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Oct 8, 2013

Fun Harvest Events in Sonoma County

With Harvest season well underway in Wine Country, Sonoma County is buzzing with events, grape stomps, festivals and more to celebrate the culmination of a year-long growing process. Travelers visiting the destination this fall will experience the hustle and bustle of sorting, stemming, and crushing the winegrapes, during some of the region’s most anticipated events. Below is a sampling of upcoming harvest happenings:

Field Stone Winery & Vineyards’ 3rd Annual Harvest Festival (October 19): It’s not often that a wine event is family friendly, but at this Alexander Valley property the little ones are encouraged to join. Everyone will have the chance to take a tour through the vineyards, followed by a feast of steakhouse chili and cornbread paired with wines, plus dessert of pumpkin pie. With craft sessions available for kids, there are activities available for all age-levels. Tickets are $10 per person, with kids up to age 12 free. The event takes place from 12:00 to 3:00 p.m. and reservations are required. For more information, visit

Asti Tour De Vine (October 19): Visitors to Sonoma County are invited to participate in the 6th Annual Asti Tour de Vine, a 25k, 50k, 100k or 100m bicycle tour through Sonoma County’s breathtaking Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River Valleys, with proceeds going toward local community programs and projects. Local foods and beverages will be served at the four harvest themed rest stops and SAG support is provided throughout the course. After the tour there will be a bountiful gourmet luncheon, accompanied by Cellar No. 8 wines. Registration for this exclusive tour is limited. Tickets are $75.00 for adults and $35.00 for students; ages 14-17. Students must be at least 14 years of age. For more information, visit

Reserve Sonoma Valley (October 19 & 20):
Travelers are invited to experience an insider’s view of Sonoma Valley’s world-class wineries October 19-20 at the Sonoma Valley Reserve. The event provides participants exclusive access to see Sonoma Valley’s classic wineries in a new light, and to be among the first to discover rare wines and hidden gems at destinations that are seldom open to the public. There are twelve theme tours to choose from and each is inclusive of four winery destinations, chauffeured transportation and a wine country lunch. One-day tickets are $95 and two-day tickets are $150. For more information, visit

Harvest Festival at Robledo Family Winery (October 26):
The Robledo Family Winery is welcoming visitors to participate in an authentic harvest festival that will include everything from an official blessing of the grapes and olives, to live Mariachi music, an Aztec dance performance and the official release of the family’s 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Tickets are $65 per person and the event lasts from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m. For more information, visit

A Wine & Food Affair (November 2 & 3):
Visitors are invited to participate in a weekend of wine and food in the Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys November 2-3. This established event, now in its 15 year, provides guests with an opportunity to discover new wines and revisit those that have endured the test of time.  Additionally, attendees will receive their own cookbook to take home along with a tasting glass. All of the contributing wineries will have a favorite winery recipe in the cookbook, which they will prepare both days for sampling. Tickets are $70 for admission for the whole weekend and $50 on Sunday. For more information, visit

For more information on Harvest season or for additional details on Sonoma County, visit

Sep 30, 2013

America's Cup: Wrapup Statistics

The 2013 America’s Cup was a revolution in the sport, bringing the racing to the fans and then delivering fantastic 50 mph boats, enthralling racing, ground-breaking television graphics and the sports comeback story of the century.

Here are the numbers behind the event:
  • 203 countries broadcast the America’s Cup on television
  • America's Cup broadcast in news bulletins globally 15,000 times
  • Over 320,000 downloads of the America’s Cup app
  • Over 1 million visitors to the official public sites in San Francisco at America’s Cup Park and America’s Cup Village. Hundreds of thousands more viewed the racing from the city front
  • Nearly 10,000 hospitality guests
  • Over 5 million unique visitors to in September and over 45-million page views during the Summer of Racing (July 1 to September 26)
  • 24.8 million views of videos on YouTube
  • Over 100 million minutes of videos viewed in the past month
  • 575 accredited media, from 32 countries
  • A 19 show America's Cup Concert Series
  • Over 25% of the population of New Zealand watched the racing broadcast live during the America’s Cup Finals

Sep 19, 2013

An America's Cup Day in San Francisco

View from the restaurant yesterday. The Emirates boat is leading.
My day yesterday was all about America's Cup, and what a day it was. Unusually hot in San Francisco, not a cloud in the sky or a whisper of fog poking through the Golden Gate (also unusual). Really stunning weather.

My friend Lee had invited me to a three-hour morning cruise aboard USA 76, the very boat used by Oracle Racing in 2003 when competing for the America's Cup (she won 21 races in the Louis Vuitton challenger series). Eighty-four feet of carbon fiber, with a mast eleven stories high and nearly 6,000 square feet of sail, USA 76 is sleek and sexy as can be.

