Surviving and Surprising: A Death Valley Experience

The amazingly vast Death Valley is located in California’s northern Mojave Desert along the Nevada-California border.  It is part of Death Valley National Park and has an area of 3,000 square miles. It is also one of the hottest places in the world (134.1° F reported in 1913 at Furnace Creek) at the height of summertime.  Further, it is the lowest point (Badwater Basin at 282’ below sea level) in the Continental United States and only 86 miles from the highest point (Mount Whitney at 14,505’ above sea level) in the lower 48. Within Death Valley, Telescope Peak at 11,043 feet is the highest point. All of this is introductory to why our recent 5-day adventure now ranks as one of the most memorable of my lifetime.


View along Zabriskie Point trail (L.Compisi)

Although we had considered driving from our Sonoma County home base the daunting 10+ hour drive motivated us to fly into Las Vegas instead and use the City of Pahrump Nevada as our base of operations. That proved to be a great call. Upon landing at McCarran International Airport, we picked up a rental car and drove the 63 miles to Pahrump in about an hour. Very little traffic and some amazing mountain and desert views along the way.

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Butte along Scenic CA 190 (L.Compisi)

Activities and adventures:

We had two objectives for our visit: to hike as much as possible and to see as much of the stark and awe-inspiring terrain and vistas as we could. Each morning after a quick breakfast at our hotel, we drove the easy 50 miles to Scenic Highway (CA 190) entrance to the Park. Although the route from Pahrump (Nevada Highway 160) to the Park is mostly 2 lanes, there are enough straight sections to allow for passing of slower vehicles. We did not have any issues with traffic and, again, the scenery was so different and beautiful that the time seemed to melt away like we were in a time warp.


More views along CA 190 (L.Compisi)

The Park has a couple of Visitor Information Centers and the Stovepipe Wells Village for food, fuel and other human needs.  This is a National Park.  Entrance fees per vehicle are $25. Per person is $12. Motorcycle fees are $10 for one person or $20 for two people to a flat rate of $20. Death Valley Annual Pass is $50. Fees for most campsites in the park are $4 per night. Four campgrounds in the park continue to be free: Emigrant, Wildrose, Thorndike, and Mahogany. Of course, U.S. citizens or permanent residents aged 62 or older can get lifetime Senior Passes for $80.

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Crazy formations and colors (L.Compisi)

Golden Canyon Trail is an easy, slightly upward, trail that starts just a couple miles away from the Furnace Creek Visitors and Information Center which, in turn is 60 miles from Pahrump. This visitor center has a small refrigerated section with premade sandwiches and drinks as well as a gift shop.  It also is a Park Service Ranger Station for information, assistance and fee collection.  The trail head has a parking lot and restrooms. No water is available so bring at least a bottle per person for this 2-mile round trip hike.  Add an additional 1 mile and you can get fairly close to the Red Cathedral, a massive rock formation which has features resembling a gothic cathedral.


Amazing colorful layers and formations (L.Compisi)

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View of Red Cathedral at the end of Golden Canyon Trail (L.Compisi)

On our second day we decided to combine short hikes and a dazzling scenic drive.  We drove to the Natural Bridge trail head which sported the typical restrooms and again, no water. This is an easy .3-mile one way walk.  It is gradually uphill on the way out. The trail is a narrow canyon and once you reach the 50-foot tall bridge you can continue for another .5 miles to the end past a couple of obstacles requiring scrunching down around a large boulder or scrambling up a dry water falls until you reach a 20’ high dry waterfalls that requires special gear to scale. Once we finished this easy hike we decided to drive the one-way Artists Drive. We were very happy we did.

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50′ high Natural Bridge (J.Compisi)

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Boulder obstacle after Natural Bridge (J.Compisi)

The entrance to the one-way Artist’s Drive is located off Badwater Road about 10 miles South of Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center. The start of the drive is clearly marked. It will take you about 45 minutes to complete the drive (assuming little traffic or slow-moving vehicles). Early on the drive you’ll reach a parking and view area. The .5-mile uphill walk to the view point is worth every step. Driving on through numerous roller coaster type dips you’ll arrive at Artist Palette, about 5 miles from the start. There are restrooms here and it is worth taking a few minutes to walk through the amazing washes and canyons here. So different from what you may have already seen.

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9 mile Artists Drive offers dips and colorful surroundings (L.Compisi)

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Indescribable formations of eroded rock (L.Compisi)

After leaving the Artists Drive, we drove about 23 miles past the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.  All day (and the day before) we had seen this area north and east in the distance which appeared to be clouds and rain. We realized when we approached that we were wrong. These large sand dunes were whipped by the wind creating the ‘clouds’ we had seen.  This ‘sandstorm’ was exaggerated by the people walking on the dunes causing additional sand to be picked up into the air. Again, worth the time to visit and take a walk on the sandy-side!


