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.



Christmas dinner at home……

Christmas was celebrated at home this year…………


with three exceptional wines!

The  2004 vintage Moet & Chandon Brut Rose champagne – Absolutely luscious!

Followed by Peter Seghesio’ s 2014 Journeyman Chardonay

and the  2014 Rock Garden Zinfandel also created by Peter Seghesio.

A memorable line up!







Wishing everyone a peaceful and joyous cruise into the new year!



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!





Checking out Trader Joe’s Wine Shelves….

Our daughter asked for some suggestions on wines to purchase at Trader Joe’s so on a recent trip to stock up on some of their food goodies we took a look at their wine selection.

I was surprised to see a number of the wines on the shelves priced higher than what we normally pay.  I was not surprised to see many unfamiliar bottles at rock bottom prices.

I have listed the wines we find enjoyable that were priced fairly.  I have no idea if Trader Joe’s stocks the same wines throughout their chain.

I hope this list is of some help to our daughter and our friends who often pick up a bottle or two at Trader Joe’s.





The Inside Story Behind a Wine List’s Creation……..

This article appeared in the weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal and I found it to be an excellent read.

Nov. 19, 2015 12:35 p.m. ET
Putting together a restaurant wine list requires more than a few famous names and popular grapes, as Lettie Teague discovered when she followed the opening of New York restaurant Quality Eats.

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HOW HARD CAN it be to put a wine list together? A few famous names, some popular grapes priced at a profit, and the job is done. But a really good wine list—one that excites and challenges diners (but not overmuch) and offers great bang for the buck—is much harder to pull off. It takes time and effort. In the case of Quality Eats, a new restaurant in New York, it took almost three months.

That’s how much time I spent, off and on, in the company of restaurant owner Michael Stillman and wine director Marc Passer, both 35, as they created Quality Eats’ wine list, menu and the restaurant itself.

The Greenwich Village eatery, conceived as an “affordable steakhouse,” is the most recent addition to the seven-restaurant portfolio of Fourth Wall Restaurants, where Mr. Stillman is president and Mr. Passer has been corporate wine director since 2011. The two men have put together many notable wine lists over the years at the group’s other Manhattan restaurants, which include Smith & Wollensky New York, Maloney & Porcelli, Quality Italian and Quality Meats.

Quality Eats’ wine list would be a departure of sorts for the team, Mr. Stillman said when I met the men for the first time in September. Unlike their other wine lists, which are quite large (Smith & Wollensky’s list has almost 1,000 bottles) and full of fancy, four-figure selections that appeal to expense-account diners, the Quality Eats list would be small and modestly priced. The selection, Mr. Stillman said, would have “a real neighborhood feel,” mixing well-known wines that comforted diners with ones that challenged them, a formula designed to entice patrons to return again and again. For example, to nudge diners out of their comfort zone, Mr. Passer might offer a Cabernet but not one from a famous region like Napa, sourcing it instead from a less popular—and cheaper—place.

To encourage experimentation, Messrs. Stillman and Passer planned to offer all of the wines on the list by the glass and bottle. For fun, they’re introducing a new concept—“stackable wine”—three separate, small carafes that can be stacked to create a standard 750 mL bottle. This would allow diners to order one-third white, one-third red and one-third rosé. They decided they would include nine to 12 stackable selections of popular varieties, with a stacked trio costing $40.

But this raised questions about the wine list. Should the stackable offerings be on the regular list or on a separate card? Should all the wines fit on one page? What typeface should Quality Eats use? “We want a wine list that everyone will get,” said Mr. Stillman, meaning one with a familiar look and feel. “Maybe the list would be in a report binder,” offered Mr. Passer. But Mr. Stillman was more focused on the expense of reprinting the pages of the list after repeated use, which he said could “easily cost $10,000.”

Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 6.32.20 PMWhat about pricing? The markup on some wine lists in New York can be high, up to five times the wholesale cost of a bottle, and Fourth Wall’s uptown lists aren’t exactly cheap. The partners insisted that they wanted to keep Quality Eats’ markup in check. Mr. Passer thought it would likely be two to 2.5 times the wholesale cost. And he especially wanted the wines at the lower end of the scale to be impressive. “I want to wow someone with the entry-level offering,” said Mr. Passer. “When someone says, ‘I want the cheapest wine,’ I want to make sure it’s legitimately delicious.”

A few weeks after our initial meeting, it was time for the first of several wine tastings. Mr. Passer had emailed a number of wholesale-wine sales representatives, asking each to suggest bottles that were unusual or challenging “diamond-in-the-rough wines” and not from usual-suspect wineries such as Cakebread and Duckhorn. Nine of those who responded were scheduled to meet us in a private room at Fourth Wall’s Park Avenue Autumn restaurant in the late afternoon. They brought red, white, rosé and sparkling wines made from both obscure and famous grapes grown in regions all over the world.

“We’re looking for wines that are approachable and delicious,” said Mr. Passer as we entered the room where sales reps were waiting like so many prospective blind dates. The tasting, which lasted less than two hours and included close to 100 wines, was an opportunity for each salesperson to give a short spiel on each selection.

Two salesmen noted their wines’ exalted provenance: “It’s a northern Rhône declassified Cornas,” said one salesman, as we tasted and spat. “It’s like declassified Barolo,” said another of a Nebbiolo from the Langhe region of Piedmont. One sales rep tried an interesting tack, noting that his Syrah from California’s Sonoma Coast was “made by Alice Waters’s ex-husband.”

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There were quite a few good wines and very few duds. None was particularly pricey; the most expensive cost about $40 wholesale. Most of the time, the three of us liked the same wine, although a few, like a California Tempranillo, left me cold. For Mr. Passer, it wasn’t just a matter of his personal likes or dislikes; he had to figure out where and how a wine fit in with the rest of his list and had to anticipate the preferences of his customers. For example, Mr. Passer needed two Chardonnays, one that was entry level (“never say cheap,” he noted) and one that was pricier (probably Burgundy). He also needed at least two Pinot Noirs, one that was rich and fruity and another in an earthier style.

After several weeks and tastings, Messrs. Stillman and Passer whittled the possibilities down to a final list: 34 bottles, plus 12 stackable offerings. The list was arranged according to color and grapes (i.e., Arneis, Ribolla Gialla, Kerner, Sauvignon Blanc). I recognized some of the wines I’d tasted and liked, such as the 2014 Lieu Dit Chenin Blanc from California and 2008 Château d’Arlay Pinot Noir, but others were missing—no Syrah from Alice Waters’s ex-husband? The partners had also decided to put the stackable wines on their own separate table card.
The restaurant was scheduled to open the following week, and when I stopped by for the staff training, it looked far from ready. There was no bar, and the bathrooms were unlit. But the men were unfazed. “I’ve never trained staff in a situation [where] there wasn’t some form of chaos,” said Mr. Passer. He was opening a number of wines for the staff, instructing them not only in how to taste but how to talk about them as well. He wanted them to describe wines in a relatable way, avoiding fancy words or excessive adjectives. “Use words like ‘bright acidity’ or ‘well balanced,’ ” Mr. Passer said over the whine of a buzzsaw.

As the staff tasted the bottles, Mr. Passer described the wines—from the grapes to the region where each wine was produced—and then quizzed them in turn. Did any of them drink Merlot? Did they know the flavors that oak-aging gave to a wine? And when a producer notes that a wine has been aged in 25% new oak, what does that mean anyway? A woman raised her hand: “A freshly killed tree?”

Quality Eats opened on time the following week. The bar was finished, the wine list was printed and the staff was conversant in proper winespeak. I had quite a few “well-balanced” wines on opening night, but I figured the staff would develop a larger wine vocabulary in subsequent weeks.

It hadn’t been easy or fast, and the locals who stopped in for a glass of Cabernet Franc from Domaine Philippe Alliet in the Chinon region of France’s Loire Valley might never realize how much work went into the wine list. But then that’s the point. A really good wine list looks effortless.

Thank you Lettie Teague for such a terrific article!