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. 

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.

Jun 11, 2013

Successfully surviving a party in hell

It was hell, all right. Or so it seemed at 108° Fahrenheit, the result of some kind of freaky high-pressure situation that hit the San Francisco Bay Area last Saturday. For a week or 10 days we'd had below-normal temperatures, and then wham! Saturday, the 8th of June, was predicted to be sizzling, tortuously hot, sheer hell.

And it was. Especially in the Sacramento Valley, home to the college town of Davis, where 50 or 60 family members and friends were gathering. It was a can't-miss and don't-wanna-miss occasion, too: an outdoor celebration for my niece, Melanie, who had graduated from high school that week and will soon be leaving the nest to enter U. C. Santa Cruz.

But thanks to some good planning by my brother Rick, and a lot of generous pitching-in by others, the party was a happy success. The heat was there, certainly, but we were able to keep it at something of a remove and didn't allow it to spoil the fun.

If you find yourself in similar circumstances this summer, here are a few "survive hell" tricks I learned on Saturday:

1. Hydration is paramount. We had about 15 large coolers arranged in a semi-circle, each filled with lots of ice and specific beverages. One cooler held bottles of plain water; others held sparkling water, fruit drinks, beer, sodas and so on. I spent most of the day clutching ice-cold Perrier, with a couple of side trips that included some lovely Mumm Napa (drunk from a red plastic cup, it was even more delightful than usual) and a very nice Rosé from Lodi's Borah Vineyards.

2. Cool-downs save the day. A big plastic tub was filled to the brim with ice and water, and decorated with a few sliced lemons. Then dozens of inexpensive terry cloth towels--you can buy them in lots of 50 at places like Home Depot--were rolled up and submerged in the icy water. The point was to squeeze out a towel and wrap it around your neck. Every once in a while you'd return to the tub, re-submerge your towel in the ice, and re-wrap. It was heavenly! 

3. Spray bottles work wonders. Half a dozen spray bottles filled with cold water were always in action. Kids, especially, liked walking around with them and offering to spray the air beside you. That spray really cools you off. 

4. Shade is vital. This party took place in a wonderful park tucked away in a leafy neighborhood. There was plenty of shade. Tables, chairs, and the caterer's portable kitchen -- all were set up beneath old, large trees. Everything was in shade. If you can't find such a location, hang canvas drop cloths or borrow camping/portable gazebos. 

5. Provide icy treats. In this instance, Rick hired an ice cream truck to spend the day with us. The owner pulled his truck into a clearing beside us, and dispensed his treats to all guests at no charge (well, no charge to the guests). Ordinarily I never even think about ice cream and probably hadn't had any for a couple or even three years. But on Saturday I made two trips to the truck and loved every minute of my frozen choices. If hiring an ice cream truck doesn't fit your needs, fill a cooler with dry ice and pack in enough popsicles for everyone at the party. 

6. Invite fun and interesting people. It really did help to have so many great people around, with good conversation and ideas distracting us all from the fact that it was 108°.

Do these people look like they're suffering? No way!

Here's to a great summer!

Jun 3, 2013

Celebration: Wedding of the Century...

 ...the 19th Century, that is!

I've never been much for historic re-enactment, but after yesterday I'm revising my opinion.

I was one of about 100 guests invited to witness the recreation of an 1863 double wedding--150 years and one day after the actual event--that united two of the most powerful families in California: the Vallejos and the Haraszthys.

In case you're not up on California history, General Mariano Vallejo founded Sonoma in 1835 as a military outpost on what was then Mexico's northern frontier (many of the buildings he constructed remain in use on the town's central plaza). "Count" Agoston Haraszthy, a Hungarian nobleman, founded Sonoma's Buena Vista Winery in 1857; it was the state's first commercial winery and Haraszthy is recognized as the "father of the California wine industry."

Both Vallejo and Haraszthy were brilliant men with powerful personalities. When Haraszthy moved to Sonoma in the mid-1850s with his family, the two men hit it off. Apparently their children did as well...leading to the double wedding between Attilla Haraszthy, 28, and Natalia Vallejo, 25, as well as Arpad Haraszthy, 23 and Jovita Vallejo, 19.

