March 20, 2010. This is the second year I have run the annual Carneros Fire Department Vineyard Run (www.carnerosfire.org) and that infamous hill up to the Artesa winery does not get any easier! If you have ever been to Artesa, you know it sits perched upon a little hill here in the Carneros region with gorgeous views and on a clear day you can see all the way to San Francisco. While this might make for an easy start to the race, it is one of the toughest hills I have encountered at a finish in a long time! Artesa hosts this fundraiser every year for the volunteer fire department, donating their space and wines for the participants. It includes a 5k and a 10k run (3.1 miles and 6.2 miles respectively) followed by a pancake and sausage breakfast (and vino too!).
I love this run. It’s not too big, somewhere around 900 runners; it’s always full of locals like my fellow Vinerunners as well as winery friends and others from around the community. I invited a running pal of mine to test his legs on the rolling hills of Carneros and he accepted – he’s training for the Boston Marathon this month and always a sure bet for any fun run I can dig up! He got a personal best on the course, but when I asked him how it went he said he was silently cursing me all the way out. Those rolling hills are beautiful, and though they seem trivial, you can definitely feel them as you are chugging along. I ran a respectable time, though 4 minutes slower than last year (indeed, I need to step up my training, I know) – it was however, still fast enough to win a bottle of Artesa’s Late Harvest wine. After a satisfactory race, a belly full of pancakes, and a bottle of wine in hand I left the race with a big smile on my face. Next year I might even coax some of my co-workers into running it with me. In the meantime, next up for me is the US Half Marathon on April 11th in San Francisco. It will be my first race across the Golden Gate Bridge – wish me luck!
Contrary to popular belief, I’m not out tasting on a weekly basis – but I do make time when guests come from out of town to visit (or any other similar excuse). My Mom and her husband were here this past weekend and I wanted them to have a memorable experience. I planned a couple of tastings and a Saturday night dinner reservation, but for the rest of the time I thought we would play tourist and pop in wherever our hearts desired. On Saturday afternoon we headed over to Sonoma Valley to the Robledo Winery where we learned about the “historia” of the family from Luis Robledo himself and tasted some of their fabulous wines. The tasting room is in an old barn on their property off of Arnold Road, and has a rustic atmosphere. For us, the Petite Syrah was a standout and we picked up a bottle for dinner that evening.
I chose the Harvest Moon Café on the square in Sonoma for dinner. It was highly recommended by Lin Durling of Artesian Wine Tours (www.artisanwinetours.com) and a new destination for me. We were seated right away in the small, cozy front area of the restaurant. Our waiter’s name was Pasang and he was from Nepal, he told us that Pasang means Friday and is a common name for Sherpa’s born on that day. Reminiscent of my travels in Bali where they have only 4 names; First, Second, Third and Fourth [born] – respectively Wayan, Kadek, Nyoman and Ketut. For males they put an “I” (pronounced “ee”) before the name and for females they use Ni. That makes me Ni-Nyoman Wendy. And yes, if they have more than 4 children, they start over again! If you have read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert you already know this little factoid.
I digress; we were talking about the Harvest Moon Café. The service was spot on and the food was delightful, especially the chunky tomato soup and the lamb stew over a bed of risotto. I recommend this little jewel of a restaurant for a welcoming, cozy dinner.
After dinner we headed back to Napa and stopped in at the Ceja Vineyards Wine Tasting Salon & Lounge in downtown for salsa lessons. The floor was packed by the time we got there and the intermediate lesson was just getting underway. My mom and her husband immediately jumped out on the floor and participated in Ariel’s “Bachata” lesson – although my mom already dances salsa, this was a new step for her and she loved it. You must stop by! Every Saturday evening the beginning classes start at 7:30, intermediate at 8:30 and then the party continues all night. Some of the best nightlife in Napa!
On Sunday we made several stops, including one at Bistro Jeanty in Yountville for some of their world famous tomato soup – it comes with a puff pastry baked on top and is simply to die for! If you have not tried it, I recommend you head over there immediately. It’s phenomenal. A trip to Yountville is not complete without a stop at Bouchon Bakery – we grabbed a couple of baguettes and a few of their delicious French macaroons.
Wanting to drive up valley a bit, we headed up to St. Helena and popped in to Charles Krug on Highway 29, it is the first winery in the Napa Valley (established in 1861) and offers not only a great selection of wines, but lots of history as well. It was getting late and time to start heading home for the evening, but on our way back we saw the gorgeous Culinary Institute of America (once a monastery and later owned by Christian Brothers) looming on the right, and we couldn’t resist but to stop in for a glass of wine and marvel at the kitchen and the architecture. I still haven’t been there for dinner, and I think that's criminal. It’s next on my list – I’ll be sure to update you when I go. Stay tuned!
~Wine Club Wendy
2010 has already proved to be an exciting year for me and my traveling gnome – a bottle of sexy Ceja wine. Traveling has always been an addiction and a passion in my life so last year I embarked on a five month backpacking journey to South America, exploring 5 different countries with my best friend Katie, a bottle of Ceja wine and our crazy imaginations. Unfortunately, the bottle of our 06’ Red VDC only lasted until Peru, where we thirstfully enjoyed it sitting in the magical ruins of Machu Picchu. Quite appropriate don’t you think? From that moment on, I decided that anywhere else I traveled in this world I would take along my little traveling companion and represent Ceja bringing on interesting adventures, sometimes strange looks, but always good luck!
