Showing posts with label Sonoma. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sonoma. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Exploring More California Wine Country

My itineraries are usually made up for me. Occasionally, I piece everything together on my own. I’m usually pretty good at it, but sometimes I forget to bring out the map when it counts. That’s how I ended up spending a day and night back and forth between Sonoma and Napa. Despite the excess driving, I’m glad I didn’t eliminate any of the stops.

I started the day with breakfast at Vintner’s Inn in Santa Rosa at a quiet table on the patio. The waiter brought me a warm scone which was delicious with the homemade jam and butter. I ordered the Heart Healthy Breakfast Wrap, a perfect mixture of egg whites, avocado, tomato, cheese and grilled veggies, served with a side of fruit.

My mom had decided to stay in a bit so I brought her what she called, “the best oatmeal I’ve ever had” before I took off for Domaine Carneros in Napa. I had never been there before and I was a bit surprised by the huge, perfectly manicured estate in front of me.

As beautiful as it looked from the bottom, the setup of tables on the large balcony was perfect for great views of the vineyards. I enjoyed photographing them for a few minutes before making my way to the entry way with a small shop of wine, books and unique food items.

I had a tour of the winery and tasting rooms and was told that most tastings take place privately with an educator who can tell you about the wine. They also serve cheese and charcuterie plates as it is believed wine should be enjoyed with food. The area for wine club members was impressive and it even included a patio of their own for tastings.

The sparkling wines at Domaine Carneros brought me back to my trip to Champagne. In fact, Domaine Carneros is half owned by Tattinger Champagne. Contrary to champagne, though, the wines of Domaine Carneros are made with pinot noir and chardonnay, never pinot meunier, which doesn’t grow well in Napa.

I sampled four wines, all sparkling. It was nearly 100 degrees so I chose to sit indoors. These wines were finely crafted and each one had its own nuances. The 2006 Le Reve tastes the closest to French champagne, not as fruity as the 2009 Organic Brut, light and easy drinking, bearing kiwi qualities of a sauvignon blanc, and making my perfect sparkler.

The 2006 Le Reve Blanc de Blanc is the most expensive and the most popular, filled with lemon, grapefruit, jasmine and honeysuckle. It is aged in the bottle a bit longer to get that blending of flavors.  I was also a fan of the 2008 Ultra Brut, dry, buttery and with a hint of citrus, none of which came from oaking.

My next stop was at The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa in the town by the same name. Despite the fact that the Lodge is on a main street in Sonoma, once you enter the elegant lobby that is quickly forgotten. I met Charlotte Milan, the public relations rep for the hotel, in the lobby and we walked across the lot for lunch at the Lodge’s Carneros Bistro & Bar.

With sauvignon blanc still on my mind, I ordered a glass of the latest Kunde Estate and had a classic club sandwich with turkey, bacon, lettuce and tomato. There wasn’t anything classic about my dessert.

The Cookies ‘n Cream was utterly amazing! A large warm chocolate chip pecan cookie with vanilla bean ice cream, accompanied by a shot of Kahlua, to drink with it our pour on top (I did a little of each).

After lunch we walked around the property. Past the large, modern building are trees, flowers, a pool and whirlpools, with plenty of sitting areas.

We walked all the way back to the Lodge at Sonoma's Raindance Spa. It smelled wonderful the minute I entered and I was disappointed I had filled my trip up without adding any spa treatments.

Before I left I got to see the wine bar and coffee shop inside the main building. Both were very impressive with large selections, but it was time to head back to the Vintners Inn and pick Mom up for the next stop, MacPhail Family Winery.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Coppola and Fig Return While Visiting Vintners

It’s often hard to go back to places I love when there are so many new ones to try. Sonoma is one place where I often make that exception and this trip was no different. I was heading back to Francis Ford Coppola’sWinery and the Girl and the Fig restaurant. I still had plenty of new things to check out also, starting with the Four Diamond Vintners Inn in Santa Rosa.

A big gate with just the name COPPOLA greets you as you get off the freeway. It is just the beginning of the statement as the winery looks more like a large Italian villa or even a castle.  Despite the huge staircase, I managed to quickly and easily find an elevator to take my mom, traveling in a wheelchair, upstairs in

I had gone to Francis Ford Coppola’s when the pool was first beingconstructed and in the fall or winter, so I had never actually seen it being used. It actually turned out just the way it was meant to be. Families were swimming and lounging in front of their cabines (small cabanas). An outdoor cafĂ© offered food and drinks. There was, of course, plenty of wine available too.

