Holy Hills of Temecula! My Wine Country Half Marathon Experience

Energetic at the starting line festival at Wilson Creek Winery!

Energetic at the starting line festival at Wilson Creek Winery!

Last weekend I headed down to Temecula with a friend to face The Sandy Feet Half Marathon I had been half-dreading for the last month. I generally love road races, at least after they’re over, but I knew full well that I was undertrained for this race, and that’s just never fun. I was however, really excited to finally have a chance to explore the Temecula wine country a bit, and what better way than on foot?

We left Los Angeles nice and early on Saturday to allow a full day to enjoy Temecula before race day. We started in Old Town Temecula, which is brimming with adorable knickknack shops, fun restaurants, historical buildings, and tasting rooms. Old Town is also the site of a fantastic farmers market. That’s where I purged myself of all the excess money that had apparently been weighing me down. I don’t know what happens at places like that, but somehow the quaintness of a great farmers market causes you to believe you need things that you normally wouldn’t need, want, or maybe even look at twice. Examples would include my purchases of two homemade body lotions, sun dried tomato hummus, pistachio brittle, a candle, and $8 in walnuts. I am now broke, but my skin feels silky smooth and squirrels keep knocking on my door asking for handouts.

Next we made our way to Callaway Winery for a lunch and tasting. Callaway is a beautiful winery with a lovely outdoor garden venue, where there happened to be a wedding taking place that very day. There’s also a gourmet restaurant on the grounds named Meritage, where we had a lunch that included a duck salad with apples, more of those walnuts I apparently love so much, Gorgonzola cheese, and grape vinaigrette. I thought the dressing was a nice vineyard-themed touch.

A friend who happens to be a member at Callaway, met us for lunch, allowing us access to the members-only tasting room and lounge upstairs.  The regular tasting room is lovely there too, but the upstairs lounge has full-length windows with a stunning view of the vineyard, along with tables where members can savor the wine while they chat.

I was careful not to go too crazy on the wine, as alcohol is not known for it’s benefits to endurance athletes. I chugged as much water as I could before we grabbed a light dinner and tucked ourselves into bed nice and early.

My friend was a good sport about the alarm that went off at 5:45 am the next morning, and she was nice enough to give me a ride to the race. As we closed in on Wilson Creek Winery, where the race would start and finish, we could see a row of rainbow-colored hot air balloons lying on the ground, starting to fill with gas. They looked like puffy flowers rising up with the golden morning sun.  I’m sorry if my description sounds over-the-top, but it was really damn beautiful! You’ll just have to trust me on this one.

The starting line festival buzzed with excitement, and we arrived just in time to catch a hilarious warm-up led by a local radio personality. Runners love taking part in silly warm-ups – I’m not sure why. My friend saw me to the start line and we snapped a few pre-race shots, before she left me to face my self-inflicted punishment.

As the race started, my feet hit dirt road and I was instantly worried. I have absolutely no experience running on dirt instead of pavement and yes; you really can feel the difference. Dirt is softer on your legs, but that also means there’s

My hot air balloon send-off.  This picture doesn't even do it justice!

My hot air balloon send-off. This picture doesn’t even do it justice!

more resistance.  The course also jumped right into a few quick rolling hills, which I found quite rude. We hadn’t even had a chance to warm up yet. My annoyance quickly subsided however, when I looked to my left to see that those same hot air balloons had now taken flight. About a dozen brightly colored balloons floated into the morning sky, backlit by the rising sun. Breathtaking! It was by far, the most beautiful and dramatic send off I’ve ever had for a race.

My poorly trained legs felt tired within the first couple of miles, but the view kept me going. The entire route was lined with gorgeous vineyards, rolling green hills, and stunning mansions. The magnificent houses were something I didn’t expect, but apparently there’s good money in winemaking. The fantasy of living in one of these luxurious homes surrounded by grapevines carried me through several miles.IMG_20131022_025401

I knew I was in trouble when the fastest runners started passing me on their way back to the finish. I’ve been in out-and-back races before, so I wasn’t surprised to see the top finishers so far ahead of me. What did surprise and unnerve me though, was how exhausted they all looked.  Usually top runners look so composed. What had they been through? I was about to find out.

