Kevin Nelson Writer

Wine Travel Adventure

10 pictures of Snoopy and a story about Charles Schulz

The big news from the Charles M. Schulz Museum is that a new feature-length animated movie about Charlie Brown and the gang, “The Peanuts Movie,” is coming to theaters this fall. Produced by Twentieth Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios, its opening is scheduled to coincide with the 65th anniversary of the first “Peanuts” strip by Charles Schulz to appear in newspapers.

Another piece of big news from the Santa Rosa museum is that no, Charlie Brown still hasn’t kicked the football. Lucy keeps pulling it away.

Nevertheless Charlie, Lucy, Linus and all the characters are all over this bright and lively two-story facility, as is Charlie’s faithful (and sometimes not so faithful) companion, Snoopy. Except for Charlie himself, there may be more images of Snoopy around the building than any other figure. A sculpture of him sleeping on top of his doghouse greets you outside the front door—

Snoopy 1

There is also a very clever labyrinth outside that is both a sculpture in the form of Snoopy’s head—his ear is a bench, his nose is a rock—as well as an entertaining play area for children. Then step into the front lobby and he is holding his dish ready for a meal—


            The museum has a small gift shop just off the lobby, and naturally you can find T-shirts, books and other items on sale with him and his BFF—

Snoopy Tshirt

One of the pleasures of the museum—established, by the way, at this site because this is where Schulz lived and worked for the last decades of his life—is being able to see the growth in his work and his evolving portraits of the “Peanuts” characters. In a front hallway is an enlarged strip of an early Snoopy causing mischief with his pals, all of them still developing under their creator’s brilliant eye and hand—

Peanuts strip

The Schulz museum is a beacon for children and their parents and grandparents, and the day I went there some kids were working on art projects on tables along the windows in the hallway. With so many children around, you better have bathrooms nearby and fortunately even Snoopy is in the men’s room too—

Snoopy in men's room

The museum’s signature piece of art is a wonderful two-story high ceramic tile mural made from 3,588 2×8-inch tiles, each of a different comic strip. Snoopy isn’t in the mural—

Charlie Brown mural

But he is the focus of a nearby bas relief sculpture made of wood that shows how he changed over the years from an ordinary-looking beagle to a zestful personality who dances, ice skates, punches out stories on a typewriter, eats bones while reading the paper and expresses sadness and joy.

Snoopy’s creator produced close to 18,000 “Peanuts” strips and won countless awards. One of them, his Emmy for the immortal “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” is on display at the museum. There is also a special section devoted to the making of the program and a 100-seat theater for watching it and other “Peanuts” animated shows. After a life rich with accomplishment, Schulz died in early 2000 at age 77. Both Woodstock and his favorite dog pay homage to him on the memorial bench in the garden patio—

Schulz memorial bench

The Schulz Museum has some 7,000 original strips in its collection, so it has plenty of material to draw from to stage new exhibitions and keep things fresh for visitors. (When I was there, for instance, the “Peanuts in Wonderland” exhibit showed the influence of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” on Schulz and how often Alice and her gang made it into his “Peanuts” stories. It runs through April.)

Some exhibits do not change, however, such as the upstairs re-creation of Schulz’s studio featuring his drawing board, desk and chair, family photos, a zebra painting and other personal belongings. More permanent installations can be found here as well, such as the last daily “Peanuts” strip, published on January 1, 2000:

Last Schulz strip

Gina Huntsinger, the Schulz’s marketing manager who toured me around the facility, said that “Sparky,” as he was known,  was suffering from colon cancer and may have had a sense that the end was near when he penned this somewhat downbeat strip. As Snoopy realizes “his dad had never taught him how to throw snowballs,” Schulz may have been looking back at his own boyhood with the knowledge that no matter how full the life, there are empty places in every person’s heart.

He died Feb. 12 in his Santa Rosa home, and the next day the final original “Peanuts” Sunday strip appeared in the papers. Again speaking through Snoopy, who is seated on top of his doghouse typing into a typewriter, Schulz bid his readers farewell.

But, of course, his work lives on. Classic “Peanuts” strips are still carried by many newspapers—written and drawn only by Schulz—and more than 80,000 visitors a year come to the museum to touch back in with his enduring legacy. Next door is the ice arena that Schulz built with his own money, partly as a gift to the community, partly to give himself a place to skate and play ice hockey, both passions of his, and partly to sit and watch children have fun on skates—creative fodder for his “Peanuts” strips.  At the Warm Puppy café in the arena you can see Snoopy—

Snoopy sign

And he is inside the arena as well, watching out for the kids—

Snoopy sign ice arena

Also on the grounds are a gift shop and exhibit hall with still more stuff on Snoopy and Charlie and the rest of them. And look for “The Peanuts Movie” when it comes out because you’ll never guess who’s the star.