Yesterday's recreation took place on the grounds of Buena Vista Winery, whose 1857 and 1863 buildings were completely renovated and retrofitted last year by the winery's new owner, Jean-Charles Boisset of Boisset Family Estates.

A lover of history, the French-born Boisset made a point of incorporating respect for the past into the winery's refurbishment. Among many innovations, one of the first things he did was to  hire a professional actor, George Webber, to dress and take on the persona of Count Haraszthy--thus serving as Buena Vista Winery's ambassador to the world. (And I do mean world; Webber, dressed in full 19th century gentleman's regalia, is always off somewhere on the planet having a great time as the Count.)

So, anyway, yesterday's wedding...

The wedding took place exactly at noon outside the 1857 winery building. The service was a short distillation of the long original, but it was historically accurate. Afterward guests made their way down the official receiving line, shaking hands with all the Vallejos and Haraszthys. And then it was into the winery building, where a magnificent feast was laid out.

Ten tables were set out in one of the big rooms; the day was hot, but inside that old stone building it was nice and cool. We marveled over the fabulous food, drank fabulous wine, laughed at champagne toasts to and by the wedding party. I was thinking that my date, Richard, and I had the great fortune to sit at a rollicking table of extroverts, but then I looked around and saw that all the tables were on fire with fun. It was just that kind of event.

After lunch we reassembled outside to cut the wedding cake and then slowly, inevitably, wandered back the pathway to 2013 and everyday life. But the glow--ah, the glow!--lingers on.

A few snaps from the day:

Count Haraszthy and his wife, Eleonora, walk down the aisle.
Here's General Vallejo walking his daughters, Natalia and Jovita, to meet their future spouses.

The priest stands waiting, the two couples at his side.

The entire wedding party (Buena Vista Winery owner J-C Boisset is at far right).

Preparing tables for the feast.

Cutting the cake.

My favorite "What century am I in?" moment of the day, wherein Count Haraszthy can be seen taking a photo.

Here I am with the Count on the left and the General on the right. I've interviewed the Count on many occasions for various articles, but had never met the General before.

May 30, 2013

Celebrating food 24/7 & 365: Is it overkill?

While looking at online recipes this morning I stumbled onto the June 2013 calendar at Food.Com, and was instantly intrigued. Why? Because every single one of June's 30 days is given over to the celebration of a particular food, an entire category of foods, or--once in a while--a drink.

For example, June 2 is Rocky Road Day, June 18 is Cherry Tart Day, June 15 is Lobster Day, and June 19 is Martini Day. Some days in June announce that the entire month celebrates other culinary/beverage delights (June is Candy Month, Soul Food Month, Seafood Month, Fresh Fruits & Vegetables Month and Turkey Lovers Month).

"Wow," I thought. "June is really important for food."

But then I clicked to the next month, and it was deja vu all over again. Every single day in July is given over to food celebrations such as Creative Ice Cream Flavor Day, Eat Beans Day, Caviar Day, as well as Hot Dog  Month and Grilling Month. I was unclear about June 8, which is Kevin Bacon's Birthday (is it celebrating Kevin, bacon--or both?).

And so it went as I glanced through the months, with every single day given over to some food or other throughout 2013 and well into 2014. August is Catfish month, and contains such highlights as Oyster Day (5th), Filet Mignon Day (13th), and Whiskey Sour Day (25th). September is Honey Month, Chicken Month, Rice Month, Mushroom Month, Better Breakfast Month and Cherries Jubilee Month, during which you can also celebrate TV Dinner Day, Rum Punch Day, and many other gustatory delights.

Some of the oddest days, at least to me, are November 1 (Vinegar Day), October 9 (Moldy Cheese Day), December 30 (Bicarbonate of Soda Day).

A day that makes a lot of sense is January 1, which is Bloody Mary Day (good for hangovers). And a day on which you won't find any real men in the kitchen is May 20 (Quiche Lorraine Day).