A vineyard along the race route.  Yeah, those are grapes on the vine!

A vineyard along the race route. Yeah, those are grapes on the vine!

A few days before the race, I had ready that the route was hilly. They weren’t kidding! Miles 5-10 were relentless. The hills just kept coming, and some of them were steep. I almost never train on hills so there wasn’t much I could do but walk them. Luckily, what goes up must come down, so I did my best to make up time by running all the downhill stretches.

By the time I reached mile 10, I was pretty much walking the whole time. My legs felt like Jello, and I was happy to still be moving at all. Just when I thought I would completely run out of steam, I spotted Wilson Creek in the distance. Finally! I closed in on the finish line and broke into the best impression of a sprint I could muster after thirteen miles. I could see my friends standing amongst the vines, clapping and cheering as I rounded the last corner.  It took 3h 29m, but I did it! Now onto rewards!

Victorious amongst the vines...just moments after crossing the finish line!

Victorious amongst the vines…just moments after crossing the finish line!

I’m sure I must have stopped for some water first but all I remember is me making a beeline for the tasting tables. I had earned my wine and I was going to make sure I got every drop I deserved. The staff managing the tasting took mercy on us runners with very generous pours for each taste. This meant that, in my dehydrated state, I had no problem getting incredibly drunk within minutes. I do remember tasting their crisp Grand Cuvee Champagne, the sweet and juicy Golden Jubilee, and their memorable and fruity White Cabernet Sauvignon. I had never had a white Cab before, and Wilson Creek’s is delicious, with flavors of strawberry and ripe apricot and scents of flowers, strawberry, and mint.

Enjoying my reward. Notice there was no standing going on at this point.

Enjoying my reward. Notice there was no standing going on at this point.

Wilson Creek is a gorgeous winery with a large tasting room, wonderful shop, and spacious lawn. The manicured grass and shady trees were especially nice for collapsing onto in a slightly drunk and totally exhausted stupor. It was a good day. As brutal as the hilly race had been at times, I was felt so grateful to have had the chance to take in Temecula’s beauty, as I became part of its landscape. It was an experience I will never forget.

Wine Run Update

Happy RunnersThe Sandy Feet Half Marathon in Temecula looms next week and I’ll admit I’m shaking in my sneakers. It’s not my first half marathon by any means, but lately my training routine, along with a few other things, have been a bit flabby, to use an appropriate wine term. I am pleased to report that this morning, a friend and I completed a ten-mile training run.  This ensures that I’ll almost certainly finish the race, but whether I’ll cross the finish line while there’s still a finish line to cross, remains to be seen. A race official told me that they start to tear down the finish line at the 3.5-hour mark, and with my current 14-15 minute/mile pace, I’ll be pushing the limit. But who needs a finish line? I’ll get there one way or another and I promise to share my experience here. I also promise to share my experience at the post race tasting! For now, I’ll be downing ibuprofen and resting up for next week.

 

 

Wine Fright: 10 Wines to Pair with Your Favorite Scary Movie

It’s that time of year! Creepy freaks of every kind will soon come knocking on your door…and you might get some trick-or-treaters too. But after all the little ghosts have gone to bed to enjoy their post-candy-binge tummy aches, it’s the grownups’ turn to let some spirits loose. Nothing sets the spooky mood like a good horror movie, so why not host your own scary cinema and wine tasting party? Offer a morbid menu of gruesome gourmet goodies paired with wines that will get everyone’s blood boiling.

Here are 10 Perfectly Horrifying Movie and Wine Pairings:

1) Silence of the Lambs Silence of

This classic thriller about a young FBI agent (Jodie Foster), who must call on the help of a convicted serial killer and cannibal (Anthony Hopkins), is as creepy today as it was when it was released in 1991. This modern classic is full of memorable lines and moments, but one famous quote makes finding the perfect wine pairing for this film particularly easy.

