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Wine Bloggers Conference 2014

We are getting ready for another road trip. This time we are heading down south to Buellton which is in Santa Barbara County. It’s about 1/2 hour north from Santa Barbara. We are heading there specifically to attend the Wine Bloggers Conference 2014, #wbc14. We went to the first and second wine bloggers conference when they were held up in Santa Rosa. The first year, 2009, they concentrated on the wines from Sonoma County and in 2010 they concentrated on the wines from Napa Valley. We had so much fun and met so many nice and interesting people. This year we are very much looking forward to learning more about the Santa Barbara County wines. We will be doing a lot of tasting wine, pairing wine with food, wine blogging, learning and networking with other wine bloggers.

We are leaving Dublin on Thursday and stopping along the way at two wineries in the Central Coast region. More on those in a later post. We are going to be staying at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott and going out to dinner at Mirabelle Restaurant in Solvang. This restaurant was suggested highly to us by my brother-in-law. After 2-1/2 days at the conference we will end our stay in Buelleton by watching the final Wold Cup game. Once that game is over then we will be heading up to San Luis Obispo to the Granada Hotel. This is a small boutique hotel near the center of town. There we will be celebrating our 34th wedding anniversary. We will most likely have dinner in the bistro at the hotel. On Monday we will drive back up to Dublin stopping at one or two wineries along the way.



Wine Tasting in the Livermore Region

Last Saturday Larry and I and another couple, Liz and Werner, went for the afternoon to experience the Livermore Wine Region.  We started out by stopping off at our local Sprouts store and picked up picnic supplies such as cheeses, salami’s, olives and chocolate.  We had already packed sliced baguette, grapes and water.

Off we went to Retzlaff Vineyards.  We hadn’t been there in years but remembered that they have nice picnic grounds.  We started there by each of us buying a wine flight to taste.  It only cost $5.00 per person.  Liz and I had the red and white combo flight, Larry had the red flight and Werner had the white flight.  They were pretty good wines.  We ended up buying a bottle of their Rose of Merlot and took it out to enjoy with our picnic lunch.  It was a beautiful 75 degrees with a slight wind.  We were sitting in white plastic chairs and had a large round table all to ourselves in the shade of the trees.  Their grape vines were just 20 feet away from us and had already been harvested.

                                            Retzlaff Winery

From there we went to Steven Kent Winery, just 5 minutes away.  When we arrived they had a sign out that said please wait to be brought to a table.  They had two flight available for tasting and each couple bought one of each.  It cost $15.00 for each flight of 4 wines.  The one Liz and I sampled had one white and the rest cabs and the men got the flight that had a rose’ of pinot noir and the rest pinot noir. 

We were enjoying our tasting when Tracy, their VP of retail sales walked into the tasting room.  We had just seen her on Thursday night when Larry and I went into San Francisco for a blind wine tasting that included wines from Santa Cruz, Napa and Livermore.  Out of 6 tastings of 2009 cabernet sauvignon blends that sell for $145 + the Livermore wine came in second place and that wine was a Steven Kent wine.  We said hi to Tracy and talked with her for a few minutes.  After talking with her she asked if we had a few extra minutes to try some more wines.  We said yes, so she set us up in La Rochelle Winery, which is owned and operated by Steven Kent and is right next door.  We walked next door and they had 4 seats set up with a Library Cabernet Vertical tasting of 4 wines.  Each setting also had a plate with a sampling of triple cream brie, Manchego sheep’s milk cheese, blue Castello cow’s milk cheese and a fig and olive tapenade all served with some crackers.  Michael who works there helped us through the tasting and answered all the questions we had for him.  The tasting was from 2004-2007.  Of course we all liked the wines with some of them being ready to drink now and some still able to stay laying down in the bottle.  Each bottle sells for $65.00 which isn’t a bad price especially I think for the ’05 and the ’07. 

