No Lions, Tigers or Bears but ‘Oh Yes’ to Safari West

If you have never been to Safari West Wildlife Preserve and African Tent Camp in Santa Rosa, California than you need to get it on your schedule now. If you have already visited this phenomenal Sonoma County treasure then you should consider a return visit as this experience is even better the second and third time around and is always changing. Currently, due to the wildfires earlier this month (October 2017), all overnight lodging is cancelled until March 1, 2018, however, Safari Tours and other activities are expected to resume at the end of November 2017. Most importantly, the property is safe and repair work is well underway so now is the time for making your reservations.

IMG_4865 Majestic AddaxThe Majestic Addax (L. Compisi)

Peter Lang founded Safari West as a ranch for breeding and species propagation in 1989. He and wife Nancy, a PhD in zoological biology, opened the preserve to the public in 1993. Interestingly enough, Peter and Nancy met on holiday in Africa on a Safari. The passion they share for these exotic and amazing creatures is evident every where you look while at the preserve. Peter and Nancy actually reside on the property.


A Riot of Fabulous Flamingos (L. Compisi)

Spring time at Safari West is probably the best time of the year to visit for the day or for an overnight. You can do either as the preserve has authentic tent cabins and a guest cottage on the property. And don’t think “camping” when you consider an overnight, these tent cabins are well equipped with linens, en-suite bathrooms with showers, king-size beds and outside sitting areas.

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Tent sided Cabins (L. Compisi)

The preserve has 80 species and over 900 animals including cheetah, monkeys, antelope, white rhinoceros, watusi (long horned cattle), lemur, cape buffalo (ornery and unfriendly), wildebeest, riots of flamingos, eland, gazelle, springbok and an amazing dazzle of zebra. The guides are amazing and extremely knowledgeable about the animals and the preserve. They are also very good drivers which is vital during the excursion over what can be pretty rough terrain.

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Plenty of room for roaming (L. Compisi)

This is truly a Safari like experience (with WWII/Korean era Dodge Power Wagons open vehicles) where the animals actually walk up to the vehicle – sometimes causing a little excitement like when the wildebeest or the ostriches get too curious and perhaps closer than desired by some. This is no drive by visit. Be prepared for a 45 minute walking tour and then a 2 hour safari ride through the preserve.

Dazzling Zebras (L. Compisi)


Ornery Cape Buffalo (L. Compisi

The preserve has a snack bar/restaurant with outside dining under beautiful shade trees in close and very pleasant proximity to the flamingos and the aviary. The menu is simple and appropriate to the experience. The availability of adult beverages like wine and beer will satisfy many wine country visitors taking a break from the typical day of tasting that fabulous Sonoma County wine.

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Long-horned Watusi cattle heard (L. Compisi)

Giraffes caught behind the scenes (L. Compisi)

The day time tours start either in the morning (9 and 10am) or the afternoon (1, 2 and 4pm) during the spring, summer and fall. Hours and tours are more limited in the winter. Regardless of the season, reservations are required. If your schedule allows the Behind the Scenes tour is a very special treat. An additional charge applies but the opportunity to feed Giraffes and Wart Hogs up close and personal is probably once in a life time. For safety reasons children need to be 4 years or older to participate in the Classic Safari riding tour.

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A shy Lemur (L. Compisi)


A proud Cheetah (L. Compisi)

Safari West has been a member of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association for over 12 years, one of only 6 private facilities in North America to achieve this distinction, which attests to both the quality of the animal treatment as well as the professional nature of the operation. Conservation is a key theme at Safari West.


One of many amazing exotic birds (L. Compisi)

What an amazing experience for younger children, adolescents, teenagers and adults. Over 75,000 of whom visit the preserve each year. Its truly the ‘Serengeti in Sonoma’.

Safari West is very easy to find and is located only 11 miles northeast of downtown Santa Rosa at 3115 Porter Creek Road, only about a 7 miles/10 minutes drive off of Highway 101. They are equipped to provide accommodations for guests in wheel chairs.

Please don’t hesitate to email  if you have any questions or concerns. In any event, do not let the recent wildfires dissuade from visiting this Sonoma County treasure.


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Posted in Adventure, Sonoma County, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine Country | Leave a comment

North Coast Wine Country is open for business

Despite the recent tragic, and very destructive wildfires, in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino Counties, the California North Coast wine country is open and excited to receive your business. October and November are typically the most important months for tourism in wine country.  Harvest has usually been completed and the juice is in the barrels offering a bit of relief and respite for the growers and winemakers. In that regard, the 2017 harvest is not very different from 2016 or 2015. What is different is the national attention drawn by the recent fires. While the wildfires were deadly for so many and devastating for thousands of homeowners, with a couple of exceptions, the vineyards and the wineries remain untouched. This is not intended to underplay the real human tragedy that has occurred. The facts however may be contrary to what you might understand from the media coverage suggesting that Napa or Sonoma Counties have been ‘destroyed’.

