Velo Vino: Clif Bar Family Tasting Room, Coffee Bar & Destination for Bike Lovers

June 22, 2014

I stumbled upon an amazing treat in St. Helena, California after applying for a position at Clif Bar this past week.  As I was browsing the Clif Bar website to get a better feel for the company branding and their mission, I took a chance and bought a single ticket for their "Summer Solstice Concert".  It mentioned that the band was made up entirely of Clif Bar employees.  I thought, "What a great way to find out if I like these people and this culture".  So, I loaded my road bike into the car and ventured off to Napa Valley.  Kit Crawford and Gary Erickson really have created a special place of solace for cyclists with this spot.

From the moment I stepped into Velo Vino ("bike" in French + "wine" in Italian), located at 709 Main Street on Route 29 in St. Helena, I felt a sense of family, history and cycling.  Gary's bike "Fred", an Italian bike, shares the story of his life in pictures and display, where you can learn about Gary's cycling past in Italy.

Pictures and bikes are carefully displayed in each corner of the space, with attention to detail and layout.  Artfully displayed cycling books, cook books, jewelry, bike coloring books, and bike clothing are also available. Each item selected has a sense of quality; unique and special gift choices vs a "cycling shop feel".  The friendly staff in lime green t-shirts welcomed me when I approached them, shared info about the tasting room, and provided me with a free cycling map so I could go for a ride before the evening event.  There are group rides on weekend mornings that set off from VeloVino, where you can grab espresso drinks and load up on a full selection of Clif Bar products, including Kit's Organic Bars (my personal fav of late is the Lemon with Chia Seeds).

Having already looked at their well-designed and colorful bike map online, I knew I wanted to attempt to ride up to their actual vineyard location on Howell Mountain.  I only had 2 hours before the concert, so I set off. (I had no idea what I was getting into... but stay tuned to find out)

Crossing route 29 from their tasting room, the map takes you through a quaint neighborhood, over the old stone "Pope Street Bridge", and across Route 128 and on to Howell Mtn. Road.  Once on Howell Mountain Road, you just climb.  Climb, and climb, and climb... up through shady oaks, with views of vineyards in the distance.

At the 2 mile mark, you intersect a road with many colorful signs.  Another mile up or so, you pass a stone wall with a metal pig sculpture.

The best part about this route is the shade and relative lack of traffic.  I saw maybe two cars and a single bike the entire time I was on the road.  It was a perfect workout and test of my road bike. 

I made it up to the 2,900 ft. intersection of Howell Mtn. Road/Deer Park Rd/White Cottage Rd.  The vineyard was further up the road another 4 miles, but I'd run out of time.  So, it was time to head back downhill to the concert. No complaints here.  The decent was FAST!  Like skiing.  I loved it.  I lowered my seat and learned how to take it easy on my breaks... It was really, really fun.

Back at VeloVino, I was super excited for dinner.  The tasting room has two HUGE bathrooms that are modern, clean and were perfect for freshening up and changing out of my bike clothes.  For this event, a $10. food ticket provided many food choices and plenty of vegetarian options, as well as pork, chicken and fish at outdoor tents and a gourmet food truck near the music.  Water and tables with fresh summer flowers were arranged right outside the tasting room in the back where the stage was set up for the band.  There are some nice photos of the event on the Clif Family Instagram page.

I decided on a plate of 1/4 Wood Oven Chicken with Lemon-Basil Aioli, Heirloom Beans and Arugula.  A wine glass was provided to each guest when we arrived in order for you to taste a variety of wines.  I tried the perfectly cold 2012 Reisling, which was dry, but very refreshing, as well as a 2011 Petite Sirah.

What I hadn't prepared for was meeting Kit Crawford and watching Gary Erickson right up on stage, belting out jazz trumpet like a true professional.  All the players and singers were really talented.

The couple looked just as the video of Velo Vino had portrayed them,  and I told Kit how impressed I was with this event, and how welcome I felt.  It really did feel like a family event that I had just stepped into as an invited guest.  Every employee was helpful and kind, and we all danced together en masse to tunes provided by the Clif Bar Company Band until 10pm.  

