Mendocino- Philo-Cloverdale-Healdsburg-Stewart’s Point- Gualala- Sea Ranch- Jenner-Guerneville- Santa Rosa (via Russian River)- Sonoma-Napa- St Helena- Tomales.
So the baton passes back to me to report on the events of the last seven days of the tour. It has been both memorable and eventful ……In the following we try to capture everything as succinctly as we can……Having said this there is a lot to get through so I would suggest you make a cup of tea, sit somewhere comfortable and read until you get bored!
In summary and on the advice of one of Ruth’s clients we have spent the week zooming down highway one and then zig-zagging west to east and back again, following various river valleys inland to towns and areas that sit in the heart of North California’s wine country, just north of San Francisco.
Six pretty tough, but beautiful bicycle rides have been completed as part of the journey, together with a more gentle wine tasting cycling tour of the Anderson Valley. The highlights of each may be summarised as follows:
Ride 1. Mendocino to Philo. Claire has given a brief description of Mendocino in the previous blog (pronounced Mendosino – we adopted (wrongly) the rather more romantic and Italian sounding Mendo’cc’ino and were quietly rebuffed on a number of occasions).
A very lovely spot, pretty old seaside town, beautiful coastal scenery….but for me, something rather unsettling. For the first time on the tour I was not feeling chipper – slightly down even- and decidedly out of sorts. This mood lifted as soon as we climbed away from the town. I wondered why and then read that this part of the coast is one of the most earthquaky (such a word?) parts of the USA. It is in fact a meeting point of three tectonic plates that are always moving and grumbling at one another and it is apparently very common to feel the earth move. Well no earth movements for us! (Ed comment – grumbles, however, were noted!) But it was for me a very unsettling place. So maybe there is something about the terroir, which impacts our moods and karma.
Our cycle route climbed out of Mendocino, following Highway One and hugging the coast. The landscape felt very Cornwall-ish. Rocky headlands, small inlets and crashing waves.
Our plan was to turn inland and over the mountains along an old country road. However when we reached our planned turning we encountered a sign which said road blocked in 9 miles. We sat contemplating for a moment and for once decided to obey the sign and take an alternative route. We are very glad we did! As we continued along the coast we were eventually presented with a fantastic view of a dramatic river valley below us. We took in the scene from the coastal high point and then plunged down to the river below via a fabulous road that wound down the mountainside to the river’s mouth. Route 1 then crossed the river and climbed back up to follow the coast. We, however turned inland onto route 128, which meandered alongside the Navarro River and took us through dark and dense Redwood forests. A bit of a scary ride due to the denseness of the tree cover, which made visibility difficult.
The forest eventually open up into an area referred to as the Anderson Valley, one of the wine AVAs of the Mendocino County region (see below). The ride took us through the valley floor, which was planted with vines and fruit trees and forest and enclosed by gently undulating mountains.
Our home for the night was Philo, a tiny, sleepy settlement (pop: 349) situated in the middle of the valley. Our accommodation comprised a small farmstead surrounded by wineries and owned by a family who have run the farm for six generations. As we walked into the property we were a little fazed. A barn to our right was covered in skulls of various animals, road signs and a Twin Peaks sign. The farmstead comprised a ramshackle collection of barns, machines and a beautifully planted and well tended garden. Mel, one of two sisters emerged from the garden and explained that her mother who usually looks after guests was ill and that she had been assigned the task of taking care of us. She explained that she was new to the game of airbnb and insisted that we give her feedback. Looking at Mel and the farm, Claire and I knew instantly that any feedback would need to be delivered carefully and gently or if we put a foot wrong we might just join the skull collection festooning the barn!
The cottage was just great. Very rustic and basic but it had the best ever washing machine and we washed every single thing we owned. The sweet smell of fresh laundry! One issue, however, we lay the washing over the porch and some of Mel’s precious plants. As a result we were given short shrift and were instructed carefully to relocate them to the line at the bottom of the garden.
Postscript: Claire wrote a very lovely note to Mel’s sister with lots of helpful guidance. Bottom line they are sitting on a gold mine. A bit of well directed shabby shacking and they will be sorted. Not that I think they are entirely bothered. They seemed to suggest that the influx of all the wineries into the Anderson Valley was slightly bothersome and they would rather go back to the old days when people just drove quickly past on their way to the coast!
