Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hawaii Cruise - Day

Today started early when the room service steward knocked on the door 15 minutes early. Fortunately we were already awake and I answered the door and brought in my breakfast. I had decided to order breakfast in the room to save time since we had to be ashore at 8:15 to catch our tour. I had ordered "Mueslix"' thinking that it was the Kellog's cereal. It was actually Swedish Muesli that had been soaking overnight. It was good, but not quite what I had expected. Rachel had gone up to the Lido to get breakfast and then on to her morning stretch class.

The advantage to staying in the room is that I get to see us pull into port, which I always enjoy. Today we are in Nawiliwili on the island of Kauai. This was yet another huge contrast with yesterday's docking in Honolulu. Instead of urban sprawl, we pulled into a small harbor surrounded by mountains covered in lush green. It is a spectacular place!

We went ashore and quickly found the sign for today's tour: the Zipline Adventure Iki Mua. We had done ziplines in Mexico on our last cruise, and we certainly didn't believe that this could even come close to that. So, rather than compare the 2, we both decided that they were different, and that we were determined to have a great time on this one. There were 12 people on this tour, including a very nice couple from Austin - Paula and Parker (it was Paula's 60th birthday), and a couple of Rondas. They both thought it funny that there were 2 Rondas, and each assumed that the other had an "h" in her name, but neither did. After loading us into a 15 passenger van, we headed up the road to the Kipu Ranch, It had, of course, been a sugar plantation, but was now a cattle ranch. The short drive to the ranch was beautiful, and Rachel and I agreed that we'll come back and spend more time on Kauai in the future.

After getting outfitted with helmets and harnesses, we took a short walk to the first zipline. In Puerto Vallarta, we had only a waist/seat harness, but today they added a shoulder harness for reasons that will become clear.

Cory, one of the guides, gave us the safety briefing at the first line. He told us that he really, really needed our full attention, as he was about to push us off a cliff! In Mexico, thee ziplines were a double rope, while here they were a single cable. We were given gloves in Mexico and could control our speed by pulling down on the top rope. Here, we were further from the cable and told not to touch it - just enjoy the ride. And, we did. It was a fairly short zip over a canyon, and we landed up a hill on the other side. We then hiked back up to do the same line again. This was actually kind of nice since you knew what to expect the second time and could relax and enjoy it a bit more. It was a blast!

We then moved on to the "Zippel", a cross between a zipline and a rappel. After rappelling down some steep stairs, we were suspended by the zip line, and were able to control our speed to the bottom using the rappel line. It was OK, but I prefer real rappelling down a cliff face. The final zip was a tandem line with a lot of slack so that you shot down the first side, and then up the second side. You'd then slide back and forth a couple of times and come to rest at the lowest point. It was here that the guides would push a very tall orchard ladder up to you, and unhook you so that you can climb down. Because there was no actual landing, they encouraged us to fly inverted (hence the full harness). I did it the first time and it was great. The second time, I shot video as I went down (Rachel went next to me on the other line). I stayed upright, but got great footage or Rachel flying upside down.

After this, we got out of our gear and made the short (but very bumpy) ride back to the ship. We got back around 11:30, and had our usual sit-down lunch in the dinning room. We ate with a very nice older couple from Wisconsin. The husband had some memory problems, and his wife had ordered for him. She told him what he was getting, but every time the food arrived, he'd ask "did I order this?" She took very good care of him, and they were fun to eat with.

After lunch we got off again and walked over to Nawiliwili Park. We walked out to the end of the breakwater across from the ship and enjoyed the view. Just as we were getting read to leave, a huge tour bus pulled up and people started getting off. We were getting ready to walk back when both Mama and Aunt Merna got off the bus! There were on a quick 5 minute photo stop. We chatted briefly and took their picture with the ship in the background. They re-boarded their bus, and we walked over toward the beach. We sat and watched the surfers for a while. We also enjoyed watching a small catamaran sailing around. Finally, the cat joined the surfers, and caught a wave into the shore - it looked like quite a ride!

Finally, we walked to the shopping area and bought a couple of souvenirs before heading back to the ship. It was great to get out and walk for a while.

The ship departed slightly early, so Rachel and I got to watch us sail out of the harbor from our vantage point on deck 9 forward,We passed by the breakwater and past a couple of picturesque lighthouses before heading for a clear horizon. How I love the feeling of setting out onto the open ocean!

At dinner, they were serving liver and onions, so Rachel ordered that and ate it all. It's one of the few foods that she really likes that I don't, so she has it whenever she gets the chance. I had a tasty bit of haddock - the fish as been consistently great so far. The 4 of us shared a delicious bottle of Conundrum - a Napa Valley white wine blend.

After dinner we went topside to enjoy the amazing clear skies. The crescent moon was sinking in the west, shining on the water. The problem was that the wind was blowing at about 35 mph, so we didn't stay long. After a quick trip back to our cabin to recover from the wind in our hair, we parked ourselves in the Crow's lounge to listen to Chris for about an hour and a half. He was great, as usual. At about 10:00 we went to hear a virtuoso harmonica performance. It was Bernie Fields backed by the Halcats (6 piece stage band). I thought he was magnificent, but Rachel had to leave in the middle because she couldn't stand it. Oh well.

After the show I enjoyed the stars for a few minutes more from our verandah before retiring. Tomorrow is our last port of call, so this may be my last blog post until the end of the trip since we're going away from our home (free) internet. Radio silence will probably last until Saturday. Tune in then for more...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Hawaii Cruise - day 7

Almost at the halfway mark! Today we woke up early again and watched us come into Honolulu on the island of Oahu. What a contrast with Hilo - instead of green hills and low buildings, the Honolulu skyline is marked by skyscrapers and settlements cascading down the hillside as if the houses flowed from a fissure on the hillside above the city. We docked next to the Aloha Tower right in downtown. Our tour didn't leave until 10:00, so we had a nice leisurely breakfast in the main dinning room before disembarking.

Today's shore excursion was the Atlantis submarine. We had done this once before in the Caribbean and were looking forward to it again. After standing in line in the terminal building, we boarded a trolly to head toward the Hilton Hawaiian Village resort. This is where one catches the shuttle boat out to the sub.

A few thoughts before continuing, however. First, Honolulu doesn't hold a candle to the big island. It's a big city with bad traffic and a real tourist feel to it. There's an ABC store on every corner (cheap souvenirs), and no real authenticity to it. This is the second time we've been here, and I really tried to like it the first time, but it's just not for me. Second, the next time we're in Hawaii, whether on a cruise or just on vacation, I think it makes sense to just rent a car and drive out of the city to see that parts of the island that interest us, rather than taking the shore excursions. Finally, I'm sitting on our verandah at about 8:45 writing this, and there's loud pounding music from the party happening on the dock. Perhaps I'm just old...

OK, back to our day. We arrived at the Hilton and walked out to the pier where the sub tours leave from (or "from which the sub tours leave" if you want to be grammatically correct). We had to wait about 15 minutes for the boat to arrive, but it was warm and (mostly) sunny and we were surrounded by clear water, so it wasn't too bad. They loaded up 2 subs worth of people on the boat and we took the 10 minute ride out to where we'd meet the subs. After we arrived at the drop zone, we were told to watch for a burst of bubbles on the surface. This would indicate where the sub was going to come up. Sure enough, Rachel saw it, and about a minute later the larger of the 2 subs surfaced. Our boat pulled alongside and the passengers got off the sub and onto the boat, and the next group moved from the boat to the sub. we got to see the sub go down and then waited for the next sub to surface. After the same routine, we boarded our sub. One of the crew members said that he often tells reluctant passengers that there are a lot more airplanes at the bottom of the sea than there are subs up in the air, so everything was going to be fine.