Peanuts movie poster

Charles M. Schulz Museum, 2301 Hardies Lane, Santa Rosa. Weekdays Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. except Tues. Closed Tuesdays. Sat.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Adults $10; Children 4-18, $5; 3-and-under, free. 707-579-4452.

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B.R. Cohn announces new site and name for popular fall music festival


Dan Cohn at the amphitheatre at B.R. Cohn Winery, former site of the festival.

Dan Cohn at the amphitheatre at B.R. Cohn Winery.

The B.R. Cohn Charity Fall Music Festival, one of the most popular music festivals in wine country, is changing its name and moving to downtown Sonoma.

The newly renamed Sonoma Music Festival will be held October 2-4 in the Field of Dreams park on First Street West not far from Sonoma’s downtown plaza.

For nearly 30 years the festival has been held in the amphitheatre at the B.R. Cohn Winery in Glen Ellen, attracting thousands of fans to the weekend concerts to hear such performers as the Doobie Brothers, Melissa Etheridge, Willie Nelson and Bonnie Rait. But Dan Cohn, the winery’s president and CEO, said the event had gotten too big for its traditional location. “It became clear to us that we had outgrown the B.R. Cohn Winery,” he was quoted as saying. “We are excited about the move to downtown Sonoma.”

The festival has raised more than $6 million for local charities and nonprofit organizations, and Cohn believes the new venue will help it raise even more money in the future. Other Sonoma wineries may also participate in it, he said.

This year’s lineup of bands has yet to be announced, but it’s safe to say that whoever they are, they will have a rock ‘n’ roll edge to them. Bruce Cohn, Dan’s father and the founder of the family winery, manages the Doobie Brothers, the 1970s-era rock band who still record albums and play dozens of concert dates annually.

One of the rooms at the winery, just off the tasting room, is dedicated to rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia collected by Bruce Cohn in his years with the band. For more about the B.R. Cohn Winery, which also makes award-winning olive oils on its Olive Hill Estate, please see this article.

French Laundry thieves nab same Screaming Eagle vintage that sold for $500,000 in auction

Screaming Eagle labelBy Kevin Nelson

The wines stolen in the sensational Christmas Day robbery at the French Laundry in Yountville included some of the most expensive in the world, including a 1992 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, the same vintage that sold at a Napa Valley auction 15 years ago for the record-setting sum of $500,000.

The Napa County Sheriff’s Department continues to investigate the crime, which has drawn worldwide attention partly because of the fame of the French Laundry—widely acclaimed as one of the world’s best restaurants—and partly because of the outstanding quality of the wines that were stolen.

“These are the Faberge eggs, the Bugattis [of wine],” Napa wine importer Stefan Blicker told KPIX News. “It’s very much like an art heist.”

After breaking into the restaurant at a time when no one was around, the thieves—or thief, it is not known how many people were involved—took 76 bottles of wine. Many were Domaine de la Romaneé-Conti, a highly sought after Burgundy reportedly worth up to $15,000 per bottle. Other French-made wines stolen included five bottles of 2004 Dom Perignon. Wine writer W. Blake Gray joked that the thieves may have had an ulterior motive for grabbing the Champagne—to have something to celebrate with after they got away.

Suspicion has fallen on both past and present French Laundry employees or business associates who might have inside knowledge of restaurant operations. Judging by the selection of wines taken, there is good reason to suspect that the men or women behind the robbery were, to use French Laundry chef Thomas Keller’s phrase, “wine knowledgeable.”

This would certainly appear to be true with the Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, the lone California (and American) wine stolen. Five bottles were taken, from five different years: 2010, 1999, 1998, 1995 and 1992, the Oakville winery’s first vintage. The retail value of the 1992, if you can find one to buy, is reportedly $6,500, although it is almost certainly worth much more than this due to its scarcity and its unique place in the life and history of America’s leading wine region. Continue reading

Investigators looking for answers in $300,000 French Laundry wine theft

French Laundry

Thieves in the celebrated French Laundry case broke into the restaurant through a back door. Photo by Kevin Nelson

Early next month the tiny hamlet of Yountville in Napa Valley will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its incorporation as a town. But everyone there—indeed, food and wine lovers all around the country—are talking about a civic event of a far different sort: the theft of $300,000 in fine wines from the town’s most famous restaurant, the French Laundry.

The French Laundry, regarded as one of the world’s best restaurants, suffered a Christmas Day break-in in which thieves stole 76 bottles from its wine cellar, but these were not just any 76 bottles. They included bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, a Burgundy wine referred to as “DRC” by wine cognoscenti and valued as high as $15,000 apiece.

Also part of the haul were five bottles of Screaming Eagle, a Napa Valley winery—located in Oakville, just up the road from the French Laundry—that makes a highly desirable Cabernet Sauvignon. The stolen Screaming Eagles cost as much as $6,500 per bottle.

