Ritz-Carlton oceanfront resort at Half Moon Bay, California

Pumpkin Paradise offers Cinderella-style birthday

sweeping view of the ocean from the cliffside resort

It was a Cinderella kind of birthday, except I turned into the pumpkin.

 But my transformation wasn’t by the wand of a witch or fairy godmother, it was the result of a weekend celebration at the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, Calif.

This historic seaside hamlet is the biggest pumpkin growing region in the state, and hosts the world’s largest pumpkin festival each October to the delight of more than 250,000 yearly visitors. 

Pumpkin fields at Half Moon Bay
Although harvest season had passed, and the pumpkin fields were patchy by the time we arrived in early December, the Ritz was still revelling in the delicious scent of pumpkin spice while spa guests continued to discover the beauty secrets of this gourd-like squash.

The cliff-side hotel lays claim to the only oceanfront resort in the Bay area. Located about 25 miles southwest of the San Francisco International Airport, it was voted 26th out of the top 100 best resort hotels in the U.S. in Condé Naste Travellers’ 2011 Readers’ Choice Awards.

Our third-floor hotel room offered a dramatic and sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean and we didn’t have to raise the window to hear the white-capped waves lapping and crashing against the 25 ft high bluffs.

From my cushioned window seat, I watched sweater-clad golfers putting out on the 18th hole of one of two championship links golf courses. Hotel literature says the sea can be seen from every hole on this Scottish-designed Ocean Course.

Ocean Course 18th hole

Every weekend at 4 p.m., a lone bagpiper plays for the guests enjoying a glass of wine out on the Ocean Terrace, or seated around one of two gas fire pits. We paused while strolling along the miles of coast side walking trails to listen to the instrument’s haunting melody, which sounded both lonely and comforting, like a lighthouse blinking on a distant shore.


 Lail Vineyards

Judging by the glass of wine poured for us when we checked-in, I set my weekend expectations high, and this ritzy ocean-side resort, decked in all its Christmas splendor, did not disappoint.

The featured glass of cab sav, produced by Lail Vineyards in Napa Valley, was poured by none other than the vintner herself, Robin Daniel Lail, great grand niece of Finnish sea captain Gustave Niebaum, who founded Inglenook Vineyards in 1879.

We were formerly introduced a few hours later when we stopped to check out the flights of wine and cheese and chocolate served during cocktail hour in the hotel’s ENO wine tasting room. Joining us at the bar over sampling of three of her wines, Robin shared her family’s winemaking story.

The first wave of grape growers came to Napa from Europe in the mid nineteenth century, she says, and they were good stewards of the land, passing vineyards down from generation to generation.

Hers is a winemaking legacy of five generations and 130 years. In 1964 her great uncle Niebaum sold Inglenook, and in 1977 she became a protégé of Robert Mondavi, who she says was mentored by her dad John Daniel. In 1982 she co-founded Merryvale in St. Helena and started Lail Vineyards in 1995.

Francis Ford Coppola purchased the Niebaum winery in 1975 and called it Niebaum-Coppola Estate winery. He renamed it Rubicon Estate in 2006, after their flagship wine.  Only after googling Coppola when I returned did I learn that the film director had acquired the Inglenook trademark and returned the property to its historic name in December 2011, the month we chanced upon meeting Niebaum’s great grand niece.

Although Napa and Sonoma only produce four per cent of all Californian wines, the two famous regions bring in 32 per cent of the state’s gross wine revenues, says Robin. Napa is renown for its cabs and Sonoma boasts the best chardonnays.

I’m sipping her brilliant Blueprint Sauvignon Blanc (2009), a grape I’m usually not too fussed about, but this one offered something more from its floral and aromatic opening to its long and savory lemon, lime and vanilla finish.

“It’s a little flirty with oak and a little complexity not found in Sav Blanc,” describes Robin. “The weight is pleasant and lines the palette in a nice way, enlivening the juices to eat.” She says it pairs well with Asian dishes, listing off Indian, Japanese, Thai, and Korean cuisines.

She says Lail make wines that blend with food, upholding her belief that wine should pair with food, not dominate it. They will tweak a wine 40 to 50 times to create just the right blend.

 The trend away from the big Californian and Australian flavours is growing  according to 2012 foodies, who predict people are moving toward old-world style, small-production, family-run wineries.

Lail Vineyards flagship Cabernet blend

My favourite was the elegant J. Daniel Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon (2006), a lush, full-bodied wine with flavours of boysenberry, currant, cassis, black raspberry, black plum and hints of vanilla. They only made 400-800 cases of the ’06 — it can cellar for 25 years — but even if you could afford it, you can’t buy it in Alberta. Sold in the U.S. and 10 countries abroad, it’s only available in Canada in B.C. and Ontario.

Ask your wine stores for it, Robin encourages with a smile as we depart for some Northern California cuisine at the hotel’s Navio restaurant.

Dining a few weeks later at a fancy downtown Vancouver restaurant, I asked the sommelier if they carried the J. Daniel Cuvée from Lail Vineyards. It wasn’t on the wine list, but sure enough, they had a bottle in the cellar, for more than $300.

Pumpkin Paradise

Although this traditional Halloween and Thanksgiving staple had all but vanished from the fields, I was about to acquaint myself with the medicinal properties of pumpkin pulp.

Ritz-Carlton Resort on cliffs behind beach

My birthday was a spa day, and it started in the morning with the Half Moon Bay Facial, the hotel’s signature treatment featuring a nourishing pumpkin enzyme mask. Unable to resist the list of add-ons, I choose the soothing foot reflexology and an eye treatment.

After relaxing in the 16,000 sq. ft spa, I take a late lunch at the ocean view restaurant, wondering if it’s the fresh ocean air or my pumpkin-scented skin that’s whetting my appetite.

 At the appointed hour of 4 p.m., I return to receive my in-room bath service, complete with pumpkin scented bath oil and lotion, and the fragrant flickering of a pumpkin spice candle. Glass of wine in hand, serenaded by the lone bagpiper outside my window, I submerge myself in a bubbly orange-colored bath for the next hour.

Later, like Cinderella on her way to the ball, footmen sweep open the doors of the hotel’s finest coach, and my husband and I are carried into Half Moon Bay for dinner at the highly recommended Pasta Moon.

I searched the menu, to no avail, for pumpkin somethin — a pie or soup or puree —  convinced I should at least ingest the local specialty before we depart in the morning. But alas, as this fairy tale must come to an end, it is a large dark SUV that slides up to the curb at a stroke past midnight.

© 2012 df30

www.ritzcarlton.com/HalfMoonBay  1 (650) 712-7000



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