Wind blows the sands at Mesquite Flat (L.Compisi)


People Surfing the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes (L.Compisi)


Zabriskie Point, named after Christian Brevoort Zabriskie, who was vice-president and general manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company in the early 20th century and made more famous through the 1970 film.  The Pacific Coast Borax Company mined and transported Borax in Death Valley. The effects of wind and water erosion in this area are mindboggling!  The View Point is a thrill with broad vistas of color filled windswept rocks and folds. Indescribable!! The Zabriskie Point trail head offers a few options including a 7-mile loop via Gower Gulch, Golden Canyon, Badlands Loop and back to Zabriskie Point. This trail offers such a variety of geological up thrusts, colors, washes, and heart stopping drop-offs that we actually thought about turning back at one point.  Proceeding forward was the well rewarded decision. It is about 55 miles from Pahrump to the Zabriskie Point parking lot. The parking lot offers well maintained rest rooms which always come in handy.

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Zabriskie Point Trail Head (J.Compisi)


Badlands Loop returning to Zabriskie Point (J.Compisi)


Leaving Golden Canyon toward Badlands Loop (L.Compisi)


Looking back toward Golden Canyon (J.Compisi)


Near bottom of Badlands Loop (L.Compisi)

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View from Zabriskie Point scenic look out (L.Compisi)


Amazing erosion folds from Zabriskie Point (L.Compisi)

Where to stay:

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Pahrump and were very impressed. The hotel is fairly new, about 3 years old), very clean, well-managed with noteworthy service by an exceptionally friendly and helpful staff. The Holiday Inn has a very well-equipped fitness facility and an inviting outdoor swimming pool with hot tub. With rates starting at $143 including free parking, internet and complimentary breakfast (very good coffee and a variety of breakfast options) this was a perfect choice for us.


Holiday Inn Express & Suites Pahrump (L.Compisi)


Clean fresh rooms and comfortable beds (L.Compisi)


Beautiful pool and hot tub at HI Express (L.Compisi)

There are other places to stay within Death Valley National Park but the rates were very high at the resorts and the availability was extremely limited in the hotels/motels in the vicinity with more reasonable rates.

Where to dine:

We had breakfast everyday at the out hotel (see above) and grabbed lunch at one of the visitor centers. Dinner offered 4 opportunities to experience the local fair in Pahrump. We enjoyed the Thai food at Chat Thai Bistro on one night and found Mom’s Diner to be unique, fresh and well prepared. Ultimately, however, our favorite dining spot in Pahrump was Symphony’s Restaurant and the integral Pahrump Valley Winery. First, finding an operating winery in Nevada was a bit of a surprise. The winery has multiple labels including Nevada Ridge whose wines are all made from either Estate grapes or grapes from small local Nevada growers. Additionally, the Charleston Peak label sources grapes from nearby California vineyards on the western slopes of Mount Charleston along the CA/NV border. Finally, the Pahrump Valley Winery label which maintains the legacy California sourced wines of Symphony (a unique cross of Grenache Gris and Muscat of Alexandria created at UC Davis), Desert Blush and others. The wine is only part of the story and quite worthwhile on its own, but Symphony’s Restaurant was like discovering the mother lode. Owners Bill and Gretchen (also the winemaker) Loken have given Executive Chef David Hutchinson a free hand.  Great move.  Using fresh sourced produce and wonderful meats and seafood, the dishes coming out of the kitchen are flavorful, delightful to the eye and plain delicious.


Pahrump Valley Winery and Symphony Restaurant (L.Compisi)

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Main Dining Room at Symphony (L.Compisi)

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Chunked Dungeness Crab (L.Compisi)


Flakey and tasty Grilled Halibut (L.Compisi)

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Perfectly prepared Filet with Béarnaise Sauce (L.Compisi)

Death Valley in Films, on Radio and on Television: At least 24 films, with the 1970 “Zabriskie Point” being perhaps the most well-known, used Death Valley as their venue or were filmed there. “Death Valley Days” was both a radio series from 1930-1945 and a TV series from 1950-1972.

Getting there: We flew United Airlines from Sonoma County’s Charles M. Schulz Airport (STS) via San Francisco (SFO) to Las Vegas (LAS). The 1st leg was about 20 minutes and the 2nd just over an hour and 15 minutes. Very relaxing and the $10 per day parking at STS was very reasonable.

Posted in Adventure, Hiking, National Parks, Restaurants, Travel, Wine Country, Wineries | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Albion River Inn: Home on the Mendocino Coast

The California Coast is explosively spectacular, especially north of Monterey. With this breathtaking scenery comes the innumerable inns, hotels, motels and B&Bs that offer lodging with unworldly views. It is hard for any County; Sonoma, Marin, San Mateo, San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara to compete with the shear ruggedness and accessibility of the Mendocino Coast. And with that coastline the inns and other lodging availability in Mendocino is equally spectacular. You will find it very difficult to find an inn that combines coastal views, delightfully intimate rooms and fine dining more to your liking than the Albion River Inn in Albion. We know, because we have stayed at more than a few and now we have stayed there.


Ocean view from our deck (L.Compisi)

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Lawn view from outside the restaurant (L.Compisi)

The Albion River Inn has a fascinating history that includes a stint as a blacksmith shop, a Ford dealership and an earlier incarnation of the restaurant. The current history begins 37 years ago, in 1981, when Flurry Healy and co-owner Peter Wells purchased the 10-acre property. They gutted the existing restaurant and set about, over many years, building the existing 20 cottages along the magnificent bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Adding texture and drama to this stunning location is the Albion River Bridge, an historic wooden deck truss bridge crossing the mouth of the Albion River just adjacent to the Inn property. At 300 meters long and 150 feet above the river, it is the last wooden bridge on California State Route 1.


