Roman Holiday: How a Scooter Getaway Changed my Life Print
Written by Jessica Prokup   

 

Jessica and the scooterIf I had one thing in common with Audrey Hepburn’s Princess Anne, it was being overwhelmed by a demanding job. But I did fall for a newsman, careen around on a scooter and escape from responsibility for a couple of days. Although, unlike Hepburn, I didn’t begin my adventure knocked out on tranquilizers.  

Last summer, I’d started re-dating an old boyfriend, a motojournalist named Brian. He’d been invited to go on a Vespa tour of Northern California wineries and asked me to come along. I spend a lot of time on two wheels, but rarely on scooters; I love commuting and canyon carving on my GSX-R. Still, a little roaming on step-throughs sounded pretty relaxing, as it included traipsing around wine country, eating fine meals and curling up in romantic hotels. That is, depending on how much I liked spending two days on tiny wheels and shacking up with my once ex-boyfriend…for the first time in five years. Tally ho! 

We decided to make a full motorcycle journey out of the trip, going to and from wine country on bigger bikes. Leaving L.A. early on a Sunday morning, we rode north primarily on byways, winding over mountain passes from coast to valley, with farms and vineyards and psychotic temperature changes along the way. The roads varied between sweepers and tight corners, sometimes rollercoastering through broad farmland. I’d borrowed a Suzuki Gladius for the trip, which was fun in the twisties but deprived me of wind protection at higher speeds, and I was fried by the time we reached the Bay area that evening. We collapsed in a hotel in Santa Rosa, about 50 miles north of San Francisco, and barely said goodnight before falling asleep. 

Twist and Go

Santa Rosa is home to Revolution Moto (a scooter boutique) and Wine Country Vespa (a scooter tour company) owned by a couple (Roy and Johnna Gattinella) who love scooters, Italian lifestyle and wine. They are very hard not to like. Both self-described corporate refugees, they’ve done what many of us daydream about: dropping out of the rat race and starting their own business. The one that’s a labor of love. Roy and Johnna at Revolution

We met Roy and Johnna at the shop on Monday morning. Though I was stiff from the previous day, I felt revived and excited, like a real person on a real vacation, something I don’t experience much. Sipping espresso, we chose our rides, a GTS 250 and an LX 150. A plush seat, storage space and an automatic tranny seemed like manna from heaven after hammering over 500 miles on a naked sportbike. Still, they were awfully small. And pastel. 

After some leisurely chatting and a little paperwork, it was time to go. The other couple in our group, a cute pair of 20-something newlyweds, were riding two-up. With Roy in the lead, Johnna riding sweep and the chase van bringing up the rear, we began our caravan through downtown Santa Rosa. I felt a bit silly, but I kind of liked being perched on the little scoot, with small twists of throttle and easy, mindless maneuvering. I couldn’t help giggling in my helmet at the Vespa crusade, our little troupe buzzing about town in formation. We passed a few motorcycles but nobody waved at us.

 

Small Pleasures

Before long the landscape turned from city to country, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Enveloped in a fragrant blue sky, I unwound, one by one, every tight fiber of muscle, every tense thread of mind. We rolled past long stretches of grapevines. Green slopes fringed with oaks and pines. Perfect quilts of farmland. There I was, relaxed and happy, turning off the hard part of me that must shift and throttle and lean. All that was left was a quiet little motor, a comfortable seat and an open road amid beautiful scenery. 

Lavender fields at Matanzas Creek WineryOur first stop was Matanzas Creek Winery, which has stunning lavender gardens. The manager walked us through their process of creating bath and home products, then led us to the airy tasting room, where we sipped wine and enjoyed the view through enormous glass windows. Afterwards, seated against cushioned chairs on the deck, we snacked on organic apples and Perrier. If you don’t enjoy small pleasures, this is not the trip for you.  

We left the winery and headed east towards Kenwood, winding along tiny tree-lined roads with sharp curves and endless ruts. The kind of ride that quickly gets hairy on a bike but made me laugh on the scooter. Eventually we landed at Chateau St. Jean, a grand estate with a stately mansion and perfectly manicured gardens. After visiting the shop and exploring the grounds, we sat at picnic tables beneath giant old trees with a spread of fresh bread, cheeses, salads and fruit. Time was relaxed, everything was easy. Plenty of moments to wander off and cuddle on a bench, rediscovering someone I was once close to.   

