Saturday, October 25, 2014


Chatom Vineyards

Hello!  I moved to Ojai to relax, smell the roses and work on my new book, but it seems I'm being asked to write more than ever!  For weeks I've been interviewing and photo-shooting chefs, beer and winemakers, restaurant owners and caterers and tasting their wares (well, someone has to do it, right?)... all for the big Taste of Ojai scholarship fund raising event held on the 10th Green on the private PGA golf course of the renowned and simply gorgeous Ojai Valley Inn & Spa (you might remember, I wrote about the Inn before moving here a few years ago)... AND, I've been touring and writing about the stunning homes in this year's Ojai Holiday Home Tour, another fundraiser, this one for Ojai's famous Music Festival.  Phew.  But now my work is done and it's time to revisit my fun birthday adventure in Mark Twain Gold Rush country in the Sierra Foothills and tell you about some more wine.

My next stop was Chatom Vineyards owned and operated by Gay Callan, a once upon a time city girl from San Francisco.  So, what's a once upon a time city girl like Gay doing in remote gold rush/jumping frog country?  Making fine wine.

Initially Gay worked in the high tech industry in San Francisco.  Then, when her family purchased land in Calaveras County with thoughts of starting a vineyard, Gay got involved and basically ended up running the vineyard from San Francisco.  But the commute was long, so she packed her bags and moved to Esmeralda Valley.  The locals weren't too sure about this "city girl" farmer.  Would she get down and dirty with the earth?  Do wine bottles have corks?  Yes! And after many ups and downs over the decades she opened her own winery and Chatom has become one of the most respected wineries in the Sierra Foothills.

The rustic wooden building that houses Chatom's tasting room...

... is in a beautiful Mediterranean setting with lovely gardens.

 Inside, you can't help but notice the award winning ribbons draped here and there the winery's received for its wine. 


My first thought...would winemaker, Jason Lewis' wines live up to all those ribbons?  It was time to find out.

Mariah was our lovely barista....

 and she started us off with a 2012 Semillon ($18) - creamy, with scents of pear and passion fruit, I really liked it.

Next was the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc ($18) - not a lover of this varietal but I liked this one.  Crisp and citrus-y.

My favorite white was the 2013 "She" White ($18) not only for its crisp, refreshing apricot finish with aromas of honey, but because 30% of this wine's proceeds go to women's cancer charities and the Women's Heart Association.

Moving to the reds, I had four favorites:

The 2010 Zinfandel ($20) has rich dark berry and spice aromas you could get got lost in, and tasting it didn't disappoint.  Loved the hints of nutmeg and coffee.

The 2009 Merlot ($23) - scents of berries and plums wafted up my nose as the flavors of cocoa, tobacco and vanilla swirled around my tongue.  Yum.

Next was the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon ($26) - more scents of plum ooupled with currant and toasted almond with tastes of blackberry and dark chocolate.  Almost a Cadbury bar in a glass. 

Last but not least was the 2006 Vino Dolce ($30) - the aromas rivaled the tastes... scents of raisins and berries, pepper and anise with flavors of blackberries, cloves and licorice, with dark chocolate at the finish line ... all wrapped up in a blue ribbon bow.

If you're in the Calaveras County 'hood - you won't want to miss Chatom Vineyards.

Chatom Vineyards
1969 Highway 4
Douglas Flat, Calif. 95229

Check out the wine club and shipping information


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

PANNING FOR GOLD - Stevenot Winery

Stevenot Winery

Continuing to explore Calaveras County in the Sierra foothills, I decided to skip Mark Twain's jumping frogs and jump to the Stevenot Winery tasting room in the town of Murphys.  I had had a glass (or two) of their chardonnay the night before at my b'day dinner at Crusco's Ristorante in Angel's Camp and was looking forward to sipping some more of their wine.

The tasting room was a fun space with brick and stone walls...

... and whimsical hangings of lights, stars and tiny American flags.

Our lovely barista welcomed us (Richard, brother Bob, sister-in-law Nguyen and me) with a smile.

