March 2014 – After our great visit in Casa Grande, we had accomplished our destination goals for this winter and were growing anxious to get back to our new home in Kelowna, BC. A brief stop in Yuma and Los Algodones, Mexico and we were headed for southern California where we planned to slowly move north experiencing the inland plateau areas including the San Joaquin Valley.
In January of 2013 we had purchased a membership in Harvest Host, a winery and farm producer network which welcomes RV visitors in exchange for the opportunity to promote their products and hopefully sell product to travelers. Unfortunately we hadn’t used the membership in 2013 so made it a point to work it into our trip back in 2014. It makes an interesting way to move through California staying one or two nights in each location and in most cases not even unhooking the fifth wheel.
Rancho Bernardo – Bernardo Winery
One of the oldest wineries in California, in operation since 1889. Bernardo Winery has evolved into a small village of cafes and arts, crafts and specialty shops in addition to the tasting room and event facilities……and an informative museum. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and were pleased to enjoy live jazz, a bottle of Cabernet and a bustling social environment in the arm southern California sun.
Bernardo is very laid back with respect to guests and we were virtually alone in the parking lot overnight with access to public washrooms. It was our first HH experience so we were pleasantly surprised. The winery is unexpectedly nestled in a high end gated subdivision so we found only peripheral views of the vineyards.
Temecula – Falkner Wineries
Further north, we stopped for two nights at Falkner Wineries, a modern facility geared to weddings and such events with a well stocked gift shop and a high end restaurant (which we didn’t try as we were out and about when it was open during the day).
Falkner is perched on a hill top and very much open to the late afternoon winds which were refreshing after hot afternoons. The views of the vineyards, although dormant at this time of year were spectacular. Temecula seems to be a relatively new wine growing region with new estates style development. It is almost a suburb of San Diego and not that far from LA either.
We enjoyed the town and found all the shopping we needed as well as the daily wine tastings. To our surprise the tasting room was busy even on Mondays and Tuesdays – wine tasting/drinking/imbibing is clearly a California past time and locals are all very knowledgeable about varietals and vintages.
On our departure on Tuesday morning we discovered that we had been locked into the parking lot each night and had to wait for the winery to open before we could get on the road through our most challenging drive to date – through LA!
Fresno – Milla Vineyards
We knew that passing by the Los Angeles area would be heavy traffic so we planned to leave Temecula mid-morning to avoid rush hours at either end of the day and to skirt the city by avoiding highway 5. My advice in negotiating this area in an RV is stay out of the merge lane, stay ouf of the fast lane and stay in your own lane! I really had no trouble at all although it was a bit disconcerting at times as wide loads changed lanes, passing each other and drifting between lanes. For all I’ve heard about California Highway Patrol (CHiPs) they were no where in sight likely due to the bankrupt financial condition of the state.
Complicating our journey was our need to make a scheduled stop in San Fernando for the replacement of the box cover on our pickup which had developed premature failure of the surface material. The stop in San Fernando entailed negotiating residential streets to the Bakflip factory but the brief break from driving was welcome.
We eventually reached Fresno where we camped outside of a small family owned winery making traditional Italian wines – Milla Vineyards. We met the co-owner Debbie in the morning and had a brief but entertaining tour of the winery and its history.
It started raining fairly heavily overnight in Fresno but despite some flooding and mudslides in LA we found ourselves on solid ground in the morning and headed on to Merced.
Merced – Vista Ranch and Cellars
Merced is another small town along highway 99 with an established wine industry. Vista Ranch is a relatively new winery with its tasting room springing up as a complementary business to its catering and event facility. Vista is very interested in hosting RVers with three RV sites serviced with 30 amp power and water.
The tasting room is run by a very friendly fellow named Tom who is also somewhat of an expert on nearby Yosemite Park, which we didn’t visit because the rain we were experiencing in Merced was heavy snow an hour and a half away in Yosemite. Tom was a great host while we tasted Vistas wines and enjoyed a complimentary glass….or two…..before stumbling back to our RV.
Lots of rain again in Merced but to our pleasure, clear skies on our departure towards Lodi on Saturday morning.