As for me, I'm just going to pretend that every day is December 31--Champagne Day!

May 23, 2013

A rejuvenating whitewater getaway

Me (front left) going over Devil's Cesspool, one of the day's many highlights.
 What is it about a spontaneous getaway? Somehow they always seem to crackle with energy and unexpected discoveries. Surely it has something to do with the fact that such getaways are unplanned. You haven't been anticipating the trip for weeks or months; you haven't delved into restaurant reviews or methodically laid out a list of activities to enjoy.

Instead, out of necessity, you leaped into the unknown, knowing little or even nothing about your destination.

I'm thinking about such things because last week I took off on a spontaneous getaway and it couldn't have worked out better. It was only a quick 1.5-day trip from the Bay Area, but I came home feeling as rejuvenated and refreshed as if I'd been away for a week.

It all started one day last week when my San Francisco-based travel writer pal, Donna Peck (editor of Celebration Traveler), asked me to run up to the Gold Country for a one-day whitewater rafting trip. We'd get rooms in Placerville, spend the night, go rafting the next day, and return to the Bay Area that same evening.

Two days later we arrived in Placerville and checked into the venerable and historic Cary House Hotel. Built in 1857, the solid-brick building's past guests have included Mark Twain, Billy the Kid, and Elvis Presley; it's also believed to be the place where the egg/oyster/bacon dish, Hangtown Fry, was invented. Both our rooms were very comfortable, furnished with antiques, and possessed kitchenettes and full baths. The downstairs lobby was filled with historic memorabilia such as documents, photographs and clothing.

We'd both been completely focused on going whitewater rafting, and hadn't really given any thought to Placerville. Neither one of us had ever been there before, although I'd driven by many times over the  years on my way to South Lake Tahoe.

So it was a pleasant surprise to discover what a gem this Gold Rush town is. We spent the afternoon exploring Main Street, which still looks a lot like it did back in the rough '49er mining days when Placerville was called Hangtown (not because of the egg dish, but because of the enormous numbers of hangings that occurred here).

We browsed antique shops galore, perused restaurant menus, and spent quite a bit of time in photographer Jim Powers' photo gallery at 360 Main Street (huge photos with vivid coloration of local landscapes, either matted and framed or--my favorite--printed on aluminum). We also enjoyed a tasting at Synapse Wines (304 Main Street), a consistent award winner in major competitions such as the SF Chronicle and California State Fair competitions. I thought the '08 and '09 Syrahs were remarkably good.

 We asked everyone we talked to where we should eat, and a few names came up repeatedly. We arbitrarily chose one of them, Brick's (482 Main Street), and that was definitely the right thing to do. A friendly wait staff, an open & airy atmosphere with lots of art, and delicious, moderately-priced and healthy  food. I had the Turkey Burger with mushrooms, parsley, jalapeno & pepper jack cheese on whole wheat bun with lettuce, tomato & red onion with chipotle aioli ($9.95). Donna went for the Quinoa Burger with avocado, onion and chipotle aioli ($9.95). They had a great selection of local wines and local craft beers.

We topped off the evening at Cozmic Café & Pub (594 Main Street), which was having its weekly Open Mic night--no cover, great entertainment, really fab. It's in the old Pearson's Soda Works Building, built in 1859. Downstairs is the café (think imaginative wraps, sandwiches, salads, smoothies, etc.), with a very inviting atmosphere; you can also walk down the hall and grab a table under the rocks in the former gold mine on the premises. Upstairs is the pub and a room with good sound for entertainment such as the Open Mic session. There's always something going on in this place, as the calendar indicates.

Next morning we had time before rafting to take a tour of the Gold Bug Mine, just a mile or two from Main Street. We both loved the self-guided tour (with audio) of this hard-rock Mother Lode mine, which has wood flooring and lighting installed. It was simple, straightforward, and extremely informative.

