Ten Questions for Anna Weber of Raft California

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In September, I visited El Dorado County for the second time, my first time returning since fall 2016 when I met and tasted with Greg Boeger of Boeger Winery. This trip, I was graciously hosted by Visit El Dorado and ventured beyond the wine to whitewater rafting. My first whitewater rafting experience was many years ago during a Spanish summer abroad program in Costa Rica and I loved it. Therefore, I was thrilled to return to the rapids of the South Fork of the American River with Raft California and guide and operations manager, Anna Weber. I wish I could think of a more polite word, but Anna is badass in every way. She inspired me so much that I decided to interview her. Below are my questions and her answers.

What kind of experiences does Raft California offer?

Raft California offers whitewater rafting trips for ages four and up, from mild Class II to wild Class V. With over 40 years of experience, Raft California provides both day and multi-day trips on over 12 rivers in the state of California. The beautiful rivers for which we offer commercial rafting trips range from the gateway of Sequoia National Park all the way to the Oregon border. Some of our river offerings are nationally preserved wild and scenic stretches! The raft guides are also the chefs and cater delicious riverside meals to accompany the trips. Over the years, we have branched out to include hot springs, wine tours, and fishing whitewater trips – all fun ways to spice up a rafting outing!

What makes Raft California different from other rafting companies in El Dorado County?

Our staff and our river offerings are what set Raft California aside from other companies in El Dorado County. Our campground is over 60 acres of private grounds and includes beautiful riverside camping with canvas tents and riverside dining. The staff is extremely experienced – many with over a decade or two of guiding experience. Select guides on our staff head to the southern hemisphere in our off season to pursue the same line of work because of their passion for whitewater rafting. Our claim to fame is the long list of permitted rivers that we offer. If someone rafts with us in El Dorado County and wants to explore more rivers in our state, Raft California can offer that.

What drew you to become the operations manager and raft guide for Raft California?

I began as a raft guide for the company. I was often appointed head guide and trip lead for many of our trips. Our general manager knew that I had prior managerial experience in a similar industry which led him to ask if I would like to manage the South Fork American day trips that we offered. This quickly morphed into a river manager position, and this season, grew into an operations manager role. I enjoy the challenge of managing and decided it would be best to continue this line of work in the summer. This enabled me to free up time in the winter to travel and play in the snow.

How long have you been with Raft California?

I have been full time with Raft California officially since 2015 but helping part time since 2012.

What qualifications are required to be a raft guide? What does a raft company operations manager do?

The qualifications required to be a raft guide are different all over the world. In the United States, it varies by state. To be a raft guide in California, many people attend a guide school. These are offered by many commercial companies including Raft California. After completing guide school, raft guide candidates train on each river section until they are deemed capable of guiding commercial guests by a senior guide staff member. In Maine where I learned how to raft guide, each raft guide must additionally acquire a Maine Whitewater Guide’s License through the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

The duties of an operations manager at Raft California consist of overseeing the operations! I manage a staff of coordinators appointed to run the grounds and facilities, river trips, meals, transportation, and satellite operations, like our base for the Truckee River located in Truckee, California. Anything Raft California related that happens outside is the operations manager’s domain. This also includes raft guide housing and handling the guide, scheduling, and reporting aspects of our computer system.

Please share one or two memorable rafting trips and why they are unforgettable.

Oh man, I love this question. There are so many memorable rafting trips and I could write about this all day because every trip is different. Sometimes the trip is so memorable because of the chemistry between the guests. Other times it is because of the weather that day or the wildlife we were lucky enough to see. For me, sometimes rafting trips are memorable because it is not a commercial trip and I am in an exotic place with my friends or family experiencing a new river.

