Kevin Nelson Writer

Travel. Adventure. Discovery

Abraham Lincoln sighting in Napa

Abraham Lincoln bustThe other day I was driving down a street in Napa and saw something entirely unexpected: the busts of Abraham Lincoln, Oskar Schindler and Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce. What the heck? What were they doing there? The sight of these figures in history, so beautifully rendered, led me to some interesting observations about travel and the value of following your own path. Read the article HERE.

Nice digs in Yountville: Villagio Inn & Spa

VillagioThe Villagio Inn & Spa in Yountville is ranked as one of the best luxury hotels in California, and rightly so. On a trip to Napa Valley not long ago, I stayed there three days and nights and came away with the feeling of being well-tended, well-tended indeed. If you’re looking for a nice place to stay on your next trip to wine country, it’s worth considering.  For more details (and some light, entertaining humor as well), please see my piece here.

Golden Gate Bridge: A sense of wonder and awe

I have crossed the Golden Gate Bridge many times in my life and each time I do it always leave me with a sense of wonder and awe. So I decided to write an article for A Luxury Travel Blog that gives travelers not one, not two, not three but FOUR new ways to experience and enjoy San Francisco’s landmark span.

Photo courtesy of A Luxury Travel Blog. Read the article here.

Waimea Bay: Great beach and a hang-loose place

Waimea BayWaimea Bay, Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach on the North Shore of Oahu are among the most famous and beautiful beaches in the world. I wrote a traveler’s guide them for A Luxury Travel Blog in this article here.

My favorite was Waimea Bay, pictured here. Besides being perhaps the greatest surf spot anywhere, is a truly hang-loose place. When we were there a lifeguard came on the sound system and announced that a Honolulu police officer was on his way up the Kam Highway to ticket anyone who was parked illegally. Parking is tight at Waimea, as it is at most every beach on the North Shore, and so people get very creative in where they leave their cars, parking on the grass or in handicapped spaces or wherever. So the lifeguard was giving everyone on the beach the chance to move their cars before the cop arrived. Fortunately we were in good shape—we parked maybe a half mile away on the highway and walked in—so we could continue enjoying the amazing water and sun and sand.

Where do you pop the question in Napa Valley? Find the answers here

A champagne toast on the patio at Domaine Carneros.

The patio at Domaine Carneros.

As a writer, I’m always looking for new places to publish and show my work. One of the sites I’ve discovered is A Luxury Travel Blog, edited by an Englishman, Paul Johnson. The site is quite successful and international in scope, so I decided to do an article for them called “Five Places to Pop the Question in Napa Valley.” It’s a fun piece, I think, intended to be light and frolicsome, and talks about some of the places I’ve visited in recent months. Know anyone who’s about to propose? If you do, this is the perfect thing for him to see.


One article, many sources: The Grgich wine label and the Napa earthquake

Grgich signOne article can have many sources. Such is the case with “The Grgich wine label, and how it relates to the Napa earthquake,” which will be featured tomorrow on Local Wine

First, I had the good fortune to attend a blessing of the grapes at the Grgich Hills Estate winery in late August. Mike Grgich, the 91-year-old founder of the Rutherford winery, was there. Two days later came the Napa earthquake. During this time I was reading George Taber’s Judgment of Paris which talks about, many other things, how Robert and Margrit Mondavi helped Grgich get his winery off the ground in 1977 after his success in creating the Chardonnay that won the white wine competition in that famous California v. France competition. Then I started thinking about how winemakers and others in Napa Valley come together in times of need such as the recent earthquake, and this is what came of it.


A look inside Napa’s Mercedes-Benz 300SL Museum

A rear view of a sporty 300SL.

A rear view of a sporty 300SL.

The 300SL Museum is a small but tasty car museum in Napa that showcases the exquisite Mercedes-Benz Gull Wing 300SL, one of the loveliest and most valuable collector cars in the world. It’s worth a visit for sports car enthusiasts especially. I stopped by there the other day, and filed a story on it.

Read the article here

Two places to go in Yountville for a nice after-dinner walk

A table for two at The French Laundry's culinary garden.

French Laundry’s culinary garden.

