SF Bay Area/Marc's Graduation, May 2005

(Body text written by Kevin; Shelby's comments are in gray)

In mid-May, we returned to the San Francisco Bay Area for a long weekend — primarily so that we could see our friends Marc and Wendy (themselves in town from Denver), and attend/celebrate Marc's graduation with a Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Day 1

For our first day, we just kind of wandered around San Francisco. Marc picked up his graduation regalia from CIIS. We browsed funky stores in the Mission district (including the world-famous pirate store at 826 Valencia), and visited one of Marc's favorite taquerias from his student days. [Shelby: Marc has an obsessive interest in — you might even say fetish for — burritos. Marc lived in the Mission District, home to multiple burrito vendors, we were pleased to be directed to "the best" and taste their fine (and inexpensive) wares.]

Day 2: Sonoma

The next day was more ambitious — we (us, Marc and Wendy, and Marc's sister Katrina) went winetasting in Sonoma County. All of our visits were to wineries we (Shelby and I, at least — we were wine educators [!] for the rest of the group) already knew and liked, except for one new choice thrown into the mix.

[Shelby: I had wanted to make 2 reservations for private tastings (at wineries that don't have public tasting rooms) but the woman on the phone at A. Rafanelli was very short and snooty with me, informing me that their weekends were full of their mailing list customers picking up their wines. My dad has been a mailing list customer of theirs for over 10 years (at least), but I never even got a chance to throw his name around. Oh well.]


Our first stop was at Siduri in Santa Rosa — they produce super-excellent California and Oregon Pinot Noir under the Siduri label, and all kinds of other wines under their Novy Family Wines label. We lucked out in that our visit happened to coincide with their Open House — all of their wines were open for tasting, and the pourer was usually somebody from the vineyard that grew the grapes for that particular wine.

They had a really interesting barrel tasting; the same wine was laid into two barrels, each made from a different oak forest in France, and we were invited to gauge the difference — which turned out to be very perceptible. We knew that the barrel made a difference, but we didn't appreciate just now much!

Us with genius winemaker Adam Lee.
Another group shot — but this time with Katrina, who took the last picture, in the group instead of me.
Don't mess with Bubba.

After Siduri, we drove up Highway 101 to Ridge Vineyards. Ridge also has a large variety of excellent wines (known especially for their Zinfandels and their Monte Bello Cabernet), and their tasting is free! We had a very nice tasting, marred somewhat by a too-full-of-herself server (instead of taking the time to educate or explain, she merely contradicted someone's comments about the sweet taste of a particular wine by saying "oh no, that wine isn't sweet — it just has the illusion of sweetness." Of course, "that isn't x, it just has the illusion of x" became our catch-phrase for the rest of the trip).

A curiosity is that Ridge's buildings are made out of hay — revealed to the left through a cutaway pane of glass.

Shelby: This was our second experience with snooty tasting room staff. It's strange because we've never had anything less than wonderful visits with the winemakers themselves, but for some reason some of their Gatekeepers are not as friendly as they could be. I really was baffled by the woman at Ridge. It was clear that we were not just there guzzling the free wine--we were making a good faith effort to learn more about the wine. We even mentioned that Kevin and I are members of their wine club (where you receive a given number of bottles a couple of times a year). We were already customers but she certainly wasn't going to convert our other 3 tasters into customers with an attitude like that.


After a break for lunch, we drove over to an afternoon appointment at Göpfrich Estate Vineyard & Winery. Göpfrich was our first new winery on this trip, and the only one we made an appointment for. I have to admit that it caught my eye for superficial reasons — first it was the German name, then it was the fact that they call their wine club "The Umlaut Club", and on top of it all, they sell German white wines from their 'sister winery' in the Rheinhessen.

Except for the fact that they sold out of the German wines a few weekends before, we were well-rewarded; the owner and winemaker, Ray Göpfrich, gave us a tour (they're small; it was a short tour), and we tasted some very nice wines (we took home a couple of bottles of their cuvee). Ray is a retired dentist; thirty-five years of speciality dentistry gave him the werewithal to retire to this dream job in Sonoma. We got there a little early and took him by surprise; he kept apologizing for not having had enough time to change his wine-stained pants before we pulled up! (And don't you think that Ray looks kinda like James Cromwell?)

Marc with Ray Göpfrich

After Göpfrich, our next stop was at another small winery, Nalle, justly famous (?) for their Zins. They also make my favorite Pinot Noir and do a white wine every now and then (this year it's Sauvignon Blanc). The owners, Doug and Lee Nalle, have to be the nicest people in the wine business. Unfortunately, Doug and Lee were in France, but their son Andrew and a neighbor/friend were holding down the fort. Also there was Solo, the Nalles' yellow Lab, who was more than happy to accept tummy scratchies from all comers.

I felt kind of sheepish ... we already had everything they had out for tasting, so all we could really do was say "gosh, you guys make great wine ... uh, bye now!"