The seats on the sub are arranged in 2 rows, back to back down the length of the sub so that each person is facing a window on the side of the sub. After everyone was loaded, the crew closed the hatches and we went down. Our first stop was at about 50 feet where we saw many small fish, sea urchins and some coral. We then headed further down the slope to deeper waters. The sub company had sunk 2 ships and 2 airplanes as artificial reefs, as well as several other structures to attract coral and other sea creatures. Sure enough, the vast majority of sea critters that we saw were near these structures. We saw lots of small fish, but also saw parrot fish, a black tip shark, a spotted manta ray, 2 huge sea turtles, a school of barracuda, and a moray eel. We went down to over 100 feet, and it was much darker and bluer down there. They had given us a guide to help us identify the fish we saw, and the native Hawaiian fish had a red start next to them. However, once we got to about 30 feet, the stars looked black because all of the red light had been filtered out.

We remained down for nearly an hour, and then surfaced after the big sub had swapped its passengers again. It was a short boat ride back to the Hilton, and then a longer trolly ride through traffic back to the ship. We re-boarded about 1:30, and after a quick stop in our room grabbed a quick lunch on the Lido. We had planned to get back off the ship and walk around a bit, but we decided to just stay on board and relax. Rachel went up to the gym around 4:14, and I went to visit Mama and Aunt Merna for a while. That had been to lunch with one of my mom's former students and then went for a short drive around town.

We elected to stay on board for dinner, and the dinning room was quite empty. Lots of people ate in town, and I suspect that lots of folks were at the big Luau on the Lido deck. Our usual tablemates were not there, and one poor woman was the only person at her table, so she joined us.

After dinner, Rachel and I went ashore briefly to walk around the shops, but really didn't see anything worth a second look. We got back on the ship in time to see a beautiful crescent moon sinking into the harbor, and then caught the last 15 minutes of Chris playing guitar on the Lido deck before heading to Hooters for some wings.

We were tired from our day so we decided to retire early. I was going to read for a while, but ended up falling asleep. About 10:30 I woke up briefly and heard the loud music outside, so I knew that we hadn't left port yet. Later a awoke briefly to silence and the gentle rocking of the ship - at sea again! Tomorrow: Kauai.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hawaii Cruise - Day 6

Yes, I skipped day 5. We just got too busy for me to blog, but I may go back and fill it in later. Today was our first port of call in Hilo on the big island. We were both up early as we approached the island, and it was fairly clear so we could see the huge gentle curve of Mauna Kea in the distance. We also were pleased to see a good strong AT&T cell signal after 4 days of radio silence. We had brought along our Clear hotspot in hopes of getting good Internet access also. There was still no signal as we approached Hilo, however.

Just before entering the breakwater, a small pilot boat dropped off a harbor pilot who literally jumped onto a ladder on the side of our ship to board. About 20 minutes later we were docked. Fortunatly the ship rotated about 100 degrees before docking and we went from no internet signal to full, so we were back online!

The port in Hilo is a few miles from downtown and is quite industrial. We had booked an 8:30 tour, so we were among the first off the ship. As we were waiting in the terminal building, we noticed that several people ( including myself) were gently swaying back and forth as if the ground were still rolling slowly.

We met our tour guide, Kana, who appeared to be an old hippie with a pony tail, wearing shorts, white socks and black shoes. Fortunately, he turned out to be a great guide. There were 12 of us, and we loaded up into a small bus and he drove us around to some of his favorite spots around Hilo while giving us a running commentary about history, culture and architecture. For example, did you know that most older homes in Hilo have outer walls which are only the thickness of the boards? The window frames are thicker than the walls, so they stick out like little boxes, and the plumbing runs along the outside of the house since there is no space inside the walls.

Our first stop was along a narrow road in the hills above Hilo where we took a short walk along the road to an old concrete bridge. Our first waterfall was visible from the bridge. It's amazing how green and lush everything is - like home only warmer! We then loaded back into the van and stopped at Rainbow Falls. The sun angle didn't really allow us to see the rainbow, but we did come down the trail to the side of the falls and saw some wonderful Banyan trees. After a little more driving around, we took a rest stop at the Boiling Pots. No, they don't really boil, but supposedly the rushing water looks like it's boiling (no, it didn't to us). However, it was time for snacks, and we had the choice of several interesting fruit drinks (green tea, coconut water with pineapple, passion fruit, etc.). Kana also found some bananas and guavas in the park and let us try them. The bananas were about half the size of what we get in the stores, and tasted a bit more intense, but not terribly different. The guava was wonderful and juicy.

Our next stop was the Kaumana caves. This is a long (several mile) lava tube system. It reminded us a lot of the lava tubes that we explore in central Oregon and Northern California, except that it was much wetter. There were also these amazing long roots coming through the cave roof and hanging down to the floor. These are from whatever plants are the first to colonize new lava flows. Sadly, we only went in about 100 feet, and didn't get into anything close to full darkness. We thought that maybe someone should offer a 2 hour cave exploration tour with knee pads, helmets, etc. We'd be there. On the other hand, how many people would come to Hawaii to spend several hours underground?

Our final stop was a black sand cove on the other side of the ship from Hilo. These was actually very little beach to speak of, but a very nice sheltered cove with lots of lava rocks and some coral. After Rachel went in swimming, she finally talked me into braving the cold water. It actually got much warmer as one swam out of the shallows and into slightly deeper water. Alas, after only a while it was time to get out, dry off, and head back to the van. Overall, it was not the tour we were expecting, but was a lot of fun anyway. I guess we were expecting more hiking and wilderness, but we ended up with a great tour of the Hilo area.

After a quick lunch back on the ship, we boarded the shuttle for Hilo Hattie's - the landmark shopping experience in Hawaii where I got a couple more aloha shirts. We also stopped at Walgreen's for a few forgotten items. Interestingly, both Hilo Hattie's and the Walmart across the street have free shuttles from the ship. Hilo Hattie's is a 15 passenger van while Walmart's is a 50 passenger bus. Since there were at least 35 people already in line for the Hilo Hattie shuttle, we thought we'd cross the street and try our luck with the bigger Walmart bus. However, after spending a few minutes in that line, we opted to take a taxi driver up on his offer to take 5 of us back to the ship for $2 each. Money well spent!

Dinner was in the Pinnacle Grill for Le Cirque night for the 4 of us. This is where they recreate parts of the menu from the famous Le Cirque restaurant in New York. They do this once a week in the Pinnacle, and it usually sells out, although we saw a few empty tables. The food was incredible. The highlight of my meal was an amazing deconstructed Cesar salad: whole leaves of Romaine lettuce with a basic Cesar dressing topped with anchovies, served with a round 3 inch diameter crouton topped with a barely cooked poached egg. Marvelous! We also had an amazing deep and rich butternut squash soup served with huckleberries. The deep rich roasted flavor of the squash was accented by just a bit of maple syrup. We also had the wine pairing which consisted of a glass of prosecco, Chardonnay, and Merlot served with the various courses. We all just rolled back to our cabins after dinner.

But wait, we weren't done yet. J Neal, the magician that we'd seen a couple of times earlier was going to do his full show. We attended the 10:00 performance and were not disappointed. He did a lot of sleight of hand tricks, and was just masterful. Some tricks were done to music, while others were done with very engaging patter. Sadly, he's getting off the ship tomorrow, but we enjoyed all 4 times we saw him in various capacities.

After the show we decided to call it a night. Tomorrow is Honolulu, although we do get to sleep in a bit.

Hawaii Cruise - Day 4

Rachel woke up about 6am and I was up just after that. Given the time change, we got about 8 hours of sleep which was plenty. I found her out on the Verandah working on her blog and decided to join her. It was overcast, but there were streaks of blue showing through the clouds, so I'm expecting another beautiful day. The air is warm and pleasant, so I really do believe that we're going to Hawaii now. Amazingly, we still have 2 days at sea before we arrive!

Hmm, where to start? We got to breakfast at our usual time in the main dining room and ate fairly lightly. Rachel went off to her various exercise classes after breakfast while I had a shower and relaxed with a bit of Sudoku. At 11:00 it was time for our hands-on cooking class. When we arrived at the Queen's Lounge, it was full of old mariners. Apparently they had double booked the room, and the 200+ days mariners were having their party. However, because this was the only kitchen setting, we were able to kick them out and move in. After they cleared away the ice sculpture, we thought we were ready to go, but there was no power to the kitchen. This eventually was remedied, and we started the class. Our teacher was once again chef Pablo, and he was really great. We divided into 3 teams to make the soup (5 onion soup), entrée (steak Diane), and desert (bread pudding). Rachel and I were on the soup team - I made the croutons and she diced onions. Most of the people in the class weren't experienced cooks, but it all got done, and we ate our creations in the Pinnacle Grill accompanied by some pretty nice Chilean wine. Chef Pablo plated our bread pudding so that it was much more elegant than we thought it would be.