We started our visit with lunch and I was happy to hear the Braciole with Rigatoni in Meat Ragu was available. I had seen it on the menu every time I came, but only some of “Francis’s Favorites” are available each day and it was never there when I came.

We shared the Roasted Eggplant appetizer which was tender and flavorful with lots of raw garlic. We also savored Aunt Christine’s Peppole, which is also known as Zeppole.

Mom ordered the Lemon Chicken for her main course and really liked it. As for me, I found the Braciole had been well worth the wait and definitely compared to my Aunt Mary’s recipe.

I could go through the movie memorabilia and look at the genuine Oscars many more times without ever getting bored so I was happy to show it all to my mom on her first trip. We wondered for a while before heading downstairs to a wine tasting.

The selection at Coppola’s is always huge and I am always surprised at just how good they make an inexpensive wine here. It’s often my recommendation when someone tells me they want a good one that doesn’t cost much to look for the Francis Ford Coppola brand.

We tried quite a few wines among which I thought the best were: 2012 Sofia Rose, heavy on strawberry flavor but light and fresh; 2010 Votre Sante Chardonnay, an excellent blend of butter and lemon with just a bit of kiwi; and the 2011 Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon from Dry Creek and Alexander Valley, rich and not overly dry.

Ron, who guided us through the tasting, also brought out a great 2010 Diamond Malbec, explaining how Francis Ford Coppola had fallen in love with the deep dark grape when he was filming in Argentina.

We left Coppola’s property and headed to the Vintners Inn to check in. The property was filled with perfectly manicured plants and flowers and there was even a flowing fountain in the middle, between the four buildings.

Paths led between it all and it was a serene atmosphere I could see getting lost in for a few days if I didn’t have more work to do.

The room at Vintners Inn was definitely warm and comforting with a small patio that led out into the courtyard. A bottle of fume blanc was waiting for us on a small table between two antique chairs.

I decided to check out the Jacuzzi area, which was an intimate section fenced in near the vineyards, melting away my muscles for a short while before I dressed for dinner.

My last meal at the girl & the fig was actually with owner Sondra Bernstein. I had a wonderful time getting to know her and sampling her very authentic French food. I was more than excited to get back there and it certainly met my expectations.

We started, as the French do, with an aperitif. Mom chose a Kir Royale (French sparkling wine and Framboise), while I decided to try the Fig Royale, which substituted the Framboise for house-made fig liqueur. It was a nice change and went well with our selection of cheeses, both French and locally made.

Then we had the Grilled Fig & Arugula Salad with pecans, pancetta and Chevre cheese in a port vinaigrette. We both agreed it was delicious.

My main dish was Croques Monsieur, something I had been thinking about since Sondra ordered it (and let me taste a bit) the last time I was at her restaurant. My mom had the Quiche Lorraine and was surprised it was quite different from the American version she was used to. I concluded that I needed to bring her back to France!

I had a goat cheesecake with raspberry puree that was fantastic while Mom relished her blueberry sorbet. I’m happy to say the dessert portions were small because as it was we walked out of the girl & the fig quite full.

We headed back to the Vintner’s Inn for the night. A wheelchair malfunction and a flowing sprinkler in the pathway literally dampened our spirits a bit, but we soon settled down for the night.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Kayaks in Sonoma and Tasting Time in Marin

I usually make a few trips a year to Northern California to visit family and wine country. This year has been more hectic than usual and I haven’t made it at all, so as soon as I had the chance, I was ready to visit some two of my favorite Marin eateries before heading off to Napa and Sonoma.

The weekend actually started with a wine country preview, but not my usual kind. I had my first taste of kayaking on the Russian River in Healdsburg thanks to my friend Tracy. I had lots of fun and wish I could have stayed out there as long as my niece and nephew, both of whom are quite the adventurous athletes.

I realized just how beautiful this area of Sonoma was and I had just driven by it all for years on my way to wineries. I vowed to do some more exploration in the future of more than just the grapes along the Russian River.

