Visiting the relatives………


We were headed to a wedding in Orangeburg, SC and a side trip to Charleston.  On our way we veered over to Brunswick Georgia and St. Simons Island to visit our newly discovered relatives.  They’re a quiet bunch for sure – and old! – going back five generations!

We found a terrific lunch place in Brunswick serving the best fried green tomato sandwich I’d ever had.  You might pass up the Indigo Coastal Shanty   for its appearance but don’t!  Great service, amazing menu and very popular!

We headed out to St. Simons Island to visit the relatives in Christ Church’s cemetery.  We found the most notable – Great, great, great, great grandfather Dart and his wife Ann……..

From there we learned that most of the family resided in Brunswick in a cemetery called Oak Grove.   We found the burial ground the next day.

We spent the night on the island and dined at Del Sur, a small and exceptional restaurant that for some unknown reason does not show up in advertising, on maps, or guides that I viewed.  We’d been before and promised ourselves we’d return as the food was so memorable. We brought a bottle with us, a 2014 Herman Story Larner Vineyard Ballard Canyon and enjoyed it with Del Sur’s terrific entrees.

Outside of Charleston we stopped  at Timbo’s Boiled Peanut trailer . This is a not to be missed stop for boiled peanut lovers. Some of the best in the south!

We were unable to get into the ever popular Husk Restaurant on our last visit to Charleston but we scored a reservation this time.  The fried chicken skins and steak tartare were fantastic appetizers.

We stumbled upon this cemetery in the City of Charleston………….Just thought I’d post it as it is uniquely different from most with its approach to greenery!  It was breathtaking!

On the recommendation of a friend we changed our reservation the next night to Le Farfalla.  Our dinners were so amazing!

Sadly, as is the case with too many restaurants, the wine list was not maintained.  Our first choice was sold out, our second choice was sold out and we settled for one that we would not have ordinarily picked.

Always nice to get away on a road trip!




Returning to the Anderson Valley……..



The weather is not perfect in January for exploring the Anderson Valley..  Could be nice. Could be rainy.  Could be snowing.   We got the rain and a hit of snow this visit however, in any weather, this valley is gorgeous.


We drove from the Sierra Foothills to the Anderson Valley.  There is a route between the two around Clear Lake.  We opted for the quicker route through Sacramento west to 101 and up.


Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley



We stayed at the south end of the valley at the Boonville Hotel.  Accommodations are in the hotel and in cottages on the grounds. The grounds are extensive and appeared to have lovely outdoor facilities for use in good weather.


Our cottage at the Boonville Hotel



We dined our first night at the hotel sharing a wonderful 2014 Navarrouge from Navarro Vineyards. It’s Navarro’s house red.  They coin it “gluggable” as it is intended to be enjoyable upon release.


Apple orchards still dot the landscape in the valley


This was our third visit to the valley so we were looking to try some of the newer wineries to the area.  Witching Stick was a truly pleasant find.


Winemaker, owner, Van Williamson was on hand to pour. He had a full line up of his wines to taste.  Our two favorites and the favorites it seemed of everyone tasting with us were  the 2015 Zinfandel Rosato and the 2013 Fashauer Vineyard Zinfandel.



Van Williamson


Domaine Anderson was another stop. Owned by the Roederer family, the property was purchased and vines planted in 2009.  They produce still wines – Pinot and Chardonnay.




Sheep tending the vineyard at Domaine Anderson


Stone and Embers is a new dining spot in mid valley open for lunch.  Very popular with exceptional pizzas and a terrific starter on the menu of a bowl of olives served hot in oil and spices.


Toulouse was another stop on our visit.


While there are images of geese everywhere, the lively bird in the tasting room is of a different variety……….


Their Pinot was a good find.



We stopped in to Lichen, formerly Breggo Cellars.   We did visit on a previous trip but the change to Lichen who, is now making the wine, brought us back. You can read Lichen’s story. It’s interesting!


We had a terrific visit, with a great host.  I rather liked the sparkling wine they are producing from pinot gris grapes called Blanc De Gris.



Hard to  miss the Navarro General Store at the north end of the valley


It’s a great wine region to discover, or rediscover, and its close to the coast for combining with a trip to Sea Ranch or Mendocino.  If you go, it is definitely a bit tough to find dining choices in the valley off season. There are not many to begin with, and a number of them take a break in the winter.



Van Williamson 
Witching Stick Wines
Enjoyed your wine and travel blog. Please stop in again on one of 
your visits to the Anderson Valley. It was funny how everyone liked 
the same wines that day. The Zinfandel is always near the top in the 
monthly sales but usually is followed by one of our Pinot noirs and 
Thanks again,


In the Sierra Foothills…….

