The morning rays of the sun rose over Monterey Bay and began to shine through the wooden shutters of our spacious room . Sounds of seagulls and waves gently splashing on the rocks below reminded realize that we were no longer in the desert .
A quick breakfast on the patio and we were off to explore the many interesting aspects that Monterey County has to offer. Monterey County is famous for many things, however no true exploration of Monterey and the Salinas Valley could not be complete without exploring the works of Author John Steinbeck.
Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck was born and raised in Salinas not far from Monterey. His novels East of Eden, Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday are among the stories that use Monterey county as the backdrop for his novels.
Monterey County Agricultural expert Evan Oaks, Owner of Ag Venture Tours took us on a journey through Steinbeck country like a true native. As we headed down Highway 68 towards Salinas he explained that Steinbecks Novels reflect his deep-seated roots in Monterey County.
Steinbeck first received attention with a novel set just after World War I in Monterey, titled Tortilla Flat. This book focused on Monterey residents of Mexican descent. His work at ranches and farms in Salinas informed his "California novels" set in the Depression-era farmland of the Central Valley, including Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath.
We arrived at Castle Rock which was the inspiration of John Steinbeck's Camelot castle in his book The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, along with other stories, such as Pastures of Heaven, in which Steinbeck says that it has “so serene a beauty.” In this short story, “The Murder,” he starts the book with “This happened a number of years ago in Monterey County...At the head of the canyon there stands a tremendous stone castle, buttressed and towered like those strongholds the Crusaders put up in the path of their conquests. Only a close visit to the castle shows it to be a strange accident of time and water and erosion working on soft, stratified sandstone.”
The bluffs and castle-like turrets of stone that fascinated Steinbeck were featured in his Pastures of Heaven ( 1932 ). As Evan read to us from Pastures of Heaven we could not help but almost feel that John Steinback himself was looking down on us from the ramparts of his beloved Castle Rock.
As we proceeded down highway 68 to the Salinas Valley , Evan informed us that the Salinas Valley is the center for Monterey County’s 3.8 billion-dollar agriculture industry.
Due to its temperate, Mediterranean-like climate and fertile soils, the county has become the number one vegetable-producing region in the nation.
He continued to point out that this area supplies 80 percent of the nation’s lettuces and nearly the same percentage of artichokes. Broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, strawberries, peppers, squash, carrots, asparagus, celery, tomatoes, mushrooms, brussel sprouts, garlic, onions and flowers are also grown in abundance.
In addition, Monterey County has become one of the largest premium grape growing regions in California, with over 40,000 acres of wine grapes planted
Local growers and shippers in the Valley lead the industry in all phases of crop growth including seed technology, planting and irrigation, harvesting and marketing. Pre-packaged salads and precut fresh vegetables were created in the Salinas Valley, and this innovation has changed the way we buy vegetables.
The technologies that we developed in the Salinas Valley are being recognized and imitated by farmers around the world.
Today , Monterey County continues to be a leader in agricultural exports with over 570 million pounds of produce exported annually. Top importers of Salinas Valley produce include Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mexico and the European Union
The highly sought after Organic produce is and has been incorporated into the holdings of most large companies and many are continually working on experimental projects . There are currently over 14,000 acres of organic vegetables growing in Monterey County. More than 40 crops exceeded $1 million in production value in 2008.
D Arrigo Farms home of the Andy Boy name
80 Years in the making
It is hard to imagine that when Andrea and Stefano D’Arrigo brought broccoli seeds from their native
Along with broccoli, the D’Arrigo family brought a family passion for growing fresh vegetables that has continued through the decades.
Margaret D Arrigo , Executive Vice President was waiting as we pulled up to her family's sprawling headquarters facility . She explained that she was going to take us on a drive to their cactus pear farm to show us a new project they are working on and then for lunch.
Our 30 min ride to the farm took us along side of the Santa Lucia Highlands and the ancient alluvial fans that produce some of the countries finest wines. We turned down a dirt road and into a cactus farm. It seemed quite out of place right between of some very famous vineyards.
Margaret explained Edible cactus is also known as nopales (no-PAH-les), nopalitos or cactus pads. This vegetable is popular in Mexico and other Central American countries, parts of Europe, the Middle East, India, North Africa and Australia.
Its popularity is increasing in the United States where it can be found at Mexican grocery stores, specialty produce markets and farmer’s markets. In addition to the food aspect she has plans to use the cactus pear puree in various cocktails including Richard Oh's OH Zone vodka. 80 years ago D Arrigo was a pioneer in the Salinas Valley. Margaret and her brother seem to be keeping up the cutting edge tradition with their latest project.
Today, D'Arrigo Bros. Co., of
D Arrigo Lunch was nothing but spectacular
After spending most of the morning in the farms and fields of the Salinas Valley we were now ready to enjoy some the great food and of course wine that they are so famous for. Margaret D' Arrigo pulled out all the stops and put on a lunch that has to be one of the best we have had the pleasure to enjoy.
When you combine the talent of a great local Chef and a 5th Generation winemaker those are all the ingredients you need for a wonderful time.
Karl Wente , Fifth Generation Winemaker , Wente Family estates joined us for lunch. Karl explained that his family's vineyard is the country's oldest , continuously operated vineyard and was founded in 1883. With over 3000 acres of Sustainably farmed grapes , they have created a very well known and vast portfolio of wines.
He went on to add that Wente Vineyards has a restaurant , golf course , does catering events and even concerts. On this day , he enjoyed the fresh creations from Chef Todd Fisher with each course being paired with a Wente wine.
Chef Todd Fisher showed off his culinary talent and created a lunch that showed off the products of this fertile valley. His Caesar salad with Andy Boy Romaine Hearts was probably the freshest that we have had, understating we were very close to where it was grown. Of course a lunch in Salinas would not be a lunch with out Guacamole and Fresh Salsa. Chef took it one more step and made a Guacamole Rabe and ended our lunch with Prickly Pear Sorbet and Lemonade.
Broccoli Rabe & Carne Asada Tacos
paired with Wente Vineyards 2006 Small Lot Syrah was a pairing that was spot on.