Sailing on such a ship is a rare and exciting experience, though it may not be for everyone. This is a racing ship: no cabins below, not even a bathroom. Bags and backpacks are stored out of the way of feet, so that nobody tips over the side and disappears into the Bay. When tacking, passengers must move from one side of the boat to the other, not always easy. You'll be perching on rails (there are no seats). But if you love sailing, this adventure is great! You're welcome to assist in the sail; I got to work the grinders for a bit, though my technique was nothing like the sailors competing for America's Cup. You can book a sail on USA 76 at their website,

Anyway, we cruised out under the Golden Gate Bridge and then, heading back the other way, sailed past Pier 27, where the temporary America's Cup Village is set up. Both the Oracle and Emirates boats were docked, poised to move within minutes to the starting point near the Golden Gate Bridge, where the race was scheduled to begin at 1:15.

Our sail ended about noon. We docked back at Pier 39's Gate B and then strolled over to Players Sports Grill. Located in the back of the Pier 39 complex, it offers very good food and an unobstructed view of the Bay from its Luau Lounge (which has a beach-combing, tiki kind of feel). Light-as-air crab cakes, followed by seared Ahi tuna atop mixed greens, avocado and other goodies for me; Lee went with the Crab Louis. I opted for a glass of Buena Vista Pinot; he liked the Sterling Sauvignon Blanc. Excellent meal on all accounts.

And then the race started. All the TVs in the Luau Lounge sprang to life, and for a while we followed the race on the screen. Then the boats appeared outside the windows, to the west and heading in our direction. Player's windows were open to the air, and we could see those boats a-coming, getting closer and closer. They are massive and somewhat scary-looking with their towering, rigid sails.

Everybody in the Lounge was whooping and screaming; at one point I was leaning out the window shouting "Go, baby, go!" We had an incredible view--right before us--of the mark roundings. For a moment Oracle seemed to be ahead, but by the time the marks had been rounded and the boats headed back to the Golden Gate Yacht Club and the end point, Emirates had pulled ahead.

And stayed ahead.

Another race was scheduled for 3:15, but the wind came up and it had to be cancelled.

If Emirates wins today, the 34th America's Cup will be over. Emirates currently has 8 wins, Oracle Team USA has 1--and the first to win 9 points takes the Cup.

Two races are scheduled for today, at 1:15 and, if necessary, at 2:15.

If by some chance you're in San Francisco today, head over to America's Cup Village at Pier 27. Entry is free, and the excitement today will be palpable. Check out the lineup of mega-million-dollar yachts (one said to belong to a Google co-founder, and another is Larry Ellison's). And for the not-too-inflated price of a glass of wine, bottle of beer or split of Mumm's champagne, you can luxuriate like a pasha on a plush modern couch in an open-air lounge, watching the races and the world go by.

Happy sails to you...

Sep 17, 2013

Homefront Red: This wine honors our troops

 What a great idea this is…

Sonoma County’s Murphy-Goode Winery has introduced a new red blend, 2011 California Homefront Red, to help raise funds for military families and veterans in need. For every bottle sold, $.50 will be donated to Operation Homefront, a national non-profit providing emergency and financial assistance to the families of service members and wounded warriors.

That adds up: Murphy-Goode hopes to raise at least $300,000 for the organization. Since its founding in 2002, Operation Homefront has given more than $170 million dollars to programs that benefit military families. Such programs include Wounded Warrior Wives, food assistance, vision care and more.

As for the wine, it’s a food-friendly and fruit forward blend of Syrah, Merlot, Petit Sirah and Zinfandel aged in French and American Oak. You’ll be blown away by scrumptious black cherry and raspberry flavors with notes of toasted vanilla. Priced about $15/bottle.

If you buy it online from the winery through this coming Friday, September 20, you’ll receive 50-cent shipping rates on all Homefront wines (there’s also a Homefront Cab and a Homefront Cuvee, $55/each). Use the promo code HOMEFRONT when you check out.

Also, Murphy-Goode is sponsoring a contest to win a trip for two to December’s Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, TX. The contest ends October 14, 2013. Visit their Facebook Page to enter.

Sep 4, 2013

Update: Yosemite Rim Fire & Closures

Photo of Rim Fire courtesy of NASA.