We became seriously lost on the way over to meet our fellow rafters on the American River (at Henningsen-Lotus Park in Lotus), heading the wrong way on Highway 49. Eventually we figured it out and got going the right way, but wondered if we'd make it on time. But we both agreed that we'd had such a good time so far that we'd go home content if we had missed the boat.

Lucky for us we made it, and soon we were wet-suited-up and paddling down the river. Our rafting company was Adventure Connection. Our guide, Riley Cathcart, was among the best river guides I've ever had. His instructions were simple and easy to follow; he was low key and amiable; and he knew that river inside out, so that we skirted around rocks with precision and played some fun games with rapids.

The South Fork's whitewater runs and rapids are mostly Class III, or Intermediate. The waves and rapids on rivers are classified into six categories ranging from Class I, which translates to easy and fast-moving water with ripples and small waves, to Class VI (so extreme and dangerous that it's intended for experts only).

I've rafted in the past on everything up to and including Class V, so I had a good idea that the South Fork's Class III would be fun, fairly easy, and still filled with thrills. And it was, for the entire 13 or 14 miles. The scenery all along the way was gorgeous. Usually we had long-reaching vistas before us, and once we were in a long rocky gorge. The river flowed swiftly and we moved right along. Despite wet suits and a rafting jacket, I was completely soaked through almost from the beginning, but the day was sunny and warm so I didn't feel cold until I stepped from the raft five hours later.

Donna dropped me off in Sonoma late that evening. Walking into the house 1-1/2 days after I'd left I was tired and a bit achy in the arms from paddling, but who cared?

I'd been off on another spontaneous getaway, the kind that crackles with energy and discovery.

May 20, 2013

California Rosé Wine Competition

For years Rosé has been the Rodney Dangerfield of wines -- it just couldn't get any respect. That's because many people, including me, had bad experiences early on with cloyingly sweet wines that bore the name Rosé.

It took me years to try a Rosé again. When I finally did I was somewhere in France on a very hot summer day. My travel companion insisted that my misgivings about Rosé were baseless and urged me to try again. As you might guess, the wine was light, refreshing and dry, and I've been a Rosé fan ever since.

And now my old friend Bob Ecker -- a long-time wine writer and a frequent judge at wine competitions over the years -- has just coordinated the first-ever professional Rosé wine competition held in California.

Held on May 6, 2013 at Napa Valley's Meritage Resort, "First Blush" was a blind judging of California Rose wine. A total of 89 Rose wines competed, resulting in 4 Double Gold Medals, 6 Gold Medals, 36 Silver Medals and 19 Bronze Medals.

There were three Double Gold winners in the Dry Rose category:
  • Jelly Jar Wines of Lake County (category winner)
  • Handley Cellars of Anderson Valley
  • Curtis Winery of Santa Barbara
The fourth Double Gold was awarded to a sweeter wine, Menage a Trois from Trinchero Family Estates (Delta/Lodi/Coastal). The biggest winner among appelations was Paso Robles AVA, with 10 awards that included 2 Gold Medals.

You can read about all the winners here.

 I'm saving the best news for last. You can celebrate the winners and sample their wines (and enjoy good food and live music) on Saturday,  June 8, 1-4 p.m., at Meritage Resort. Tickets are $25, and you can purchase yours here.

May 16, 2013

Why eat insects?

It’s not as outlandish as it might seem.

According to a new report by the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO), insects already form part of the traditional diet of more than 2 billion people around the world.

The most-eaten insects globally are beetles (31%); caterpillars (18%); bees, wasps and ants (14%); and grasshoppers, locusts and crickets (13%). Many insects are protein-rich, provide good fats, and are high in calcium, iron and zinc.

Geographically, insects are eaten the most in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In Western countries, not so much. The report addresses the question of why insects aren’t popular in the First World; one reason: early, successful and widespread domestication of plants and animals.

According to the report, “Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security,” three main reasons exist for entomophagy (the practice of eating insects): health, environmental factors, economic/social factors.