Our ride now took us south towards Figone’s in Glen Ellen, an olive oil company with a rich heritage in Napa Valley and a European-inspired tasting bar/boutique. We dipped crusty bread into fruit- and herb-flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars, and were given a tour of the oil-making side of the shop. By the time we heard about the annual community olive-oil pressing, I was ready to relocate to Napa

Our last stop was the MacArthur Place Inn & Spa in Sonoma, an historic estate turned romantic resort. Flagstone walkways wind around fountains, sculptures and benches, ensuring that a) it feels like a sanctuary, and b) I got lost. Our little group relaxed in the library with wine and cheese, and we hit that point with a tour group when you start telling embarrassing stories. I was literally crying with laughter. We all walked to a café for dinner, and then went back to our suites, alone at last. Fireplace, whirlpool, giant comforter, evening glow. People, I melted.

 

Into the Sunset

I began the second day on the back of Brian’s scooter, so I could shoot photos for his magazine story. This had the potential to suck. Two motorcyclists, one big and one stubborn, crammed on a 250cc Vespa can make for a very long day. But aside from bottoming the suspension, which either compressed my spine or caused my butt to part ways with the seat, it was one of the nicest rides I’ve Napa roads are perfect for scooteringever had. There’s something very sweet and intimate about spending a few hours wrapped around someone, sharing beautiful vistas and spine-shattering bumps in the road. Bliss. 

That morning we rode back toward Napa, and the town of Rutherford. We started with a visit to Caymus Vineyards – a treat for me, as this family makes some of my favorite wines. The winery is picturesque yet practical; it reminded me of some kibbutzes in Israel, where art, beauty and farm machinery coexist. We were given an in-depth tour by Charlie Wagner, grandson and namesake of the man who founded Caymus in the early 1900s. Charlie explained every step in the process, vine to glass, and finished with samples of a signature wine fresh from the vat. I completely geeked at this point. 

Back on the road, we continued north on a scenic byway. I was still riding two-up with Brian, surprised at how relaxed and happy I felt. For once, I wasn’t itching to get behind the bars; I was glad to sit back and enjoy the view. 

We stopped for lunch at a classic drive-in with huge burgers and picnic tables on a shady lawn, then headed to Calistoga and Vermeil Wines’ tasting room. You may know Dick Vermeil as the Superbowl-winning coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, but he’s also a Napa Valley native. His winery produces fantastic reds. The tasting room is run by MarySue Frediani, wife of Vermeil winemaker Paul Smith and co-owner of Frediani Family Vineyards, where much of Vermeil Wines’ fruit is produced. She and production manager Michael Rone walked us through the wine selection and an intricate web of local family history. 

"I want the Millers of Garden Creek to adopt me" - JessicaOur last stop was by far the best. We rode north to Geyserville, cruising along a beautiful ridgeline and eventually cresting a small mountain pass with a gorgeous valley below. By late afternoon, we arrived at Garden Creek Vineyards, an organic and sustainable vineyard and winery owned by Justin Miller and Karin Warnelius-Miller. Justin’s family has owned the 100 acres since the 1950s, and Karin grew up on a nearby vineyard. They do every bit of the work themselves, and they explained all the equipment and techniques they use. We gathered around an upturned oak barrel in the aging room and sipped their incredible wine, paired with cheeses and dried meats. I’ve never learned so much about winemaking, and the Millers’ warmth made it feel like visiting family. 

As our tour neared its end, we fittingly rode west into the sunset. Our final destination was the upscale Hotel Healdsburg, with its modern European styling and striking architecture. We cleaned up quickly and then met downstairs at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen, where Michael Rone of Vermeil Wines joined us, bottles in hand. I have no idea how many courses our dinner involved, but it was amazing. Each course was paired with a glass and an explanation, and by the end I felt like I finally knew something about wine. As it was our last gathering, I really enjoyed spending hours dining with the group. It felt like camp was coming to an end. 

Brian and I went upstairs for the last night of our getaway, and you might say I had a lot on my mind. Two days of romantic experiences and resurfaced emotions are hard to keep bottled up. And maybe, at the end of this journey, we both wondered the same thing: What next? Somehow a simple conversation evolved into a long and difficult talk, five years in the making. 

The next morning, we swapped the Vespas for our bikes, getting ready for a one-day haul back down the coast. It felt good to have the power of a large motorcycle again, though the sense of peace and relaxation wasn’t the same. I can’t say I missed the little step-through, but I did miss the ease and freedom I felt, tooling around the countryside. Maybe, like Princess Anne, a part of me will always be attached to that interlude in my life. There are times when I long for that sense of escape. 

However, unlike the movie, my story doesn’t end with the newsman and me wondering what might have been. We’re still together. a group shot at Garden Creek

 
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Chateau St. Jean or Wonderland?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
"I can't remember if this is chateau St. Jean or Wonderland!"
 
johnna-is-the-picture-of-scooture1
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
"Johnna is the perfect picture of 'scooture.'" 
Contat info:
Wine Country Vespa/Revolution Moto
317 D Street
Santa Rosa, CA
707-523-2371
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