The last wooden truss bridge on CA Hwy 1 (L.Compisi)

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Albion River Bridge view from our deck (L.Compisi)

The Owners: The paths of Healy, a railroad man from Butte, Montana and Wells, an Englishman and actor converged over their respective real estate careers, Healy in Mendocino and Wells in Marin County when Wells moved his family to Mendocino in early 1972. Truly a family operation, all of Peter’s children worked in the restaurant and his son David was the Chef until 1993, a role now filled by Flurry’s nephew Stephen Smith.

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The Dining Room and Bar (L.Compisi)

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Morning view from restaurant (L.Compisi)

The Rooms: The rooms are very well maintained, many with wood burning fireplaces and large two-person bath tubs. We had a king bed (amazing headboard) which was noteworthy for its comfort. Great soft sheets and perfect bedding weight for these winter months. The rooms are equipped with a small refrigerator (important for wine and other beverages). Of course, the rooms are important and must be comfortable but it is the location and the views (even from the bed) that are so fabulous with patios/decks overlooking the majestic Pacific Ocean. Words do not do the scene justice so I will use a lot of pictures to express the amazing beauty.


Twenty cottages each offering spectacular views (L.Compisi)

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Most rooms have wood burning fireplaces (L.Compisi)


The king beds are exceptionally comfortable with ocean views (L.Compisi)


River to ocean views from our deck (L.Compisi)


View from lawn up to our deck – sweet (L.Compisi)

The Restaurant and Bar: It is clear from the clientele that the restaurant at the Albion River Inn has consistently offered high quality dining experiences. It is reflected in the obvious local clientele that made the dining room and bar quite busy in this slower season for the northern California coast. Executive Chef Stephen Smith, classically trained at the now defunct California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, has been at the helm in the Restaurant for years and has honed his style to a fine point. His take on California Coastal Cuisine is visually delightful and filled with flavor and texture. Smith and the front of house team, including long time mixologist Laura Spradlin, happily welcome guests as the family has done for the better part of four decades.

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Sparkling window seat in the dining room (L.Compisi)



The Swordfish was prepared perfectly (L.Compisi)


Grilled Shrimp is a specialty (L.Compisi)

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Merry Edwards Pinot Noir paired well (L.Compisi)

The curated award-winning wine list is comprehensive befitting a fine dining experience. Assembled by Mark Bowery, it has received the Wine Spectator’s “Award of Excellence” for 19 consecutive years, and boasts wines with California and international origins. Bowery has assembled over 400 spirit items from around the world. The evolving inventory includes 224 whiskies (predominantly from Scotland), along with 44 tequilas, 21 vodkas and so much more.


Fabulous Cosmopolitan at the bar (L.Compisi)


Delightful happy hour daily from 5:00-6:00pm (L.Compisi)

The Views: Little can be added to the images that will follow other than perhaps the time of year and the perspective from which they were taken.  Leave it at: Breathtaking, Spectacular, Stunning and Sparkling!

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The morning light is amazing (L.Compisi)

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Unbeatable sunset view from the dining room (L.Compisi)


Room with a view (L.Compisi)


Outside the restaurant. (L.Compisi)

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Local Mendocino Chardonnay on our deck (L.Compisi)

The Area/Activities: There is so much to do during a stay at the Albion River Inn.  Some, like us, will have to force themselves to leave the property to take advantage of the variety of water activities (kayaking – both river and ocean), golfing, hiking, biking, shopping (Mendocino City) and wine tasting (Philo and the Anderson Valley are less than 45 minutes away) to name a few. We enjoyed an easy but beautiful 5-mile sylvan stroll in Van Damme State Park and the Fern Canyon. Joyful experience.

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Nine bridges offer easy creek crossings in Van Damme (L.Compisi)

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Ferns abound in Fern Canyon (L.Compisi)

How to get there: The Albion River Inn is located at 3790 N. Hwy. 1, Albion, CA 95410, about 150 miles north of San Francisco or 90 miles north of Santa Rosa.  Santa Rosa Airport (STS) offers the closest commercial airport hub and is served by United, American and Alaska Airlines. P: (707) 937-1919  E:

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Afternoon light (L.Compisi)

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You’re next! (L.Compisi)

Posted in Coastal Adventures, Day Trips, Hiking, Mendocino County, Restaurants, Road Trip, Travel, Wine, Wine Country | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Pruning Season in the Russian River Valley – Benovia Winery

As I have said before, enjoying wine is more than just the liquid in the glass. To deeply appreciate the wine, understanding what it takes to get the juice into the glass is integral. That’s why last weekend’s vine pruning seminar at Benovia Winery was both fascinating and educational.

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Benovia Winery in Santa Rosa (L.Compisi)

Pruning grape vines is a vital process in maintaining and in some cases enhancing the vigor of wine grape vines.  Chris Kangas, Vineyard Manager at Benovia lead the thorough and fun vineyard adventure.  Aided by three able members of Atlas Vineyard Management (contract vineyard management company employed by Benovia and many other Vintners) team Chris began the experience with a detailed safety briefing regarding the pruning tools used and the hazards of a real vineyard e.g. gopher holes, spiders and snakes.