The cooking class lasted nearly 3 hours, so it was a bit before 2pm when we finally got out. We had a short break and then Rachel went for her sports massage and I sat on our verandah and read. Not bad, not bad. She came back looking totally relaxed just in time for dinner. I had a decent lamb osso buco, but it wasn't anything to write home about. After dinner we came back to the cabin for a while, and realized that it was clear for the first time on the cruise. We headed up to the observation deck and enjoyed seeing Polaris at 23 degrees above the horizon (as opposed to 45 degrees from home). Jupiter was rising in the east, and Sagittarius was completely poured out, but still very far above the horizon. Very cool!

After that we headed up to the Crow's Nest to listen to Chris for a while. He always takes a break from n:45 to the top of the hour, so we thought we were safe getting there at 8:00. However, he had altered his schedule slightly and was still on break when we got there. No matter, he was back at his guitar soon enough. It is important to note that there is an invisibility cloak in the Crow's Nest, and we always seem to be in the middle of it. The spot where we sit is in full view of the bar, but the waiters completely ignore us even though we always order a club soda. Tonight was no different, but we finally did manage to place an order. A few minutes later, the waiter came out and started heading in the wrong direction with our drinks. He eventually realized that we weren't where he was going, and changed course to serve us. Very strange!

After listening to Chris for a while, we headed down to the Queen's Lounge for karaoke (to listen, not sing!). Our tablemate John was going to sing so we came out to support him. It turns out that it was really fun. There were some very good singers, and some very bad singers, but DL Brett made everyone feel like a winner and they sang "one of his favorite songs." After karaoke we popped into the piano bar briefly, but Rachel didn't really like the piano man's voice. We left after he went to take a break, and called it a night. Tomorrow is our last day at sea before Hawaii!

Hawaii Cruise - Day 3

Clocks were set back an hour last night, so even getting up at 7:45, I had a good sleep. The rocking motion of the boat is great for sleeping! Although the sky was uniformly gray all day yesterday, there were signs of the clouds breaking up this morning, so we had high hopes for some better weather.

We got dressed and headed down for breakfast quickly, since Rachel had a full morning planned. We shared a table at breakfast with a couple from California who were on their 3rd cruise. I decided to go lighter from breakfast this morning and had a bagel and lox - yum! Rachel had her usual stewed prunes and oatmeal, only the oatmeal never came. I shared some of my breakfast, and it was enough for both of us. She then headed off to her water aerobics class, while I changed into my gym clothes. I really didn't want to exercise, but I knew I would feel good if I did. Actually, we get our leg workout in constantly since we're taking the stairs everywhere. This is especially fun when traversing the 8 flights of stairs to go from the Queen's Lounge on deck 2 up to the Crow's Nest on deck 10, which I seem to have done a lot today!

Anyway, I had a good workout in the gym - the elliptical trainers that had bothered me last cruise seemed to work fine this time, and I did my lifting on the machines. Just as I was finishing, Rachel showed up to to start her Boot Camp class, and I headed to the showers. I just barely had time to shower and dress before needing to be back in 10 Forward (aka the Crow's Nest) for Cha Cha lessons. Yes, she convinced my to attend this. Rachel was running late from her class in the gym, so I started without her. She did eventually show up, and we "danced" for about 20 minutes. We're not very good, but it was fun. We met John and Carol there, and while they certainly didn't need lessons, they figured they'd just dance the Cha Cha for fun (along with helping us a bit).

After that, we took a short break and then met Mama and Aunt Merna for lunch. The service was quite slow today as they seemed especially busy. One thing we have noticed is that with all of the elderlies on this ship, it's easier to get into the gym and other classes, harder find room in the bars where the dance music is playing (they *love* to dance) and the dining room is more crowded for breakfast and lunch. At any rate, our food did eventually arrive, and it was well worth it. I had a very spicy lamb taquito (probably made from last night's lamb), and corn and green chile chowder, and a very well prepared fish in traditional lemon/butter/caper sauce. Mmm, the fish is good!

After lunch Rachel went to a "memory class" while I sat on our verandah and wrote yesterday's blog. I wandered the ship for a while and picked up the daily sudoku puzzle in the library (also on deck 10). Oh, did I mention that it's sunny and warm?? After the dance class, we came out on deck and reveled in the sunshine. So I spent quite a bit of time hanging out on the observation deck aft of 10 Forward.

Rachel and I then headed to the front office to look into a future cruise. We've decided that we'd like to take an Alaska cruise during the summer of 2013 to celebrate our 25th anniversary, and we know that you can get a good deal if you book on the ship. Sadly, they didn't have sailing dates determined past April of 2013, so we'll have to wait a few more months before booking.

At 4:00, the ladies were all planning to play bingo, so at a little after 3 I went to Mama's room to start my audio history recording. She was worried that she wouldn't have anything to say, but once I got them going, she and Merna seemed to have a good time talking about their parents and grandparents. We didn't spend more than about 15 or 20 minutes recording this time as I didn't want to make them late to bingo.

About 5pm, as I was getting ready for dinner, Rachel came back to the room very excited. She had won at bingo. No, not the $10,000 jackpot, but about $280 - that's not bad! That'll pay for a spa treatment or two. It was then off to dinner. Our table seems to be gelling well, and we all sat in slightly different seats just to keep it interesting. Mama had told Putu, our waiter, that she couldn't eat garlic the night before, so he had her pre-order her meal for the next night as a special meal that they'd prepare special with no garlic. The rest of us ordered and the food started to come fairly quickly. Rachel won hands-down tonight, and in fact it was the first time on the ship that I was disappointed with the food. Her tuna carpaccio beat my duck quesadilla (although mine was good), her italian wedding soup beat my mulligatawny stew, and my steak was really plain and boring. Oh well, I did have a delightful brownie sundae with ice cream. We finally ordered the Carmenère tonight it it did not disappoint. Hopefully we'll be ready if they through it at us in the blind taste test later this week.

After dinner we headed back to our cabin to relax for a while, and watched the water go by from our verandah. Normally on channel 40 of the TV, they have he "navigation channel" which shows the ships speed, heading, position, weather conditions, sea depth (15,000 feet tonight!), etc. However, someone had decided to use the PC that normally displays these things to edit a slide show of the ship's officers. So, we watched him search the file system for various photos, add metadata to an XML file, etc. Very strange! After we got bored with that, we went up to see our friend Chris the guitarist in 10 Forward, and listened to him for about an hour. At 9:00 the Halcats were going to play jazz and big band standards, and Rachel figured that the elderlies would flock there to dance, so we'd best get there early (which we did). It was a good thing, since she was right. We enjoyed the music and the dancers, but as they never played a Cha Cha, we didn't dance ourselves (just as well!). The band took their usual break at 9:45 and we headed to the Vista Lounge for the comedian. He was quite funny, and sang silly songs about cruising, especially with the elderly. Songs like "it's a small room after all" and one about getting behind slow people in the halls (old coots are just a walking, that's just what they do. One of these days those coots are going to walk in front of you...). We thought it was great, but I wonder how the elderly felt about it?

We decided to call it a night after the show, although we still haven't gotten to the piano bar. Maybe tomorrow night. We set our clocks forward yet again, so it was only a bit after 10:00 in the new timezone, but we were tired.

Hawaii Cruise - Day 2

Unfortunately, the day dawn cold and cloudy. We both slept fairly well and got up shortly after 7am. Not bad, actually. We got down to breakfast at 8, and were seated with 2 other couples. I had remembered the corned beef hash and eggs as having been pretty good last time, so I ordered it this morning. There were 2 problems with this - one I should have remembered and one new one. It seems that eggs are a long lead time item, and it can take quite a while for an egg order to come out. We had observed that on our last cruise. The new thing was that the hash just wasn't very good. Too much fat and gristle. Oh well. Rachel was then off to her Zumba and Boot Camp classes, so I had a quite morning writing up yesterday's blog entry.

