Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur: Part I – Orange and Vaison-la-Romaine

It can be difficult to imagine an area of the world with more varied terrain, climate and history than Provençal, the classic spelling of Provence. Even the name Provence is indicative of its history, derived from Provincia Romana, given by the Romans when they established the region as the first Roman province beyond the Alps. Bordered in the northeast by the Alps, the East by the Italian Piedmont, the Southeast by Liguria, the South by the Mediterranean and the West by Languedoc-Roussillon, the most prominent and influential feature, perhaps, is the Rhône River which finds its source in the Swiss Alps at the Rhône Glacier and flows through Switzerland to France and ultimately empties into the Mediterranean. The terroir of Provence; the soil, topography and the climate and perhaps the history are created and dictated by the influence of the Rhône.

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The Rhône leaving Lake Léman in Geneva heading to Provence (L.Compisi)

We first saw the Rhône in Geneva at the beginning of our journey where it flows into and then out of Lake Léman (Lake Geneva). After leaving Switzerland and entering Italy we did not see the Rhone again until we were driving past Valence on our way to the small city of Bollène. Bollène is located in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur where we stayed for three days as we began our exploration of Provence.  We were fortunate to stay in the guest cottages of vignerons Valérie and Jean-Pierre Jourdan, proprietors of Domaine Bastide de Jourdan. The Domaine was perfectly situated for our upcoming explorations of Avignon, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Orange and the Roman City of Vaison-la-Romaine. Yes, the Domaine’s wine was also quite good and representative of the region.

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Mme Valérie Jourdan of Bastide Jourdan in Bollène (L.Compisi)

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Family Jourdan- Jean-Pierre, Valérie and Grandpa enjoying harvest (L.Compisi)

We explored Orange (Arausio, the original Roman name when founded in 35 BC) on our first day enjoying the delightful Market which consumed several blocks in the center of the city. The local food, vegetables, spices and crafts were eye-catchingly colorful.

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Charcuterie at the market in Orange (L.Compisi)

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Delightful local food, herbs and craftsat the market in Orange (L.Compisi)

The principal historic sites, the Triumphal Arch of Orange and the Roman Theatre, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are two must-sees. Théâtre antique d’Orange, the Roman Theatre of Orange was built in the first Century AD. The preservation of this theater, constructed during the reign of Caesar Augustus, is phenomenal and the efforts to make a living museum have vastly succeeded. The size is difficult to comprehend but consider that it could seat between 5,400 and 7,300 people. The theater is also the home of the summer opera festival, the Chorégies d’Orange.

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The Triumphal Arch of Orange (L.Compisi)

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Théâtre antique d’Orange (L.Compisi)

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Théâtre antique d’Orange stage from the highest seats (L.Compisi)

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Detail of the amazing stage – Théâtre antique d’Orange (L.Compisi)

Not to far from Orange is the historic town of Vaison-la-Romaine. Visitors can walk through the original Roman hill town of Vaso which remains the heart of modern day Vaison-la-Romaine. You are literally walking on cobblestones placed over 2,000 years ago. Most notable is the old Roman Bridge, over the river Ouvèze, constructed in the first century AD and still in use by people and automobiles. I had a feeling of my own insignificance as I considered the people who had crossed that bridge before me and the interesting and difficult lives they must have lead.

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The old Roman Bridge in Vaison-la-Romaine (L.Compisi)

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View of the countryside from the original Roman hill town of Vaso(L.Compisi)

Some places to eat near Bollène and Orange:

 

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Lee Pigalle in Orange for lunch (L.Compisi)

Le Pigalle in Orange had outdoor and indoor seating and a very diverse menu for or lunch experience. We enjoyed the local wines and food made with very fresh ingredients.

