Michelin Star in Guerneville: Applewood Inn Restaurant

It is a dichotomy that the wine country, which is fundamentally rural farm country, might also provide the foundation for fine dining venues.  Unlike the farm country of the central valley, Sonoma wine country is both rural and cosmopolitan.  This dualism is clearly a result of the romance of wine which is a well documented draw to tourism.  The Restaurant at the Applewood Inn maintains this Yin-Yang balance by offering Michelin Star rated (2 years running) fine dining in a country chic setting along the Russian River surrounded by redwoods and vineyards in Guerneville, California.

The Applewood Inn and Restaurant share an aura of total seclusion like a romantic hideaway in the woods.  After parking, one easily finds the way to the second floor of the barnlike structure only to discover a rustic and cozy dining room.  Nicely appointed with a screened in terrace and two large fireplaces, one at each end, the restaurant is warm and calming.  The staff did a phenomenal job in welcoming arriving guests and creating that feeling that they have been waiting for you.

Rustic Warmth (Linda C.)

Rustic Warmth (Linda C.)

In response to some advance work, the table was preset with a sparkling Bortolotti Prosecco on ice from Valdobbiadene and a dozen roses.  Thanks go to Sandy at reservations for those arrangements.  Chefs Tyja Taube, a Ukiah native, and Michelle “Shelley” Cerneant, recently recognized as one of the ten best women chefs in America, like many Sonoma County chefs, have focused their menus around local meats, seafood, fruits and vegetables (much from their own gardens) in producing exceptionally fresh, crisp and flavorful dishes seasonally adjusted to accommodate what is available.

The Duck Confit and Massachusetts Diver Scallop with Mendocino Uni, Whipped Yukon Gold Potatoes and Saffron Butter were perfectly prepared and beautifully presented.

Delicate Duck Confit (Linda C)

Delicate Duck Confit (Linda C)

The entrees of California King Salmon and the Grilled Fillet of Beef Tenderloin were equally splendid.  The Salmon was prepared with a Panang Curry Stewed Peanuts and accompanied by a Tempura Soft Shell Crab, Black Rice, Chinese Long Beans and Cilantro.

California King Salmon with Panang Curry & Soft Shell Crab Tempura (Linda C)

California King Salmon with Panang Curry & Soft Shell Crab Tempura (Linda C)

The Beef Tenderloin had a colorful accompaniment of Bone Marrow Bordelaise, Rosemary Potatoes, Morel Mushroom Conserva and Summer Squash.  Mouth-watering and cooked to perfection.

Fillet of Beef Tenderloin (Linda C)

Fillet of Beef Tenderloin (Linda C)

The 2007 Round Pond Cabernet Sauvignon, not on the wine list, was an excellent pairing and clearly deserved the Wine Spectator 94 pts it has received.  Chewy and thick with flavor, this rich Cab is full-bodied with flavors of blackberry and mint.

The final dish, not a dessert, but the selection of three cheeses, was a pungent and sweet ending to a truly  memorable dining experience.  The chefs have created a culinary oasis among the redwoods and vineyards and the well-trained staff executes and delivers.

Three Cheese Plate with Fruits and Nuts (Linda C)

Three Cheese Plate with Fruits and Nuts (Linda C)

Prices are moderate for higher end cuisine ranging from $10-$16 for Starters and from $27-$38 for Entrees.

The Restaurant at the Applewood Inn is located about 16 miles west of Highway 101 (River Road exit just north of Santa Rosa) on Highway 116 about 100 yards from the intersection of River Road and Hwy 116.  13555 Highway 116, Guerneville, CA 95446.  Telephone 707-869-9093 or OpenTable for reservations.

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1861 Napa Valley History – Rewind!

Charles Krug Winery is noted for being Napa’s first winery.  Established in 1861 by Charles Krug, a Prussian immigrant, and subsequently purchased by Cesare Mondavi and his wife Rosa, in 1943, the Charles Krug Winery is not only historic but it is beautiful and expansive.  Located in the St. Helena appellation, The Krug winery and the C. Mondavi Family, which encompasses four (4) generations of Mondavis remains one of the iconic grape growing and wine making families in California and perhaps America.  What is clearly apparent here is the passion, love and sense of place (historic and physical) that each and every family member present exuded…a trait sadly absent in many corporate by-outs of family wineries.