If a visit to Yosemite National Park has been part of your late-summer plans, here's a current (9/3/13) update, including closure information, from Yosemite/Mariposa County Tourism Bureau:

All lodges and recreational activities in Yosemite National Park remain fully open and accessible with the exception of White Wolf Lodge and some campgrounds along the Tioga Rd. corridor. Besides smoke, fire impacts are currently mostly confined to the north western corner of the park, and the fire is not currently threatening Yosemite Valley.  Visitor and employee safety is the number one priority. visitors wishing to change or cancel reservations inside Yosemite can call at 801-559-4963.

Currently, the west side of the park, including Yosemite Valley is accessible via Highway 41 through Oakhurst or Highway 140 through Mariposa. The east side of the park, including Tuolumne Meadows and the High Sierra Camps is accessible via Hwy 120 East through Lee Vining.

With the temporary closure of Hwy 120 East from Crane Flat for fire suppression activities, travelers should plan to take alternate routes to reach Yosemite Valley or Tuolumne Meadows.

Closure Information:

Temporary road closures exist on Big Oak Flat Rd./Hwy 120 West from J132, outside the park to Crane Flat within Yosemite National (Hwy 120 East toward Lee Vining remains open), Hetch Hetchy Road, and Evergreen road.

The Tioga Rd/Hwy 120 East is temporarily closed between White Wolf Lodge and the Big Oak Flat Rd./Hwy 120 West at Crane Flat.  This closure is estimated to last at least through the Labor Day weekend (Sep 2).

Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, the High Sierra Camps, and Tuolumne Meadows and Porcupine Flat campgrounds all remain open and accessible from the east. See alternate routes into Yosemite.

While the fire is not anticipated to reach White Wolf, the National Park Service has evacuated the area as a precaution. White Wolf is closed, including the lodge, campground, road, and trails originating from White Wolf. For information regarding your upcoming White Wolf Lodge reservations, please call (801) 559-4884. This area is closed due to smoky conditions.

Hodgdon Meadow Campground and Hetch Hetchy Backpackers' Campground are closed.

Yosemite Creek, Tamarack Flat, and Crane Flat campgrounds are closed. Merced and Tuolumne Groves of Giant Sequoias are closed.

Wilderness hiking trails west of the May Lake Road and May Lake Trail continuing to the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) at Glen Aulin and then north along the PCT to Bond Pass is closed. The park's boundary serves as the closure's northern and western edge extending south to Crane Flat Campground. The closure boundary continues east along the Tioga Road (Highway 120 through the park) to the May Lake Road. The Tioga Road and the trails serving as the eastern boundary of the closed area (including the PCT) remain open. May Lake High Sierra Camp, Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp, and Porcupine Flat Campground are open. 

Aug 30, 2013

Don’t Miss Autumn in Yellowstone

Downtown Cody, Wyoming

Thanks to Mesereau Public Relations for this list, below, that offers 20 reasons to visit "Yellowstone Country" in autumn.

Wyoming's "Yellowstone Country" is comprised of the towns of Cody, Powell and Meeteetse as well as the valley east of Yellowstone National Park. The area of Park County is called “Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country" because it was the playground of Buffalo Bill Cody himself. Buffalo Bill founded the town of Cody in 1896, and the entire region was driven and is still heavily influenced by the vision of the Colonel. Today its broad streets, world-class museum Buffalo Bill Center of the West and thriving western culture host nearly 1 million visitors annually.

Here are 20 reasons to plan a fall visit to the region and the town founded by and named for the Wild West showman Buffalo Bill Cody:
  1. Style. The most prestigious local event of the year, Rendezvous Royale is staged the third week of September. The event includes the nationally known Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale with Western-themed art, a quick-draw event, auction, Western fashion show, seminars, studio tours and a ball.  For more about the rendezvous, go online to
  2. Bears. Visitors might see them preparing for winter by foraging for nuts and other sources of nutrition so they are ready for the long den-bound winter ahead. Bears are frequently seen along the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway – the road to the east entrance to Yellowstone – as well as the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway which takes travelers to the northeast entrance. Bears are best viewed with binoculars or spotting scopes, and travelers should maintain at least 50 yards between themselves and any bears they see.
  3. Bull elk. Even if travelers don’t see them, they might hear them. Elk mate in the fall, and bull elk get the attention of potential mates – and warn potential competition – by emitting a distinctive bugling sound.
  4. Other wildlife. In addition to the marquee animals – bears and elk – many other wildlife can be viewed preparing for winter or simply enjoying the moderate autumn days. Among them are pronghorn, bighorn sheep, deer, moose and eagles.
  5. Blue-ribbon trout. While seasoned anglers will tackle trout action in the streams in and around Cody on their own, novices might want to hire a fishing guide for their first foray. Fly fishing shops also offer maps and advice.

Jul 1, 2013

Why not go "High Tiki" on the 4th of July?