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Sign leading to Restaurant La Chapelle Saint Paul Trois Châteaux (L.Compisi)

Restaurant La Chapelle Paul Trois Châteaux is located at Saint 5 Impasse Ludovic-de-Bimard, 26130 Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux. Recommended by Mme Jourdan, the setting is romantic and intimately delightful. The dishes were very thoughtfully prepared and exquisite in flavor.

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The dining room at Restaurant La Chapelle Saint Paul Trois Châteaux (L.Compisi)

Where we stayed:  We were very fortunate to stay at the quaint and convenient cottages of Bastide Jourdan at the winery property in Bollène were we awoke to the sounds of harvest.  A delightful and well situated location, especially in September. The cottages (there are several) offer full kitchens and 2 bedrooms.

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One of the cottages at Bastide Jourdan (L.Compisi)

Our first visit, chronicled here, was so pleasant and relaxed that we will be returning in July to experience the annual Lavender bloom which should be spectacular.  Read Part II about Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Part III on our report on Avignon!

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Clarice Wine Company Hosts Inaugural Members Only Event

We just attended the inaugural Clarice Wine Company event.  It was a tour and tasting of Limerick Lane wines at Jake and Alexis Bilbro’s Limerick Lane winery and estate on, you guessed it, Limerick Lane in Healdsburg, California.  You might ask why the Clarice Wine exclusive club member tasting was at another winery? Fair enough, and the answer is, because Clarice is a very new kind of wine company with no wine yet released and a sales and membership model very unique compared to traditional wineries and wine clubs. Read on!

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Limerick Lane 1910 Block – 108 year old Zinfandel vines – Jake Bilbro in background (L.Compisi)

Clarice Wine Company is a new and very unique type of winery started by Adam Lee over the past 12 months. Adam, winemaker and co-founder of Siduri Wines, with wife Dianna Novy Lee, sold Siduri to Jackson Family Wines a couple years back and remains the Siduri winemaker. In his spare time and for his next ‘act’, apparently, Adam had a hankering to try something new and very different.  He has combined aspects of an online wine community, a wine education website, and a limited-enrollment wine club in his vision for Clarice (named after his grandmother) which he established in the summer of 2017.

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(l-r) Jake Bilbro (Limerick Lane) and Clarice Wine Co.Founder Adam Lee (L.Compisi)

Adam’s Siduri Wines sourced Pinot Noir grapes from some of the best vineyards throughout California and Oregon. We wondered where Adam would take this new venture so we signed up.  As a member of the Clarice Wine Community, we have the opportunity to interact with 625 (about 67% subscribed as of this writing so there is room for you) fellow members, sharing wine opinions and wine list guidance, as well as recommendations for wine travel, restaurants, hotels, events and more. The ‘subscription’ membership provides a case of wine annually at about $85 per bottle paid over 6 months in advance of delivery which is expected in the late autumn. Exclusive as well as interesting, right?

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Clarice Pinot Noir from 2017 vintage (Courtesy Clarice Facebook page – Richard Green)

The Limerick Lane event was one of two exclusive Clarice parties each year.  The next party is expected to focus on the Clarice Pinot Noirs. Adam and Jake Bilbro are bound by mutual respect and friendship.  Adam was an early supporter when Jake purchased Limerick Lane in 2011 and they clearly maintain a collegial and supportive friendship. Thus, this inaugural Clarice party hosted by Limerick Lane and spotlighting Bilbro’s wines and historic vineyards. Those wines, some from vines over 100 years old, include Zinfandel, Syrah and Grenache (among others). Truly spectacular!

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Head pruned 1910 Block Zinfandel – Limerick Lane (L.Compisi)

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Estate Rocky Knoll Zinfandel – Limerick Lane #PureYum (L.Compisi)

If you are interested in a very interesting and somewhat experimental approach to a wine club, consider Clarice Wine Company. Stay tunes as there is more to come.

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Two happy Clarice members – L.Compisi and the iconic Carol Shelton (J.Compisi)

Read more about Clarice Wine Company in the Washington Post.