At one point, the band announced that a woman down front had a Birthday- She had been dancing up a storm and I had noticed her artsy outfit; a black tunic with three brightly colored shapes at the bottom, and hot pink socks with black, Mary Jane-style shoes.  She looked like a hip artist, but I never would have guessed she was turning 70!  This goes to show what youthful attitude, Clif Family mission and exercise can do for you.  I wondered if she was a Clif Bar employee.  She was clearly awesome.

In fact, I came away from this entire evening with a phenomenal feeling of wellness.  Kind, creative, passionate people with fantastic taste in food, display of product and marketing of brand.  It wasn't at all forced or packaged.  Because Kit and Gary were there, it really was their family business and "home", much like the feeling I have in Marin when visiting a family farm and meeting Mickey Murch and his family at Gospel Flat Farm in Bolinas, or Liz Daniels and her husband out at Cow Track Ranch in Nicasio.  Kit and Gary have created something intimate with this spot.

Like these local, Marin Organic producers, Kit and Gary now have a Farm and CSA Program for organic and local produce.  Their farm, just 7 miles further up Howell Mt. road from where I biked, has certified organic fruits, herbs, and vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, squash, apples, plums, garlic, potatoes, broccoli, kale, chard, greens, onions and more.  CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Members may pick up their weekly box at Velo Vino every Tuesday, May through October.  CSA members also receive 20% off wine and food in the tasting room.
When it was time to go, I didn't really want to leave.  I bought lots of gifts to bring home, including a cycling necklace and Bicycle Coloring Book with art by Taliah Lempert.

A very nice woman invited me to someone's house to continue the evening fun, but I declined, realizing I had a fairly long drive back to Marin.  Kit was very kind to offer me coffee when I mentioned that I had to drive.  Again, the sense that they are local producers and not a corporation came through with her kind offer.  I left feeling really happy, positive and believing in these wonderful people.  Yes, I would love to work for Clif Bar, now so more than ever, and.... I can't wait to bring some friends out to Napa and share a ride and this cyclist's respite with them.

Grazie, Velo Vino!  Until we ride again.

My 1st Experience with BikeShare in San Francisco

At my lunch break today, I was determined to try out a BikeShare bike at the corner of Howard and 2nd.  I brought my helmet and was prepared to ride down Howard, turn on 6th and end up at Blue Bottle Coffee in Mint Plaza... I did not find Mint Plaza, but I saw it later from 5th Street. 

What I realized as a newbie to riding in this part of the city, is that I felt like I was in "survival mode", just making sure I did not get doored or squished by a bus on Market Street.  It's not as easy as it looks to do this happy blue bike thing.

Here is what I learned.

"It's not as easy as it seems to get a bike."

- The user interface asks you to press a   > button on the left of the screen to continue... it should be a more intuitive interface... a green button that says "Next" on the right side of the screen.

- Once you pay, it is hard to find where you put your code in to get the bike out.  It is down low, on the left side, under the left handle-bar.  Once you punch the code in, the bike is "Open" to take, but I tried to pull it out and nothing happened.  Then my green light turned yellow and I had to call the number to get help.

-I called the number and they explained that I had to swipe my credit card again and then it would show "Request a New Ride Code" on the lower left corner(the smaller white button under the button that says "Rent a Bike". This gave me a new code.

Once you punch the code in and get a green light...
- You have to PULL REALLY HARD to get the bike out of the rack.

- Adjust your seat before you try to ride in traffic.

-Be prepared to go on the sidewalk.  It's scary out there.

My Ride

Howard Street was pretty good because they have Bike lanes all away down to 6th.  However, at every large intersection, buses and cars turn right and take up the bike lane by packing 4 or 5 cars down from the intersection crossing over the bike lane.  This is when I didn't feel comfortable and started pulling my bike up on the sidewalk and crossing at the light on foot, pushing the bike with pedestrians.  Then I would re-enter the bike lane after the crosswalk.  

On sixth, you're basically riding between parked cars and other cars moving next to you, and there is no dedicated Bike lane there.  On Market, although there are green Bike lanes now, the buses pull right through them to pull over to the bus stops and block the bike lanes.  This is where I pulled up onto the large, wide brick sidewalks on Market and just rode on the sidewalk to get around the buses. Then I would pull back into the bike lane off the sidewalk when it seemed safer.