As she poured our tasting flight ($5 - though the fee is waived for wine club members and guests), she told us that the Stevenot family first came to Gold Rush country in the mid-1800s but that the winery wasn't established until 1978.  In 2010 Jon and David Oliveto (Oliveto Distribution, Inc.) bought Stevenot, keeping the name, and carrying on the Stevenot tradition of fine, quality wines.

Our first taste was the 2013 Reserva Chardonnay ($22), a lovely wine aged in French oak barrels leaving a light buttery taste.  Not too oaky.  Not too buttery.  As Goldilocks would say, just right!

The 2010 Sangiovese ($22) had a subtle cherry aroma and a pleasant ripe fruit taste. 

Sipping the 2011 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($26) put a smile on my face with its yummy hints of chocolate and blackberry.

As did the 2011 Reserva Petite Sirah ($26) hitting all the Sirah notes including black fruit and anise.

My favorite of the reds was the 2011 Reserva Barbera ($26) a jammy wine that teased the tongue with berries black and blue.

If you're hungry, the tasting room also offers a Tasting Plate of salami, asiago cheese, sharp cheddar, olives and chocolate for $10. 

So, next time you're in this part of Gold Rush country and want to enjoy some good wine, rush over to the Stevenot Winery tasting room at:

458 Main Street #3
Murphys, California 95247

Friday, August 22, 2014

PANNING FOR GOLD - Murphys Grille

Murphys Grille

Our (Richard, Bob, Nguyen and me) jaunt into the quaint, gold rush town of Murphys, touring main street and its historic hotel worked up our appetite. There were plenty of interesting restaurants to choose from, but Murphys Grille beckoned us in with a smile from the owner and a diverse lunch menu that appealed to us.  He also said he'd refund 150% of the cost of our meal if we didn't like it!  We were tempted to lie.

Though the inside of this bistro was lovely...

... we decided to take a table on the front patio so we could enjoy the outdoors and do some people watching.

I didn't think I was going to review Murphys Grille as we started to eat, so I didn't take pictures of our entrees, but after sampling everyone's dish, as well as my own, I changed my mind.  It turned out to be the perfect place for lunch.

Brother Bob had the Santa Barbara Chicken sandwich ($10).  Though our waitress didn't know why it was called Santa Barbara chicken (free range on the beach?), it was a delish blend of grilled chicken, not too crisp/not too fatty bacon and jack cheese with a rosemary aioli.

A lover of fish and chips, Nguyen couldn't resist ordering it when she saw it on the menu ($12).  Traditionally prepared from Cod and served with malt vinegar, the fish was crispy on the outside and deliciously moist on the inside. If we weren't in the beautiful Sierra foothills, this dish would have made me long to be in a pub in England.

Richard went for the Salmon Cakes ($12).  My review: mouthwatering delicious and the herbs used truly enhanced the flavor of the cakes served with a lime/cilantro vinaigrette.  Richard thought the black olives in the mixture was wrong for it...  I didn't agree.

I went for the grilled chicken "burger" ($10), a perfectly cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast in a homemade burger roll, served with caramelized onion, lettuce/tomato and garlic aioli... dill pickle on the side.  I love grilled chicken sandwiches and this chicken footed the bill.

Also on the menu was an Asian Calamari Fritti ($11), lemon aioli with Moi Poi, marinaded in paprika, cumin, chili powder, coriander and liquid from the calamari... Murphys Grille signature dish: an onion, mushroom, goat cheese tart ($11)... a selection of lunch salads ($10-$11)... a Caesar Salad Wrap ($11)... a Reuben ($11)... a BBQ Pulled Pork sandwich, with jack cheese and cole slaw ($10)... and an open face Steak Sandwich ($13) made from ribeye, with sauteed onion, mushroom and a blue cheese spread.

We will definitely return to Murphys Grille the next time we're in this charming town and pan for more food gold.

Lunch over, it was time to get back to the serious job of wine tasting.

380 Main Street
Murphys, California  95247

Monday, August 18, 2014

PANNING FOR GOLD - Tanner Vineyards & Pres. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant & Tanner Vineyards

Furthering my birthday adventure in Mark Twain/Gold Rush country in the Sierra mountain foothills, I learned that there may not be gold nuggets in them there hills anymore, but growing grapes seems to have created a new mother lode.  Like mining for gold, however, there's no guarantee that you will strike it rich.

