By Fran Cain
I hike a lot at Briones Regional Park. In December, I discovered a new entrance for me by driving up Briones Road in Martinez to the Briones Road staging area to the Old Briones Trailhead.
I needed some relief from the news, so I hopped in my car, turned the music up and drove out of my neighborhood and away from the suburban area.
I recently read that three minutes of your favorite tunes is all it takes to change your mind set. I can’t remember reading anything in the Governor’s advisory that says I can’t drive in my car with the stereo blasting.
I pointed my car in the direction of Alhambra Valley Road to follow it around the perimeter of Briones Regional Park. This is a one-lane road which winds its way to the upper elevation of Briones.
Portions of this rural hideaway remind me of where I grew up in New England. There are mystical sections of road shrouded in trees, open areas of rolling hills and blue skies, parkland and horse farms. The gorgeous scenery and my favorite tunes on the radio were a salve to my spirits.
There is limited parking and a rest room at the staging area, but starting from this point reduces the amount of uphill walking and is gentler than most of the trails that start in Lafayette.
Mount Diablo is a stunning backdrop to the rolling hills. This is also cattle grazing land. I was there just in time for a good size herd to come home for lunch, blocking my way. Fortunately, they were very docile and allowed me to pass without more than a few leery stares.
Back on the road, I approached a farm about 10 minutes up the road. When I saw the open sign, I couldn’t resist pulling off the road to find out what was happening.
It turns out, this was a special day at Balestrieri Family Farm. They were hosting a small pop-up shop with lots of outdoor space and some seating areas.
I meandered through the grounds admiring the gift selections and picking up a bagful of unusual goodies such as some irreverently named grilling spices and some ornaments that would be hard to find in most stores.
Owned by husband-and-wife team Kevin and Amber Balestrieri, the small family farm grows grapes and olives and keeps bees. They sell their own wine (“BFF” red, ), olive oil and honey, and plan to expand their offerings in the near future.
Of course, I was happy to participate in ensuring this local business will still be here in a few months by purchasing a supply of their delicious “BFF” red.
Strolling the property, I came upon a delightful menagerie at a fenced area nestled into the base of the vineyard where the vines show off gold and orange autumn leaves, and rows of olive trees adorn the hills. I visited with the friendly goats, llamas, sheep, and the standoffish ostrich. I had no idea that such a place existed so close to home.
When I asked Amber Balestrieri how they’ve been coping during the stay-at-home order, she said they have found many positive experiences over the past year, with the biggest one being the support from the community.
“We are so blessed for the support that we have received by so many looking for ways to keep small businesses going. We have also been forced to get more creative and think outside of the box,” she told me. For example, they started Friday “pop-up shops” that offered contactless wine pick-up.
They offer special appointments for people and their children to visit and enjoy the property.
“People have told us that they will drive 30 minutes just to come and let their kids visit with the animals,” she said. Their indoor and outdoor space is available for private events. And they have a wine club.
Of course, they are adhering to all county regulations and protocols, so the tasting room is currently closed. Check in with their Instagram, Facebook or website for when they will resume these activities.
After I had walked at Briones, stopped at Balestrieri, chatted with the animals and the shopkeepers, and absorbed the bucolic ambiance of this setting, I had totally unwound.
Bicyclists also enjoy this area, so if you drive, be mindful as some sections of the road are narrow. For most of us, this is a a new, accessible and close-by experience to take the family or friends, make it a couples outing, or even to go solo.
If you are thinking of visiting Balestrieri Family Farm, 6140 Alhambra Valley Road in Martinez, call ahead for an appointment or perhaps even place an order.