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One of the larger versions of pruning tools – Chris Kangas “Safety” (L.Compisi)

After breakfast pastries, coffee and introductions, Chris and the Atlas Team lead their 21 guests into the Martaella Vineyard at the Hartman Road home base of Benovia.  The 58-acre property has 42 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay located in the heart of the Russian River Valley in Laguna de Santa Rosa. The vineyards had been mostly pruned before our arrival but Chris and team had left 3 rows in two different blocks as our classroom.  One was cane pruned while the other was cordon pruned as two examples of pruning styles. Chris answered questions and demonstrated the various objectives and techniques revealing the depth of his experience after 36 years in the vineyards.

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Chris Kangas (r) demonstrates and educates (L.Compisi)

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A guest tries her hand supervised by Jorge from Atlas (L.Compisi)

We broke down into 4 teams with Chris or one of the Atlas team leading groups of about 5 each.  We spent the next 90 minutes being coached and corrected by the experts as we each worked the various techniques while pruning the different blocks.  Chris showed us one block where the pruning techniques were being used to restore a vineyard that was showing less vigor than desired.  The phrase, ‘listening to the vines’ or the ‘vines talking to the pruner’ rang so true as the lesson continued. The judgment displayed by the experts made it clear that there is both a science and an art to successful pruning.

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The Trunk and Cordon give way to the Cane and Spurs year to year (L.Compisi)

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On left the professionally pruned on the right amateur hour (L.Compisi)

When sufficient learning had occurred, we were invited back into the wine production facility where we had the opportunity to taste 6 different Benovia wines.  VP of Sales, Bob Cooley lead the tasting, beginning with a Blanc de Blanc, a Chardonnay and then 4 different Pinot Noir. All exceptional although the 2014 Cohn Vineyard, Russian River Pinot Noir was my favorite.  It was elegant, smooth and so well balanced with a plush velvety mouth-feel. It retails for $75 a bottle and is worth it.


Blanc de Blanc with empty soldiers waiting (L.Compisi)

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Nicole Kosta welcomes guests with Blanc de Blanc from Benovia (L.Compisi)

After the pruning and tasting we were treated to a delicious lunch catered by the locally renowned, Forestville based, fusion restaurant, Backyard.  The Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Biscuits, Carrot and Vegetable Salads were to die for.  Nicole Kosta, Benovia’s Events Director, assisted by teammate Gail, provided overall event planning, coordination and execution to great effect.

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Lunch and Tasting – Standing l-r Nicole, Chris and Bob Cooley (L.Compisi)

This was an unusually informative seminar but like all things Benovia no detail was missed in creating a memorable guest experience. We’ve have had many and expect we will have many more in the future.

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Guests even received a Certificate of Achievement (L.Compisi)

Benovia Winery is located at 3339 Hartman Road in Santa Rosa.  Tastings and Tours are by appointment only although they do participate in various Wine Road events, the next of which is Barrel Tasting on the weekends of 2-4 March (Benovia is only participating in this first weekend) and 9-11 March 2018.  Tickets are available. 

Posted in Adventure, Day Trips, Sonoma County, Travel, Wine, Wine Country, Wine Events, Wine Road, Wineries | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Tasting Barolo in the Piemonte – the Langhe

The Langhe is a hilly area in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. It is famous for its wines, cheeses, and truffles—particularly the white truffles of Alba. The countryside remains largely agrarian and is highly regarded for its vineyards which produce, predominantly, Nebbiolo grapes to make the wines of the region, most notably Barolo and Barbaresco although Dolcetto d’Alba, Barbera d’Alba and Arneis are also highly regarded as well.

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The Langhe terroir and terrain is absolutely gorgeous (L.Compisi)

We flew from San Francisco to Milan, via Washington, D.C. (we avoid Chicago and LaGuardia at all costs) to arrive. Although Turin is closer to the region (68 km versus 160 km from Milan), our travels included Lago di Como, the Veneto, Emilia-Romagna and Liguria so Milan was a better choice for us.

For our visit we stayed in the hilltop town of La Morra for 5 days in early September. The municipality of La Morra, a small village in the heart of the Langhe, is surrounded by rolling hills of vineyards and is close by the world-famous towns of Barolo and Barbaresco. The vineyards are recognized for providing an outstanding example of man’s interaction with his natural environment and provide an international benchmark for adapting grape varieties to specific soils and climatic conditions.

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The streets of Barolo during Festa (L.Compisi)

We stayed at the Corte Gondina Hotel.  Corte Gondina is elegant and comfortable and is situated in the center of La Morra. It is a delightful private habitat where the proprietors, Elena and Bruno Viberti, have skillfully combined past and present to create a unique experience. Elena and Bruno offer concierge services. They made our reservations for tours and tastings at several wineries and dinner at the local restaurants.