We  decided this winter to try another region in California’s vast wine country, Amador County.  This area is probably better known for its historic gold mines but from what we experienced it is well on its way to additionally becoming known for its wine production. We flew into San Francisco and drove to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.  On another visit I would fly into Sacramento (45 miles away) to vastly cut down on the lengthy drive.


We chose to stay in Sutter Creek and explore from there.  Our reservation was at the Hanford House, a small inn convenient to walking the downtown of Sutter Creek.  I’d heartily recommend the inn and the adjoining restaurant Element.  The  accommodations were lovely but I would suggest requesting a 2nd floor room to avoid the possibility of having any noisy guests above you.


Before heading out to visit the wineries we were fortunate to pick up some excellent tips on the local wineries and personal favorites from the inn’s manager, Paul.  His guidance helped with our challenge to visit many of the wineries on New Years Eve and New Years Day.


The town of Sutter Creek


Turley is harvesting grapes in the region and their tasting room was our first stop.  Our host was Katie.  Seek her out if you go.  She grew up in the area and has a wealth of knowledge and tales of the area and of the land Turley is farming.  Her enthusiasm is infectious!


Next stop was Vino Noceto. The winery is home to one of the iconic Doggie Diner figures.  For those interested in the history of the Doggie Diner there is a site to visit.  For the really curious, there is a Doggie Dinner documentary.


Jim and Suzy Gullett purchased this property in 1984 and began planting Sangiovese vines on it a few years later.  Today they are best known for their Sangiovese wines.

The tasting room offers a “Farm to Glass” tour which appeared very popular while we were visiting as the tasting room filled up rapidly.  We lucked out to have Lindy Gullett pouring for us.  When she learned we were interested in hearing and tasting more we were invited to return the next day for a private tour and tasting.


New Years Day in-depth tour of Vino Noceto with Bret Budrick……….

Great wine tasting! Great wines! We shipped three 2013 varieties of Sangiovese – Dos Oakies, Hillside and Noceto.  We also had them tuck in a few bottles of the 2012 OGP Zinfandel.


Thank you Bret Budrick and Lindy GulletT for such a terrific visit!


Dillian was our next stop  It was one of the recommendations we received from Hanford’s innkeeper.  He said their Barbera was a favorite of his.  We were impressed by it as well as their Zinfandels.


Tasting from 10 in the morning requires a good hearty lunch break.  We found Marlene and Glen’s Dead Fly Diner in Plymouth perfect for the break.  The place is not picturesque but the food was wonderful.  Good burgers and fries!


In the town of Sutter Creek there are a number of tasting rooms.  We chose to try Baiocchi and Yorba.

At Baiocchi Sharon Baiocchi poured for us and her husband Greg was on hand to pour for  other guests. No question, our favorite, most memorable winery visits are those we have experienced with an owner or winemaker.. This was no exception.


Their Tempranillo was a standout for me.


Thank you Sharon and Greg Baiocchi for making out visit special.


Ann Kraemer is an extremely talented viticulturist with a highly impressive background in her field.  Her desire to get back to farming brought her to the Sierra Foothills to start Shake Ridge Ranch in 2003.  The ranch vineyard produces the grapes for a number of wineries as well as her family’s Yorba wines.   We were fortunate New Years Eve to taste the wines with Ann and Dave in Yorba’s downtown Sutter Creek tasting room.

Terrific wines! The 2010 Tempranillo was quite special.  We had to take a bottle of it with us and ship a variety home.


Thank you Ann and Dave!


We dined at the Imperial Hotel  New Years Eve.  The hotel is in Amador City, one of the very small, charming towns in the region.



We were not able to get to taste at Story Winery so we ordered a bottle for New Years Eve dinner.


The Sierra Foothills was most certainly worth the trip and worth a trip back!




Ann Kraemer Yorba Wines

Deborah and John,  Thank you for including us. And for enjoying Amador County. Please come and visit again – would love to get you out to our vineyard next trip.

Allison Caruso Amador Manager | Turley Wine Cellars

Deborah, Thank you for your kind words! Katie is truly an asset to our team here, and we are happy to have her excitement and enthusiasm in our tasting room. I will forward this along to Katie and the rest of our team here. Hope you have a great weekend, and come back to visit us again soon!

Sharon Baiocchi Baiocchi Wines  

Hi John and Deborah, Thanks for sharing your blog with us and having such wonderful thingsto say about our area. We hope to see you in our area again. Have a lovely day.

