Camino de Santiago Day 10: Logrono to Najera

9 04 2018

Day Ten! My body is in full efficiency mode, feet are good muscles are toned, the poles are like another set of limbs working to take the pressure off my joints. And I have rhythm!

We got up early enough to get Suzy’s bag set to ship out by 8 since the Pension was unattended in the morning. Although there was rain forecast when we left we saw none. Right down the road we saw cafe Picasso advertising breakfast for 2,80 coffee, fresh squeezed juice and a jamon and pepper sandwich that was freshly prepared, absolutely delicious. As we sat there easing into the day we glanced outside and it was pouring. Despite the big day ahead we took our time with breakfast and miraculously when we were ready to go the rain was light, not dumping like before. Sophia the cafe server even agreed to help Suzy get minutes from the Orange store for her phone, it wasn’t open until much later in the morning, but Suzy gave her some cash and she sweetly agreed to load the minutes for her later in the day.

The walk out of Logrono was tedious. With the rain constant we had hats and hoods on and it was often hard to look up to see the signs for the Camino. We passed by a protest for a trial we heard about at the court and almost got lost a few blocks down. Remember that rain doesn’t always fall down, Today it was falling AT us sideways and soon my pants were soaked and I was a bit chilly without another layer underneath. We saw a dog dressed very fancy wearing a shirt and corduroy pants, he looked warmer than we were.

With the rain we stop less to look around and I don’t take as many photos since my phone is wrapped up in plastic. We did get a break in the rain after a rest stop that had facilities and had a chance to watch some swans and ducks.

We just kept walking and walking until we saw the town of Navarette. Suzy made up a fun marching song and we marched on up to the town. We kept on the Camino not wanting to stop at he very first cafe we saw but we found very little on the route, lots of shuttered homes and abandoned buildings. We eventually left the route and found some banks where I got cash but Suzy was still unable to exchange dollars. She has enough for now but he plan is to try to get another hotel in a big town to do an exchange later in the trip. We did find a cute cafe but they had limited food, our breakfast was holding us over but we got two beers and a big piece of pork belly that they heated for us, delicious! we could feel the meat reenergizing our muscles. Sadly our clothes had not dried but we put them back on and plodded on.

Amazingly the rain had stopped but it was really cold at first, the wind was whipping and temperatures seemed to have dropped. There were lots of vineyards with pinkish soil and a good deal of mud. We stopped briefly in Ventosa for a beverage but we found each time we stopped we seemed to be get even colder.

We walked on and walked and walked. We missed a sign once and ended up at the bottom of a muddy hill only to see footsteps heading the wrong way and realized our error. And we walked. I was irritated to see that we were still far from the town it seemed endless as we wife past factories and industrial parts of town but eventually we made it to the Puerta de Najera hostel. The place is awesome, a great group of pilgrims were there and two pilgrim families merged. Somehow of course Heino and Marc and Helena were there and as we enjoyed some wine with the pilgrims there we met new ones! Gigi from San Francisco greeted us as we’d met on the Camigas blog and we met Z, Alyssa and Andi who were to my excitement playing left right center (although sadly not for money). We shared some wine which was available for sale at the hostel. Mary came in and gave us the brilliant idea to microwave a potato and cover it with cheese. Suzy and I headed out in search of the grocery store which is seconds from the hostel but went down the wrong street to our good fortune though as we found a place that serves the mushrooms like we had in Logrono and a fancy butcher where we got some lomo!

We finally found the grocer also and created a little feast of bonito tuna, white asparagus, local cheese and my favorite boquerones. And a bottle of El Coto Rioja crianza. At 10 they shut the lights and now we have survived the 6:30 am rustle and shuffle as pilgrims rush out of here. It’s 7:15 am now and maybe five of us are left, and it’s still dark out. Suzy has been wondering where they got the night vision goggles they must have ;). We like to take our time and ease into the day. I did brush my teeth early today and there were people lined up and waiting, so I’m cool to leave later. We have a mellow walk today anyway…

Oh I failed to mention that yesterday’s walk was 20.1 miles including our walk through the town. 🙂

Last Minute Holiday Gifts

21 12 2013

Happy Holidays!  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and thanks for all the support in 2013!

All my love to you and yours this holiday.


Need a last minute gift?

Winter Wine Wednesdays at Nantucket Vineyard in 2014!

Support your local winery!

Join Certified Wine Educator Rebecca Chapa for her

“Winter Wine 101” series held at Nantucket Vineyard

Whether you are just starting out or a pro, this fun and informative series will prime your palate.  Expand your wine vocabulary, and discover how your individual sense of taste works. Tasting our wines in this educational setting will enhance your overall appreciation of wine.  Enjoy drinking our Nantucket Vineyard wines and some camaraderie with friends new and old at our cozy winery.  Join us!  It’s the perfect recipe to cure the winter doldrums.  Plus students get half off their wine purchase the night of the class!


January  29 – “Tune into Your Senses”

Ever hear “wine people” rave about the bouquet of elderflower or fine saddle leather in a wine?  WHAT?  Learn how to detect flavors and aromas in wine and explore how your nose and brain work to decipher them. 