I took a couple rafting in the spring. Only a husband and wife in their mid-60s who had never been rafting before had signed up for a day trip on the Chili Bar section of the South Fork American River. When our shuttle driver had left us, they, especially the wife, seemed extremely nervous. There was no one else except for the three of us. They could not imagine we would get down the river safely with the power of only three people. After navigating the first Class III rapid with no problem, they eased up a little bit. About an hour into the trip a bald eagle flew up the river at eye level and landed on a tree branch hanging over the water. As we floated by it watched us and we watched it. After we passed by it would leap frog us and land on another branch on the opposite side of the river downstream looking at us until we floated by. No one said anything. This leapfrogging with the bald eagle and our raft lasted for almost a mile until it flew off. The look of amazement in their eyes was indescribable as the husband blurted out “Did you see that ******* bald eagle?! It was ******* AWESOME!” Everything – from the silence on the river that day (we did not see another boat), to the eagle experience to this man’s ridiculous exclamation – made this one of my favorite commercial trips.

My most memorable non-commercial rafting trip was the first time I was lucky enough to float down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. This was for many reasons, but particularly the weather. Our group of seven had landed a permit to float this section during monsoon season. We were taking a day off from rafting to enjoy our campsite, “Matkat Hotel,” for two nights and a whole day. Our timing of choosing to lay over on this day was impeccably coordinated with the weather. The first night we were camping here, a thunderstorm rolled in. This was not just any thunderstorm. It was the granddaddy of monsoon thunderstorms. All night it poured rain and the thunder boomed through the canyon amplified by the canyon walls. At sunrise, we were greeted by what seemed like hundreds of gigantic waterfalls pouring in from every inch of the canyon walls. Depending on the drainage, each waterfall generated caused the water to be a different color. The juxtaposition of each waterfall’s color was unreal as they each cascaded into the opaque brown of the Colorado River. The Colorado was carrying massive amounts of tree trunks and debris from flash flooding tributaries upstream. The amount of sediment in the water would conceal these huge hazards from sight until the turbulent current would swirl them around until we would see a giant tree trunk shoot randomly shoot out into the air. Needless to say, this day I was glad to be a spectator from the bank of the river in the right place at the right time.

When is rafting season in El Dorado County?

Commercial rafting season in El Dorado Country is from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. Raft California typically takes guests down our rivers from March through October. If a group wants to go winter rafting, and the river levels are navigable, we will take them!

What kind of work do you do in the off season?

I snowboard as much as possible during the winter season. Teaching, training, and managing at ski and snowboard schools has made it possible for me to do this during the winters since 2002. There was a short stint I worked at a Heli Ski Lodge in Alaska. I also travel during the winter months. The past few years, I traveled to Japan, Alaska, and France for snowboarding endeavors.

When you are not rafting, what else do you enjoy doing?

If I am not playing on the river or on the snow, you will often find me sleeping, seeing live music, or cooking. In recent years, I have learned mountain biking, which has provided me with a new challenge!

During my experience with you, I discovered that whitewater rafting is a great metaphor for life. Do you agree? If so, how?

Absolutely, whitewater rafting IS a great metaphor for life. You must go with the flow. You cannot fight against the current. Sometimes you need to eddy out. I decided this year that I am rigged to flip for life!

GoatHouse Brewing

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I am from Asheville, North Carolina, which has more breweries per capita than any other city in the United States. My interest in craft beverages began years ago with beer, not wine. Thus, my first article about craft beer is long overdue. I am thrilled to share with you one of my favorite craft breweries, GoatHouse Brewing in Lincoln, Placer County, California.

One of my first weekend trips to Placer County, California, included a stop at GoatHouse Brewing, which recently celebrating four years in business.  A few visits later, after their Farm Yoga experience, I caught up with co-owner, Catherine Johnson, about what it’s like to live the dream: owning a craft brewery which produces its own hops and raises its own goats, far removed from her past life living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

How did GoatHouse Brewing come about? Why goats and beer?

Michael and I were in the Bay Area rat race and knew we wanted something different for our life and young family. We met and fell in love over beer, and Michael has brewed since before he was old enough to buy (now over 30 years)! We knew we wanted space and a great community to raise our family. Being connected to where our food (or beer in this case) comes from has always been important — food or beer just doesn’t magically appear in the grocery store. I make cheese, so goats were the obvious choice. Hops are needed as beer isn’t beer without hops, and thus, the dream began!

Why Placer County/Lincoln, California?