More than ever, wine country needs and desires the tourists to make their annual pilgrimages. As a way of highlighting this reality, I have decided to focus on a few exceptional harvest parties we have attended in recent weeks and to highlight a couple of upcoming events. Some of these events were just before the fires and the others actually occurred in the past week. In all cases, however, each of these wineries in Sonoma County and virtually all others throughout the North Coast (Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake and Solano Counties) are fine and deserving of your continued patronage.  In fact, nothing would help the return to normalcy more than continued and even increased travel and tourism to the tri-county area. Although so many have lost homes, the jobs related to the wine industry and tourism are key to the economy and the ability for people being to remain and rebuild.

Skipstone is a 200 acre estate located in the Alexander Valley and tucked into the hillside. The Alexander Valley is well known for its Cabernet Sauvignon and Skipstone is no exception.  These exquisite wines (including Cabernet and Merlot as well as Viognier) usually sell out fast but if you can get them, they are a treasure of flavor and texture to lay down. They also produce wonderful estate olive oil. The harvest/release party took place in late September before the fires but the estate was threatened by the ‘Pocket Fire’.  All survived and appointments can be made via phone 707-433-9124 or online

Sublime Skipstone Ranch and wine (L.Compisi)

Viluko Estate is another out of the way vineyard estate in the center of the Mark West Springs area and the Fountain Grove AVA (American Viticultural Area).  This area was perhaps most devastatingly affected as the ‘Tubbs Fire’ raced from Calistoga over the mountains to Santa Rosa destroying so much in its path. While we know Viluko was significantly affected by the fires, and that at last report the Arroyo family was still waiting for access to their property to assess damage, thankfully, their friends and colleagues are safe and indebted to the first responders who made this possible. Viluko production and warehouse facilities are both in safe locations and their wine (excellent Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec) is unharmed. They expect to make the October shipments. Their Harvest Party was on September 30th. Call (707) 477-8411 and speak with Frieda for an update and to order this wonderful wine.

Viluko Vineyards with 2nd label Split Rock (L.Compisi)

Geyserville is the home of Ramazzotti Wines which was founded by Joe and Norma Ramazzotti about 15 years ago. Joe and Norma and the extended Ramazzotti family know how to party as well as make wine.  Most of the Ramazzotti fruit comes from their home estate in the Dry Creek Valley, where they live, which was, fortunately, unscathed by the fires east of them.  They specialize in Italian varietals but also produce truly delightful Cabernet Zinfandel Rosé and Chardonnay. A regular at their parties is ‘the King’ performing very credible renditions of Elvis’ music. Good wine, good food and good fun are always present at Ramazzotti parties and their Halloween themed Harvest Party on October 28th was no exception.

Halloween Style festivities with the ‘King’. (L.Compisi)

Zialena Winery in the Alexander Valley is perhaps the newest winery in the Valley with one of the oldest stories. Established by brother and sister team Mark and Lisa Mazzoni and their spouses just a few years ago, their winery and tasting room just opened in February of 2017. Winemaker Mark and Lisa learned the trade from their dad (Mike), who learned from his dad and uncle who learned from their dad, Giuseppe Mazzoni, who had immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s to work at the Italian Swiss Colony in Asti, California (just north of Geyserville). Matt makes wine sourced from the family’s vineyards which surround the tasting room. Although threatened and evacuated due to the ‘Pocket Fire’, their wine was already in tank and survived. Their harvest/pickup party was held on October 29th.

Zialena blend Cappella with food-truck fare (L. Compisi)

So what’s up next?  So many events occur in the fall but just a few to consider. Please help the North Coast recover by supporting our tourism industries.

Wine & Food Affair November 4 – 5, 2017 features wine from the Wine Road’s 3 AVAs. Alexander, Russian River and Dry Creek Valleys

Appellation St. Helena inaugural Holiday Wine Experience in San Francisco at the Golden Gate Club, on the Presidio, November 8, 2017

Napa Valley Film Festival November 8-12, 2017 Nine venues throughout Napa, Yountville, and St. Helena

A Taste of Redwood Valley, November 18-19th, 2017 No Tickets Needed

Posted in Mendocino County, Napa Valley, Sonoma County | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Boundless Beauty at Boundary Waters

I just returned from an invigorating and, at times strenuous, adventure at Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a U.S. Wilderness Area in Minnesota’s North Woods, part of the boreal forest of North America. I was fortunate to be able to participate as part of my grandsons’ Boy Scout Troop’s 50 Miler Award exploit. To understate the experience, it was absolutely life affirming and unforgettable. The trip from origin to destination was eight days and seven nights with six days in canoe. No motors, no cell phones and no computers….and we survived!

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                                  Reflections on Independence Lake (J.Compisi)

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW), or BWCA as it is commonly known, is part of the Superior National Forest and Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota. The name “Boundary Waters” is often used in the U.S. to refer specifically to the U.S. Wilderness Area protecting its southern extent, while the Canadian side includes La Verendrye and Quetico Provincial Parks of Ontario. This 1,090,000-acre (4,400 km2) wilderness area, a blend of forests and glacial lakes and streams is under the administration of the U.S. Forest Service and is a popular destination for both canoeing, trekking and fishing. It is one of the most visited wildernesses in the United States hosting nearly a quarter million visitors each year. Its 1,200 miles of canoe routes and 2,000 campsites as well as hiking trails account for its popularity. BWCA was formally established in 1978 by the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act.