Ride 2. The Anderson Valley wine tour. One problem with a bike and a love of fine wine is that they do not really mix! – you cannot obvs. ride a bike and drink lots of wine. However the Anderson Valley provided the perfect solution – the vineyards are small and therefore the distance between them are short. In addition there are lots of them, and they produce half-bottles. Hurrah!
We decided to concentrate our wine tasting on this area because- based on cursory research – we thought it would have lots of wines we liked. The area is characterised by a cool, coastal climate and as a result it focuses on chardonnays ‘made in the French way’ and Pinot Noirs that are starting to compete seriously with French Burgundy.
So we picked two wineries: Navarro and Long Meadow Ranch. Both family owned and operated and both of which adopt organic production (see more below). Long Meadow Ranch, who have recently set up in the Anderson Valley also have a big operation in Napa.
At both we had a great time tasting chardonnays (and I liked them all- major revelation!) and Pinot Noirs. All super yummy and we ended up taking a bottle of Long Meadow Ranch Pinot Noir back to Mel’s and whizzing up a steak and salad supper….a perfect day!
Ride 3. Philo to Healdsburg, which started very early in the morning in freezing fog and took us through two Mendocino appellations comprising the lower Anderson valley and Yorkville and then onto our first Sonoma region appellation: Dry River Creek.
The first five miles of riding were almost unbearable. Our fingers were freezing, we could see our breaths and the mist was so thick we could not see more than about five feet in front of us. Fortunately the rest of the valley does not wake up until about 10am until the sun burns through the mist and hence our only encounter with traffic was early morning farm workers and a school bus.
After five miles we stopped in the slightly larger Boonville and found ourselves a diner. As we walked in a group of elderly locals were having their morning coffee, happily chatting in Spanish and English. I am not sure they were aware which language they were speaking at any one time they just switched happily between the two. However we could tell from a few recognisable words and the subject matter on the television that the big topic of conversation was Harry and Megan’s trip to Australia and all that flows from that!
Breakfast was welcoming. As the warmth returned painfully to our fingers, pancakes, eggs, omelettes and hot coffee arrived. We sat, ate and waited until the sun had removed every last vestige of mist and got on our way.
As we cycled down the street we could see that Boonville was slowly turning into Boom-ville. Lots of shops were being done up and houses were being constructed as the area transforms itself into one of California’s leading wine production regions. We had wondered the previous evening why Sake was sitting alongside Pinot Noir on the menu in one of the restaurants we visited and then we read about the love the Japanese have for the grape and the wine and how they are moving to, setting up restaurants in Burgundy and so maybe the same goes for the Anderson Valley (more below…).
The ride through the valley was long, hard and very hot. Eventually after lots of ups and downs we dropped into Cloverdale and found ourselves a delightful coffee shop serving all manner of vegan, vegetarians, GF foods (we are getting close to San Francisco!). We got ourselves a coffee and a bun and sat outside in the street. As we did a very lovely MAMIL stopped and had a chat. A native California in his early 50s who clearly rode a lot. He loved our story and told us how he was trying to persuade his 22 year old son that life is not all about work and money and that he should take some time out and not work so hard! (How times change!) He told us about how he had had a very serious accident and thought he could never get back on his bike again but that he had forced himself because of how good it made him feel and how much healthier he was. He also told us all about the rides we were about to do, as he had done them all and cautioned us to remember to pack our climbing legs (more on that later). As we spoke animatedly about the joys of cycling an older women sat smiling wryly reading a book on the next table. The book was titled something like how to be ageless. My answer ride a bike if you can! (Ed comment – check out Tandem Cyclists Graeme and Betty’s Sunlife Video – google it).
We finished our coffee, bid our farewells and then rode onto to our final destination, Healdsburg, along Dry Creek Road, a former river valley that has been damned and planted with acres and acres of vines and what appeared to be hundreds of small independent organic wineries.
Healdsburg itself is a town that supports the many wineries and farms that surround it. It is also the base for tourists visiting the wine region and as a result supports a whole host of eateries, shops and wine tasting rooms (heaven!). Our home for the night, a small BnB owned by an English couple who live in Oxford. Being European our bed attire consisted for the first time of a beloved duvet rather than sheets and blankets…bliss!