We looked all over the state of California and we fell in love with the schools, community, and competitive landscape around us. We wanted rural farmland, yet close enough to city comforts and school sports, etc. The farmland around us is rich with mandarins, lavender farms, wineries, and many other innovative uses.

Why did you decide to offer farm yoga with the goats? Has it been successful? In what ways?

Farm Yoga evolved because we have tons of goats and beer! A good friend was recently certified as a yoga instructor, we got to talking (and maybe having a cold one), and the idea took shape. Farm Yoga at GoatHouse has been very well received and hopefully people enjoy it as much as we do! Animals don’t fake affection — when they choose to spend time with you, enjoying a rub, nibbling on edge of shirt, enhancing a stretch, etc. — it is genuine.

Approximately much and how many different beers do you produce annually?

GoatHouse Brewing is a 3BBL nano-brewery. We grow 20 different varieties of hops. We brew small-batch seasonal beer as a farm brewery based in agriculture. We use 90% of the hops we grow onsite, bringing in only those that are proprietary and patented. We also use seasonal fruit from our orchard such as mandarins. Most years, we brew 40-50 different styles, with only one being on tap 100% of the time, Darkside, our stout, our favorite to drink and brew! The rest comes and goes with the season.

How do you come up with the names of your beers, such as Wet N’ EZ, Honey Baby, Jackin’ Jill, Amberillo, Philip D’Glass, and Dirtbag Red?

Songs, life, kids, inside jokes, nicknames, family, riffs on just about anything. Typically, it starts a bit inappropriate, some vetoing that goes on, then we lock in and go!

Do you have children and are they involved in the business?

We have two kids, Nolan, 14 and Amelia, 11. They help with Farm Yoga and most of the critter care on the farm. Nolan is on a USA swim team and he’s thankfully strong to haul hay bales. Amelia has no fear and can wrangle a goat like no one’s business (might be from her competitive soccer playing skills). They also grow pumpkins and have a farm stand in the brewery where they pick fruit from the onsite orchard, or veggies from our large garden to sell. They save their money to buy new seeds for the next year or something special.

Tell me more about the goats. What kind of goats, etc.?  Do you produce (or sell) any goat products such as milk and cheese?

The goats are all dairy goats. The plan was to open a small-batch dairy, but currently the regulations are hundreds of thousands of dollars and price prohibitive, so we are not licensed, nor do we sell any milk products. All hope is not lost, but development is currently on pause. In the meantime, we eat a lot of cheese with our beer! Our daughter has three Nigerian dwarf goats from 4H and their milk is like heavy cream. Alpines and La Manchas make up the bulk of the herd and their milk is sweet and plentiful – no funky aftertaste. Despite their reputation, our goats are very picky eaters and VERY spoiled.

What are the challenges you face as a local craft brewer?

Being one of the only true farm-to-tap breweries in the State of California – where the farming and brewing happen on the same land – has been challenging as the government isn’t really set up for innovation or the unknown. Being tenacious and the first to market has been character building as my mother says! We are craft beer manufacturers and hop farmers, so at least two businesses rolled into one, but beer helps make the world go around!

 Do you sell your beers only at the brewery?

The majority, yes. Since we are based in agriculture, production is limited. The old farming model was that the farms brought food to the people. Today, people like to come to the farms to see where everything is produced. It’s a connection that has been lost in society that we are hoping to rebuild. People don’t know how hops grow, so it’s a bonus to share the knowledge while they are enjoying a beer on the farm.

What other events do you offer at the brewery?

We are starting to work on some beer pairing events with local farmers and a fantastic farm-to-table chef. More to come, so stay tuned!

Is GoatHouse Brewing everything you dreamed it would be?

GoatHouse Brewing is exactly and more than what we planned extensively for and dreamed of. Our unique business model, as the first in the state, has been very well received and our passion and love for what we do, we hope, shines through. With all the planning we did, the one thing that surprised us, and continues to surprise us, is the outpouring of love and support from our customers. It is truly staggering and we are honored to be part of so many celebrations: engagements on a regular day in the brewery, baby showers, and birthday parties for the young and old.