The experience for me was actually okay because I ride fairly regularly, but I could never see my parents doing this or anyone who is not comfortable on a bike.  It is definitely not easy, but it's certainly faster than walking.

It takes some understanding of how to use the machines to return the bike and get another one out.  What they want you to do if you rent a 24 hour bike, is to ride it to another station within 30 minutes and then return that bike and pull out another one.  The point of this is actually that the bike is locked at the new station that you stop at.  

So if you ride to get lunch, you would pull into the bike station on Market, lock it into the machine, get your lunch, return to the card swipe machine and swipe your card, then punch the "Request a New Bike" code button again.  Then you would pick any bike at the station, punch in your code, and pull that new bike out and return to the next station. (it might be the same bike you took out before, if no one else has taken... Or it could be a different one.)

I rode the Howard - 6th - Market -2nd and Howard rectangle that took me 45 minutes, including standing in line for coffee.  There are no coffee or beverage holders on these bikes, but a platform with a bungee.

I got some exercise and adrenaline from being in "fight or flight mode" so I didn't really need coffee after my ride.

I wish San Francisco would divide all bike lanes from bus lanes with a median and/or put bike lanes on the sidewalks on Market around all the bus stops.  It was fun, but the difficulty is fairly high at the moment.


To be fair, there are lots of places in SF that are very bike friendly, but this section I was in today where I tested BikeShare is probably one of the busiest downtown areas. My opinion is they should create a totally separate bus route and a totally separate bike route so the bikes and the buses never have to cross paths at all.

The bike ride from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marina through Fort Mason and around the Embarcadero to AT&T Park is a lovely and much safer ride.  I have done that many times and never felt stressed out.

Also, biking in Golden Gate Park and around the museums is also a lovely and safe place to ride.

Art on Starbuck's Reusable Coffee Cups and The History of the Clenched Fist in Graphic Design

When I was working as a Production Artist for Pearson in Mill Valley, I would walk down the hill to get lunch. I noticed Starbucks had a one dollar reusable coffee cup that would give you $.10 off a cup of coffee when you used it. I had already made it a resolution of mine to use my own cups at coffee shops for the year, so I was happy to see that Starbucks in Mill Valley was doing this promotion.

The cups were very plain and white just like their paper cups. This gave me the idea to draw on the cup. I used sharpies to decorate a couple cups with spontaneous, free draws... Doodles, really.  Nothing was planned except that I wanted to use a bike theme and I needed to you incorporate the Starbucks logo into the design.  The first two cups were all about mountain biking:

A local friend of mine, Lydia, noticed these coffee cups on Facebook. She was doing a fundraiser for her friend Claire, who had breast cancer, and she said she would love a cup created for the SF Avon breast Cancer Walk.  It took me a while to get started on this project. In the meantime, my friend Lydia broke her arm while training for the SF Breast Cancer walk.  She actually got a pink cast, in honor of the event!

Lydia's pink cast gave me the idea of the arm up in the air for strength and power and all of the posters we've seen from 1960s on with the clenched fist raised showing power to the people.  Here is a great brief history of the art of the clenched fist .

So, I made a pink fist for Lydia's cup.

I added lots of pink breast cancer ribbons...

I changed the Starbuck's gal to "Queen Lydia" with shorter hair and pink arms raised in strength.

Today I learned that Claire's cancer is in remission, but she is still undergoing her final rounds of chemotherapy.  I couldn't be more delighted with this news.  If you would like to contribute to "Team Claire" in the SF Breast Cancer Walk, you may do so by clicking here.

SF Disney Museum and Mary Blair
I had a chance to visit the Disney Family Museum and Mary Blair exhibit a couple weeks ago on a midweek afternoon in San Francisco. It was a great day, and I really enjoyed my experience there. The Disney Family Museum is located in the Presidio of San Francisco, very close to the Golden Gate Bridge and in the same area as the Industrial Light & Magic Buildings. This makes it super easy for Marin folks coming over the bridge.  There is free parking in front and behind the buildings. If you've been to Cavallo Point and had breakfast on their front porch with a view of the Golden gate Bridge, the Disney Museum offers a very similar porch with view out towards San Francisco. Their café offers food and treats as well as espresso coffee drinks that you can take out on the patio or eat inside.

