Castello di Amorosa, literally, ‘Castle of Love’, is the brain and love child of Dario Sattui. The Castle, not visible from Highway 29, is located on a ridgeline just south of Calistoga on the western side of the highway. An authentic and realistic recreation of an 13th Century Tuscan castle, Amorosa is true to its historic predecessors through the use of old hand made materials and methods used over 700 years ago.
It’s important to note that Dario Sattui is the founder of V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena named in honor of his grandfather Vittorio, who started V. Sattui Winery in San Francisco in 1885. Fortunately, Vittorio lived long enough to see his namesake opened in 1975.
The scale and size of the Castle defies one’s imagination but it becomes apparent almost immediately as you travel through the vineyards and up the curved drive. Although four of its eight levels are underground, the stone Castle looms large with its multiple rooks and turrets befitting the medieval fortress it successfully emulates.
Situated on 171 acres, with 30 planted to grapes, a moat, a drawbridge and a virtual menagerie of emu, goats and other exotics, the Castello contains all the rooms and fixtures befitting its purpose including amazingly beautiful wine cellars with vaulted ceilings. The underground cellars include the 12,000 square feet in the Grand Barrel Room as well as an additional 15,000 square feet located nearby.
Although we had a self-guided tour a few years ago, this visit was for a media preview of the annual Grand Barrel Party earlier this month. We were fortunate to be welcomed by President and General Manager Georg Salzner and our cellar tasting was guided by Director of Winemaking Brooks Painter and Winemaker Peter Velleno. Together this duo represents over 50 years of winemaking experience. Painter, in fact, received the Andre Tchelistcheff ‘Winemaker of the Year’ award in 2013. Their experience is clearly reflected in the barrel’s we tasted.
Unlike our previous barrel tasting experiences, where you taste wine that has been barreled for just a few months after harvest, these barrels were all filled with 2017 vintage wines awaiting bottling by the end of the month. The exception to this were a Rosato, a Reserve Chardonnay and four Pinot Noir from 2018 and a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon called Trenta. In all, we tasted the wines in 19 barrels, just like the 300 guests would be experiencing that evening, however, their tickets included a lavish dinner upstairs in the Great Hall and the opportunity to purchase futures of these wines, which won’t be released until 2020.
We tasted, aside from those mentioned above, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Merlot, nine Cabernet Sauvignon and a Super Tuscan. The quality of these wines was truly outstanding and reflected the philosophy of Dario and the skills and style of winemakers Painter and Velleno. Amazingly, the small lots of exceptional quality wine are only available on premises, through the wine club or direct-to-consumer. You will not find these wines in restaurants or stores anywhere.
Castello di Amorosa is located on Hwy 29, 5 miles north of St. Helena, on the left; 3 miles south of Calistoga, on the right. Look for a large brick wall at the entrance to the driveway. 4045 St Helena Hwy, Calistoga, CA 94515. Hours of operations: Daily 9:30am – 6:00pm. Call 707.967.6272 for information.
In our first three reports on this Paso Robles road trip we described the absolutely wonderful time we experienced at great Paso wineries, restaurants and hotels. Officially ‘El Paso de Robles’ and translated “The Pass of the Oaks”, is located in San Luis Obispo County. Day four of this adventure began in Paso but then headed north to the city of Monterey where other activities and pleasures ensued.
You recall, we were leading a party of eight and on this, our departure day, we had selected Calcareous Vineyards located in the western hills where the highest elevations (2,200’) occur. We were in for another very pleasant surprise.
Calcareous was founded by father and daughter, Lloyd Messer and Dana Brown, in 2000 when they realized their dream of finding a place to express their passion for wine. The property is one of the highest limestone plateaus on Paso Robles’ westside just 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Originally from Iowa, they recognized the westside of Paso Robles had potential to produce world class wines. The property includes 442 acres of calcareous rock reaching 1,800 feet above sea level with about 28 planted acres. Although Lloyd passed away in 2006, Dana has pursued their mutual vision of making exceptional wines.
The beautiful site saw the addition of the winery/cellar in 2006 and the comfortable tasting room in 2008. We were guided in our tasting by a knowledgeable team of hospitality specialists under the guiding hand of John Teeling. The tasting room offers wine and food pairings most weekends from 12–3pm most weekends (reservations are advised) while the tasting room is open daily from 10am – 5pm. Aside from the pairings, they offer other premium seated tastings.
We were very fortunate to get a winery tour from winemaker (winemaker since 2010) Jason Joyce. Jason, a dashing CalPoly grad, worked as an organic pharmaceutical chemist after graduating. He entered winemaking in 2007 and has released wine under his own label since 2016, Slope and Intercept. Jason expressed the challenges of making high elevation wines but it is just that challenge that keeps him juiced. “Come for the wine ~ Stay for the view!“
After our delicious visit to Calcareous our group split up
and we headed north with our destination being Monterey for an overnight. The drive
north up Hwy 101 to Monterey was only 116 miles (~2 hours) with a hard left on
Hwy 68 to get from Salinas to the Monterey Peninsula.
Monterey is one of our favorite destinations to just relax and play. It is not that far from the Bay Area (2 hours/120 miles north to San Francisco) and it offers the best of seaside vacations with playful sea otters and kelp forests in abundance. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a unique and beautiful place to learn about the Bay and the fish and other marine life that dwell there.
The food and lodging here run the gamut of very fine (and
expensive) to creative and delicious local fare down to the fairly generic
tourists/chain food along the Cannery and Fisherman’s Wharf. Arriving after 3pm
we decided to do the tourist things and walked from our hotel, the Wave Street
Inn (more about this delightful spot later), through the nearby Cannery Row
area window shopping and people watching. One of our favorite things.
We had made a reservation for dinner on Fisherman’s Wharf at a reimagined restaurant named Scales, a seafood and steak restaurant on the northside of the wharf overlooking the small boat marina. Scales (opened 2015) is owned by the second generation of the Shake family who has operated the Old Fisherman’s Grotto for over 60 years.