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The pool from our room at Corte Gondina Hotel (L.Compisi)

We, quite unexpectedly, were in the region during the annual Barolo Festival which was nearby. Barolo is only about 6 kilometers from La Morra. The Barolo experience was magical and intimate, unlike anything we had attended in California, although it was very similar to wine festivals we had attended in Tuscany and Umbria. The town is quite small and, of course has a castle at its center. The streets are brick and narrow.  No sidewalks so pedestrian compete with the small Italian cars for space, quite congenially. There is no ‘competition’ between producers, rather it is an opportunity for the region to present their wines. Local crafts, produce and cheeses competed for our attention.

Local Produce (l) and formal pouring of Barolo at the Festa (L.Compisi)

The Barolo Museum (Enoteca Regionale del Barolo) was unique and offered wines for sale as well as other books and materials for the serious student of this wine growing region. It reminded me of our experience at a similar festival for Sagrantino in Umbria in the town of Montefalco. The Barolo Regional Enoteca, located in Castello Falletti, was founded in 1982. It’s organized and sponsored by the 11 communes that produce Barolo, by the province administration, the Cuneo Chamber of Commerce, the Barolo Consorzio, and by the Piedmont regional government. A non-profit entity, its mission is to promote and preserve the image of Barolo wine and its production area. Producer members, at present 195, must produce Barolo. The public area comprises three sections: the displays show wines (not all for sale) from the overall Barolo area, a tasting area, a retail sales area with bottles at producer-established prices. Quite fascinating.

The Enoteca Regionale del Barolo (l) and wines for tasting at the Festa (L.Compisi)


Castiglione Falletto from a distance (L.Compisi)

We were fortunate to visit 3 wineries in the region.  Each was unique, family run and truly Italian.  We visited the family wineries of Marcarini, Vietti and Cavallotto.

The Marcarini family, now six generations strong, manages their own vineyards and produce wine according to the most rigorous Piedmont and, in particular, Langhe traditions. It is located right in La Morra and very accessible. The cellars are very impressive and the wines were truly typical of the region.

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Marcarini Barolo (L.Compisi)

The historic Barolo winery Vietti continues to be managed and guided by enologist and CEO Luca Currado, a member of the Vietti family line.  Founded in 1873 in the commune of Castiglione Falletto,  Vietti is currently owned by the Krause family of Iowa. The winery and vineyards represent 84 acres of prime real estate. We were very impressed by the tour and tasting we experienced with Elena Penna Currado.

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Fortunate to taste library wines at Vietti (L.Compisi)

The Cavallotto family has owned the estate Tenuta Bricco Boschis since 1928. They were the first cultivators in Castiglione Falletto, in 1946, to vinify all of their estate’s fruit. In 1948 they released the first bottling of their own Barolo wine, with the label and registered trademark of Cavallotto. Today the children of Olivio – Laura, Giuseppe and Alfio, the 4th generation working the family farm – continue to exclusively vinify the grapes: Barolo, Dolcetto d’Alba, Barbera d’Alba, Langhe Nebbiolo, Langhe Freisa, Langhe “Grign” made from Grignolino grapes, Langhe Chardonnay and “Pinner” made from Pinot Nero grapes. We had a delightful vineyard tour and tasting in their tasting room. Ah…Barolo!

Cavallotto Nebbiolo grapes and their barrel room! (L.Compisi)

The Langhe were inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage site list in 2014.

Posted in Barbaresco, Barolo, Italian Wines, Italy, Piemonte, Travel, Wine | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

An Elegant Taste of Burgundy

Okay, I’m a California Pinot Noir lover but when it comes to vin de Bourgogne, I admit I am a rookie. However, a recent trip to the Côte d’Or has begun to change that. We arrived in Puligny-Montrachet in mid-September right at the beginning of harvest. We had made a room reservation at La Maison d’Olivier LeFlaive ( based upon some very good Trip Advisor reviews and a recommendation from a wine writer friend in San Francisco. Little did we know what a unique adventure was about to unfold. The Olivier LeFlaive Experience!!

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Monsieur Olivier LeFlaive with ‘Grandma’ (L.Compisi)

The LeFlaive family has been known for grape growing and wine making in the Côte de Beaune, the southern part of the Côte d’Or, since the 1700s. In the past century that continuity has been associated with Domaine LeFlaive which had been managed by Vincent and Jo LeFlaive, the sons of Joseph LeFlaive, who died in 1953. When Vincent died in 1982, Olivier LeFlaive (Joseph’s son) and his younger cousin Jean-Claude LeFlaive (Vincent’s daughter) took over the operation. Domaine Leflaive is a winery in Puligny-Montrachet, Côte de Beaune, Burgundy. The domaine is very highly regarded for its white wines, and its vineyard holdings include 5.1 hectares (13 acres) of Grand Cru vineyards.

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Harvest in Puligny-Montrachet (L.Compisi)

Wishing to expand and experiment, M. LeFlaive struck out on his own leaving Jean-Claude to manage the Domain. M. LeFlaive established his Olivier LeFlaive winery with the financial assistance of his customers who appreciated the quality of wine that he made and loaned him the money to purchase the grapes.

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One of the several Grand Cru wines (L.Compisi)

Building on his background, he began purchasing grapes from around the Côte de Beaune from the neighboring vineyards and vigneron he knew so well. With his continuing success, his production has grown from a few thousand bottles to the 800,000 bottles he produces today. 80% are White Burgundy (Chardonnay for us rookies) and 20% Red Burgundy (Pinot Noir). Olivier says, “I am retired now but we do not want to increase beyond the 800,000 as we can continue to manage as a small family operated business”. It is exciting to note that they will be releasing their fist Champagne in 2017.

