With all the stories I’ve had so far about wine, I’m sure you think that must be all I ever drink! Do not be fooled; apart from at least 50 ounces of water per day, I also like a good beer. I am not a typical Budweiser drinker (though I have been to their factory in St. Louis and it is impeccably maintained with those fancy Inbev dollars), but I love a good craft beer. Texas has become one of the fastest growing craft beer states, and it’s always fun to go visit local places to try out new brews.
The same goes while traveling. We always try to visit a local place or two so we can try beer we can’t get at home. We’ve been to a lot of different breweries on our trips: Cayman Island Brewing, Cigar City Brewing, and Skagway Brewing Company, to name a few. I may even have brought Cigar City’s Jai Alai home in my checked luggage multiple times from areas where it is distributed, but luckily the TSA only looked in my bag and didn’t pop one open. Each brewery has their own system of beer flights, and typically we will each get a flight and decide from there which beer deserves to be enjoyed in a full pint.
While we did have our fair share of wine in the Napa and Sonoma area, we went to visit Bear Republic Brewing in Healdsburg, and had plans to go to Lagunitas. However, the man pouring our samples at the Seghesio Vineyard recommended we stop by Russian River Brewing Company on our way back to the hotel. Since they do not distribute to Texas, we decided to give it a try, and when we both said that we wanted a flight, we found out that it was actually a twenty-one sample flight including every beer they brew. Of course, we had to get one, and of course we definitely shared it.
I really enjoyed most of their beers, and we ended up choosing our favorites for an obligatory pint after we had finished the flight We also thought a good layer of cheesy pizza bites would be a good purchase too. I don’t typically like sour beer, but their Consecration, which was aged in Cabernet barrels, was excellent, so maybe someday we will luck out and they will distribute here. And I’m pretty sure other breweries need to catch on to this flight system; not only does it look impressive, you get a little bit of everything. What’s not to love?
Prior to arriving in Napa, we planned to bring wine home, but also to purchase a couple bottles to have during the evenings after we had dinner and returned to the hotel. As it turned out, our hotel was uniquely prepared for this purpose. They had a daily wine reception from 5 to 6 p.m., wine glasses that you could borrow and return, and three self-service fire pit areas in the back for relaxing. To our amazement, hardly anyone was using the fire pits, so it was like having our own private patio to enjoy.
We had a lot of fantastic meals in Napa at Zuzu, Carpe Diem Wine Bar, and Napkins Bar & Grill, but the last night we decided to walk to the grocery store and pick up some items for our own “happy hour” at the hotel. It was the perfect way to round out our trip: relaxing at the fire pit as the temperature cooled into the lower 60s, while staying warm with a wonderful Robledo “El Rey” Cabernet. It made the transition away from “vacation” mode even harder when we stepped off the plane in Texas the next day and were greeted with temperatures in the upper 90’s. I think that just means that we will need to make a return trip sometime in the near future, because of the weather, but mostly so we can bring home more fantastic wine.
Until recently, I never had the opportunity to visit Northern Michigan. My travel there is typically scheduled for early October, which means I get to experience the fall foliage and cool weather. Of all the things I miss from growing up in Chicago, having an actual fall season is probably at the top of the list. My first trip to Traverse City came after the second time I had the pleasure of sprinting through O’Hare airport, so luckily I had a window seat to see all the hues of the trees while I calmed and cooled down on the way into Cherry Republic Airport.
What I did not realize was that by flying into Cherry Republic Airport, I was entering the self-proclaimed “Cherry Capitol of the World” (as one could assume from the name of the airport). Host of the National Cherry Festival every year since 1925, festival participants even hold a Guinness world record for baking the largest cherry pie. I discovered this after I had wandered downtown and into the Cherry Republic store. They make everything cherry imaginable: cherry sours, chocolate covered cherries, cherry sausage, cherry salsa, and cherry wine. Everything was available to sample in-store, so you can imagine the place was pretty crowded.
Most everything was a little too sweet for me, the wine included, but the Cherries on Fire salsa was fantastic. I love really hot sauces and salsas, so when the sample set my mouth on fire, I decided to purchase one and pack it in my checked bag, just in case TSA would consider it a liquid (you never know). I had a 6 a.m. flight out of Traverse City via O’Hare to Atlanta (I have such good luck going to Atlanta), so you can imagine how empty an airport with five gates would be at 5:00 a.m.
This time though, the trip was going great! There was no frantic sprint through O’Hare, and when I arrived in Atlanta at the same DoubleTree that was being renovated the year before, the upgrades had been completed. However, I kept thinking I smelled Bar-B-Q from the time I had gotten into my rental car all the way to north Atlanta. When I popped my trunk and the smell got stronger, I had a sinking feeling that I knew the source.
