Napa 2017 – Day 1

“Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.” — Benjamin Franklin

Well, the start of Day 1 was interesting.  What we intended to be a relaxing drive up North, complete with a collection of Audiobooks and tasty snacks, quickly devolved into a very uncomfortable experience when the air conditioning of our car suddenly ceased to exist.  How easily we take such things for granted!  Air conditioning is a luxury for which I will, from this point forward, be sincerely grateful.  Driving through the Central Valley in the 90 degree sun without air conditioning was fairly miserable, and I will admit I did not handle the situation gracefully.

Somehow Brian managed to tolerate the ensuing 6 hours of my griping and groaning, heroically patient man that he is.   When we arrived at the Napa Valley Marriott I burst free of the sweltering car and made a beeline for the air-conditioned lobby.  Heaven!  My sweating skin drank in the delicious coolness, and I was able to focus again on the joyous fact that we had arrived in Napa!  We checked in and 30 minutes later re-emerged, showered and refreshed, to head into the late Napa afternoon.  It was time for some wine!

napa valley marriott
Napa Valley Marriott Hotel and Spa, our home for the week!

We met my friend John and his significant other, Patrick, at the John Anthony Vineyards tasting lounge in downtown Napa.  John and I worked together first during a research elective my senior year at Harvard College, then at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute after I graduated, and then at iPierian, a start-up biotech company, in San Francisco.  He started as a mentor and quickly became one of my most valued friends.  Ours is a friendship going back 10 years with multiple stories and escapades.  I hadn’t seen John in three years, and I was glad for the opportunity to enjoy his company again.  We breezed in to the chic lounge, hugs were exchanged and introductions made, and we embarked on the first of many fabulous tasting experiences of the week.

John Anthony Vineyards is owned and operated by the husband and wife partnership of John and Michele Truchard.  Unlike most wineries, located on a single estate, John Anthony Vineyards is made up of several small vineyards scattered throughout the southern part of the valley, including the Carneros and Oak Knoll appellations.  Each vineyard location was chosen for its soil and microclimate, and the harvests are pooled to craft their wines.  I have to say, this strategy is working well for the couple – the wines we tasted in this pleasant lounge were excellent.  The tasting room is situated in a perfect location, walking distance from the plethora of downtown Napa restaurants.  The feel of the lounge is relaxed sophistication, very much my preference for social gathering places.  I loved the simple pleasure of enjoying good wine with good friends in this graceful space, and I will most certainly be back on future Napa expeditions.

john anthony outside
John Anthony Vineyards tasting lounge, downtown Napa.

After our tasting we headed to Angele for dinner.  Angele is a little French restaurant located on the river in downtown Napa, right next to the Napa River Inn.  The restaurant is a converted boathouse with a pleasant patio and river views.  They call themselves “French country,” and that is a good description of the atmosphere here.

We started off with oysters and escargots, served not in the usual escargot dish or in the shell, but in a puff pastry with a delectable garlic butter sauce.  Delicious!  We also sampled their fried deviled eggs, something I would normally shy away from, but that I had to admit were tasty.  I had the tuna nicoise salad, the lighter fare exactly what I wanted on this pleasant evening.  Brian had their roasted pork chop (I personally don’t eat mammals, though fish, poultry, and yes, snails are fair game) which he described as expertly done.  We paired it all with a lovely pinot noir of John’s selection.  The staff was personable and attentive, the service excellent.

The evening was a delightful way to kick off our vacation, and we went back to our hotel excited for the week to come.



Napa 2017

“Beer is made by men, wine by God.” ― Martin Luther

Something you should know about me, especially as I build on this little blogging project, is that I love wine.  I one hundred percent hate beer, and while I will occasionally enjoy a Manhattan with good Kentucky bourbon, I rarely drink anything else.  Good wine is a luxury to be appreciated and shared, and it is a fascinating topic of study.  When my husband and I went on our honeymoon 3 years ago, we went to Napa…and we loved it so much that it has become one of our favorite places to visit.  Napa, and its nearby sister Sonoma, together have become a mecca for excellent wine, excellent food, and serene beauty.  There’s also horseback riding, hot air balloon rides, hiking, biking, and plenty of places to swim and workout (a necessity for yours truly!)

the castle 2014
At Castello di Amorosa on our honeymoon in 2014.  Aren’t we cute?

