Day 4: Monday March 18th: Today we do the Wine Country Tour – Sonoma and Napa Valley. The Grey Line tour bus came to pick us up at the hotel 15 minutes late, said there was an issue with a tire. From there he drove us to Pier 41 where we had to exchange our vouchers for tickets and then re-board a different bus. Our new bus driver was also our tour guide. He was an ordinary looking guy, whose hair was just a little too long and too greasy and his white shirt a little too rumpled. But our real treat was his narration. Unlike our Chinatown guide who was animated and kept us alert, this guy practically put us to sleep. His voice droned on in a boring monotone, as he pointed out the most obvious sites “On the left is Pier 33 and on the right you can go to all the shops.” His persona and his voice put me in mind of Bill Murray in the movie ‘Cadyshack’; especially the scene where he’s pretending to be an announcer for a Pro Golfer. Our guide talked in an almost whisper, no emotion. When he wasn’t talking all we could hear over the speakers was his breathing. “Inhale —– Exhale —- Inhale — Exhale.” Bill began to refer to him as Darth Vader. “Inhale ——- Exhale.” Apparently his microphone was a little too close to his face, picking up every sound he made, even his breathing. When he did speak he shared minutia about the area that we were passing through. “Over there on the right they recycle scrap metal. Inhale ——- Exhale.” About this time John piped in “Open the pod bay doors, Hal. Hal, open the pod bay doors.” And Bill added “Luke, come to the dark side.”
The couple in front of us, Pat and John from Pennsylvania, got in on the conversation too. They were about our age and when John heard the name Bill Murray, he began reminiscing about the original Saturday Night Live cast and some of their classic skits; John Belushi as the Samurai Cook, Steve Martin and Dan Akroyd as the Wild & Crazy Guys and so on. So we passed the time until we arrived at our first stop the Jacuzzi Vineyards. (The same Jacuzzis whose invention of water jets made their name synonymous with hot tubs.)
We got off the bus and our spirits were immediately lifted. The sun was shining, the air fresh and fragrant with flowers. The grounds of the Jacuzzi Vineyard were like a park. Our new guide was one of the Jacuzzi family. We learned a lot about the different kinds of wines, how to taste them and how bottles of wine should be stored.
Next we were driven across the road to Cline Cellars. Here we got more of the same, but with a little different spiel. Jacuzzi wanted to sign us up for their wine of the month club and Cline was trying to sell us an aerator gadget used to pour your wine through.
There was a group of five young men from Japan who barely looked 15 by American ‘jock standards’ but as we each had to produce our IDs before being served our wine samples, these boys produced their passports and were allowed to partake. As the tasting progressed I began to feel the warm glow that alcohol produces, especially on an empty stomach, and it was apparent that the Japanese boys were feeling the effects also. They began to be more animated, laughing, jostling one another and cutting up – just like American boys would do without the help of alcohol – their Japanese reserve crumbling.
Around 11:30 we left and headed to Sonoma where we would have an hour and half break for lunch. We stopped at ‘The Cheese Factory’ a shop with lots of cheese and other unique foods (like the Amish shops in Ohio) and a restaurant. We sat at an outside table in the sun and enjoyed our lunch. I had a pulled pork sandwich with cheese served with slaw and potato salad. John had an Angus Burger and potato salad. Bill and Evelyn had pulled pork and fries. After lunch we strolled down the main street, past shops and restaurants. None of us are into buying souvenirs or lugging around shopping bags, so we mostly just enjoyed the change of scenery and the beautiful day. We passed the ‘The Sonoma Hotel’, which dates back to the 19th century, and is still open. There was a fancy French restaurant on the first floor called ‘The Girl and the Fig.’We continued walking until we were in a residential neighborhood. Evelyn and I were fascinated by the different plants and flowers that were blooming in the yards and in front of the houses.
Back on the bus with Darth we headed to Napa Valley for one more tour. We got out at a vineyard called Madonna Estate. The man who was our guide here had an Italian accent. He said he had been drinking wine since he was a boy in Italy. This tour started in the field with the grape vines that were brown, too early to in the season for new growth. Bill had already satisfied his Fayette County farmer’s curiosity at the previous winery when he snuck across the lot and stepped into the field to check the soil.
Here we tasted, as we did at the other two vineyards, Merlot, Rosé, Chardonnay and several other white, pink and red wines, none of which stand out in my mind. But we all agreed that the wines of Madonna Estate seemed to be the most potent. The very first sample had quite a bite and before the tour ended I was pouring my wine in the grass, unable to drink any more alcoholic beverages.
We left wine country and began our ride back to San Francisco about 3:30. Once we were seated we all began to relax with the drone of the diesel engine and the drone of Darth’s breathing. Even our Japanese passengers were nodding off, one boy’s head bobbing along with each bump in the road.
By the time we got to San Francisco it was rush hour. Traffic was maddening. The driver started in the business district, dropping off each passenger at their hotels. Progression was slow and tedious; from Hyatt to Radisson to Marriott and so on. It seemed we were driving in circles as we passed many of the same buildings more than once. Darth gave way to Bill Murray again and we were a treated to a running dialog he was having with himself. “Oh, she wants to change lanes right in front of me. Inhale —– Exhale Inhale —– Exhale. Guess I can’t turn here. One way. Inhale —– Exhale —– Inhale —– Exhale. I’ll have to go down one more. Inhale —– Exhale.” By this time we were ready to pull our hair out. At long last we were deposited in front of the Holiday Inn. I believe we were the last passengers to disembark. Pat and John got off here too.
Back in our neighborhood, we walked a few blocks and had dinner at a Mexican restaurant then headed to the Baker’s room to continue our game of Sequence. We played in pairs, this time men vs. women. Although Evelyn and I were skunked by John and Bill: six games to zero, we still had a lot of fun reliving our Al Pacino trumpet playing cab ride, Jacky Chan Two and his “3 words” interrogations and the latest, Darth Vader as bus driver–slash-tour guide. When John said “This morning I said ‘Happy Birthday Honey’ and she replied ‘It’s tomorrow stupid’” Bill lost it. He laughed so hard he practically fell off the bed (That’s where he was sitting. We had rolled a chair from our room and pushed the table up to the bed so we all could be seated around the Game board. After all the fun, we parted with a promise of a revenge match the next night.