Charles Krug Winery (Mondavi Family and team) Linda C.

Charles Krug Winery (Mondavi Family and team) Linda C.

Keeping the continuity of that history alive is exactly what Peter Mondavi Sr. (Robert Mondavi’s younger brother) and his sons Marc and Peter Jr. are all about.  Tuesday, August 7th, witnessed the historic ground breaking for the renovation of the 1872 Redwood Cellar on the grounds of the family owned Charles Krug Winery.   The project was conceived a couple of years ago but has been held in abeyance due to financial realities expressed in the national recession.  Tuesday, however, marked the official kick-off for the project which is scheduled to be completed in the next 14 months or so.

Peter Mondavi Sr remembers his parents (Linda C)

Peter Mondavi Sr remembers his parents (Linda C)

Surrounded by his sons, their wives and his grandchildren, Peter Sr. took great pains to recognize the hard work, good luck and work ethic of his father and mother, Cesare and Rosa Mondavi, who immigrated to the US from the eastern central part of Italy known as the Marche (along the Adriatic Sea) in the early 1900’s via Minnesota.  Displaying a well-earned pride and his love of family, the 97-year-old patriarch beamed as he and his sons donned hard hats and a shovel for the photo capture of this significant event.

Marc, Peter Sr and Peter Jr Mondavi (Linda C)

Marc, Peter Sr and Peter Jr Mondavi (Linda C)

Granddaughters Angelina and Alycia, two of Marc and wife Janice’s four daughters (Riana, and Giovanna  were not present), participated in this family event as well.  Angelina and Alycia are both deeply involved in the wine industry in their own right.  Angelina is a winemaker who has earned her chops via Australia and several California wineries like Pine Ridge, Hundred Acre and Dark Matter, a joint venture with her sisters and mom, Janice.

The Peter Mondavi Sr. family (Charles Krug Winery)

The Peter Mondavi Sr. family (Charles Krug Winery)

The exterior of the Redwood Cellar was originally constructed in 1872 and is so named as it housed over 30 redwood storage tanks of various sizes throughout the building.  Much of the redwood from those old tanks remains in storage on the third floor.  The cellar had been previously renovated in 2009 for an earthquake retrofit and other esthetic reasons. 

Peter Sr and Howard Bachen (Architect) - Linda C

Peter Sr and Howard Bachen (Architect) – Linda C

This major remodel, designed by renowned architect Howard Bachen of Bachen, Gillam and Kroeger, will create a state of the art, modern tasting facility and hospitality center that will support tasting, educational activities, special reserve tasting and most significantly an operational barrel room that will be visible from anywhere in the building through glass walls and openings.  A full kitchen is included to support special events and smaller reserve tasting rooms, again with full visibility of the barrel room are included.  A Napa Wine making Museum is contemplated on the 2nd floor of this 3 story building although specific plans are still evolving.  A vintage bird-cage style elevator will be added to provide accessibility for all without use of the 2 sets of stairs that will be added on the flanks of the building.

P. Mondavi, Bachen and Adams Thornley Project Staff (Charles Krug Winery)

P. Mondavi, Bachen and Adams Thornley Project Staff (Charles Krug Winery)

The overriding concept for the renovation is that no matter where you are in the Redwood Cellar, you will never lose sight of the fact that you are enjoying a historic wine making operation in a historic wine making setting.  If the execution is anything like the plans, which is highly likely, they will have achieved this goal.

Sadly for many in the family, the old cramped wooden tasting room will be torn down upon completion of the Redwood Cellar remodel.  With another historic building, the Carriage House, also recently renovated, the Charles Krug Winery “campus’ will have fully transitioned to this modern era of winemaking…just in  time for the great-grandchildren of Cesare and Rosa!

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Where the redwoods meet the vineyards: Cloverdale

Cloverdale is a smaller city (about 9,000 souls) in northern Sonoma County but their Friday Night Live (FNL) series continues to hit the mark!  Organizer, Cloverdale Arts Alliance, and event coordinator, Mark Tharrington, bring great talent and fun activities to the scene.

