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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hawley Winery: Conservation and creativity meet in Sonoma's Wine Country

After first visiting Healdsburg (aka Sonoma's Wine Country) earlier this year it's become my favorite place to be. During my last visit in June the grapes were all small and green on the vines. I knew I wanted to return to see them in their harvest colors so I planned a trip back with hubby to photograph them just last week.

We spent three days in Healdsburg one day each to visit the Dry Creek, Russian River and Alexander Valleys in that order.

Our first stop at 9:30 AM was to visit Hawley Winery in the Dry Creek Valley. We did this by taking a two hour drive from HWY 880 to HWY 80, crossed the Richmond Bridge, then took HWY 101 to Healdsburg. Once there we found and crossed the Lambert Bridge and continued on for just a bit.

Why were we visiting Hawley Winery? Because I'd read on the Wine Road website that Dana Hawley is a fine artist who paints. A visit to the Hawley website and I learned she paints colorful vineyard scenes not just in her studio but also "plein air" meaning in the outdoors. I also read online that her husband, Winemaker John Hawley, uses falconry to help control the rodent population in the vineyards. I found both elements intriguing so I contacted Tracy Logan, Guest Concierge at the WIne Road, and asked if she could find out if a site tour was possible. In fact, I gave her a whole list of places I wanted to visit over three days!

Upon our arrival we were greeted by the Hawley Winery sign, so we knew we were in the right place. At the fork in the road as you enter the driveway there's a small sign pointing towards the left that says "winery."

Go up the main drive and you'll see 100 acres of certified organic vineyards to your left and right and the winery straight ahead.

Love the entrance to the winery! What a gorgeous set of doors. Austin Hawley met us in the parking lot with Amos, his dog.

He walked us around to the side of the building where his dad, John Hawley, was waiting for us with Konocti a young Peregrine Falcon he's been rehabilitating.

I could sit and photograph birds all day long. 

WOW. What a surprise that was! In the past John Hawley had had a Red Tailed Hawk so I was expecting a much larger bird. The Peregrine was so petite, elegant and beautiful it literally took my breath away just to be near it.

John explained that Konocti had been found injured with a broken left wing on Mount Konocti in Lake County. He'd been brought to a veterinarian who mended his wing with pins who then contacted John to see if he'd be interested in rehabilitating the bird so it could be released back into the wild.

Perhaps Konocti's most striking feature was his huge, dark eyes. John explained their vision is what allows Peregrine Falcons to spot their prey from very high altitudes.

Their aerodynamic shape coupled with their petite frames enable them to outfly almost all other birds in the sky. I read on Wikipedia they can reach speeds in excess of 200 mph when honing in on their prey. The highly accelerated dive they use to strike down flying prey is called "the stoop" and explains why these raptors hunt in the air and not on the ground. Can you even imagine coming in at the ground at 200 mph? The slightest miscalculation would be disastrous.

An interesting fact John shared with us is that the Peregrine Falcon's is pelagic, meaning it lives in close proximity to a body of water, but they don't eat fish. In fact, they primarily eat other birds and I read online they will sometimes hunt bats and, even less frequently, rodents.

How do Peregrine Falcons hunt? Wikipedia says they come from above striking their with a closed foot/fist or using their feet to simply snatch smaller prey in mid-flight. When using a foot strike they will then use their talons to catch their falling prey in mid-air.

Once an endangered species due to the pesticide DDT, the Peregrine has made a remarkable recovery.

Because they ate birds that had ingested the pesticides from their own food sources the accumulated toxins caused the falcon's egg shells to become too thin. They would break while being incubated all but halting the creation of future generations.

The Fish and Wildlife Service website says as their numbers fell by 90% from the 1940's through the 1970's the eastern United States lost their entire population of Peregrine Falcons. It took a concerted effort to save the approximate 10% (324 nesting pairs) still living in the western United States. With their numbers rising in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico to between 2,000 to 3,000 nesting pairs, they were removed from the Endangered Species Act in 1999.

During our falcon education session Austin offered us a sample of sauvignon grape juice. Freshly pressed and unfiltered. It was delicious! I have to say I don't like commercial grape juice. It's too sweet. But this was sweet and tart at the same time. I loved it!

Next Dana took us on a tour of her art studio overlooking the vineyards. I have to say I was really appreciative that she was willing to allow me a glimpse into her world.

As an artist myself, I find an artist's studio is a bit of a sacred space. A place where creative energy flows and knows no bounds or inhibitions. There's something very special about that.