Rusty Gaffney has also offered his thoughts in his newsletter, “The Prince of Pinot

Posted in Day Trips, North Coast, Road Trip, Sonoma County, Travel, Wine, Wine Country, Wineries | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Hospice du Rhône Showcases Delicious Rhone Wines in Paso Robles

Hospice du Rhône Paso Robles 2018 has come and gone and the only thing remaining is the afterglow of wine friends, Paso charm and the beautiful Rhône varietals grown all over the world. Read on to understand what the Rhône varietals are and where they thrive.

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Sondra Bernstein and Jérémie Castor enjoying the Rosé Lunch happy hour! (L.Compisi)

Rhône varietals include 22 different grapes. Some are very well known, some not so much.  In the white varieties Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Muscat-Blanc are most well-known. For the reds Syrah, Grenache, Mataro (Mourvedre), Cinsault and Muscardin top the lists. Côte du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape are probably the most well know of the Rhône wines.

Two of the beautiful Rhone wines served over the weekend. (L.Compisi)

Hospice du Rhône (HdR) was established in 1991. It is an international advocacy group for all growers, producers and advocates of Rhone varietals. HdR conducts events at Blackberry Farm Resort in Walland, Tennessee; the Rhône Valley and of course in Paso Robles, to welcome multiple Rhône winemakers and chefs from around the world. Organizers John Alban (the Founder of Hospice du Rhône), Vicki Carroll and Faith Wells continue doing a phenomenal job of bringing in top flights Rhône producers from France, California and around the world.

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(l-r) Founder John Alban with organizers Vicki Carroll and Faith Wells (L.Compisi)
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(l-r) Alban and presenters Morgan Twain-Peterson – Tegan Passalaqua and Carroll (L.Compisi)

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Philippe Guigal (l) of ‘E.Guigal’ with moderator Patrick Will of Vintus. (L.Compisi)

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Wine writer Jeb Dunnuck (c) being honored as HdR ‘Person of the Year’! (L.Compisi)

 

The event weekend consists of a variety of delicious breakfasts, lunches, dinners, tastings and four exceptional educational seminars. Well over 1200 people attend the various events.  The educational seminars this year included: Seminar One: South Africa’s Cinsault Renaissance – Lauren Buzzeo, Wine Enthusiast, moderated a group of South African winemakers;  Seminar Two: A 6th Generation Crusade in the Barossa Valley – Moderator Chuck Hayward of Vinroads engaged five spirited winemakers from Australia; Seminar Three: Lost and Found: Old Vine Rhônes Across California – was moderated by Alban Vineyards and presented by a new generation of California winemakers Morgan Twain-Peterson (Bedrock Wine Company) and Tegan Passalaqua (Turley Wine Cellars) and finally; Seminar Four: The Majesty of Guigal – Philippe Guigal presented the fascinating story of E. Guigal (founded by Philippe’s grandfather) moderated by Patrick Wills of Vintus. Of course, all four seminars allowed for questions and answers from the attendees and included about ten wines for each seminar for tasting and learning. Favorites from the grand tastings are highlighted in the photos included in this report.

Amazing wines tasted while being described by the outstanding presenters (L.Compisi)

A few favorites from the large Opening and Closing tastings (L.Compisi)

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A smilingFrançois Villard of Domaine François Villard says, ‘pour ta santé’ (L.Compisi)

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Jérémie Castor of Vignobles Saint Nabor is enjoying the opening tasting! (L.Compisi)

Two very special events are the Rosé Lunch on Friday and the Live Auction on Saturday.  Hundreds of Rosés from all over the world are on hand for open tasting during the Rosé Lunch including favorite bottles provided by attending winemakers from all over the globe. The exciting high-stakes auction provided the opportunity to bid on truly amazing auction lots of wine, travel and unique experiences such as “the girl & the fig” Cooking and Dinner Extravaganza with Sondra Bernstein and Chef John Toulze. The first lot auctioned was designated to raise relief funds for the victims of last October’s California wildfires! All breakfasts and lunches are included in the weekend pass.  A truly great deal.