Beginning with a Cloverdale Certified Farmer’s Market at 5:30 PM and augmented by live music at 7PM, this venue has it all.  Fourteen (14) Friday nights, June 1 through August 31, 2012, bringing highly regarded musical talent have made FNL a hit with attendees coming from all over the Bay Area.

This past Friday was no exception with music provided by New Monsoon (a multi-talented and eclectic band) and family friendly activities like bounce houses and climbing walls.  The food booths, including Piacere Italian RistorantePapa’s Pizza CafeRailroad Station Bar and Grill and Mary’s Pizza Shack provided high quality food while Rodney Strong provided the wine focus.  Alternatively, Vino di Amore, a local tasting room and lounge operated by Deanna Starr, proprietor of Milano Family Winery was open and in the thick of it.

New Monsoon at Friday Night Live (Aimie H)

New Monsoon at Friday Night Live (Aimie H)

Upcoming weeks will include Jelly Bread and Honey Island Swamp Band, and many more before the 31 August culmination.  If you want real Americana and a great Farmers Market, catch Cloverdale’s FNL before 31 August! You won’t be disappointed.  If you haven’t been to Lake Sonoma, maybe you could make a weekend of it. In an any case, catch Cloverdale’s Friday Night Live!

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Skipstone Ranch: Because they love what they do!!

There are so many unique and high quality wines produced along The Wine Road surrounding Healdsburg but none more special than Skipstone Ranch.  Nestled in the rolling hills south-east of Geyserville, Skipstone is the love child of entrepreneur and Cypriot émigré, Fahri Diner.   This 200 acre ranch, acquired by Diner in 2001, is certified organic and specializes in small lot estate grown wines and, similarly, small production estate grown olive oil.  Diner’s youth in Cyprus as the son and grandson of olive growers is perhaps the reason he found Skipstone so alluring.

Skipstone lush gardens with vineyards beyond (Linda C)

Skipstone lush gardens with vineyards beyond (Linda C)

Skipstone’s 29 acres of grapes are dedicated to producing high quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier with other Bordeaux varietals blended to enhance flavor profiles, structure and complexity.  Winemaker, Philippe Melka, a  Bordeaux University trained geologist, developed his winemaking chops under the tutelage of world-renowned winemakers in France, Italy and ultimately emigrated to Napa Valley in 1994.  Philippe shares Fahri’s attachment to the land and allows the terroir to be expressed through the wines.  Somewhat parallel to the first rule of physicians, do no harm.  It is this same philosophy that drives his reluctance to employ any significant quantity of new oak.

Colorful chickens provide eggs (Linda C)

Colorful chickens provide eggs (Linda C)

This visit included a wine and food pairing as well as a glorious tour of the ranch (which also has sheep, goats, cows and chickens) and gardens.  Amy Schaefers, Estate Chef and Hospitality Coordinator, arranges the private tours.  Amy graduated from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Hyde Park.  She brings her training and experience to produce exquisite (and charming) food pairings with the mouth-watering wines of Skipstone.

Amy Schaefers, Estate Chef (Linda C.)

Amy Schaefers, Estate Chef (Linda C.)

The most gracious of hosts, Amy poured three wines for tasting.  A 2010 Viognier and 2 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005 and 2008.  She had already prepared a small plate for each guest that was intended to highlight and enhance the flavors of the different wines.  The Viognier (one could taste the grapes!) was paired with a fresh apricot, cheese from xxx creamery and a mint leaf.   The crisp acid and the tropical flavors from the wine were pleasantly amplified with the contrasting sweetness of the apricot and the slight pungency of the cheese.   The older (2005 Cabernet which is a blend of 65% CS, 25% Merlot and 5% ea of Malbec and Petite Verdot (all estate) was the early favorite.  Smooth and supple with plenty of fruit remaining.  This Cab was paired with a fig and ricotta cheese crostini.  Again, the wine alone was delectable but this food pairing hit the mark.  Finally, the 2008 Cabernet which is 94% CS and 6% Cabernet Franc, became smoother as the tannins dissipated the longer it sat in the glass.  The pairing of dark chocolate (a little sea salt) and wild strawberry was masterful.  In all cases the wines were complex, well-rounded, full-bodied and achieved the flavor profile one would hope for in high quality wines.