This was also the point to get our bikes checked. Both of us were starting to have a few niggles with gears and brakes and the bikes were starting to make the odd noise that did not sound good. So we checked them into SpokeFolk. A great shop run by an English couple. They did a great job on putting our bikes back together and ensuring that we could make it to the end. I wish there was the same facility for the body! In response we took ourselves to off to Yoga and did an early morning Vinyasa flow and this coupled with two great dinners and some fine wine seemed to return body and soul to equilibrium.
Ride 4. Healdsburg to Stewart’s Point via Skaggs Spring Road and then onto Sea Ranch. A ride that when we mentioned we were intending to ride it to local people in the know gave rise to a raise of an eyebrow or comments like ‘make sure you bring your hill climbing legs’ or from the lady in the bike shop ‘well you can always get off and walk can’t you?’
As a result of these comments our last night in Healdsburg was a tad restless as we both worried about what was about to befall us. My overriding thought was that it couldn’t be as epic as our Lost Coast adventure!……and no in retrospect it was not quite so dramatic…..but it was yet another epic, comprising three rather special hills – bits of which I – due to the fact that I could not fit my spare hill climbing legs into my small bike bags!- ended up walking a couple of particularly strap sections. Claire on the other hand faired somewhat better and managed them all – apart from an almost vertical section on the last climb.
The road known as Skaggs Spring Road after taking us up and down mountainsides took us through more Redwood Forest before eventually opening out to the sea at Stewart’s Point and this signalled our return to Highway 1. Our home was one of the buildings that comprised the Sea Ranch community, which was located 3km from Stewart’s Point but we had to pick up keys from Gualala, located some 20km further north and so after some 100km of riding we had to battle against a massive headwind to collect our keys (massive sense of humour failure from both riders!) and having retrieved them had to cycled back to our very special home – Condominium 1 (more on this below), located next to the Sea Ranch Hotel.
A quick shower was had and then it was straight to Sea Ranch Hotel for dinner.
Ride 5. Sea Ranch to Jenner to Guerneville to Santa Rosa (via Russian River). This ride was the longest of all six rides and after the Skaggs Spring Road ride we were not sure we could quite face yet another Treanor/ Ross epic and so tried to find a point to stop half way to break the ride into two. However there was absolutely no accommodation available at the half way point so Monte Rio/ Guerneville area for a particular reason which became apparent to us only once we started riding through the area.
Given the lack of accommodation we decided to stop being wimpy and do the ride. We got up super early, whipped up a serious bowl of porridge each and set off. Being Saturday the roads were really quiet and we were treated to an absolutely dream ride along the coast to Jenner. The coast road followed the rugged coastline rising to rugged headlands and falling to small beach coves. The landscape comprised rough grassland and weather beaten gorse and grasses on the higher ground and redwood and eucalyptus forest in the lower lying and more sheltered cove areas. The coastline is very rocky and the rollers crashed dramatically into the shore as we zoomed past. The sea itself was very clear, made up of shades of deep blue and turquoise. As we rose high above the coast we could see the odd whale coming up for air .
The ride itself was hard. The roads were narrow with no shoulders and in a number of places had started to crumble into the sea. The wind was also very strong and again my extra poundage meant that I could hold the road much better than the other small one. Both of us kept our eyes firmly on the road ahead and avoided eye contact with the cliff edge immediately to our right.
Eventually we dropped into the small settlement of Jenner, which overlooks a beautiful turquoise bay and signifies the point where the Russian River meets the sea. A whole series of super groovy wooden shacks, each one individually designed and with their own very specific personalities lined Route 1 into the centre of the village and also pepper potted the hills behind.
At its centre, Jenner comprises a gas station, a hotel, a wine shop and the most amazing cafe, which overlooks the bay: Cafe Aquatica, a brightly painted and flag adorned wooden shack, with a lovely outside seating area. A small wooden stage was occupied by a grey haired, grey bearded dude who sat with his guitar and knocked out a set of flamenco tunes.