  • Insects are healthy, nutritious alternatives to mainstream staples such as chicken, pork, beef and even fish (from ocean catch).
  • Many insects are rich in protein and good fats and high in calcium, iron and zinc.
  • Insects already form a traditional part of many regional and national diets. 


  • Insects promoted as food emit considerably fewer greenhouse gases (GHGs) than most livestock (methane, for instance, is produced by only a few insect groups, such as termites and cockroaches).
  • Insect rearing is not necessarily a land-based activity and does not require the clearing of land to expand production. Feed is the major requirement for land.
  • The ammonia emissions associated with insect rearing are also far lower than those linked to conventional livestock, such as pigs.
  • Because they are cold-blooded, insects are very efficient at converting feed into protein (crickets, for example, need 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less feed than sheep, and half as much feed as pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein).
  • Insects can be fed on organic waste streams. 

Economic/Social Factors:

  • Insect harvesting/rearing is a low-tech, low-capital investment option that offers entry even to the poorest sections of society, such as women and the landless.
  • Mini-livestock offer livelihood opportunities for both urban and rural people. Insect rearing can be low-tech or very sophisticated, depending on the level of investment. 
To learn more, download the 201-page report. It’s a fascinating document, rich with historic, cultural, and sociological information as well as detailed information about popular edible insects.

No recipes, though. Maybe I should get busy compiling a few for a cookbook. But to do that I'd have to become a entomophagist, which seems unlikely (I still haven't stopped talking about eating fruit bat soup in Palau a few years ago). I"m always open to adventure, but bugs? That just might be too large a cultural shift.

If you're open, though, consider purchasinng The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, Revised: 40 Ways to Cook Crickets, Grasshoppers, Ants, Water Bugs, Spiders, Centipedes, and Their Kin.

May 14, 2013

Celebrate Santa Cruz Mountains’ wines at “Roots That Rock”

Roots rock 3
 As if you needed an excuse to head to Santa Cruz, the 24th annual “Roots That Rock” Vintners’ Festival—sponsored by the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association—is coming up the first two weekends in June.

On the agenda: more than 50 Association member wingrowers will offer special attractions such as barrel tastings, winery tours, new wine releases, meet-the-winemakers, live entertainment, artists and artisan food producers.

“This year’s Roots the Rock Vintners' Festival is an evolution of previous events,” said Megan Metz, the Association’s executive director. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for wine lovers to connect with our region’s great winegrowers and their award-winning wines, touring and tasting at individual wineries located throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains, as well as at a new street faire in Downtown Santa Cruz that will feature local wine, artisan foods, music and live entertainment.”

roots rock graphic
Metz noted that the area’s “unique mountain terrain, marine influence, varied micro-climates and distinctive biodiversity combine to produce some of the finest conditions in the world for winegrowing.”

The Santa Cruz Mountains Viticultural Appellation was federally recognized in 1981. It was among the first appellations to be defined by mountain topography, following the fog line along the coast to encompass the highest vineyards on ridgetops as high as 2600 feet elevation.

The region encompasses the Santa Cruz Mountain range, and extends from Woodside in the north to Watsonville in the south; from Monterey Bay along the coast to Silicon Valley inland. Here one can find intimate, artisan wineries tucked among the redwoods along scenic mountain roads, or perched atop ridges with sweeping views to the sea. Visitors can meet with and talk with the winemakers, and drive from the mountaintops (where it snows in winter!) to the coast and enjoy a sunset walk on the beach. Wine tasting here is as much an experience of the natural beauty of the region as it is a delightful discovery of unique world-class wines.

Here’s what you need to know about Roots That Rock:

Dates & Locations
  • June 1, noon-5 p.m.: Participating wineries, Santa Clara & San Mateo Counties.
  • June 2, noon-5 p.m.: Participating wineries, Santa Clara & San Mateo Counties.
  • June 8, noon-5 p.m.: Participating wineries, Cruz County.
  • June 9, noon-5p.m.: Participating wineries, Santa Cruz County.
  • June 9, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.: Downtown Santa Cruz Street Faire, Pacific Ave. (between Locust & Walnut Sts.)
  • Winery Tour and Downtown Santa Cruz Street Faire tickets are $40 per person online in advance and $50 at the door. Ticket price includes four days of wine tasting at all participating wineries and entry at the Downtown Santa Cruz location (including 10 tasting tickets). Tickets available online at

May 7, 2013

Wineries set to celebrate Mother’s Day 2013

Happy MD

What a difference a few years can make!