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Three of nine wines we tasted at pairing (L.Compisi)

LeFlaive is passionate about wine but insists that it is to be enjoyed with food, so early on he began serving his wines for friends, clients and visitors with food. He did this at his family home on the square in Puligny-Montrachet, where the winery is also located.

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LeFlaive family home on Place du Monument (L.Compisi)

It wasn’t many years later that M. LeFlaive realized it wasn’t safe for people to drive anywhere after the tasting. Always creating and experimenting, he purchased a neglected 17th Century village house, also on the square, and developed La Maison d’Olivier LeFlaive.


Tasting bar and dining room, La Table (L.Compisi)

The Maison has 24 unique and very well appointed rooms as well as a dining room and tasting bar.  La Table, the dining room, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and also offers food and wine pairings with a choice of wither 6 or 9 wines.  The operation of La Maison remains in the family with Olivier’s daughter Julie providing flawless leadership. The food and wine are quite exquisite.

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We loved our ‘Pop’ decorated room (L.Compisi)

To make the ‘Olivier LeFlaive Experience’ complete M. LeFlaive and his co-owner brother, Patrick LeFlaive offer comprehensive and good humored vineyard and winery tours, all within walking distance of the Maison. Quoting M. P. LeFlaive, the brothers follow two principles: ‘Protect the Terroir’ and ‘Take Your Time’. One percent improvement here and there will add up to an exceptional wine and an exceptional experience. Today, over 10,000 visitors from the USA, the UK and Japan, among many other countries, enjoy the tours and tastings each year. Truly elegant and delightful.

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Patrick LeFlaive poses with ‘Grandma’ (L.Compisi)

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Charming Charles (Charlemagne) guides vineyard tour (L.Compisi)

Puligny-Montrachet is very well located as a point of departure to Chablis and the other wonderful appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) of Burgundy.  It is also just a few miles from the historic and beautiful medieval town of Beaune, a great place to spend at least half a day or more.

IMG_20160920_114835645 Hospice Niume

The fascinating Hospices de Beaune (L.Compisi)

If you are considering traveling to Burgundy, I would recommend a visit during September and especially to La Maison D’Olivier LeFlaive in Puligny-Montrachet in the Côte de Beaune, where you will personally have the ‘Olivier LeFlaive Experience’. You will not forget it!

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Clift San Francisco: Singularly Fascinating Hotel

Hotel Clift San Francisco is a fascinating place to stay in downtown San Francisco. Located just a block and a half from Union Square and convenient to shopping, restaurants and event venues, the special feel emanating from this hotel begins immediately upon arrival when the valet opens the outside door and one enters into the ‘decompression chamber’, a narrow lavender colored space between those outside doors and the inside doors of the lobby. You pick up a sense of calm in the colors, the staff, the furnishings, and, dare I say, the smell. Yes, the atmosphere in this hotel is calming and offers one the sense of being in a safe protected space.

Architectural and furnishing designs are High Concept like the sweeping staircase and the Salvador Dali Chair in the lobby.


Sweeping Staircase leading to former private residence. (L.Compisi)


Elegant Salvador Dali Chaise in lobby of Clift (L.COmpisi)

The above lamp, in the lobby, is another example of the unique character of Clift Hotel San Francisco.

Clift (they prefer Clift rather than the Clift) was originally commissioned in 1913 by Frederick C. Clift, an attorney, for the Pan-Pacific International Exposition that was to be held in San Francisco two years hence in 2015. At that time, the whole City was abuzz with building and rebuilding after the catastrophic 7.8 earth quake and ensuing fire that nearly destroyed (80%) the City in 1906. When 2 additional floors were added in 1924, it became the largest hotel in San Francisco.


Dining Table in our Suite (L.Compisi)


Our King Bed (L.Compisi)

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Sitting Area near elevator (L.Compisi)

The design concepts continue throughout the elevator waiting areas, the rooms and the event areas. This 300 room hotel is truly delightful with so many special touches. It houses banquet spaces, a ‘living room’, a pop-up-store, the Velvet Room and the Spanish Room (formerly the owner’s private residence) available for special events and the Redwood Room replete with all wood paneling from a single redwood tree. This has to be seen to comprehend how much wood that really is. Throughout the hotel one finds pieces of interest that at first glance may seem out of place but, in fact, fit into an over all integrated concept of quirky interest that draws you in and makes you feel like you are in on the secret. It goes on and on in an amazingly coherent fashion. Simple and calming elegance is the best way to describe the character of these beautiful and welcoming rooms.


Mirrored Bar set for the Sunday Brunch (L.Compisi)

Above is the mirrored bar in the Redwood Room and below is the concentric design of the 14 floors of staircases.


