Monday, January 23, 2012

Bristlecone Pine: World's Oldest Living Tree

White Mountains, CA -- Ted and I went up to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains searching in vain for the world’s oldest living tree at 4,600-years-old called Methuselah which we thought was pictured on the guide cover. We eventually gave up and made our way back to the visitor’s center where park ranger Dave Hardin, a man I had met once before at a stargazing party near the miniscule town of Ravana at the end of Round Valley Road, told us that Methuselah was unmarked to protect it from vandalism—it made sense.

At the visitor’s center I was captured by an ethereal nighttime photograph taken of a weathered ancient bristlecone pine tree in the foreground and in the background was the Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest spiral galaxy to the Milky Way. This stunning image was taken with a Nikon D700 camera with a 300mm f/2.8 lens, set at f/4, ISO 5000, for a three-minute exposure. It went on to win photograph of the day at the website The photographer’s name: Tony Rowell.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Inyo County: Land of Extremes

Bishop, CA -- It’s mind-boggling to grasp the extremes in this unusual part of California.  If there were a contest for bragging rights Inyo County would win in the "wonders of the natural world" department.  To start, Inyo is the second largest county in the United States, with 10,142 square miles, yet only two percent of this land is populated by people. It has the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states, Mt. Whitney at 14,497 feet; the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, Death Valley at 282 feet below sea level; the largest National Park in the continental Unites States, again Death Valley; the oldest living tree on earth, Methuselah at over 4,000 years old; and the southernmost glacier in North America, at Palisade Glacier. 

California: Voice of An Angel

Watch this live performance of Joni Mitchell's hit, California taken on October 9, 1970.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

French Laundry: Holy Experience

Yountville, CA --  Dining at the Laundry was like being in the center of the most exquisite stained glass chapel in the world, Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, all refracted light—a holy experience. The angels were singing songs of exhalation transporting me to a higher realm of existence. I wanted to stay there forever.

Maître d'Hôtel Larry Nadeau came by to say hello. He was suave, sophisticated and charming. “You look wonderful tonight,” he said in a semi-whisper. Swoon. He then asked if there was anything more he could do for us. I couldn’t resist. I asked him if they had any ketchup in the back. His eyes grew big, and then they crinkled at the creases, revealing a soft spot in a reserved exterior. “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that,” he said.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

V. Sattui Winery: Napa Valley Treasure

St. Helena, CA -- Dario Sattui is the great-grandson of Vittorio who single-handedly took up the torch in 1975 and revived V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena along Highway 29. His rag to riches story is one of youthful drive and unwavering dedication to a vision. For six or seven years, he worked long hours, seven days a week. To save money he slept in a sleeping bag on the tasting room floor, taking cold showers from the winery hose, rolling up the bag in the daytime, hiding it behind the wine barrels and telling no one about his dire straits. His goal was to craft fine wines to make his great-grandfather Vittorio proud. The result of Dario’s effort is a winery that’s able to sell 70,000 cases per year of wine direct to the consumer, a successful, against-the-grain business model that eliminates distribution through stores or restaurants

I was introduced to Dario who at six foot four is a commanding presence. He is in his 70s—tall, rugged, handsome and still virile. We were at V. Sattui’s annual Crush Party, an event that allowed the public to step behind the scenes of a working winery to watch grapes being crushed; meet the winemakers; measure acid, sugar, pH and sulfurs; see the bottle line in operation; dip Madeira bottles in hot sealing wax; and of course eat and drink to our heart’s delight.

“This is Ingrid, she’s writing a book on California,” said Claudette Shatto, the public relations woman for the winery. I brought along my 19-year-old son Jordan, who attends nearby U.C. Davis, world-renown for its viticulture school that has produced some of the best vintners in the Napa Valley.

“You don’t look old enough to have a son this age,” he said with a twinkle in his eye—a charmer. “I have a little place up the road called Castilo di Amaraso, if you want to tour it, let me know.” He reached into his wallet and pulled out an odd-sized business card and handed it to me. “Have a great time at the Crush party.”

Later I would learn that Dario’s “little place up the road” was a recreation of a medieval castle with 200 acres of prime real estate in St. Helena that Dario completed in 2007 after fourteen years of laborious construction.