Chef Todd Fisher really captured to flavors of the Salinas Valley with his
Colored Cauliflower Enchiladas and contrasted it by pairing the Nth Degree 2007 Pinot Noir
THE CUISINEIST Culinary Magazine takes a "foodie" look at this wonderful lunch and speaks with Chef Todd Fisher. Stop in and take a look !
Just when one may think the afternoon could not get much better , It did. Vino Las Vegas sat down with some of the founding winemakers in Monterey County and explored 5 of the 8 AVAs at a Pinot Noir Terroir Focus Tasting
Some of the best Pinot Noirs' in our opinion come out of Monterey County. With its cool climate and maritime influence , Pinot Noirs do well in most of the AVAs in the county. This area provides the proper temperature , warm days, a shorter frost season and less chance of unseasonable and damaging rains. The primary attribute of this singular climate is the cooling air of the Monterey Bay, which creates a longer growing season. As air in the southern part of the county warms at noon each day and rises, cool air from the Bay fills the void left by the rising warm air.
Grapevines in Monterey County tend to produce buds in the Springs, two weeks earlier than vines in other regions. Due to the cool growing season, the Fall harvest typically beings two weeks later than other regions. Thus, local grapes remain on the vine a full month longer, developing the characteristic intensity of flavor.
We had the opportunity to sample Pinot Noirs from Arroyo Seco. This AVA is almost in the middle of the county next to the Santa Lucia Highlands. The first Pinot Noir we sampled was 2007 J Lohr Fog's Reach Pinot Noir . This was a young Pinot but represented itself well. Monterey County legonary founder Steve
McIntyre was on hand and presented us with his 2006 McIntyre
Vineyards Misson Ranch Pinot Noir. Having more time in the bottle , this Pinot Noir showed what the Arroyo Seco AVA is all about , showing off the AVAs unique qualities. The Santa Lucia Highlands may be the county's biggest name. Located in some of the highest elevations of the county. This AVA is well known for its Pinot Noirs. Several Pinot Noirs were sampled from this appelation. The 2007
Bernardus Vineyards Rosella's Santa Lucia Highlands , 2007 Hahn Estates SLH Pinot Noir , Steve McIntyre was up to the task with his 2007 McIntyre Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir and was followed by Morgan Winery with there 2007 Morgan Winery Twelve Clones Pinot Noir and 2007 Morgan Winery Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir.
The next AVA we explored was the renowned Chalone AVA which is the oldest and located on eastern side of the county at very high elevations. Who else could start the tasting of this AVAs Pinot Noirs was legendary winemaker Michael Michaud. His 2005 Michaud Vineyard Pinot Noir was a great way to get our Pinot Noir trip started. Of course Chalone Vineyard was on had to show off their 2007 Chalone Vineyard Pinot Noir as well.
Not be be left out Carmel Valley AVA was well represented by Bernardus Vineyards and their 2007 Bernardus Vineyards Ingrids Carmel Valley Pinot Noir. The Monterey AVA was represented by
Carmel Road Winery and its 2007 Carmel Road Sierra Granite Pinot Noir. And Scheid Vineyards with their 2007 Scheid Vineyards Pinot Noir to finish this very special Pinot Noir journey through the hills and valleys of Monterey County.
A Visit to Monterey Bay Aquarium
If your staying on Cannery Row the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium is worth a visit. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is located on the site of a former sardine cannery and has an annual attendance of 1.8 million and holds 35,000 plants and animals representing 623 species.
The basic design of the aquarium pumps 2000 gallons/minute of Monterey Bay ocean water, night and day, through the more than 100 exhibit tanks. During the day the water is filtered for viewing clarity. During the night, raw (unfiltered) seawater is pumped through exhibits, bringing in food in the form of plankton. Waste ocean water from the aquarium is returned to the Bay. This design makes the aquarium ecologically essentially part of the ocean in the Bay, and allows the culture of organisms such as Giant Kelp which are not suitable for ordinary saltwater aquariums.
We stolled amongst numerous sea life and were in totall awe of their beauty. This Aquariium is one of best known in the world and just another aspect that Monterey County has to offer to its visitors. Located on Cannery Row it is easlity accesbale and walking distance to many of the hotels.
In addition to appreciating the beauty of the sea life, we were at the aquarium in the evening for a very special event. There were winemaker dinners all over the county and ours was right here in the middle of the aquarium with great wine from Estancia and Chef David Anderson's culinary delights.
Estancia wines are very well known. Their winemakers strive to combine the best of both worlds with a state-of-the art winemaking facility, and a traditional, hands-on approach to to take advantage of the beneficial advances in winemaking technology that has developed over the years.
Scott Kelly joined Estancia in 2007 as Director of Winemaking and is responsible for the day-to-day activities of winemaking this includes walking the vineyards, tasting each barrel to determining blending, aging and bottling.
Scott knew wanted to be a winemaker from the time he was 17 years old. He worked his way to assistant brewmaster for Carmel Brewing Co. in Salinas, managing all aspects of brewing.
A year later, he joined Golden State Vintners in Napa Vally as a laboratory supervisor then promoted to cellar master and eventually assistant winemaker. Following Golden State Vintners, Scott then worked as winemaker for La Famiglia and then Robert Mondavi Private Selection before joining Estancia in 2007.
He continued on to earn Bachelor of Science degree in fermentation science from University of California at Davis and was also awarded a Certification of Master Brewers Program.
We walked into the Aquarium and realized at night this was a whole different experience than during the day. Guests had the very special opportunity to walk amongst sharks , large kelp forests , and even penguins while sipping on some great wines and tantalizeing treats from Chef David Anderson , Portola Resturant Executive Chef.
It was now time to dine. and dine we did. Each table had a winemaker or host from the winery to enjoy the wine , dishes and answer any questions we may have.
Chef Anderon's Farmed Artic Char Blanquette Crep paried with Estancia Reserve 2007 Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands paired great with the dish as its soft silky tanins and spice lead to a lingering finish which was a true complement to the dish.
