A blur of color was the valleys: Napa, Knights, Alexander, and deep into Anderson Valley on the northwest California coast. Having newly birthed the harvest, hillside vineyards glowed wanly in the afternoon sun, their floors littered with orange and red; the gnarled centenarian arms of the head trained vines bidding adieu to the long growing season.
Now comes their long sleep.
But not for us. The car was loaded for activity: sweaters and sweatshirts, half a case of wine, hiking boots, and all-weather gear for fishing. Blue Dream was in the ashtray, the mugs filled with Jasmine tea, and a West Coast hippie station was playing Hawaiian music.
Tomorrow’s dawn will find us fishing for the elusive halibut. All of the chartered fishermen wanted to take us out for salmon, not halibut. “End of season, chances are slim, they’re not biting, blah, blah, blah.” Hey Captain John, it’s called fishing for a reason. I persisted until I found a willing skipper, and now my old German tank’s ancient navigation system is directed to an unknown address in Mendocino, where a small, rented cabin in the woods awaits our arrival.
A quick lunch in a talked-about pizza joint in a sleepy ag town left me wishing I’d ordered two bowls of the chopped radicchio with Reggiano, skipping the baseball-dense meatballs. And while the pie’s crust was beautifully thin and charred, the puddle of mascarpone in the center dashed my hopes for pie nirvana.
Further northwest, we partook of Booneville’s sweet flavors: mulled cider, an expensive linen apron, wheels of aged goat, and paper bags of red purple barley, each produced in the funky little town by very creative folk. A little further up the street was The Apple Farm, a necessary autumn pilgrimage, owned by the talented Schmitt family. Their organic orchards grow dozens of varieties of apples, each piled in wooden boxes and laid with a knife for proper sampling. The tiny Wickson, of which I filled a bag, was a sweet/tart delight. The Baldwin, its seeds originally from the east coast, had a big crunch and bright acid. My new favorite, the York, is a beauty hailing from Pennsylvania and named in the late 1800s. There were Black Arkansas’, Winesaps and Splendors, as well as the too common Red Delicious, which never even garners appraisal from me. Our cooler loaded with quarts of hard and sweet apple cider, we departed towards the coast in a blinding snowstorm of color, a gust of wind off the Russian River blowing through the trees.