While I did discover something new in Sonoma, I was perfectly happy returning to the old while spending the weekend in Marin.

I first visited the Panama Hotel in San Rafael back in 2010, when Christine Bohlke of the MarinCounty Convention and Visitors Bureau took me there for dinner. I loved the quaint restaurant with the piano player crooning on the weekends.

While this “hotel” only has a handful of rooms, the restaurant offers an array of surprises. This is especially true when it comes to brunch. I’ve never been disappointed and this time was no different.

We started passing around the Trio of Housemade Scones, accompanied with mascarpone, strawberry jam and orange jam. I started with a little piece dipped in mascarpone and didn’t want to stop. They were much lighter than most scones and flavorful even without the jam.

Most of the family went for the seafood dishes they were always happy with. The Panama Restaurant offers three eggs benedict varieties that are very popular, the standard with Canadian bacon, Eggs Florentine with smoked salmon and spinach and Eggs San Francisco, with the poached eggs on top of Dungeness crab cakes.

I enjoyed the Mediterranean Scramble, three eggs with garlic, sun dried tomatoes, feta cheese and basil, served with tasty Panama Potatoes.

To make sure everything goes down, I recommend ordering “Make Your Own Mimosas” for the table. You’ll get a bottle of sparkling wine with a half-liter of fresh squeezed orange juice ($40).

The other spot I don’t want to miss on a trip to Marin is Iron Springs Pub &Brewery in Fairfax. Owner Mike Altman went to school with my brother back in New York and he and his wife built a place that’s popular for its food, brew and involvement in the community. Since 2008, the pub has had a “Give Back Tuesday Program,” donating 10% of the day’s sales every Tuesday to a local nonprofit.

Those sales have continued to increase over the years thanks to interesting beers on tap (have you ever tried Oyster or Oatmeal Stout?), which can be delivered by the Ambrewlance.  You can also pick up bottles at local stores and Whole Foods throughout Northern California.

Of course, the Iron Springs beers are available at the pub and we had a couple of samplers on the table, including the Golden Blonde Ale, winner of a bronze medal at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival. It went well with a table favorite, the Fish Tacos.

I went for the Dark Ale Braised Pulled Pork Sandwich this time, a tough choice over another pork favorite here, Miguel’s Famous Poc Chuc (grilled marinated boneless pork loin with red onions, tomato salsa, Mexican rice, guacamole and black beans, served with corn tortillas).

I wished I had a few more days to explore Marin, but I was off to Napa and Sonoma with my first stay at Vintner’s Inn.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Leaving Santa Rosa for Michel-Schlumberger

This trip to Sonoma was filled with great food, phenomenal wine and quality family time. It was the latter two I got to concentrate on my final day.

We all enjoyed every moment of the Mayacama house in Santa Rosa that Inspirato has available to its members. The hot tub was especially popular with the kids. I was happy just soaking up the views and I explored the community a bit before we left.

I loved to watch the deer frolicking through the wooded areas before I checked out the tennis courts and swimming pool. There was still time to head to the very large country club. It was quite impressive inside and out, complete with a gym, spa and restaurants. There was even a concierge available for those unlike me who didn’t have all of their plans made for the stay.

Unfortunately, our time in Santa Rosa was running out. We were heading to one of my favorite wineries and I was excited about taking the family there. Michel-Schlumberger offers something for everyone and I knew my brother and his family would be especially interested in their green practices. 

The always welcoming Jim Morris, Michel-Schlumberger’s Vice President of Marketing, took us around on a private tour. We stopped first at the bee hives, where he talked about the importance of their pollination. Next to the hive is the stream where local fifth graders helped bring in fingerlings from the dam to help rebuild the dried out creek. 

The kids were also fascinated hearing about the Monarch Butterfly Waystation and the importation of owls to help keep the gophers away. (The geese, ducks, chickens and bass in the lake are more than welcome to call this winery home, however.)

We went past the various pepper and onion plants in the “Salsa Garden” to the top of the vineyard. The rolling hills were even more beautiful than I had remembered as we looked out at the 100 acres of land, 87 of which are planted with 16 varieties of grapes.