Canoe route planning was key as there are a limited number of designated campsites and, except in an emergency, you are required to overnight in these. They are first come first serve and are limited to nine campers at a time so if someone gets there before you…keep paddling. Also, you have portages between the various lakes that are unavoidable so planning your route includes which portages you will have to traverse with all of your gear and canoes. Portaging can be as simple as one trip but may also be 2-4 round trips if you bring to much gear. Some are short (20 rods which equals 100 meters) and some are longer (over 600 rods). A good outfitter like John, from North Country Canoe Outfitters, can help you pick a route that has good fishing, better camp sites and advise about the portages.

IMG_20170716_123102 Tranquility

IMG_20170720_114448177 Disappointment Lake

                                                   Disappointment Lake (J.Compisi)

Our group of 27 (adults, scouts and a couple non-scout siblings) arrived at the outfitters after along day of traveling (Think trains, planes, buses and automobiles). The outfitter team took us in hand an assigned us bunks in their various bunk houses dividing us by male-female and adults -adolescents/teens). After a nights rest we were up early for briefings and equipment issue. Well organized and efficient. We then broke into our 3 pre-determined groups of 9 to head to our put-in points with our gear and canoes.

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                                               The author and grandsons (K.Calzia)

Our group of nine was launched at Moose Lake, about 40 minutes from the Outfitters. We paddled for about 4 miles over 3 lakes (Moose, Newfound and Splash) and executed two minor portages in about 4 hours. It was fabulously serene and unspoiled. The only sound was the delighted chatter of our small group and the splash of our paddles hitting the water. We saw our first bald eagle on this very first day but saw several more over the next 5 days. The first afternoon of setting up camp was a bit rag-tag with tent set up, cooking dinner, dish washing and personal hygiene but we developed a comfortable rhythm over the next several days.

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                      Bald Eagle over Disappointment Lake and in tree (K. Calzia)

The four person tents, air pads and sleeping bags were in excellent condition and offered a bit of welcome comfort in this true wilderness setting. We fished morning, noon and night, from our canoes and from the shore. The food provided was more then adequate and included fresh burgers, steaks, eggs and brats for the first couple of days. The remainder was dried pastas and other reconstituted camp favorites like Chicken a la King and Beef Stroganoff. Of course the salami, cheese and PBJs were nearly always available.

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IMG_0592 Duluth Bags

                         Dinner being reconstituted and Loaded Canoe (J.Compisi)

The next day saw more eagles and another 4+ miles of paddling with a couple of smaller portages as we made our way to Ensign Lake nearing the Canadian border. We found a good campsite and decided to spend two nights there. After our dinner of Brats with mustard, we planned our day trip for day 3. Our first inclement weather occurred with fairly severe thunder storms with lightening and torrential rain. Fortunately it passed rather quickly and only returned while we slept and by morning things were fairly dry as we left for Birch Lake and the Canadian Border. We were traveling light as we only took our food (didn’t want to hang it to keep it away from the bears) and our day packs.

IMG_0564 Campsite

IMG_0570 Drying out
IMG_0599 Necessary Facility

1.Typical Campsite 2.Drying out after the rain 3. Every designated campsite has one (J.Compisi)

Our restful day trip turned into our longest and most arduous. We transited 6 portages, two of them being nearly .5 mile in length, quite steep, muddy and rocky. Did I say muddy? Despite that, the weather held and we passed through Trident Lake and reached Birch Lake around noon in pleasant weather and enjoyed lunch looking at Canada. When we left we took the opportunity to cross the ‘water border’ which is legal as long as you don’t fish or land and move inland.


                                  Two of four canoes paddling to Canada (K.Calzia)

On day 4 we broke camp and headed south through five lakes and three portages but the weather was threatening and we had heard that the campsites at Disappointment Lake were full so we made a u-turn at Jitterbug Lake, a creepy little lake with thousands of lily pads, and crossed back over two portages. Morale was a bit low to say the least. Things looked up when our scout team radioed back that they had found a Club Med campsite on Jordan Lake so we stayed there.

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                                                    Lily from Jitterbug Lake (K.Calzia)

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                                 Tandem portage although solos did occur (J.Compisi)

We decamped early on day 5 to make sure we got to Disappointment Lake early to find a campsite. What an especially beautiful large lake this is. Another Bald Eagle sighting offered more excitement before a stunning sunset encouraged us to get some sleep.

IMG_0364 Fabulous Sunset

Fabulous sunset over Disappointment Lake (J.Compisi)

Our final day on the water was quite short as we exited Disappointment Lake heading south and portaged a fairly long portage to Parent Lake, and, after a brief paddle, on to Snowbank Lake, one of the biggest we paddled and our take-out point. The outfitter was there to haul us back to their bunk houses and hot showers. Morale was soaring as we reunited with our two other small groups and began to swap wilderness stories.

