Category Archives: Wine

New Year’s in Tucson

We are big fans of Rick Braun, smooth jazz trumpeter, and every year he does a New Year’s Eve show at the JW Marriott Starr Pass in Tucson. Well COVID be damned, we booked the trip back in the early summer of 2020. We’ve done trips with Rick before, including two European river cruises. Now realize that this was in the lull after the Delta variant, and we’d just gotten back from a trip to Glacier NP at the bottom of the COVID trough. So we signed up for NYE and booked flights. Well, we were feeling pretty good about this until Omicron came along in the late fall. The show itself was vaccine-required, but we had some trepidation when we set off, even tho Pima County AZ had implemented an indoor mask mandate.

Well, we are now 3 full days past our return flight, and are feeling like we made it safely, no symptoms of Omicron. We are well past the NYE concert/dinner/party, which was our biggest concern.

Travel still feels a bit odd, but we flew 1st class which gave us more room. We had a long layover going out and stayed in the Delta Sky Club in ATL. The party was at the JW Marriott Starr Pass, and after that we had an AirBNB on the northeast side of Tucson.

Here’s a shot from the back door of the AirBNB

We hiked in the west and east sections of the Saguaro National Park

We drove up into the mountains to enjoy the snow that fell on NYE

We did some hikes almost out the back door of the AirBNB

We visited the wine country of Southern Arizona (who knew that there were great wines between Tucson and the Mexican border!?)

All in all, a great trip to the Southwest and fun to travel again. Cross our fingers we escaped Omicron! Vaccines and boosters and masking! Here’s to more travel in the future!

Palm Springs weekend

In late September, my wife Jan, my sister Susan and I spent a long weekend in the Palm Springs area (apologies to y’all who’ve already seen some of these pictures on Facebook). Ostensibly, the original reason for the trip was a visit to the Thornton Winery in Temecula, to catch the Dave Koz Summer Horns tour. We saw this show last year in High Point at the Coltrane festival, and it was great! We had some Wyndham points we needed to use, and found a nice place to stay in Indio, at the east end of the Coachella Valley, about 25 miles from Palm Springs proper. We flew out on Wednesday, and up until the concert Saturday night, our plans were pretty fluid. We knew we wanted to see Joshua Tree National Park and visit some of the Temecula wineries, but that was about it. Susan found out about the Palm Springs Tram to the San Jacinto state park, and we decided to try that. Honestly, this was the highlight of the trip for me! We found out that Palm Springs is way more than casinos, golf and tennis 🙂

The valley is at an altitude of less than 500 feet, and is hot, even in September. It was over 100 Wednesday afternoon when we drove in from LAX, but the palms were lush and there seemed to be no water shortage in this area. Thursday morning, we drove west from Indio to Palm Springs, went up the access road to the tram. It climbs to 2600′ in 2.5 miles. The Tram then goes up to 8500′ in about 10 minutes, taking you to the mountain forest from the desert, and dropping about 30 degrees F. We decided to head toward San Jacinto Peak, which is 5.5 miles (11 mile round trip) from the tram, and at an elevation of 10,834′. The trail goes through a beautiful forest, on the way to the peak.


The summit is a rocky boulder pile, but it did have a picture-worthy sign.


However, the views are fantastic. The peak is over 10,000′ higher than the valley, a perspective you don’t often get except from a plane.


Friday, we headed 25 miles east from Indio to Joshua Tree National Park. We’d been advised (by folks we met on the summit of San Jacinto!) to start on the south end by I10, and drive across the park to experience the changes in the terrain and ecosystems. You start in the Sonoran Desert zone near I10, hot, with creosote bushes as the dominant flora on the valley floors. The road crosses the Pinto Flat and begins to climb. As it gets higher and cooler, you pass into the Mojave Desert zone, and the vegetation starts to change, with the eponymous Joshua Tree (a species of yucca) as the indicator species.