February 12 – “Taste the Place / Terroir”

Terroir is loosely defined as “Sense of Place”.  Learn how factors such as growing conditions and winemaking can enhance or detract from “terroir” as we share the unique story of Nantucket Vineyard wines.

March 5 – “Blind Tasting”

Blind tasting is the act of being able to decipher the origin, grape variety, sometimes even the year of a wine by using your palate to gauge its unique characteristics.  Not just a fun trick at parties, it also helps you understand your palate!

March 19 – “Spirits 101”

Nantucket Vineyard, Cisco Brewers and Triple Eight Distillery produce a plethora of quality libations, so any educational series would not be complete without exploring the unique distilled spirits we produce.  Learn how these classic spirits are made and discover for yourself our unique offerings as well as some recipes for winter warmers which combine spirits and wine.  A definite cure for winter woes.

NEW Price = $20 per class or $30 for two!  All classes held at Nantucket Vineyard at Cisco Brewers

                                    A great gift for yourself and a friend!

To Sign Up: Call Mike @ 415-548-0374 or email

But Tickets Here :

Also consider visiting our Square Up page for fun crafts inspired by the ocean…

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SF Jaunts-My Favorite Things

29 12 2010

It’s the last stretch of the holiday season, and some of you may still have family coming to town. Its always great to be together but sometimes the stress of the holidays can build up and you just may want to get some peace an quiet and find something to occupy the brood while you regroup. Here are a few tips for some of my favorite things to do in San Francisco, year round and at the holidays. The best part of this list is that you can join in and become a tourist for a day or just print it for them and let them go their merry way.

Journey One: Downtown
How Wine Became Modern at SF Moma: A new exhibit opened up recently at SF MOMA, How Wine Became Modern, focusing on design and wine from 1976, the year of the Paris Tasting until now. This is apparently unusual for the museum as it is a more experiential installation. Henry Urbach the gentleman who helped create the exhibit calls himself “not a wine geek”, and “interloper” so it should be interesting for even not so savvy wine types. The idea was “to allow the world of wine to become a mirror to a cultural condition that is ours”. They have some really creative galleries that focus on art, design, glassware, labels, soil, additives and media. Concurrently the museum has other interesting installations including a bridge of sound (Sonic Shadows) by Bill Fontana, an interactive auditory sculpture. They also have a great gift shop to browse through and pick up what you really wanted for Christmas.

Dim Sum at Yank Sing: Yank Sing has some of the greatest dim sum in the city. It may not be as good of a value as more traditional places, and some find it a little bit “fancy” but there is no question that it is delicious. I especially love their black bean oil that you can use to add some zip to some of the dishes. Designate one person at the table to monitor what you get so you do not overdo it. Take small “drops” of dumplings rather than multiple containers at the same time so that they do not get cold. Let the Shanghai dumplings cool a bit before eating. A great way to monitor yourselves and stay in budget it to ask for a price list, some items are surprisingly good value (Har Gow are about $5 for four while the shredded cabbage salad is $10!)

Tour Ferry Plaza Farmers Market: Whether it’s a market day or not the Ferry Plaza is a great place to visit to either sample our local products, get a coffee or do some shopping. The Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant is a great place to grab a glass of wine!

Pier 39: From the Ferry Plaza it’s really easy to jump on one of the vintage streetcars and head towards Pier 39. It’s a bit touristy but kids really enjoy watching the sea lions and riding the carousel.

Fishermans Wharf: Stroll down towards Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghriradelli Square and if you get chilly grab a hot chocolate or stop into the Buena Vista Bar for an Irish Coffee.

Journey Two: SF Parks
Conservatory of Flowers:
Golden Gate Park has a plethora of things to keep your family busy, easily accessible by public transportation.

California Academy of Sciences Museum:This is an experience which could easily take all day. The planetarium show is fun but maybe a bit complex for rowdy children. Definitely walk through the rainforest dome which shows the different levels of the rainforest and the creatures in each (dress in layers because it’s hot and steamy in there!). Then take the elevator to the aquarium. Don’t miss the leafy sea dragons and jellies. Be sure to visit the penguins and the living roof and there are currently a pair of reindeer on site for the holidays. If you haven’t exhausted yourself the de Young Museum is just across the plaza. Also if you are local it’s worth buying a membership, it gets you a discount in the store and the basic one allows unlimited visits for you and a guest!

From the park you can head one of two directions…

East Bound Route:Haight Ashbury
If you opt to head East you can walk towards the Haight Ashbury district where there is tons of shopping, fun bars and of course would not be complete without a stop at Amoeba Records a treasure trove for music. Just nearby is Alembic, a necessary stop for a great cocktail and if you go further East hit the Toronado where you can grab an amazing microbrew, I especially love Pliny the Elder, but beware, it packs a punch. If you tour on a Tuesday you can get a burger at Rosamunde or try one of their great sausages and bring it into the T to enjoy with your beer.