Braised Beef Short Rib, red wine risotto was paired with the 2006 Estancia Mertage Paso Robles which melted in our mouth. Flavours and aromas of chocolate , black cherries and even rosemarry combined for a great marriage with this dish.
Last but certainly not least was a Rustic fig-almond tart and of course not surprisingly was paired with Estancia 2008 Riesling , Monterey County.
Chef David Anderson , Scott Kelly , Estancia wines and the Monterey Bay aquarium gave us all a memorable experience in a venue that was created by nature itself. We walked along the famed Cannery Row, marveling at the stars and taking in ocean aromas on the way back to the Monterey Bay Inn and preparing for a visit to Carmel Valley the next day.
In these days and times a big "buzz" world is Sustainability . The practice of Sustainable , Organic farming not only applies to our food but now , literally from the ground up, in the Vineyards.
The Monterey Plazza Hotel located on Cannery Row offered us an opportunity to meet Kris O' Conner from the Central Coast Vineyard team. She lead us in a discussion on their acclaimed Certification program.
It is important to realize that true sustainability includes the Farms, People and the environment. Kris O'Conner made the point that we recognize how the farm affects the land beyond the fence line and that farms work to protect the environment and care for their workers. The vineyard team encourages farms to plant cover crops to reduce erosion , minimize the tractor use and use alternative fuels. Kris O ' Conner stated the team regularly scouts the vineyards checking for pest-prey balance and will only use reduced risk materials as a last resort. Water conservation is also important as the vineyards are monitored for water use . A factor that many people over look when they talk about sustainability is the people. Social Responsibility O'Conner stated means to offer competitive wages , medical insurance , training and education because the workers are a very valuable resource.
The SIP Certified Vineyards have meaningful standards that are set by experts and the Growers must meet the highest level of performance just to be eligible. Independent inspectors confirm the grower has met the standards and an independent panel grants the certification based on audits or reports.
It is so important to our food supply that we look for the SIP seal that assures us , the consumer, that the growers protected our natural resources , treated their employees well and have sound business practices.
Some of the Vineyards that have achieved this highest level of sustainability are Ampelos Cellars , Edna Valley Vineyard , McIntyre Vineyards , Robert Hall Winery and Paraiso Vineyards just to name a few.
For more information about SIP Certified Vineyards please go to Sipthegoodlife.org
Over 200 years ago a viticultural tradition began in Monterey County. In 1983 The Amercian Vinticultural Association granted appellation status to 19,200 acres in Carmel Valley . Today , nine tasting rooms give visitors a chance to sample award winning Cabernet Sauvignon , Merlot and Cabernet Franc. But Carmel Valley is much more than just wine . VINO LAS VEGAS set out on a journey from Cannery Row to Carmel Valley to find many of the opportunities this interesting area provides.
We left the cool fog of Monterey Bay behind and drove down the famous Highway One that connects California's Big Sur to Carmel and from Carmel to Monterey in what John Steinbeck called the most dramatic meeting of Land and Sea.
On this day we were on our way to explore not just the wines that Carmel Valley is famous for but the shopping , art galleries , the 5000 acre Garland Ranch and relaxing hotels and spas such as the renown Carmel Valley Ranch.
Rich Tanguay, formerly of Topolos & Buena Vista, is the winemaker and overseeing the production of these award-winning wines. Renamed "Heller Estate Organic Vineyards", the wines are all estate bottled and, as stated above, organically produced. The current production is approximately 25,000 cases annually.
In the late 1970's, Bob and Patty Brower set out to fulfill their dream. Originally from the East Coast, they had a passion for wine and admired the French hospitality encountered while traveling in Europe. They saw the potential in Monterey County as a quality wine growing region, and in 1982 began building what is now known as Château Julien Wine Estate in Carmel Valley, California.
The winery's first release came in 1985 with Chardonnay and Merlot from the 1982 vintage. Today, the entire process of wine production takes place on the 16-acre estate, including the aging of nearly 2000 oak barrels of wine. Winemaker Bill Anderson joined the Browers in 1982, and produced the winery's first 100% Merlot with the premier vintage. Bill continues to produce wine at Château Julien Wine Estate, and has played an integral part in establishing Merlot as the winery's flagship varietal.It was a true honor to have Bob Brower pour his own wines for us in the Chateau. Bob's Private Reserve wines signify the heritage of the winery. The label dates back to the first release of 1982 Merlot and represents the highest quality wines produced from each vintage, with only 600 six packs produced annually.
We discovered many treasures as we headed back to the Monterey Bay Inn on Cannery Row along the very famous 17 Mile Drive. It is one of the most scenic drives anywhere in the world. The drive , which runs through Del Monte Forest, is seventeen miles of sea and sky, immaculate golf courses, and dream homes set graciously behind elegant gates...
We stopped at The Lone Cypress where we watched the sunset and snacked on Apple Pie from the Freedom Bakery and a Pear Tart from Patisserie Boissiere Resturant in Carmel. Of course a 2006 J.Lohr Late Harvest Riseling and a 2004 Late Harvest Desert Wine Santa Lucia Highlands was a great way to end our journey to Carmel Valley . We continued our drive by Seal and Bird Rocks, Fanshell Beach, Point Joe, as well as the natural habitat of the black cormorants, brown pelicans, California sea otters, harbor seals, and idle sea lions.
We saw the the the emerald fairways of such famous golf courses as The Links at Spanish Bay, Spyglass Hill and the world-renowned Pebble Beach Golf Links. The Monterey Bay Inn looked better than ever but the day was not quite over.
The Santa Antonio Valley in and around the Bradley-Lockwood area at the southernmost tip of Monterey County is the newest th AVA in the county and was designated as an official American Viticultural Area in June of 2007. Since then it has undergone a renaissance as growers and winemakers have come to rediscover the area’s suitability for growing robust, fully mature fruit. This area has attained a growing reputation for producing intensely flavored, complex wines of the sort more often associated with Paso Robles than with Monterey.We stopped in the newly opened tasting room of PIERCE Ranch Vineyards located right off of Cannery Row and met with owner Josh Pierce as we sampled from great seafood from Chef Bert Cutino , Chef at the Sardine Factory which is famous throughout the world.