“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” – Hannibal Lecter

2) Saw
Saw

I’ll admit upfront that this insanely popular movie franchise is too scary for me. But you don’t have to be fully versed on the Saw cannon to get the gist. This seven movie series is a gory collection of slashers of the slashiest variety, affectionately referred to by some as “torture porn.” One thing’s for sure, a screening of any of the Saw movies guarantees you a healthy portion of flesh.

So with all that meat flying around, you’ll probably start getting hungry for a nice rare steak – that is, if you’ve still got an appetite at all. Steak goes well with a variety of red wines, depending on the cut. Consider a Zinfandel to go with a NY Strip, or maybe a Cabernet Sauvignon to go with a nice juicy Filet Mignon.

3) Halloween Halloween

There’s no movie more apropos for All Hallows Eve than Halloween. First released in 1978, this story of a sociopath since birth, who escapes an asylum and wreaks havoc on a Suburban neighborhood, is still a classic to this day. What makes Michael Myers especially frightening is that nobody really knows why he kills. Cinema geeks will also have fun gushing over director John Carpenter’s incredible four-minute-long, single take opening shot, which forces you to witness, and maybe even participate in a murder committed by a six-year-old boy.

Halloween Fun Fact: The horrifying mask donned by murderer Michael Myers throughout the film is actually molded from a William Shatner mask.

Well, it wouldn’t be Halloween without pumpkins, so if you’ll be serving a pumpkin pie, try pairing it with a yummy Muscato. Creamy pumpkin bisque could pair well with a Pinot Grigio, and pumpkin pasta would taste great with a dry and creamy Pouilly-Fuissé.

4) Friday the 13th Friday the 13_V1_SY317_CR4,0,214,317_

Another classic, Friday the 13th takes place at Camp Crystal Lake (which the campers have dubbed “Camp Blood”), where an unknown masked killer, a.k.a Jason, starts taking out the camp counselors one-by-one. The popularity of Friday the 13th meant that thousands of American teenagers would never be able to look at a hockey mask the same way again.

A screening of Friday the 13th wouldn’t be complete without some campfire fare, so serve your guests hot dogs paired with a Beaujolais or burgers with a tasty Zinfandel. You could also finish the evening with some gooey s’mores matched with a rich Viognier.

5) Jaws Jaws

Jaws was the very first summer blockbuster, and it gave millions of Americans a good reason to be terrified of open water. Many couldn’t even face their own swimming pools. Steven Spielberg’s portrait of a coldblooded killing machine who terrorizes the vacationers on Amity Island (Martha’s Vineyard) is an absolutely Masterpiece. I’m still nervous to swim in the ocean to this day because of it.

Jaws Fun Fact: Besides his role as citified marine biologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) also plays the original wine nerd. In one scene, he brings both a bottle of red and white wine to police chief Brody’s house for dinner, because he says, “I didn’t know what you’d be serving.”

For a movie about a killer fish, fresh seafood is the obvious dinner choice. Pair white fish with a nice Sauvignon Blanc.

6) The Birds images

No Halloween movie night would be complete without a selection from The Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. The Birds turns seemingly innocuous creatures into pure evil in flight. Dark and apocalyptic, Hitchcock’s 1963 vision of birds turning against man, is just as horrifying today.

Show the birds who’s boss by making them the main course. Serve game bird with a Pinot Noir, Burgundy, or a Shiraz.

7) The Exorcist images-1

What would you do if your twelve-year-old daughter suddenly became possessed by an evil demon and started acting like a monster? While you may think that’s already happened, in The Exorcist, 1973, it was a demonic entity, and not teenage hormones, which was to blame. In one memorable scene, Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair), makes a display of her evil powers by spewing out gallons of what can wishfully be described as pea soup all over the priest who is trying to exorcise the demon inside her.

