Happy New Year!
I hope that 2011 was a fulfilling year for you and that you have good things to look forward to in this new year of 2012.
My 2011 was filled with family and friends, adventures in the outdoors, plenty of delicious good food, and several very memorable wines. I had plenty of visitors here in Austria this year – from Oregon, California, Minnesota, Idaho, Australia, Germany and Switzerland.  And I did plenty of traveling myself – for work and pleasure – 10 different countries in all!
Every year also poses challenges and even in loss there are valuable lessons to be learned. I’ll keep my nose to the grind stone, because after all, I already have reason to be thankful and much to gain!
Here is a slideshow of a few highlights followed by a bit of drivel and navel observation:


The year kicked off with a trip to California. Gerhard and I travelled with our friends from Saxony from the Sonoma Coast down to Santa Barbara and back to Napa Valley. We encountered only spectacular weather. I counted nearly 100 whales spouting in Monterey on their way to Alaska. I was thrilled to see that the sea elephant population has recovered; we saw a colony of hundreds basking in the sun on the beach. I loved Santa Barbara. What a cool little city. The coastline faces south and you get both gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. If I could take an Alpine mountain to ski and bike with me – I’d move there. I’m digressing, it was actually a work and study trip and we visited and interviewed several iconic winemakers and wineries along the way. Where do you draw the line between work and pleasure?

When we returned to our “home away from home” at Frank’s and Angie’s in Napa Valley, we cocooned in their hospitality. We attended the annual St. Helena crab feed and auction. The delicious home-grown food and discovery that our hosts’ boutique winery, Mueller Family Vineyards, produces a delicious, top notch Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon made us difficult guests to get rid of. My Uncle Dennis from Paso Robles even joined in the party for a couple of days. It can be a really awkward experience when you are a wine critic and friends offer you their homemade wine. There was no need to be diplomatic here, the Mueller’s wine was delicious – actually too inexpensive for the quality! It is fun this year to see Angie and Frank developing a social media presence to communicate with their friends and customers. I just want to see those chickens, Angie’s delicious recipes and Frank’s inspirational musings on their website, too. I hope a lot of people discover their family winery, because their wine is truly special (and so are they).

Several of my hikes this year revealed a geological phenomenon that is referred to as a hoodoo. These formations are also called tent rocks or fairy chimneys in English, but where I saw them in Alto Adige, Italy and in Sachsen, Germany they are called Erdpyramide (earth pyramids) and in southern France, they called them demoiselles coiffées (ladies with hairdos). The geology of areas where fairy chimneys form typically comprises a thick layer of soft earth like tuff or moraine covered by rocks that are more resistant to erosion. Over time, the much softer earth is eroded and washed away, except where it is covered by a rock and pillars are formed. As fascinating as hoodoos are, my most spectacular hikes were the Brèche de Roland and Mount Canigou in the Pyrenees.

Other pictures you will see in my slideshow are for foodies – the ones from Germany’s top chef, Harald Wohlfahrt in Schwarzwalder Stuben or pictures from Rust in Burgenland, Austria. Others are of a more personal nature that may only mean something to family and friends – they all get mails with even more details and drivel.

I wish you a healthy, happy and fulfilling 2012.

Thanks for reading!

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