Wine for Pairing 08 CS 05 CS 10 V (Linda C.)

Wine for Pairing 08 CS 05 CS 10 V (Linda C.)

Food Pairing Apricot, Fig & Choc (Linda C.)

Food Pairing Apricot, Fig & Choc (Linda C.)

The wine is pricey but considering the quality, limited production (~500 cases depending upon the vintage) and the team of experts employed to manage the vineyards and the winemaking, the prices are justified.

2005 Cab and 2010 Viognier (Linda C.)

2005 Cab and 2010 Viognier (Linda C.)

Fahri’s Skipstone team is fortunate to have the vineyard management expertise of Ulises Valdez at work in the Skipstone vineyards on a daily basis.  Ulises manages approximately 1000 acres of premium vineyards and has worked with many of the best known winemakers in Sonoma and Napa including Paul Hobbs, Kent Rosenblum, Rolando Herrera et al.  He also is the proprietor/owner of Valdez Family Winery located in Cloverdale.  His Valdez family wines have been served in the White House for a state dinner.

Vineyard reflected in pond (Linda C)

Vineyard reflected in pond (Linda C)

Skipstone’s team is rounded out by Emily Wines, Master Sommelier and director of wines for all Kimpton Hotel Group Restaurants.  Emily earned her stripes under Rajat Parr.  She is joined by Amigo Bob Cantisano, Organic Farming Specialist; Brook Drummond, General Manager and Amy Schaefers.

Picnic area and Vineyards (Linda C)

Picnic area and Vineyards (Linda C)

Skipstone is located just about 15 minutes northeast of Healdsburg and about the same from Geyserville.  If you are interested in visiting, call 707-433-9124 or visit the website and click ‘Visit”.   The property is gated and it wouldn’t be neighborly to show up unannounced.  Definitely worth the effort to arrange a private tour and tasting.   If you are lucky, the charismatic Mr. Diner may even greet you on your arrival.

Private Property Skipstone Ranch (Linda C)

Private Property Skipstone Ranch (Linda C)

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Hidden treasure in Yolo County – Capay Valley

Seka Hills Olive Oil and Wines (Linda C)

Seka Hills Olive Oil and Wines (Linda C)

Capay Valley is one of the most beautiful locations in Yolo County.  It is located in the northwest corner of Yolo County and is bounded to the west by the Blue Ridge Range that separates Yolo from Napa County.  This is the third in a multi-part series on Yolo County and its surrounding environs which are so interesting and varied that justice could not be done in one or even two brief articles.

Organic Vegetables at Capay Organic (Linda C)

Organic Vegetables at Capay Organic (Linda C)

As previously reported, Yolo County is an agricultural region with approximately 203,000 people mostly concentrated in Davis, Woodland and Winters.  The county accounts for about 90% of  the US tomato market in terms of growing, processing and canning of tomatoes and is also known for its fruits and nuts, particularly almonds, figs, citrus and stone fruits.  The Capay Valley is home to a significant portion of this produce and boasts the Cache Creek Casino and Resort (which is owned and operated by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, which actually named the valley – Capay means ‘stream’) as well.  Wine grape growing has a historical presence and is on the upswing with new plantings appearing almost weekly in the Capay Valley AVA (established in 2003) and Dunnigan Hills.  Each of these has different terroir based upon the soil and micro climate and therefore is particularly hospitable to different grape varietals.  Many Italian and Spanish grape varietals thrive here as well as many of the better known varietals from Bordeaux,Burgundy and the Rhone regions.

Pumps at Seka Hills Olive Mill (Linda C)

Pumps at Seka Hills Olive Mill (Linda C)

Yocha Dehe Golf Course (Linda C)

Yocha Dehe Golf Course (Linda C)

Also nestled in the valley is the original operation of Farm Fresh To You.  Capay Organic (the original name) is one of the original organically grown fresh produce delivery services.  Capay Organic first developed a collection of markets and restaurants that understood the growing (no pun intended) demand for organic fruits and vegetables.  If the name sounds familiar it may be that you have been to their Capay Organic Store in the San Francisco Ferry Terminal building.  Begun in the early 1970’s by Kathy Barsotti and her husband Martin Barnes, they started farming as a hobby with 20 acres.  Since then their operation has grown to over 350 acres with over 40,000 customers in mostly northern California but also extended to southern California.   The farm and business are now operated by brothers Thaddeus and Freeman Barsotti and their wives.   Every other Saturday they conduct free tractor driven tours of the farm and its 40+ fruit and vegetable crops.  Of yeah, they also raise organic chicks that produce organic eggs for sale.