After that scene, guests will be delighted to see a hearty bowl of Pea Soup waiting for them on the dinner table, which you might pair with a Grüner Veltliner from Austria, or a Southern Rhone.

8) Carrie images-2

The story of a shy teenager who’s ruthlessly bullied by her classmates, Carrie is a terrifying lesson in don’t mess with the wrong girl! The film’s finally, and sorry if this is a spoiler, but the film WAS released in 1976, features an enraged Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) having the ultimate telekinetic wig out at the school prom after a cruel prank has her showered in pig’s blood.

If you’re going to be slaughtering a pig, you might as well roast it up and serve it with a Pinot Noir or a Riesling. Pork is one of those rare dishes that can pair well with either red or white wines, but whichever you choose, it’s likely to taste like revenge!

9) The Shining images-3

Set in an isolated mountain hotel, Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of Steven King’s The Shining tells the story of a man who takes a job as caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, and brings his family along for what should be several months of blissful togetherness. Instead, an evil presence takes over the father (Jack Nicholson) and begins to turn him against his family, which includes a small boy with psychic powers and an imaginary friend Tony, who warns him that Redrum (murder) is on its way!

Give your guests a taste of Redrum by serving a deliciously evil red wine and rum Sangria. And if you can get the punch to come pouring out through the doors of an elevator car, even better!

Here’s the recipe:

Makes Six Servings

• 1 lemon
• 1 lime
• 1 orange
• 1 1/2 cups rum
• 1/2 cup white sugar
• 1 (750 milliliter) bottle dry red wine
• 1 cup orange juice

Directions

1. Have the fruit, rum, wine, and orange juice well chilled. Slice the lemon, lime and orange into thin rounds and place in a large glass pitcher. Pour in the rum and sugar. Chill in refrigerator for 2 hours to develop the flavors.

2. When ready to serve, crush the fruit lightly with a wooden spoon and stir in the wine and orange juice. Adjust sweetness to taste.

*Recipe via AllRecipes.com

10) Seven images-4

This psychological thriller starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman tells the story of two detectives hot on the trail of a psychopathic serial killer who believes he’s helping to rid the world of The Seven Deadly Sins. This über-creepy thriller ends with a memorable scene that puts Detective Mills (Brad Pitt) face to face with the killer (Kevin Spacey), desperately begging him to answer the question, “What’s in the box?”

Those that remember the answer will know that a heady boxed wine is the only appropriate pairing for this unnerving crime drama.

Happy Halloween and cheers!

Wino Bucket List: Wine and Rafting

gourmet22As you may have heard, winos love combining dangerous activities and treacherous surroundings with copious amounts of wine consumption. It’s not necessarily the wisest of ideas, but we enjoy it. We seem to have decided that wine plus adrenaline equals delicious fun, and I’m hard pressed to argue otherwise. Well, no activity is less suited to the addition of alcohol than river rafting. It’s a sport that offers the combined risks of drowning, having one’s head crushed against giant boulders, and being smacked in the face by a sharp plastic oar. There are also risks of spider bites, sunburns, and getting sharp pebbles stuck in one’s shoe, but those dangers don’t quite live up to the first three.

Despite its obvious dangers, river rafting is one of the most exhilarating activities I’ve ever participated in. There’s the cool rushing waters, gorgeous rock formations, and the incredible high that comes from conquering something so much more powerful than oneself. With a few precautions, I’d imagine adding some superb wine tasting and world-class cuisine to this already divine mix would only serve to elevate the experience even further. I’ve personally rafted the South Fork of the American River many times, and I’ve also tested the Rogue River in Oregon, the Snake River in Idaho, and the Tuolumne and Kern Rivers here in California. For me, a river rafting and wine tasting trip has earned a special place on my ultimate wino bucket list.

One company providing river and wine excursions is O.A.R.S, which offers wine and rafting trips in California, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia.  The company has been in operation since 1969, taking guests on a variety of outdoor adventure trips in gorgeous locations in the United States and beyond. Wine Tasting on the River Adventures from O.A.R.S promise, “A day of splashy river rafting followed by gourmet meals and premium wines recommended by some of the best vintners in the West.”