We found Scales to be a step or two above the food we were used to on the Wharf. Everything seemed fresh and inviting and very tasty. The wine list was extensive, the ambiance was a bit more upscale than anything else on the wharf and the views, day or night, were eye-catching. It was fun to watch the sail boats, large and small, working their way into their slips in the marina as the winds were picking up and sundown approached. As the marina was being cloaked in darkness, we were reminded that the Super Wolf Blood Moon was rising and we had front row seats. The food and the view made for a memorable night.
The next day we skipped breakfast and took a walk along the bike path (old rail bed) to Schooner’s at the Monterey Bay Plaza Hotel. You just cannot beat this perfectly placed Bar and Restaurant for the views including cruise ships, sea otter rafts, bird watching, kayakers and so much more. The drinks are colorful and the food is more than good. Certainly, one of the best restaurants in the Cannery Row area.
Where to Stay in Monterey: We have stayed at numerous hotels along Cannery Row, off of Light House Street and even up close to Highway One. The Wave Street Inn, fairly new addition to the Inns of Monterey, is so perfectly located it is now our favorite location for a good night’s sleep and walking distance from everything (see above).
The décor is sleek, modern and a treat for the eye. Parking is underneath which is also a plus in a town with very little of this scarce commodity. The outdoor garage top patio offers fresh air and a fun place to sit and enjoy a glass of wine (BYOB – look it up!). Do not expect a restaurant or breakfast on site.
Nearby Monterey Highlights: Carmel, Carmel Valley, Pacific Grove, 17 Mile Drive, Pebble Beach and Pt. Lobos
Where to Stay in Paso Robles: The Oaks Hotel because of the
service, room quality and location. The Oaks (not to be confused with the Black
Oaks Motel, also in town) has large suites and significant amenities (robes,
slippers, a pool, happy hour and complimentary breakfast). The Oaks is a member
of the Ascend Hotel Collection. (805-237-8700).
This concludes our wonderful escape to Paso Robles including our tasting stop at Wrath Vineyards on day 1 as well as Calcareous and Monterey.
Stay tuned for more posts to learn where we will go next and what Bites, Flights and Sights are in our future!!
Nearly three years ago I wrote the following post on another blog platform as part of a series on the National Parks. That platform has gone defunct so I thought it appropriate to re-run this post, with a couple of updates, for the benefit of my current followers, some of whom may have missed it.
August 25th, 2019 will be the 103rd Anniversary of the establishment of the National Part Service. It seems timely to publish a series on the magnificent three sisters of the southern Sierra’s, Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Parks. I have been overwhelmed by the immense beauty, spectacular vistas and enormous opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Rather than try to capture all of this in a single overly long treatise, I believe it would best serve the reader and each park by addressing them individually in a three-part series. This is Part I focusing on Sequoia National Park.
Sequoia is the southern most of the three sisters and may be considered the most remote. Located about 260 miles from SF and only 200 miles from LA, it may be the least trafficked by tourists and buses, of the three. Don’t let others’ reluctance influence you. Sequoia has the largest (by wood volume) tree in the world, a Giants Forest filled with an astoundingly huge Sequoia, the General Sherman and a granite rock out cropping that will give the less adventuress individual a Half-dome style experience, Moro Rock. However, the most attractive element of Sequoia may be the ability to see black bears in the wild without traveling to wilderness areas. During our most recent visit we saw twelve black bears in two days and came a little two close, by accident about twenty-five feet away, of a young 200 pounder. Literally all of this is easily accessible for automobiles, hikers, walkers as well as handicap accessible, thanks to the National Park Service (NPS).
The General Sherman, so named because the U.S. Calvary actually patrolled the parks before the National Park Service took over that responsibility, stands nearly 275 feet tall and has a circumference of over 102 feet. Pictures cannot capture the enormity of this estimated 2,700-year-old tree. The Sherman parking lot is about 10 minutes from the Wusachi Lodge, the only accommodations in the park. The walk from the lot is about 1/4 mile downhill with ramps and steps (the accessible parking lot is much closer and allows for wheel chairs). Being there at the foot of this ancient and majestic tree is awe-inspiring and somewhat of a spiritual experience.
Seven of the world’s existing Sequoia groves are in the Sequoia National Forest and Sequoia National Park and the Giant Forest is here as well. Situated at over 6,000 feet above sea level, the forest covers an area of 1,880 acres. Within the forest there are several worthwhile attractions including, the Auto Log (can’t drive on it anymore), the Tunnel Log (fun to drive through) and Moro Rock, for those looking for a ‘near’ Half Dome experience.
For in-park lodging (unless you are an RVer or camper) Sequoia is limited to the 102 guestrooms at the Wuksachi Lodge. The Wuksachi is wilderness charming hotel with only nonsmoking rooms in the three detached buildings located a short walk away from the lodge itself. The lodge has banquet rooms for corporate events or weddings, the Peak Restaurant (serves 3 meals a day with extended hours), a bar and a gift shop. The lodge, restaurant and amenities are fitting for a wilderness lodge: comfortable and rustic, but don’t expect the Ahwanhee.
Late April-early May (we were there 5-6 May) and late October may be the best times to travel to Sequoia as the crowds are a little lighter, the weather can be more cooperative thereby making everything more enjoyable.
Moro Rock has a set of about 400 steps in its 1/3-mile staircase from the parking lot that ascends more than 300 feet to the summit. As rigorous as this may sound, nearly anyone from children to older adults can make this trip.
Sequoia National Park like so many of the U.S. National Parks is a real jewel and so unique. Don’t know why we waited so long to visit but you can bet it will not be the last time as we are already planning our return visit and it will be longer than 2 days.