There is a huge variety of plant life and varied topography in Joshua Tree NP, and the recommendation to drive across is a great one. We stopped at Key View, an overlook of the Coachella Valley from approximately 5000′. We hiked up Ryan Mountain, at 5400′ the highest in the park. Ryan Mountain is a stout 3 mile round trip hike, gaining about 1000′ from the trailhead, but it affords a 360 degree view.

Saturday, we said good-bye to the Coachella Valley, and headed up CA74 out of Palm Desert into the Santa Rosa mountains, through the Anza Valley, and to Temecula. The drive up CA74 is spectacular, as the road goes through so many hairpin turns you can’t count. If you drive this way, be sure to stop at the overlooks and marvel at the way the road winds back on itself. We arrived in Temecula around noon, and found that they were having a street festival and a massive traffic jam! We managed to get through and headed to the wine country. There are so many wineries clustered near Temecula, it’s amazing…at least 25 or so in just a few miles on Rancho California Road. We hardly knew where to start 😉 . Some are very big, and others are much more intimate. The first one we really liked was Weins, and if you go, I’d recommend it. Fantastic wines, and a very relaxing, friendly tasting room. We tried several others, but the first was the best! We ended our day at Thornton Winery for dinner and the Summer Horns concert. Our dinner table was in the center front of the dining area, but we’d hoped to be a bit closer to the stage. However, we realized that the owner’s table was next to ours, and we didn’t feel so bad 😉 . The concert was great, though the dinner itself was just average. They do have a Nebbiolo that was outstanding, though!


After the concert, we headed a bit up the interstate toward LA, found a motel and stayed a short night, before we headed to LAX to catch the return flight to RDU. A great trip, and learned a lot about this part of southern California.

Dog days of spring…

What a nice day! Although this is “spring forward” weekend with an hour less sleep, today has been full of blue skies, warm temperatures and light winds. Ran a couple errands, then took the dogs to the creek. It’s hard to see any person or animal happier than a lab running thru the woods along a creek.


Sitting on the porch in the sun now, dogs asleep, finishing last night’s bottle of Chianti…

Muddling my way thru HTML5

Back last month, I wrote about trying to get up to speed on HTML5 and CSS. I finally popped the (virtual) book off the (virtual) stack again this evening, and opened the chapters on Canvas (one on 2D and one on 3D) along with a bottle of Domaine St. Damien Gigondas, which was very nice 🙂

I’m quite impressed with what can be done with just a wee bit of HTML and Javascript using the Canvas API. I’m beginning to see why HTML5 “apps” can do so much in the mobile device world. I’m not sure what I’ll do with this knowledge, but sometimes just being aware of how it’s working can help you conceptualize solutions in different ways. There are layers and layers of functionality…this particular book leverages the three.js library for 3D support. Looks quite powerful; the examples just scratched the surface.

Sun & sand…

Well, not at the coast, but yesterday (5/25) at Jordan Lake. Got the boat and operational for the season. Took a new battery, the old one wouldn’t keep a charge. Loaded up the boat, put the dogs in the back of the Yukon, and Jan & I headed to the Fearrington Point ramps. Started up the boat, and nosed out into the lake. Great to see water in the lake, after last year’s drought. Jordan is still about a foot over normal pool. We headed about 3 miles down the lake to our favorite little “beach”…a small area of pretty, white sand under the pine trees.

We got out the chaise lounges, the Sunday NY Times, and got set to relax. The dogs (labs) wanted anything thrown to them for retrieval…and soon! We had a frisbee, a foxtail, and a tennis ball with a Chuckit (this is one of those things that you say, why couldn’t I have developed that?). It’s impossible to wear out a 3 year old lab (Lessa), but we tried. Even the old dog, Anakin, who’s pushing 13, was swimming eagerly after the toys.

Finally, a chance to sit down in the chaise and soak up some sun. A glass of cold pinot grigio? Of course! Grabbed it from the cooler, along with two wine glasses. Ah, the life!

