[From Him] Grapes and Balloons
Acrophobia, is defined as an irrational fear of heights, and something I have dealt with my entire life. So when Tia approached me with riding a hot air balloon over the Napa Valley, a small part of me was excited and the rest of me was terrified. Many thoughts crossed my mind as the excursion approached. How high will we go? Where will we land? Will the weather cooperate? Will I survive drifting through the air, with no control other than up and down, at the whim of the weather, wondering if the ground will ever be back firmly under my feet, strapped to a basket with large explosive propane canisters and three large open flames? You know, rational thoughts.
I couldn't help but think of all of the things that could go wrong, blocking out all of the things that would make this an unforgettable experience, but the excitement in Tia's eyes and our motto of try something once meant I had to do this.
We got into wine country around noon the day before the balloon ride. We had about 2 hours before we could park the van, an option we really wanted since we were going to be tasting wine and driving would not be an option for long. We opted to get some lunch to bide the time, and being on the west coast, I needed to try their take on sushi. Tia picked out a chef owned business, Sushi Mamba, for me to go "HAM" on some rolls. Sushi is something I love and Tia does not, but she always seems to find something she can eat in an effort to satisfy my obsession. This particular restaurant had a great spicy tuna roll, where the tuna was ground up and mixed with green onions, which added a level of flavor I have never had with the sushi I get at home. We left Sushi Mamba full and happy and ready for all the fermented grapes the valley had to offer.
The first tasting room we found was Huge Bear Winery. This was a beautiful tasting room that was set in an old bank. Every surface was wrapped with reclaimed wood, marble or soft brown leather. A very classy joint with wonderful wines. Each wine was carefully poured from bear shaped areators. I am not one to tell you the difference in grapes, and how they create the wine we were tasting, but I can tell you this, Huge Bear Winery is a great place with knowledgeable staff and great tasting wine. @Hugebearwines
We left Huge Bear ready to take on the Napa Valley and what ever they could pour into our glasses. With a quick Google search and the van permanently parked, we made our way to Tank Garage Winery. This place was amazing and would make any man feel comfortable in wine country. Walking up to Tank, you are taken back in time with it's 50's paint scheme and restored gas pumps. The building was an old gas station made to look retro. Walking in the door, you are greated by a vintage Evil Knievel pinball machine, wine barrel topped high tops, old oil cans turned into guitars, and so much more that could take up it's own blog. This winery was special, it offered one-and-done specialty blends, wrapped in colorful and themed art work on each bottle. This place made me feel at home in the world of wine. I have never been a big wine drinker, but when you mix it with old cars and motorcycles, you can change my mind. I could have spent hours here looking at the old Indian motorcycle, and hanging in the hidden speak easy in the back, but we had to move on to the next place. Tank Garage Winery happened to give us free tastings for their sister company down the road since we were new members of their wine club. @tankwinery
Our wine journey took us to our final tasting for the night. We walked a few doors down and ended up at T-Vine Winery. T-Vine Winery looks like it was cut from a fancy Italian magizine. The building was classy and industrial at the same time, not to mention it is in the middle of a vineyard. It was like we closed our eyes for a split second and we were in Tuscany. After walking through the giant front doors, there were dark polished concrete floors, warm wood accents, and large windows that let the warmth in from the setting sun. Here, we sat and sipped wines, ate amazing cheeses, and chatted with the friendly staff. Everything about this place was welcoming and the wines were great too. This winery focused on where the grapes came from and the people that grew them, a sort of tribute to the hard working people of the region. What an amazing place to top off our night of wine tasting. We both walked home holding hands, swinging, and giggling as we made our way to get some dinner. @Tvinewinery
As we ended the night, I could not help but think of our adventure that was going to take place early the next morning. I laid in the van thinking of what was to come without any understanding of how red wine and headaches come hand in hand.
Beep beep beep, the alarm goes off at 5:00am. My head is pounding all the way to my toes. We spent some serious time waking up from the wine haze we were both in. We packed up the van for the last time, carefully wrapping the 6 bottles of wine, purchased in our altered states, and tucking them into our suit cases. At this point my head is hurting bad enough that I can't comprehend my irrational fear of heights, nor did I care. We had so much fun the night before and nothing was going to change that. It took about 25 minutes to drive from our campsite to where we were meeting for the balloons. This was a pretty quiet ride, Tia was sitting in the passenger seat, patiently waiting to cross riding in a hot air balloon off her bucket list, and I was quietly navigating the dark roads that broke up each vineyard we passed. Grapes after grapes after grapes, until we finally reached a long lit driveway at a French owned winery called Domain Chandon. At the top of the driveway, we parked the van and followed the signs for registration. At this point it is still dark. There is a slight glow of the sun as it began to peek over the mountains in the distance. We were greated by coffee, pastries, and a quick briefing before our flight. The man giving the briefing was quick, funny and to the point. He was more interested in getting the 52 of us in our baskets and up in the air so we could watch the sun rise from the balloons. This guy ended up being our pilot and we couldn't have asked for a more enthusiastic person. We loaded up in vans took a quick five minute drive and made our way to the balloons.
As day light emerged, the local driving range was littered with half inflated balloons of all different colors and designs. We weren't given much time to second-guess our decision, after a few bursts of flames, our balloon was upright and we were loaded into baskets.
Here we were, being held to the ground by 3 full grown men, about ready to soar through the air. At this point, my excitement and fear levels were equal. Balloons were taking off all around us, and without noticing, we began to hover off the ground. Quickly the ground began to leave us at a rapid rate and so did my fear of heights. How could I be afraid of everything I was seeing. The sun rise greated us and made for some of the most amazing views. It illuminated the dew that covered the perfectly aligned rows of grapes. It was amazing to see how roads and houses were afterthoughts, the most important use of space was for the grapes, where to drive and live were not important.
Our pilot, Chris, was amazing, as other balloons drifted high above everything, our pilot brought us down so we could see the reflection of our balloon in the irrigation ponds, he could spin us around to give us the sun rise in our pictures, and he could bring us high above the mountains to see the cities in the distance. He controlled this balloon like nothing I have ever seen. With quick burst of fire and few pulls of some strings, it seemed he could put us where ever he wanted.
Halfway through the ride, our pilot called to his chase vehicle on the radio where he was going to land. This was amazing to me that not only could he land this thing, but he could call it out. We were flying over millions of dollars worth of grapes and he was going to land in the middle of it all. We flew through the air for about an hour and traveled 7-8 miles as the crow flies, and without noticing he was bringing us in for a landing. Somehow he stopped our forward motion and started to drop us closer to the ground without anyone in the basket knowing. With the blink of an eye, we were back on the ground exactly where he told the chase team to meet us. We finished this expierence with mimosas and brunch overlooking the vineyard as the town began to awaken.
This experience just proves the reason we started this blog. You cannot let fear or uncertainty to run your life. Just because I was afraid of heights, I couldn't let it take away this experience. Your mind is the most limiting factor in trying something once, so push past your fears and you will never regret the outcome.