As I reported previously on this Paso Robles road trip, March
is an absolutely wonderful time to visit the Central Coast and Paso Robles. Officially
‘El Paso de Robles’ and translated “The Pass of the Oaks”, is in San Luis
Obispo County. The highest elevations (2,200’) are on the West side of the
City with the heat focused on the less elevated (670’) East side of Highway
101. The 20-minute drive to the Pacific Ocean adds to the interesting climate
and terroir of the area with wide diurnal temperature swings.
You may recall, we were leading a party of eight and many wineries
require advanced reservations for groups larger than six. We limited our daily
visits to three. In consideration of efficiency and drive times we focused this
second full day on the steep hillsides of the western side of Paso Robles (Paso).
With about 200 wineries in the area our choices were many. Despite having visited
Paso for tasting numerous times, we had never been to the day-three wineries.
We were in for a very pleasant surprise.
DAOU Vineyards and Winery is located on 212 acres at, virtually, the top of the western hills overlooking Paso Robles at 2,200 feet elevation in the Adelaida District. DAOU was established by Lebanese brothers Georges and Daniel Daou (via Paris and southern France), around 2007 with their first vintage 2009 and their first estate vintage, 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Daou brothers graduated from the University of California at San Diego (Georges in 1986 and Daniel in 1987) with degrees in engineering. At DAOU they evolved the former Hoffman Mountain Ranch Winery into a virtual paradise of wine growing and wine tasting. The property is exceptionally beautiful with near 360° vistas of the surrounding area. The complex features a bell tower with a rare 1740 era bell imported from Spain.
The winery features Bordeaux varietals including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot as well as Syrah and a high elevation Chardonnay. We thought the 2016 Estate Micho Red ($85), a Cabernet and Merlot Blend named after their sister was truly exceptional. We also thought the 2016 Estate Mayote (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petite Verdot named after their mother, Marie ) was rich and well structured ($100). The 2016 DAOU Port Style Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Fortified Wine was very delicious ($100).
Perhaps one of the most important, serious and fascinating wineries in Paso Robles is Tablas Creek. Also in the Adelaida District, Tablas Creek was established in 1989 by Robert Haas formerly of Vineyard Brands and the Perrin family, proprietors of Château de Beaucastel, in the Rhône Valley.
The tour was so informative and explained why this family I so important to Paso. Robert, along with his Perrin family partners, was the key to bringing Rhône varietals to the area. Now, 40% of the vineyards in Paso grow Rhône varietals. Production ranges from 25-30k cases annually with about 40% estate. Tablas Creek makes extensive use of ‘pudras’, 1,200 gallon barrels for wine storage.
The Paso Robles Wine Community recognized Bob as the 2007 Wine Industry Person of the Year, and in 2014 he received a lifetime achievement award from Rhône Rangers for his contributions to the American Rhône movement. Haas passed away in March 2018 but his son Jason has, ably, stepped into his shoes.
The last stop of the day was Halter Ranch also in the Adelaida District of Paso Robles. Another fairly young winery established in 2000 by a gentleman of Swiss origin whose family is committed to land preservation globally. The estate is located on 2,200 acres, with 281 acres planted to 13 varietals. All vintages are hand harvested at night due to the day time heat extremes.
Halter Ranch is a pretty amazing property less than a mile from Tablas Creek. The production facility that we toured is world-class and the member/visitor space and tasting room is equally impressive, new in 2016. In keeping with the owner’s passion, there is an 800-year-old California Live Oak within view.
The harvest is conducted at night and 100% by hand to afford the pickers, and the grapes, the advantage of night time coolness. Total production hovers around 24,000 cases. We all thought that the 2016 CDP (Côtes de Paso – $38) was a fresh, bright and well-structured Rhône Red Blend. The 2018 Rosé ($28) was also worthy of note as indicated below.
The 2018 Rosé was awarded ‘Best Rosé’ at the 2019 Monterey
Wine Competition. Even more exciting for this destination winery is the award
of ‘Winery of the Year’ at the same competition.
It bears mentioning that Paso plays host, on a biannual basis, for a splendid event called Hospice du Rhône. As one might guess, the 4-day event focuses on the delight wines of the Rhône Valley in France. Of course, I mean Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Picpoul, Clairette, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre , among others. The wineries represented come from both U.S. and international producers including nearly half from the Rhone Valley. The seminars are informative and fascinating.
Where to Stay: The Oaks Hotel because of the service, room quality and location. The Oaks (not to be confused with the Black Oaks Motel, also in town) has large suites and significant amenities (robes, slippers, a pool, happy hour and complimentary breakfast). The Oaks is a member of the Ascend Hotel Collection. (805-237-8700)
Nearby: Paso Robles is a short drive from the pristine
Pacific Ocean coastline, the renowned Hearst’s
Castle, and quaint beach towns.
Getting There: From
the north take U.S. Highway 101 south from San Francisco to Paso Robles (Paso)
– about 4 hours (~205 miles).
From the south take I 5 to exit 278 Highway then follow CA
46 west to Paso. From Los Angeles – about 3hrs and 40 minutes, depending upon
traffic. A real gathering spot for northern and southern California wine lovers.
Stay tuned for the following posts to learn where we toured
and tasted on days 4 of our ‘Delightful Escape to Paso Robles’! Also, where we
stayed and dined in Monterey on our way home.
As I reported in the Day 1 posting of this Paso Robles road
trip, March is an absolutely wonderful time to visit the Central Coast and Paso
Robles. Paso Robles, or officially El Paso de Robles, is in San Luis Obispo
County. Translated it means “The Pass of the Oaks.” Paso Robles’
elevation averages 740 feet above sea level (between 675’ and 1,100’). The
highest elevations are on the west side of the City with the heat focused on
the East side of Highway 101. The proximity to the Pacific Ocean (a 20-minute
drive west) adds to the interesting climate and terroir of the area with wide
overnight (diurnal) temperature swings.