Yountville is best known as the restaurant capital of the Napa Valley—home of The French Laundry, Bouchon, Bottega Ristorante, Bistro Jeanty, Redd, Lucy and many more. But there are other places to explore in this tiny little town on Highway 29 when you’re not engaged in random acts of fine dining and drinking.

One is Van De Leur Park with its fire fighter statue, sculptures and ancient, historic roses with a story all their own. Another is the charming and easy to miss French Laundry Culinary Garden across the street from the famous Michelin 3-star restaurant. The garden supplies the fresh produce for all of Thomas Keller’s eateries in town—TFL, Bouchon and Ad Hoc—and is wonderful for both socializing and solitary contemplation. Both the park and the garden are within easy walking distance of each other on Washington Street and are nice places to stroll before or after a meal.


How the Grgich Hills Estates wine label relates to the Napa earthquake

Grgich Hills labelWine labels are fascinating things. They often tell stories, although the stories can be hidden from view. So it is with the label for Grgich Hills Estate, the Rutherford winery founded by Mike Grgich. Actually, it is not true that Grgich founded the winery; he co-founded it with Austin E. Hills, a winery owner and executive and a member of the Hills Bros. coffee family. Thus, the name Grgich Hills.

A horse is in the lower right corner of the label; this is from the Hills family coat of arms. Bottom left is the red and white flag of Croatia, where Grgich was born and lived much of his life until immigrating to the U.S. in the early 1950s. You can hear the lingering influence of Croatia in every syllable the 91-year-old winemaker utters.

The label’s central image is a cluster of chardonnay grapes, fitting because it was Grgich, when he was with Chateau Montelena, who oversaw the creation of the Chardonnay that won the white wine competition at the 1976 Judgment of Paris and showed that the best California wines were on a par with the best of the French. But that’s not the entire story of the label; it was Margrit (Biever) Mondavi who helped design it! George Taber, writing in Judgment of Paris, explains:

            Grgich got lots of help from the local wine fraternity in his venture. Margrit Biever, the special promotions director for Robert Mondavi who three years later would become his second wife, helped Grgich design his first label. It shows a cluster of Chardonnay grapes and has a symbol for each partner: a horse from his family coat of arms for Hills and the Croatian flag for Grgich.

The 6.0 earthquake that hit Napa last weekend is showing, once again, what a tiny island Napa Valley really is and how wineries and winemakers band together in times of need. Their products may compete with one another on store shelves but the people behind those products willingly exchange information and cooperate with one another if the situation warrants it. That was true with Mike Grgich when he was trying to get his winery up and running in the summer of 1977.

Not only did Margaret Biever help him with his label, her future husband and the founder of Robert Mondavi Winery played an even larger role. With “no winery, no vines [and] nothing but wild grass,” as Taber writes, Grgich wasn’t sure he was going to able to crush the grapes he was buying from local farmers to produce his first vintage. A friend and former employee of Mondavi’s, he asked his ex-boss if he could use his winery’s equipment if the construction Grgich was doing and the machinery he was buying wasn’t ready on time. Mondavi said yes and although Grgich ended up not needing it, Mondavi’s generosity helped buoy his spirits and lift him through a time of need.

Recently I visited both the Grgich Hills and Mondavi wineries and filed pieces on both of them. If you’d like to see what these wineries are like today, please see “Celebrating harvest at Grgich Hills” and “A Walk in the Vineyard at Robert Mondavi Winery” at 

Giving thanks, saying blessings, celebrating the Napa harvest to come

Mike Grgich

Every year since its founding in 1977, Grgich Hills Estate in Rutherford, Calif. has conducted a ceremonial blessing of the grapes in the early days of its annual harvest. Similar religious blessings have taken place in vineyards all across the world for hundreds of years.

Mike Grgich, pictured above at this August’s blessing, is co-founder of the winery and at 91 one of America’s most venerated winemakers, as well as being a man of faith. In his brief remarks he talks about the transformative nature of holy water—how it can make you “an angel.” Father Andrew Metcalf is a retired Santa Rosa priest who followed Grgich with remarks of his own and a reading of the formal blessing. Here are excerpts from both men’s remarks, addressing a gathering of some 50 people who joined with them to celebrate the day:


I am very happy that we have so many friends. And every year we hope to have more. If you make, every day, at least one new friend, in 365 days you will have 365 friends. No money can buy that. Continue reading

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