Cosecheiro is a blend that derives its name from the Spanish cosechero, referring to the small, independent winegrowers of the Iberian Peninsula. The 2006 Cosecherio is a blend of 48% Tempranillo, 42% Touriga, 10% Tinto Cão of which only 60 cases were produced. Moderate tannins come through with aromas and flavors of cherry and plum are accented by notes of clove, and cocoa on the finish.
Tempranillo is a varietal that we are very familiar with. The Pierce Ranch 2006 Tempranillo is a blend of 94.2% Tempranillo, 4.3% Syrah, 1.5% Grenache of which only 135 cases were produced.
The newly opened InterContinental Hotel located right in the middle of Cannery Row was the site for the Grand Finale Tasting, and what a way to end our education of the diversity of Monterey County.
Thirty wineries , many well known and others just starting out combined with over a dozen of the areas top restaurants and their chefs for a wine and foodie dream to end the weekend.
Scott from VINO LAS VEGAS spoke with Rhonda Motil , Executive Director of the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association at the finale and recapped the weekend journey through this very diverse and important county.
In addition to sampling food and wine from this one of a kind region Vino Las Vegas had the distinct privilege of meeting an American legend, Phil Woodward.
Phil Woodward and Richard Graff helped make world wine making history at the Paris tasting of 1976. One of the California wines that turned the wine world on its ear was Chalone Chardonnay 1974 which placed third behind Meursault Charmes Roulot 1973 from France and of course Chateau Montelena 1973. Woodward and Graff founded Chalone and helped get California wines world wine recognition. We spoke with Phil about that historic occasion in 1976 and about his new project at Graff Winery and his foundation.
1976 Judgement of Paris Results.
Rank Grade Wine Vintage Origin
1. Chateau Montelena 1973 United States
2. Meursault Charmes Roulot 1973 France
3. Chalone Vineyard 1974 United States
4. Spring Mountain Vineyard 1973 United States
5. Beaune Clos des Mouches Joseph Drouhin 1973 France
6. Freemark Abbey Winery 1972 United States
7. Batard-Montrachet Ramonet-Prudhon 1973 France
8. Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles Domaine Leflaive 1972 France
9. Veedercrest Vineyards 1972 United States
10. David Bruce Winery 1973 United States
From our base at The Monterey Bay Inn on Cannery Row we explored Monterey county where over 200 years ago, the Franciscan friars planted the region’s first wine grapes near the Soledad Mission.
Not until the 1960s, did the modern-era in Monterey viticulture begin. Pioneering growers and vintners like Mirassou and Wente were the first in, soon followed by many others. Today, Monterey County boasts over 175 unique vineyards, planted to over 50 different grape varieties.
Our journey did not just include wine but also took us to the fields of the Salinas Valley and a visit to D'Arrigo Brothers who for generations have grown and harvested
our nations vegetables. And of course you cannot mention this area with out mentioning John Steinbeck in the same breath.
Monterey County is the most unique area of the United Sates we have had the pleasure of exploring. The beauty of Monterey Bay , the history of Steinbeck , Carmel Valley coming into its own , Cannery Row , The Farms of the Salinas Valley and certainly great Food and Wine provide visitors and guests with a plethora of magnificent choices when you visit. For more information on Monterey Bay please visit http://www.montereywines.org
As many of our readers know, we are always on the look out for some special and many times surprising wines . We found one when we visited Babcock Winery in the Santa Ynez Valley made by renowned winemaker
One of California's stars in winemaking is Bryan Babcock. He was selected by the Los Angeles Times as one of the "Ten Best Winemakers of the Year". Since 1984 Bryan has been producing wines of from his family owned winery located on the far western edge of the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County.
The James Beard Foundation chose Bryan as one of the "Top Ten Small Production Winemakers in the World," the only American chosen. In choosing Bryan for this award, David Moore wrote, "Bryan Babcock best exemplifies the traits I look for in a great winemaker. The quality of Bryan's wines speak for themselves, yet it is his personal commitment to excellence that stands out so much. His relentless experimentation, his willingness to explore the possibilities with so many grape varieties, and his aesthetic are a world apart from the usual American approach to winemaking." And we could not agree more. Bryan is an exceptional talent.
We visited Babcock wines right in the middle of the harvest buz and saw the winery in production. The tasting room was filled with guests sampling many of the well known Babcock wines and one guest suggested we experience something very special . We travel the Sta Rita Hills often and it is not very common to find a Cabernet. So we were very intrigued.
Babcock "NUCLEUS" Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Estelle Vineyard Santa Ynez Valley
The nose of this wonderful Cabernet showed hints of violets spice and vanilla. In the glass it was medium bodied and on the palate it exploded with fruit and casis with a long silky elegant finish.
The cool climate of Santa Barbara County pushed Cabernet Sauvignon to the background. Since 1996 Babcock winery has been fine tuning a Bordeaux-styled red blend called FATHOM. Once Cabernet Franc based, with the recent development of the warmer "Happy Canyon" area of the eastern Santa Ynez Valley, the program now includes a greater percentage of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and maybe other Bordeaux varietals.
The result has been so successful that Cabernet Sauvignon is now one of the key varietals at Babcock Vineyards. "New Epoch Reserve", "Classic Rock Cuvée" are offered annually. Vineyard designated bottling are available under the limited production "Terroir Exclusives" wine club program.
For more information on Babcock Winery and directions to their tasting room please visit http://www.babcockwinery.com/
In Santa Barbara County many of the best wineries can be found along Foxen Canyon Road. We headed out Foxen Canyon to one of the founding vineyards in Santa Barbara county, Zaca Mesa.
The Sun was beginning to set over Foxen Canyon Road and the fog settling into to the valley as we made our way down this well known wine trail. Sounds of music and aromas of some culinary delights brought us to the Zaca Mesa winery for their festivities around the annual “Unleashing of the Bear”.
Zaca Mesa is located in the northern most portion of Santa Ynez Valley AVA and is is only 30 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Unlike most parts of the California coast, these valleys orient east-west, opening directly to the cooling marine influences that include morning fog and afternoon breezes making the Zaca Mesa vineyard a unique site for growing grapes.