Thomas M. Dillian  Dillian Wines

Awesome! Thanks for the kind words. We are happy to have you as wine club members and happy that your wine tasting experience in Amador was a memorable one. Cheers, 

Bret Budrick   Vino Noceto

I just checked out the blog post. Great job! I thought it was a great write up. Thanks again for visiting us here at the winery, and I hope that your wine travels moving forward bring you much enjoyment. We will check in on your blog from time to time to see how things are going.



2016 Thanksgiving selections…….



Friends and family celebrated Thanksgiving in Asheville, North Carolina this year.  It was a chance to check out a city that is attracting a lot of attention, feel a brief cold spell and to hike through falling leaves.


I have to say the restaurants we tried were fantastic. Cúrate, Rubarb and The Marketplace are not to be missed.  From the cocktails to the desserts, they offered very creative selections.


This trip we drove to Asheville.  It is always a challenge to find a non fast food lunch on the road driving north on Florida’s Rt. 301.  I found Call Street Cafe online before leaving home.  It’s in downtown Starke possibly best known as the home of The Florida State Prison.  Great menu, pleasant waitstaff and quick service.


We stopped in Savannah for the night choosing a retro motel, The Thunderbird Inn.   The room comes with moon pies and RC Cola in your room and a continental breakfast of fresh brewed coffee and Krispy Kreme donuts!  It’s great, inexpensive lodging in walking distance to most everything.  The downside is the lack of soundproofing between rooms and the road noise.

That evening we dined at Circa 1875.  It was our 2nd visit to the restaurant so we opted to try their bar for a casual dinner.  They have a signature burger that is excellent and we paired it with a bottle of The Custodian.


Also, so worth mentioning is a particularly wonderful wine store we stumbled upon on our way to Asheville.  It is just off Route 26 and I do mean just off.  It’s the Blue Ridge Wine & Spirits at 1884 SC-14, Landrum, SC 29356.  The selection and prices were terrific.  We departed with a bottle of Turley and more.  What a find at a truck stop!





A Grape Grower’s Party………..

In 1976 the California white and red wines defeated the French in the famous Paris Tasting. It was a momentous day!  The white wine that bested the famous French Burgundies was a 1973 Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Chardonnay.  40% of the grapes that created that award winning wine came from Charles and Helen Bacigalupi’s vineyard.


Bacigalupi Vineyard is now 125 acres and managed by John Bacigalupi.  They grow grapes for outstanding wineries including Gary Ferrell, Williams Selyem, Venge, and Wonderment, as well as producing their own wine.


On July 18th Bacigalupi threw a party and we were lucky enough to be among the guests in the sold out crowd.  Wines produced exclusively from the Bacigalupi vineyards were being poured by nineteen wineries and……


the food was catered by Bay Laurel Culinary and The Oyster Girls!


Photo credit: Bacigalupi









We had a blast!  Thank you Bacigalupi for making our last evening in wine paradise so special!




Healdsburg Adventures…….

This trip we visited a large array of tasting rooms.  Each and every one had developed a unique identity to help you remember them – farmstead, barrel tasting, wine cave, solar energy, organic farming, chocolate peanut butter cups with sea salt, refillable jug wine, retail store, creekside gardens, history, wacky antiques, and more.


There have always been destination wineries that have included a restaurant, picnic areas, a retail component or some venue to attract and keep visitors at their facility for more than just the tasting.

In the last decade the trend seems to have caught on for all tasting rooms to have some individuality. Visitors can easily loose track of the wines they have tasted over a day or more of tastings.  Wineries have taken to creating a visual identity they hope will impress you enough to remember than by more than their delicious wine.   Branding?  Think so………


The American Dream – A Success Story  – Valdez – Valdez Family Winery is on a side street in Healdsburg, off the square and if you visit Healdsburg – find it!  Unpretentious in appearance but warm and welcoming.  It is all about the wine and a success story that is quite outstanding.

Ulises Valdez was16 when he came from Mexico to the U.S.. He began as an undocumented worker, obtained U.S. citizenship, rose to making his mark managing vineyards for Mark Aubert, JC Cellars, Paul Hobbs, Pahlmeyer, and Ram’s Gate and now also produces award wining wines.  He started making wine in 2004 and his entire family has joined in to help with this rapidly growing business.


