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Sonoma Wine Country Visit May 12, 2013

It’s been a while since our trip to California Wine Country but the experience has stayed in our minds; the memories still fresh.  We last wrote about Napa, which was the first area we had a chance to explore.  We began our next day with the plan to explore Sonoma.

As with our Napa adventure, we had to seriously narrow down our plan to visit just a few places.  Looking at our massive list we had no idea where to begin.  Thankfully we had some help in the way of a local connection who pointed us in the right direction.

Recommendations and plan in hand, we started by heading to the northern most point we planned on visiting, Healdsburg.  Once we got off the highway we were immediately driving through farm country and vineyards were everywhere we looked.  The weather was beautiful and the scenery was breathtaking.

Our first stop was Mazzocco Winery, known for their Zinfandels, located up on a hillside. We entered the quiet tasting room where we were greeted and offered our first taste of their portfolio immediately.  No pretense here at Mazzocco; just plain and simple wine tasting.  And taste we did!  After going through several of their wines we decided to purchase our favorite (2011 Seaton Zinfandel) and head on down the road. 

Next up was the Hawley Tasting room in downtown Healdsburg.  The Hawley Tasting room was a small warm space filled with artwork and woodwork created by various Hawley family members.  We learned this from Dana Hawley, the winemaker’s wife and local artist, who walked us through the tasting and the history of Hawley wines.  It was a truly unique and lovely experience.  Again, we narrowed our purchase down to our favorite (Dry Creek Valley Petite Sirah) and left to wander the town a bit.

After visiting some of the local antique stores and markets we got back in the car and drove to Iron Horse Vineyards in Sebastopol.  Getting to the actual tasting room was challenging. Off the beaten path would be an understatement.  However, after driving up the single lane, bumpy, dirt road and arriving at the top, we could truly appreciate that it was worth the trek. Looking out across the rolling hills and into the valley covered with vineyards was awe inspiring.

Iron Horse is known for their sparkling wines and we were lucky enough to be there on a day when they had The Oyster Girls on hand, a traveling oyster bar serving freshly shucked oysters.  Oysters and sparkling wine = perfect day!

At the end of the day we convinced ourselves that we needed to move to Sebastopol, buy a farm, raise goats and grow our own vines.  Who knows? Maybe one day we will…

Hall Winery Rutherford Tasting & Tour May 11, 2013

Napa Valley is a place where wine lovers can happily get lost. Stray off the familiar path of the Silverado Trail or CA 29, and you can find yourself in unfamiliar, yet exciting places. Hall Winery, in Rutherford, is truly off the beaten path – and definitely a good place to find if you’re looking for a small, intimate wine tasting experience. 

Hall Rutherford, unlike their larger production winery in St. Helena, is dedicated to creating rare and single vineyard wines. The main building sits far above sea level, offering spectacular vistas of Napa Valley. Hall Rutherford boasts 14,000 square feet of caves (which were designed by Friedrich Gruber of Gutenstein, Austria). Making our way into the tasting room we noticed a rapid temperature drop (from near 90 degrees to 61) and the striking handmade reclaimed Austrian brick walls and ceiling.  We were told that the Austrian government had one stipulation for Hall Winery repurposing the bricks; that the Habsburg name and family seal, which are etched into each individual brick, could not be displayed and therefore were installed backwards. Of note is the fact that Kathryn Hall served as the US Ambassador to Austria under Bill Clinton. The Vienna Boys Choir performed live at the grand opening of the winery!

Once inside the tasting room, the first thing you notice hanging magnificently over the large tasting table is a chandelier designed by Donald Lipski and Jonquil LeMaster, comprised of hundreds of Swarovski crystals, that simulates the roots of a tree coming through the ceiling of the cave.  When we began the Hall experience touring the vineyards, our host pointed out a Meyer lemon tree at the top of the hill and told us to keep it in mind.  It turns out that the sculpture sits directly below the actual tree.  We didn’t ask how much this hanging artwork cost, because if you have to ask, well…never mind.

Then it was on to the wines! The first Hall wine we tasted was the 2012 Hall Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc (a crisp, refreshing SB with hints of citrus and green apple – excellent) which was given to us upon our arrival.  As we waited for other guests we were able to wander the main building and terrace.  For the tasting itself, we were treated to some of Hall’s signature Cabernet Sauvignons, including the 2007 Kathryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon; 2012 Jack’s Masterpiece Cabernet Sauvignon; and as a special treat, the 2009 Segassia Vineyard Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. All are deeply complex, fruit-forward Cabs that taste amazing now, but can be cellared for a few years to soften the tannins a bit, according to our host. Hall wines are lush and delicious, and if you have an opportunity to experience any of these high-end bouquets, do so.

Sure, there are many other large-production “mega wineries” in and around Napa Valley, but if you’re willing to get out of your comfort zone and lose yourself, you’ll be rewarded with an incredibly rewarding wine tasting experience. Hall Winery, in Rutherford, is a pretty good place to end up.