It’s not that I begrudge the TSA for looking through my checked bag after spotting a cylindric blob on the x-ray machine. But at 5:15 a.m., in Cherry Republic airport, why, after seeing a sealed jar of salsa with a tamper resistant lid that is obviously from the Cherry Republic store on Front Street, would you ALSO decide that you need to open said jar of salsa. On top of that, could you at least ensure you put the lid back on correctly? I had packed it securely in a tight spot, so I knew the lid had not been jostled open. I only hope the TSA agent sampled it and got a rude awaking that early in the morning, because that salsa is hot.
Thankfully, the butcher paper I wrapped the jar in was thick, otherwise it would have gotten all over everything in my suitcase. And really, who needs to pack perfume when you can marinate everything you brought in the aroma of salsa? I’m positive I smelled like a walking Bar-B-Q joint for the the remainder of my trip.
I ended up tossing my opened jar of salsa because lets be honest, some TSA agent stuck their grubby fingers in there looking for contraband between the hot peppers. I was incredibly disappointed until I realized that Cherry Republic sets up a booth at the Nutcracker Market each year. If you saw me there, I was the one who tried to precariously carry five jars to the counter for purchase, dropped one on the floor, and spilled it everywhere. I guess the TSA and I are even.
For those of you unfamiliar with Texas, you may have heard that everything is bigger here. That includes our gas stations. Behold!
These billboards pop up every few miles when you’re driving on any major highway in Texas, up to 200 miles away from the Buc-ee’s location at which you will have to stop, because they have impeccably clean restrooms and creative advertising.
In addition to clean restrooms and gas (those two go together, no?), you can really find everything you never knew you needed in a Buc-ee’s. Beef jerky, brisket, sandwiches, fudge, beaver nuggets (similar to a seemingly endless bag of larger corn pops), and an eclectic array of home products. At the Buc-ee’s in Wharton, Texas, I found a beautiful framed piece of burlap embossed with flowers and a watering can. It was hanging above the toilet, and could have been mine for $10.95. I only regret not purchasing it because when people asked where I found it, I could have seen the look on their faces when I told them it was a gas station bathroom.
I went with the most reasonable thing I could find in this pile of beavers: the key chain.
California wine country can be an overwhelming experience for a novice. Between the growing regions, varietals, and the sheer number of wineries, there are thousands of options for a person who just wants to drink some wine. When we decided to honeymoon in Napa and San Francisco, we were still new to wine appreciation. Rather than take our chances on our own, we ended up booking two Platypus Wine Tours and had a great experience in both Napa and Sonoma. For our return trip years later, we decided to go the “choose your own adventure” route, and picked a few wineries to return to and new ones whose wine we had discovered since. Since we weren’t with a tour group, we had the freedom to call an audible and visit unplanned locations that we spotted driving by. And that’s how we ended up at Sebastiani.
Sebastiani Cabernet used to be our go-to ‘expensive’ ($12) bottle of wine. Three jobs ago, I had to spend two and a half weeks in South Texas for work. One of those weekends, Mike flew down to visit and after a fantastic dinner at House Wine and Bistro (one of my favorite places to eat when I needed a break from eating fabulous Mexican food at every meal), we decided we needed to continue drinking wine and stopped by the local grocery store to pick up a couple bottles. That’s when we noticed that our dusty bottle of Cabernet was actually a 2007. We were new to wine, but knew enough to know that 2007 was an excellent year for California wines, and there were none left on the shelves at home. Naturally, we bought the five they had, but without a plan on how we were getting them home. We solved part of the problem by drinking one bottle immediately, but Mike couldn’t take them on the plane back with him without proper packaging. Thus, they had to stay with me for the rest of my trip so I could drive them back. This normally would not be a problem, except I was changing hotels twice, and heat spoils wine. Specifically, South Texas heat in September.
I did what I had to do: those four bottles of wine went everywhere I did. They were pretty easy to hide in all my materials, except for the last place where I stopped, a small Catholic high school. When Brother Herrick asked me why I was bringing so many materials in for so few students, I explained the perilous situation my 2007 Cabernet was in by leaving it in the car. He approved.
After hauling that wine across South Texas, when we drove past Sebastiani I knew we had to stop for a tasting. The winery is gorgeous, and we were visiting midweek, so the crowds were non-existent. I jokingly recounted the story above to the lady who was pouring our wine, and before I realized she was gone, she reappeared with another bottle of wine. While it wasn’t a 2007, she opened up a 2005 for us to try that had aged perfectly and was as good if not better. It was a reasonable price, so it was a easy decision to purchase one and have it be one of twelve wines we brought home. And unlike the trip to South Texas, we had the proper shipping container to get our wines home as a (free) checked bag (thanks, Southwest)! Because I would definitely cry over spoiled wine.