Our party of eight was large and many wineries require
advanced reservations for groups larger than six. Knowing that and not wanting
to race through our tastings, we limited our daily visits to three. In
consideration of efficiency and drive times we focused this first full day on
the warmer, eastern side of Paso Robles (Paso). With about 200 wineries in the
area we had a larger number of choices.
Our first stop was Vina Robles Vineyards and Winery just south of Highway 46E and four miles from the downtown city park. Vina Robles is the brainchild of two Swiss entrepreneurs named Hans. Established in the late 1990s, Vina Robles has grown to encompass 1,600 planted acres, growing 25 grape varieties and includes an entertainment Amphitheater on the property.
The Amphitheater hosts about 30 musical events throughout the year with well-known performers. The tasting room is beautiful and was opened 10 years ago. Case production is about 45,000 cases but growing. We tasted Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Tannat. Everyone in our group thought the Tannat was exceptional.
Family owned wineries can be small, medium and large and family direct participation can vary but J.Lohr, headquartered in San Jose, California represents one of our favorites. Large, over 1.5 million cases, with direct family involvement, siblings Steve (CEO), Cynthia and Lawrence Lohr continue the adventure their dad, Jerry and mom, Carol started in 1971. Beginning in the Central Coast, J.Lohr now has 3700 acres of planted vines in Paso Robles, Monterey and Napa Counties.
We were fortunate to be guided on our tour and tasting by Steve Peck, Director of Winemaking extraordinaire during our visit. The production facility is world-class with a barrel room housing 12,000 barrels. Quite amazing. The wines range from a very approachable price point of $10 for a Cypress Grove Chardonnay up to $100 for the delicious and well-structured Signature Cabernet Sauvignon. The tasting room is dated but plans are in the works to expand and upgrade. There is a wine for every palate and the hospitality is unmatched.
Gary Eberle is known at the ‘Pioneer’ of Paso Robles wine region having moved there in in the 1970’s. He cofounded Estrella River Winery & Vineyards, now owned by Bronco Wine Company, and began his own project in the late 70s. This year Gary is celebrating the 40th anniversary of his first Eberle wine. Debuting his 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon with the iconic boar logo, which depicts the German origin of the name Eberle, meaning “small boar. Gary’s son Chris is the winemaker now but Gary still greet visitors, like he did during our visit, at the tasting room.
Eberle produces about 25,000 cases annually and had 38 planted acres on his 6 4-acre property. We tasted about 12 wines and decided we enjoyed the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon ($45) and 2016 Barbera ($36) the most. All palates are different and sometimes they change during a single day.
Where to Dine: Il Cortile in downtown Paso Robles’ is a fine dining Italian Restaurant. We have been several times and always enjoy the seasonal menus. Executive Chef and owner Santos MacDonal, provides a vast array of exceptional homemade pastas, fresh seafood, top quality meats and antipasti created with the freshest locally sourced ingredients.
The evening we were there, a Monday, Chef MacDonal and his son were visible in the small kitchen. The service was exceptional and the food delectable. Reservations are always recommended via OpenTable or directly by phone: 805-226-0300. Il Cortille Ristorante is located at 608 12th Street, Paso Robles.
Where to Stay: The Oaks Hotel because of the service, room quality and location. Only about 7 years old, The Oaks has large suites and significant amenities (robes, slippers, a pool, happy hour and complimentary breakfast).
The personal service and kindness of the Oaks team makes you
feel at home. Located about 1.5 miles
north of the central Paso Robles Park, you wouldn’t want to walk into town but
with free parking, that should not be an issue. Additionally, there are several
restaurants (and a Starbucks) within walking distance if you would rather walk.
The Oaks is a member of the Ascend Hotel Collection. (805-237-8700)
Paso Robles and vicinity: Paso is a uniquely friendly community sprinkled with talented winemakers, artists, farmers, ranchers, and cowboys. It hosts the California Mid-State Fair at the end of July (17-28 July 2019) featuring horse shows, carnival rides and big-name musical entertainment (the music actually runs year round). Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton will appear this year.
Paso Robles is a short drive from the pristine Pacific Ocean coastline, the renowned Hearst’s Castle, and quaint beach towns like Cambria and Morro Bay.
Getting There: From the north take U.S. Highway 101 south from San Francisco to Paso Robles (Paso) – about 4 hours (~205 miles). From the south take I 5 to exit 278 Highway then follow CA 46 west to Paso. From Los Angeles – about 3hrs and 40 minutes, depending upon traffic. A real gathering spot for northern and southern California wine lovers.
Stay tuned for the next posts to learn where we toured and tasted on days 3 through 4 of our ‘Delightful Escape to Paso Robles’!
March is an absolutely wonderful time to visit California’s Central Coast and Paso Robles is the perfect wine country to visit during this shoulder season. We did exactly that a few weeks ago for 3 days, leaving our perch in northern Sonoma County.
Paso Robles, or officially El Paso de Robles, is in San Luis
Obispo County. Translated it means “The Pass of the Oaks.” The City’s
elevation averages 740 feet above sea level (between 675’ and 1,100’). The proximity
to the Pacific Ocean (a 20-minute drive west) adds to the interesting climate
and terroir of the area. The highest elevations are on the west side of the
City with the heat focused on the East side of Highway 101.
The drive from San Francisco to Paso Robles (Paso) is about
3 hours (~200 miles). Add another hour and a half (90 miles) from our house.
Coincidentally, Paso is about the same travel time (3 hours/~200 miles) from
Los Angeles making it a real gathering spot for northern and southern
But I am getting ahead of myself. We were traveling with a group of six friends from our Sonoma County area and had to consider that in making our plans. (Note: Most wineries want a reservation for parties larger than six sour party of eight required advanced planning.) In addition, our long drive, over 4 hours, made a stop along the way desirable. With that in mind, we arranged to stop in the Soledad vicinity at Wrath Wines.