Montage of beautiful foods and wines at Rosé Lunch! (L.Compisi)

Where to Stay: There are many clean, modern, nicely appointed hotels within walking distance of the Paso Robles Event Center. We have stayed at several but this year chose to enjoy the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Paso Robles which is perhaps the closest of all. The hotel offers a full complementary buffet style breakfast, very clean and recently remodeled rooms and reasonably affordable prices.  The staff were very friendly and helpful.  We would be pleased to stay there whenever we are in Paso Robles which is typically at least once a year.

The Holiday Inn Express & Suites is within walking distance of the event. (L.Compisi

Wherever you are able to attend Hospice du Rhône (Paso Robles, Tennessee or the Rhône Valley), make it happen.  So if you need a long planning window, mark your calendars for April 23-25 2020 for Hospice du Rhône Paso Robles.  Prepare to be delighted, you won’t be disappointed.

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Posted in Central Coast, France, French Wines, Road Trip, Travel, Wine Country, Wine Events, Wineries | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Three Delightful Sonoma Wine and Food Pairing Experiences

Tasting wine in Sonoma County is always a delightful experience. Tasting rooms typically have very knowledgeable tasting teams whose only focus is to educate and inform the tasting public. Recently, however, some wineries and estates have decided to elevate that experience through wine and food pairings. Although there is additional cost to the consumer, the experience better replicates and informs your purchasing decisions. After all, wine is best enjoyed with food. Three recent experiences at Benovia Winery, Lambert Bridge and J Vineyards & Winery highlight these very enjoyable opportunities to live and learn.

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Benovia Winery is a family owned operation on the southwest side of Santa Rosa and specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, although their Zinfandel is well respected. Some of their estate vineyards are co-located with the tasting room and winery while a couple are in the surrounding areas of the Russian River and Sonoma Coast. Benovia offers numerous unique experiences (see previous posting) but tastings are by appointment only. They have collaborated with Copain and Littorai to create A Trail of Treasures.

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Benovia Tasting and Experience Center (L.Compisi)

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Wine and food at Benovia (L.Compisi)

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View of Benovia Estate vineyards (L.Compisi)

J Vineyards & Winery was established by Judy Jordan decades ago and was recently purchased by E&J Gallo for their premium wine division, a smart choice. Located just outside the city of Healdsburg (about 20 minutes north of Santa Rosa) also in the Russian River Valley, J also specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but may be best known for their sparkling wines. J offers a few unique tasting and pairing experiences but most noteworthy are their Legacy Tasting, Signature Tasting and the Bubble Room experience. Each is unique in their own right and all offer Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and/or sparkling flights. The Legacy Tasting pairs exceptional artisanal cheeses. Izzy Diaz was our host and he was fabulous. Knowledgeable and fun!

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Legacy Tasting offers choices (L.Compisi)

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The cheeses were well paired with J wines. (L.Compisi)

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J Vineyards Legacy and Sparkling Tasting Menus (L.Compisi)

The penultimate experience was at Lambert Bridge in the Dry Creek Valley. Another family owned winery and estate, Lambert Bridge has made major changes to their business model and production volumes. Previously producing over 25,000 cases per year, they now limit yields and produce about 6,000 cases annually with a direct to consumer model and a premium quality focus. Our experience was centered around a very personalized pairing of Cow Girl Creamery cheeses and accouterments with five Bordeaux wines preceded by a delicious Viognier. The 2016 Dry Creek Valley Viognier was perhaps the best we ever tasted. The 2012 Sonoma County Merlot was to die for! The 2015 Cabernet Franc and the 2013 Chambers Vineyard Malbec were also quite special. Perhaps as tantalizing and welcoming were the tasting team. Sara Carli and Katie Boyer went well out of their way to make us feel special. Katie virtually accompanied us on the entire tasting journey without distraction in the wineries newly configured barrel room. A very special experience.