Lodi – The Heart of California Zinfandel Country
For those of you (like me) who think of zinfandels as sweet blush wines, you are missing the quintessential California varietal. Real California zins are fruity but dark reds with great deep flavours. I’m really enjoying them!
Klinker Brick Wineries
Klinker Brick is a family owned establishment producing over 50,000 cases of wine a year and exporting into every US state and every Canadian province. We arrived late in the afternoon and parked behind the tasting room just in time to enjoy a round of tastes of their wines. The tasting room was quite busy with visitors and after closing with the young staff enjoying pizza and many bottles of wine.
We had a good visit with the owners and then turned in for the night as we planned to move on Sunday to another recommended local winery.
Van Rutten Family Wineries
We visited Van Rutten our second day in Lodi and there met a great volunteer host named Terry who spent a lot of time educating us on California zins and other aspects of the industry. He also generously poured a couple of glasses of their higher end zins which made the experience all the better. I was glad we were parked in the parking lot and not driving. At Van Rutten we were virtually in the vineyard and surrounded by vines although bounded on one side by a highway.
Jessies Grove Wineries
Jessies Grove has turned out to be our nicest winery camping experience yet. We are nestled among giant 100 year old oak trees on a farm which has been in the same family since the 1880s. It is dead quiet here at night and the tasting room although very spartan is a very hospitable place – we’ve done tastings here two days in a row.
We unhooked the fifth wheel here and toured around Lodi including a very quaint downtown dotted with antique shops and other interesting places. Lodi is a fairly large center with an extreme focus on wine. We understand that this region actually produces more grapes than Napa and in fact sells to many large wineries in Napa. However, the wineries in Lodi are smaller, family owned operations and we are told they have a more hospitable atmosphere in their tasting rooms.
Despite the heavy rains here, the San Joaquin Valley of California and the water source region around it is in a sever drought and the US federal government has announced it will cut off irrigation water supplies this year due to very low reservoir levels. We are told that the hardy grape vines and orchards will survive but there is deep concern about the commercial cash crops such as lettuce, tomatoes and other vegetables which need irrigation water……..and supply as much as 60% of US produce demand. The locals are also understandably concerned about jobs and local economic consequences.
Sacramento RV Show – We moved on to Sacramento where we had planned to take in the Sacramento RV Show. We know that we are winding down from our fifth wheel experience, having purchased a home back in November in Kelowna, BC, but we still have some road trip thoughts perhaps in a slide in camper or a small motorhome. We rode our bikes from the nearby municipal campground to the show where we learned lots about new models…..and associated price tags! Sacraemnto is not a big as I expected but is quite congested.
Our trip so far through California has been pretty much along the highway 99 corridor through the San Joaquin Valley, an area which produces mush of the US’s produce. The area has been experiencing a severe drought over the last few years and the federal government recently announced that they were cutting off irrigation water supplies in deference to hydro generation rservoir reserves and water for places like Las Vegas. Farms in the area were laying off workers and deciding to not put in crops for 2014. It is increasingly clear that we take our food supplies for granted and have made poor planning decisions in the development of massive largely “recreational” cities in the desert which consume water and produce nothing valuable for the economy. These chickens are coming home to roost.
Pedrozo Dairy – Near Chico, we stopped overnight for a change of pace at a dairy which makes specialty cheeses in small quantities. Interesting countryside but very remote, rural and lots of flies. A good change of pace although tricky maneuvering the RV in and out.
Sutherlin, Oregon – We used our Escapees membership again for a few cheap nights ($40 for three nights) at the Timber Valley RV Park. We are now back in lush green country and it rained constantly just to rub it in. Great views and a few relaxing days before the last push homeward.
Our next stop north was south of Portland where we camped next to an outlet mall in the Woodland RV Park and visited with our friends Lee and Ingrid from Cayman. It was nice to see them again and we had a fun discussion over supper.
The final push home took east near Portland through the beautiful Columbia river valley to the dry rainshadow side of the rockies where lingering winter weather was less of a risk. A long but easy drive although driving lanes were much narrower and roads generally poorer once we crossed into Canada.
Glad to be home to start settling into our new home in Kelowna.