The original property was purchased in 1972 and planted the vineyard in 1973. The vineyard was originally planted with numerous varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Chardonnay, and Syrah.
Zaca Mesa was one of the first wineries in Santa Barbara County since Prohibition. As the vineyard grew and viable production began, a winery was built on the estate in 1978 and later expanded in 1981.
By the early 1990’s, they found that (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Viognier, and Roussanne) grew the best on their site and became decided to focus on the grapes varieties of the Rhône Valley of France. In 1995 when Wine Spectator placed the 1993 Syrah #6 on their Top 100. It is still the only Santa Barbara County wine to break into their top 10. The Zaca Mesa Syrah was served by President Clinton to French President Chirac at the White House.
As one of the pioneers in the Santa Barbara County, Zaca Mesa was a training ground for many. Ken Brown was our first winemaker and later started Byron in Santa Maria Valley. Jim Clendenen and Bob Lindquist worked at Zaca Mesa before venturing out on their own to start Au Bon Climat and Qupé, respectively. Other alumni include Lane Tanner, Daniel Gehrs.
Winemaker Eric Mohseni graduated from California State University at Long Beach with a degree in food science and a minor in chemistry. His career began as a wine buyer at The Wine Country, a noted wine retailer in the Long Beach area.
In 1997, he took a break from wine retail, taking a harvest position at Edna Valley Vineyards. There he had his first dose of winemaking. “I will never forget the aromas from barreling down new wine into a new oak barrel. It gave me goose bumps.”
In 1999, he furthered his winemaking knowledge by serving as a member of the harvest crew of Esk Valley Estate in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand’s fifth largest vineyard. These experiences with launched his passion for winemaking.
In 2001, Eric joined Zaca Mesa as enologist. Over the years, he worked his way up to Assistant Winemaker, then to Associate Winemaker and finally to Winemaker in July 2008. Since joining Zaca Mesa, he has helped fine-tune the wine quality and refined the winery’s style resulting in wines that have character, integrity and a sense of place.
Zaca Mesa has a tasting room that welcomes its guests to taste 5 to 7 of exclusive and most popular wines . They also offer a broad array of artisan cheeses, olives, and crackers for guests to enjoy at one of their many picnic tables in the courtyard. There is even a life-sized game of chess or you can take a short walk on their hiking trail. The tasting room is Open 10am-4pm daily.Extended summer hours Memorial Day through Labor Day until 5pm on Fridays & Saturdays.6905 Foxen Canyon Road
The Sta Rita Hills produces some great world class wines. One stop you must make when you visit is Ampelos Cellars in Lompoc.
Owners Peter and Rebecca Work have an incredible story and are always available to taste their winery guests on some of their fantastic wines.
Ampelos vineyard is one of the first vineyards to be certified as “sustainably farmed”. California is the first state to develop a measurable and recordable point system which covers 9 areas of farming practices. In order to qualify for vineyard certification, growers must farm in a way that protects both natural and human resources.
In 2006 they decided to implement 100% biodynamic farming practices with rich cover crops, their own compost, elimination of herbicides and in general good, environmentally conscientious farming. Then in 2008, they added another level to their commitment to good farming and community practices by participating in the pilot program for Sustainable Certifcation and are now one of the first vineyards in California to be granted the certification after years of hard work.
Ampelos has acquired some pretty high ratings as well for their wines.
James Laube from Wine Spectator tasted the 2006 Pinot Noir from Fiddlestix and reported in the February 2009 issue: “Spicy cherry and candied apple flavors are intense, full-bodied, and complex, holding onto the ripe fruit theme while remaining elegant and structured. Ends with a blueberry and wild berry mix. Drink now through 2013. 189 cases made. 92 points”
And he granted a pair of 92 points to the 2006 “Lambda” Pinot Noir and 2005 “Gamma” Syrah in the April 9th “Insiders Edition”. He noted the Lambda Pinot Noir has “Aromas and flavors of loamy earth, blueberry and wild berry are tight, focused and concentrated, gaining depth and richness. Ends tightly wound in a good way. Best from 2010 through 2015.—J.L.”
For the Gamma Syrah, James had this to say: "Firm and structured, with tight wild berry, spice, mineral and subtle cedary oak touches that are intense, vibrant, focused and persistent, ending with chewy tannins. Drink now through 2013.”
We stopped in to see how harvest was doing on our recent visit. After dropping in on the winery the previous day to a hum of harvest activity and a open house , we ended up early the next morning helping to harvest Pinot Noir.
When we arrived at the vineyard we saw the beautiful Sta Rita Hills with its trade mark "seasmoke"hanging over the valley. This is what makes great Pinot Noir with the maritime influence and the "smoke" hanging over the vineyard sometimes until midday.
Elaine from Vino Las Vegas grabbed the clippers and jumped right in grabbing the luscious Pinot Noir clusters in one hand and cutting them off the vine with the other.
The morning was cool and perfect to harvest the grapes and we moved down the rows quickly cutting the clusters off the vines before the "smoke" burns off and the day begins to warm. In our opinion the Sta Rita Hills Pinot Noirs are some of the best in the United States and very unique.
At Ampelos everything is done by hand. The grapes are even hand sorted in the Vineyard and placed in the picking bins and then its off to the winery for crush and punchdowns.
Ampelos is the greek name for "vine"and they produce some lovely varietals from Pinot Noir to Syrah and Grenache . Their hard work in and outside of the vineyard are getting this small family vineyard alot of well deserved attention.