Oh well, back to work today (we get this day as a part of our winter holiday, so I’m actually in the office…)

Flyfishing for Hickory Shad…

I don’t get out to fish as much as I’d like, but I did get a chance to wet a line today (even if I did spend an hour on a conference call while driving home). In March, Hickory Shad (an anadromous fish that comes up the rivers to spawn) fill many rivers in eastern North Carolina. The Roanoke River has a large run, and the fish move upstream until blocked by the dam at Roanoke Rapids Lake. They are great fun to catch, concentrating in large numbers and providing acrobatic fights on light tackle.

I drove from Chapel Hill to Weldon, about 110 miles. I got to the Weldon ramp about 10:30AM. The wind was really howling, since a cold front came through during the night. The temperature was in the 50’s and the sun was bright, and the water level was perfect. Without the wind, conditions would have been ideal. As it was, casting was quite a challenge, as was staying anchored in my one-man pontoon boat, as the wind was swirling me around my anchor, making it difficult to cast in a consistent direction. However, the fish were there! I caught a few, then it slowed down. I realized that I was not getting my fly deep enough, even with nickel eyes and a sink tip line. I finally got the boat stabilized, and started catching them again. Caught about 25 or so, and about 2:30PM decided that casting a heavy fly into the wind was a lot of work. Rowed across the river to the ramp, loaded up, and headed for home.

A great day! Stopped by the wine store on the way home to pick up an Aussie mixed case; will open one up shortly!

Valentine’s Day…

This year for Valentine’s Day, Jan and I did something a bit different. Our friends Nancy & Andy Zeman own a vineyard & winery near Saxapahaw NC called Benjamin Vineyards & Winery. They had organized a catered dinner at the winery for Valentines Day. They moved the casks of wine over to the walls, brought in some tables, and had a catered dinner for 11 couples. Nicely catered, each course featured one of their wines. They have some very good wines, including an excellent Cabernet (the Barrel Reserve 2005 – about 2 years on oak in once-used French Oak barrels). This one was a silver medal winner at the NC State Fair, and to my taste stands up very well with other Cabs in the $15-$20 price range. Nice texture and good tannins. One of the dessert courses was a Sorbet made with their blackberry-flavored muscadine wine, Blackberry Bramble. Very nice! Our next door neighbors went along with us for the evening, and it was nice to have good friends for conversations.

If you are in central NC or are traveling through, I’d recommend a stop at Benjamin Vineyards & Winery, 12.5 miles south of I-85 at exit 154.

Great short vacation

Jan and I got away for a short vacation last week. We spent three nights in a B&B in Washington, Virginia, right next to the Shenandoah National Park. We stayed at the Heritage House B&B, a great place. Had dinner at the Inn at Little Washington, which was quite an experience. We hiked Old Rag, hiked White Oak Canyon, and watched the deer in the fields behind the B&B, visited wineries. Took my flyrod and fished a bit in White Oak Canyon. Saw some beautiful brookies, but wow, they were spooky. Didn’t hook one.

Rainy drive, but a good day…

Today, Jan and I drove from Chapel Hill to Blacksburg, VA, where our oldest son is in school.  His birthday is coming up, so we headed to Virginia Tech to take him out to lunch and carry a “care package.”  It was a rainy day, but we saw the sun a few times before lunch.  It was good to see him, and we can tell he’s ready for the semester to wrap up.  As we said our goodbyes in the parking lot, the second part of the weather system started to come through, as the wind picked up, rain started again, and the temperature started dropping.  In spite of the lousy weather (driving rain, wind, and 39F as we crossed Fancy Gap on I77) we decided to stop by one of the Yadkin River wineries on the way home.  I looked up the directions to RagApple Lassie Vinyards on the cell phone browser and we headed in that direction.  When we got there, it looked like that in spite of supposedly being open daily until 6PM, it was closed.  Fortunately, I tried the door…it was open and we headed in.  We were greeted by the proprietor and his niece, and had a great tour and tasting.  I liked their Zin, Syrah, Vionger and Chardonnay best.  There are a number of wineries in the Yadkin Valley now; if you are in the neighborhood, stop off and visit…