Capay Organic Irrigation (Linda C)

Capay Organic Irrigation (Linda C)

Besides the Cache Creek Casino and Resort (which includes an award-winning world-class golf course), the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation has over 11,000 acres under cultivation.   They grow the full width and breath of fruits and vegetables.   Clearly, however, they are making their name with their Seka Hills wines and olive oils.  They are just completing the first commercial olive pressing mill in Yolo county to support their own oil production.  They will also serve as a custom press facility for anyone else who may have previously trucked their olives to Sonoma or elsewhere for pressing.   The facility is world-class.  It has been designed to support retail tasting and sales and is less than a mile away from the Casino and Resort.  A little vision here??

In summation, Capay Valley is one of the hidden treasures of Yolo!   Get moving and discover the bounty of Yolo!  To get there from the Bay Area take I80 east.  Follow I505 north toward Redding and exit on to State Route 16 north toward Williams.

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Anderson Valley Pinot Festival!!

Roederer Estate - Anderson Valley (Linda C)

The recent  Anderson Valley Pinot Festival kickoff event, one of several events sponsored by the Anderson Valley Winegrowers’ Association, was a huge sold out hit.   Hosted by Husch Vineyards, the evening casual barbecue followed a long day of technical and very informative discussions at the Mendocino County Fair Grounds in Boonville.

The technical discussions covered many topics including a panel of wine makers from the valley discussing terroir, yields, vineyard management and other thought-provoking subjects of interest to industry, media and off course the wine loving public.   Other subjects included a presentation on the evolution of viticulture in Oregon and new wine cave technologies.  The discussions were opened by current AVWA President, Kristy Charles of Foursight Winery.   The panel was moderated by a guest master of ceremonies, the loquacious Greg Walter, Publisher of Pinot Report.

Technical Sessions (Linda C)

Technical Sessions (Linda C)

Later that afternoon, more than 250 avid Pinot fans flocked to the idyllic Husch Vineyard grounds on Highway 128 in Philo.  There they were treated to a most excellent barbecue of pulled pork sandwiches, an exceptionally tasty corn and bean salad as well as cheese and crackers with sun-dried tomatoes, all provided by a local Boonville catering operation.  Picnic tables and picnic blankets were provided to make the venue as comfortable and inviting as one would hope for.

Blankets for loan at Husch (Linda C)

Blankets for loan at Husch (Linda C)

Aside from a sometimes brisk wind coming over the hilltop site the weather was very conducive to socializing and just plain enjoying the diverse group of people from all over the country including a couple from Minneapolis, MN.   The music was provided by the Gate Crashers, who had the crowd up and dancing from their very first note.  With the band stationed under the shade of a giant oak tree, this setting could not have been more picturesque.  Amphitheater style bench seating created a half circle around the band to encourage people to move from the tables after eating to create a more intimate concert and dance environment.

The Gate Crashers Perform (Linda C)

The Gate Crashers Perform (Linda C)

It’s all about the wine however.  The BBQ is traditionally a Bring Your Own Bottle event but it is optional and the many winemakers and vineyard owners in attendance provided a plethora of wines to taste from all over the state including whites and reds and many varietals other than Pinot Noir.   This is a top flight event and should not be missed by those who enjoy the pleasures of wine country living or at least want to have a piece of it.

BBQ Pulled Pork (Linda C)

BBQ Pulled Pork (Linda C)

The rest of the weekend included a variety of events including winemaker dinners, a Grand Tasting at Goldeneye Winery, located on Highway 128 in Philo, on Saturday and Open Houses at many of the 39 participating wineries on Sunday.   Nearly 900 people attended the Grand Tasting.  A special treat and clearly a labor of love for the many local resident volunteers and from the wineries.  This event occurs in May each year and is a “Do not miss” event!