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View from Barrel Room to Tasting Room at Lambert Bridge (L.Compisi)

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Guest comfort and care is the primary focus at Lambert Bridge (L.Compisi)

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A delightful deviation from the Bordeaux wines (L.Compisi)

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A perfectly ethereal experience at Lambert Bridge (L.Compisi)

More and more wineries in Napa and Sonoma Counties are pushing the envelope to differentiate their offerings from the hundreds of choices in the North Coast but these three are worthy of special note and your attention.

 

Posted in Day Trips, North Coast, Sonoma County, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine Country, Wine Events, Wine Road, Wineries | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Appellation St. Helena ‘bASHes’ it out of the park at CIA Greystone

Appellation St. Helena (ASH) continues to be synonymous with first class events which promote this historic and pastoral American Viticultural Area (AVA) in northern Napa Valley.  The 2018 bASH (7th Annual) Food and Wine Pairing Competition at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) established new limits in exceptional food and wine pairing events.

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Fabulous and historic CIA at Greystone, St. Helena (L.Compisi)

Over Thirty (30) wineries collaborated with forty-eight (48) CIA student chefs and a unique mix of professional chefs from St. Helena restaurants and Estate Chef’s from local winery estates to produce creative food and wine pairings to complement the elegance and dignity of the CIA Barrel Room.  This year’s smart and upscale event perpetuated the truism that ‘great wine and food’ make for great experiences.

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Hall Wines represents the best of St. Helena (L.Compisi)

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Del Dotto vineyards is a loyal participant in bASH (L.Compisi)

Participating St. Helena restaurants and Estate Chefs included Acacia House by Chris Cosentino, Charles Krug Winery Estate Chef Daryl Muromoto and Goose & Gander restaurant. These chefs bring an air of experience, creativity and confidence to their dishes as ell as extensive wine and food pairing knowledge.

The food pairings were judged by the public attendees and the top vote getters were announced near the end of the event. “Sip, Taste, Vote!”, is the over-arching theme. Chef Lars Kronmark, CIA Chef Instructor and present on the Barrel Room floor of the CIA, did his usual amazing job of guiding these chef students to success. Although the dishes prepared by the professionals at times had a quality and completeness that contrasted with the sometimes unevenness of the student dishes, that is merely a sign of experience and practice that the students will gain as time goes on. Unmatched, however, is the wide eyed enthusiasm of these young neophyte chefs and the burst of confidence they displayed as the evening went on.

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Chef Lars Kronmark receives check from Lesley Russell (L.Compisi)

As always, however, the strength of this event was the wineries.  It is important to note that all the wines; Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, and Red Blends were all from grapes grown in the St. Helena AVA.  These wineries, large and small, are so passionate about their wines that you will find many of the winemakers, vintners and family members pouring their wines.  Examples include: Calafia Cellars (Mary Lee and Randle Johnson, owner), Flora Springs, Hall Wines, Raymond Vineyards, Rombauer Vineyards, Saint Helena Winery (Lesley Keffer Russell) and Varozza Vineyards (Jack and Dianna Varozza, owner) all present to pour and describe their wines. Each deserves mention and praise for the high-quality wines that are produced each and every year.