Just a generation ago few, if any, wineries planned a Mother’s Day event. Today, in California at least, exceedingly few wineries don’t have something very special lined up to celebrate good ol’ Mom on Sunday, May 12. There are events designed for foodie moms, for bold moms, for moms who love to relax, and on and on…

As an example, here’s a look at a few events planned for “Bold Moms” this Mother’s Day:

  • Zip-Lining with Mom Over Vineyards at Ancient Peaks Winery in Paso Robles Wine Region (Central Coast):  Soar over vineyards, valleys and oak trees on four epic zip-lines with Margarita Adventure Tours, then head over to the Ancient Peaks tasting room to discuss your adventures over artisan wines from the vines you both flew over ($99 per person).
  • Horseback Ride and Music at Cooper-Garrod Estate Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountain Wine Region (Central Coast):  Start your morning at Garrod Farms where you can take a guided horse ride through Cooper-Garrod’s certified sustainable vineyards ($45 per hour). Order a delicious lunch from Picnic Guild (by May 8 for delivery to the winery on Mother’s Day) to enjoy in front of the historic Fruit House tasting room with wines ($5tasting). That afternoon, the winery is hosting Music at the Vineyards, featuring flamenco guitarist Tans Gauntlett under the trees with wines for purchase by the bottle or glass.

To learn about more events, visit Discover California Wines, the website of the Wine Institute of California. You can either enter “Mother’s Day” into the search box at the top of the page or click the Events link on the right side and scroll to May 12.

Mar 27, 2013

California Wines are "Down to Earth" in April


Think California wine is just red, white or rosé? 

Think again. The Wine Institute of California wants you to learn  just how “green” the state’s wine is, too.

April is the second “California Wines: Down to Earth Month,” a statewide celebration of California’s leadership in sustainable winegrowing and winemaking, with practices that are environmentally and socially responsible. 

Wineries across the state will offer fun, sustainably focused festivities that highlight California wine’s eco-friendly practices and the people and places behind them. On the agenda are Earth Day festivals, “green wine trails,” dog-friendly vineyard hikes, wildlife talks, horseback rides and eco-tours, and more.

“Wine lovers can do more than taste; they can experience where and how wines are grown and made with our green-themed events this April,” said Robert P. (Bobby) Koch, President and CEO of Wine Institute.

Here are just a few events coming up around the state:
  • Napa’s Down to Earth with Napa Green Certified Wineries, April 19-21, is a fun way to learn about green design, conservation and creative re-use, and related tasting events.
  • San Luis Obispo County’s FarmFest on the Coast, April 26-27 in Pismo Beach, will offer local, sustainably grown wine and edibles at Dinosaur Caves Park overlooking the ocean.
  • Central Coast wineries are offering an Earth Day Food & Wine Festival, April 20, with more than 200 growers, vintners and chefs serving local wines and foods (accompanied by music, dancing and festivities). 
  • Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association Passport Day, April 20, celebrates its earth-friendly wine region with organic wine trails, barrel samples and special tasting flights. The event supports Save Our Shores, a nonprofit dedicated to clean beaches. 
  • Livermore Valley wineries are highlighting sustainable winegrowing and winemaking with special Down to Earth tours and tastings on April 21.
  • Mendocino wineries are offering the Where the Earth IS First Fest, April 19-28, for visitors to enjoy a host of eco-friendly activities, as well as organic wine and food. 
  • Northern Sonoma County hosts the Green Trail of Dry Creek Valley, April 1-30, offering a special, customized experience to explore the region’s certified organic and certified biodynamic wineries. 
Learn more about other activities and discounts at Discover California Wines