Friday, July 6, 2012

On the Road: Carmel, San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles (July 2-4)

Wine and Missions--and a pair of California Condors. En route to Paso Robles to do a little wine tasting I stopped for a night in Carmel. Having arrived rather late in the day on a Sunday, there wasn't much to do but browse a few shops and look at the sea--but those are pleasant enough diversions. I stopped in at The Weston Gallery, which always has good photography on display. The highlight of any stay in Carmel, though is an opportunity to eat at Casanova, probably my favorite restaurant in the immediate area (along with Taste Bistro). I enjoyed a very tasty Verdicchio from Sartarelli--crisp, clean, and refreshing, but with real character. The spinach gnocchi I had were a delight.

At the Mission in Carmel--formally known as Mission San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo. The organist was practicing in the main church. A fabulously magenta Bougainvillea was blooming in the inner garden. There was a display of historical vestments, some with rather remarkable embroidery (photo).

Most interesting, to me, however, was the Munras Family Heritage Museum at the Mission--a section I've never noticed before. Of particular interest was a photograph of one of the most important family members, Maria Antonia Field, taken at San Francisco's 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition, at the French pavillion, according to the inscription in the box. I have a strong interest in photography and the history of photography, but have never come across an image quite like this one. It was mounted in a gilded, velvet-lined box (much like those used to protect Daguerreotypes but about twice that size) hinged on the inside so that the image, apparently a positive color slide (on what looks like ground glass), is raised to receive light at an angle above a mirror mounted below it. To view the image, you look into the mirror. The photograph is beautiful, as is the woman pictured in it. I wasn't aware of an early color process of this type. A little research is in order....

It's remarkable to me that within three minutes of writing the above sentence, the Internet allowed me  to satisfy my curiosity. This appears to be a an "Autochrome-Lumière" (or just an "Autochrome"). The viewing device is called a diascope. The process, which uses dyed particles of potato starch, appears to have been developed in 1903 and first commercially marketed in 1907 (both according to the Wikipedia article on the Autochrome-Lumière). That makes perfect sense chronologically. It would likely have been a novelty in San Francisco in 1915.

About 40 miles south of Carmel on Highway 1 is Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. I've stopped there before in the hope of seeing some of the few California Condors still alive, but I've never been lucky enough to see one. This time, however, a pair appeared soaring high over a distant ridge not long before I was about to give up. They were too distant to photograph meaningfully, but close enough to see well with binoculars--apparently an adult and a younger bird. On the adult bird, the pale wing linings underneath and pale areas at the trailing edge of the tops of the wings were both visible. The California Condor is life bird number 352 for me.

The rest of my short trip took me through San Luis Obispo where I saw the mission from the outside and likewise a very attractive little Carnegie Library, just next door. A surprisingly dull meal at an enthusiastically recommended restaurant (Vieni Vai) was a disappointment, but an excellent meal the following day at Fenomenal in Paso Robles made up for it. My time in Paso Robles was mostly spent wine tasting--visiting Daou, Tablas Creek, Denner, and Kenneth Volk. Daou appears to be making solid, if very expensive wines. The view from the fancy new winery is wonderful. I just wish wineries would put their money into making fine wine at affordable prices rather than spend it on lavish tasting facilities and then jacking up prices, asking consumers to pay for the extravagance. Tablas Creek, affiliated with Chateau de Beaucastel in France, continues to make some fine wines. Denner was virtually uninhabited despite an appointment, so I never got to taste anything there. The wines came highly recommended, so that was a disappointment--but, perhaps it was no loss: Denner is another winery at which a lot of money has been spent on extravagant facilities. Most interesting was a visit to Kenneth Volk. Mr. Volk happened to be in the (modest) tasting room and pouring wines himself, speaking enthusiastically about the many unusual grape varieties he's growing and making interesting wine from, including Torrentes (a white grape best known for the wines it makes in Argentina) and Blaufränkisch (a red grape usually associated with Austria).

Before leaving the area, I stopped by Morro Bay State Park, hoping to see some birds, but there wasn't much around, although a quick stop at Morro Rock was worth the detour as Peregrine Falcons are nesting high on the cliffs there, occasionally harassing gulls in spectacular dives. At lower elevations (sea level), several immature Brown Pelicans consented lazily to having their portraits made, and three or four sea otters clung to a small bed of kelp close to the shore.

On the way home, I briefly got to look at two other missions--San Miguel Arcangel and Nuestra Señora de La Soledad. Most of Highway 101 follows the Camino Real here.


  1. Hello
    I am asking permission to use one of your photos in a new cookbook which is due out before Christmas through Strategic Publishing Company from Houston, TX. I am a great cook and a great researcher, but photographer I am not! Each recipe has been researched to include only five ingredients with a matched beverage pairing. Your beautiful photograph would be given credit directly next to it and also in the ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS. The photograph I would love to use is depicting your sangiovese wine.. I am not asking to use your recipe or the process for making your wine, only the photograph. This is my first cookbook and I so appreciate your consideration. Thank you very much. Respectfully, Jan Ostop,

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