We ordered two, two shot espressos (best coffee of the tour so far) and two Gluten Free, vegan etc etc buns and sat listening to the tunes. The other patrons comprised gay couples with rather smart dogs, older hippie types in brightly coloured knitted items, young people in Lycra, bikers in leathers who had ridden their very beautiful Harley Davidsons up from San Francisco (Note: It would appear from observation over the last few weeks that anyone who wants to ride Route 1 on a motorcycle can only do so in packs of 3 or more, must only ride the most expensive and pristine Harleys and must be over 40, have greying / former rock star rugged looks and don serious leathers and other black or grey clothing) and us.
We sat for a couple of hours listening to the music and the chat around us, which was very entertaining. We had it all relationships, work colleagues, work issues, personal issues!….and various bits advice being given in thick Californian accents.
Eventually we dragged ourselves back onto our bikes and started to head inland, following Russian River. The landscape quickly changed from floodplain, to pasture, to forest and we found ourselves meandering through the canopies of trees and dappled sunshine. Hidden in the trees we caught glimpses of more funky weekend shacks and associated vegetable/ garden plots.
Eventually the tree cover broke and opened onto pasture land and the hamlet of Duncan Mills (population 175), comprising two cafes, a pub and a couple of shops and on this particular weekend host to “The Best Buck in the Bay Annual Rodeo”….and we are not talking just any rodeo! This is northern California’s LGBT rodeo, run by the Golden Gate Gay Rodeo Association…..Absolutely brilliant! Yes a serious rodeo, with seriously good wranglers, cowboys and cowgirls participating in the sorts of conventional events that comprise rodeos i.e. riding horses fast around poles, lassoing calves, wrestling calves to the ground and some other less conventional events involving a lot of dressing up and dressing goats (don’t ask!), sponsored by those well known rodeo names: Six Pack, Rock Hard, Lazy Bear, 9 x6 Lube!
As with every top LGBT event, however the cowboy and cowgirl outfits were suitably exaggerated and personalised by their respective owners – leather chaps, plaid shirts, jewel encrusted and feather Stetsons, cowboy boots and spurs (a must), suitable facial hair and lots of cowboy related jewelry. We had great fun mingling, looking completely out of place in our cycling kit and with trusty bicycle steeds.
After spending way too long at the ranch we saddled up again and got on our way. Traffic was heavy and the sun was very hot so we stopped at Monte Rio- Vacation Wonderland or so the sign said and partook in our first burger of the tour. Well we had to really the restaurant announced that they served the best burgers this side of San Francisco. Unfortunately, however we are not well versed in the language of the burger- size 1/3 pound, 1/4 pound, 1/2 pound etc…..build your own….multiple cheeses to choose from…multiple bun types to select…and then numerous other choices of stuff. After much cogitation we picked the small size, on a regular bun, with cheddar, mushrooms, bacon and salad….everything else on the side. A mighty stressful experience BUT a delicious one when it eventually came.
Signs of the rodeo pre-event/ post-event were everywhere in the towns of Monte Rio and Guerneville were packed with real and wannabe cowboys and cowgirls and hence the reason for no room in the inn and the reason that J & C had to cycle a very long way to get a place to stay.
Then it was back on the road and the final run into Santa Rosa, which was lovely as it comprised – like so many cities we have been in- cycle/ pedestrian tracks, which are well surfaced and which link up with designated cycle routes on roads. The route led us to the door of our hotel. We unloaded, showered, found ourselves a lovely restaurant (as always!) ordered a Chardonnay (more on that below) and a pile of crunchy vegetables (too much cow earlier in the day!) and toasted what was a very eventful and fun cycling day!
Ride 6. A short one from Santa Rosa to Sonoma. Well after the last few days we thought we needed a rest and needed to wash some clothes. So another laundrette, followed by breakfast and then we hit the road again. The ride took us through Sonama’s vineyard country and some small hamlets. All very easy and relaxing and we arrived early afternoon to find our home for the night….yet another rather cute wooden shack! And a fridge full of lovely local farm products.
Ride 7. The Napa, St Helena, Sonoma loop and a great ride because a. we did not have to carry our bags and we could ride our bikes free of some 10kg of stuff (bliss!) b. Because the scenery was so breathtaking c. Because of the varied vineyard architecture (traditional USA, Italian hill town to contemporary very out-there!). And finally c. Because of the great lunch we had in St. Helena at Long Ranch Farmstead.