Westbound Route:Outer Richmond
A walk through the park on a nice day is a great way to work off your big holiday meals. You can stop by a number of the park’s lakes and check out the wildlife, visit the Buffalo Paddock and stop by the Park Chalet (or the Beach Chalet upstairs) for a beer ending at Ocean Beach. This journey may be easier with a car, and if you have one then you could head up the hill past the Cliff House and get a scenic look at the coastline and stop at the Sutro Parking Lot where you can get a view of the Sutro Bath Ruins. If you are feeling particularly inspired you can walk down into the ruins where a tunnel leads to the water on the other side and you can hear the waves crashing into the bedrock. From here you can drive up Point Lobos and make a left at 48th Avenue, stay towards the left to wind around through the Presidio and up to the Palace of Legion of Honor. As you keep winding around you will find some amazing views of the Golden Gate Bridge and can even take a jaunt on the Lands End Trail which is full of tons of great vistas, there is even a “secret” labyrinth made by Eduardo Aguilera, it’s pretty magical actually with a gorgeous view. The whole trail in fact ends at the Sutro Parking Lot but it’s a long walk. If you are driving and feeling a bit parched take a right at 25th Avenue and head to either Pizzetta 211 (23rd and California) or Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant, home of the best margarita in SF and I think in the US.

Journey Three: The Mission
The Mission district is full of fun places to graze and shop. While you can explore on your own, a better idea is to take a food tour. I took one a few weeks ago from In The Kitchen with Lisa The tour is more cultural than just culinary, but be sure to come hungry! We started out at Mission Minis and my growling stomach was immediately tamed by a red velvet mini cupcake. The day was gorgeous as we strolled around the sunniest part of San Francisco without even a jacket on, in November! Along the way our guide would stop and give us some information about local businesses that we did not get to stop off at and some details about the history of the neighborhood. We had tacos, coffee and Mexican pastry, sandwiches, Mission pies, donuts, ice cream, it was intense but great. At each spot we learned a bit about the history of the location, their mission, it was more than just eating. We also walked down Balmy Alley, a small side street famous for its murals. We were met by Patricia Rose of Precita Eyes Mural Arts and Visitors Center who gave us some history on the various murals as we strolled along. Precita Eyes also does more extensive mural tours.

photo by Kimberly Charles

At the end of your Mission tour you may be stuffed, so it’s a pretty good time to exercise, your vocal chords that is, with a stop to The Mint Karaoke Lounge. While the Mint has a reputation for being a very professional karaoke joint show up at 3pm and the calm regular crew is very supportive, you will get a chance to sing more often and it may not be as daunting as a busy Saturday night crowd! If karaoke isn’t your thing and it’s a nice day you could end up at Zeitgeist and enjoy the outdoor area.

Wherever your travels take you there is plenty to do in this great city, these are just a couple of my favorites. Happy New Year!

A Day of Terroir

16 11 2010

I always find it startling when a day seems to develop a theme that comes out of nowhere.  A few weeks ago I had scheduled a big day of events, but I was a bit weary after a long night at the finale to SF Cocktail Week, the Chartreuse karaoke gong show (and not I did not win but I did not get gonged either).  I knew I had a vodka tasting and a wine dinner but sometimes the details of these invitations become a blur (although I do remember that the Mondavi wine event invite was a box of dirt0, so I forgot exactly what the events were really focusing on until I actually showed up!  It sort of hit me unexpectedly that the theme of the day was Terroir or Sense of Place, ironically I was supposed to teach a class about the subject the next week, so it was very apropos.

The concept of terroir is more often reserved for wine tastings so it was very unique to have this presented as a theme by a spirit brand.  Luckily spirits companies are keyed in to the sleeping patterns of spirits pros so the lunch event for Karlsson’s Gold vodka started at 1pm.  When I walked in some of the attendees reminded me of my vocal musings the night prior.  Master Blender Börje Karlsson was on hand to talk about the very unique vodka that he produces.  Vodka can of course be produced from almost anything, wheat, rye, quinoa, potato, grape… and of course each base produces a product that has a unique flavor profile, but the irony is that many producers who chat up the public about the base of their vodka also have a vodka that is distilled multiple times resulting in an almost flavorless product.  Great if you are sipping on a Screwdriver at work and don’t want your boss to smell it on your breath or if you do not like the taste of alcohol, but this may be a reason that I have not been a huge vodka fan.  I do not want to drink just to drink, I am a flavor addict.  Karlsson’s Gold is truly different, it could be said it is a vodka with terroir.

Karlsson’s Gold is made from virgin new potatoes from Sweden’s Cape Bjäre and is distilled only once.  This part of Sweden is famous for their potatoes in fact!  There are seven varieties of potato used to make Karlsson’s gold and much like wine each potato harvest provides different conditions, some years more starch, some less (vintage variation!).  I found it interesting to taste through the range of different potato varieties grown in different locations.  Each was labeled with the region it was from and even the name of the farmer!   There really was a huge difference amongst them, as well as significant vintage variation.  Most people assume that spirits are unchanging and this cannot be further from the truth.  The 2004 Solis was supremely powerful and aromatic, 2005 spicier and 2006 more neutral.  Upon some research I discovered that the 2004 crop was one that matured very quickly and apparently when ripening is fast it creates more complexity and strength in the flavor of the potato.  2005 was a cooler year and resulted in slower ripening giving the 2005 more smoothness.  Who knew!?  The key is taking all these distinct components and blending to produce a product that is consistent, harmonious and delicious.  Karlsson’s Gold is a great amalgamation of the various types of potato and offers a spirit that actually has a lot of flavor.  The beauty is it can be used in cocktails but is also really enjoyable on the rocks with cracked black pepper.  It is truly a testament to the skill of Börje Karlsson.  It was such an interesting event!

Then after a short break to sweat off the booze it was off to Saison in the Mission.

I had never been to Saison, what a perfect location for a tasting about terroir.  Robert Mondavi Winery hosted the event featuring their wines and winemaker Genevieve Janssens.  I am proud to say she actually took my Tasting Terroir class at the Culinary Institute of America once, I am sure she was just reinforcing information she was already familiar with but it was an honor to have her in class.  It just goes to show her dedication to Terroir.

What was most unusual and refreshing about the event is that it took quite a while to get a glass of wine in hand!  We all gathered around the outdoor patio and were immediately struck by a very unique set up of tasting stations featuring not glasses of wine but glasses of soil!  This took taste of place to a whole new dimension.  The idea was inspired by an installation created by Laura Parker who was on hand to guide us through this exploration into soil.  The idea is to smell the soil, taste a food grown on that soil and reflect the relationship between the two of them.  It may seem a little bit strange at first, but anyone who has experienced the outdoors can appreciate the experience if they just let go a bit.  I have vivid memories of my grandparent’s house in West Nanticoke, Pennsylvania and the soft lush smell of the stone walls covered in moss after a rain.  There is something incredibly primal about the smell of dirt, especially if you have ever dug for potatoes on a farm.  So that’s not to say that I immediately recognized the 131 Omni silty clay loam and could blind sniff that dirt versus the 122/123 Coombs Gravelly Loam on which Mondavi’s To Kalon Vineyard sits, but it was interesting nonetheless.  We tasted a sugar snap pea from by J.E. Perry Farms in Fremont (with that first Omni silty clay loam) with the soil gathered from the same furrow on which the pea was grown.  Soil collected from Bodega Artisan Cheese in Bodega was smelled with a taste of their feta.  It was a really unique way to kick off the evening, then we moved on to some of the Mondavi To Kalon wines, including the famous I Block Fume Blanc.  The To Kalon Vineyard in fact has nine different unique soil types, add in slopes and drainage and the complexity starts to become overwhelming, so we welcomed pairing these with a delicious meal, garden beans and river vegetable, chicken liver mousseline with huckleberry and rosebud was a killer combination with the Robert Mondavi 2008 Pinot Noir, Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 and 1996 with a rare Sonoma lamb and a tasty summer berry dessert with yuzu ice cream with their sprightly Mostcato d’Oro.

The two events paired seamlessly as did the combinations of spirits, wine, food and friends to create a truly unique day in the dirt.


Trivia Fact: The seven varieties of potato used in Karlsson’s Gold are Solist, Gammel Svensk Röd, Sankta Thora, Princess, Hamlet, Marine and Celine.

Try their signature “Black Gold” 3 oz of Karlsson’s Gold Vodka with fresh cracked black pepper on the rocks.

Trivia Fact: The nine soil types of To Kalon Vineyard are 103 Bale Loam, 0-2% slopes, 104 Bale Clay Loam, 0-2% slopes, 105 Bale Clay Loam 2-8% slopes, 116 Clear Lake Clay, Drained, 122 Coombs Gravelly Loam, 0-2% slopes, 123 Coombs Gravelly Loam, 2-5% slopes, 146 Haire Loam 2-9% slopes, 168 Perkins Gravelly Loam, 2-5% slopes, 182 Yolo Loam, 2-5% slopes

Shipments of Fools

4 11 2009

I have been doing quite a few wine reviews lately which, of course, is really fun.  Wine shows up at my door in shippers from around the state of California, usually (and rightfully) requiring an adult signature for delivery.  This requirement can be a slight hassle because that means that the samples need to be signed for and received while we are at home, and considering my hectic schedule and lack of any staff that is challenging sometimes.  But the worst that can happen is that the shipment heads off to the UPS or Fedex warehouse and I have to retrieve it.  No big deal to me since that means my neighbors aren’t drinking it!

That said, I have been noticing that the more samples I receive the more irritated I get.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE having wine to taste show up at my doorstep, but you have to understand that I just don’t pop open these bottles that arrive for sampling, instead I need to evaluate them critically, it’s just the right thing to do.  I cannot just open them for a night in front of the fire or give them away to a friend hoping to taste them at their dinner party.  They must be opened and tasted professionally, even if I go ahead and finish the remaining wine later on, and that only happens in rare occasions.  This may again seem like a silly “problem” to have, but all of a sudden you find that as a writer you end up on these lists receiving wines that you have not requested and are not necessarily your priority at that moment.  Because I do not write a focused wine review I gladly accept samples but I cannot assure the sender that their wine will ever be written up.  Its not really the wine that is the problem though, but its the whole issue of shipping.

As the wines roll in, the issues arise.  Opening, unpacking, removing my name from the boxes, stacking them who knows where.  Most of the wines shipped today are packed in styrofoam packaging.  While there are producers that use pressed recycled cardboard, which I really appreciate, there are still many that continue to use styrofoam.  Not only does this create larger shippers that cannot be broken down, but it also tends to break up during shipping, and upon opening the package I am attacked by tiny styrofoam balls that stick to my clothing, my hair and my terriers.  It’s bad for the environment and not fun at all.  I give these containers away, luckily, to friends or our local shipping store (they also willingly take peanuts and bubble wrap).  Unfortunately those friends and folks at those stores ship the boxes to other places where they are likely to become landfill.   I highly recommend that if you have these types of containers that you try to reuse them as much as you can, or ask wineries you work with to use reclaimed cardboard and molded paper boxes and inserts.  Some say they are recyclable, but that still means they need to make it into the right recyclable heap, and not blow down the street in the process.

Another environmental issue that has been irking me is heavy bottles.  Recently during a review I was struck by a couple of ridiculously heavy bottles, we are talking FOUR pound bottles (full).  Some of these came from producers that “claim” to be environmentally sensitive.  I weighed a “normal” bottle, the Heitz Trailside Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Napa Valley and on my simple little bathroom scale it seemed about two pounds.  Now perhaps you may say that Heitz is “old school” and traditional in packaging, yet this seems like a reasonable alternative with the cost of fossil fuels and shipping today.  Bottles of this shape, height and weight have for more than centuries been able to withstand age, movement, dropping, even sitting at the bottom of the ocean.  My point is that the only reason to change your bottle to a heavier, taller, larger punted (the indentation on the bottom of the bottle) bottle is to increase the perception of quality.  While I understand that the reality is that consumer take interest in the packaging, I do not know how companies can truly justify the additional expense (which is then passed on to the consumer) and the effect this decision has on their energy profile.  This disconnect between the marketing and production in a winery has never ceased to amaze me.

The four pound bottle I tasted recently was from producers claiming to be sustainable or organically farmed.  So their vineyard manager is trying to closely manage how many passes they make through the vineyard on their tractor to manage their fossil fuel use, but they are adding basically doubling the weight of every case they ship, whether it is from Napa to SF or Sonoma to China.  I truly hope that producers will take a step back and reevaluate the importance of the “sexy” bottle.  Just think about the poor sommeliers that have to wield that heavy monster both alone and when moving full cases.  Most of these heavyweights are “cult” wines sold in six pack cases, increasing the amount of cardboard used, oh and the cardboard has to be thicker to support the added weight of the bottles.  Don’t get me started on the wooden cases, although I do have a penchant for saving those.  Saint-Gobin Containers Saint-Gobin is working hard to offer low weight bottles yet in the same classic bottle shapes in their ECO Series sold by Caliber WinePak.  Many of them do away with the punt thus using less glass and these bottles require less energy to produce, and less energy to ship both empty or full.  Wine Business Monthly has a great article on the issue  And a shout out to those branching out into boxes, plastic, and alternative packaging.  They may have some stigma yet to overcome, but they are doing the right thing.

Since I am getting all snippy, lets talk about alcohol levels of wines.  I have been more cognizant of them lately as I have become all too familiar with drinking too much of a really delicious yet deadly wine in terms of alcohol.  I understand the whole ripeness/flavor issue, sure, so that is a conversation for another day, but what is super irritating is the mere act of trying to find the alcohol percentage on the bottle.  While this is not always an accurate measurement of the actual alcohol in the bottle, it helps the consumer.  Despite that fact wineries have become very adept at hiding these numbers in weird foils, subtle colors and miniscule prints.  Yesterday as I tasted the Heitz Trailside I was so happy to see that the alcohol level on the was immediately evident, or at least for a “normal” person.  It was directly in the center of the label and good sized print, but there I was searching in all the sneaky places I am used to finding the alcohol listed, the back label, edges of the front, etc.  Heitz gets a gold star today!

Well, that’s enough for now.  I have to go and rearrange my collection of styrofoam shippers.


My Religion

20 09 2009

Visiting John Williams at Frog’s Leap is like religion for me.  I am not always the most overtly religious person you may have met despite growing up Catholic, but I have always felt that I am very spiritual.  That said, although I appreciate the ritual that goes on every Sunday, and can stand to attend every now and then, there were numerous times that stick out from my childhood where I was either a) fainting b) bored or c) listening to a sermon about a frog and how its kinder to put douse a frog in boiling water than to put a frog in cold water and bring it to a boil (what!?).  Seriously, that was the Homily one day.  I thought that was for lobsters.

So I have found peace by finding my “religion” or inspiration in other ways.  Sometimes it entails a walk on the beach, sometimes a long drive (amazingly that puts me in the mind frame to thank a greater being every time) sometimes just crying or singing or strumming or feeling.  And, long story shortened, there are certain people who accomplish the task for me effortlessly.

John Williams is religion for me.  While his own spirituality is immensely uplifting, and I am almost afraid to delve into that further, his day to day way of operating his business is an incredible inspiration.  I have visited John almost too many times to mention, but each and every time I go he preaches to me, but not in a way that is condescending or authoritarian.  He acknowledges the universe and its magic while being realistic.  He gives back to the planet and he is here to serve.

We joke when we meet that by now I’ve heard the tour at Frog’s Leap so many times that I could give the tour myself.  Truly I have bought into 100% of the “schtick” and totally believe in it.  I find comfort in knowing the direction he is going, in silently nodding while he lets out the line and reels the crowd in.  He makes arguments without being competitive and always has supporting evidence.  He gives good tour.  And don’t get me wrong, he has an entourage of folks that he has groomed with his philosophy that give equally great tours.  The flock gets it.  Other wineries should take notice.

But as you sit or walk or sip through the experience, something becomes innately clear.  He totally buys into it himself.  He is not a preacher that fails to recognize or abide by his gospel.  He lives it daily.  You know when you talk to him that he is only giving you as much information as he feels you need today, and he will share more with you as your relationship and devotion and readiness increases.  He is imminently patient and never one to call someone out for doing the wrong thing, but he asks questions and allows you to determine for yourself what is right and what is wrong.  He lets you choose your own path.  And isn’t that what we should aspire towards?

What in the world does this have to do with wine?  I think everything.  I am convinced that although it may be hard to prove, human energy is distilled into all that we do.  An incredible work of art is not always just technique, I feel that a piece of that artist and their inspiration rest in that art forever.  For John and other select winemakers, you can taste their craft and their passion in each and every bottle.

John’s 1991 Frog’s Leap Merlot was opened on our last visit as a special treat.  You could taste raw inspiration, hope, fear, and bravery in his second vintage of red wine.  Find that one or go for the 2005 Frog’s Leap Rutherford which is a blend of pride, honor, respect and humility.

Iconic Importers: How to Buy Great Wine Every Time

27 02 2009

A day rarely goes by when someone doesn’t ask me, “What’s your favorite (fill in the blank with a wine type)?”  What should I be buying?  Even my mother will often call me up and say, “Well, we are having lamb chops and a salad, what should we buy.”  Usually this leaves me blank wondering what to say since what is available here in San Francisco is not usually available across the country, prices vary, stock varies, it usually ends up annoying me leaving me to respond, “Call me when you get to the store” and then the tedious back and forth listing of wines…

“Well they have Stag’s Leap!”

“Mom, is that Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars?  or Winery?”

“Stag’s L_eaaa_p it says.”

“But is it WINE CELLARS or WINERY!?”

“What’s the difference?”

“There’s a difference.”

“Well it says Pine Ridge Stag’s Leap.”


So you can see that it is much easier to give buyers tools that will work whether or not I am available by cell phone!

That’s not to say I blame her, the world of wine is super complicated!  Sometimes I am overwhelmed, and there has been more than once that I have been somewhat desperate in a less than optimal retail store where the quality offerings are few and far between, so I resort to a very simple technique that I think is very reliable!  I merely try to hone in on a variety or style of wine I would like to drink (i.e. Riesling, Pinot Noir, Italian, Spanish) and if I am not familiar with the brand then spin the bottles around and look to see who imports the wine.

An importer is someone who goes through all the procedures to get a wine from its country of origin to the USA.  It then often passes through a distributor and on to a restaurant or retailer before it ends up on your table or in your cellar.  The importer’s job is much more difficult than just dealing with customs, shipping and the like.  More reputable importers take great care and time deciding what they are going to import.  If you want to know the very latest information about any wine region ask an importer that works with wines from that area and undoubtedly they have the most recent and pertinent information.  Ask them where to eat in the tiny towns in those regions and they know.  The best fine-tune their offerings bringing in the best wines they can get.  There is always a great deal of rapport between winemakers and their importers, and while there is a fine line between importers that change styles of wine to suit their constituents and those that merely suggest what styles are doing well in the states, they have their pulse on exactly what is going on in any region they represent.

As you get to know your favorite wine regions and wine styles, you will find which importers suit your tastebuds.  It’s kind of like deciding whether you like to listen to Parker or Tanzer, Decanter or Wine Spectator, or your favorite sommelier.  These importers often have distinct palates and you might see those reflected in their “books”, but if they are one thing they are consistent!

So the next time you are stranded in the wine store and cannot find something to take to a party or drink with dinner, flip those bottles around and get to know your importers, you will be taken on an amazing journey of flavor and discovery!

Here is my “short list” of some of my favorite importers.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, please comment by listing your favorites!  I may seem to be gushing, but I really want you to know how much these guys mean to me!

Terry Theise

Terry and his cronies visit Austria, Germany and Champagne at least annually to find the very best of the best. He doesn’t merely bring in all wines that his producers make, but he finds the creme de la creme and uses his leverage to fight for as many cases as he possibly can.  Terry has made AMAZING progress in making a name for Riesling in the US, without his efforts we would not see the Riesling Revival as we have in recent years.  He is a friend to his producers, sommeliers and retailers acting as the liaison adeptly with both expertise and humility.  Although he believes that Chardonnay shouldn’t be grown anywhere other than Burgundy or Champagne and is a little militant about that, he is firm in his convictions and has 100% faith in each and every wine he imports.  Add to that his amazing catalogs, all available to read online, that include an amazing wealth of knowledge offered in an incredibly down to earth and fun manner.  You can read all about his latest escapades, the latest vintages, the producers, and Terry’s unique perspective on just about everything.  Including the Horny Funk Brothers, and if that doesn’t make you want to tune in what does?  I would be remiss to not add that Skurnik also works with my former boss and wonderful Burgundy afficionado Daniel Johnnes!

Bartholomew Broadbent

I remember when I met Bartholomew Broadbent I was fresh from NYC and full of dreams of becoming an MW (Master of Wine).  Bartholomew is the son of one of my idols Michael Broadbent, Master of Wine, and I recall that when I ran into Bartholomew at the Balboa Cafe in the Marina District of San Francisco I was star struck.  My husband didn’t initially get it, because B seems like such a “normal” guy, but I explained that talking to him was for me like my husband having a heart to heart with Michael Jordan.  Over the years I have come to understand that Bartholomew has the easy care and humility that is requisite in a true wine professional.  He is cheeky and fun and doesn’t take himself too seriously except when it comes to his producers.  Bartholomew is always generous with his time and his producers are as well, I have met many of them and they are always easily accessible and the wines are absolutely unique.  The fun part of Broadbent Selections is that they have producers representing all corners of the globe, from Aresti in Chile, Spy Valley in New Zealand, Vilafonte and Warwick in South Africa, and Weinert in Argentina, that just scratches the surface!  Some of the more special producers, in my humble opinion, are the amazing wines (both Ports and Portuguese “table wines” for lack of a better term) from Quinta do Crasto in the Douro and the amazing wines of Serge Hochar of Chateau Musar in Lebanon, they never fail to please both in terms of flavor and of the amazing history that goes along with them.  And don’t forget to try Broadbent’s own Madeira and delicious Vinho Verde. 

Brian Larky

Got Italian?  Ask Larky.  Not only does he know EVERYBODY in the US and Italy, he selects some of the greatest wines around.  Specializing in Italian wines, Brian takes great care to make sure that both his producers and his staff truly understand each others’ world.  He is not afraid to bring the entire staff to Italy to meet his producers and additionally makes sure that his producers are willing to travel to the US to insure that there is a huge interaction of knowledge, camaraderie and a very clear company focus.  His producers are so tight that the sixteen work together voting on any interested new contenders.  With this extremely loyal group (Larky has never lost a producer), his staff truly knows the ins and outs of every product and the producer gets to see how each product is received on the market in person.  This results in great admiration and enjoyment of their wines by the US public.

Rudi Wiest

Now, don’t get me wrong here, Rudi is not the only great importer of German wines, but I think this is clearly his strong suit.  Recently Rudi held a tasting at Jardiniere restaurant in San Francisco where he wasn’t content to just showcase  his current releases but decided (rightly) that it was vital to show how these white wines age!!  I was astonished to hear the comments from sommeliers invited saying, “wow, this Riesling can really age!”  (Granted the wines he showed were phenomenal)  This reminded me that sommeliers are always learning.  That means that by raiding the cellar, Rudi is educating the buyer.  Rudi is again a humble soul despite his great achievements.  He brings in some of the most incredible wines and never bats an eye.  And to our friend that did not know Riesling can age, he was gracious and very polite but instructive.  Without him we would have much less to smile about.

Jorge Ordonez

Jorge Ordonez has done for Spanish wines what Ferran Adria of El Bulli has done for Spanish cuisine.  He has made the most unheard of corners of Spain some of the greatest highlights and has created a Renaissance in Spain’s most traditional regions.  I will drink ANYTHING with a Jorge label on it, no matter where it comes from, because despite all my studies I know that Jorge knows the corners of Spain better than I do.  Perhaps I am partial due to the time that Jorge joined me at my home with some of Spain’s best producers for an after party, but he cannot be stopped.  From the most elite and coveted “cult” wines from Spain (by the way this is a relatively new phenomenon created by Jorge, CULT wines from SPAIN?) to the value wines he brings to us at seemingly impossible prices he has the market cornered.  Granted, there are some great Spanish importers out there, but Jorge is like a hound dog sniffing out the forgotten or newest, greatest find and not only brings the wines to the US but brings the winemakers here.  He even takes our best sommeliers on the famed “death march” so that they can really understand the products and get the lay of the land.  It’s amazing that no one else has really understood the impact of educating the “front line” until recently.  Jorge has known that this formula works for years.  His wines are always great and have kept me company on many a night far from home!

Staglin Benefit for Mental Health

16 09 2008

This past weekend my husband Michael and I headed up to Napa Valley to work as sommeliers at the Staglin Benefit for Mental Health. It ‘s amazing that it has been about eight years now that we have worked this amazing event, even including the 2001 benefit when many couldn’t get to California due to 9/11.

The event starts with a symposium where some of the nation’s leading professionals discuss progress from last year and what the future holds for mental health research in the coming years followed by an amazing tasting in the Staglin caves of some of California’s most prestigious cult wines. This is a once of a lifetime chance to taste all those bottles that the collectors are hoarding in their cellars, Harlan, Bond, Abreu, Screaming Eagle and tons of the “new guard” cult wines, Gargiulo, Sloan, Scarecrow, etc. Sometimes the least familiar names are those that are the best wines of the tasting! I heard great comments from those that came to my table, I was pouring Sloan.

This incredible tasting was followed by a concert by the Pointer Sisters on the property and then a four course dinner with food prepared by Mark Dommen of One Market Restaurant.

Over the past 14 years the Staglins have been able to donate $30 million to mental health research and the most amazing thing is that there are tangible results, their generosity never ceases to amaze me.

I hope you will consider attending next year, or a donation.

Thank you to Shari, Garen, Shannon and Brandon!

San Francisco Food Nation

3 09 2008

I went by the Slow Food Nation events this weekend just to check it out and see what the deal was.  I had trouble getting in as press (Rebecca Chapa’s life on the D List coming soon), as they were overbooked, but was able to help the spirits folks out as a volunteer on Saturday.  The Slow Food group is near and dear to my heart as they sponsored me and nine other New Yorkers to head to Piedmont, Italy for a twenty-one day stint, back in 1993.  We visited and tasted through the regions best wineries and wrecked havoc on the area, but that’s a story for another time.  They took such great care of us, so I am glad to see them making strides in the U.S.

San Francisco is clearly the right place to hold such an event, we tend to have great consideration for the environment, interest in where our food comes from is almost second nature, so it is not a far stretch to get some avid foodies to an event like this.  It was a hard choice, but I did pull myself away from the SF Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market for a Saturday and headed to Civic Center to check out the free offerings of Slow Food.  Things got off to a bit of a late start, but we were able to stroll around the gorgeous Victory Garden, and we came across my favorite Huarache Loco stand that was already open at 10 am, so we got our Blue Bottle New Orleans Style Iced Coffees (without the lines we normally experience at the Farmer’s Market) and ate our delicious blue corn huaraches.  The stands were a bit random, for example our favorite Happy Girl Kitchen Co., from whom we normally get an amazing heirloom tomato salsa, was only serving pickles.  It seemed to me more an exhibition than a realistic food market, as my friend Marcia at said, there were no eggs to be found.  We found ourselves running off with some corn, a tomato (no basil that I could find) and some great books we picked up at the Point Reyes Books booth.

Then I headed off to Fort Mason to check out the rest of the event.  At the entrance of the pavilion one was immediately struck by a snail made out of bread and the aroma of a clay oven.  Inside the displays were gorgeous, the area was divided into many small sub areas featuring different commodities, honey, pickling, ice cream, charcuterie (I couldn’t even get close), spirits, wine, chocolate, coffee, etc.  Volunteers were not allowed to taste the food, and that was just as well considering there were long lines at most booths, but the displays were stunning.  Possibly the most organized area was Spirits where tasters lined up to try a variety of cocktails and cocktail and spirit folk were on hand to answer questions.  Julio Bermejo of Tommy’s Mexican restaurant helped answer tequila questions.  Well-known SF bar owner Greg Lindgren (Romolo, Rye and Rosewood) was on hand managing the flow and seemed to have it under control.  Another area that seemed very organized and efficient was the beer pavilion.  Outdoors it was breezy but sunny and Dave McLean, brewmaster at Magnolia was on hand to offer tasting advice.  Three beer trucks provided beers from draft, cask or bottle.  He spent some time with us discussing the cost of hops and its effects on small brewers.  Overall it was a great day, highlighted by food, spirits and people who get as excited about them as I do.  Thanks to Carlo Petrini for bringing this movement to the US.

The Dregs

21 08 2008

The Dregs © Rebecca Chapa May 2008 


Ev’ry party has them, you all know the kind

First to get there they drink your good wine

You don’t know where they came from

Without an invite

Yeah they’re the dregs


They’re at every tasting

They mooch all the food

Monopolize winemakers, they’re really quite rude

And then they have the nerve to give attitude

Yeah they’re the dregs


Dregs ya know what I’m saying

Dregs drink all your Champagne 

It’s such a shame

We’ve got the dregs


They’ll drink your La Tache but bring Yellowtail

At every event they’re drunker than hell

They’ll even use your name for a reference as well

Yeah they’re the dregs


Dregs ya know what I’m saying

Dregs drink all your Champagne 

It’s such a shame

We’ve got the dregs


Some of you may think you’re immune

But you who inspired this tune

Unless your name is Jancis or Hugh

I’m pretty sure you’re a dreg too


Dregs can be winemakers that overvinify

They can be educators and those who just try

And don’t forget all those sales guys

Yeah they’re the dregs


Masters of Wine and Sommeliers

Retailers Writers, You’d be amazed!

Wine Critics are the worst  I’m afraid

Yeah they’re the dregs


Dregs ya know what I’m saying

Dregs drink all your Champagne

It’s such a shame

We’ve got the dregs

We’ve got Dregs