A TWC Update: 2017, wildfires, recognition, and Villa Maria

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Here it is November already. I don’t know about you, but it has been a heck of a year for me. In January, I lost my mom unexpectedly. When I returned home from traveling home for the the funeral, I became so ill that my doctor thought I had pneumonia. When she sent me for X-rays, the radiologist thought he saw a mass. After another round of X-rays, they realized that the mass was bone. March then arrived with an unpleasant surprise: I discovered I owed a an unexpectedly high amount in federal and state taxes. A couple of months later, I had another health scare, an abnormal mammogram, which, after two ultrasounds and another mammogram, turned out to be a tissue density change.

Then last month, I witnessed the devastation of the Napa and Sonoma wildfires. I woke up around 1:00 a.m. on Monday morning, October 9, thanks to my cat and an explosion of Nixle text alerts on my phone. A friend who lives just a couple of miles from me had to evacuate her home that night, which threw me into a tailspin as well. At 2:00 a.m., my suitcase was packed by the door and couldn’t go back to sleep. After a couple of more uneasy days and sleepless nights, I realized there was nothing preventing me from evacuating voluntarily. I left on Wednesday, October 11, just prior to the announcement that my apartment complex was part of an advisory evacuation. My instinct has always served me well and this time was no exception.

On Sunday morning, October 15, I returned to Napa. As I was driving home, the Nixle alert announced that the advisory evacuation had been lifted for my area. Again, I knew in my heart it was time to return. I learned some hard life lessons during those five days when I didn’t know if I would have a home to which to return. In spite of what happened to me, I am thankful that I had a place to stay. I was fortunate not to have lost anything but a bit of my faith in humanity. Two of my co-workers lost everything in the Atlas Fire. A winery a mile and a half from where I live burned to the ground. Countless others suffered, too. I was blessed to escape tragic losses that cannot ever be replaced. My heart will heal in time and I will learn to trust again.

I would be remiss if I didn’t publicly thank CAL FIRE, first responders, local law enforcement, and other emergency personnel for their tireless hard work during the fires. I also want to thank my friend, Christine, of OMG I so need a glass of wine or I’m gonna sell my kids, who was and is there for me in so many ways.

If you want to help others who lost so much during the fires, please click this link to see where you can make a difference.

In the midst of the fear of the wildfires, I received some unexpected, happy news. I was shortlisted for my first writing award for a piece I wrote last year entitled, “Lodi: Beyond the Zinfandel” in the Born Digital Wine Awards, in the category of Best Tourism Content with a Focus on Wine. I cannot tell you how much this glimmer of positivity meant to me during this heartbreak. After six years of wine tourism and wine writing, someone finally took notice of my work.

It is only November 2, 2017, but life appears to be looking up this month I am excited to announce that I have been asked again to be the writing and social media lead for the upcoming First Sip of Fall – Villa Maria Twitter Tasting on Wednesday, November 15 at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time. If you follow this website, you know that I have written about and sipped Villa Maria wines no fewer than eight times since 2012. I am honored that the team at Villa Maria has entrusted me with getting the word out about their new releases. Stay tuned for more information about Villa Maria and this special tasting.

On that happier note, I will conclude this post with a quote I wrote to inspire myself for the rest of the year and beyond. I hope you, too, will take this and run with it, as I plan to do:

In every moment is the opportunity to start over, let go, begin something new, be happy, forgive, travel, live, and love. This is my moment.

Love,
Beth

 

A Moment with Viticulturist, Vintner, and Winemaker David Parrish

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Do you know the name David Parrish? If not, you should. This third generation viticulturist, vintner, and winemaker of Parrish Family Vineyard in the Paso Robles AVA of California is truly a Renaissance man of the wine industry, having patented groundbreaking trellis designs in his early days as a student at UC-Davis and while holding key viticulturist roles during his early career in the Napa Valley. He has been a wine grape grower since 1995 and a winemaker since 2004. I had the honor of asking Parrish ten questions and in his own words, he describes what inspires him to do it all from vineyard to bottle.

Do you remember which wine during that fateful sunset evening inspired you to pursue winemaking? How did it inspire you?