After a tour of the winery, where we got to taste a bit of the grape juice before it is actually wine, we (at least the grownups) got to sample some of the latest Michel-Schlumberger offerings and were not disappointed. The 2010 Pinot Blanc is a perfect mix of lemon and grapefruit, light enough to complement any food.  I loved the 2010 La Nue Unoaked Chardonnay, with enough butter and vanilla to make you feel like you were drinking pound cake.

In the reds, not to be missed at Michel-Schlumberger is the 2009 La Source Syrah, with a bit of viognier to keep it from being as dry and spicey as most, and the 2009 Zinfandel, a fruity blend with a hint of black pepper, yet retaining its light body.  I also enjoyed the 2007 Le Sage Merlot, blended with malbec and cabernet franc, with fruit in the front and spice behind.

We chatted with Jim a bit longer before it was time to bid him and Sonoma farewell.  I’m sure I won’t be gone for long.

I’d like to take a moment to wish my readers a very happy new year. It’s been quite a year for me, from Australia to California, and many places in between. It looks like 2012 is going to be just as exciting. I’ll be starting my stories in the new year with a new hotel in Chicago, my first beer (you’ll have to keep reading to find out about that one), a trip to the island of St. Maarten and a visit to a ski resort in the Sierra Madre Mountains. I’m also planning a few overseas trips in the new year and, of course, lots of wine and spirits!

I leave you with my favorite photo of 2011, from Kangaroo Island, Australia, where I got to sit right next to these frolicking sea lions.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Luxuriating in Mayacama and Feasting At Coppola

I don’t get to spend as much time with my family as I would like, so it worked out perfectly that they were able to join me in Mayacama, an incredible development in Santa Rosa. It’s within this community that Inspirato has a  property for rent.  This spacious villa is not available to members until the spring (and booking up fast), but I had a chance to check it out first hand.

With four bedrooms and a den with a large couch, we were able to spread out nicely throughout the house.  My nephew Jake started my day out right by making me a very special (and chocolately) brea. He had a party to go to with my brother so it was a girls’ day and I had a very special one planned at one of my favorite places in Sonoma – the FrancisFord Coppola Winery.

You wouldn’t normally pick a winery to spend the afternoon with an 11 year old and a 13 year old, but the famed director built this place with the family in mind. I love to look at the movie memorabilia and am still in awe every time I go here and stand in front of those Oscars, the Godfather’s Desk or the war torn clothing from Apocalypse Now
Then there’s the swimming pool, the bocce ball courts and the Rustic Restaurant. The place is built just the way the owner wanted it, to share with the family.

My sister-in-law Claire joined myself and the girls as we climbed our way to what looks from the outside like a castle. This was my third visit to the Francis Ford Coppola Winery and I can’t imagine ever tiring of it (or their wine). I took them around to take a look at the movie gallery and store, where Francis and Eleanor Coppola also sell some of their favorite wine, food and decorative items from around the world.

It was a warm day and we had a perfect table at Rustic overlooking the vineyards. The menu is filled with Coppola’s favorites, mostly Italian, but all cooked with fresh, seasonal ingredients. The meal always starts with “Aunt Christine’s Pettole,” which to me are the zeppoles I would get in New York, even served the same way in a paper bag. It was tough for us to narrow down the choices, but we made some excellent ones in the end:

Short Ribs, Argentine Style
So tender and flavorful;

Moroccan Bastilla
A flaky, slightly sweet chicken pie that was both delicious and unusual;

Linguine alla Vongole (linguine and clam sauce)
Not on my plate, but everyone else enjoyed immensely;

Bumbola Con Broccoli E Salsiccia
A tasty bowl of pasta with Italian sausage, red wine, fontina cheese and just a dash of cream.

I had a perfect Coppola Diamond Collection Sauvignon Blanc with my lunch while Claire thought the Chardonnay (a Gold Medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition) was wonderful. We decided to wait for dessert and take the tour first. It was my first time taking a formal tour at the Coppola Winery and I learned some things that I hadn’t before about the details of the property.

Bob was our tour guide and he first took us outside to see the vineyards. There are 24 acres of grapes on this property in Geyserville, but it’s not nearly enough to make the 45 wines Coppola produces. They use 135 growers in the county, but produce everything except the sparkling wine right here. We did some sampling here which included the fruit-filled 2009 Director’s Cut Cabernet Sauvignon. I know this wine well as it was the very first  cabernet sauvignon I ever liked and you can count on this winery to consistently produce a good one.