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(Boutique producer Calafia Cellars proprietors, Mary Lee (c) & Randle Johnson (r) with Student Chef Priya Singh (L.Compisi)

Student Team Winners:

1st place – Del Dotto Vineyards, St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon, students David Ju and Chase Evans (Steamed Bao Buns with Braised Beef Cheeks, Shallot Aioli and Spring Vegetables)

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(R-L) Winemaker, Gerard Zanzonico, Students David Ju & Chase Evans and Del Dotto Estate Chef Joshua Schwartz (L.Compisi)

2nd place – Parry Cellars, 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, students Sean Smith and Reilly Brown (Ancho Beef Taco with Charred Salsa and Escabeche)

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Parry Cellars (Stephen & Sue Parry) and CIA Team #5 – Sean Smith & Reilly Brown (L.Compisi)

3rd place – Rombauer Vineyards, 2014 Stice Lane Cabernet Sauvignon, students Allison Komara and Nina Widjaja (Korean Beef Short Ribs “Galbi Jjim”)

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(l-r) Nina Widjaja, Allison Komara and Lesley Russell (L.Compisi)

4th place – Pellet Estate, 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Pellet Vineyard, students Brandon Matthews and Carlos Ramires (Cornet of Red Wine Braised Kobe Beef, Creamy Polenta, with Morel and Black Truffle)

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(l-r) Eric Risch (GM Pellet), CIA Students Carlos Ramires & Brandon Matthews, Tom Rinaldi (Pellet winemaker) and Lesley Russell (ASH) (L.Compisi)

5th place – Ballentine Vineyards, 2016 Maple Station White Blend, students Cameron Hassell and Nicolas Stogsdill (“Wanna Wonton”)

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Team Ballentine Cameron Hassell & Nicolas Stogsdill (L.Compisi)

Professional team winners:

1st place – Beringer Vineyards, 2012 St. Helena Home Cabernet Sauvignon, with Acacia House by Chris Cosentino (Oxtail Toast, Pickled Mustard Seeds, Wild Fennel)

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Team Beringer, pairing by Acacia House receives 1st Place award. (L.Compisi)

2nd place – Ehlers Estate 2015 “1886” Cabernet Sauvignon, with Goose & Gander (Braised Lamb Neck and Candy Cap Mole, Steamed bun, Benne salad, Lemon Crema)

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Ehlers Estate Team with Chef Nic Jones of Goose & Gander (L.Compisi)

3rd place – Charles Krug Winery 2016 Limited Release Sauvignon Blanc, with Estate Chef Daryl Muromoto (Braised Pork Ciccioli Crostini, Estate Citrus Marmellata)

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(l-r) Charles Krug Estate Chef Daryl Muromoto, VP Estate Management Jim Morris & Lesley Russell (ASH)  (L.Compisi)

Chase Cellars received the “CIA Director’s award for Excellence in Creativity and Innovation” (2017 Zinfandel Rose, Hayne Vineyard), with students Charles Fulbright and Conner Black (pairing their “Saturday Special”)

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ASH volunteers are the backbone of this pairing event. (Courtesy P. Goyins)

Greystone is a National Historic Landmark, related to its operation from 1950-1989 as the Christian Brothers Winery which, of course, has its own historical and wine significance.  There is nothing like this event anywhere in the Napa Valley, or perhaps all of California!

Appellation St. Helena (ASH), is an organization of over 80 winery and grower members, which promotes the highest standards of grape growing and wine making for which the St. Helena American Viticultural Area is famous.  Originally founded in 1875 as the St. Helena Viticultural Society and then disbanded during Prohibition, the organization was revived nearly 20 years ago and includes associate membership for wineries outside the appellation that use grapes produced by member growers.

The Organizers of this event were:

Appellation St. Helena in partnership with:

The Culinary Institute of America

The St. Helena Chamber of Commerce

Visit Napa Valley

 

Posted in Culinary, Napa Valley, Restaurants, Travel, Wine Country | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Taming the Colorado River: Hoover Dam and the Dam Bridge

Located just 30 minutes southeast of Las Vegas, Nevada and spanning the Colorado River along the Arizona and Nevada State borders, the Hoover Dam, remains one of the engineering marvels of the world. Conceived in the early 1900s and approved by the United States Congress in 1928, the project took less than five years to construct (begun in 1931 and dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt in September 1936) during the Great Depression. It is truly a testament to American ingenuity, resourcefulness and creativity.