This was a very fun experience and a very special treat for us!  We thanked Tracy and Michael for making this a wonderful tasting experience.  We might go back in the month of October when they will be doing another vertical but with the Cabernet blend called Lineage, but more likely we will go back in November when they will be doing a vertical tasting with their Pinot Noir. 

We got home just in time for our younger son and daughter-in-law to handoff our 7 month old granddaughter for the night while they went to a Further concert in Berkeley.  It took us awhile to sober up but we did just fine and had a great time babysitting. 



First Annual Family Outing at the Ballpark

we met our kids and grandchildren at the Oakland A’s baseball park.   Surprisingly we all got there
within 3 minutes of each other. 
Brandon, Kim, Elliana (3) and Eden (2 ½ months) were driving down from
Santa Rosa and so were Jacob, Brittany and Zinnia (5 months). 

        Eden, Elliana and Zinnia tailgating at the A’s Game

The three cars parked so we had a
parking spot in between the cars to lay down blankets and put out folding
chairs.  We got there 2 hours
before the game so we could have a serious tailgating party.  The boys and Elli played some catch
with a football while the girls talked and nursed the babes.  The first thing I pulled out of our
playmate was the sangria Larry had made the day before.  (See recipe below).  Brandon had brought a bottle of Armida 
Pinot Grigio, and of course there was beer. 


Jacob got
his little gas bbq going and then on went the English Bangers and foil packets
of red and green peppers and red onions. 
After a bit we had a feast of homemade salsa and chips, a corn and tomato
salad with homegrown grown basil and the bangers with the grilled veggies and


After we
had plenty to eat and drink it was time to pack it up and head on over to the
ballpark.  This was Eden and Zinnia’s first baseball game.  Elliana has been to a baseball game every summer since she has been born, and this was her second A’s game this year.  The sun had broken
through the fog so the temperature was perfect, in the high 60’s and
sunny.  We got there during the
first inning, which wasn’t very good. 
The A’s pitcher gave up 4 runs in the first inning!  But afterwards he calmed down and we
got some runs and the A’s ended up winning 10-6! 

                     Zinnia with her Daddy at her first ballgame

I bought some Cracker Jacks for Elliana to enjoy.  She also enjoyed a soft pretzel and
some dipping dots ice cream.  You
just have to keep on feeding the kids food so they stay somewhat occupied.  The kids and grandkids made it through
the 7th inning stretch. 
Then they left and went home. 
We however saw some friends who were in the same section as us, just a
few rows down from us so we sat with them through the end of the game.


I can’t
wait to do this again next year! 
Maybe Giants ticket prices wont be as expensive as they were this year
and we can go to a Giants game.  We
will see?!


Larry’s Sangria Recipe


5 plums, coarse diced

3 oz blackberries (about
half of the usual plastic basket) cut in half

Same amount of
grapes,  cut in half

1 bottle of Zinfandel (we
used 2011 Saucelito Canyon Vineyards Zinfandel “Backroads”, from Edna

½ cup triple sec

½ cup apple cider

1 shot of peach brandy


Place everything into a
pitcher, stir and refrigerate until ready to serve.


To serve:  Spoon out fruit into each cup, then
pour the wine ½ way up the glass. 
Pour sparkling water to ¾ way up the glass and add 1-2 ice cubes.  Drink.  Serves 6-8 oz glasses. 





Sake Tasting in Japan

I was in Japan last week on business.  ( is fun, but there is a real job.)  Business went well, and at the end of the week, we met up with a friend to go to a new sake tasting bar in Tokyo.  I’ve had sake on previous trips to Japan, but never really thought about it, or done any side by side tastings.  Well, this was fun.  This tasting bar lines up 3 glasses for you, and you (in my case, my Japanese friend) picks out 3 different bottles of sake to try from the 500 or so they had.  With 5 of us tasting, we lined up a few bottles on the bar:

Sake is fermented rice, not exactly rice wine.  But there are similar characteristics:  there are specific strains of rice that are better for sake, and specific areas in Japan that give different taste to the different rices.  There are different degrees of care that go into the fermenation process.  Probably even more similarities if/when I dig into it.  One other similarity is the time, energy and love that goes into the labels:

Also, just as with wine, different people have different tastes.  I didn’t like the most expensive one the best, but it was quite smooth.  I thought it lacked a bit of flavor.  A less expensive sake had better balance between flavors, to my untrained, outsider palate.  But as with wine, if you like it, then it’s good.  