Wrath produces about 7,000 cases of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc from their estate vineyard and respected properties in the neighboring Santa Lucia Highlands. Production is small, distribution limited and the wines reveal their terroir.
Aside from their normal bottlings, Wrath also produces wine in cans, the perfect answer for poolside, picnics and at the beach where glass is not particularly welcome. We sampled the 2017 Sauvignon Blanc in cans. Quite delightful and crisp! Our tour guide and tasting host was Nicole and she knew her stuff. If you arrange a visit, be sure to ask about their ‘haunted house’ which is visible from the property. Interestingly, Wrath also produces a Falanghina, an Italian grape varietal known for its very bright, racy acidity. Their version is balanced with lush fruit flavors and a pronounced bouquet of ripe apricot.
Onward to Paso.
Where we stay: We arrived in Paso around 4pm and immediately checked into our hotel. We had chosen The Oaks Hotel. Linda and I had stayed there at least 3 times before and returned because of the service, room quality and location. Only about 7 years old, The Oaks has large suites and significant amenities (robes, slippers, a pool, happy hour and complimentary breakfast). The Oaks is a member of the Ascend Hotel Collection.
We have always been impressed with the personal service and kindness of the Oaks team. Located about 1.5 miles north of the central Paso Robles Park, you wouldn’t want to walk into town but with free parking and driving into the area, that should not be an issue. Additionally, there are several restaurants (and a Starbucks) within walking distance if you would rather walk.
We walked to Rustic
Pizza for dinner. Convenient to the Oaks, Rustic has more than Pizza but
not much to recommend it. We have been here before and our experience was a bit
better. This time the service was slow and tables were hard to find, and this
was during a slower season.
Getting to Wrath Wines:
From the north, take U.S. Highway 101 south from San Francisco to Soledad
– about 3 hours (~130 miles). Wrath is only about 50 minutes/40 miles from
What can one do on a cold winter weekend or even mid-week adventure in Northern California? We say, explore the Mendocino Coast. The Mendocino Coast is truly spectacular and for those of us who might become depressed or feel cooped up during our short but sometimes gloomy wine country winter scenes, there is nothing more exhilarating than the crash of the Pacific along this rugged and sometimes daunting coastline.
What does one do on the Mendocino (Mendo) Coast during the Winter months? The coastal area is rich with parks each with a diversity of landscapes. From the Ecological Staircase at Jug Handle State Park to the waterfall at Russian Gulch, one can explore coastal beaches, redwood groves and fern canyons. There are so many options it is difficult to make a short list but here’s a few ideas especially now that we see the light at the end ‘funnel’ (rain that is).
Our default activity is to walk the craggy beaches or the treacherous coastal bluffs while scanning the ocean surface for the possibility of a whale spouting (November through April, Gray and Humpback whales make their annual migration). In fact, three Mendocino venues hosts an annual Whale Festival during the first three weekends in March with activities occurring in Mendocino town, Little River and Fort Bragg. The town of Mendocino also offers coastal trails as does the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg.
Another favorite is Van Damme State Park with 1,831 acres of land near the town of Little River on State Route 1. It was named for Charles Van Damme, who was born in the area and purchased the land with profits from a San Francisco ferry business he owned. The Park includes ten miles of hiking trails along the Little River and exceptional campsites (if you’re into that, we’re not). A free parking lot, on the ocean side of Highway 1, provides access to Little River Beach at the mouth of the Little River, which is also part of the park (paid parking exists on the park side). The waters offshore from the beach form the Van Damme State Marine Conservation Area. Check this out for kayak tours. We enjoyed hiking inland following an improved trail along a delightful creek.
Ride The Mendocino Skunk Train, a local favorite that you have to try. The 131-year-old train has been recognized by USA Today and by the National Geographic Traveler as the best train tour and best family activity in America. This historic locomotive takes you through amazing landscapes following century old logging routes. You’ll pass through tunnels, bridges, meadows, and towering trees and get a glimpse of the amazing wildlife of Northern California. There are different experiences including (Be aware that tickets prices vary seasonally):
Wolf Tree Turn ($49 – 2 hours): a two-hour round trip from the Willits valley floor to the highest point of the track. Includes a 1,740-foot summit ascent above the Noyo River Canyon in the middle of the redwood groves.
Pudding Creek Express ($27 – 1 hour): The 7-mile route departs from the Fort Bragg depot and goes all the way to Pudding Creek Estuary. Nature lovers delight. An hour-long tour best experienced in the morning.
Point Arena Lighthouse offers 360-degree views of the ocean, coastal meadows, and mountains to the east. The top of the Point Arena Lighthouse stands 115 feet tall and has done so since 1908. Entrance Tips: Check the website for current rates and hours. As of this posting the Lighthouse is open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day and 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Everyday Labor Day to Memorial Day weekend.
Visit the Redwoods at Navarro River Redwoods State Park for a combination Redwoods, river and ocean experience. Literally where the Redwoods meet the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes referred to as eleven-mile-long redwood tunnel to the sea, the park is situated along Highway 128 and terminates at the junction of Highway 1. Visitors beware that current weather conditions can cause last minute closings.
Where to Stay:
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. The 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 38 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. Best of all, the bar and restaurant keep you out of your car because the food and beverages are first class.
The Little River Inn is a classic coastal resort with spectacular ocean views, The Inn boasts a long legacy of authentic family hospitality. The fifth generation, including Innkeeper Cally Dym and her husband, Executive Chef Marc Dym, is currently at the helm, happily welcoming guests just as the family has done since 1939. The rooms are fabulous with balconies overlooking the majestic Pacific Ocean. Marc’s culinary adventures will keep you coming back whether you stay overnight or make it a day trip. The Inn is located at 7901 N. Highway One, Little River, CA 95456 Email at Info@LittleRiverInn.com or telephone toll free at 1-888-INN-LOVE for reservations.
