Angel’s Share, a Master Cooper, and other tales from Napa

We’ve been blessed to visit Napa several times in the past, but this week-long visit gave us the opportunity to explore more than ever before. Wine tasting was at the heart of our activities, but we also snuck in a round of golf, a kayak run on the Napa River, and a bike ride from Napa to Yountville.

We made some new friends and had visits with one of my dear writing friends along the way.

Most of all, we learned so much about wine-making and wine-makers during our visit.

Angel’s Share

Our first tasting was at Rombauer Wines, just north of Napa in St. Helena. We chose the vineyard because of its beautiful family history, its reputation for producing yummy Chardonnays, and the awesome hilltop setting. Carrie was our server and did a fabulous job teaching us about the wines they produce.

As our curiosity intrigued Carrie, she was kind enough to give us a tour of their wine caves. While there, I noted a barrel presumably seeping red wine onto the outside of the French Oak barrel. Carrie offered that as the oak barrels are porous, that through the oxidation process, the tannins from the stems, seeds and the grapes seep out of the barrels.

Way back in the day, when cellar masters discovered the product disappearing from barrels, they determined that angels were enjoying their share from heaven. The term, “la part des anges”  or “angels share” refers to the missing portion from the barrels. Wine makers will regularly check their barrels, from a few days to a few weeks, and fill the barrel from the top bung hole to replace the Angel’s Share.

Even the golf courses have wine-related names!

We had a lovely round at Eagle’s Vine Golf.  There was a foursome of younger guys in front of us, who were kind enough to let us through on the first par 3. I came within 5 inches of a hole-in-one, as they cheered the ball toward the cup. I nearly beat Brad straight up on the front side, but he found his stride on the back. Really fun round.

Off the beaten path…or waterfront

We finally got back out on our kayaks on this segment of our travels. We were directed to Fagan Marsh on the Napa River. A great site for bird watching, we took in hawks, yellow-rumped Warblers, ducks, and egrets. We maneuvered through the marsh until the natural channel got us caught up in the reeds. We got kind of messy in the process.

Photo credit: cricketsblog

Cheers to old friends and new trails

I met author Nancy Hudgins a number of years ago at a Highlights writing workshop. We’ve kept in touch ever since, visiting each other twice in our hometowns. Here we are celebrating the sale of her first book, a biography of famed children’s book editor Ursula Nordstrom. I’m so proud of Nancy! Brad, Luna and I enjoyed lots of time with Nancy and her little pup, Buddy. (Who is cuddled on her lap in the photo.)

Brad and I made it back to Frank Family wines again on this trip. Yummy reds and beautiful setting for the afternoon wine tasting. We took a nap after.

Tempting as it was, we didn’t stop at any of the wineries along the route of our 12 mile bike ride on the Vine Trail, from Kennedy Park to Yountville.

Fun fact: George C. Yount planted the first grapevines in Napa Valley. Way back in 1839.

A Master Cooper and Sharing Angels

Ahh…the beauty of Facebook. A college friend of Brad’s encouraged us to check out Caldwell Vineyard.

We’re so grateful for the recommendation.

What started as a private tasting in the wine caves turned into a personal sharing of our own angel stories with Ramiro, the Master Cooper.

Ramiro makes all 350 barrels for the vineyard. Most vineyards buy their barrels from a cooperage. We were mesmerized by Ramiro’s tales of growing up in the region, his passion for, and dreams of playing soccer professionally, then fate (and his nose…very important for toasting the barrels just right!) intervened and he became one of only several dozen master coopers in the world. Here’s a great article on Ramiro.

Caldwell’s website header reads, “For us, it’s personal.”

Our experience with Ramiro became quite personal and spiritual as we shared our mutual losses. It was an incredible “Angel Share” experience.

And the wine was pretty incredible too.

Cheers, Napa.

We can’t wait to get back.

At Caldwell Vineyards Wine Caves Tasting, Caldwell barrel handmade by Ramiro, master cooper, view from the Caldwell hilltop. Breathtaking experience and views.

Mysteries revealed!

I had a blast participating in a discussion as the Toledo Lucas County Public Library celebrates the 90th anniversary of the release of the first Nancy Drew Mystery Stories.

Tune in to discover the secret behind the first ghostwriter for the series! (Hint: I wrote a biography about her, found here:

On Impact


The young woman walked confidently up to the wooden lectern, with the beautiful bright blue Jefferson Awards Foundation logo sparkling with all the camera flashes.

Without hesitation she began her story.

“At the age of eight my father was incarcerated for one hundred and thirty-five years. For several years my mother and I were left homeless.”

She took a deep breath and continued.

“At the age of thirteen my mother tried to kill me by shooting me.”

My heart sank, my throat constricted, and tears welled.

Without skipping a beat this seventeen-year-old offered that she had chosen to dedicate her efforts to Habitat for Humanity, so that no other family had to live without a home.


I approached her after all of us regional Media Partner Jefferson Award recipients had the chance to share why we were chosen to be honored to the audience.

“I’m so glad to meet you,” I said. “After hearing your speech I just wanted to hug you.”

She opened her arms, smiled and replied, “After hearing yours, I wanted to do the same.”

I found it rather ironic that I would make a connection with a young woman living with a mother who clearly doesn’t deserve to be one, while being recognized for honoring my own daughter taken from me entirely too soon.

This young woman was a reflection of the incredible individuals I met throughout the two day national Jefferson Awards conference. I was touched by the work other bereaved parents are doing in honor of their children. And others with their own losses and challenges. I met a woman from Aiken SC who lost her husband to a drowning accident. She’s providing life jackets and safety lessons to those enjoying the lake her husband lost his life to. I met a man who is providing camping experiences to special needs kids. And another who lost most of his lung capacity due to an accident who is teaching children how to fish.

Most of all, I came to terms with being recognized for what I have always considered to be a family and team effort.

Just as I cannot claim Claire entirely as my own, for she belonged to all of us who loved her, nor can I take ownership of what we have created in her honor.

When it was my turn at the lectern, through tears and smiles, I offered our journey. As a mother, as a family, as a community.

I was honored with rousing applause after thanking the audience for allowing me to share Claire’s story, our story.

And I touched a young woman who is back living with the mother who tried to shoot her, for the physical abuse she suffers is “better than the emotional abuse from the foster homes.”

I’ve been asked by many friends what the experience was like. It was amazing being in the presence of so many giving back to their communities. It was incredible sharing all the “goose bump” moments with Brad, Kyle, Ian, my brother Gordie and niece and goddaughter, Hannah. Icing on the cake was having my two dear friends Susan and Pam along, as well as Jeanette and Diana from Read for Literacy/Claire’s Day. The gala dinner was spectacular, with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor roaming through the audience as she spoke. The Secret Service agents must have been having conniptions. She didn’t care.

But most of all, the ceremonies left me wanting to do more, to give more. To recognize more children who are working so hard to improve their reading skills. To give more books to children who don’t have any in their homes. To share Claire’s story with the world.

And to perhaps help make a difference in the life of a young woman who deserves better.