I’m back in the Bay Area now, and enjoying the nice Summer weather.  Business was great in Japan, but I can’t really recommend traveling there during Summer, as you get both heat and humidity.  

Back to wine with the next post; heading down to Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo soon.  



2013 Wine Road Barrel Tasting – Not Healdsburg

I’ll talk about our
Healdsburg tasting experiences in a not-too-distant future post, but I’m
starting with the non-Healdsburg wineries we visited.  We’ll start with Armida,
because it’s first alphabetically, and because our Winemaker B (Brandon
Lapides) is the winemaker at Armida. 
And he makes great wine there, and the view from the deck at Armida,
southeast across the Russian River Valley, is just fantastic, as you can see for
yourself below.  The first wine of
the day, in the barrel right now, tasting great, is the 2012 Armida Chardonnay,
Stuhlmuller Vineyards.  This is not
your stereotypical California Chardonnay, with oak and butter.  Nor is it really like a white Burgandy,
with more acids and minerality. 
This is a Chardonnay, grown in the Alexander Valley, and it tastes like
Chardonnay, grown in the Alexander Valley.  Which tastes different than Chardonnay from the Russian
River Valley.  (See Brandon’s 2010
Armida Chardonnay, Dutton Ranch.) 
At this point in time, the Stuhlmuller has more stone fruit flavors,
like a bit of peach in it.  The
second wine I tasted from the barrel was their Il Campo estate blend of
Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. 
Brandon is still working on the final blend, which will probably end up
somewhere in the range of 15-20% Petite Sirah.  Tasting really good right now, and should only get
better.  The last point about the
tasting experience at Armida is that the winemaker is there greeting all the
guests, introducing himself as the winemaker and making himself available to
answer questions about the wines. 
With many of the other places you go to on a weekend like this, the
winemaker isn’t there, and while others know about the wines, the winemaker can
tell you exactly what happened with each and every barrel.  A better tasting experience for


The Armida deck is a great place to enjoy the wines and the view.

Next on the list was Dutcher
.  When we first
visited, and I
wrote about our visit
, I said that we’d be back.  Well, too many new wineries to visit, not enough time, and
it’s been nearly 4 years.  I’m
almost embarrassed about that. 
Beautiful winery, also with great views, and a nice arbor under which
are some nice picnic benches. (We ate our lunch there.)  They were serving a mushroom bisque to
go with their barrel wines, which were 2012 Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.  The Zinfandel was from Maple Vineyards
grapes, in the Dry Creek Valley, which is one of the top Zinfandel growers in
the area.  We also tasted the 2009
Dutcher Crossing Maple Vineyards Zinfandel, to see how we might expect the
barrel wine to evolve.  Very
nice.  Hopefully it won’t take us
another 4 years before we return. 


Last for this post is Limerick
.  Limerick Lane was once
one of the standard bearers for Russian River Valley Zinfandel, with a well
deserved reputation for great Zins. 
And then there was the reputation, but it wasn’t so well deserved.  Not quite sure why.  And then there was new ownership (Jake
Bilbro), taking over right before the 2011 harvest.  And then there was the new winemaker, Jake’s brother Scott,
taking over the winemaking reins at the same time.  Scott was able to do the final blending on the 2010 wines,
but his influence is really noticed on the 2011s.  There was a marked difference tasting 2010 and 2011
Zinfandels and Syrahs side by side. 
The difference was more than just the vintage, because neither vintage
is “great”.  One of the truly great
things about California though, is that there is rarely a poor vintage, so the
winemaker should always have at least good to very good grapes to work with.  The 2011 shone bright in our tasting,
like the winemaker put some TLC (tender loving care) into the wines.  The 2010, well, I’m sure they’ll be
able to sell those bottles.  Looks
to me like Limerick Lane is well on its way to once again deserving their
reputation for great wines.  