Just before 11:00, I headed down to the room to meet Rachel. She had finished her 2 workouts, and was finishing her shower. We then headed down to the Queen's Lounge for our first cooking demo by chef Pablo. Today he made Creme Brûlée and an interesting looking lobster salad. Both recipes were from Le Cirque and would be featured at the Pinnacle Grill on Le Cirque nights. They had mini creme brûlée cups available to sample, and it was some of the best I've ever had. Chef Pablo is also very engaging and is a great teacher - much better than the chef on the last cruise. He told of being very careful not to waste any food. In fact, at home he has a bunny to whom he feeds a lot of the veggie scraps. He then went on to say that when the bunny is nice a fat... Hmm.

After the cooking demo is was, yes, you guessed it, time to eat again. We went down to the dining room, hoping to find Mama and Aunt Merna. We didn't see them, so we checked in and went to be seated. As they were taking us to a table, we saw Mama waving us over to a table for 4 that they had already gotten. Lunch was very good, and included wonderful talapia. I've beein ordering a lot of fish because the chefs here really do seem to do a great job with it. Rachel has been ordering the cold soups and enjoying them also.

After lunch, we got to relax for a few minutes before it was time for our first wine tasting. Our master sommelier, Bernie, was the same guy as on the last cruise, and was really quite good. He led us through a tasting of a Mondavi Riesling (bright and crisp, good florals), an over-oaked Toasted Head Chardonnay, a decent Vin du Pays Pinot Noir from Burgundy, and a very nice California Cab from "Three Blind Moose". We enjoyed it, but had to duck out slightly early for, wait for it, more food.

It was the Royal Dutch High Tea, and we met Mama and Aunt Merna outside the dining room. There was quite a line to get in, mainly because it was actually a buffet line to get the little canapés and other assorted snackage. I restrained myself to just a few, and had a nice cup of decaf tea.

As I mentioned yesterday, we had been assigned "open seating" for dinner, and had requested a change to the early seating. At one point during the day today, we found a note in our mailbox telling us that we'd been moved to early seating - yay! So at 5:30 we all showed up at the dining room in our formals to meet our new table mates. Apparently they had all just been changed to early seating also, so it was everyone's first night at the table. We are at a table of 8 with 2 other couples: Gus and Rita from Sarasota FL, and John and Carol from the LA area. John and Carol are quite the dancers and we ended up seeing them later in the evening on the dance floor (they were, we weren't). Anyway, dinner was great again. I started with steamed mussels in a garlic veggie broth and then had some very competent potato leek soup. For the main course, I had some fabulous lamb chops. Wow, that's one disadvantage of writing this the next day - I don't remember what else I had, but it certainly was good. We had a bottle of Perrin et Fis Cote du Rhone (complete with a screw top). Bernie says that at least it won't be corked, although it could be screwed.

After dinner we headed up to the Crow's Nest to hear Chris on guitar. He was wonderful again, and at least at the beginning, had a slightly larger audience than last night. We listened to him until about 8:45, and then went down to hear Elvis hour in the Ocean Bar. The jazz trio was playing Elvis tunes, with the piano player in full costume, including a wig! They were pretty good, and the bar and dance floor were packed with elderlies enjoying the musing and dancing. It was SRO. We stayed for about 45 minutes, enjoying everything they played. They it was back to the Queen's Lounge for Vivienne and the Halcats. There were more dancers there, including John and Carol, as well as an older couple who were amazing dancers. They were so much fun to watch. The Halcats were good too, but Vivienne seemed about 1/4 tone flat on her sustained notes - yuck! They took a break at about 10:45, and we decided to call it a night. We wandered back to our room, set the clocks back an hour, and went to bed, ready for another exciting day tomorrow.

Hawaii Cruise - Day 1

Well, the day finally arrived. He had flown into San Diego on Friday, and spent the night at the Holiday Inn San Diego on The Bay. This hotel is quite literally directly across the street from the cruise ship terminal. At about 6:30 on Saturday morning, we looked out of our balcony window and saw the Oosterdam heading directly for us. It finally docked directly out of our window, and we could hear all of the announcements from the ships speakers.

We ended up in the south tower (the closest to the ship) on the 7th floor in a balcony room with the bay view. This is the way to go. Although they offered a shuttle service to the terminal, apparently one had to bid on a time, and then be in the lobby to catch the shuttle at your appointed time. Since the ship terminal was probably closer to the south tower than was the lobby, the shuttle didn't make any sense at all.

Around 11:00, Rachel and I schlepped our bags across the street and checked them in - amazingly painless. We then went back to the hotel for Mama and Aunt Merna. We checked their bags while they went to get a wheel chair for Merna. At this point, the check in process went very smoothly for us, although it turns out that they didn't have enough wheel chairs available, and Mama and Aunt Merna had to sit around waiting for about an hour. After we got checked in at the terminal, there was about a 10-15 minute wait until they called our boarding group to get on the ship. Fortunately, one of the wine stewards was there and we signed up for all 3 wine tasting sessions on the cruise. Time well spent!

When they finally called our number, it seemed like 2/3 of those in the waiting room got up to board. We got on at about 11:50, and went straight to the front office. There we got signed up for one of the hands-on cooking classes. We then went to the dining room representatives in the Explorer's Lounge and put in a request for the early dinner seating. It had been full when we booked the cruise, and we ended up with "open seating" which means that one either needs to make reservations each night, or take your chance and wait for a table. We then headed up to the spa where Rachel got signed up for Body Sculpting Boot Camp. I hope she doesn't over do it with that, and Zumba and water aerobics, and ...

Just as we were finished at the spa, Mama called from the Lido Restaurant saying that there were aboard. Since we were there too, we quickly found them and headed down to the Mariner's lunch in the dinning room. The food was surprisingly good. Last cruise we had been slightly disappointed at first because we had our expectations set too high. This time we seem to have set our expectations perfectly, and were not disappointed.

After lunch we went to our cabin and watched the longshoremen loading food, luggage, and carpet rolls. Apparently Holland America does listen to its customers: Rachel left feedback on the last cruise that the carpets were somewhat worn, and in fact we'd found a note in our cabin today saying that on our last cruise we had pointed out areas for improvements, and that they hoped they would do better this time. Wow, talk about service! Apparently the forklift drivers where having some sort of competition, because we saw a dropped, split watermelon that they were passing around to eat. Then, they balanced 3 watermelons on top of boxes on a palate, and the guy lifted the whole thing up, drove to the ship, and inserted the palate into the ship without the watermelons rolling off. Very impressive!

Our luggage arrived shortly after we got into the cabin, so we had a very relaxed unpacking (unlike last cruise where the luggage arrived just before dinner time!). We then explored the ship, taking the stairs everywhere. I'm either going to be in great shape or a complete wreck before the end of the cruise.

At 4:15 we did the lifeboat drill, although it's much less exciting now that they don't let you wear your life vests anymore. Our lifeboat is on the opposite side of the ship, and it appeared that it would be hard to get to. However, there is a crew-only door through the galley that we're supposed to use during an emergency, so it looks like we'll get to our lifeboat after all.

Rachel and I then went topside to watch us cast off and depart. Of course the Dutch are known for their punctuality, but not this time. There seemed to be some delay, and they were finally casting off the ropes by the time we had to head down for dinner. We had made reservations for 5:30 after lunch, and were quickly seated (I hate waiting!). Mama and Aunt Merna joined us shortly. The food was again quite good. I had a fishcake and shrimp appetizer which had a nice kick to it, and Rachel had a scallop ceviche that was also good, but with a bit too much creamy sauce. I then had a "tres frijoles" bean soup and Rachel had a pear gaspacho - both very nice. Mama and Aunt Merna both had salads. For the main course, Mama and I had a tasty veal chop over polenta with sautéed chard, Rachel had a delightful fish filet (can't remember what it was), and Aunt Merna had a good looking eggplant parmesan. We all had desert, including a wonderful cheese plate. For the wine, we had a 2010 Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot Noir (whole cluster). It was light and slightly spritzy - perfect for our food.