IMG_0021 Outfitter pier

                                    Outfitters pier on White Iron Lake (K.Calzia)

Planning – The key to any successful adventure is planning and preparedness and BWCA is no exception. The troop started planning about a year out by contacting one of the many outfitters in the area who can offer expertise, advice, permits, equipment, supplies and everything else one needs to go into the wilderness for a week. We used North Country Canoe Outfitters (NCCO) and they were exceptional. Owners John and Cathy have been at is for 34 years and there isn’t anything they haven’t seen or heard. They and their team are focused on your safety and a successful outcomes. They got it right for us.

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                                    North Country Canoe Outfitters welcome sign

Permits – Permits are required for groups to enter the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) during all seasons. Between May 1st and September 30th, permits need to be reserved and are limited by day and by entry point. This is done to reduce the impact on the wilderness. It is essential to plan your trip early. After September 30th through April 30th, reservations for a permit are not required. Day use permits do not require reservation and are free.

Getting there – We flew from the west coast to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP), the closest major U.S. airport. It is located a little more than 4 hours south of BWCA and there are transportation service providers who offer ‘chartered’ service from the airport to Ely, Minnesota, the closest city to the various ‘put-in’ points in the area. We employed Voight Bus Services for our group of 27 but there are many other options. Our driver Rick was great and the bus was very comfortable with an on-board restroom, important for the extended ride.

Equipment and gear tips – Our outfitter provided our permits, food, cooking gear, dishes and utensils, tents, sleeping bags, air mattresses, wet (Duluth) bags, personal flotation device and canoes. You should bring: dry bags for your personal gear, a multi-tool (Leatherman), insect repellent, sun-block, insect net for you head, sunglasses, water shoes and camp shoes, couple pair of dry socks, camp clothes, flannel shirt or light jacket for evenings, 1-2 towels for showers in camp (throw away), fast drying active wear shorts and/or pants, a broad brimmed hat and a water proof day bag for easy access while paddling.

IMG_20170716_093056 Duluth Bags

                  Duluth bags with food and gear provided by the outfitter (J.Compisi)

Local Side Trip – The Soudan Iron Ore Mine, close to Ely, takes visitors a half a mile down below the Earth’s surface for a fascinating and a bit shocking view of what life was like for iron miners from 1882 through 1962 when it closed. It is now a very popular State Park hosting 43,000 visitors in 2016 for this interesting 90 minute excursion toward the center of the Earth.

IMG_0426 Soudan Mine

Posted in Adventure, Canoeing, Northwoods, Travel, Wilderness | 6 Comments

Thousands Beat the Heat at ‘Sonoma Wine Country Weekend’

One especially fabulous Northern California wine country fund raising event occurred this past Labor Day Weekend. Sonoma Wine Country Weekend (SWCW) raises, literally, millions for various local community charities. This year, the typically over heated event set new records for triple digit heat but also sported a new venue, the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University.


                                                          Logo Courtesy of SWCW

The weekend kicked off with the usual stunning variety of winemaker’s lunches and dinners, like the Viluko Vineyards Winemakers  Luncheon in the recently established Fountain Grove AVA. The proprietors, Pedro and Karen Arroyo offered exceptional hospitality despite the record breaking 3 digit heat, which exceeded 110 degrees. This 400 acre property is wild and filled with mountain lions, deer and avian creatures…and vineyards – about 70 planted acres of mostly Bordeaux varietals.


                         Recently planted vines and antique equipment (L.Compisi)

Winemaker Tim Milos waxed eloquent as a six course luncheon paired with Viluko wines was paraded into the iconic barn on the property. Wines poured featured six exceptional Bordeaux vintages and varietals including Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec and of course Cabernet Sauvignon.  Milos’s descriptions were fun and flawless.

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                             Winemaker Tim Milos describes his wines (L.Compisi)

       Viluko IMG_20170901

                                2012 Viluko Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (L.Compisi)

Each course was more delicious than the previous and the pairing wines were elegant, complex and well balanced. Chef’s Shaun McGrath and Jenna Hodges and their Calistoga Kitchen team did an amazing job of producing beautifully plated food in a virtual wilderness setting.


                                       Summer Greens with Avocado (L.Compisi)


                                             Grilled Akaushi Bavette Steak (L.Compisi)

Other winemakers’ lunches were hosted by such all stars as Balletto Vineyards, Cast Wines, Christopher Creek Winery, Comstock Winery, Davis Family Vineyards and Linked Vineyards. Yummy! Winemaker’s dinners included Macrostie Winery & Vineyards, Ravenswood Winery, Seghesio Family Vineyards and Valley of the Moon Winery at Madrone Estate. Sunday featured winemaker BBQs at a few additional wineries. The capstone dinner on Friday night was the Paulée Dinner hosted by the Russian River Valley Winegrowers and held at Landmark Vineyards at Hop Kiln Estate. This end of harvest tradition from Burgundy is fast becoming the hottest ticket for the SWCW.