Beautiful Staircases but a bit dizzying (L.Compisi)

The unique furnishings, referred to earlier, include Salvador Dali lamps, a gorgeous lobby fireplace and comfortable chairs that encourage you to just sit and relax. Besides the fireplace, the lobby sports an over-sized Captain’s chair with a surprise on the underside of the seat (Not telling!). The lavender colors run throughout thanks to the inspiration of French design master Philippe Starck who totally renovated the hotel in 2001 achieving his High Concept Contemporary theme. The staff outside and in welcome you like you were an old friend returning to town. That was just the experience we had this past Friday.


Unique Furnishings (L.Compisi)

The guest rooms, standard, studio or one bedroom maintain a consistent color and furniture theme. Sleigh beds that seem to float in the air. The wheel barrow chair is meant to evoke the tools of the mining Forty-niners. The Redwood Room, often recognized as one of the top bars in the world serves as a bar and lounge in the afternoon and evenings with a menu full of small bites to accompany the perfectly prepared Cosmopolitan or other delicious cocktail. In the morning, depending upon the occupancy, the Redwood Room serves breakfast to order as well as a very hearty and scrumptious breakfast buffet.


Symbolizing 49ers (L.Compisi)

Perfect for travelers who prefer something with more personality than the sterile feeling one may get at one of the traditional hotel chains, Clift is a special place that one wants to make their home-away-from-home and to return often just for that feeling calm belonging. With the holidays upon us, consider Clift San Francisco for your shopping headquarters in the City.

Clift San Francisco is part of the Morgans Hotel Group whose other hotels are located in major gateway cities globally like New York, Chicago, Miami (Delano), Los Angeles, Las Vegas, London, Turkey and Qatar with a new hotel coming on line in Dubai.

Clift is located at 495 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA 94102 Tel. 415 775 4700


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Winter in California’s North Coast Wine Country

Winter is a truly delightful time to visit California North Coast wine country.  Living in Sonoma County at the nexus of Mendocino, Napa and Lake Counties, it is a treat to observe the variation in the terrain, foliage (or lack thereof) and the patterns of activity in the vineyards. Pruning the vines is mostly complete; burn piles of the detritus send columns of white smoke into the air and the off-season festivals are gearing up.


2018 Winter WINEland Poster from the Wine Road (L.Compisi)

This post will focus on a recently experienced January event, the Wine Road’s Winter WINEland and three upcoming events for your consideration. Anderson Valley’s newly renamed Aromatic White Wine Festival in February, the Wine Road’s Barrel Tasting Weekends in March and Appellation St. Helena’s bASH in St. Helena in Napa Valley in early April.


Hop Kiln is now the home of Landmark Estates in the Russian River AVA (L.Compisi)

The 26th Annual Winter WINEland was a perfect opportunity to experience these wonderful wine growing regions without the crowds. January is a generally a quiet time of year and since the wildfires of October 2017 it appears that many people may have canceled their travel plans.  A real shame as Sonoma County, specifically, and Northern California wine country, in generally, survived well considering the real devastation that some residential communities experienced in the area.


The Landmark Tasting Room is a beautiful historic building (L.Compisi)

We spent our time in the Russian River and Dry Creek Valley American Viticultural Areas (AVA) of the Wine Road (the Alexander Valley and downtown Healdsburg members also participated but one only has so much time).

Winter WINEland is a great time to meet winemakers, taste limited production wines, sample new releases and library wines. Designed by the Wine Road of Northern Sonoma County, WINEland is the smallest (in terms of crowds) of their annual major events.   As is typically the case, some wineries offered food pairings and other enticements for visitors to stay, enjoy themselves, establish an emotional connection, join wine clubs and, ultimately, buy wine. Most of the Wine Road’s 200 member wineries (the association also has 54 lodging members) participated in this winter themed event that drew visitors from around the country.  The cost of admission included wine tasting at all of the participating wineries for the 2 day weekend, with hours from 11am – 4PM daily.

A particular pleasure with events on the Wine Road is the beauty of northern Sonoma County vineyards and wineries.  Spread over hundreds of square miles, the rolling hills, bench lands and valley floors just ooze idyllic tranquility.  What’s not to love?


The Dry Creek Valley from Trattore Winery (L.Compisi)

Despite the fact that the wineries often offer small bites, your planning should include a lunch break if for no other reason to give your palate a break.  Picnics are possible at many of the wineries but the weather is not a guarantee.  Some lunch or dinner options include the Oakville Grocery Co., or Dry Creek General Store to eat or purchase picnic supplies.  Alternatively, Campo Fina, Costeaux or the Bear Republic Brewing Company offer a casual quick bite in Healdsburg.  The Trading Post (Best New Restaurant in Sonoma County 2017) in Cloverdale (Alexander Valley) also serves brunch from 10am to 2pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

Planning your route can be a challenge if you are trying to maximize your visitations, again, because of the vast geography.  The well advised brought designated drivers, hired drivers and or hired limos or buses to handle the driving chores. This approach is clearly much safer (no DUIs) and also offers an opportunity to visit more wineries with parking and departing facilitated by the non-drinking driver.  Visiting more than 10 wineries in the 2 days is not likely and also not advisable


Landmark Estates at Hop Kiln: Located at 6050 Westside Road Healdsburg, CA 95448 only recently became a Landmark property. The wines offered are identical to the wines offered at their Sonoma Valley tasting room as they sold of the inventory of the former Hop Kiln Winery. The property is undergoing some upgrades and remains both historic and beautiful.  The Landmark Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are always good with grapes sourced from Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara County AVAs.