The ride comprised a 100km round trip that took us through the three towns and on a newly formed Vine Trail cycle route out of Napa. A very relaxing and unstressful ride!
Things we learnt along the way…..
So after all of that what of the highlights and musings of this part of the journey. Well many and too many to write here. However there are probably a few interesting things worth sharing! Here we go in no particular order:
Overcoming a fear of Chardonnay: The focus of the last week has been upon the regions that make up North Californian wine country. Prior to coming to the USA we new very little about USA wines and what we thought we did know has been proved to be largely wrong! No longer will I walk past the USA section in Waitrose.
So what have we learnt. Well winemaking in the region can be traced back to the 18th century when Spanish missionaries planted vineyards to supply communion wine. The wave of European settlers in the mid 19th century, however saw the beginnings of a commercial industry, which is today a multi billion dollar business.
The North Californian region also supports a very diverse climate and growing conditions and a wide range of grapes. It certainly isn’t all big, brash Cab Savs/ Zinfandels or ‘urinal’ oaked Chardonnay’s. The small levels of production, however means that much of the good stuff remains in the US and never makes it to the UK except through a few specialist producers. Given this we thought we better make the most of our short visit!
We cycled through the three main counties of Northern California wine country: Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino. Each of these counties is made up of small appellations, which were traditionally determined by political borders such as state and county lines. In 1981, however a system of American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) was introduced. The borders of each AVA is based on climate and geography. Using the name of either an appellation or an AVA on a label requires that a certain percentage of the wine in the bottle (75 to 85%, respectively) be from grapes grown within the designations.
AVAs, in contrast to Appellations, are defined by such natural features as soil types, prevailing winds, rivers and mountain ranges. Wineries hoping to create an AVA must submit documented research to the administrative authorities proving that the area’s attributes distinguish it from the surrounding region.
Napa has 18AVAs, Sonoma 20 and Mendocino 15 and they together support about 800 wineries. We cycled through pretty much all of them but sampled only a fraction of the wines produced (sadly!).
So what did we find:
Napa, a narrow scenic valley defined on east and west by two mountain ranges, which is jam packed with wineries (about 400). The valley bottom and the slopes (to 2000feet) are planted. We cycled the valley between Napa and St Helena (via route 29 and the Silverado Trail) passing the AVAs of Yountville, Rutherford , Oakville, Stags Leap, St Helena and Napa Valley. Cabernet Sauvignon is king in the valley, with Chardonnay the most widely planted white variety. It is also very up market and expensive!
Sonoma. The most diverse and geographically the largest region encapsulating the moist Pacific Coast, dry inland valleys and the hillsides of the Mayacamas mountains that define the eastern borders of Napa County. The oldest vineyards are situated around Sonoma. In the northern part of the county, the City of Healdsburg has recently evolved from a small backwater into a very buzzy destination and sits at the hub of three major growing regions -Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley.
The area supports around 15 grape varieties. Chardonnay takes the lead as the most planted variety of grape in the region. Pinot follows on. But the region also has small specialisations ranging from sparkling wines to Zinfandels.
More laid back than Napa and a lot less ritzy. We particularly enjoyed our stay in Healdsburg. A bright, ambitious place that supports a whole range of small, independent restaurants that are doing some great food and a really good bike shop!
Mendocino. Cooler and coastal. The area supports around 90 wineries and over 250 growers. Grape varieties include Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurtztraminer, Viognier and Chenin Blanc. Taking route 128 we road through five AVAs: Mendocino, Mendocino Ridge, Anderson Valley, Yorkville Highlands.
I think in retrospect we probably both enjoyed Mendocino the most. It is more laid back, not so ritzy and you felt that the vineyards all formed part of larger family farms. We could lie under an olive tree next to the vineyards and no one seemed remotely bothered. The wine tasting was largely free and people seemed generally pleased to see us and to tell you about their wines and their methods of growing. It also supports the most all-organic wineries (see below) and the Anderson Valley produces some of the most amazing Pinot Noirs I have tasted. Plus and this is very important I really liked their Chardonnays!
(Note all figures taken from Wine Institute of California……so if not correct…soz!)
