturday, Sept 8 to Saturday, Sept 15, 2012.  We’ll go if the crick don’t rise because we’re now avid fans of a show where “let ‘er buck” is much more than just an often-used slogan.


Camping in Colorado, Part 4, The Beginning

All I had left after I explored the streets of San Francisco like a man who had found El Dorado was enough money for a bus ticket to LA.  Luckily, I knew a couple from St. Louis, friends of my Mother, who had moved to the area a couple of years before.  Betty, fairly happily into her second marriage after a long childless first, had 3-year-old twins with her second husband Jim, a physician.

I don’t recall how I found their number but I called them and, fortunately, they were delighted to have me stay with them for a bit.  I quickly acclimated to top-end restaurants and royal treatment.  Jim and Betty, or Mr. and Mrs. Claus to me, had just bought a new Thunderbird.  Jim turned its keys over to me for the duration. So for a week I cruised LA freeways without restriction and the radio up loud.  It was like having no parents, no demands, no expectations–the perfect time in my life for such an experience.  And the weather was spectacular.

Jim and Betty lent me money to get home.  It took three days on Greyhound, but I needed that time to reprogram my brain for the real world.

So, on the road for the very first time in my life and unhappy with the cold and company, “pull over and let me out ” both worked out and set me up for a lifetime of travel itch.  Added bonus:  my parents asked only if I had a good time and didn’t probe. Who needs Reno for luck?


Camping in Colorado, Part 3

I really was alone in the desert.   For 30 minutes no car passed.

But then a couple in an old car slowed and stopped.  I hopped in and they took me ten miles.  Neither said a word more than they had to.

I was soon enough back on the desert road side.  But not for long.  A sleek car went roaring by and screeched to a halt.  Ed Curley invited me in.

Ed had been back east to visit family and was on his way home to San Francisco. He had not slept since Massachusetts, so his first question was, “Do you drive?”

By our conversation I suspected that Ed was a bit of a heller, and when we got to Reno I had confirmation.  After he treated me to a steak dinner, he introduced me to gambling and drinking.  From midnight until 5 am we did both.  But for wary me not that much of the later.  I did down some drinks. however, that would not be legal for me for three more years where I lived.  I felt like a man of the world by 1 am.

From 5 to 11 am, I drove us to San Francisco.  Ed slept like a spent emergency room doctor the entire time.  I dozed off only once and briefly enough that the car didn’t quite make it to the shoulder of the highway.  I was scared straight.

Ed never asked how much money I had, but he dropped me at a cheap hotel with an invitation to dinner the next night.

I slept for hours and then began to explore the City by the Bay, falling in love with both it and freedom.

The next night Ed picked me up for dinner at his apartment.  I didn’t know until we arrived that he lived with two women.  Being from the Midwest and 12 going on 18, I was equally shocked and intrigued.

That was the last time I saw Ed.  Oh, we tried to correspond but he was much older and our lives too dissimilar for a long-distance friendship to flourish.   He did, however, rescue me from abandonment and give me experiences that only a kid could really appreciate.


Camping in Colorado, Part 2

We didn’t have the money to replace the windshield, so Don called his father who made it possible and we were on our way west again.

We found a cheap hotel in Denver and headed north to Estes Park the next day.  I had never seen mountains before and was thrilled until we overnighted in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Experienced campers, Don and Jim, as close as two tissues in a Kleenex box, were well prepared for the high-altitude frigid night.  I had only my everyday clothes and almost froze to death.  Oh, sure, they let me sleep in the tent with them and provided a sleeping bag, but I woke up at 4 am feeling like a side of beef in a meat locker.

The only solution was to put on everything I owned in the way of clothing and start walking.  This reduced hypothermic shaking and heated my blood to survival level. The weather warmed.  Breakfast helped.  The day was sunny.  But then night returned.  Hit repeat button.

Four days later on the far west side of Salt Lake City, we were in a diner having breakfast.  The topic of discussion was whether to go west and see a bit of golden California or head north to mountainous Montana for more camping. The vote was 2 to 1.

We got into the car and headed across the desert.

“I’m not camping anymore,” I announced.

Don, driving, looked at me questioningly.  “Why not?”

“We’re going further north, I’m not prepared, and I don’t like camping.”

Jim, seated next to Don, turned to him and smirked.

“It was a fair vote.  What do you want me to do?”  Don asked.

“Pull over and let me out.”

And he did.

I didn’t wave goodbye as they disappeared across the desert.

To be continued.