We continued the sampling up at the tasting room, where I discovered some more standouts, including the 2009 Director’s Cut Zinfandel, fruit forward and white pepper back, the way zin should be, and the 2008 Director’s Cut Merlot, with ripe red fruit and just a hint of spice. I also got my first taste of the 2010 Francis Coppola Reserve Russian River Viognier, filled with citrus, especially lemon.

After the tour, we went back to the restaurant for dessert, sharing the Panna Cotta and the Italia's Cream Puffs, both of which can satisfy any sweet tooth quite nicely. We then headed back to the Inspirato house where the whole family enjoyed the beautiful night on the deck. I had never seen anything quite like this deck before, complete with lounge chairs, couches, a fireplace, a large barbecue and a hot tub. It was the perfect night to take advantage of that hot tub and we (at least the adults) poured some wine and watched the full moon over Sonoma. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Food, Wine and Family Fun in Santa Rosa

It was my last day at Camellia Inn in Healdsburg, an adorable Bed & Breakfast in the heart of town. I had some time this morning so I was able to enjoy the breakfast spread – Chocolate Chip Scones, Egg Casserole, Mango Smoothies, Cereals, Breads – and chat a bit with owner Lucy Lewand. Soon it was time to hit the road for Santa Rosa to finish up my Sonoma adventure there.

I made a stop at D’Argenzio Winery to meet with owner Raymond D’Argenzio. We had met on my last trip here and I loved his Italian style wines. He’s also been instrumental in putting together Vintner’s Square in Santa Rosa, a terrific spot with wineries and shops that has food and wine events each week.

As usual, there was plenty to taste here. I had raved about  their 2008 Sangiovese and the 2009 was just as good, full of fruit and very pasta friendly (a necessary food group in my household). The 2008 D’Amarone, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Petite Syrah, is also a great find, full of plum and dark fruits.

I bid Raymond farewell and headed into the mountains of Santa Rosa. I was set to spend the next few days up in the exclusive community of Mayacama, checking out the house that Inspirato will soon have available to its members.

The place is magnificent, 3600 square feet with four bedrooms, four and a half baths, a huge modern kitchen, living room, and den. The deck is unbelievable, complete with lounges, couches, a fireplace and hot tub, and it offers sweeping views of Sonoma Valley.

With such a large house it was only natural that I had room to share the space. While it is a wildly romantic setting, I thought it would also be a great place for the family so I invited my brother, sister-in-law, nieces and nephews to spend the weekend with me. Before they arrived, however, I was sure to claim the biggest bedroom, which had the best bathroom! The Jacuzzi was one of the largest I’ve seen and there was also a steam room.

Before I knew it, the place was alive with activity and I was excited to have an evening with the kids to myself. I knew immediately where I wanted to take them. I have done numerous stories on chef extraordinaire Guy Fieri (a Sonoma resident) and I knew his restaurant Johnny Garlic's had to be kid-friendly (Guy has two boys), interesting and a bit eclectic. It was a perfect mix for Moriah, Jake and Aleas they loved trying different foods.

Guy was out of town, but his general manager Art Robinson greeted us like we were long lost friends. Before I knew it the food was covering the table and it was all amazing.

We started with appetizers and the Brick Wings are dry rubbed and just amazing. I couldn’t eat the award-winning Sashimi Won Tacos with raw Ahi, mango jicama salsa and Wasabi Soy, but the kids raved about them.

For a main course, I had the delicious Penne Pesto with Vegetables and my oldest niece, Alea, went for the Cajun Chicken Fettuccine and loved the spice. Moriah and Jake had kids meals, with more than enough food to satisfy someone twice their size.

Just when I thought we were sufficiently stuff (and had bags of leftovers), Art came over with some desserts for us to try. We had to sample the Breath Mint Pie, with chocolate cookie crust and ice cream filled with Junior Mints; the Chocolate Lava Cake, a fudgy concoction topped with vanilla ice cream; and the New York Cheesecake with chocolate sauce. I quickly decided that I had to save more room for dessert next time I was here.

We went back to the house and I enjoyed a glass of wine with my brother and Claire, just back from their 15th anniversary dinner celebration. As is usually the case, the kids outlasted me, but I would have plenty of time to spend with them the rest of the weekend.