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Southwestern Sideways: A Quest for Western US Wine Not From California Day One
Loris Scagliarini – Photographs by Loris Scagliarini and Brigit Solé-March - October 9, 2007

First of 10 Parts Next >>

Monday, October 8, 2007 (Brigit's Birthday)

We leave San Anselmo at 7:30 to drive the over 500 miles to our first overnight stop at Furnace Creek Ranch, in the heart of Death Valley.

Highway 5
Highway 5

Knowing the reality of local traffic, we outsmart the GPS. Instead of driving across the Richmond - San Rafael Bridge, which would have taken us to Hwy. 580 south through the bumper-to-bumper traffic of a regular Monday morning in Oakland, we headed south on such back roads as Shady Lane, Woodland Road and Magnolia Boulevard to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, then followed 19th Avenue back to 101 and eventually, to Hwy. 92 and the San Mateo Bridge to Hwy. 5 southbound. Though longer, this detour saved us almost two hours in time and, by 9:30, we were happily zooming south on a lightly trafficked highway.

Furnace Creek Ranch
Furnace Creek Ranch

  In winter, the local 'in season' time, there are over 200 employees at the Furnace Creek Ranch, most of whom leave in low bungalows in the back of the resort, which includes golf course, tennis court, swimming pool.

Next to it, there is a gas station and the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, with the Death Valley Museum.

All around, a desert with more than one interesting story to tell. Sounds like a perfect set for a passionate drama/action movie.
   

For the rest of the trip though, which take us fairly uneventfully and without many hassles to the Mojave Desert, then to Hwy. 190, into the deserted majesty of Death Valley and, finally, to the Furnace Creek Ranch, we follow the advice of 'Lori', the 'persona' and voice of our GPS.

Sometime after 6pm, we head to the Wrangler Steakhouse, Furnace Creek Ranch's restaurant, the alternative being the local saloon or the grocery store. Brigit and I share a deliciously fresh Greek salad, then I order the Vegetarian Napoleon, which turns out to be a mound of grilled vegetables, again incredibly fresh, topping savory tagliolini pasta which, though not cooked 'al dente', are not overcooked. Brigit orders the Organic Vegetarian Risotto, a creative, delicious dish including tiny zucchini, summer squash, carrots, radishes and seasoned with olive oil and, possibly, balsamic vinegar.

Furnace Creek Visitor Center
Date Threes at Furnace Creek, Death Valley
Date Threes at Furnace Creek, Death Valley

The wine list is unfortunately unimpressive, for its limits and offers.

Trinity Oak

We order a Trinity Oak Pinot Grigio, which turns out to be fresh and aromatic, though bland and a tad too sweet for my taste, to wash down a meal which would have deserved a far more noble and robust wine, such as a good Viognier, or Falanghina, or Ansonica, for that matter.

First of 10 Parts Next >>


------

Highway 5Knowing the reality of local traffic, we outsmart the GPS. Instead of driving across the Richmond - San Rafael Bridge, which would have taken us to Hwy. 580 south through the bumper-to-bumper traffic of Oakland, we headed south on such back roads as Shady Lane, Woodland Road and Magnolia Boulevard to cross the Golden Gate Bridge, then followed 19th Avenue back to 101 and eventually, to Hwy. 92 and the San Mateo Bridge to Hwy. 5 southbound.

--------

Southwestern Sideways: A Quest for Western US Wine Not From California Day Two

Photographs by Loris Scagliarini and Brigit Solé-March

<< Previous Second of 10 Parts Next >>

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

We got up after a restoring night sleep and, after the morning rituals of showering, getting dressed and have breakfast, we headed for the short walk to the Death Valley Museum, before hitting Highway 93 again toward the Nevada border. We stopped briefly at Zabriskie Point and arrive in Las Vegas at around 3pm.

Zabriskie Point
Zabriskie Point
Driving in the desert
Driving in the desert

Approaching the city we are impressed by the amount of new housing and whole community developments which appear to be sprouting in the desert on the outskirts of Las Vegas. It seams that everywhere, including the strip itself, construction works are going on 24/7. In fact, we checked in at the Monte Carlo, on the strip, at 3770 Las Vegas Boulevard South and, after setting in, got out for a stroll on the strip to fid that next door there is a construction site which at night is brightly illuminated and the heavy machineries and cranes reaching to the sky keep on running endlessly.

Monte Carlo Hotel, Las Vegas
Monte Carlo Hotel, Las Vegas
The Strip
The Strip
Bellagio Hotel
The Bellagio Hotel
The water pictured above 'dances' to a Pavarotti aria, which is broadcasted by big speakers hidden in the columns of the fence surrounding the pond which faces the hotel.

  When we checked in we chatted with our clerk, Adam, a big black dude with a big sparkling custom made ring, about the amount of construction works going on, and found out that Las Vegas have currently close to two million inhabitants, os more than twice as many as San Francisco.

At dinner, like perfect tourists from out of town, we chatted with Caron, our friendly waitress, and find out that there is a curfew for young people, who cannot be on the strip after a certain time and that leaving in any of the 'communities' surrounding the downtown, i's not much different than living in any other US suburbia: Caron grand kids go to Catholic school and the whole family gets together for Sunday meals, like at my sister's back in Castelfranco Emilia, Italy.
   

The idea behind this Sideways is to travel in the american southwest, visiting some of the greatest tourist attractions here visited annually by thousands of Americans and foreign visitors as well, to find out how the growing wine use in the US has truly reached the heart of this country. Thus, we are not in Vegas to visit one of the acclaimed restaurants which we know feature extensive wine lists. Instead, we want to travel around for a few days as tourists, visiting famous tourist destination and having dinner in local restaurants, checking especially their wine lists, hoping to find something different than California or imported Italian wines.

That's why, after listening to Pavarotti voice as soundtrack to the breathtaking water extravaganza that goes on every hour at the Bellagio, we return to the Monte Carlo for dinner at one of the restaurants within the facility.

Loris Scagliarini
Myself being silly at dinner

We chose the Cafe because it was offering a special of crab legs which awakened Brigit's appetite. The wine lists is disappointing and short, offering a couple of Italian imported wines besides a dozen or so of California selections. We decide to pair Brigit's excellent crab legs and my seared halibut with a non-vintage sparkling Domain Chandon California Brut, produced near home in the Carneros wine zone.

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