Heritage House Resortwas made famous in the critically acclaimed 1978 romantic comedy, “Same Time Next Year”, starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn. The resort became the third lead in the film version (it was first a theatrical play in 1975). The resort is perched high above the Pacific Ocean on 37 rugged and dramatic acres of eucalyptus and cypress.
The resort consists of a main complex that houses the office, restaurant, bar/lounge and some of the guest quarters. Most of the guest accommodations are happily scattered around the 37 acres making them all seem quite private and secluded. The most important aspect of these cabins are their amazing views of the dramatic coastline, hidden coves and the mesmerizing ocean! With 5 miles of redwood split rail fencing and a 73-step stairway to the beach, the Heritage House Resort offers abundant walking space and numerous dramatic vantage points for enjoying the surroundings.
For those of you who would like to add some winetasting to your get-away, consider the Madrones in Philo, part of the Anderson Valley. Proprietor Jim Roberts has created a bit of heaven in the midst of Mendocino wine country. Located in the heart of the valley, between Boonville and Philo, The Madrones is the current incarnation of Jim’s passion for interior design. Sporting only about 10 rooms, each is unique in design and furnishings. You’ll want to return several times to try to find your favorite.
There are several other venues that offer structured
experiences. Some to consider:
Its been many years since our first and only previous trip to New Orleans the Crescent City on the Mississippi River. Although Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and other events have done their best to change the tone and look of this city, the only obvious change is the high-rise towers lining Canal Street from the riverside toward the Superdome. What hasn’t changed is the look and feel of the French Quarter (Quartier Français), also known as the Vieux Carré (Old Square), and the optimistic resilience of the people of New Orleans.
Beginning with our Lyft driver, Anthony, our January visit was filled with kind, generous and helpful people who seemed to want to do everything in their power to make us feel welcomed and joyful. Laissez le bon temps rouler, Cajun French for ‘let the good times roll’, is more than a saying in this wonderful party town. Anthony made sure we knew that the locals had shaken-off (but not forgotten) the grievous missed call in the NFL Saints Division Championship game with the LA Rams just the week before. Signs for ‘We love you Saints’ and ‘Geaux Saints’ were all over the city and the Superdome. Anthony also told us the two best places to enjoy fried chicken. More about that later.
What to do:
There is so much to see, do and hear in the City of New Orleans. We began day one by walking from our hotel to Jackson Square a uniquely beautiful park with the Cathedral of St. Louis on one side and the levees of the Mississippi on the riverside. During any day you will find colorfully painted carriages pulled by mules lined-up awaiting their passengers. The 60-minute ride is $40 and is not private as the driver will try to get at least 6 people aboard.
Day or night a stroll along Bourbon Street is an eye-opener. During this visit we were surprised to see so much of the street under construction. The project is multi-phased to improve water, sewer and other utility services from Canal Street to Dumaine Street with all businesses remaining open and accessible throughout. Work is to be completed by July 2019. No worries however as the contractor will completely demobilize all labor and materials, including fencing, from the site and temporarily backfill any trenches by the close of business on February 17, two weeks in advance of Mardi Gras, to minimize pedestrian and vehicular traffic disruption. The work will resume operations on March 7, 2019.
Jackson Square, named for General Andrew Jackson, the victor of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960, for its central role in the city’s history, and as the site where in 1803 Louisiana was made United States territory when Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon Bonaparte consummated the deal known as the Louisiana Purchase. The square is a haven today for artists and performers. Some of the art is very good and you might find something you didn’t know you needed and can’t live without, like a painting of a wine glass and wine bottle with your own personal label on it. Of course, they will pack and ship it where ever you want.
Since 1727 New Orleanians have worshiped in churches on the site of St. Louis Cathedral on the square (later named Jackson Square). The current (2nd) church was completed in December 1794 and established as a Cathedral for the newly created Diocese of Louisiana and the Floridas.
We arrived in the early evening from northern California and wanted something to eat close by our hotel. The concierge recommended two places in the Quarter, Acme Oyster House and Oceana Grill but both had longlines. We settled on Mr. B’s Bistro on the corner of Royal and Iberville streets. We were not disappointed with the modern Louisiana Cuisine operated by Cindy Brennan, one of many restaurants in New Orleans operated by the family. After drinks we began our culinary adventure with Gumbo Ya Ya, featuring super-dark roux and spicy chicken and andouille gumbo. I say Ya-Ya!! We also shared the Seafood Gumbo, classic New Orleans Gumbo with Gulf shrimp, crabmeat, oysters and okra. We actually like this even more then the Ya Ya. All in all, a perfect start.
Our first full day began at Café du Monde, a New Orleans staple since it first opened in 1862. There are 8 locations around greater New Orleans but the original is the most fun. Tourists and locals alike seem to enjoy the Beignets and chicory coffee and the vibe. (TIP: Customers can wait in a line that snakes its way down Decatur Street (the original location) or go around back to the much shorter ‘to go’ window.) A great place to sit and people watch and a must do, a least once.
We concluded our first evening with a birthday dinner at Doris Metropolitan, a Middle Eastern influenced steak house awarded New Orleans Best New Restaurant in 2014. The dry aged beef, especially the 34-ounce Porterhouse and the 18-ounce Rib-eye were off-the-wall tender, flavor filled and delicious. The wine list was extensive with wines from all over the world. We were impressed. Expensive but worth the price.
We decided to try Acme Oyster House for lunch on our second
day, a Tuesday. Got there just before the lunch hour and walked right in. (TIP: Arriving early for lunch or dinner
can avoid lines.) The menu was replete with Louisiana and Cajun delectable.
Linda had the softshell crab sandwich and was very happy. I had the New Orleans
Medley which was a sampling of gumbo, jambalaya, red beans & rice and
grilled smoked sausage. Perfect! Prices ranged from $6 – $17 for lunch items.
Very reasonable and delicious.