Tired of the usual July 4th fireworks and parades? Here’s one of the most appealing ideas that’s crossed my desk in a long time: a Fourth of July Beach Party at Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar in San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel.

The Tonga Room dates back to 1945. In those days, battle-weary GIs returning home from the Pacific, usually via Hawaii, brought back fond memories of palm-laden beaches, exotic drinks and unusual foods like egg rolls and barbecued ribs. Before long the nation was brimming with Polynesian-themed restaurants decorated with tiki gods and thatched huts, and serving pupu platter appetizers and coconut-flavored cocktails adorned with tiny beach umbrellas.

The rage continued well into the 1960s, with restaurant chains like Trader Vic’s and Don the Beachcomber becoming extremely popular in locations around the country. They had plenty of imitators, too.

The Tonga Room, according to its website, “reigned as a swanky outpost of South Seas high style for much of its storied history” and was “an icon of tiki’s pop culture heyday of the 1940s and 1950s.”

The Tonga Room distinguished itself from all other tiki palaces by its central hallmark: a 75-foot swimming pool transformed by MGM’s leading set designer of the 1940s into a tropical lagoon with a floating stage for musicians. Every now and then a rainstorm broke out, with indoor rain showers cascading into the lagoon (flashes of lightning and sounds of thunder completed the fantasy).

Following a recent $1 million renovation, the Tonga Room is as popular as it’s ever been, and has stayed true to its roots. The updated and delightfully contemporary menu continues to be inspired by Polynesian islands. The cocktails are still served in exotic glasses and still sport colorful umbrellas (I want to come with three friends and order the four-person LavaBowl, which purports to be the “nectar of the Gods,” but maybe I’ll settle for an old-fashioned Zombie).

Best of all: the lagoon still tantalizes, the rain still cascades, and the bands--well, the DJs, anyway--play on.

What you need to know:

What: Fourth of July Beach Party, a festive beach ambience in the bar area, including a ton (literally 2,000 pounds) of real sand being brought in just for this event and, beginning at 7 p.m., a DJ.

Date and time: July 4, 2013, 5 p.m.-1 a.m.

Where: The Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar (at the Fairmont San Francisco), 950 Mason Street, San Francisco 94108.

Cost: For those dining, the cost is $65 per person for a family-style buffet that includes roasted suckling pig. Drink specials include the Tonga Mojito and Pina Colada, which will be $10 throughout the event. If you’re stopping in just for a drink, the usual cover charge of $5 during live music hours (7 p.m. onward) will be waived on the 4th.

Tiki Road Trip: A Guide to Tiki Culture in North America ($15): Extremely well-reviewed by buyers, this guide to tiki culture lists, describes, and reviews every known tiki bar, Polynesian restaurant, and other site of interest to fans of “Polynesian Pop.” From tiki godfathers such as Edgar Leeteg and Don the Beachcomber to contemporary tiki artists like Shag and Bosko, this resource covers all things tiki in prose that is witty, entertaining, and essential for anyone who has ever stepped up to a bar, glanced up at the pufferfish hanging from the ceiling, and ordered a Singapore Sling.

An expanded offering of recipes for classic cocktails, a larger glossary of tiki terms, and more resources for buying tiki goods and artifacts are included in this revised edition. Reminiscences of famous points of interest that have closed are provided for the completist, for historical perspective, and for those seeking information on the current status of a favorite tiki site. Buy Tiki Road Trip

Jun 28, 2013

Making your own fruit popsicles: it's easy!

A 5-day heatwave takes up residence in the San Francisco Bay Area today, with temperatures skyrocketing as high as 100°.

But I'm all prepared with my popsicles.

A few weeks ago I was in the kitchen section of Ikea and found a cute set of popsicle molds (photo below), so I snatched them up, figuring I'd probably want to use them during hot-weather sieges this summer (ordinarily I'm just not interested in ice cream, popsicles, etc.).

A couple of days ago, after reading about the coming heat wave, I whipped up my first batch of 'sicles. I whirled a quart of strawberries in a blender, and then diluted it just a bit with vanilla soymilk and a generous tablespoon of plain yogurt. I also added about 1 teaspoon of honey. Then I whirled it around in the blender again and poured the mix into my molds, which hold 1/4 cup each. After inserting the yellow plastic sticks/handles into the mold I popped them in the freezer. (The leftover mixture made a great smoothie.)

I was really happy with the result--not only the deep rich red color of ripe strawberries, but absolutely delish! People who like sugary things might want to add more honey or sugar (or a substitute), but to me they were perfect the way they were.