Ulises daughter Elizabeth poured our tasting. Angelica, her sister, who is responsible for the marketing, was in the tasting room too and took the time to introduce herself.  The passion these young ladies possess for the family wines is catching.IMG_3183

Ulises Valdez produces Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel wines  while continuing to manage over 1000 acres of vineyards for others.  You can read more in Wine Spectator and SFGate about this well regarded man and his family.


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We almost didn’t make it to Unti and that would have been too bad.  Carrie Mauritson recommended we stop there ( appointment necessary).  They schedule appointments a half hour apart to give the host and guest time to become familiar with their wines without the distraction of a full tasting room.


Unti is a small family winery that has been growing grapes since 1990. The have 60 acres at the site of the winery and another 25 acres across the road.

They describe their wines as “Mediterranean varietal wines with vineyard personality”. Sangiovese is one they are very proud to produce.  They believe the 2012 Sangiovese may be their finest to date.


Our host was a young UC Davis grad named, Kyle.   He is looking forward to moving out of the tasting room and getting his hands in the grapes.


We tasted  2014 Rose, 2014 Cuvee Blanc, 2012 Segromigno, 2012 Zinfandel, 2012 Syrah, 2012 Benchland Syrah,  and found the 2012 Zinfandel to be a favorite along with the 2014 Rose.




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Zichichi Family Vineyard is out on West Dry Creek Road.  It is 18 acres of zinfandel and petite sirah vines, all located directly behind the tasting room.  Some vines were planted in 1928, the rest in 1964.


Zichichi wants you to visit and is very welcoming to guests but these days you won’t get to taste their bottled wines.   They sell futures so their wine is often sold out before it is even bottled.


Currently you get a chance to barrel taste the wines that are offered for advance sales. These are their 2014 Estate Zinfandel, Estate Old Viine Zinfandel and Estate Petite Sirah.




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You feel as though you are entering a farm when you visit Preston’s tasting room.  Preston is actually just that – an organic farm and wine is one of many products they proudly produce and sell here.


On Saturday’s they bake fresh bread and on Sundays, for locals, they offer the chance to get their “jug wine” refilled.

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 3.57.59 PM

The facility has a gracious backyard for picnicking with at least a couple of barn cats roaming the farmstead.


We took advantage of the picnic grounds, relaxed and shared a bottle of 2012 Carignane with some of the fresh baked bread.


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Bella’s tasting room is back in a cave and wonderfully inviting on a warm summer day.


The associates at Bella are enormously welcoming.   We had a non-drinker in our party and she was treated with as much attention as the rest of our party. The cave venue is memorable but the chocolate peanut butter cups dusted with sea salt (we won’t reveal their source!) and their infamous jug wine insured our remembering Bella!


Some of the wines we tried were – a 2012 Ten Acre Russian Rriver Valley Pinot Noir which went down easily!  A jammy 2012 Hills and Benches Zinfandel that played 2nd fiddle to a 2012 Two Patch Zinfandel.  A 2009 Big River Ranch Syrah which had an amazing BBQ nose and the 2011 Todd Brothers Zinfandel  which was incredibly inexpensive and wonderful!


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You can wander through gardens, sit along the creek in an adirondack chair, visit with ducks and sheep, step under the olives trees or stay at the tasting bar and interact with one of their well-informed hosts at Truett Hurst.   If you are there at the right time of year you can even watch Coho Salmon spawn!  It’s an attractive venue with rich variety of wines to try starting with a crisp Gewürztraminer and on into some stately zins and red blends.  The staff encourages you to wander with your glass of wine and enjoy the place to its fullest.


The 2014 Queen Bee Gewürztraminer and the 2013 Bradford Mountain Grist Vineyards Zinfandel were two favorites among our party the morning we visited.

The tasting room has an impressive, well equipped stock of picnic foods to purchase including Cowgirl cheese choices so you can really settle in and appreciate what Paul Dolan and his son Heath along with Phil and Sylvia Hurst have created beside great wines!


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Sanglier (French for Wild Boar) has a tasting room in Healdsburg right off the square on Plaza Street.  They are making wines reflective of traditional grape varietals found in Chateauneuf-du-Pape and the Northern Rhône regions of France.




We tried a number of the wines but we were most taken with the 2012 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – Left Tusque.


It’s a friendly tasting room that visually focuses on the winery’s character – the wild boar.   There is lots of art and products depicting the ferocious guy.  The best was the boar wine pourer! Wish’d gotten one!



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MacPhail Family Wines  produces their wine in their backyard.  Their home and winery is in  Healdsburg and their tasting room is in the very hip Barlow center in Sebastopol. The grapes for James MacPhail’s wines come from a number of select growers in the region, and he works to produce the very best Pinot Noir possible, along with Pinot Noir a bit of Chardonnay and Rose.


We tasted at the MacPhail tasting room in Sebastopol, in the Soil room.  The back wall of the room displays the soils from the different vineyards McPhail has chosen to draw his grapes from. It’s pretty amazing. Encased behind sheets of lucite it looks kinda like a giant ant farm sans the creepy creatures!


The Radio Flyer wagon is the winery logo and the visual image that clearly defines the  tasting room.


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St. Francis Winery & Vineyards farms more than 400 acres of Certified Sustainable estate vineyards in Sonoma Valley and Russian River Valley.  The facility is set up to host events,  weddings and private parties forever 200 people.  The tasting room is one of the largest we visited and is quite commercially oriented with an immense selection of wine paraphernalia and gifts.


The tasting menu was generous and our host added three more to give us nine to try.  Had we not been pressed to get to another appointment, we would have spent more time playing with the wines.


At St. Francis we were introduced to a rather clever decanter that attaches to the wine bottle allowing a perfect pour to aerate the wine then enabling a turn back over to replace the wine in the bottle to serve or to cork and take with you.



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Geyserville is just up the road from Healdsburg.  There we found Pech Merle’s tasting room on the main drag of town. We came to taste on the recommendation of our UPS delivery man who has developed a passion for nice wines.


Owners Bruce and Cheryl poured for us and shared their passion and commitment to making excellent wine.


The couple has purchased land on Dry Creek Road to build a future tasting room as they are able to produce more wine and as it grows in notoriety.  From what we tasted, it won’t be long!

We tasted a number of  their wines and purchased  the 2009 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and 2012 Alioto’s Bench Zinfandel.


The tasting room is dotted with an eclectic, fun array of crazy, old items amidst a contemporary surrounding.   I was particularly drawn to the totally unusual, funky lamp on the fireplace mantle of a two-sided bare-breasted woman.   And, I am sorry I didn’t photograph the bike mounted on the wall behind the tasting bar.  I’m sure that would have appealed to many.




A Destination Winery…….


logoRam’s Gate is the first winery you see driving north into Sonoma.  It’s just past the Sonoma Raceway. Roche Winery was formerly located on the site.

Ram’s Gate opened in 2011 in a stunning facility designed by architect, Howard Backen. The building is contemporary, barn like in appearance but detailed like a 5 star hotel. Orlando Diaz-Azcuy is responsible for much of the interior.

We had the pleasure of touring with Ram’s Gate’s GM, David Oliver.    His background in the hospitality industry is impressive. He made every one of us feel immediately welcome and gave us a very memorable tour through the expansive facility.


David explained to us how Ram’s Gate is a destination for members and guests to have an experience.  They have created an inviting environment to taste remarkable wines and to try innovative, chef prepared food pairings with the wines.

The variety of venues at the winery make this facility absolutely unique and most definitely set apart from other Sonoma winery’s offerings.

To start with there is a vineyard setting…….


a demonstration kitchen setting…….


a tasting bar……….


a number of lounges, patios and private nooks for relaxing and tasting……


a wine library with a fantastic chandelier………..


and an amazing barrel cellar dining setting……….


Ram’s Gate sources their grapes from a number of growers around the region.  One is Ulises Valdez who I plan to write about in another post. They do have some vineyards surrounding the winery and they are experimenting with binding the vines in at least one of their vineyards.



On our tour David explained the method Ram’s Gate uses to keep the vineyard free of the pest birds.  Coincidently the “pest control” man arrived while we were there.rgffApparently  a grape cluster can be ruined simply by a swallow pecking open one grape at the top of the cluster allowing the juice to run over the rest. A predator bird can prevent the swallows from damaging a crop.


It was so amazing to see this falcon close up and learn about his plans for the afternoon!



Our tasting was set in one of the large rooms overlooking the valley. The room seemed to be wide open, no barrier to the field before us.  There was even a constant breeze coming from the direction of the view.  We thought we were in a pavilion.  Hah!  There was in fact a  2-story wall of glass.  It was designed so incredibly well to give us the illusion of no glass.  Impressive!




Our host was Zac  a.k.a. “Zacky” Melendez, a certified sommelier.  He was charming and extremely knowledgable. He guided us through selections of food pairings the chef was offering that day.





Ram’s Gate does an absolutely fantastic job of tailoring a tasting to your desires.  We were there for 4 hours!  We could have stayed all day!



Thank you David Oliver, Zac Melendez and Chris for giving us such an exceptional experience  at Ram’s Gate!