Limerick Lane tasting room and estate vineyards.  



Auriga and Celebrations

We started in December last year with big birthdays and other life
cycle events, and continued in January with my mother-in-law’s 75th
birthday.  We had a nice simple
lunch, with the group meeting in Auburn, somewhat equidistant between people
coming from Reno, Santa Cruz, and Santa Rosa.  And somewhat close to my mother-in-law in the Placerville
area.  Not too much to report from
the lunch, but we did have a great time, including our granddaughter having her
chocolate ice cream for her dessert.


On the way up to Placerville we decided to stop at Auriga Wine Cellars, in El Dorado County
in the Sierra Foothills.  We had
been there before, a few years ago, and had really liked their Sangiovese.  Great taste, great value.  Actually, we liked it so much that we
bought it for our younger son’s
rehearsal dinner
.  This time we
weren’t looking for wedding wine, just for some nice wine for everyday
drinking.  And we found some.  

When we arrived there the
owner/winemaker, Richard Sturgis, was behind the bar and, not surprisingly for
a Friday afternoon, the tasting room wasn’t crowded.  We tasted through almost their whole selection:  sparkling french columbard, sauvignon
blanc, sangiovese, super tuscan, barbera, zinfandel and syrah.  We didn’t taste the dessert port-style
wine.  This is a pretty typical
range of varietals for a Sierra Foothills winery, because these are the grapes
that grow well in the Foothills.


We’re not huge fans of sparkling wines, but we really liked this
one, and with a few more – events grandchildren being born, weddings, big
birthdays – coming up this year we thought a few bottles might be good in the
cellar.  On to the others now.  Most of the reds were from 2010.  We weren’t as excited about the
Sangiovese this time, but we really loved the Super Tuscan, which is a blend of
Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel (only a “dash”).  The other one was the Barbera.  And while we enjoyed the wines, the
best part was talking with Richard about his wines, grape growing in the
Foothills, other winemakers, and more.  




Larry Lapides

PS.  We now have opened one of those Auriga Sparkling French Columbards, for the birth of our second grandchild, another granddaughter.  It was delicious, especially the first sip for the new mom!  

West Wines Viognier, Curry Chicken Salad

In my real world job – not this fun world of writing about
wine-related experiences – I go to England at least once a year.  The company that I work for has its
headquarters just outside of Oxford, in what used to be the milking shed of a
farm.  Actually, the farm is still
there, next to the office, and it’s pretty typical to hear roosters and other
livestock throughout the workday. 
It’s a bit isolated though, so for lunch we usually get a sandwich from
the catering truck that comes around. 
And my favorite sandwich from the truck is curry chicken salad. 


(As a side note, I have a bit of a soft spot in my heart for the little catering trucks.  When I was young, Cousin Louie drove one, and occasionally we would get to help him count coins from his day’s business.  Not much, but then it doesn’t take much to make a 6 year old kid happy.)  

Last week I decided to try to replicate that sandwich for
dinner.  I just used canned chicken
breast meat, plus mayonnaise, spicy mustard, curry powder, chopped peanuts,
celery, green onions, cilantro (probably not in the English version, but I love
the flavor) and raisins.  Turned
out pretty darn good.  Lori made a
berry salad with strawberries, blueberries and raspberries to go with it.  And we opened a nice bottle of wine (2
paragraphs into this, and I finally get to the wine!), a 2008 West
Dry Creek Valley Viognier.


We visited West Wines last March, where we met Katarina
Bonde and
Bengt Akerlind, the owners of West Wines.  Katarina and Bengt are originally from Sweden, which goes a
long way to explaining why in 2010 the West Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2005 was
the first American wine ever served at the Nobel Prize Banquet.  We really enjoyed the atmosphere at the
winery and tasting room, and enjoyed the wines.  They only make Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon and
a Cab blend, so they’re pretty focused. 
We walked away having purchased Chardonnay, Viognier and Cabernet


The curry chicken salad and Viognier was a really nice
pairing, as it turned out.  The
West Wines Viognier was all we remembered it to be:  nice floral nose, bright flavors on entry, medium body and
just a bit of acid on the finish. 
Worked really well with the curry-based flavors. 


So now we’re eyeing the Chardonnay and Cab in the cellar,
and thinking about when to open those!




Larry Lapides

Holiday Wine and Food

One of my New Year’s
resolutions, number two on my list – No, I’m not going to tell you what number
one is, so don’t even ask — was to get back to writing about wines:  about visiting wineries, wine travel
and tasting experiences, and wine and food pairings.  So I’m getting after it on day one of 2013. 


Lori and I took off most of
2012 from  It wasn’t
intentional, it just happened that way. 
Blame work, granddaughter Elli, dealing with family crises, etc.  But things seem to be evening out,
starting with this holiday season. 
So I’ll catch you up on our celebrations, especially the wine and food
part of it. 


Thanksgiving:  Actually, the day after Thanksgiving is
what I really want to talk about. 
We celebrated the holiday in Las Vegas, as the grandmother of our
younger son’s wife lives there, and the grandmother is our daughter-in-law’s
only family.  So, road trip to Las
Vegas, with a stop near Placerville to pick up my in-laws so that we could spend
the 10-hour drive to Las Vegas with them. 
If you’re waiting for all the jokes and rude comments about that road
trip, don’t look here.  It went
well from my perspective, mainly because I spent it either driving or
sleeping.  Not that it’s high on my
list of things to do again.  Back
to dinner.  Thanksgiving itself,
out at a restaurant in the Venetian Hotel, was very nice from a family
celebration perspective, but nothing special on the food/wine side.  The next night we went to Prime
Steakhouse in the Bellagio
Great meal, with a very nice bottle of wine.  Everyone ordered their own food, so I’ll only go over my
selections.  My main course was the
Duck l’Orange.  And the wine that
we had with our main course was the 2009 Hirsch
“San Andreas Fault” Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast).  Great combination, with the duck cooked
perfectly, great sauce, and the wine with enough fruit and acid to balance the
duck in the mouth.  Wonderful, and
thanks again to “Grandma Dee” for that dinner. 


Hanukkah:  Dinner with both of our boys and their
wives (both expecting in 2013, by the way), and the granddaughter.  After stuffing ourselves with potato
latkes during the day, we were ready for some protein that evening.  Dinner that evening was beef short
ribs, served with a 2002 Soquel
Cabernet Sauvignon (Partners’ Reserve, Santa Cruz Mountains) and
a 2003 Soquel Vineyards Trinity. 
The Trinity is only labeled as “California”, and I don’t know sources of
the grapes or even the varietals that went into this blend.  We decanted both wines, and therein
made two mistakes.  The first was
drinking the wines right after decanting, and not giving them time to
breathe.  The second was which
decanters we used.  For the Cab, we
used a nice, basic decanter that provides a good amount of surface area to help
get oxygen into the wine, more than just the oxygen that gets in when you pour
into the decanter.  For the
Trinity, we used a beautiful Waterford decanter.  Looks great, but it narrows down at the top so that the
surface area of the wine in the decanter is not much more than the surface area
of a cork; i.e., not much additional oxygen gets to that wine.  The Cab was excellent that
evening.  A really nice example of
a well balanced wine, and went great with the short ribs.  The Trinity had a nice nose, but
otherwise fell flat.  So everyone
drank the Cab, and everyone was happy. 
Except for me, because I had higher expectations for the Trinity, having
tasted it throughout the years.  So
I tried it again the next day, and Doh! it hit me, the decanting mistakes I’d
made.  Because the Trinity was not
just excellent, but outstanding. 
(On the same level with some of the wines in the Birthday celebration
below.)  I’ve got one more bottle
left, and I’m now going to save it for a special occasion.  I’m not sure what occasion, or when,
but it’s got at least another 5 years in the bottle, and I’m sure something
will happen that deserves that wine. 