                                       Pairing Menu at Viluko Vineyards (L.Compisi)

Saturday’s excitement was all about Taste of Sonoma held for the first time at Sonoma State University Green Music Center in Rohnert Park. A crowd of over 2,000 people attended and they were not disappointed, although they battled the heat by consuming significantly more Sparkling, White and Rosé wines then normal. Gloria Ferrer’s Bubble Lounge with oysters, sliders and other nutritious delectables was often overwhelmed with the throngs of people craving chilled bubbles and cold oysters.


                                                            Logo Courtesy of SWCW

Sonoma WCW is jointly produced by the Sonoma County Vintners and the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Foundation, all proceeds benefit local Sonoma charities including youth education and literacy programs, Girls and Boys Clubs, senior care, the arts and many more.

Posted in Day Trips, Sonoma, Wine, Wine Country, Wine Events | Leave a comment

Elephant Seals and Castles – Cambria, California

September is truly a glorious time to travel the California Coast. The weather is usually agreeable with foggy mornings, glorious sun-soaked days and cool nights. Driving south on U.S. Highway 101 from the Monterey Peninsula I am astounded by the views of farm workers following behind huge farm implements picking produce at a rapid pace. Mile after mile the sight remains the same although the crop is different. Salinas, Soledad, Greenfield and then the vineyards of San Miguel and Paso Robles begin to dominate before turning west to reach the coast of the sparkling blue Pacific Ocean.

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Fog shrouded Hearst Castle main house at San Simeone (L.Compisi)

This is part two of my multi-part series chronicling our 2017 Road Trip from Sonoma County, California to San Diego, California covering over 1,200 round trip miles and 12 days of beautiful sights, sounds, wine, food and spirits – all in the name of adventure.

Our second stop was the quaint coastal city of Cambria (about 235 miles south of San Francisco, 220 miles north of Los Angeles and 140 miles south of  Monterey) situated on U.S. Highway 1 (Hwy 1) along the magnificent Pacific Ocean. Although Cambria has a long history of mining and cattle ranching it may be best known for its proximity to Hearst Castle in nearby San Simeon.

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Stupendous Roman Pool at Hearst Castle (L.Compisi)

Cambria is surrounded by towering Monterey Pine trees and the shimmering Pacific Ocean along its coast. The city is virtually free of chain stores and boasts a picturesque downtown loaded with charm and offering idyllic living for its six thousand year round residents. It is these virtues that likely attracted the filmmakers of the 1990 hit ‘Arachnophobia’ to select Cambria for its location.

scott campbell photo cambria

Monterey Pines Cambria (Scott Campbell photo)

Tourism is the focus of Cambria’s economy with William Randolph Hearst’s castle leading the way. Built on the estate “La Cuesta Encantada” (“The Enchanted Hill”), originally purchased by Hearst’s father, George, in 1865, Hearst collaborated with San Francisco architect Julia Morgan over nearly 30 years from 1919-1947 to create this National and California Historic Landmark. A California State Park since 1954, the Castle offers a variety of daily tours and a seasonally scheduled evening tour. We enjoyed the “Design the Dream Tour” which provided extensive access to the 60,000 plus square foot mansion and one of the three 3,000 square foot guest houses. A living window into the lifestyle of this original media magnate and his Hollywood friends. In fact, Hearst’s life was so fascinating to American’s it became the basis of Hollywood’s 1941 classic film, ‘Citizen Cain’, a film he tried to torpedo.

L-R Guest House Casa Del Mar; Hearst Bedroom; Sitting Area (L.Compisi)

Although we had toured several years ago, we were newly amazed by the extravagance and personality of both Hearst and his architectural muse, Morgan. The entire experience is exceptionally well orchestrated beginning with the free film in the visitor’s center theater (Hearst Castle – Building the Dream), to the 10 mile round trip bus ride audio tour through the exceptionally well informed and personable docents at the castle. Worth the travel to Cambria for this reason alone!

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The Neptune Pool undergoing major repair (L.Compisi)

About 7 miles further north of San Simeon, is the Northern Elephant Seal Rookery at Piedras Blancas, home to approximately 17,000 elephant seals. Thought to be extinct in 1892, these huge (some weighing over two tons) creatures are observable from less than 50 feet away from the easily accessible viewing area.  We stood there for 45 minutes marveling at the shear size and personality of these behemoths.  We were there when most of the seals were on the semi-annual feeding migration to Alaska and the Bering Straight. The winter months are the best time to view the larger populations and their breeding activities.  Despite this fact, the 70 plus adolescents and a couple older adults offered much to watch. The docents were excellent and there is no charge for this experience. Parking is free.

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Other nearby attractions include the Piedras Blancas Light Station, Moonstone Beach, Point Piedras Blancas Beach, San Simeon State Beach and the San Simeon Pier. Of course, nearby Templeton and Paso Robles offer some wonderful wineries and elegant dining opportunities. Some of our favorites wineries from past visits include: Vina Robles   Castoro Cellars and Eberle Winery.