We returned to Napa for the second time last year during an epic Tour de California road trip with my parents, and we decided to go back again this year for our anniversary.  Someday, when we have finished the phase of life called “Residency” and have graduated to “Attending” status (with subsequent Attending salaries), we plan to visit France and Tuscany and other famous wine regions of the world…however, one of the major benefits of living in California is the fact that we have this incredible wine region in our own backyard.  There is so much fabulousness to be had in Napa and Sonoma that I suspect we will never tire of visiting.

Stay tuned for more on our Napa 2017 trip, complete with reviews of wineries and restaurants!


Casual Fitness

I hate elevators.  I truly hate elevators.  And not just because of the feeling of claustrophobia (which I get), or the awkwardness of standing around squashed against strangers (which I feel), or the infuriating inefficiency of standing and waiting around for vertical transport (which my meager attention span can’t seem to tolerate).

These considerations, while significant, pale in comparison my observation that we as a society seem to have forgotten that the majority of us have perfectly functioning lower extremities perfectly capable of carrying us up and down a few flights of stairs.  It boggles my mind when I see people use an elevator to go down a single flight.  I mean, really?!

Now, don’t get me wrong, elevators do serve a noble purpose.  There are those among us with disabilities, injuries, or other conditions preventing the usage of stairs.  In this regard elevators have served to provide equal transport within a building.  As someone who has moved into dorm rooms on the 5th floor of buildings without elevators, the existence of an elevator to move heavy or bulky objects is a blessing.  In my hospital, elevators allow us to move patients to the places they must go to receive care.  These are just a few examples of appropriate elevator operation.

For routine use, though?

Obesity is a scourge in this country, and it has been getting alarmingly worse over the past 20 years.  Obesity rates exceed 25% of the population in most states and is associated with a myriad of health problems.  1 in 4 women who become pregnant are obese, which not only increases the risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, stillbirth, and congenital anomalies, it also makes cesarean deliveries and postpartum recovery more complicated.  Even a lot of adults who are not obese are deconditioned from sedentary lifestyles and white collar jobs that require mental, as opposed to physical, exertion.

obesity 1990
United States obesity map in 1990.  Not too bad, really.

Obesity is a complex, multifactorial problem.  However, a major contributor is that most of us Americans have become complacent.  We spend 10 minutes driving around a parking lot to find the closest possible parking space instead of just parking in back and walking.  We take an elevator to go up 3 flights instead of taking the stairs.  We have technology that makes our daily lives easier and more efficient (I love my Roomba), but also provides us more time to sit around.  The American Diabetes Association recommends 10,000 steps a day just to help maintain weight (as opposed to losing weight), and most people fall dramatically short of this goal.  Our cars, technology, and yes, elevators, are not helping.

obesity us
United States obesity map in 2015 with trends by state to the right.  Note the complete absence of blue or green states.  Even in traditionally “fit” states, such as California and Colorado, 1 in 5 people are obese!  This is seriously scary!

Good health is golden. Good health is something to hold sacred, that you can feel grateful for even at those times when the rest of your life seems to be falling apart.  No matter how bad things get, at least you aren’t taking 20 medications to manage all your medical problems.  At least you don’t have to stick yourself multiple times a day to test your blood sugar and give insulin injections.  At least, if you live at the clinic, it’s because you are providing care, and not because you need to see multiple doctors a month for all of your medical conditions.  At least you don’t have to devote a chunk of your income to prescriptions and copays.  In a high stress world, at least you don’t have to be stressed about your health.

Have I made my point?

