Suisun Valley in the Winter

The rains had stopped for a few hours on a Sunday in January.  I say “rains”, plural, because in a month we had four, five, or more storms roll across our skies; pouring rain, drizzling rain, steady rain.  There was a feeble suggestion of a sun break from my local weather forecast, but rain or shine on this day I was going out just to get away for awhile.  I was craving the ease of a Sunday drive, pulled out my colorful map of Suisun Valley and ventured forth with sunny memories of the summer and the farmer’s markets.

Suisun Valley is a small agricultural jewel just off Hwy 80, west of the city of Fairfield.  The farmers and vintners of the valley have worked together to welcome visitors to their rural community.  There is an excellent website, www.SuisunValley.com that offers plenty of information about the farm stands, wineries and events of the valley.  You can download a map of the area and local attractions, or pick one up at the Suisun Valley Wine Coop, on Suisun Valley Road where the journey begins. I started out on Suisun Valley Road to make my way from Rockville Corner north and loop around the valley.

My mission was to find the farm stands that stay open year round.  The website and map lists the farm stands and the days and hours

The Vegetable Patch

they are open.  From Suisun Valley Road I turned east onto Rockville Road and headed to The Vegetable Patch.  I was planning to gather winter root veggies for roasting.  Family owned and operated for over 29 years the bright indoor farm stand is well-stocked with veggies, dried fruits, jams, fresh farm eggs and local breads.  I consider it a special opportunity to get out in the blustery, winter weather and be able to pick up farm fresh produce right from this stand.  From The Vegetable Patch I doubled back toward the roundabout on Rockville Road, turning onto Abernathy Road to continue north. Satisfied with my veggie purchase, I was headed next to Cal Yee Farms for their famous dried fruits and nuts.

As I drove along Abernathy Road I experienced the remarkable environment of this valley; a bit of a step back in time.  Large wooden farmhouses surrounded by fruit trees, a classic 1953 Chevy parked in the driveway, the smell of wood smoke from a fireplace or stove in the air. In January the yellow mustard blossoms were already covering the fields between the bare gray trees and brown grapevines.  A damp drizzly mist hung low over the fields, the atmosphere brightened by the sunny mustard. The Suisun Valley is what sustainability is all about.  The residents of this small rural area are bestowed a country life just fifteen minutes from the suburban bustle of Fairfield and Vallejo. In the 20th century this area provided an abundance of fruits, nuts, vegetables and dairy products for the surrounding counties.  Some orchards have been replaced with vineyards, still important agriculture that sustains the open, pastoral environment while providing hospitality and world-class wines on into the future.  The Suisun Valley Vintners and Growers Association are working together to enhance the opportunities for locals and visitors to enjoy, literally, the fruits of their labor.  Throughout the winter months several wineries offer special events and regular weekend hours for wine tasting.  The “kickoff” in spring for exceptional wine tasting is the Suisun Valley Passport Sunday in April.  Sign up for the valley’s e-newsletter at www.SuisunValley.com to keep informed of what’s happening in the valley throughout the year.  For information on the Suisun Valley Vintners and Growers Association visit www.SVVGA.com

Along Abernathy Road I found Ledgewood Creek Winery and just had to stop in for a tasting.  I was delighted to try their first Pinot Noir, the grapes grown right in the Suisun Valley. I will return in the spring and summer to lounge around the outdoor patio with expansive views of the vineyards and hillsides.  http://www.LedgewoodCreek.com

When I arrived at my final destination of Cal Yee Farms I stocked up on a colorful assortment of dried persimmons, sulfate-free dried papaya and bags of almonds.  Cal Yee Farms is a long-standing Suisun Valley family business.  They have provided generations with their vibrant holiday and special occasion gifts and baskets of fruit confections for over 50 years.

Suisun Valley is easily accessible by car and better yet, quite easily accessible for beautiful bike rides throughout the spring, summer and fall.  From San Francisco and the East Bay you can take your bikes on BART and Amtrak and within an hour and a half arrive at the Fairfield Amtrak station.  As noted on the SVVGA blog: “The Amtrak station is in Suisun City, just a couple miles southeast of Suisun Valley.  There is a local bicycle shop on Suisun Valley Road if mechanicals arise.  This journey is also feasible from the Sacramento metro, not to mention a quick day trip down from Davis, the bicycle capital of the west coast.”