Landmark Tasting Room Chardonnay and Pinot Noir galore. (L.Compisi)

De La Montanya Winery and Vineyards is located at 999 Foreman Lane
Healdsburg, CA 95448 just off of Westside Road. De La Montanya is a family operated winery with over 270 acres planted in Sonoma and Lake Counties and produces about 4,000 cases annually. Their tasting room is just off the beaten path and is located in ‘the barn’.  Intimate and quaint, the variety of wines they produce offers many choices to visitors. Winemaker Tami Collins is well regarded in the area and is the winemaker for several outstanding labels.

De La Montanya ‘barn’ and tasting room l.-r. (L.Compisi)

Trattore Farms Winery and Tasting Room is located at 7878 Dry Creek Road, Geyserville, CA 95441 and is marked by the olive orchards on the hillside.  Recently opened, the tasting room is situated high above the Dry Creek Valley with a beautiful terrace sporting expansive vineyard and Dry Creek Valley views. Owner Tim Bucher named his 40 acre farm and winery Trattore, tractor in Italian because farming is his passion.  Trattore has a nice selection of Bordeaux and Rhône varietals.  Trattore has its own mill to press their olives and they offer community pressing during the olive harvest season.  Private tastings and tours can be arranged.  As an added benefit, Trattore Farms is equipped with Tesla and Universal chargers in front of the tasting room.

Trattore’s new tasting room has spectacular views of Dry Creek Valley (L.Compisi)

David Coffaro Estate Vineyard is located at 7485 Dry Creek Road in Geyserville, California 95441. A real iconoclast, Dave and wife Pat have farmed their Dry Creek Valley estate since 1979.  They sold their grapes to E&J Gallo for years while Dave experimented on making his own wine. In 1994 they obtained their commercial winery license and now produce about 8,500 cases of estate wine annually. In2003 Coffaro became one of the earliest adopters of 100% screw cap closures. Many offerings are Zinfandel or Bordeaux blends but Coffaro also produces sparklers depending upon the vintage. About 60% of Coffaro’s wines are sold through the futures program.  The Coffaro’s have great parties and their wine club is filled with happy loyalists.


IMG_7831 Coffaro

Coffaro’s always get into the mood of the event! (L.Compisi)

Three upcoming wine country events to consider:

The Anderson Valley Wine Growers in Mendocino County are hosting the 13th Annual Anderson Valley Aromatic White Wine Festival (formerly the “International Alsace Varietals Festival” – same great festival, new name) on Saturday, February, 24, 2018. The event begins with insightfully and highly enjoyable Education Seminars from 8:30 am – 12 pm at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds – Apple Hall in Boonville. The afternoon brings the Grand Tasting from 1-4 pm, also at the Fairgrounds.  A unique opportunity to taste Alsatian-style aromatic white wines from the Anderson Valley and beyond including Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Muscat. You will actually meet the winemakers and sample over 100 wines from around the globe.  The food for pairing is typically exceptional and the Silent Auction, to benefit the local Housing Association, is exciting. Tickets can be obtained at:

The newly renamed Aromatic White Wines feature Alsatian whites (L.Compisi)

The Wine Road’s next events are the Barrel Tasting Weekends (yes that’s 2 three day weekends), March 2nd through the 4th and March 9th through 11th.  These weekends are very popular and offer the chance to taste unreleased wines from previous vintages that have yet to be bottled.  Many wineries offer “futures” on their barrel samples. This is a chance to purchase wine now, often at a discount, and return, if you like, to the winery when the wine is bottled, typically 12-18 months later. The weekends also offer a Winemaker Breakfast and Q & A on Saturday March 3rd and Saturday March 10th. Tickets must be purchased for this added event during registration. This is an open forum for guests to meet and chat with winemakers in a casual breakfast setting.

March is a delightful time in Sonoma County for barrel tasting (L.Compisi)

The last event, although technically not winter, that I wanted to highlight is perhaps the most elegant wine and food pairing event we have experienced. Of course this world class event is hosted by Appellation St. Helena – ASH – (the local growers and vintners association) at the historic Culinary Institute of America (CIA) Greystone (formerly Christian Brothers) property in St. Helena in the Napa Valley. The delightful aspect of the event, called bASH, is that 24 CIA student chef team are paired with local wineries to develop specific creations to pair with the local wines. Very unique and quite exquisite. A few local St. Helena restaurants also participate to add and additional level of interest. This event is scheduled for Saturday April 7, 2018  from 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm. Get there early! Tickets are available at:

The CIA in St. Helena is unbeatable and the student Chefs are great too (L.Compisi)

ABOUT THE WINE ROAD: The Wine Road, formed in 1976 as the Russian River Wine Road and in 2008 was updated to Wine Road of Northern Sonoma County, is a winery association which represents 200 wineries and 54 associate lodging members within the three American Viticultural Areas (AVAs – Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley and Dry Creek Valley) and in town Healdsburg tasting rooms and wineries participating.

Posted in Adventure, Barrel Tasting, Day Trips, Mendocino County, Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Wine Country, Wine Events, Wine Road | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment