Thursday, November 20, 2014



"I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree..."  Thank you Joyce Kilmer.
I love trees.  I like flowers OK, white or faded pink peonies come to mind... or white or pink French tulips... but I love trees... the firs, oaks, maples, even dogwoods and birches I grew up with in Bayside, Queens, Long Island, New York... and all the trees I've met on the roads I've traveled. I love hiking, or just meandering in woods and forests, but nothing prepared me for the 10.15 square miles of Calaveras Big Trees State Park in Mark Twain country.

At the suggestion of my brother Bob, we all decided to take a break from wine tasting, get a picnic lunch and go to Big Trees, a forest he had explored before.  We set out early, making a pit stop for sandwiches at the deli in the Ironstone Vineyards tasting room and set out for our adventure in the woods.

I've seen tall trees before -- stately redwoods along side the road to Mendocino for example, but nothing prepared me for Sequoias.  Tall, yes!  But the circumferences of these trees were staggering! 

This 'stump' was once used as a dance floor

 Hollow out the lower part of the trunk and there would be enough room for a family of four to live comfortably.  Well, maybe not comfortably, but you get my point.

Tunnel in fallen tree trunk

Grab a cot and move in
We hiked the trails as I continued to be awed at the Sequoia's size and beauty.

And like most forests, the aroma was sooooo sweet.  It was the best of times.

Did I mention I love trees?  Here's a pictorial ode to them.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park
1170 California 4
Arnold, California 95223

Saturday, November 8, 2014

PANNING FOR GOLD - Ironstone Vineyards

Ironstone Vineyards

Who knew when my brother Bob suggested we all meet in Angel's Camp, California, Gold Rush country, that we'd find liquid gold?  Well, Bob did even if I didn't.  Mark Twain might have lived here in his one room cabin and panned for the elusive nugget with the miners back in the day...

...but today's gold is definitely the wine made from the region's thriving vineyards. 

Ironstone is no exception. But Ironstone offers more than good wine.... it's a cornucopia of caves...

Bob & Nguyen exploring the caves

... waterfalls...

... wooded paths...

... a museum...

... a gift shop, a terrific deli, and one of the largest gold nuggets on the planet. This is what a 44-pound gold nugget looks like!

It's almost as tall as Nguyen
Put in a cot, throw in a pillow and you could live there.

And just below the tasting room is the Alhambra "Robert Morton" pipe organ saved from the Sacramento famed Alhambra Theatre before it was demolished.

Just sit down...

... turn it on and be engulfed in the "Phantom of the Opera."

To reach Ironstone, you drive past the vineyard...

 ...and up to the beautiful stone building that houses the tasting room/museum/gift shop/deli. 

 Inside, you find yourself in a vast room with a tasting bar, wine displays, stone fireplace and that deli.

 Richard, Bob, Nguyen and I would explore the rest of the property later -- but first it was time to do a little wine tasting.

Kathy was our barista...

...and the first pour of our flight was the 2011 Elevation White ($17.85), a viognier blend that had a hint of nutmeg.  Loved it.

The 2013 Chardonnay ($11.99) was a tarty apple and pear wine with vanilla and oak notes.  Lovely.

Next was the 2013 Obsession "Symphony," a blend of muscat and grenache grapes that would pair well with Thai or Indian food.

On to the reds:  The 2013 Cabernet Franc ($11.99)  had rich berry flavors, coupled with a toasty vanilla 'nose.'  Sound good?  It was.

The 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel ($11.99) is a wine with subtle pepper flavors mingled with hints of ripe red fruit.  Rich and delicious.

2010 Elevation Red ($23.00) is a medium bodied wine, with spice and clove aromas and tastes of chocolate and vanilla.  This Elevation was a revelation.

Next was the 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($25.00) with dark blackberry and plum flavors and scents of cassis, black currents and vanilla beans.  My nose and tongue were both happy.

My favorite wine of the flight was the 2010 Reserve Deaver Old Wine Zinfandel ($28.00) which had all the aromas and flavors of a fine zin... berries, cherries and chocolate.  Delicious.

If you find yourself in the Sierra Foothills, venture over to Ironstone in the town of Murphys.  Enjoy the museum, walk the paths, explore the caves, have lunch - but most of all - try the wine.  Moderately priced with expensive 'tastes' this is one time you'll get champagne taste on a beer pocketbook.


Ironstone Vineyards
3675 Six Mile Road
Murphys, California

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