L lambda pinot noir, sta. rita hills, ampelos vineyard, 2005
91 points, Wine Enthusiast
L lambda pinot noir, sta. rita hills, ampelos vineyard, 2006
r rho pinot noir, sta. rita hills, ampelos vineyard, 2005
90 points, Wine Enthusiast
r rho pinot noir, sta. rita hills, ampelos vineyard, 2006
G gamma syrah, sta. rita hills, ampelos vineyard, 2005
Gold Medal, Appellation America Best of Appellation
|G gamma syrah, sta. rita hills, ampelos vineyard, 2006 |
Besides the long palate, gamma offers a nose of dark chocolate and sweet almond. Combined with cracked white pepper a signature of cool climate syrah in sta. rita hills.
|e epsilon syrah, sta. rita hills, ampelos vineyard, 2005 |
A deep, dark garnet red color promises a big wine. the nose indicates spices and dark fruit as well as a little vanilla and crème brulee. The palate is big: candy, rainier cherries, chocolate-raspberry tart, a hint of cinnamon and violets while the oak flavors are light and very well integrated.
syrache, santa barbara county, syrah/grenache blend, 2005
Gold Medal, LA International Wine & Spirits Competition
syrache, santa barbara county, syrah/grenache blend, 2006
The annual Celebration of Harvest is held in October each year, when the vineyards and wineries are in the middle of harvest . They take a very needed break to showcase their latest wines. This year's Celebration of Harvest was held on the beautiful grounds of Rancho Sisquoc Winery in the Santa Maria Valley.
In Santa Barbara County, the east-west orientation of the coastal mountains forms valleys opening directly to the Pacific Ocean. This unique landscape allows the flow of fog and ocean breezes to shape distinct microclimates, perfect for the cultivation of classic grape varietals and world class wines.
Within Santa Barbara County there are three distinct appellations: Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, and Sta. Rita Hills. In addition, the Los Alamos Valley region, between the Santa Maria Valley and Santa Ynez Valley appellations.
There are over 21,000 acres of vineyards planted in Santa Barbara County, many of those smaller, family owned properties. This all contributes to the diversity and quality that makes this wine growing region so unique. The old adage that “the wine is made in the vineyard” holds true, with vineyards being farmed by owners and vineyard managers and carefully assessed by a community of talented winemakers.
We have visited the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Festival held in April of each year. The Celebration of Harvest festival is held annually in October during the middle of harvest. As well as these great festivals themselves , these festival weekends are filled with open houses, winemaker dinners, special tastings and other very unique events.
This years theme for the celebration of harvest was " Grape to Glass". This wonderful event was held on the breath taking grounds of Rancho Sisquoc with views of the Santa Maria valley. This was not just a "wine tasting " event. There were opportunities to take home Pinot Noir cuttings with complete instructions on how to take care of this very special varietal . Guests could taste the juice of newly crushed grapes and see a mobile bottling line hard at work.
As local wine legend Bob Senn used to say “Wine is food to be consumed with food”, and it would be hard to find either a restaurateur or vintner in Santa Barbara Wine Country who would disagree. Even though the harvest is foremost in growers and winemaker’s minds, tomatoes, tomatillos, melons, apples, walnuts and a cornucopia of other local foods are also being harvested at the same time.This is why the annual “Celebration of Harvest Festival” sponsored by the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association also features bites and tastes from the area’s finest restaurants, caterers and specialty food purveyors as well.
“Wine and Food go together like yin and yang, salt and pepper, night and day”, enthuses Jim Fiolek, Executive Director of the Vintners’ Association. “Wineries and Restaurants are the same; one would not be successful without the other, and besides we all really enjoy each others company and products. We are thrilled to have over two dozen of our culinary colleagues joining us this year at our annual Celebration of Harvest festival. We can’t wait to see what delicious and inventive tastes they create!”
Guests were able to taste treats from Adrienne’s Gourmet Foods, Babé Farms, Bacara Resort, The Ballard Inn, Brother’s Restaurant at Mattei’s Tavern, Chef Rick’s, Decadence Desserts, Enterprise Fish Company, Far Western Tavern, Fresh and Easy of Santa Maria, Full of Life Flatbread, the Garden Room Restaurant, Global Gardens, Trattoria Grappolo, Here’s the Scoop!, Hitching Post II, Jessica Foster Confections, the Lompoc Kiwanis, Los Olivos Café, Mirabelle Inn Restaurant, New West Catering, the Olive House, Panera Bread of Santa Maria, Pearl Catering, Root 246, Santa Barbara Biscotti, Santa Barbara Jacek’s, the Santa Barbara Pistachio Company, the Staring Gate Restaurant, Trader Joes of Santa Maria, Trattoria Uliveto and The Willows Restaurant. Coffees were provided by Blue Sky Coffee and Rhythms Coffee & Smoothies.
The wineries joined together with local chefs who specialize in wine country cuisine, specialty food Curveyors and local bands Lady Blue and House Red band provided the guests for a beautiful afternoon of great wines, superb foods and lively music .
For those who have been in wine country anywhere in the world during harvest they know how important and stress full this time of the year is. What the vineyard owners and winemakers do this time of year could make or break their entire vintage.
We have had the pleasure of traveling in Santa Barbara wine country for many years and have come to appreciate several aspects of this very unique wine growing area. In this area, you still deal with " farmer" vineyard owners , many of whom rise at 3AM to harvest their own grapes day after day until harvest is completed. They have true passion for what they do and you can taste this passion with every sip of a Santa Barbara County wine.
We plane to attend the Festival in the Spring. For more information on tickets, maps, and alot of great information please feel free to visit http://www.sbcountywines.com. Until then join Elaine and Scott Harris from Vino Las Vegas as we take you to the Celebration of Harvest and speak with winemaker Kathy Joseph from Fiddle Head cellars about the event and the challenges of the 2009 Harvest.
Mezzo \Mez”zo\, a.[ It., from L. medius middle, half.]
We have had the opportunity to dine a Mezzo on many occasions. This lovely resturant located in the North West section of Las Vegas only proves what we have been saying for quite along time. There is great dinning OFF the famed Las Vegas Strip.
Mezzo uses only the best ingredients to create traditional dishes over seen by Chef Alfredo. The fish is brought in fresh daily and calamari is hand cut to order. Even their sausages and meatballs are ground and made in house as a well as their sauces and dressings. They even imported a wood burning oven from Naples, Italy just to have the best possible flavoring and addauthenticity to their dishes.
You cant have a great Italian restaurant without wine . They are continually changing their wine list offering wines from all over the world. With a list of over 100 wines by the bottle and more than 30 by the glass, there’s a great wine for for every palate.