WHERE TO STAY: Cambria and nearby San Simeon offer numerous coastal motels and Bed & Breakfast (B&B) offerings.  Our choice was J. Patrick House in the hills above Cambria.  This charming Irish themed B&B features 7 private bedrooms with full bath and a common sitting area where coffee and pastries or wine and cheese can be enjoyed while meeting your traveling neighbors.

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J. Patrick House in Cambria (L. Compisi)

Our room, ‘Tipperary’, was charming and well appointed with a large bathroom and very comfortable bed. The main building, which serves as the office, reception area and dining area also hosts the nightly happy hour where proprietor, Linda Ennen, offers local area wines and hors d’oeuvres to complement the opportunity to become acquainted with fellow visitors and Linda herself. Most delightful during our stay where the breakfasts.  Linda has created some beautiful, scrumptious dishes that are visually enticing. With her ‘Goldie Hawn’ like personality, Ennen provided a wealth of information about the area, welcoming hospitality and smart recommendations on what to see and where to dine.  All quite impressive for this relatively new (not quite 3 years) innkeeper.

  1. Entrance to Office at J.Patrick House. 2. Tipperary Room (L.Compisi)

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Delicious Skillet breakfast at J.Patrick House (L.Compisi)

WHERE TO DINE: We had a couple dining experiences that are worth sharing.  The first was a mid-afternoon lunch at Linn’s Restaurant on Cambria’s Main Street. Our excellent server described the menu and wine list with knowledge and enthusiasm. We shared a great burger with fries and wine from Paso Robles.  Yum!

We also got to experience dinner at Robin’s Restaurant, a mainstay for decades just off Cambria’s Main Street on Burton.  Robin’s menu is eclectic with American and Asian-influenced dishes. Flavor-filled, heartwarming and generous portions are presented using fresh ingredients. We enjoyed the Thai Green Chicken and the Short Ribs with Risotto.  The finisher, however, was the Ginger Creme Brulee!! For convenience, Robin’s has Lunch, Midday and Dinner menus for day long service as well as Sunday Brunch. Business partners Robin and Shanny have opened other restaurants in San Luis Obispo in recent years.

Thai Green Chicken and Ginger Creme Brulee (L.Compisi)

If you happen to decide you would like to dine in Paso Robles, Il Cortile is an excellent choice for an elegant dining experience. Another great option is Bistro Laurent in Paso.

GETTING THERE: Traveling south on U.S. Hwy 101 (the 40 mile section of U.S. Hwy 1 from near Big Sur south to Salmon Creek remains closed due to collapsed bridge on one end and a collapsed mountain on the other) from Monterey takes one through the amazing produce fields of Salinas, Soledad, Greenfield and the vineyards of Paso Robles where you head west through Templeton along Highway 46 to the coast where one turns north to Cambria. The trip north from LA follows Hwy 101 until you reach San Luis Obispo where you cut over to Highway 1 and continue north. Whichever direction you travel, arriving in Cambria is well worth the effort.

Subscribe to be sure you don’t miss the rest of the series: Santa Ynez Valley; Pasadena and San Diego!

Posted in Adventure, Central Coast, Road Trip, Travel | 2 Comments

Steinbeck’s Favorite Seaside Town, Monterey, California

This is the first in multi-part series.

This series chronicles our 2017 Road Trip from Sonoma County, California to San Diego, California covering over 1,200 miles and 12 days of beautiful sights, sounds, wine, food and spirits – all in the name of adventure.


John Steinbeck bust on Cannery Row, Monterey (L.Compisi)

September is a fabulous time to travel the California Coast. The weather is typically agreeable with cool nights, foggy mornings and glorious sun-soaked days. We experienced exactly that weather wise and so much more.


Kayaking is a great way to see Sea otters up close (L.Compisi)

With major portions of the Pacific Coast Highway (U.S. Highway 1) closed because of the major mudslides and closed bridges from the 2016-2017 rains, U.S. Highway 101 was our predominant driving route.  No worries here, however, as US 101 is beautiful in its own right combining the beauty and bounty of miles and miles of farms producing vegetables, vineyards producing wines and a significant piece of coastal views along the Venture Highway and elsewhere.

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Amazing sea birds inhabit the bay area (L.Compisi)

Our first stop was the fabulous coastal city of Monterey (about 115 miles south of San Francisco) situated on the world famous Monterey Bay. The bay is teeming with kelp forests which create great habitat for the fascinating and playful sea otters, harbor seals and the accompanying avian life like seagulls, pelicans, loons, albatross and cormorants. Of course, Monterey is also a great spot to begin a whale watching adventure during the two migration seasons (April to mid-December for Humpback Whales, Blue Whales and Dolphins and Winter and early spring (mid-December to March) for Gray Whales and Dolphins.

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Seagulls abound at Lover’s Point Pacific Grove (L.Compisi)

ATTRACTIONS: The tourist highlights include the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Cannery Row, Fisherman’s Wharf and the neighboring towns of Pacific Grove and Carmel. Pebble Beach and the 17 Mile Drive offer dramatic views of the Pacific and some amazingly spectacular multi-million dollar homes. The nearby wineries of the Carmel Valley have fast become a real draw for wine loving travelers as well. There are several beautiful beaches (Ocean Beach in Carmel and the Beach at Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove are very popular) and the water is actually the warmest in late August and September, but never real warm!