After dinner we played a round of culinary trivia. On our last cruise, Rachel was the grand champ, but sadly this time, our team could do no better than 2nd place. Licking our wounds, we next headed up to the Crow's Nest to listen to Chris, the guitar player. He was very good and played a variety of styles including Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor, Mark Knopfler, and others. He quit at 9:00, and we headed down to the Queen's Lounge to hear Vivienne and the Halcats. They were good, but not excellent, playing dance tunes from the 70s on up. After about 10 minutes, it was time to go to the Vista Lounge for the welcome-aboard show - a sampler of the singers and dancers, and a chance to meet the cruise director and his staff. J Neal also came out and did about 10 minutes of his magic routine. He was excellent, and we'll be watching for his show later in the cruise. He's also going to give a lecture on magic too. Double excellent! Finally, we went back to hear a bit more of Vivienne and the Halcats before returning to our room just before 11:00. A nice full first night!

Tomorrow, we look forward to the first wine tasting and culinary demo. And of course more food!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Memorial Day Weekend 2011 (Day 1)

We trained for it all year. We researched and developed our plans for a month in advance. We created our spreadsheets and custom maps. Yes, it must be Memorial Day weekend in the Willamette valley once again.

After visiting many of our favorite once-a-year wineries the previous weekend (Shea, Patricia Green, Dukes Family, Penner-Ash, etc.) we thought we might revisit a few places that we hadn't been to for a few years, as well as some of the usual suspects. I'd been building our spreadsheet for about a month that describes the possible wineries to visit along with their address, hours, and anything special that might be going on. Although we have many, many wineries that we like to visit, we give preference over Memorial Day to those that are only open a few times a year. We also had such a great time staying at the Allison Inn for a night last year, we decided to spend 2 nights there this year.

On Saturday morning we loaded up the Expedition with our suitcases, an empty wine shipping box, GPS, notebook PC, spit cups, and tasting notebook. We discovered last year that the Expo is a much better vehicle for wine tasting over a long weekend since it handles the gravel roads well and has a ton of room for us and our stuff (and any wine we might buy!).

Brick House
Our first stop was Brick House. This is a winery that has a very good reputation, and we'd stopped there about 3 years ago but hadn't been all that impressed. Of course as we learn more about wine, our tastes tend to change, so we thought we'd try it again. Besides, the winery itself is in a beautiful old barn right next to the eponymous brick house. They had a couple of 2009 Chardonnays which were good, but undistinguished. We actually liked the non-reserve better than the reserve which seems to have been made so smooth that it lost most of its character. We also had a couple of 2009 Pinot Noirs which were also good (earthy and smooth), but nothing special. Finally, they were barrel tasting and selling futures of the 2010 Gamay Noir which was light, bright and peppery. But selling futures on a Gamay Noir? Really? It's a wine that is ready to drink quickly and doesn't last long. Why didn't they just bottle it and sell it? Or wait a few months? It seemed pretentious to be selling futures. Brick House also had this horrible ticket system where they gave you tickets as you came it, and then you had to pay one ticket per wine taste, and one more ticket for the cheese table. This seemed petty and inconvenient (juggling my wine glass, spit cup, and tasting notebook made it nearly impossible to get a ticket out at each wine station). We did finally put their location in perspective when we looked across the vineyards and fields to the next ridge and saw some buildings. Rachel recognized it as Bergstrom, so we knew where Calkins Ln was, and put it all in perspective. All in all, I'm glad we went, but we can probably leave them off our list for another few years.

We planned to head south toward Amity for our next few stops and started in that direction. However, shortly after leaving Brick House we saw the signs for Utopia. We had visited them about a year ago, and really enjoyed both the wine and the quaint little tasting room. Well, the tasting room has since been expanded and remodeled, but the wine is still good, and the winemaker, Dan Warnshuis, still pours behind the counter. He has a killer Pinot Blanc and a very good Rosé. But he specializes in Pinot Noir and we had several very nice ones today spanning the vintages from 2006 thought 2009. He's in the Ribbon Ridge AVA, and has a poster hanging in the tasting room called "Welcome to the Neighborhood" showing a bottle of his wine alongside those of some of his famous neighbors: Archery Summit, Adelsheim, Bergstrom, etc.

Calamity Hill
Back on the road, we headed south toward Amity and our next stop at Calamity Hill Vineyard. You may recall that we first tasted at Calamity Hill 2 years ago at their first public tasting. We had just come from a very snobby and horrible experience at Hawk's View and when we arrived at Calamity Hill, Tom and Marion Vail were incredibly friendly and welcoming to us. Our visit last year was similarly great, and they didn't disappoint this year either. They claim that they are Oregon's smallest legal vineyard and they make under 100 cases. Their wine used to be made my Michael Stevenson at Panther Creek, but now they've moved their production to nearby Methven Family, and the first wine up was Methven's crisp and balanced 08 dry Reisling. They then poured their new 2010 Starlight White (Pinot Gris) which was bright and crisp and just slightly sweet. Great wine, but could use just a touch more acid. Finally, we sampled the 07 and 08 vintages of their Garden Shed Red Pinot Noir. We remember the 07 fondly as a light bright summer Pinot and it' still exactly that, although developing a bit more character in the past 2 years. The 08 is great too, but still a bit tight. Tom opened a bottle of the 09 even though Marion keeps telling him to wait, so we could get a preview of it. It's great; still a light summer wine that brings in notes of cherry to complement the strawberry. It'll be released in November.

Our next stop was Brooks, another winery we visited 2 years ago. They had a large number of whites, including Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Muscat, and lots of Riesling. We love Riesling, but none of these were good. There was an unpleasant taste present in most of these wines. Moving on to the Pinot Noirs, we noticed gaminess in the wines, and just a lack of finesse. We wondered if the unpleasant taste was a quality of the Brooks vineyards, especially in the Rieslings. We would find out later than it was not. Anyway, probably not someplace we need to go back to again.

Methven Family Vineyards
Although Methven has regular tasting room hours, we always like to visit them on Memorial Day weekend. They usually have risotto from Joel Palmer House along with a lot of other great food, and hey, what would Memorial Day weekend be without seeing Will Kobyluck (former sales manager at David Hill). After accidentally coming in through the back door, we eventually found where we were supposed to be and started tasting. Methven wines are generally quite good, but not spectacular. We started with a couple of their crisp 09 whites (Riesling and Pinot Gris), and then moved back into the winery itself where Allen Methven was pouring a couple of their 2006 Pinot Noirs. Both were very nice - big and fruity (typical for 06), but well balanced. Allen (a trained sommelier) then showed us how the bouquet of a wine changes depending on how deeply you get your nose into the glass - floral aromatics above the glass, fruit just inside the glass, and earthiness deep in the glass. I'm not quite sure I get it yet, but I'll keep trying it. Finally, we went back into the tasting room to taste their current releases of Pinot Noir. Will poured and entertained, and we enjoyed the three 2007 Pinots that he was pouring. On our way out, we saw Will talking to a limo driver parked outside. He keeps wanting to send a limo up to the tiny tasting room at Calamity Hill just to overwhelm them, and I wonder if he was trying to work something out!