Armed with an adventurous wine tasting spirit, we (brother Bob, sister-in-law Nguyen and Richard)  headed for the charming town of Murphys a few miles away from Angels Camp where we were staying.  But, before we had our first sip or wine, we had to check out the town's "Ulysses S. Grant slept here"...

...hotel dating back prior to 1856.

The dining room and bar have been updated,

 but the hotel has preserved the Grant Presidential suite under glass (well, actually behind glass) for tourist like us to see.

Pres. Grant's piano
After our brief tour of the hotel, it was time for a bit of wine tasting.  

As old and preserved as the town's hotel was, that's how modern and sleek Tanner's tasting room is.

The Tanners have been part of the community since the 1800s and Annie Tanner, one of the owners of the vineyard, was our "barista."

She welcomed us with a smile as she poured our flight ($5) and explained that basically the Tanners are a farming family and sell 75% of the grapes they grow... but in 2004, decided to bottle a limited amount of their own estate wines - about 1,000 cases.

Our first taste was a 2011Vermentino ($20) - a crisp, white wine that I liked a lot.  Match with seafood or sip by the pool on a hot day and you'll be glad you did.

Next was their 2011 Viognier (on a summer sale for $15), a white wine that I love as much as a good chardonnay, and this viognier was very good, with scents of honeysuckle and a rich, ripe fruit finish.  Bring on the cheese and salami.

I'm not a big rose fan, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the 2011 Doux Rose ($15) and its creme brulee finish.  I guess I shouldn't be, creme brulee is one of my favorite desserts evah.

We switched to reds and started with the 2009 Syrah ($26) - a really nice wine with rich fruit flavors.

The 2010 Angelo's Red ($28) showcases Tanner's estate grown Carignane grapes and is a lovely red table wine named for their great-grandfather Angelo Sciacaluga, the first official winemaker in Calaveras County.

On the high end of the Tanner wines price list were the 2009 Petite Sirah ($35) and the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon ($45).  The Sirah was a full-bodied wine with wonderful berry aromas  The Cabernet had a long lasting soft tannin finished.  Neither wine will disappoint. 

Yes, there is gold in them there hills.  Grape gold.

435 Main Street
Murphys, California  95247


Sunday, August 10, 2014


Crusco's - A Golden Nugget of a Ristorante

When entering a new decade in life, it's time for a little adventure, so when my brother Bob suggested we (he, his wife Nguyen, Richard and I) all go to Mark Twain country, I thought we were going to fly somewhere, rent a raft and float down the Mississippi.  Full disclosure: I had just reread "Huck Finn" for the third time and was visualizing myself in a red plaid shirt, cut off jeans and a strand of straw dangling from my mouth. Wrong!  No plane ride, no Mississippi River, no plaid shirt and cut-offs.  Not even a strand of straw.  We were going to California gold rush country, specifically Angels Camp. 

OK, I'll bite.  Which is it - Mark Twain country or gold rush country?  Both, I soon learned.  Obviously, I have never read "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" the famous short story Twain wrote while he lived in Angels Camp, hanging out and drinking with those miners panning for gold, but more about Twain in another blog.
Much of the town of Angels Camp is as it was in the 1800's.


But, one perk we enjoyed that old Mark never experienced in that tiny town was a dinner at Crusco's, a family owned Italian restaurant that reminded me of some of the great Neopolitan restaurants I loved in Manhattan's Little Italy even down to the decor - murals and all.

Mud & Sheet Rock Sculpture by local artist Mike Darby
Mom and Pop (Celeste and Gill) are ever-present. 

Celeste greeted us with a warm smile and showed us to our table and Gill, a fun curmudgeon who's dry humor seeped out more and more as the evening progressed, waited on us with an assist from their daughter, when he claimed his senility kept him too long from our table.