We were fortunate to have a local friend, Tim McNally, host of the New Orleans Dine, Wine & Spirits Show on radio station WGSO, 990 AM to join us for dinner with his food and wine writer spouse Brenda. Tim suggested Trenasse which was across the street from our hotel. Eschewing the menu, Tim and Brenda ordered a dozen raw oysters on the half shell and paired that with a bottle Philippe Fourrier Brut Champagne that they brought along. In fact, Tim and Brenda brought four bottles of wine, each more delightful than the last, including a wonderful 2016 Sancerre from Chateau de Thauvenay and Thierry Delauney Sauvignon Blanc. After the raw oysters were history, Brenda asked the kitchen to bring out the Trenasse ‘Log’, a platter of oysters All Ways supplemented with fried frog’s legs. The ‘all ways’ included Rockefeller, Bienville, Smoked with gruyere and pancetta and Au gratin. A feast for the eyes and the palate. A New Orleans treat.
Recalling that our Lyft driver Anthony had mentioned the best place for fried chicken, the first was ‘Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen’ and the other was Willie Mae’s Scotch House. The Popeye’s (named after Popeye Doyle, a character in the 1971 movie ‘The French Connection’ not the comic book character) recommendation was repeated no less than 5 times over our brief stay but we opted for a place that was not a chain restaurant, so Willie Mae’s it was.
Located ‘Uptown’ in the historic Treme neighborhood about a 20-minute walk from Bourbon Street, Willie Mae’s is located in a seemingly down-on its-luck residential part of town. Immediate upon entering the aromas of Louisiana cuisine fill your nostrils. Originally opened in 1957, the restaurant is run today by Kerry Seaton Stewart, the great-granddaughter of Ms. Willie Mae Seaton, who was honored in 2005 with the James Beard Award for “America’s Classic Restaurant for the Southern Region.”
Having been to New Orleans so long ago, we decided to return to the Commander’s Palace, where legends Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme made their names, to see if it had maintained its reputation. Another Brennan family eatery since 1974, we were not disappointed. Located in the Garden District and operating since 1893, this converted residence has long been the go-to destination for Haute Creole cuisine. The Brown Butter Seared Diver Scallops were perfectly moist with a mouthwatering caramelization on the outside. My Filet Mignon of Black Angus Beef was cooked to perfection and was very flavorful. We finished with the Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé “The Queen of Creole Desserts”. High on the Yum factor scale. No surprise that the Commander’s Palace has been awarded seven James Beard Foundation Awards.
Our last culinary opportunities were on our day of departure. Having competing desires, we tried two different places for lunch. Linda wanted gumbo and chose Willie’s Chicken Shack (7 locations in NOLA but we went to the one on Decatur in the Quarter). I couldn’t leave without a muffuletta from the Central Grocery, founded in 1906 by Sicilian immigrant Salvatore Lupo, and originator of this delicious sandwich. We were both very pleased with our ‘last meal’ in NOLA.
Where to enjoy an
The Hurricane cocktails at Pat Obrien’s in the Quarter are a New Orleans tradition (over 85 years in the Quarter) to be experienced. The drinks (mostly rum) are reasonably priced and quite delicious. Keep to one for your own safety. They charge $4 for the glass but you can turn it in at the bar and get your $4 back.
The Carousel Bar & Lounge, a circus-clad Merry-Go-Round, in the Hotel Monteleone has been spinning for 65 years and is a long-time favorite New Orleans (NOLA for short) watering hole. The Carousel Bar is the city’s only revolving bar and it is a challenge to get one of the 25 seats. If you’re patient and a bit persistent the seats do open up. bright.
Situated on Decatur Street and just a couple blocks off Jackson Square, the Crescent City Brewhouse, opened in 1991 becoming both Louisiana’s and New Orleans first brew pub. The menu consists of some credible Cajun and Louisiana cuisine and most importantly some excellent brews. I thought the Red Stallion, malty and aromatic, was a delicious medium bodied brew.
Luke, designed as a Creole-inspired Brasserie, has a good happy hour every afternoon and great French press coffee in the morning. We enjoyed bartender-created specialty cocktails on a couple of occasions. A very good place to begin and end your day. Luke is located at the Hilton New Orleans/St. Charles
Where to stay:
We stayed at the Hilton
New Orleans/St. Charles which was originally constructed in 1926 as the
Louisiana Masonic Temple. One of New Orleans’ first skyscrapers, the historic
18-story structure remained the Masonic Temple until 2000 when it became a
Kimpton Hotel. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused the existing Kimpton Hotel to
close with flood waters in the basement and first floor. In 2007, the historic
landmark reopened as the Hilton New Orleans St. Charles Avenue and remains a
distinguished treasure of Louisiana and a member of the Historic Hotels of
America. The rooms were large and reasonable priced, being just outside the
Quarter, with a very convenient location.
How to get to the
French Quarter from the Airport:
The 37th Edition of the French-American Gastronomy & Wine show, ”La Soirée: Couture Garden Party“, was an elegant and delightful event last Friday night at The Design Center of San Francisco. Exquisite food, outstanding wines, an eye popping venue and a sultry dance party were de rigueur at this annual fund raising event for the French-American Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco (FACCSF). About 1,000 partiers attended this sold out, exceptionally well organized and perfectly executed event showcasing the crème de la crème of French and Californian wine, food and business.
The event included a VIP Cocktail Experience on the third floor, an online auction and walk around wine and food tasting that spanned the main floor and the second-floor mezzanine.
The VIP Experience offered guests the opportunity to spend a privileged moment with wine experts from the most renowned wineries of Wine Country and several renowned Chefs like Claude Le Tohic, the James Beard Foundation Best Chef Southwest in 2010, Roland Passot, of San Francisco’s La Folie and named James Beard Best Chef in California 2005-2007, and Ken Frank, owner/chef of La Toque, a Michelin Starred restaurant in Napa. Wine experts included Jean-Noel Fourmeaux, of St. Helena’s VGS Chateau Potelle, Alexandre Remy, Winemaker, Atlas Wine Vineyard Management Co and Orobello and Pauline Lhote, Director of Winemaking, Domaine Chandon among others.
