Roadtrip Ukiah: Petty Theft at the Nelson Family Vineyard

On our way home from our last trip to Arcata, we discovered the Nelson Family Vineyard in Ukiah. After wine tasting, we joined their wine club and were informed that the winery had some upcoming events that we might enjoy. In August, we were told, there would be a concert in the winery’s Redwood Grove, part of their “Fourth Friday’s Summer Concert Series.” Petty Theft, a Tom Petty tribute band would be playing. Not ones to miss out on opportunity to skip town, we decided that was the event for us.

And so it was, that we departed at 2PM on a Friday for Ukiah. The usual incredibly painful traffic torture ensued, not letting up until after Petaluma. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…if you plan to drive north on 101 from San Francisco, leave at some ungodly hour like 6AM if at all possible. That traffic is just relentless. Us girls (both passengers in the car) kicked off the mini vacay with this:


Which basically just meant that in addition to feeling irritated and claustrophobic as one does in horrible traffic, I also had an extremely, agonizingly, full bladder. I was able to hold out until we reached what has become our favorite first stop on the 101 north drive, Railroad Station in Cloverdale. It’s a great little locals bar with some pretty yummy vittles. We relieved ourselves, took a quick round of shots (passengers only) then got back on the road to Ukiah.


The closest accommodations we could find to the winery were about nine miles away at the Travelodge. There were some options that were a tiny bit closer, maybe by a half mile, but they were of the same caliber and cost more. Ukiah is pretty podunk. It’s not like you’re going to lodge in a Marriott or a boutique hotel there, it’s all motels. It is what it is. Our rooms were $100/nt, with comfy mattresses & pillows, working A/C, and all white sheets/comforters.


A nice little bonus-there is a pool and hot tub, plus a hot breakfast spread in the morning. You could do a LOT worse.


I was all paranoid before the show about transportation to the winery, lines to get in, the food situation, lines for bathrooms, you know…all that stuff that can make an experience like that a total nightmare. I’ll get in to all of the details in a minute, but just know it is a really kick back event, and all of my creature comforts were seen to, as yours will be should you ever decide to go.

We called Riley’s Cab Company and were able to arrange a cab fairly quickly. The guy did go to the wrong hotel at first, but the mistake was promptly fixed and we were en route to the winery in no time. We had zero issue getting a pick up from them after the show, a situation I thought would FOR SURE be horrendous, so, now you know. No trouble getting transport whatsoever.!

The cost of a cab from the Travelodge to the winery was $30. That’s a lot, I suppose, but it’s about $10,000 cheaper and much less of a hassle than a DUI.

We arrived at the vineyard around 6:00PM (gates open at 5:30) to find a really mellow scene. No lines, no hassle, not a huge crowd but not a tiny one. It was kind of like showing up at someone’s wedding.


I was so happy. They had picnic tables set up in various areas around the stage, with plenty of room on the ground to set up your own seating, plus a table selling wine and beer, and, to my delight, hot food for sale.


Having no idea what to expect, we were dreading cold pasta salad or just cheese and crackers on offer, but a local business, S’wine Country BBQ, actually sets up a grill and brings in catering pans of hot food for the event.


We ordered the pig pen, a german sausage, a side of beans, and a side of cole slaw.

The pig pen is their everything but the kitchen sink sandwich, comprised of a hot link (or smoked german sausage, your call) loaded up with pulled pork, mango-jalapeno cole slaw, and crispy fried onions on a hoagie roll.


I was perfectly happy with it. I mean, each element in of itself was lackluster. All of the toppings were just pretty flat, under seasoned, and had no depth of flavor. Together with a hot link it made for an OK mess, but really the star was just the sausage.

That said, this german sausage, which we chose to adorn with brown mustard, onion, and sauerkraut, was a much more satisfying choice.


The cole slaw was an enormous bummer. It had zero flavor. It was just wet cabbage. We later learned that it was “jalapeno mango” cole slaw, which just made the whole thing that much more of a disappointment.