Thomas Keller, the renowned chef who runs the French Laundry as well as other prestigious dining establishments in Yountville and elsewhere, lives on the grounds and was in the area when the thieves jimmied open a back door of the restaurant and entered the cellar. But because it was Christmas night the restaurant was closed, the usual security detail had the day off, and the burglary alarm was evidently not set. Continue reading

Napa Valley and Sonoma wines in the news

A Beringer vineyard in the Lake Ellen area of Howell Mountain in Napa Valley. Photo by Kevin Nelson

A Beringer vineyard in the Lake Ellen area of Howell Mountain in Napa Valley. Photo by Kevin Nelson

With the holidays over and the beginning of a new year, many people resolve to go on diets, exercise more and perhaps even cut back on their drinking. This tradition—usually forgotten, in most cases, by mid-January—has not stopped Napa Valley and Sonoma wines and wineries from making news around the country during this time. Some highlights: Continue reading

Looking back: Napa Valley’s top ten travel stories 2014

Grape stomping sign

Grape stomping sign at Grgich Hills Estate. Below, Castello di Amorosa and a summer concert at Robert Mondavi Winery. Photos by Kevin Nelson.

By Kevin Nelson

From a Robert Mondavi concert to superstar athletes who run wineries, from the best New Year’s Eve parties in Napa Valley to stomping grapes at harvest, here are the top ten most popular travel articles that appeared in my column in 2014.

These rankings are based on Google analytics, Facebook and Twitter shares, tweets and likes, Contently social media evaluation and subscriber feedback. Please note these are only my pieces and do not include my travel writing for other sites. Also, please note that I wrote dozens of articles for the site this year, and many popular pieces just missed making the cut. Starting with No. 10, here are the top ten articles of the year:

10. Ansel Adams in Napa Valley

Known for its sparkling wines and splendid Rutherford vineyard views, Mumm Napa also boasts a rich cache of Ansel Adams photos in its fine art gallery. This popular June article, “The best place to see Ansel Adams photos west of Yosemite,” is a walk-through of the gallery as well as an appreciation of the West’s greatest photographer. Even more Adams treasures may be found at Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga, which has a unique collection of his winery and vineyard images.

9. Love and Beringer

Beringer Vineyards in St. Helena is one of the most popular and attractive travel destinations in Napa Valley. Its pleasures include the great old Rhine House, the comfortably elegant Hudson House and the winemaking caves built in the late 1800s when the winery was founded. Even so, the success of this article, “Tour Beringer Winery and maybe even ask a girl to marry,” must have been due, in part, to its headline and the romantic allure attached to it. People who love wine and who come to wine country tend to have more on their minds than just wine. Continue reading

Napa Valley’s best clam chowder

Clam chowder

Let’s face it: People do not go to Napa Valley to eat clam chowder. If chowder is your thing you’ve probably got your GPS set for the New England seacoast or the classic Grand Central Oyster Bar in Manhattan. Or in California, San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf.

Nevertheless, wine country does have a first-rate place for chowderheads: Hog Island Oyster Bar in Napa’s Oxbow Public Market just across the First Street Bridge on the east side of the river. After a hard day’s work of imbibing wine at wineries—which is, after all, why most people do go to Napa Valley—a tasty bowl of Manila chowder may be just the thing for you. Continue reading

Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga: Rain or shine, it’s a splendid ride

Sterling in the rainThe other day a crazy thing happened in drought-ridden California: It rained! Despite this, we headed up to the hilltop winery of Sterling Vineyards to ride the tram, take the tour and taste a whole bunch of nice wines. Sterling is known for its marvelous views and although we had to bundle up and couldn’t see much of anything due to the foul weather, it was definitely a trip worth taking.


Remember Pearl Harbor with a trip to USS Arizona Memorial

USS Arizona MemorialTomorrow is Pearl Harbor Day, and here is my account, published on the popular travel website Dave’s Travel Corner, of a family trip we took to see the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. It is an experience that no American should miss. No citizen of the world, in fact.


Blending ‘experience’ at Chateau St. Jean

Cinq CepagesChateau St. Jean is a lovely winery in Kenwood in the Sonoma Valley. The other day I attended a blending seminar— or as the winery puts it, a blending “experience”—led by Chateau St. Jean’s chief winemaker, Margo Van Staaveren. It was a fun, even creative endeavor that combined tasting wine (including Cinq Cépages, its signature brand) with reminders of high school chemistry.


Etude Wines: An interview with Winemaker Jon Priest

Jon Priest, Etude WinesThe other day I was fortunate enough to sit down with Jon Priest, the chief winemaker at Etude Wines in the Carneros District of Napa Valley, and talk about his love for pinot noir and other wines. Click here to see the article that came out of it.

A Thanksgiving Day idea: Go to the car show!

CorvetteIf you’re looking for a novel way to spend Thanksgiving Day, here is one: Go to the San Francisco International Auto Show. That’s how our family often spends the day, or at least the morning. You will see some amazing machines, such as this 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray at last year’s show, and some amazing old ones too. Read the article HERE.

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