My most recent trip to Brazil and Argentina proved to be very enlightening and unforgettable. I spent the first part of three weeks in Rio where I celebrated the New Year on the beaches of Copacabana dancing to Samba music in a sea of two million people dressed in white (as a symbol for luck and peace), while the starry skies illuminated with thousands of fireworks. Besides the cheers from the crowd, the thunderous pop of thousands of Champagne bottles reverberated through to our souls. It was beautiful to see that even sparkling wine could be appreciated in the hot and tropical parts of the world. After all, bubbly is the sweet nectar in life and I never need a reason to drink it...enough said.
The next several days in my beloved Rio were spent marveling over the gorgeous beaches that surround the city while educating my palate with the variety of passion fruits, juices and baked delights that were available at every corner. Considering the heat and humidity of Rio I thought it best not to open the bottle of Ceja wine until a more suitable setting presented itself; the cool and seductive metropolis of Buenos Aires struck a chord.
Leaving behind the beaches and intense heat, I found myself excited to return to Buenos Aires, a city that never sleeps and is alive with Tango, wine and the delicious Argentine gastronomy. I spent a lot of time in Buenos Aires last year but I was determined to revisit and explore the city with the intensity of a Porteño (a local) and not a tourist. I would wake up in the mornings and go for walks through the old streets of San Telmo, a charming and colonial part of the city and would stop at a local cafés and sip espresso paired with yummy breakfast empanadas - my favorites being jamon y queso or carne con cebolla. Mmmm…I can almost taste the fresh baked empanadas right out of the oven.
I was on a mission to seek new adventures and find the hidden treasures of such a fascinating city. One gorgeous afternoon, a group of lovely hostel friends and I decided to explore La Boca barrio which is known for its colorful houses and street tango. En route, we encountered a Porteño who informed us that La Boca tended to be a bit dodgy and that we should keep a watchful eye on our belongings. I was not too worried though as we’d be visiting in the middle of the day. Besides, my trusty gnome was on-hand to protect us should any debauchery arise! In the end, my risky curiosity paid off as we descended upon La Boca and had a magical time.
Tango and wine anyone? Tango has to be one of the sexiest and most sensual dances in the world and this charming duo happily agreed to strike a pose with my little gnome. Hot right? I found the colors of these old houses to be quite striking and couldn’t resist having them as my backdrop.
The rest of the week passed by too fast and finally the day came that I turned 25. Yep, I turned a quarter century in the midst of my South American travels. My Birthday could not have been more memorable. Surrounded by good food, marvelous friends and Ceja wine…what more could one ask for? We ate, laughed, danced and lived in the moment...we conquered Buenos Aires that evening.
Celebrating the New Year in Rio and turning 25 in Buenos Aires was a dream. As I write this I am flooded with all the delicious memories from the trip that will live with me forever. I am also reminded of my own philosophy in life: live your passions. Now, I ask you, are you living your passions? If not, I invite you to spread your wings, open a bottle of wine and ponder what your passions in life are and live them.
Until the next adventure amigos…
It was during my last trip to Italy while walking through Rome in the Piazza della Rotonda with its fountain and the Pantheon both in view, that I and a couple of very dear friends decide to take a break from our sight seeing and stop for lunch.
A little café with tables sitting on the Piazza would allow us to keep our spectacular view while dining. Two men were sitting on the steps to the fountain singing in Italian, one clutching his guitar as it rested on his leg, the other slapping on his knees to keep the beat. It was one of those moments in time that you want to last forever.
We ordered an antipasto tray of local favorites, a traditional Roman pizza and some cured olives. To drink we ordered a carafe of the house white wine. It was not an overly complex wine yet it had good aromatic qualities of fresh pear and wild flowers with crisp minerality on the pallet. A Pinot Grigio I thought, but that was not important.
As the wine geek (that’s me), the Chef and the Fashionista all sat enjoying this simple lunch with the house wine, we were amazed at how all the flavors came together. While ordering we had decided that we would be drinking white so our menu choices were skewed in that direction. We had a hunch, however, that any dish we ordered would have paired quite nicely with the white vino della casa.
This would be a common thread in our dinning experiences throughout the rest of the trip. The local cuisine with the wines of the region would continually blow us away with how perfectly the flavors complemented each other.
Were the winemakers crafting a style of wine to complement the local cuisine or were the chefs creating dishes to complement the style of the regional wine?
I think it’s a little bit of both, but this was not done specifically for me on this trip. Nor was the Chef and Sommelier conspiring to supply these three random tourists with a perfect food and wine pairing at the cafe. It's quite clear that wine has a rich history in serving as an accompaniment to food. When wine first entered the scene, it was often safer to drink than the local water supply with little thought given to it as a "sensory enhancing" beverage. Over time though, as regional cuisine and local wine-making traditions developed, gastronomy emerged as link between culture, food and drink. This is true wherever you travel or whatever style of cuisine you are enjoying: bratwurst and sauerkraut with a dry German Riesling, thinly sliced Serrano ham with a glass of bone dry fino sherry or boeuf bourguignon with a red Burgundy.
Next time you visit your favorite restaurant or travel abroad, select a wine that comes from the same region as your dish and you will be pleasantly surprised how well they conspire to pair beautifully together.