Organic, biodynamic, sustainable: what is the difference? Confused and unsure about these descriptions, we did some research. In brief: organic grapes are grown to certified standards and organic wines are made using no non-organic additives; biodynamic is an holistic approach to agricultural based on practices to ‘improve’ farm health; sustainable production embraces a broader range of environmental, social and well-being principles.
A bit of planning, Sonoma style. Whilst sitting in Cloverdale we came across an article in the local paper about planning. The headline announced: ‘Planning Discussions Cloud the Horizons’. Well of course we had to read on. The Sonoma County fires destroyed 5,300 homes last year and new pressures abound to built new homes. As a result the future of housing, transportation and the economy are becoming hot topics of conversation.
Free market, non interventionist policy making is resulting in huge disparities and inequality in income, health and education.
The County’s homeless population has increased by six per cent over the last year and yet looking to the future it is anticipated that the area will continue to attract people with incomes greater than 100,000 dollars a year and hence disparity between rich and poor will increase without a little bit of positive planning.
The goal is to build 30,000 new homes by 2023, which represent a massive jump in completion rates compared to previous years and whilst all appear to accept the need for increased supply the big debate is revolving around where to build and for which income bracket (forever thus!).
In response to the above, the article stated:
…In theory, planning should be easy- conduct some studies, listen to the people, draw up a plan that sort of pleases everyone. In practice, as seen by the recent failure of the Affordable Housing Bond for Sonoma County, it can be difficult to find a common vision…’
Oh yes! And so what appears to be happening is a series of parallel planning processes. Sonoma’s County’s Office of Recovery and Resilience is consulting and gathering information with a view to drawing up a ‘blueprint to address the immediate and long term recovery efforts needed to ensure the future safety, livelihoods and economic prosperity of all residents’. Several cities including Healdsburg and Santa Rosa are holding their own planning meetings. Because of the interrelated nature of jobs, housing, transportation and environmental concerns some groups are studying the North Bay’s needs regionally as part of a nine-county Bay Area and finally a number of representative from the business community have started their own planning efforts for the future of the area!
One such private group have established Rebuild Northbay Foundation, which is focussed on ‘understanding what went right and what went wrong in the past, whilst developing a comprehensive plan for recovery and rebuilding’. Rebuild wants to anticipate what workers two generations in the future will find appealing. It intends to draw on urban design experience in Europe and new housing developers looking at co-living/ dorm living for professionals.
Liking the ambition of Rebuild, which comprises businesses, community groups and not for profit organisations……but can this ever be pulled together and secure a proactive and positive response that pleases everyone? Hopefully, notwithstanding procrastination and self interest, it does not lead to the haves, having more and the have nots being forgotten – which leads me very nicely on to thoughts on Sea Ranch….
The Sea Ranch vision. The visit to Sea Ranch was billed pre-tour as a big highlight. I had read a bit about the background to the place and its architecture but could not quite visualise what it was all about. So we booked our stay in Condo 1, one of the first places to be built in 1965 and a place which has been applauded and which has subsequently impacted and influenced the way we now design many of the places we live in.
The town’s origins can be traced back to 1964, when Oceanic Properties Inc decided to build a new town. Al Boeke, architect and Vice President of Community Planning for the company was sent to California from his Hawaiian HQ to find the right site. He fell in love with the barren and grand Rancho Del Mar and he recommended the purchase of the whole property.
As part of his sales pitch AB suggested that the place would:
‘……lure hardy, conservation-minded residents who would find satisfaction in helping to heal the grass-starved terraces, the wind blow hedgerows, the crumbling cliffs, the tangled and matted forests. The Sea Ranch community would become a regenerative country-life colony within a wildlife preserve. The setting was austere and demanding, but it was also inspiring’. (Island in the Coast).
AB assembled a group of stellar architects and designers to help realise his vision. Lawrence Halprin, landscape architects drew up the original master plan, based on a study of the topography , weather and vegetation. The concept was about dynamic conservation or ‘living lightly on the land’. It was envisaged that a covenant would enforce stewardship of natural resources through an owners’ association of residents.
The concept of ‘living lightly on the land’ started with a respect for nature. Each landscape element was to recognised and nurtured. Buildings were to be placed within this landscape, not upon it. Materials were to be drawn from nature: rough and simple I.e. the environmental setting was to be more important than the individual buildings.