On this occasion Jim Lambert from Stanley Lambert wines in the Barossa Valley was "in the house" to show off his great wines.
Winemaker Lindsey Stanley has been making award winning in the Barossa Valley for over 30 years and is considered one of the best around.
Jim Lambert and Chef Alfredo teamed up for a 5 course dinner with each course being paired with one of Jim's great Australian wines from the acclaimed Barossa.
With names like Pristine Chardonnay , Nordic Frost , Black Sheep , Silent Partner and Choc-a-bloc , we knew this would be a unique dinner that guests were sure to remember for quite some time.
Wee Be Pumkin Bisque
Pumpkin Bisque , toasted pumkin seeds and ginger creme freich
Pristine Chardonnay , Barossa Valley 2008
This lovely unoaked Chardonnay with pear and melon flavors could not have paired better with the lightness of the Pumpkin Bisque that melted on our palate.
Fresh salmon rillets on a bed of organic spinach, chanterelle mushrooms and a roasted red pepper vinaigrette
Nordic Frost , cold pressed dry Riesling 2008
The concept of Lindsey Stanley's genius as a winemaker shines with this lovely Riesling. The grapes are hand-picked and then chilled to 2 degrees centigrade prior to basket pressing to preserve the well known fresh citrus characters of the varietal. The paring with Salmon was right on and one of the best of the night.
Pappardelle pasta , house made chicken sausage , porcini muchrooms and arugula
Black Sheep , Shriaz Blend 2004
The Black Sheep Shriaz is an unusual blend of 42% Shiraz, 38% Malbec and 20% Merlot. The blend percentages vary from year to year. Our first red wine of the evening with its blackberry, raspberry and cherry flavors brought out the richness of the Pappardelle and the earth tones of the mushrooms for a very nice pairing.
16 oz. Ribeye Steak
Brown sugar grilled 16oz Ribeye steak , fingerling potatoes , green beans and micro carrots
Silent Partner , Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
This was a meat lovers dream dish with of course a big Barossa Cabernet . This is Cabernet Sauvignon is the premium wine from Stanley Lambert. Aged in American Oak for 18 months its intense fruit flavors burst though to a fine elegant soft finish.
Sweet berry tart shell
Sweet tart shell paired with a sweet pastry cream topped with fresh raspberries and blueberries
Choc-a-bloc , Port South Australia
When it came time for desert what else could be paired than Stanley Lambert' s number one selling wine in the USA , the Choc-a-Bloc. This is luscious dessert wine like non other. Made using a fortified Australian Tawny wine base and seeping it with chocolate ,this port is addicting to say the least. Choc-a-Bloc , raspberries and blueberries. Was there any other way we could have concluded this great dinner ? We think not .
The Staff of Mezzo did an amazing job putting on this dinner. The food pairings by Chef Alfredo were spot on and showed off his culinary expertise. For more information on Mezzo and Stanley Lambert wines please go to www. StanleyLambert.com and www.Mezzobistro.com
Chef Emeril Lagasse just keeps going and going. He held " The Ultimate Tailgate Party" for a star studded invite only event at his latest project Lagassee's Stadium in the Palazzo Resort in Las Vegas .
Lagasse’s Stadium combines Emeril Lagasse's signature dishes with over 100 HD TVs including a 9ft x 16ft main TV, luxury boxes, plush stadium-style seating, billiard tables, and outdoor patio over looking the Las Vegas Strip.
In addition to watching your favorite team on the large screens , sports betting stations, black jack and craps tables, as well as video poker machines, billiard tables and video arcade games will keep you entertained even if your team is loosing.
“As a long-time season ticket holder, on big game days you’ll find me tailgating with friends and supporting my favorite teams,” says Emeril Lagasse. “I’m happy to team up again with our friends at The Palazzo to create the ultimate sports establishment. At Stadium, we’ll be serving serious food for serious fans.”
“If you want to take a break from this and have a little white tablecloth experience, you can go in the dugout and have anything from a great barbequed salmon to a great steak and great wine,” he said.
With help from Celebrity sports fans and athletes such as , Jeremy Piven, Kevin Dillon, Rex Lee, Melissa Rycroft and fiancé Tye Strickland, Bruce Jenner, Laker’s player Derek Fisher, female race car driver Danica Patrick, Olympic swimmer Dara Torres, Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner, Lakers coach Brian Shaw, football star Warren Sapp, retired basketball player Gary Payton, baseball player Greg Maddux, Howard Stern’s wife and model Beth Ostrosky, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’s Carson Kressley, actor Dan Cortese, actor Chazz Palminteri , Chef Emeril let the stars shine at his newest creation.
We always enjoy taking a look at unique, boutique wines.
Recently we came across a lovely Cabernet Sauvignon from Cannonball Wines in California.
Winemaker Dennis Hill is no new comer to the Industry. He made quite a "splash" as a Master winemaker and is responsible crafting Blackstone and Hayman and Hill wines . After tasting the Cannonball 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon , he is well on the way to having another hit.
Cannonball Cabernet is comprised of 77 % Dry Creek Cabernet, 15 % Petit Syrah , 5 % Petit Verdot and 3 % Syrah. This blend produces a big bold Cabernet with alot of fruit.
In the glass this medium to full bodied wine shows colors of deep crimson red and light garnet. On the nose hints of blackberry, strawberry, black cherry and coffee as well as spice treat our senses with an incredible burst of balanced fruit aromas . This is a big , bold Cabernet with flavors of black cherry, cranberry, black pepper and currant with cocoa on the mid pallet with a nice texture and smooth tannins combining for a long finish.
The Cannonball Cabernet 2006 from the Sonoma area is a wonderful , affordable wine from a legendary appellation that should be experienced. For more information on Cannonball wines please go to http://www.drinkcannonball.com
VALENTINO LAS VEGAS AND CLEVELAND CLINIC LOU RUVO CENTER FOR BRAIN HEALTH
LAUNCH ‘WINE & DINE FOR THE CAUSE’
In honor of its 10th anniversary inside the Venetian Resort, Hotel & Casino, Valentino Las Vegas has announced “Wine & Dine For The Cause.” Now through the end of September, a portion of the proceeds from Valentino’s daily specials, tasting menus and select wines will benefit “Keep Memory Alive” and the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health for Alzheimer’s research.