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Monterey Bay Aquarium on the bay side (L.Compisi)

WHERE TO STAY: We have stayed in several different delightful hotels around Monterey over the years but our favorite, whenever we want to treat ourselves, is the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa  on Cannery Row. Expect serious dollars for a room and parking but the hotel, situated right on the bay with ocean view rooms practically surrounding the kelp forests and sea otter play grounds, is gorgeous and full service including a roof top spa with open air, ocean view hot tubs. The hotel offers special package and off season rates which we have taken advantage of during previous stays. Really amazing and a great place to host business conferences and other special events like weddings and anniversaries!

Monterey Plaza, King Ocean View, View from roof, Blue Spa (L.Compisi)

WHERE TO DINE: There are so many exquisite and creative restaurants and chef’s in the area.  Previous trips we have enjoyed Passionfish for creative cuisine and Domenico’s on the Wharf for traditional Italian with Cioppino and other favorites (located on a very touristy wharf ). Although we haven’t dined at the Aquarium we have enjoyed the special flavors created by Executive Chef Matthew Beaudin and can certainly recommend him. On this trip our stay was brief, only one night so we took full advantage of the hotel’s restaurant, Schooner’s Coastal Kitchen. We were not disappointed.  The food was very good and the service matched the beautiful food.  The restaurant is situated with maximum bay views and the outside bar is delightful for appetizers and happy hour drinks.  It was worth staying ‘home’!


Beautiful sunset over Monterey Bay (L.Compisi)

Stay tuned for the second in the series: Hearst Castle and the seaside town of Cambria.



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Wine Road Barrel Tasting – A taste of the future of the North Coast

The first two weekends in March witnessed the 35th Annual Barrel Tasting  Wine Road – Northern Sonoma County take place in the sun-splashed hills and valleys of the three Wine Road American Viticulture Areas (AVAs – Alexander Valley, Russian River Valley and Dry Creek Valley).  Thousands of wine aficionados from around the country circulated among the approximately 120 participating wineries over the 6 afternoons (many wineries included the two Fridays) that the event encompassed.

A. Rafanelli a must stop for barrel tasting

A. Rafanelli a must stop for barrel tasting

The Wine Road – Northern Sonoma County has ~200 members including 150 wineries and 50 lodging establishments.   The organization sponsors and organizes three events each year beginning with Winter WINEland in January and ending with A Wine and Food Affair in early November.  Although A Wine and Food Affair is considered their premier event, the Barrel Tasting weekends are the longest running and the most popular in terms of attendance over the 6 days.  No single event in the north county can compete for fun, adventure and great wine deals.  It also offers the most likely contact with the winemakers as they are typically offering the barrel samples.

Smiling Dave Rafanelli and guest (Linda C.)

Smiling Dave Rafanelli and guest (Linda C.)

Barrel tasting weekends are not overwhelmed with themes and music and food (although many wineries do offer palate treats) as the focus is truly on the wine.  Most wineries offer the chance to taste and purchase futures (wine in barrel from previous harvests but not yet bottled) at a discount.  Purchasers may have to wait 6-18 months to actually get their wine.   Because so many of the participating wineries are small and have limited production this is often the only opportunity for non-wine club members to actual acquire these special wines.

Flowers and Barrels create a welcoming environment (Linda C.)

Flowers and Barrels create a welcoming environment (Linda C.)

The  Wine Road’s 3 AVAs are spread out over a large segment of SonmaCounty so it helps to use the Wine Road map to do a route plan that avoids running back and forth between the 3 AVAs or back tracking.  Additionally, planning should include lunch as the event extends from 11AM – 4PM each day.  Many wineries offer some food, as reported above, it is mostly lighter fare.  Picnics are possible at many of the wineries and there is always the Oakville Grocery Co., or Dry Creek General Store to purchase picnic supplies.  Alternatively Barndiva, Willi’s Seafood and Raw BarAgave Mexican Restaurant & Tequila Bar, or Bear Republic Brewing Company in Healdsburg are available for a casual quick bite.  Costeaux French Bakery was the restaurant of choice this year with its French bakery and café ambiance and very welcoming staff.  Food is fresh, beautifully presented and priced right.

Meanwhile, the Top Five Reasons to participate in The Wine Road Barrel Tasting weekend are :

A. Rafanelli Winery is located in the Dry Creek Valley and is a fourth generation family operation begun by great grandfather Alberto Rafanelli, an Italian emigrant, in the early 1900s and passed through his son Americo, and then to current owners Dave and Patty Rafanelli.  Daughter Shelly is the winemaker and responsible for all production at the winery and her husband Craig Fehlman handles vineyard management.  Younger daughter Stacy is in charge of daily operations at the winery continuing this family tradition.  A.Rafanelli specializes in Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Tasting and visits are by appointment only and the 11,000 case production is in allocation for non-wine club members.  These wines are rich, exceptionally well balanced and full of fruit.  This winery has the longest lines during barrel tasting due to the high quality and limited availability of the wines produced from their 85 planted acres.  A must visit.  Call 707-433-1385.