I bought some chocolate almond milk and want to see if that makes a good fudgesicle. Maybe I'll chop up a couple of squares of dark chocolate and add it to the mix (leaving it in pieces rather than putting the chocolate through the blender). I could even add some finely chopped, toasted almonds.

I'm also thinking about making layered popsicles, freezing the molds halfway full and then adding a different color fruit mixture on top. For the 4th of July I could make a red (strawberry), white (yogurt or white peach)  & blue (blueberries) mixture.

Stay cool, folks!

Jun 26, 2013

Just in: Gold Medal wine winners at California State Fair

Yesterday the winners of this year's California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition were announced.

Here's a list of the 2013 top-rated Best of Show winners:
  • Golden State Winery of the Year: South Coast Winery
  • Best of Show Red (Double Gold, 98 points): Imagery Estate Winery 2010 Cabernet Franc
  • Best of Show White (Double Gold, 98 points): Korbel NV Blanc de Noirs Methode Champenoise
  • Best of Show Dessert (Double Gold, 96 points): Navarro Vineyards, 2012 Gewurtztraminer Cluster Select Late Harvest
  • Best Value (Double Gold, 98 points): Barefoot Cellars NV Moscato
This year 2,769 entries were received. Wines were winnowed down by 72 judges, who sampled for three days, to 218 wines receiving gold medals. In addition, 977 were awarded silver, and 652 earned bronze.

A list of all winners is supposedly on the official State Fair site, but I couldn't find it. I'm guessing they  just haven't had a chance to upload it yet. Hopefully that will happen soon. Look for it at

I know a few people who await this list every year. As soon as it's published they grab copies and set off shopping, buying cases of heretofore "undiscovered" value wines--that is, wines nobody's heard about that are comparatively inexpensive. Once they win a medal they don't stay that way--so go shopping soon.

The 2013 California State Fair runs July 12-July 28 at Cal Expo in Sacramento. Check it out at

Jun 21, 2013

Summer Solstice Dining, Sonoma Valley Style

Central Courtyard, Kenwood Inn & Spa (Sonoma Valley, CA)
Last night had a wonderful meal at Kenwood Inn & Spa, where Executive Chef Steven Snook sources liberally from the hotel's gardens. It was a gorgeous Solstice Eve night, and the surroundings--an elegant Mediterranean-style courtyard with a central fountain, lush flowered plants, alcoves aplenty--were reminiscent of Spain's Alhambra.

I'd come in the afternoon for the inauguration of the new "Garden to Glass" series with Wine Director Ann Davis, who led us through a session centering around food/wine balance. The foods Davis used: green olives, lemons, tomatoes, strawberries, 70% and 100% chocolate, and a thin slice of cheese coated with pepper on one side.

Sitting comfortably around the hotel's horseshoe bar, we would taste a salty, acidic or sweet food, and then take a sip of wine, taking note of how the food affected the wine's taste. We went through all the foods except chocolate with Chardonnay, and then again--including chocolate this time--with Merlot.

It was extremely illuminating to see how the same wine could be delicious one moment and horrible the next, depending on which food had preceded it. For the first time I realized why Italian recipes for tomato sauces call for a small amount of sugar: it balances out the acidity of tomatoes. Another interesting discovery: the Merlot with 70% cocoa was a match made in heaven; with 100% it was foul-tasting.

The Garden to Glass series will be held one Thursday a month into early fall, usually the third Thursday, from 4-5 p.m. The cost: $40/person or $70/couple. It's a good way to get to spend time here, because the facilities and restaurant are usually open only to hotel guests. For information, call the Inn at 707.833.1293.

But back to that meal, which was superb. I wish I'd taken a photo of my salad: the lettuces had probably been picked within the hour, and they were topped with an assortment of colorful vegetables shaved very thin--in particular, the various colors of beets were beautiful.

Here are a few dishes enjoyed by my group:

Roasted Mary's organic chicken breast, grilled artichoke, Kalamata olives, capers, crisp potato gnocchi, Meyer lemon, fresh garden herbs. This was my choice, and it was delish, especially when accompanied by a glass of Roederer Estate Sparkling Brut Rose (Anderson Valley NV).

Pan-roasted branzino fish, soft tomato polenta, blistered multi-colored cherry tomatoes, Italian flat leaf parsley, 20-year aged balsamic vinegar
Not sure if I've got this one right, but I think it was house-made pappardelle pasta with a spicy Italian sausage sauce. I don't remember what the cheese is.
I'm pretty sure this was the Cowabunga cheese from Sebastopol's Bohemian Creamery.
For me, after that big and wonderful meal, a bowl of berries was the perfect dessert choice.

A delicious chocolate creation.