The beans, however, were fantastic. They were smoky, with some nice chunks of bacon, a brighter/acidic pop from green chiles, and just the right ratio of firmness to soupiness. I loved them.


There was dessert on offer, and I vowed to go back for a lemon bar, but alas, I never did.


We established our spot on the ground right next to the stage, purchased a couple of bottles of wine (about $30 each), laid out the spread we brought with us, and settled in for the show.


To my right, the vineyard, where the band was taking a quick photo:


Above me, the beautiful Redwoods:


To my left, the boys, the grove, and the crowd.


You’re kind of dead inside if you can’t find happiness in a situation like that. The weather was beautiful, probably 65 degrees, we had wine, we had food, we had happy people, we had the woods, and we had some Tom Petty.

The show itself was absolute magic. A cultural anthropologists wet dream. The band was an aside, some great background music to the amazing, incredible, other worldly people watching that we were treated to on the dance floor. I tend to forget how hippy things get when you head north of the city. They get hippy. Like reeeallllyyyy hippy. This event was no exception, and we were treated to a menagerie of prancers who were seemingly stoned out their minds (but by all means, they could have been completely sober) doing what is best described as interpretive dance. There was literally leaping going on, in addition to squatting, shrugging, undulating, snapping…I don’t even know how to describe it except to say that it was ahhh-maazzzing. There were all comers too, from little kids, to octogenarians, to trannies, to people on crutches, and everything in between. It was incredible. They were having the time of their lives and it was so much fun to watch.


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is one of those bands that have SO many hits that you forget how many of their songs you know. The band played two great sets and an encore, the lead singers voice being spot on, the music tight. The first set was either less exciting or people were less lubricated, because the second set brought nearly everyone in the house out on to the dance floor. It was dark at that point, so I couldn’t get a photo of it, but the floor was so packed with revelers we had to move our seats back.

As for the winery, they did such a great job hosting the event…bathrooms weren’t a problem, food wasn’t a problem, wine most certainly was not a problem. The band was great, the music wasn’t painfully loud, the people were positively giddy, it was just a really good time, and they did a really great job making it so.

Much to my surprise, the cab we called for a post show pick up (Riley’s cab co. again), practically beat us to the parking lot. We didn’t have to wait at all. Since we had only taken in about 5000 calories per person up to this point, we asked our cab driver for a greasy spoon recommendation. He guided us to Jensens truck stop, right under the overpass from the Travelodge. I’ve been to a lot of truck stops in my day, most specifically during my college years in Tucson. This was more of a Denny’s type place than a truck stop. There weren’t a bunch of big rigs, showers, phones, or a crazy gift shop. It was just a late night diner. I wasn’t exactly sober though, so maybe that stuff was on the other side of the building or something.

Randi threw out a $5 challenge to anyone in our group who would eat a Monte Christo, so, Mikey proceeded to earn a little cash while eating the most ridiculous item ever. However, Jake was all about that sandwich, so, I guess it’s up some peoples alley. It just does not belong in mine.


Us girls ordered cheeseburgers, and I ate mine so fast it would seem more likely that I snorted it. I went with American cheese, so my thin little bun was all glued to the burger and the meat actually had a nice line of pink running through it. It was craptastic. I even downed a bunch of those frozen bag fries. When in Rome.


Jake went meatloaf, and while it was the weirdest forcemeat texture, served with what was most certainly boxed potatoes and jarred gravy, he licked his plate clean. Upon later review I see they at least roasted their veggies instead of boiling them, or perhaps they were boiled then sautéed, but at least there was some carmelization going on there. High five to that.


Our bill was $60, but that also included four virtually untouched and definitely unnecessary alcoholic beverages. Back at the Travelodge, there was an unsuccessful attempt at night swimming (hampered by the manager) and a very good nights sleep.

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