We had tasted at The Eyrie during Memorial Day a couple years ago and not been that impressed. We then tasted again sometime within the past year, and been more favorable. Eyrie of course was started by David Lett in the mid to late 60's and claims to have been the first Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley. He was followed closely (or perhaps preceded by) Charles Coury in Forest Grove (now the site of David Hill winery). There's been no small amount of acrimony over Forest Grove's current effort to brand itself as "The birthplace of Oregon Pinot Noir" based on Coury's plantings. Actually, it was Richard Sommers who planted the first Pinot Noir in Oregon in 1961 in the Rogue Valley. Jason Lett (David's son) has taken over as winemaker and was tasting his BlackCap label alongside Eyrie wines. When we arrived at the winery in McMinnville, we saw that they were also offering a taste of some of their library wines. Normally here in Oregon, "library" means maybe 5 or 6 years old. In this case, however, it meant wines from 1980, 1985, and 1999! How could we pass that up? We started with the whites (Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and 2 Chards). The Gris and the Blanc were OK, but the 09 Eyrie reserve Chardonnay was absolutely wonderful - crisp and fruity, and very clean. We then moved on to the reds, starting with the South Block library Pinot Noirs. 1999 was a classic Oregon Pinot Noir vintage, and my first Pinot Noir love was a 99 David Hill Reserve. The 99 Eyrie was structured and elegant, and still had great fruit. The 85 had a brick color and definitely tasted older. The 80 was less structured than the 99 but was still vibrant with plenty of fruit. We also had a nice chat with Jason as he was pouring the library wines, and while very gracious, he explained that Charles Coury had his original Pinot Noir vines planted in the Lett's nursery before transferring them to his vineyard, so he couldn't have planted first. We then moved on to their current release and enjoyed them all, especially the 09 BlackCap Pinot Noir with a very nice hint of anise on the palate. We left quite pleasantly surprised. We had gone primarily to try the BlackCap, and left having enjoyed all of the wine very much.

Et Fille
We got back into the truck to figure out where to go next. If we had remembered our plan, we would have headed up to Carlton Hill, but we didn't. It wasn't on the map we were using (which showed all the wineries open on both Saturday and Sunday), so we didn't think about it. Instead we drove over toward Parrot Mountain and up to Et Fille. This is a father/daughter team and they make absolutely delightful Pinot Noir, along with Viognier and Rosé. They purchase fruit from various vineyards around the Willamette valley, but also maintain a very small test vineyard at the father's home so that they can keep in touch with each vintage. We tasted through their lineup and enjoyed each one. I had tasted most of them on Valentine's weekend, but the 09 Maresh was new (lively, fruity, and like many 09s, drinking well now).

By this time, it was about 4:20 and we thought maybe we had time for one more winery. We headed toward Natalie's Estate which is near the Allison. However, as we got closer, we realized that we were going to only have about 15 minutes and decided not to rush it. Instead we headed directly to the hotel.

Often, the second time you do something or go somewhere that was wonderful the first time, it suffers from "second time syndrome" and doesn't live up to our memories. Fortunately, this was NOT the case at the Allison. Allison herself checked is in, much to Rachel's delight. No, not the Allison, but it was the same woman who had showed us to our room last year when Rachel had been so pleased at the name coincidence. The room was just as delightful as we remembered it - the huge soaking tub with a view out the window, the fireplace, and wonderful view. Our dinner reservations weren't until 6:30, so Rachel had time for a soak in the tub while I prepared for a short nap. Unfortunately it was at this point that I finally realized that we had missed Carlton Hill completely. They were tasting at their old barn along with Z'Ivo and Roots on Saturday only. We've always enjoyed our time there, and were quite depressed at having missed them. We should have gone there right after The Eyrie, but didn't remember. Next year.

We had made reservations at Farm to Fork in Dundee about a month earlier and we were looking forward to trying it again since the inn and restaurant had been sold, and I believe they have a new chef as well. We arrived a couple minutes early and were shown to our table. Well, it was sort of a table. Actually, it was a low coffee table that they had put up against a bench and set as a table. It was really too low to eat at, and we asked for a real table. The hostess informed us that there were no other tables available since they had all been reserved. I explained that we had reservations also, and couldn't eat at this table. She then informed us that because we had booked online using OpenTable, "that system just puts you anywhere and that's why you have this table."!! Hmm, that's a new one. In hindsight, we should have called the concierge at the Allison to ask for help finding somewhere else to eat, but at the time we figured that there wouldn't be anywhere else with an opening, and ended up eating at the bar at Farm to Fork. The food was fine, I'm sure, but we were rather peeved at the whole thing and I really don't remember the food. We did have a very nice bottle of Kelley Fox 07 Pinot Noir (winemaker for Scott Paul).

I later sent an email to the new owners and they were very apologetic and offered to treat us to another dinner at some point, but I suspect we won't be back.

So, other than a disappointing dinner, the weekend had started very well: the wines at the Eyrie were unexpectedly good, especially the library tasting, and the Allison absolutely met expectations so far. More tomorrow.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Newport Seafood and Wine Festival 2011

Every year we say "This is going to be our last year here" and every year we have a great time and look forward to next year. Last year, we thought that we had the routine worked out and that we'd just repeat the usual pattern. Little did we know that this year was not going to follow the script. We'd reserved our room at the Waves of Newport a few months back. We like this motel because it's well-placed on the bus route that goes between the motels and the festival, it usually has fewer drunks than the Shilo Inn, and it has a nice ocean view. This year it had 2 out of 3 points going for it. Not only have they moved the bus stop from just in front of The Waves to a block away, but they'd changed the frequency of the bus from every 15-20 minutes to every 45-60 minutes. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We left home about 10 am on Friday morning, and after having to return to fix my sunglasses and grab some forgotten items, we were finally on the road at 10:15. Although it was cold (about 28 degrees the entire way), it was a beautiful sunny day for a drive to the coast. We decided that rather than our usual lunch stop at the Side Track Tap (aka the Side Door Café in Gleneden Beach), we'd have lunch at the Black Fish Café in Lincoln City. We'd eaten dinner there a few years back and really enjoyed it. Besides, the service at the Side Track is often slow and I wanted to get to Newport in plenty of time. We were quickly seated and I ordered the fish tacos (one of my new favorites) and Rachel had a pulled pork sandwich. I also ordered a glass of Biggio Hamina Melon de Bourgogne. Todd sources these grapes from Mike and Patty Green at Deux Vert, and both Scott Macindoe and Chris Berg make great wine from them, so we wanted to taste this wine also. We were quite disappointed - the wine was weak and lacked enough acid. I'm wondering if the bottle had been open too long since this just wasn't what we were expecting. We'll stop by the tasting room and see if we can taste a fresh bottle sometime. The food was nothing to write home about either. Rachel's pork sandwich was fine, but wasn't that interesting, and my fish tacos lacked zing. Fortunately the service was fast and we were on our way.

It looked like our timing would work out well until we had to stop about 15 miles north of Newport while they cleared an accident. We were delayed by about 20 minutes. We made it to the motel at about 1:40 and had time to change clothes and pack the backpack. We went down and walked about a block to the bus stop and waited. And waited. And waited. That's when I checked the festival website and saw that the bus schedule had been changed. After waiting about 40 minutes, we gave up and walked back to the car and drove. If the organizers want people to take the bus, they can't space them out at 45-60 minute intervals; that just dumb. On the drive there, we saw several mostly empty buses. Fortunately there was plenty of parking at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. After a short walk to the tent and a very short line, we were inside by 2:30 - about 1/2 hour later than planned. We did our usual walk-through before tasting anything just to see who was here, and then started tasting in earnest. I'll transcribe my tasting notes and put them at the end of this blog in a few days. We tasted at 11 wineries on Friday. The highlights were Pudding River's Riesling and Chardonnay and Macindoe's 2008 Melon. We had drunk through our supply of Melon last year and were pleasantly surprised that Scott still had some left. Yum! We also got to taste A Blooming Hill's 2010 Riesling which was just marvelous, although not for sale yet. Jim had sold me some of his grapes for my Riesling last fall, so it was nice to see what those grapes could do in the right hands. It's clearly time for me to check on my Riesling and see if it's ready to bottle.

Our usual Friday dinner takes place at Nana's Irish Pub. Usually we take the bus back to the motel and walk the 3 blocks to the pub, but because it was below freezing, we decided to just stop there directly on the drive back from the festival. We usually order their shepherd's pie and chicken pot pie (along with an imperial pint of Guinness, or course), but this year I went for a seafood platter (beer battered cod and oysters) and Rachel went for the Irish sausages wrapped in puff pastry with peas. Both were very tasty dishes, and I had a pint of Smithwick's Red Ale rather than the Guinness. I'll not likely do that again, since it was mostly "Guinness Lite."