Hillside at A.Rafanelli (Linda C.)

Hillside at A.Rafanelli (Linda C.)

Another family operation is located just down Dry Creek Road at Everett Ridge Winery.  The Sterling family, lead by father Murio and mom Doris, has been growing grapes and making wine for several generations.  Besides Everett Ridge the family owns Esterlina Winery, (spanish for sterling) in the Anderson Valley and 253 acre Cole Ranch (Mendocino County),  America’s smallest AVA, where they grow Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes.  Besides Cole Ranch the family owns vineyards in the Alexander Valley, the Russian River Valley and Anderson Valley.  Everett Ridge specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.  They have a second label called Diablita Wines.  Four Sterling brothers (a Physician and an Attorney included) are actively involved.  Eric is lead winemaker, Stephen heads up sales & marketing, Chris – vineyard management and assistant winemaker and Craig handles legal affairs and assists in sales.   The best of the barrel samples were the Esterlina 2012 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and the Everett Ridge 2012 Dry Creek Valley Estate Petite Sirah.  The best in bottle was the Esterlina 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir!  The wines are all very approachable and reflect the warmth of this remarkable and down to earth family.

Barrel Room at Everitt Ridge (Linda C.)

Barrel Room at Everitt Ridge (Linda C.)

Papa Mario Sterling with happy guest (John C.)

Papa Mario Sterling with happy guest (John C.)

The ‘newest find’ during this year’s barrel tasting was J.Rickards Vineyards and Winery located on Chianti Road just south of Cloverdale (northern Sonoma County) and visible from Highway 101.  The original Zinfandel vines on this 60 acre estate were planted in 1908 and have been augmented over the past 30 years with fresh plantings. Jim has owned the ranch since 1976 and since 2005 he and wife Eliza have been making wine commercially.  They have typically sold most of their grapes ( Cabernet Sauvignon to Silver Oak – next door, Shiraz to GeyserPeak – just a bit south, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah to Dry Creek Vineyards and Winery – just west and a bit south).   Barrel samples of the 2011 & 2012 Old Vine Zinfandel were both delectable and foreshadowed good things when bottled.  The bottled 2009 and 2010 validated that forecast.  The newly released 2012 Muscat Blanc and 2012 Rosé were perfect spring and summer wines. The tasting room is open 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and by appointment. Call 707-758-3441.

Owner Winemaker Jim Rickards (Linda C.)

Owner Winemaker Jim Rickards (Linda C.)

Brothers Jack and William Salerno founded Manzanita Creek Winery in an industrial facility in Healdsburg in 2001.  They source their grapes, the “best grapes, grown in the best vineyards” from Sonoma County including Dry Creek, Russian River, Alexander Valley and Sonoma Coast.  They also source grapes from Lodi and Paso Robles.  The Salernos produce about 3,000 cases of varietal wine including Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Pinot Noir. The barrel samples of 2012 Russian River Zinfandel, Chalk Hill Zinfandel and Russian River Syrah were all well structured and hinting at rich robust flavors when bottled. Their 2nd label, 3 Vines, is available at Costco.   The tasting room is open Wednesday through Saturday 10 – 4:00 pm. Sunday through Tuesday by appointment only.  These wines and this winery are ‘never boring’!

Manzanita Creek in Healdsburg (Linda C.)

Manzanita Creek in Healdsburg (Linda C.)

Animated Jack Salerno of Manzanita Creek (Linda C.)

Animated Jack Salerno of Manzanita Creek (Linda C.)

Winemaker John Pepe has been the artistic interpreter of Bruce and Cheryl Lawton’s romantic vision of all things wine at their Pech Merle Winery.  Named after a cave in France where their vision began taking shape, the Lawton’s continue their passion through all aspects of their winery, their wine club and their wines using terms like devoted, flirtatious and smitten.  Their wines were awarded three Silver medals at the 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.  Recognized were the 2009 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($39), the 2010 Russian River Pinot Noir ($33) and the 2010 Russian River Chardonnay ($27).  The barrel sample offered during the Barrel Tasting weekend: the 2012 Alexander Valley Cabernet Franc,  the 2012 Russian River (Oehlman) Pinot Noir and the 2012 Dry Creek Valley (Alioto’s Bench) Zinfandel all showed huge potential.  Pech Merle’s tasting room is located at J.Rickards in Cloverdale, Friday and Saturday 11 – 4:30 or by appointment 707-891-3015.

Pech Merle Offerings (Linda C.)

Pech Merle Offerings (Linda C.)

Pech Merle owners Bruce and Cheryl Lawton (provided by B.Lawton)

Pech Merle owners Bruce and Cheryl Lawton (provided by B.Lawton)

Make it a point to enjoy Wine Road’s 2014 barrel tasting weekends.  Remember, the first two weekends in March!

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