Life in California: Holiday Edition

Christmas tree in the Mini Cooper
The Mini Cooper often doubles as a truck

This is the next installment of my Life in California series, chronicling the transition to the California lifestyle after moving to northern California from Tampa, Florida. See the other Life in California posts.

Since we went back east in early November, Scott and I decided to stay in California for the holidays. It was only the second time (and likely, the last) I’ve been away from some sort of family during this must-be-jolly season. I’ll admit it was freeing to avoid the nightmare of travel but melancholy settled in as I discovered how much I missed friends and family. But, of course, new friends, experiences (and wine) cushioned the season.

You Never Know who You’re Gonna Meet

I’ve always been a bit of a Port wine whore (what’s Port?). I cut my teeth on this raisin-y dessert wine from Portugal (its origin), but early in my wine career, I became enamored with a family-owned Port house in Central California. They made their unctuous, sweet nectar not from Zinfandel and Cabernet grapes, but tongue-twisting Portuguese varietals like those from the home country: Tinta Madeira, Touriga Nacional, Souzao and Tinta Cao. I thought that was pretty bad-ass brave. The winery’s name is Ficklin Vineyards. Suffice it to say, I’m a bit of a groupie.

Rebecca and Tim Ficklin
Rebecca and Tim Ficklin – How cute are they?

So during the holidays, Scott and I went to a house party on our block where we drank sparkling wine in sizable volume, gorged on salmon mousse and had an engaging conversation with a couple, Rebecca and Tim, who are friends with our neighbors, Joel and Cailyn (mentioned in another Life in California piece). Fast forward about an hour and from somewhere across the room, the words “Ficklin Port” moistened the air. I stopped talking literally in mid-sentence, ears perking up like my cat when the “nip” comes out. A real Pavlovian response ensued. I hadn’t tasted Ficklin in probably six years since it had virtually disappeared from Florida shelves. Intrigued, I casually asked, “So… what about Ficklin Port… I love that wine.” My new friend Tim started blushing, or maybe he was beaming, as he shyly confessed his last name is Ficklin. “No shit?” I asked, jaw dropping open like a dribbling idiot (hey…maybe he carries a case in his car?). After I gushed a bit more about why I’m an admirer, Tim protested that his dad, Peter Ficklin, is the winemaker and he (Tim) isn’t involved. Hell, I didn’t care. He’s a Ficklin. And I’m a groupie.

To celebrate the occasion, Cailyn re-appeared from heaven, bearing a bottle of 1991 Ficklin Vintage Port. Pretty outstanding. Like a groupie, I took their picture with the bottle, while Rebecca and Tim surely thought I was a lunatic. Not the first time someone has thought that, mind you. Ficklin’s authentic and ethereal port should be available at a retail shop near you. According to Tim, they still distribute throughout the U.S., so ask at an independent retailer if you’d like to give this winery a try. You can also buy it online at

Thanksgiving with the Geeks

I’m certain there are more wine geeks per square inch in Sonoma County than anywhere else in California. They’re concentrated here like boots at a rodeo. Swaggering around with their geeky brogue, talking tannins and flavor profiles. I fit right in. Thanksgiving for us was at a our friends Lisa and Damon’s gorgeous new house perched on top of a small mountain. I imagined valley views like theirs have started cat fights on Housewives of Who Gives a Crap Where. When we arrived, the kitchen table was already festooned with sparkling wine and Champagne bottles, food of all sorts and the brined turkey roasting aromas were tearing up my head. Two chefs were in attendance (myself included) and we basked in foodie-ism as we ate and drank our way through innumerable bites and bottles. I gave thanks that day for the plentiful wine geeks in these here parts and their welcoming arms.

Deck the Halls

Scott cutting Christmas Tree
Scott cutting Christmas tree down

Growing up in Atlanta, then Switzerland, and then Florida, still-in-the-ground Christmas trees weren’t exactly plentiful. So when I heard that you could trek only 20 minutes, cut down your own tree and carry it home, it was as if my inner child emerged to possess my adult body. My husband rolled his eyes as I bounced around the house — excited about cutting down my first Christmas tree. His bah-humbug-ness failed to deter me. Nor did the lack of an appropriate vehicle to transport it serve as an obstacle. The Mini Cooper convertible often acts as a pick up truck for trips to Home Depot, so why not a Christmas tree?

After obsessively researching all the possible local Christmas Tree options on Yelp, I dragged Scott to Sebastopol, arriving at Victorian Christmas Tree Ranch. It’s a family-owned locale, complete with chickens, a farm-animal petting zoo, hot apple cider and fresh-baked banana bread, and loads of effusive friendliness. So kitschy, it was palpable. And perfectly awesome! They hand you a saw, you find the tree, (husband) cut(s) it down, and the family’s sons and their friends carry the netted tree to your car. However, it was likely the first time they loaded one into a Mini Cooper. The guy grinned and giggled as he hoisted it. As did I. On the drive home, people gawked at us – 50 degrees out, top down, 8-foot tree hanging out the back as if we had somehow stuffed Shaquille O’Neal into our back seat (about the same size, by the way).

New Year’s Eve in Da City

Like any City Girl who now lives as a Country Girl, my monthly trips to San Francisco become a thing of grandeur and excess. I fill my Saturday with far too much (insert any ethnic cuisine) food, wine bars with wines from places other than California (a little variety always helps) and simply walking around and ogling like an American the first time in Paris. The sights, sounds and, of course, smells…

So, of course, New Year’s Eve (like July 4th and Halloween) had to be in San Francisco. Starting with a bottle of Infinium at my friend’s apartment, we had a stupendous three-course, prix-fixe meal at Bin 38 in the Marina district and saw a horrible comedy show headlined by Dave Atell (the crowd was amusing though). But then the fun began after midnight as we watched embarrassingly wasted people walking around Union Square, smelled flagrant pot smoke wafting in the air and enjoyed the sights that only a world-class city can deliver. I already can’t wait until next year.

Gotta love Life in California. I do.


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