We stopped at Freddies on the way home to look for gloves. Rachel found a pair, but I was out of luck. We did find some "Little Hotties" chemical hand warmers that we were eager to try. Unfortunately, we forgot to buy cereal and milk for the next morning. Oops. Upon returning to the motel, we checked for wifi, and found that there wasn't any. Fortunately, we'd brought an old access point from home and plugged it into the wired Ethernet that they did provide. It all worked, and we had great internet access for all our wifi devices. The only strange thing was that the wifi location service on my iPad got confused since it thought that our access point was in Forest Grove, not Newport. It ended up placing us somewhere near Grand Ronde on the map!

Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny and about 23 degrees. We bundled up in our long underwear and jackets and activated our hand warmers. Within about 5 minutes, they were definitely getting hot. Apparently they work using exothermic oxidation of iron powder - basically fast rusting! Because of the new stupid bus schedule, we drove again and ended up parking in the Rogue Brewing parking lot. It cost us $5, but we got a $5 discount coupon at the Rogue restaurant, where we had already planned to eat lunch. Not bad! We were in the tent shortly after things opened up at 10:00. We managed to taste through about 8 wineries before things got too crowded and loud around 12:45. We were just getting ready to leave when our friend John Olson at Palotai waved us over for a sample of his new Barbera. It's a beautiful wine and we promised him that we'd be back tomorrow to taste through his lineup. The wine highlights of the day were Ray Walsh's (Capitello Wines) 09 New Zealand Sauv Blanc and his late Riesling. Agate Ridge's Primativo and Girardet's Pinot Gris were also standouts. The technology highlight was the hand warmers. We kept them in our jacket pockets, and every time I put my hands in, it was a warm and pleasant surprise on a cold day.

After making a few purchases, we walked over to the Rogue Brewery and dropped the wine off at the car. Parking onsite has its advantages! We then had a nice lunch at the brewery restaurant and drove back to the motel. We thought about taking a walk downtown or going down to the beach, but it was just too darned cold, so we took a nap instead.

We had our usual dinner reservations at the Bay House in Lincoln City, and we were on the road by 6:00. We had gone about 10 minutes when we saw flares by the side of the road, and shortly thereafter got stuck in a long line of stopped cars. We'd inch forward every few minutes, and we saw cars coming the other direction, so we hoped that this wouldn't take long. Unfortunately after 45 minutes of this, we discovered that there was a police car turning people around. There had been a wreck that was going to take about 3 hours to clear, so we were out of luck. All those cars that we had seen coming from the other direction had been people who had been turned back. Why did they let us all wait in line for 45 minutes before turning us around!?! So, no dinner at Bay House. We both had visions of the McDonald's drive-thru on the way back into town, but fortunately Rachel started calling around and ended up getting us a reservation at April's in Newport for 8:00. Apparently they'd had cancellations from folks up north who couldn't make it past the wreck either.

We had eaten at April's a few years back and hadn't been that impressed, so our expectations were low, but at least it was better than McDonalds! We were seated right away and noticed that several other winemakers were having dinner there as well. We recognized the folks from Pudding River and also Jason, Sean, and Scott from David Hill. We let our server know that the David Hill crew were troublemakers and to watch out for them! The 3 of them had brought some bottles from their own cellars, and Jason and Scott both wandered over to let us sample some of their great wines. We ended up ordering a 2005 Heitz Cellars Cab that was really nice too. Partway through our salad course, Jim and Holly from A Blooming Hill Vineyard came in and we had a nice chat with them, after Jim gave me a hard time for wearing a tie!

I had a really nice ribeye steak and Rachel had the most tender duck she'd ever eaten. We finished off with a delicious brownie ice cream sundae. Between the food and seeing our winemaker friends, it was a very memorable meal, and I'd certainly eat at April's again. We got back to the motel and I dropped Rachel off near the room before parking the car. As I walked up toward the room, she shouted out "hola!" to me across the parking lot. Didn't I say there were fewer drunks at this motel??

We woke up on Sunday to wind and rain, but fortunately the temperature was in the upper 30's to lower 40's so it was more like we're used to at the coast in February. We packed up and checked out and were at the festival shortly before 10:00. Sunday is my favorite day of the festival because it's far less crowded, and the attendees are mostly older and not so crazy. We usually save our favorite wineries until Sunday so we can get a chance to chat with people in a less hurried atmosphere. Our first stop was to see Dyson Demara at Hillcrest. Faithful readers may recall that Hillcrest was planted by Richard Sommer in 1961 and is Oregon's oldest modern winery. Dyson has kept the operation small enough to be completely run by him and his family, allowing him to tune the winemaking to the peculiarities of any given vintage. The result is an ever changing range of styles and some very good wine. Dyson has seemingly done it all and seen it all in his years of working in the wine industry at some well-known California wineries and now Hillcrest, and we ended up chatting with him for nearly an hour.

Our next stop was back at Palotai (now called Tesoaria) to see John Olson. John took over the winery from Gabor Palotai about 6 years ago and is producing consistently good wines using a wide range of grape varieties. He's also one of the friendliest people you'd ever want to meet. He has a wonderful bright white blend called Bella Bianca that is very similar to our beloved Mingle from A Blooming Hill. He also has a fun Rosé of Merlot that is perfect for sipping on a warm summer day. I already mentioned the great Barbera, and he has a whole lineup of other great wines that range from a pure simple Dolcetto to a powerful Bordeaux blend.

Usually we finish our Sunday tasting shortly after noon and head home, stopping for lunch along the way. This year, we were on a roll and decided to stay longer and eat at the festival. Rachel found some excellent sushi (although we have yet to find a wine that works with sushi) and I had a nice (and very warm) crab and asparagus chile relleno. We finished up a bit more tasting and were on the road around 2:00. It was pouring rain as we went through the coast range, but fortunately the temp never dropped below about 38, so there was no snow or ice. We got home around 4:00.

So, another excellent year. A lot of so-so wine, but also some very good wine. We had a great time chatting with the winemakers, and had a really nice time at April's (both the food and the company). So, even though the general level of wine at this event isn't all that great, there are enough high points that we'll be back next year. After all, what's winter on the Oregon coast without the Newport Seafood and Wine Festival?

Tasting Notes:

Woven White - A nice, slightly sweet white table wine. Nothing special, but good.
06 Pinot-licious - Nice 06 Pinot. Good fruit, but not overly fruity as some entry level 2006s can be.
Syrah - Decent WA Syrah, nothing special.
06 Barrel select Pinot Noir - More structured, but not all that interesting.
07 Johan Vineyard Pinot Noir - Good 07, nice structure and extraction.
Late Harvest wine - mostly Chardonnay(!) Sweet but well-balanced.

South Stage Cellars:
09 Serendipity Marsanne/Roussanne blend. Good varietal representation, not bad.
07 Alchemy - Tempranillo, Camenere, Cab Sauv. Meh, nice fruit but slightly bitter.
09 Early Muscat - crisp and clean, 1.5% RS, not quite enough acid to balance the sugar.

Pudding River:
09 Riesling - Bright and acidic with a touch of sweetness. Very nice.
09 Pinot Gris - crisp, nice fruit with a touch of RS (0.6%)
07 Viognier - crisp and acidic with a bit of spice. Very nice.
08 Willamette Valley Chardonnay - 100% new French oak, very nice oaking, still crisp.
07 Reserve Chardonnay - Neutral oak and sur lies, gentle oaking but still present.
06 Pinot Noir - Warm, structured, slightly smokey.
08 Pinot Noir Pommard clone - Bright strawberry fruits, very short finish but quite interesting.

Mark's Ridge Winery:
09 Gewurztraminer - Sweet with a bit of spice. Not enough acid.
09 Riesling - Sweet, fairly thin, not enough acid.
07 Pinot Noir - some structure, not bad.
08 Pinot Noir - bright fruit, very smooth, not much structure.
09 Ladybug Rosé of Pinot Noir - fizzy, bright, and dry. Not bad.

09 Rosato - Interesting, some yeastiness, not bad.
08 Willamette Valley PN - Thin and forgettable. May have been the cold temps.
09 Pinot Noir Rumba - Thin and forgettable.
08 Pinot Noir Estate - Thin and forgettable.