A selection of restaurants, delicatessens, boulangeries, caterers, wine shops and wineries showcased their specialties and delighted everyone’s eyes and palates.Fine appetizers, wines, cheeses, cooked meat, salmon, charcuterie, crepes,pastries, macaroons and other buffet desserts were enjoyed by all.
Culinary highlights included Liberty Duck from Sonoma Poultry, Salmon Mousse by Cathy of Saveur Provence, cheeses from Fabrique Délices and charcuterie offered by Jean-Charles Boisset’s Atelier among so many others!
Some chefs, like Chef Ken Frank, La Toque, prepared each bite of Steak Tartare before your very eyes.
It was delicious fun to wander from booth to booth to discover new culinary experiences. The decor and the ambiance of the Design Center’s multi-floor exhibit hall added just the right touch of charm to the evening. The lighting was magical!
FACCSF Executive Director, Laurence Fabre and her team of volunteers, flawlessly executed the overall Gastronomy and Wine event. Laurence stated, “The FACCSF is proud to organize the largest event dedicated to French-American gastronomy and wine in the entire bay area. Our small team of dedicated people and volunteers organized all the logistics for the food and wine tastings and welcomed over 1,000 participants for our 37th fundraiser”.
The wines offered throughout the three venues included both French and California brands. Scharffenberger, VGS Château Potelle, Boisset Collection, Domaine Chandon, Stama and several others.
Demonstrating the exceptional organization and planning, the entire booth arrangement on the main floor was dismantled and removed in 15 minutes to allow the dance party to begin promptly at 10pm. The party, with DJ Aykut driving the techno sounds, kept the enthusiastic dancers moving and happy. Revelers danced to the music while enjoying the sparkling open bar until 1:00 am! A fabulous night!
Chamber of Commerce San Francisco is a non-profit, non-governmental, 100%
independent, member driven organization, made by companies for companies with
the mission to foster the French-American business community and support
businesses in their settlement and development in the Bay Area. The FACCSF has
300 members across the Bay Area. Aside from the SF organization there are 19
other French-American Chambers in the United States including New York, Boston,
Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, New Orleans, Atlanta, Dallas and Washington
For about a decade now Merlot has been out of favor among the average wine drinker. Some suggest that the 2004 cult film ‘Sideways’ caused this downfall in favor of Pinot Noir, Miles’ (Paul Giamatti) favorite.
The 8 Merlots offered by Mt. Brave, Pahlmeyer, Duckhorn and Freemark Abbey (L.Compisi)
Experts in the field tell a different story. Merlot, they say, was riding a wave of popularity as the more approachable (and less expensive) Bordeaux varietal for sipping or pairing with foods that were not screaming Cabernet Sauvignon. This wide popularity caused many vineyards to be replanted to Merlot, even where they shouldn’t have been, to meet the demand and cash in. This, they say, resulted in a glut of bad Merlot well before the movie. In fact, perhaps all this bad Merlot was why Miles was so vehement in his rejecting ‘another g-damn Merlot’.
Anthony Giglio (l) introduces his four panelists (L.Compisi)
Well, last week’s Masters of Merlot seminar and walk around tasting at the Culinary Institute of America’s Copia facility reignited our love affair with some very high-quality, reasonably priced, Merlot from Napa, Sonoma and other regions on the West Coast. The Seminar was moderated by well-known wine and spirits aficionado Anthony Giglio, whose moniker “WineWiseGuy” carries multiple good meanings.
They all looked great through the wine glass (L.Compisi)
The panelists were a Napa “Who’s Who” of winemakers and viticulturalists. Chris Carpenter, Winemaker, Mt. Brave and LaJota Vineyard Co.; Cleo Pahlmeyer, President of Pahlmeyer Winery; P.J. Alviso, VP of Winegrowing, Duckhorn Vineyards and Ted Edwards, Winemaker Freemark Abbey. Each of the panelists brought two outstanding Merlots for our tasting and took time to describe where the grapes originated, the harvest particulars and offered tasting notes on each.
From left: Chris Carpenter, Cleo Pahlmeyer, P.J. Alviso and Ted Edwards
All eight of the wines at the seminar where vintage 2015 and included some iconic labels like the Three Palms Vineyard Merlot from Duckhorn and the Bosché Vineyard Merlot from Freemark. Some of the eight were 100% Merlot while others contained various blends with Cabernet Sauvignon being the most consistent blending grape. Other varieties included Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. All these wines were rich and luxurious with a velvety mouth feel. In other words exquisite. The red fruit was always present and the wines were full-bodied. The seminar ended with a delightful Q&A period including questions about the 2015 vintage and the favorite Merlots the panelists enjoyed besides their own.
The media/industry reps were intent on the presentations (L.Compisi)
The Seminar was followed by a walk-around tasting with the addition of approximately 16 other wineries including some from Sonoma County, Paso Robles and Walla Walla Washington. Favorites of those for us were Charles Krug, Trefethen Family Vineyards (both of Napa), Matanzas Creek (Sonoma County), J. Lohr (Paso Robles) and L’Ecole (Walla Walla). These wines often mirrored the quality and delicious flavor profiles of those from the seminar telling us that ‘Merlot is back’.
Matanzas Creek, Duckhorn and 18 other wineries participated in the walk around tasting (L.Compisi)
If Merlot fell out of favor with you then perhaps you will take our recent experience and jump back into the Merlot market. If you have never been a fan of Merlot, we suggest you reconsider this noble grape. Its fruit forward flavors and lower tannins, compared to Cabernet, make it perfect wine with food or by itself, especially as we enter the cooler months of Autumn and Winter.
No surprise here (L.Compisi)
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