As I headed back out to Hwy 80 to return home I was so pleasantly satisfied with my Sunday drive! The rain held off for me and not only did I get a chance to get out and about, I was returning with a bounty of locally grown produce, fine wine and stocked up with healthy snacks for a couple of weeks. Never fear the doldrums of a dreary winter, Suisun Valley beckons with warm hospitality and tastes of sunshine, perfect for a weekend journey.

Cal Yee Farms

Ledgewood Creek Winery

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Take a Look Up and Around Downtown Napa

Generally my main form of exercise has been walking.  Not a lot of hoopla about it, just a regular routine, two days a week with a good

Gordon Building on First St.

friend and an occasional outing with my hubby on the weekends.  With the riverfront development and promenade, one of my favorite walking destinations is downtown Napa.  Whether I start out at the Hatt Building or the Oxbow Market, I can create an interesting loop around the heart of downtown.  In this tumultuous time, some favorite dining and retail establishments have gone away and some new and exciting places have opened up; it all adds interest and intrigue to how our downtown area is shaping up.

My personal preference is to preserve what we have, sustaining the beauty of our historical architecture; polishing and refining it so that generations ahead can sense the pride of those who have worked and lived in this town. I am not an architect or engineer with the knowledge of what structures must be overhauled, and which ones will not make it much farther into the 21st century, but I have noted some beautiful pieces of construction that I thought I would point out. When you’re downtown again, you may pause and look up and around at these lovely points of architecture; artwork really, and treat yourself to a self-guided tour of the outdoor gallery of Napa’s downtown history.

As we hurry along First Street, with our shopping and dining destinations in mind, we are usually under a large awning structure that juts out over the sidewalk on most buildings. Many of the store fronts still exhibit the architecture of the 1960’s and 1970’s; aluminum framed windows and not so interesting to behold. One day, as I was walking along First Street, I happened to look up at the building across the street. It was 1130 First Street, the Gordon Building, circa 1929.  Up above the cumbersome awning is a display of intricate Spanish Colonial Revivalist architecture, with beautifully carved tile work, dramatic arched windows and blue and green accents that remind me of the ethereal paintings by Maxfield Parrish. The tile work and beauty of this building wraps around the corner into the Coombs Street Plaza, where across the plaza is a building of mixed eras and façades, commonly known as the Merrill’s drugstore building.

On the north corner of the Merrill building there remains a very Spanish colonial style of façade with terracotta tiles, faux-adobe surface and wrought iron bars on the small windows.  Although not intricate and beautiful architecture, the “jail house” look sparks my imagination.  I like to ponder what this quirky piece of architecture meant to someone, and I know that in time it will be redeveloped and erased, tucked away in distant memories. The good news is that “distant memories” and information about our history can be found at the Goodman Library, circa 1901, a native stone beauty that is home to the Napa County Historical Society at 1219 First Street.  For complete information about the library visit the website:  http://www.NapaHistory.org.

As I walk around downtown Napa I admire the work that shows our dedication to restore and revitalize our historic beauty.  The colorful Art Deco tile work at Downtown Joe’s, originally the Oberon building, circa 1934; Wells Fargo Bank, circa 1923, the Napa Valley Opera House.  Each project has that heartfelt commitment to sustain our history, recycle, re-use and showcase what we have.  Another beloved project is underway at 813 Main Street, restoring the mysterious Fagiani Bar.  This building is one of the few remaining native stone commercial buildings from 1908.  In November of 2007, Steve and Johanna Hasty bought the building and Noble House Construction and Development is painstakingly restoring it back to a lively bar and restaurant.  The vision is to maintain the stone structure, as well as the captivating 1940’s Art Moderne tiling on the entrance to the bar.  The goal is to open the new restaurant and bar in the summer of 2010.  Inquiries about the project are welcome by phoning 707-257-3482.

As we turn each corner downtown, we may come upon a sacred old space that we can’t help but overlook during our daily comings

Fagiani Bldg on Main Street

and goings.  Taking a walk in downtown Napa can become a treasure hunt eliciting mystery as well as acquainting us with our ancestors of a hundred years ago.  If interested, visit the Goodman Library, as mentioned above.  Visit www.PreservationNapaValley.org to learn how you can become involved in preserving our historic communities.  Maps and historic guides are also available from the Napa Downtown Association located at the Visitor’s Center, 1310 Napa Town Center, 707-257-0322.

Oberon Bldg/Downtown Joes, Main Street