It was probably a Cabernet Sauvignon that had me daydreaming about sipping and swirling my own wine one day. Viticulture has been in my blood since the time my grandfather started growing grapes in Atascadero, before Prohibition and the Great Depression. Seventy years later, I decided to take my grandfather’s passion a step further opening my own winery. I had no idea the love affair it would become. I began producing our boutique wine in 2004 and opened a tasting room in 2011. Today, we are busy building a new winery and tasting room which will open in early 2018. It just keeps getting better.

What transpired during the time between your work with Napa producers to your new venture in Paso Robles? Did you work with producers in other areas of California, the United States, and/or internationally?

I graduated from U.C. Davis in 1974 and started a vineyard trellising company which I’m still involved with today. I was fortunate to meet a group of Napa growers who wanted to make Napa a world-class wine growing region and one of my professors, Dr. Kliewer, convinced me to accept their invite to work with them. I moved to Napa and started working with Robert Mondavi and Bob Steinhauer of Beringer Vineyards. After a few months, I was working with most of the wineries in the Napa area on their trellises. I currently hold two dozen patents for trellis design and have worked with partners all over the world.

But, my heart always wanted to come home to the Central Coast and grow my own grapes. I planted 40 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon on our Creston, California ranch in 1995 and in 2004 made the first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon; in 2011 the tasting room opened in downtown Paso Robles. In 2013 and 2014 we planted 80 acres in our Templeton Vineyard and 30 acres in our Adelaida Vineyard; which will be the location of the new winery. We will always be a boutique, family-run winery and are thankful so many people have supported us and our wines which has allowed us to grow.

Why did you choose Paso Robles to make wine? Was there a reason besides living there?

Other than my grandfather’s roots, I wanted to return to the Central Coast because of the people. I spent a lot of time in Napa and know the beautiful fruit that can be developed there but, I wanted to work with family-owned wineries just like the one I wanted to build. I think there is something magical that happens when winemakers live on the land they love and are able to truly give it the daily attention and care it demands. I was glad that I was right about that instinct because the more our partner wineries develop, the more we all lean on and support each other. It’s uncommon and it’s characteristically Central Coast.

What is your favorite varietal grape to grow? Is it also your favorite to make? If not, please share why.

We grow great grapes, but my passion has always been Cabernet Sauvignon with its round, full-body and elegant finish. Recently, our Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon was rated 94 points by Wine Enthusiast. I call it a problem child with its wild temper that can be matured into a lovely and complex expression.

What grape is the most challenging to grow in Paso Robles? Why?

See above

What varietal wines do you currently make? Any new prospects on the horizon?

Estate Grenache Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay/Viognier blend, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, two Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah blends, Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and an Estate Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon

Do you have any formal winemaking education?

I graduated from U.C. Davis in 1974 with a degree majoring in biology with a chemistry/math minor and completed several courses in winemaking. I’ve found the best way to learn anything is to simply study and experience as much as you can.

Is your family also involved in the business?

This has always been a family business to us, dating back from my grandfather. Today, my wife, daughter and son-in-law are all involved in the day-to-day operations of the winery; even the dogs have a job.

What do you love about Paso Robles as a place to live, grow grapes, and make wine?

The best part about Paso Robles is the people. Hands down. I’m a member of the Paso Robles CAB Collective which is an organization that brings wineries together on behalf of the entire region. We work together to help promote each other and to solve any issues in our vineyards, with our grapes, basically anything that comes up. We rely on each other for the betterment of all. It’s an amazing thing.

Is winemaking everything you thought it would be? Why?

It’s so much harder and also so much more rewarding. I knew vines from my trellis work, but being a winemaker is a completely different experience. Caring for and knowing about the fruit is consuming. I’m lucky my family is also involved so we can share the highs and lows together. It takes a lot of work, but the rewards are so great. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Bella Grace Vineyards, Sutter Creek

Bella Grace Sutter Creek

During the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi, California, I had the great pleasure of meeting Stephen Havill of Bella Grace Vineyards. During one of the conference lunches, he led me over to his table where he was pouring some of their wines. After tasting a few, I was immediately smitten and knew I had to plan a visit to Bella Grace in Amador County’s Sierra Foothills.

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