Dana is a member of Sonoma Arts ARTrails. ARTrails is a collective of resident Sonoma artists who open their studios for self guided tours two weekends each year. In 2012 the dates are October 13th & 14th and October 20th & 21st, 2012. Click Here to learn how it works.

Not only does Dana paint in oils, she also uses encaustic wax to create some mixed media pieces! I'd never heard of encaustic wax before. She explained these tins of pigmented wax were sitting on a hot plate that when heated, causes the wax to liquify allowing her to brush it onto her canvas.

I loved this. As we walked into the studio I spotted a small bird's nest on a shelf. And there on the wall was a painting of a bird's nest. It was neat to see how directly nature inspires Dana.

Click on the image to visit Dana's website.

Her bucolic painting "No Place Like Home" will look familiar to you once you visit her home...

Our view from the balcony included the vineyards, Amos resting in the house and grape vines overhead. *Sigh,* I hope I someday am able to live somewhere so lovely. I guess I could always plant a grape vine now and with Kitai by my side, I'd be 2/3 of the way there :)

After spending a good deal of time talking about how Amos (a mixed breed) reminded me of my dearly departed Beauceron, Kotaro, we parted ways with John and Dana to hike back down to our car. As we stepped out on the deck we spotted some of Hawley's apiary honey bees enjoying a drink of water. I also spotted these gorgeous white roses and an apple and walnut tree along the way.

As we ambled along and through the vineyards I spotted a few natural raisins on the vine! I should have tried one. I did, at the Hawley's invitation, sample a few grapes right there in the vineyards! They had seeds but were really delicious. They were sweet with skins a bit more thick than the grapes you'd buy at the grocery store. But the flavors were, imho, far superior.

This is what I came for. To see the swags of purple grapes that turned out to be more blue than purple. In fact, they looked surprisingly like large cones of blueberries.

So pretty! I was content. It was our first stop on day one of a three day trip and I'd already seen more than I'd hoped for! Things were looking good for some fantastic R&R on our Sonoma Wine Country staycation.

Later that afternoon we headed to downtown Healdsburg and visited Hawley's tasting room and art gallery.

The first thing I noticed as we approached was a platter of produce with this lovely note! Who does that? No business in San Jose that I've ever seen.

We went to take a peek and grab a few photos for this blog post but discovered far more than I'd anticipated. It turns out John and Dana's sons Austin (who works as an Assistant Winemaker and in Sales who we'd met that morning) and Paul (also an Assistant Winemaker and works in Hawley's Marketing) are equally interesting and very creative individuals.

Austin is a very talented furniture maker. In fact, he made this upcycled wine bar in their tasting room using old wine barrels. It definitely elevates the humble and more typical half-a-wine-barrel-planters to an entirely new level of aesthetics and function. The first day we visited there were so many people in front of it we had to come back two days later for these shots.

Visit Austin's website www.WIneBarrelWorkshop.com

Also on display were two styles of wine barrel chairs. And if that wasn't enough I also learned that Paul Hawley is a film maker! He co-wrote and co-directed the 2009 wine country mockumentary "Corked." Just the trailer had me laughing. Now I really want to see the whole movie.

And if that isn't enough he's also a photographer. This was my favorite picture I saw in the gallery and on his website. While some would say it just looks like fog I think it's ethereal. I can just imagine heading out into the vineyards in the early morning fog and how thrilling it must have been to capture this image in the mist. It makes me wish I'd drug myself out of bed for a foggy sunrise while I was there but since I've been feeling really exhausted for the past few weeks again I decided this time around it was more important to sleep in each morning.

Visting Healdsburg? Be sure to drop in to Hawley's tasting room and art gallery or contact them ahead of time for a winery tour.

Hawley Tasting Room & Gallery

36 North Street
Healdsburg CA. 95448 - Map
Visit their Website

Tasting Fee: $5 (refunded with purchase). Wines by the glass are available.
Open Daily 11am to 6pm - With the exception of major holidays you can view on their website.

Hawley Winery
Dry Creek Valley
Vineyard tours are by appointment  from 11am to 4pm (closed Sundays)

More Sonoma Wine Country Places to Visit:

Pickles and olives and brie, oh my! Fantastic picnic food at Jimtown Store

Wine Country Weddings: Say I Do on Baker Ridge at Thomas George Estates

Wineries, tasting rooms and the beauty of nature in Dry Creek Valley

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