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The Power Houses below and the Memorial Bridge over the Colorado (L.Compisi)

The Colorado River ran wild during rainy periods causing devastation and human suffering along its uncontrollable banks across numerous states and Mexico. During dry periods the farms and orchards in these same states would fail and lead to other forms of tragedy.  The Hoover Dam changed all of that and provided valuable benefits for millions of Americans.

Aerial view Hoover Dam

Aerial view Hoover Dam (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Unlike so many public construction projects (think California’s High Speed Rail Project and Boston’s Big Dig), Hoover Dam was completed 2 years ahead of schedule by a six company consortium called Company Six. It was an amazing example of a successful public-private partnership.

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Lake Mead was created by damming the Colorado River (L.Compisi)

Many of the techniques used in building this Dam (like piping cold water through the massive amounts of concrete walls to help it dry faster) had never been used before and certainly not in a project this massive. Many pieces of equipment had to be manufactured on site because there were no roads or vehicles heavy enough to transport it there.

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Dizzying view down 726 feet of concrete (L.Compisi)

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Cars and pedestrians cross from Nevada to Arizona (L.Compisi)

Thousands of Depression Era workers flocked to this area in southern Nevada to find work which over 5,000 did and over 100 died in accidents during the project. An entire city, later named Boulder City, was created nearby out of nothing to house and sustain the labor force.  The Dam quickly paid for itself and remains self-sustaining through the sale of hydroelectricity generated as the impounded water from Lake Mead, created as a result of the Dam, is released and spins the 19 massive turbines located near the bottom of the 726-foot-high Dam.  The electricity generated is sold to public and private utilities in Nevada, Arizona, and California.

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Photo taken from the Arizona side showing the Lake Mead side (L.Compisi)

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Two of four intake towers plunging deep into Lake Mead (L.Compisi)

It is a mere 45 feet wide at the top and 660 feet thick at the base. Originally known as Boulder Dam, it was renamed the Hoover Dam by a joint resolution of Congress in 1947 in recognition of President Herbert Hoover’s (1929 – 1933) support of the project while President.

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This intake tower sports Arizona Time, another Nevada Time (L.Compisi)

It was a thrill to walk the 1,244-foot length of the Dam from the Nevada side to the Arizona side. Looking down its 726-foot concrete surface to the Colorado River below created a real sense of vertigo as well as awe. You can also drive across the dam, in fact, until the amazingly beautiful Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge was opened in 2010, U.S 93 ran on the Dam. The Memorial Bridge, itself a wonder at 900 feet above the Colorado River, is the second highest bridge (the Royal Gorge Bridge is first) in the United States and the world’s highest concrete arch bridge. There is also a pedestrian walkway along the Memorial bridge.

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The Dam is Art-Deco and the bathrooms are stylized in brass to match (L.Compisi)

The Visitor’s Center ($10 per person entry) offers a short film with unbelievable and fascinating original news footage of the construction of the Dam. Of course, there are interactive exhibits and a gift shop as well. There were no tours of the actual inner workings of the Dam while we were there but per the Bureau of Reclamation website on March 27th, 2018 all dam and powerplant tours were back in normal operation as of March 24th 2018. Recommend checking the website in advance.

 

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A slightly different view of the beautiful 900 foot high Memorial Bridge (L.Compisi)

Nearly 1 million tourists from all over the world visit the Dam annually. The Dam is a National Historic Landmark and has been rated by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of America’s Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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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)

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Badlands Loop returning to Zabriskie Point (J.Compisi)

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Leaving Golden Canyon toward Badlands Loop (L.Compisi)

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Looking back toward Golden Canyon (J.Compisi)

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Near bottom of Badlands Loop (L.Compisi)

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

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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.

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Holiday Inn Express & Suites Pahrump (L.Compisi)

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Clean fresh rooms and comfortable beds (L.Compisi)

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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.

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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)

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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