A family affair: “green” wine-making at Sonoma’s Benziger

Tiffany Carey Abby Tegnelia

Tiffany and I in front of the entrance of the Benziger barrel caves.

Yes, Benziger certainly has the acres and acres of rolling green hills that wineries in Sonoma are known for, but they were also groundbreakers when it came to “green” wine-making tactics.  The winery is famous for becoming the first in the area to be named Demeter-certified Biodynamic, the highest level of organic farming. To get there, the family-owned affair rotates crops, balances vines with olive trees, creates eco-systems that control insects instead of killing them with pesticides, and recycles a whopping two million gallons of water a year through ponds. No wonder Tiffany and I had an extra pep in our step! After an amazing kick-off at Robert Mondavi, we loved the gorgeous ride out to Benziger — and then when we got there, we were rewarded with sun and lengthy tour outdoors in all of that pesticide-free fresh air.

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Daydream of the Week: San Francisco

San FranciscoAs much as I love the peace and rejuvenation effects of the tropics, such as Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Maui and Borneo, I also thrive on the excitement of big cities. In nature, I relax, breathe deeply, sleep well. But cities get me going — yes, my heart races, I talk too fast, and I am often out of breath. But all of that inner turmoil is where my world changes. I lived in New York City for five years and often miss walking outside of my apartment to run off to the next party, dinner with friends, or a run along the water. I am less of a homebody in the city, because of how easy it is to simply step out into a world where anything could happen. Recently, on my way to the wineries in Napa, I woke up in a friend’s gorgeous San Francisco apartment and took in this view. The endless buildings reaching the horizon? It’s all a blur, isn’t it… I can see what’s right in front of me, but have no idea what awaits farther out. There is something big out there for me, I’m sure. Leaps of faith are difficult, but you can’t discover new ground without losing sight of the land behind you.

I am petrified, but I choose to jump. And I won’t be looking back.

Family feud, success, and a takeover: Napa’s Robert Mondavi

Tiffany Carey Bill Teed Abby Tegnelia

I love the characters who live in Napa! Tiffany and had a blast with Bill, a Robert Mondavi old-timer.

My most recent trip to wine country turned out to be life-changing… but more on that later. (That’s a pretty evil way to begin, I know.) Our first stop: Robert Mondavi, one of the wineries in Napa I had long wanted to go to. I have always admired the guts and smarts it takes to be a pioneer, and that’s what Mondavi was. He brought world-wide recognition to Napa, then a fledgling little slice of wine country, before he died in Yountville in 2008 at the age of 94. (He had been forced to sell his beloved winery to Constellation Brands four years prior, after a public offering led to financial strain and then the takeover.) Mondavi is most well known for creating the Fume Blanc style of Sauvignon Blanc and his partnership with Baron Philippe de Rothschild, which led to the famous Opus One. But he also brought higher-density plantings (to make the vines work harder, producing heartier grapes) and French oak barrels to Napa, among many other technical improvements. He is considered by many to be the single-most influential winemaker in Napa’s history.

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Daydream of the Week: Sonoma

Benzinger SonomaWhen you live in the desert, you develop a certain appreciation for endless rolling green hills like these, at Benziger Family Winery in Sonoma. Seven siblings, one winery — what’s not to love? As if that wasn’t enough, Benziger is Demeter-certified Biodynamic, the highest level of organic farming. My friend Tiffany and I had an amazing time during our visit, riding around on a golf cart with the youngest sibling, Kathy. Each grasping a glass of crisp chardonnay, we toured the gorgeous property, basking in the sun (it had been a little cloudy in at the wineries in Napa that morning). We had such a great time at our official tasting back at the main house and purchased several delicious bottles of cabernet and pinot noir, as well as some snacks for our ride back to Napa.

Cheers!

Only in Vegas: driving American muscle cars

Abby Tegnelia World Class Driving

I didn’t mean to match my favorite car!

A fearless driver I am not. When I went race car driving with a group of friends, I was the only one who chose a ride-along — but that is my need for speed talking, too. If I’d have driven, I would have putt-putted around the track. (Lame.) Same with off-roading: If I hadn’t jumped in the passenger seat, I would never have gotten airborne! So when World Class Driving convinced me to join their American Muscle Car driving experience one morning, I was so in. I now know that there are ways that even scaredy cats like me can be in on the fun.

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San Juan del Sur in Splashes of Color

Red RoseIn addition to the relaxing atmosphere that has me calling it my happy place, and its status as a gateway to some pristine beaches in Nicaragua, San Juan del Sur is a charming little town in and of itself. I love the color splash, and there are loads of flowers on every block. Even though SJdS is tiny, all of the little details make walking around a fascinating afternoon. I’ve been so many times, thanks to it being where I headed for visa runs when I lived in Costa Rica, making it one of the few places that I haven’t lived yet I go again and again. More and more travelers are discovering this relaxing bay town as a more affordable alternative to some of the more touristy parts of Costa Rica, but it hasn’t been overcrowded yet.

I just love it!

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