They’re not kidding around when they promise a gourmet experience either. A sample menu for an O.A.R.S. river adventure might include an appetizer of bacon beignets with maple chive crème fraîche, an entrée of lamb osso buco with fall squash risotto and mint gremolata, and fresh berry tartlets with pastry cream and late harvest viognier sabayon for dessert. Yeah, like I said, they’re serious! In addition to the high-class fare, dinners on the river include wines carefully chosen to complement each meal.

Prices for these whitewater and wine adventures range from $195 for a day on the American River to $3,295 for eight days on the Chilko, Chilcotin, and Frasier Rivers in British Columbia. For my part, I can’t wait to book one of these water and wine excursions and no, I’m not being paid to say that. I’m just your typical wino looking for the perfect way to bring my purple passion with me on a journey to the great outdoors!

Ballet Bar: Where Tutus Meet Tempranillos

What do wine tasting and ballet dancing have in common?  Almost nothing as far as I can tell. That’s why I love the idea of this Beginning Ballet Class and Wine Tasting offered by BodyVox in Portland, Oregon. At a beginning level, students’ dancing may not yet be en pointe, but their reward can be.  bigstock-Pointe-4835398

The dance class is followed by a tasting that promises to, “take participants down a line of unique wines from crisp dry whites to robust tannic Tempranillos.” Students also get a full glass of a wine-of-the-week, along with a background on the varietal and how its produced. It’s a head to tip-toes education that merges dancers’ bodies and minds. It’s also not a bad hook to get a few more first-time ballerinas through the door.

A little bit of wine could be a nice way to wash away the memory of any lapses in gracefulness, while it also helps to soothe sore muscles…and egos. I’d imagine prima ballerinas have been tipping glasses to talk themselves into their toe shoes for centuries. Beginning Ballet and Wine Tasting will be offered from Sept. 17th – Nov. 19th at 7:30 – 9pm, and cost $135 for 9 sessions.

Getting in Grape Shape: Running for my Wine

Me at the finish of my first full marathon...wondering why nobody's handed me a glass of wine yet.

Me at the finish line of my first full marathon…wondering why nobody’s handed me a glass of wine yet.

Many months ago I signed up to run the Sandy Feet Temecula Half Marathon.  The event takes place on October 20th, and I thought it would be a perfect chance to combine two of my loves: wine and running.  The race starts at Wilson Creek Winery, winding through vineyard-dotted dirt roads, until racers are finally rewarded with a finish line party, complete with wine tastings and live music. It sounded like a really great idea at the time, but lately I’ve been getting a little worried.

I’ve run half marathons before, seven to be exact, but I haven’t exactly been keeping up my usual training schedule lately.  I started a new job last October, and I’m still adjusting to the longer workdays.  Now I wonder whether I’ll even finish this thing before they tear down the finish line.  I’ve never been a particularly fast runner, but this could get ugly.

The good news is that I have a lot of reasons to go through with it. I’ve already paid for the event, so I’ll be out a good chunk of money if I bail. I’ve also invited a friend to travel to Temecula with me, so if I cancelled I’d be ruining her weekend too.  But more than anything, if I don’t go through with it, I’ll miss out on all that delicious wine at the finish line!  Oh, and now I’ve gone and told you all about it too, so it would be pretty embarrassing to admit that I didn’t finish the race after going public and everything.

Wine can be a fantastic reward – the best reward if you ask me.  It’s the perfect way to motivate ourselves to get off our behinds and do something really challenging, because wine tastes even better when you know you’ve earned it.  So I may only have a few weeks left to train, but I’m committed.  For better or worse, I will drag my grape juicy booty across that finish line.  I will then, shamelessly consume large amounts of wine inappropriately early in the morning, because I’ll have earned it.

Check back for updates on my last minute training and to find out whether I’ve survived the race or not.  I’ll be sure to post either way ; )