To continue the "unique winery construction" thread started at Ridge, the Nalles take care of everything inside an above-ground 'bunker', covered with dirt and a layer of rosemary plants to keep cool.

Marc with Solo The Winery Dog.
The "bunker", covered in rosemary.

Our last stop of the day was at Ferrari-Carano, which was a marked contrast to everyone else we'd visited. Siduri was located in a nondescript industrial park; Göpfrich and Nalle were small, handful-of-people operations; Ridge was bigger, but not this big. Compared to them all, Ferrari-Carano was the Wine Disneyland or Las Vegas of upper Sonoma, a giant villa set amongst lush gardens.

The Disneyish aura extended to the tasting areas; not only was this the first stop where we were being asked to pay (and once you paid, you could only choose a handful of wines — four out of ten or so — to taste out of the available possibilities), the crowds were stacked deep around the tasting bar.

Despite the impressive presentation, the cost and the mob scene made it all feel so underwhelming that in our end-of-the-day fatigue, we decided to give fighting the crowds a miss. Still, we wandered around the grounds a little (and I bought a bottle of dessert wine — I'm always a sucker for dessert wine).

After Ferrari-Carano, it was time for the long trek back to San Francisco. Marc and Katrina's parents had made it in to the city from Arizona and were waiting at the hotel; we met them there and went out to Alioto's, one of the restaurants on Fishermans' Wharf.

Day 3: Graduation

We dropped the anxious graduate off (he'd been having dreams that the Graduation Police were going to descend on him and take his degree away) at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre and doodled around wasting time until they let in us spectators.

Eventually we made our way in, the ceremony began, and for all of you out there who made fun of me for going to Berkeley, that northern pinko liberal hippie school (and pretended to be joking but in your heart of hearts were actually serious), you ain't seen nothin'. Graduation at CIIS opened with an invocation — an endless droning thing that went on and on to the Animals of the West, the Spirits of the East, the Honorable Ancestors Above Us, and so on, until we'd extensively thanked six or seven entities at each compass point, plus a few additional directions that the speaker had invented just for the occasion.

After the invocation, there were a couple of speakers, and then some drummers came out. These guys were simply amazing; I've never seen anyone move so fast.
Finally, graduates started with their graduating. Action shot of our man, Dr. Marc D. Komori Stager:
The approach!
The hooding!
The walkaway!
After Marc's hooding, there were hoods and such for everyone further down the line, an overlong speech from the president of the alumni association (what more does an alumni president really need to say than "brochures are out in the lobby — discount if you join today!"), and a Buddist chant that lasted even longer than the invocation (you could tell which faculty members were really into CIIS' mission and who was just picking up a paycheck by watching to see who was swaying back and forth with eyes closed and who was just sitting there stonily), everyone was free! The graduates had their recessional, the crowd filed out, and we were free to meet our grads in the reception area.

[Shelby's take on graduation: There was one post-Invocation speaker, a woman getting an honorary doctorate, who went on and on long enough to make my ears bleed. Her husband also received an honorary doctorate, but his speech was mercifully short.

Haven't these speakers ever been to a graduation before? I don't get it--the only reason we're there is to see our loved ones walk across the stage with their diplomas. Maybe a few short words, but by short, I mean short. I mean a perfect invocation would go something like, "All of our doctoral graduates have finished their dissertations, and I think I speak for everyone when I say THANK YOU, GOD! Amen." There was one speaker who was dynamic and interesting. She was earning her doctorate and her speech was basically a big F-you to the high school guidance counselor who told her to go to a 2 year college and pick a trade because her family was from the Dominican Republic. She got the most applause.]

Afterwards, Marc had his picture taken with all comers:
His parents ...
... Wendy and Katrina ...
... some random guys from out on the street ...
... and Marc and Wendy alone.
After the ceremony and a break to change at the hotel, it was over the Golden Gate Bridge to San Rafael for the last graduation-related activity: a dinner in Marc's honor, with Marc and Wendy's Bay Area friends. After the dishes were cleared away, people stood up and said whatever they felt moved to say about Marc (which, since Marc is such an overwhelmingly nice guy, was all complimentary — no roasting going on here).

Day 4

After all that, our last day was pretty relaxed. We all got up 'late' (for them, at least; our household is a little more slack), had a cafe breakfast, and then took the F Line historic streetcar to the Ferry Building. We browsed around the various eclectic shops there (biggest hit with our crowd: either Scharffen Berger Chocolate or Sur La Table), had lunch, and took the streetcar back to the hotel so that Marc's parents could catch the airport shuttle.

Shelby took a nap and I hiked with Marc and Wendy over to Ghirardelli Square, where M & W put up with me while I browsed the bookshelves of Builders Booksource at length (Marc settled down with a book about scooters; Wendy disappeared to buy chocolate). Then back to the hotel for a little more time spent chatting with M & W, and then it was our turn to throw our bags into our rented minivan and drive off to the airport.

A good trip!

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