If you plan to go to see both the museum and the Mary Blair exhibit, you will need several hours.  If you plan to just see Mary Blair exhibit, you could probably be in and out in just one hour if you go alone, but you may want longer to enjoy a coffee and lunch at the main museum cafe.  The Disney Family Museum has several interactive exhibits and listening stations, so that takes a couple hours at least, although I would plan for 3 hours to fully appreciate, watch, read and interact with all that's inside, and maybe another hour for food an the gift shop.  The shop is not your typical Disney World shop, and has art and gifts that feature many local artists and jewelers.  This was my third visit to the Museum, and it has a lot to offer, including classes and lectures.  To learn more, please visit the full website for The Disney Family Museum of San Francisco.

In general you will learn a lot about Walt Disney himself.  His full genealogy and how his family came to the US and owned a farm, and how he started cartoon drawing and learned animation and story telling as a young man.  He created his own animation company, which eventually led to the creation of Mickey Mouse.  
One of Walt Disney's original cartoons in his school newspaper

The process of bringing you through his life story is very well laid out within the museum, and you will get an enjoyable amount of learning from just walking through and listening to the headsets and videos.
Some really fun things are all of the vintage Mickey Mouse club items, hats and swag they mailed to kids back in this 60s and 70s who watched the show on TV.  I do remember this Mickey Mouse Club, and have fond memories of visiting Disney with my family as a child, although I think the experience has changed for me as an adult.  The great thing about this museum is that you won't have to wait in any lines and will be able to experience it all at your own pace.

The early days of animation segregated male animators from women cel painters.  You will learn about this, and actually hear the women speak about what it was like to work there through the video headsets.  It was interesting to learn that they really enjoyed the work and liked being separate from the men, and at lunch time, they would get to join together and co-mingle.  Times have certainly changed.

An original, 2d cell table/desk with cell drawings from Pinocchio

The original drawings from Bambi and Pinocchio.  Many animations are running on loop within different areas of the display, and this part could be fun for younger kids to watch while parents read and listen to more educational content.
Original sketches for Bambi

An entire room is dedicated to Disney World, Epcot, and items Walt had in his home, such as a miniature train that circled his house.
The Caboose of Walt Disney's Carolwood Pacific Railroad, a train that ran around his family home

There are lots of surprises, and even a section dedicated to the artist's strikes that happened when animators felt overworked and underpaid.  

It is not all about Disney himself, and you get to see the art of many artists who worked for Disney and did background art, concept drawings and color.  There is definitely an appreciation for all the artists involved and an overwhelming sense of teamwork that each movie production required.
Concept art for "Lady and the Tramp"

In an adjacent building, behind the main museum, you can see the Mary Blair exhibit on two floors, which shares her work while at Disney and after she left Disney to create her solo career as an Children's Book Illustrator and Designer.  Mary's primary medium was opaque watercolors.  Her skill at watercolor painting is remarkable, and many of the pieces in this exhibit do not look like the final product of a Disney film.  This is the "concept art", which was not always used by the animators, and you will see notes about how Walt was not happy when this happened.  For example, a gorgeous painting of a woman in the south US that Mary did was in no way used in "Song of the South".

Mary Blair opaque watercolor concept art for 1952 "The Little House"

Concept Art for "Peter Pan", opaque watercolor by Mary Blair

Concept art for "Song of the South" by Mary Blair

Children's book art created during Mary Blair's solo career, after Disney

Concept art for "Alice in Wonderland" by Mary Blair (opaque watercolor)

If you go:

Location & Hours

104 Montgomery Street*
The Presidio
San Francisco, CA 94129
Wed-Mon 10am-6pm
Last entry 4:45pm
Closed on every Tuesday, New Year's Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day
*In the Presido - not Montgomery Street downtown. Use zipcode 94129 in GPS.