Goldeneye Winery (Linda C)

Goldeneye Winery (Linda C)

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Summer in Winters – Hot Time in the OldTown

As mentioned in a recent post, Winters, a small city of about 6500 people in southwestern Yolo County is a place to see and be seen.   First settled in 1842 and subsequently established as a town in 1875 she finally was incorporated as a city in 1898.  Winters has a rich and mostly agricultural history and, like many U.S cities, has survived a series of boom and bust cycles driven first by the railroad expansion in the mid to late 19th century and then the later discontinuance of that same rail service.  The constant has been farming with a progression from dried and fresh fruits to walnuts and almonds and a community spirit that keeps bringing her back to a vibrant state of being.  It appears that Winters is on the threshold of another boom cycle.

Downtown Winters buzzing at twilight (Linda C)

Downtown Winters buzzing at twilight (Linda C)

City business and political leaders have worked very hard with a great deal of cooperation from their residence to establish and maintain Winters character.  They have generally declined the influx of fast food chains and have pretty successfully kept a real small town feel by nurturing the establishment of home-grown businesses and then supporting them.

There are many outstanding examples of creative entrepreneurship supported by the city.  Some of those are:  Berryessa Gap Vineyards tasting room, Root Stock Gift shop and tasting room, Fortify at Briggs Art Gallery Cafe and Turkovich Family Wines tasting room are highlights.

Turkovich Family Wine (Linda C)

Turkovich Family Wine (Linda C)

Another perfect example of this city’s spirit is the 2006 restoration of the dilapidated and abandoned Southern Pacific Rail Road steel Pratt Truss bridge which had been built in 1906.  Southern Pacific replaced the wood trestle bridge with this steel Pratt Truss railroad bridge in 1906.  For the 100th anniversary of the bridge, the City of Winters successfully rehabilitated and repurposed the railroad bridge for safe transit and viewing of Putah Creek by strollers and cyclists.

Restored Vaca Valley (SP) Railroad bridge circa 1906 (Linda

Restored Vaca Valley (SP) Railroad bridge circa 1906 (Linda

The city sports wonderful retail and restaurant spaces, one of which is a reclaimed and restored downtown automobile showroom.  Restaurants range from Buckhorns Steakhouse with its road house appeal to Putah Creek Cafe (featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” Diner category in 2010) to Chuy’s Taqueria, to Ocean Restaurant (Chinese) to El Verduzco Taco Truck which serves tacos and burritos for take-out.  It’s actually an amazing array considering the size of the city.

Wonderful Cioppino at Putah Creek Cage (Linda C)

A beautiful town park (Rotary Park), donated by Winters Rotary Club provides a delightful venue for various outdoor events throughout the year.  Some of those events include:

Custom Car Night on the 2nd Tuesday of each month March through October with classic music, raffles and great family fun.

The Earthquake Festival, August 24th will mark the 20th which commemorates the devastating 1892 quake, on main street.

The just completed Wine and Art in the Park  (May) with wine being poured by the 11 nearby wineries.

The Plein Air Festival is a week-long outdoor art festival each May where artists arrive in Winters and paint at various locations within 15 miles of downtown Winters, and at scheduled events throughout the week.

Route 3 Wines at Wine and Art in the Park (Linda C)

Route 3 Wines at Wine and Art in the Park (Linda C)

A real hot spot for evening entertainment is Palms Playhouse which hosts a variety of entertainment including dance bands. The Matty T Band from Vacaville was a real crowd pleaser on Saturday night. There are many other things to do in and around Winters.

Matty T Band rockin at Palms Playhouse Winters (Linda C)

Matty T Band rockin at Palms Playhouse Winters (Linda C)

There are many other things to do in and around Winters.  The city is on the brink of signing up a well established hotel chain to build a small hotel.  That is, perhaps, the only link missing for this vibrant and sassy city.  Despite this minor gap, located where it is just off I505 about 14 miles from the City of Davis, 70 miles east of San Francisco and 31 miles west of Sacramento, it is totally accessible as a day trip and if one needed to spend the night, Davis and Woodland offer reasonably close lodging choices.

Winters Rotary Park (Courtesy of www.waymarking.com)

Winters Rotary Park (Courtesy of http://www.waymarking.com)

Stay tuned for part III in this series on the County of Bounty – Yolo.

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