08 Melon de Bourgogne - Wow, we thought this was sold out. Beautiful crisp, dry and fruity white wine. Goes with everything.
09 Rousanne - very smooth mouth feel, but not enough acid.
08 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley - too cold to taste much
08 Pinot Noir Eola-Amity - too cold to taste much, seemed to have nice fruit and structure.
Sweet Gewurztraminer - Ice wine style, slightly too sweet but very nice and interesting.

Slagle Creek:
08 Chardonnay - nicely oaked with rich mouth feel, maybe slightly sweet?
07 Claret (Best of Show) - Fruity and smooth, but really wasn't showing well in the cold temps.
08 Merlot - smooth, very varietal.
07 Tempranillo/Cab Sauv blend (a Super Rioja?) - a bit rough but tasty.
07 Syrah - very nice, not over fruity, N. Rhone style.

Bowlus Hills (Zerba 2nd label):
07 Syrah - nice WA syrah, warm and "burnt"
07 Cab Sauv - reasonably good WA cab, decent fruit.

J Scott Cellars:
10 Pinot Blanc - very nice, crisp with good fruit.
09 Viognier - not much spice, ok
09 Pinot Noir - too cold to tell
08 Syrah - nice fruit, warm climate syrah w/o bitterness.
09 Petite Sirah - Dark color, good fruit.
09 Petite Sirah Port - Warm, rich, chocolate notes

Noble Estate:
10 Riesling - too sweet, not enough acid
10 Sparkling Muscat - nice sweet easy drinker, Like Kramer Celebrate, but slightly too sweet.
08 Syrah - nice fruit, smooth, not a fruit bomb
07 Merlot - smooth with good varietal characteristics
08 Cab Sauv - typical So. Oregon cab, nothing special.

09 Riesling - not enough acid, fairly thin.

NV Brut - Dry, crisp, very slightly yeasty, quite good.
09 Pinot Gris (NZ) - silky with yeastiness, crisp.
09 Sauv Blanc - Ripe bell pepper, spicy, very aromatic. Great.
08 Pinot Noir (NZ) - Good and structured.
08 Pinot Noir (OR) - Classic OR 08, very nice but too young at this point.
08 Succession Pinot Noir - Warm, spicy, long finish, dark fruits.
09 Riesling (late) - Not too sweet, very drinkable, not just a dessert wine, 6.5% RS, would pair well with spicy food.
09 Dolcino - very good, maybe a bit too heavy and sweet, but not cloying.

09 Sauv Blanc - nice floral notes, somewhat thin.
09 Riesling - off dry (~2% RS), nice fruit but a bit thin
07 Pinotage - warm, simple, with a long finish
09 Dolcetto - simple, very nice example of a Dolcetto
06 Merlot - smooth older Merlot, somewhat subdued fruit.
06 Syrah - nice smooth warm climate Syrah
07 Equinox - very interesting blend, warm, long finish, some complexity.
07 Baco Noir - nice big, simple, fruity Baco.

09 Tempranillo Rosé - deep and interesting for a rosé, not bitter, quite nice.
08 Gewurztraminer - a bit weak but nice spice and flavor
08 Tempranillo - nice fruit but a bit of a harsh edge

Agate Ridge:
09 Sauv Blanc - good fruit, floral aromatics, but not quite "there"
09 Viognier - very nice, varietally correct, a bit of spice.
Sweet Semillon - 12% RS but very well balanced. A nice wine.
08 Primativo - smooth and easy, warm, nice finish, not over the top fruit
08 Cascade Terrace Red - nice red table wine.
07 Petite Sirah - dark inky color, smooth, no bitterness, medium long finish

Silvan Ridge:
08 Riesling - OK, not great.
09 Sparkling Muscat - crisp, less sweet than some
07 Rogue Red - smooth smoky blend of cab, merlot, and syrah
07 Syrah - very nice So. Oregon Syrah, warm fruits, not bitter

09 Gewurztraminer - nice and spicy
06 Pinot Gris - smooth, lightly oaked
09 Chardonnay - crisp with nice oak, nice acid
08 Syrah - very nice, pepper, clean, good fruit
06 Cab Sauv - Typical So. OR cab, nice but nothing special from the wine lake
09 Meritage - Simple, not that well integrated

Purple Cow:
09 Muscat - Crisp and clean with a bit of sweetness, better than the 08.
0? Primativo - fruity like a good Zin, maybe a bit hot.
0? Teroldego - big, warm, and fruity with a nice finish

09 Pinot Gris - excellent fruit, crisp and clean
0? Chadonnay - fruity but a bit over oaked for me
14 Vines - field blend, ok, but without much character. Basic red wine.
09 Zinfandel - fruity, but not opulent like a big CA Zin
08 Pinot Noir - OK, pretty typical So. OR Pinot
09 Baco Noir - Some fruit but a bit harsh and bitter. Disappointing.
0? Cab Suav - very nice example of a So. OR cab, some fruit, smooth
Ice Gewurztraminer - nice. not quite enough acid, but not overly sweet

We tasted through all of Dyson's lineup during the hour we chatted, and I didn't take detauled notes. They're all good, and here are a few notes:
06 Right Bank - nice cab/merlot Bdx blend
07 Phenom - Nice, warm and structured Cab Sauv.
07 Gabor - Petite Sirah named after Dyson's friend Gabor Palotai who has moved to Ecuador with a woman he met online. What a character! Deep and rich Petite Sirah.
06 Zinfandel 1888 - Nice fruity Zin.
07 Cab Franc NONIHC - "Chinon backwards, this is a good smooth, rich Cab Franc
08 Chardonnay Les Charmes - crisp, minerals, almost a Chablis style.
08 Riesling Bone Dry - crisp, but could use a little sweetness
09 Late Harvest Riesling - perhaps a bit too sweet or not enough acid for us.
Can't remember the name, but it was made to go well with Fois Gras. Very nice sweet wine.

Crate Lake Cellars:
Merlot 29 - Amarone-style Merlot, rich.
09 Grenache - nice rich Grenache, only 12.5% ABV, nice fruit.
08 Syrah - smooth, good fruit, tastes like cool climate Syrah (but isn't), clean.

09 Riesling - slightly sweet, nice fruit, not quite enough acid
09 White Pinot Noir - clean, but slightly bitter.
09 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley - Good well executed
09 Pinot Noir Avelina - Earthiness, forest floor, complex
NV Brother Red - Good basic table wine, but more interesting than some due to the multiple variety of grapes.

We tasted through most of John's lineup and again I didn't take great notes - too busy enjoying our chat. Here are a few notes:
10 Bella Bianca - white blend that tastes bright and clean, similar to Mingle.
10 Bella Rosa - Fun slightly sparkling Rosé of Merlot
09 Attila - Barbera, great fruit with an interesting finish
06 Attila - Merlot, Cab, and Malbec, nice and smooth
09 Bull's Blood - Didn't write notes, but remember it as very good.
05 Syrah - no notes

Cardwell Hill:
Their Pinot Noir has gotten consistently good scores over the past couple of years, but I've not been all that excited about it. This time, it was too cold to really tell much about it.
10 Pinot Gris - Not bad, but not enough acid
07 Pinot Noir Reserve - Nice structure, some smokiness
08 Pinot Noir Reserve - Lots of oak, nice fruit but somewhat restrained
08 Pinot Noir Estate - Good fruit, light, nice
09 Pinot Noir Estate - Really too cold to tell, young, subtle fruit

Misty Oaks:
08 Pinot Blanc - crisp, flavorful, fruity, some oak.
09 Pinot Gris - crisp, slightly bitter
07 Gobbler's Knob - Very tannic, ok but nothing special
08 Malbec - very tannic but with good fruit, black pepper

Valley View:
06 Syrah - good but not exceptional, Didn't jump out at us.
0? Tempranillo - fruity but with a bitter edge
0? Cab Sauv - Typical So. OR cab, nothing special

Always great to talk to Will.
09 Riesling - crisp, but not quite as intense as we remembered (too cold?)
07 Pinot Noir Estate - Nice, with dark fruit and good extraction
0? Pinot Gris - nice, crisp