To live a fabulous life you have to have the health and vitality to really live.  Maintaining good health is a necessity to maintaining balance, and maintaining good health is something in this crazy world of ours that you can actually have some control over.  Part of maintaining good health is keeping your body fit.  Vanity aside, staying fit keeps your heart strong, your muscles lean, your bones free of osteoporosis, and even keeps your mind sharp.  Good fitness ensures you can continue to enjoy the things you love well into your later years.  Who cares if you are 70 if you have the fitness of a 50-year-old?

mom and dad at wedding
My parents.  Aren’t they gorgeous?  Dad is 70 and still runs marathons.  Mom is 67 and swims 3-4 days a week.  Totally healthy, pretty much zero medications, and they look younger than most couples in their 50s.  They are fit and happy and living life fabulously!

Finding time to workout, though, can be tough.  When I work 16 hour days and 90 hour weeks, the last thing I want to do is go to the gym.  I’m sure many of you can relate!  So how to prioritize fitness and maintain balance when the time and energy just frankly doesn’t exist?  Enter what I like to call “casual fitness.”  What I mean by this is figuring out how to build small snippets of exercise into your day.  Here are some examples:

  1. Get a FitBit or some other sort of fitness tracker and set goals for yourself, at a minimum 10,000 steps a day.  Then see how you do.  Having a goal and keeping track will help motivate you to walk more!  These devices keep track in real time, so if it’s 3pm and you’ve only got 2000 steps, then you know you’ve got some work to do before midnight!
  2. Pretend elevators do not exist.  Take the stairs 100% of the time (okay, unless you are going to the 100th floor of a sky scraper or something…though if you’re feeling it, go for it!)  As someone who hates elevators and has a lot of experience taking the stairs, I promise you will not be a sweaty mess in your nice suit after walking up to the 3rd floor.
  3. Stop circling the parking lot at a grocery store or restaurant, stalking the space in front.  Just go to the back, park, and walk.  Even if you are in heels – you know you’ve walked farther in heels before!
  4. Take periodic 5 minute walks throughout the day.  Short of someone coding, imminently delivering, or whatever similar emergency exists in your line of work, there is nothing that can’t wait 5 minutes for you to get up and stretch your legs from time to time.  Get away, clear your head, get some steps in.  By the time you get back you will feel better and likely be more efficient!
  5. No matter how tired your are or how gross you feel, you can always walk.  Take a 15 minute walk after dinner every night (or longer).  Bring your family with you and make it some time to be together without the distraction of technology.
  6. If you live close to your grocery store or place of work, consider walking.  Biking is a good option as well, just be careful of distracted drivers who are texting and not necessarily looking out for you.

You would be surprised how much activity just these small changes can add to your day.  You may not be devoting an hour to a formal exercise regime, but you will be incorporating casual fitness on a regular basis.  I predict in a few weeks you will notice a difference.  So join me in eschewing the elevator in the name of casual fitness and better health!  I’ll see you on the stairs.

What ideas do you have about how to incorporate casual fitness into your day?  I would love to hear your thoughts! 

Tasting in Temecula

There are some definite advantages to living in the Inland Empire, and not just lower cost of living and better traffic.  While nothing is really close, there are quite a few fun places that are not far.  Las Vegas is a 3 hour drive.  La Jolla and Santa Monica are both about 1.5-2 hours, depending on traffic.  Big Bear Lake, with its summer hiking and winter skiing, is about 1 hour away.  Joshua Tree National Park and Palm Springs are both also roughly an hour.

joshua tree
Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park

Possibly one of my favorite nearby Southern California destinations is Temecula, a sun-soaked valley sometimes called “the jewel of Riverside County.”  About a 40 minute drive from our apartment, Temecula has established itself as a wine growing region in its own right.  It features beautiful estates and eclectic tasting rooms, and while it isn’t Napa, the wines are tasty and often surprising.

Many familiar varietals, such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir don’t do well in the Temecula heat.  Instead, varietals such as Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenach, and Cabernet Sauvignon thrive in the region.  I love coming to Temecula to taste something new, different, and fresh.  There are also a number of events that happen around here, such as hot air balloon festivals, running races, and concerts at the wineries.  Temecula Wine Country is a fun wine tasting experience to do as a couple, with friends, or as part of a special occasion.  It’s also not a bad place to get married!