We decided not to overdo on appetizers so shared the calamaretti fritti (deep fried calamari w/ a cocktail sauce), which was a perfect way to start the evening.  Then, after the salad course, our serious eating began and, of course, I had a bite of everything.

Richard had the Lasagne Bolognese, beautifully prepared with mozzarella, provolone and parmigiano cheese and tomato-meat sauce between layers of perfectly cooked pasta.  The cheese, all melted and warm in the pasta mixed w/ the sauce made my heart skip a culinary beat.

Bob ordered the Filetto alla Griglia con Granchio, translation: grilled beef tenderloin over fresh spinach and soft polenta, topped with dungeness crab meat.  Sort of Crusco's version of surf & turf.  As advertised, the beef was tender, the polenta was soft and the crab was dungeness.  Absolutely delicious.

Nguyen's entree was Salmone all'Arancia, a sauteed wild Alaskan salmon fillet served with the house's blend of mixed grains, finished with a creamy orange madeira sauce.  I usually don't kvell over salmon, but this dish definitely called for kvelling.

My choice was the Fettuccini col Prosciutto, the first bite of which practically made me stand up and cheer.  This dish is sort of Crusco's take of spaghetti carbonara, one of my favorite pastas of all time.  Substitute the spaghetti with fettuccini, add the peas and proscuitto and toss in the cream sauce, top with parmigiano cheese and voila.  Well, more than voila.  The cream sauce was a delicate delight made with Madeira wine. The subtle flavor of the wine took this cream sauce to a new be still my heart level.

To end our sumptuous dinner in the middle of this old mining town, we shared my birthday dessert, a delicate panna cotta with strawberries. 

The perfect ending to a perfect meal.

1240 S. Main Street
Angels Camp, Calif. 95222

Sunday, July 13, 2014



Y'all know how I love to go wine tasting... well recently I went olive oil tasting.  Like the fine wineries I have been to all over California, with great tasting rooms amidst the vineyards, olive oil tasting at Omaggio Farm and Regalo Estate offers the same lovely experience without the need for a designated driver.

As we drove down the driveway through an olive orchard, past the stunning estate villa to the tasting room, it brought back memories of Richard's and my trip to Italy and the Italian countryside, especially when we stepped out of the car and walked toward the beautiful sun-dappled, Tuscan-designed tasting room exterior...

We were greeted by the knowledgeable and welcoming manager, Carolina Gramm...

... and were first escorted into a room that houses the press and machinery used to make Regalo's pesticide-free, artisan EVOO.  

Carolina explained how the olives from more than 2,000 trees on the farm are all handpicked, how the olives are processed, and that the oil not used for their artisan EVOO, is re-purposed for other uses, such as bio fuel and soap.

soap oil
Carolina then took us into the lovely appointed tasting room...

... where we tasted five oils...


 ...all unique, with a clean, fresh taste.  

We started with a delicate Spanish EVOO which won best in show at the Los Angeles olive oil competition.  It certainly was delicate!

We dipped our bread into the Tuscan, Proprietary, Basil, and Chive EVOO, all delicious and filled with taste nuances.  Last, but not least, we revisited the Proprietary EVOO paired with a ten year old balsamic vinegar.  An exquisite combination of flavors.

Also for our tasting pleasure was a variety of imported Italian balsamic vinegars.

I loved the pear and cranberry vinegar so much I had to buy a bottle, but it didn't keep me from checking out all the different oils, vinegars and a selection of dishes and glassware on display. I wanted to buy everything!!

If you're in Ojai, California and want a delicious tasting experience, I hope you'll visit the Regalo tasting room.  But, even if you're on the other side of the country, you can join their member's club, Amici di Regalo, for subscription deliveries, special limited edition offerings, and news of upcoming members' events.  Just go to their website for all the info about joining or for just buying a bottle or two.

Note:  a portion of all Regalo profits are donated to poverty relief charities.  "Changing the world, one olive at a time."

Omaggio Farm
283 Carne Road
Ojai, California 93023

Because Omaggio and Regalo Estate is family owned and also a private residence, the Tasting Room is only open on:
Saturdays from 10:00am to 5:00pm
Sundays from 12:00pm to 5:00pm