“We have been friends with Larry Ruvo (Chairman, Keep Memory Alive) since we opened our doors in Las Vegas back in 1999 and have done several special events and wine dinners together,” said Valentino Las Vegas Executive Chef and Partner, Luciano Pellegrini. “When we started thinking about our 10-year anniversary and how to celebrate it, we wanted to do more than just a one-night dinner, with the hopes that more money can be raised for Keep Memory Alive.”
Guests have the option of ordering one of the daily specials, select wines or a signature Valentino tasting menu created by Chef Pellegrini. This is a great way to experience some of Las Vegas’ finest cuisine while raising money for a worthy cause. To learn more about the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and Keep Memory Alive visit www.keepmemoryalive.org.
Valentino Las Vegas, sister restaurant to the world-renowned Valentino in Santa Monica. The menu, created by James Beard Award-winning Executive Chef Luciano Pellegrini, features an array of traditional and contemporary Italian cuisine that includes a variety of homemade pasta dishes, enticing entrees and decadent desserts. Valentino Las Vegas is located in the Venetian Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. The Grill at Valentino opens daily at 11:30 a.m. for lunch and is available for business functions during the day. The fine dining room opens for dinner at 5:30 p.m. daily. Call (702) 414-3000 or visit www.valentinorestaurantgroup.com.
Keep Memory Alive supports the mission of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. We are dedicated to the conquest of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, ALS and all forms of memory disorders. Our focus is to provide enhanced treatments and services for those afflicted with neurodegenerative diseases and to ultimately find cures with innovative medicine that is complimented by a focus on an improved patient experience. Both are 501(c)(3) organizations. To learn more about Keep Memory Alive and the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, call (702) 263-9797 or visit www.keepmemoryalive.org.
Sandalford Wines has once again been placed among the best of the Australian wine industry by esteemed wine critic James Halliday. I am very proud to announce we have received a '5 Star' rating and an impressive 10 wines from the Sandalford portfolio were awarded 90 points or more out of a possible 100. The '5 Star' Award is a highly coveted recognition bestowed only on outstanding wineries which regularly produce wines of excellent quality. Halliday is the authority on the Australian wine industry and his opinions are sought on every aspect of the industry.
July marked the release of Halliday's best-selling annual Australian Wine Companion (2010 edition), this year including tasting notes for 5884 wines, and profiling 1467 Australian wineries The '5 Star' rating places Sandalford Wines in the top bracket of Australian wineries and the range of wines which received scores in the 'nineties' is further testament to Sandalford's commitment to producing world class wines from the Margaret River region.
Among the high point scoring wines were the
Sandalford has also planted vines at it's Margaret River property in 1970 and this is now the main source of it's premium fruit. The 40 year old vines yield grapes of outstanding quality and allow Sandalford to produce wines that are Margaret River's finest.
Sandalford's tourism operations and facilities have also been refined over the past 15 years, which has lead to the development and success of this world class establishment. Sandalford has selected the finest wine tourism aspects from around the World, and integrated these features with Sandalford's own unique ideas and concepts into its own tourism Mecca.
These efforts have resulted in the following accolades,
It's easy to imagine you are in Paris while dining at Mon Ami Gabi at the Paris Resort in Las Vegas that offers al fresco dining on the Strip.
The Menu is French and simple and highlighted by classic steak frites and a variety of fruits de mer as well as an extensive wine list.
On our visit we met with Sommelier and Fine Wine Representative from Vin Sauvage,Bibiana Escobedo and attended a Mollydooker Wine Dinner she was hosting.
Mollydooker wines are legendary . For 12 years, Sarah & Sparky Marquis have been impressing oenophiles around the world with their award-winning Australian wines made for such brands as Fox Creek, Henry's Drive, Parsons Flat, Shirvington, Marquis Philips, Integrity and now Mollydooker. They have been awarded the title of Australian Winemakers of the Year and they are the only husband and wife wine making team to receive Mclaren Vale's prestigious Bushing Award three times; and are responsible for crafting four of only 24 Australian wines to receive 99 points from Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate in the last 10 years.
Executive Chef Terry Lynch and Bibiana teamed up and paired many of these wines with a memorable 6 course dinner.
WARM GOAT CHEESE TOASTS
Summer wild mushrooms, tiny frisee & Sebastopol apple salad.
The Violinist Verdelho 2008
This lovely beginning with a very well balanced Verdelho and Goat Cheese was just a prelude of what Chef Terry Lynch was about to show us.
ROASTED DUCK BREAST
Grilled Peaches, Fresh bay leaf gastrique
The Scooter Merlot 2007
The peaches with Duck and the Merlot paired excellently as they combined for one of the most interesting pairings of the evening.
PEPPER RUBBED LAMB T-BONE
Green Olive Relish
The Boxer Shiraz 2008
The Lamb T-Bone with its gamey notes and a the big bold Boxer Shriaz was truly as classic pairing that exploded on our palates.
BRAISED BEEF SHORTRIBS
Celery Root , Roasted Shallots , hints of lemon and summer sage.
The Maitre D' Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
ROSEMARY GRILLED FIGS
Black Peppercorn Ice Cream and a Drizzle of Chocolate Sauce
The Maitre D' Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
When we saw Ice cream and Cabernet on the menu , we were intrigued with what we thought would be a pairing that we may not enjoy. But , Chef Terry and Bibiana proved us wrong with the peppercorn ice cream combining with the casis of this elegant Cabernet making this dish a real treat and a great way to end the dinner.
Executive Chef Terry Lynch and Bibiana combined their expertise to come up with delicious dishes paired with the renowned Mollydooker wines. The staff of Mon Ami Gabi did a world class job putting on the wine dinner for its guests and making it a true culinary event.
Join Elaine and Scott of VINO LAS VEGAS as we speak with Executive Chef Terry Lynch , Bibiana Escobedo of Vin Sauvage and enjoy great wines from Mollydooker at Mon Ami Gabi.