Four prototype buildings were designed, including our home, Condominium one designed by Moore, Lyndon, Turnbull and Whitaker. It is a complex of ten units, arranged around a central courtyard and it was intended to be seen as a single structure and inspired by barns and other farm buildings in the region.
Reading the original vision for the place Condo 1 fulfils the brief and vision perfectly.
The Sea Ranch’s constitution established an owner’s association to administer the community and a design committee with authority over the review and approval of house designs. Rights, duties, privileges and obligations of all owners are spelled out in the constitution. One of these obligations is to develop and maintain their property in adherence with the Sea Ranch concept as embodied by the covenant.
The delivery of buildings is administered by a very involved design process. The design committee advises owners to engage an architect with great care and then each owner and their chosen architect is required to participate in a four stage design review process: Preliminary Site Review, Conceptual Design Review, Preliminary Design Review and Final Design Review. I rather liked this process as it involves everyone from start to finish and hence becomes a collaborative sharing step by step process that should in the end avoid abortive work and frustrations.
Following approval by the design committee the owner applies to Sonoma County for a building permit. Once the permit is granted the Sea Ranch design staff monitors the construction to be sure the house is being built according to plan.
So what did we think? Well we spent the day cycling around, ignoring the many signs reminding us that this was a private estate made up of private roads and the many rules that exist in relation of where you can walk and look. We did a lot of staring and a lot of looking and yes it is true most of the architecture and the way it sits in the landscape is understated.
But after thought and reflection, elements felt like a rather indulgent, soulless and privileged private estate, which does not welcome outsiders. Access to the beaches are strictly controlled and links between each building zone are retained only for those who live there. There is no real centre and limited places for people to work and participate in real life. Plus I would suggest some of the later buildings have lost some of the design principles established in the 1960s and look like more like large mansions plonked into the landscape, rather than the collective ethos of the condo barn of the 1960s.
Further digging and research revealed a long history of lawsuits and bickering, which has resulted in the original 5,200 units planned for the town being reduced to 2,329 and as a result and according the developers the economic viability of the project being irreparably harmed.
The developers estimated that 3,500 units was the rock bottom number the development needed to break even. They settled the law suits, however because of the enormous front end costs in setting up the development and in settling confirmed that they just could not afford any more delays.
In an article in the LA times in 1985 a spokesperson for the development company stated that she felt no body would ever attempt anything as ambitious and aesthetic ever again….which is a real shame!
The article also confirmed the economic consequence of the reduction in plots had inevitably increased prices and Sea Ranch had indeed (as we expected) become pricey and exclusive, catering to a narrower and narrower social-economic band of buyers.
The article also confirmed that the shift in buyers and life styles had also prompted various design changes. When Sea Ranch was first planned, the thought was that it would be a relatively modest second-home community. But with flex time, telecommunications and early retirements more and more people are making the community their prime residence.
In addition the more affluent buyers sought greater privacy, which has resulted in less clustering and bigger houses. This is disappointing as it has lost some of the original ethos established by the hedgerow condominiums that were affordable and community orientated.
…and finally a big bit of trivia!
Meno pouches and agelessness. Well we have had a bit on this already but we did meet a rather glamorous hippy – in a California kinda way – woman in her mid/ late 50s coming our of the whole food store (obvs) in Mendocino who asked us what we were doing and based on our explanation proceeded to tell us how she felt she ought to do the same in order to get rid of her ‘Meno-pouch’. Treanor and my eyes raised in unison and we asked what on earth a meno pouch was. In response she pointed to the small spare tyre around her tummy area and explained to us its medical origins, which I won’t go into here but in summary it is the depositing of fat around the middle that happens in response to drops in oestrogen levels in menopausal women. Nothing can be done about it, it just happens. So I look down at my own little pouch and now understand even after 3,000 Kms of cycling and weight loss from every other part of my body the reason why I still have this small little protrusion or life belt……not to be beaten, I have agreed with Treanor to do 100 lower stomach exercises a day to defy the odds…..more reporting on this fascinating (hopefully, disappearing) topic later!
……and so as we conclude this epic adventure we go back to the coast and the run into San Francisco! Fantastically exciting ! The view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the walk over said bridge into SF was one of the main features for this whole big adventure!…..so back to Claire to tell the tale!……