Fordham/Old Dominion Brewery Tour, Saturday, January 12, 2013


Fordham & Old Dominion Brewery

Fordham & Old Dominion Brewery

Next time you pop the cap off a bottle of craft beer, take a moment to reflect on what you’re about to enjoy. I don’t mean chant om or get “Deep Thoughts With Jack Handy” philosophical about it. Just pause for a moment and think of all the time and effort that went into creating that amazing quaff you have sitting majestically in front of you.

What types of grains and hops went into it? How long did it ferment? More importantly, who created this and where did it come from? Craft beer drinkers are curious creatures, by nature, so knowing what you’re drinking is very important. Of course, you can go on-line or read books to research any craft beer that interests you. It’s really amazing how much you can learn about a particular beer from start to finish. Or, if you’re lucky enough to live near a craft beer maker, you can take a brewery tour and see the process in person (and smell that tantalizing cooked cereal aroma that hits you when you walk inside). A long weekend visiting family in Dover, Delaware, provided us with this opportunity.

The Sparge

The Sparge

Having been to Dogfish previously, we decided to stay more local and take a tour of the Fordham and Old Dominion Brewing facility located on the outskirts of town. Fordham, located in Maryland, originated in 1703 (when England’s Queen Anne commissioned Benjamin Fordham to start a brewery in the port of Annapolis, Maryland) and re-born in 1995 in Annapolis. In 2003 the company decided to move their operations to tax-friendly Delaware. In 2007 Fordham bought out Virginia-based Old Dominion Brewing and has carved out a niche in the craft beer world, distributing their beers throughout the Northeast.

The brewery offers tours six days a week and beer tasting events every Saturday.  For just $5 you’re given a four-ounce tasting glass, five wooden tokens to redeem for beer samples in the tasting room, followed by a tour of the facility. At the end of the tour, you simply turn in your sampling glass and you’re rewarded with a free Fordham pint glass. Not bad for five bucks.

After sampling several beers, our tour guide, Lee (who resembles actor Zachary Levi, but shorter and with a beard), took the 25 or so of us through the inner workings of Fordham Brewing, showing us step by step, beginning to end, how beer is made. It’s fascinating to see the process take place. If you’re the ambitious type and have ever taken a stab at home brewing, then you’re familiar with the process: the mashing in of the grains, the primary and secondary boiling, the sparging, the fermentation and the bottling. It’s been said, “If you can make oatmeal you can make beer.” Now, take your kitchen-sized brewing operation (one- to five-gallon production, most commonly) and expand that by thousands of square feet; add in boiling tanks large enough to swim in; booster rocket-sized 50- and 100-barrel fermentation tanks, plus the requisite bottling, capping and packaging equipment – and you can see for yourself that’s a whole lot of oatmeal. The entire tour, from start to finish, took around 45 minutes. 

Touring a craft brewery like Fordham puts the whole beer-drinking thing into perspective. And I can honestly say you’ll never look at a bottle of beer quite the same.

Fordham-Old Dominion beers available on tap in the tasting room:

  • Helles Lager – 5.4% ABV,; Brewed with Pilsner, Carafoam, Vienna & Munich malts; Perle & Hallertau hops
  • Oak Barrel Aged Stout – 6.1% ABV; Willamette & Cascade Hops; Pairs well with oysters, clams, brie cheese & chocolate; Serve in a pint glass at 50-55ºF
  • Dominion Lager – 5.3% ABV; Pilsner, Munich & Caramunich malts; Pairs well with Fish, Pork & Poultry as well as Havarti, Swiss & Gouda cheeses; Serve in a pilsner or pint glass at 40-45ºF
  • Baltic Porter – 6.1% ABV; Willamette & Cascade Hops; Pairs well with oysters, clams, brie cheese & chocolate; Serve in a pint glass at 50-55ºF
  • Hop Mountain Pale Ale – 6.6% ABV; Nelson-Sauvin, Cascade & Columbus Hops; Pairs well with Pan Asian cuisine & Poultry; Serve in a dimple mug or pint glass at 50-55ºF
  • Rams Head IPA – 7.5% ABV; Hops: Bravo, Chinook and Motueka; Malts: Pale, Munich and Rye
  • Copperhead Ale – 5.2% ABV; Brewed with German Magnum, German select & German Tettnang hops combined with Caramunich malt.
  • Rosie Parks Oyster Stout – 6.8%  ABV; German Pilsner, Crystal & Dark Specialty malts; Pairs well with grilled meats, hearty stews & even chocolate; Serve in a mug, tulip glass or pint glass at 45-50ºF
  • Millenium Ale – 10.2% ABV; 2-Row Muntons Pale Malt & Hallertauer Mittelfrühfull hops; Pairs well with sharp cheeses and a variety of desserts; Serve in a snifter or pint glass at 50-55ºF

Our favorites were the Oak Barrel Stout and the Baltic Porter. Each boasts distinct coffee and chicory notes, plus hints of caramel and spice. One of Fordham’s small batch seasonal beers (and one of the most popular amongst local beer aficionados), the Scotch Ale, wasn’t available in the tasting room. Fortunately for us, the night before we enjoyed it on draft at a local eatery called Restaurant 55. Unfortunately, after two drafts the keg of delicious Scotch Ale kicked. Maybe next season.

Lucky Rice Festival November 30, 2012 at Soho Beach House

Lucky Rice Festival

Lucky Rice

According to its website, the LUCKYRICE Festival can be best described as an “Epicurean cocktail feast on the beach” with “a spotlight on Asian-inspired tastings and cocktails from celebrated chefs and buzz-worthy bartenders.”

So, how could we not attend an event with “feast” and “buzz worthy” in the very same paragraph? Superlatives aside, did I mention all of this was taking place in Miami Beach? (FYI: The LUCKYRICE Festival is held in five key U.S. markets – New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco and now Miami.)

Poolside Stations

Poolside Stations

We’ll be the first to admit that a food and cocktail event like this can be a pricey, stuffy and pretentious affair, especially in image-conscious place like South Beach – a town where appearances count for everything (and cost a lot to maintain). But much to our surprise, we thoroughly enjoyed LUCKYRICE. The staff, chefs and bartenders were all quite friendly and accommodating. It should be mentioned that The SoHo Beach House, in Miami Beach, made for an ideal event venue. Besides its impressive beauty, the hotel offered ample space and incredible aesthetics. There were several cocktail and food stations located poolside; a tiki bar, as well as a large food and drinking tent beachside in which to sip, sample and savor. It was a bit windy this night, but that didn’t create any issues for the chefs and bartenders.

We’re not ones for the spotlight, but an event like LUCKYRICE is a haven for foodies, bloggers and other media types. At one point as I reached for a food sample I found myself staring like a deer with the glare of a camera’s spotlight less than two feet from me. Turns out it was a local entertainment show. My 15 seconds of fame done with, we meandered from station to station, eating and drinking some truly delightful offerings. Everything was fresh and delicious. By 10:30 we could take no more, so it was time for us to say goodnight. And what a good night it was.

Thank you, LUCKYRICE and SoHo Beach House, for putting on such an amazing event.

Food Favorites:
Wonton  with Mochi Rice, Mushroom Duxelles, Shallots, Umami Sauce by Makoto
Marinated Pork Belly Skewers with Burmese Sticky Rice, Coriander, Fish Sauce by Khong River House
Smoky Mojo Pulled Pork Sandwich with Aji de Chicharron by Suser Lee
Nantucket Bay Scallops Ceviche with Celery Root and Black Garlic by Douglas Rodriguez
Happy Pancake with Smoked Tilefish, Okeechobee Shrimp, Fish Sauce Caramel and Herbs by Norman Van Aken

Drink Favorites:
The East Garden (Bombay Sapphire East Gin, Honey, Fresh Yuzu, Herbs) by Elad Zvi of the Broken Shaker
Tequila & Vinegar (Corzo Reposado Tequila, Pineapple Vinegar with Ancho Chilies, Fresh Lime) also by Elad Zvi
The Killer Bee (Bombay Sapphire East Gin, Fresh Pressed Lemon Juice, White Pepper Ginger Syrup) by William Rivas of the Khong River House
Butter Me Up Martini (Bombay Sapphire East Gin, Butterscotch, Lemon, Ginger Air) by Ben Carlotto
Szechuan Basil Smash (Bombay London Dry Gin, Fresh Pressed Lemon, Szechuan, Peppercorn Syrup, Thai Basil) by Rick Nani of the Soho Beach House

Yellow Green Farmers Market

Yellow Green Farmers Market

Yellow Green Farmers Market

Having grown up in a rather rural environment, a place where it was not uncommon to see a stand in front of someone’s yard bearing fruits and vegetables from their garden (with an honor system for paying), I jump at the chance to check out advertised “farmers markets.”   I usually drag my friend or significant other on these escapades.  The day usually ends with some degree of disappointment at the reality that the “markets” offer nothing unique, but are more glorified flea markets.  I am okay with this, as long as it is billed as such.

Front of Market

Front of Market

This particular Saturday, I convinced my friend that we needed to check out the Yellow Green Farmers Market.  I had seen the advertisements, visited the website and felt fairly confident that it would be as advertised—a little bit of kitsch, vendors selling their wares and farmers market, all built into one.  We finally found the somewhat hidden drive to to the market. As we approached the building with cow statues and wagons in front, I did a little happy dance!

Fruit & Vegetable Stand

Fruit & Vegetable Stand

We parked, headed inside and began walking through the warehouse-size building. As we ventured down the aisles, vendors were happy to share samples with us and information about their offerings.  We encountered everything from speciality teas, breads and olives, to dried and fresh fruits, vegetables, sausages, plants, herbs, pottery, jewelry and clothing.  With so much to see, smell and taste, we ended up doing a circuit of the market, deciding what we were going to buy and picking up a complimentary market bag to hold it all.  Going back through the market we met up with several characters that seemed natural in this quirky market.

After filling our bags and heading back home we vowed that this would not be our last visit to this charming market!


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