Dad’s 85th
Birthday:  In the past, for one of
the every-five-year birthdays for Mom or Dad, we’ve had a nice meal.  Sometimes we’ve gone out, sometimes
we’ve catered in.  I previously
wrote about Dad’s 80th
.  For this celebration
we decided to do the cooking ourselves. 
Mom took the hors d’oeuvres, my brother and sister-in-law took the
appetizer course (asparagus and prosciutto wrapped in filo dough, and a baked
brie and jam/chutney dish), we took the main course and my sister took dessert
(apple pie).  The “we” for the main
course included my wife and I, and both boys and wives.  The main course was tri tip, twice
baked potatoes and roasted asparagus with lemon and garlic.  The wines were 1992 and 1995 Opus One (Napa Valley Cabernet
Sauvignon based blends), and a 1993 V Sattui
Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. 
The Opus One wines were excellent, with a split at the table as to which
was preferred.  And the V Sattui
held its own with the others; another great tasting experience.  It was a bit chaotic with everyone in
and out of the kitchen, but truly a memorable experience for the fun we all had
celebrating a big birthday. 

Leftovers:  In addition to the intimate home
celebration of Dad’s birthday, we also had a large party at a restaurant.  And Lori and I took home a container of
ziti pasta with chicken and mushrooms in a cream-based sauce.  The next night we opened a bottle of
2004 Peachy
Zinfandel (Paso Robles, Old Schoolhouse Vineyard).  This wine has aged quite well, and is
now a very nicely balanced wine, great with meals like this.  The Zin was not too heavy for the meal,
as the mushrooms in particular gave the pasta a nice earthy, meaty tone that
the wine complemented well.  Also,
the nice acidity in the wine cut through the cream sauce, cleaning out the
mouth after each bite.  Yes,
Zinfandels can age really well if they’re made to do that, and this wine
definitely has at least a few more years. 
Good thing, since we have another couple of bottles. 


That’s all for now.  No wine for New Year’s Eve, just
margaritas.  Here’s wishing you and
yours a happy, healthy and prosperous 2013!








Shoot Your Dog Contest Benefits the Healdsburg Animal Shelter

Almost exactly a year ago, on a trip to Healdsburg, we told you about one of the newer tasting rooms in downtown Healdsburg, Topel Winery .  (See Larry’s post on Healdsburg Tasting Rooms .)  Some good wines, and especially good values for the wines.  One other item about Topel is that they’ve started an annual Shoot Your Dog contest, publishing a calendar to benefit the Healdsburg Animal Shelter

Wine and dogs combine two of our passions, and hopefully yours as well.  And we’re big supporters of the shelters.  We found Elmer Fudd, our current mutt (pictured here as a puppy 4 1/2 years ago), at the Santa Cruz SPCA.  The Shoot Your Dog contest closes the end of this month, so get your entries in asap. 

Ame Restaurant Wine Challenge

Hey San Francisco Bay Area locals! Here’s one for you. Ame Restaurant in San Francisco has issued a challenge:  Dine at Ame, order the 3-glass flight of wines, and if you correctly identify the varietals, the wine flight is free!  Running through the month of August.  Seems like a no-lose deal.  Great dinner, and free wine, assuming you’re as good as you think you are at wine tasting.  Have fun!