Temecula Wine Country Hot Air Balloon

Tasting in Temecula is a little different from wine tasting in Napa, where you are given a pre-selected tasting of 3-6 wines, depending on the estate (at some estates, such as the exclusive Opus One, you in fact taste 2 wines).  Temecula wineries give you “tasting tickets,” typically good for 6 tastes, and a menu of several white, rose, and red options produced by the winery.  You essentially get to design your own tasting – though I still recommend trying any whites you are interested in before moving on to the reds.

On our most recent trip to Temecula we visited Fazeli Wine Cellars, Lorimar Vineyards and Winery, and Callaway Winery. While I was a little disappointed with Lorimar, Fazeli and Callaway were awesome!

Fazeli Wine Cellars is a fabulous estate located on the De Portola Wine Trail.  The owner, Bizhan “BJ” Fazeli, is descended from Persian ancestry, which is reflected in the ambiance, the names of the wines, and in the excellent restaurant located on the estate (Baba Joon’s Kitchen).  All of the wines I tasted were good, but my favorite included a varietal I had never even heard of before.  It was a red blend called “Mayhem,” made of 71% Cinsaut and 29% Mourvedre.  I learned that Cinsaut is well matched with the growing conditions in the Temecula Valley, as it thrives in hot weather.  Used most often as a blending grape, Cinsaut has low tannin and low acidity, which makes it an ideal varietal for rosé production.  As a result of featuring Cinsaut in this blend, Mayhem is a lighter red with a delightfully peppery finish delivered by the addition of Mouvedre.  I normally think of a crisp white Sauvignon Blanc as my wine of choice for sitting outside on a hot summer day, but this could definitely be enjoyed in a similar manner.  I would recommend a visit to Fazeli as part of your next Temecula tasting experience.

The Fazeli Wine Cellars Estate

Callaway Winery is worth a visit just for the views.  Okay, and they have tasty wine, too!  It is nestled on a hill overlooking the vineyards with an airy tasting room and a beautiful patio with tables, chairs, and couches.  You can wander outside and lounge in the sun (or the shade, if it’s too hot) and sip your wine as you gaze out across the rows of vines.  It is a relaxing, lovely, timeless experience.

road view callaway
View of Callaway Winery, nestled at the top of the hill.


Callaway currently grows many varietals on the estate grounds, including Viognier, Syrah, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Grenache, Roussanne, Petite Sirah, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Their tasting list is expansive – I didn’t realize until halfway through the experience that I could turn the page of their menu for even more options! – and even includes a few port options (yum!).  I didn’t taste anything that I didn’t like, but my favorite was their Wild Yeast Syrah.  Now, I should disclose that I love Syrah.  A good Syrah goes with pretty much anything, from chicken to steak and even fish like salmon.  It’s also wonderful by itself or with nearly any cheese.  Syrah and Syrah blends are good right out of the bottle, but they age beautifully and the flavor profile deepens over time.  Syrah wines are rich and complex and darn it, delicious!  What’s not to love?  So yes, I do realize that I am biased.  Regardless, the Wild Yeast Syrah from Callaway had everything I love in a Syrah, and the flavors changed on my palate from start to finish of each sip.   Every now and then in Temecula you stumble across something like this which makes you go “wow!”

Enjoying our Callaway wine outside.

If you live in Southern California and haven’t checked out Temecula Valley Wine Country yet, I highly recommend a visit.  Check out Groupon before you go, as many of the wineries offer tasting deals and discounts on winery estate tours.  I find that visiting 3 wineries in one day is reasonable – after that it’s easy to become overwhelmed, if not completely sloshed.  As always, be safe!  There are companies that offer transportation around Wine Country, and you can always use the spittoons to help ensure safe vehicle operation capacity (it’s okay to not finish every pour…especially if you do not enjoy that particular wine!)

For comprehensive information on all that Temecula has to offer, check out the Temecula Wine Grower’s website!