Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A SLEEPOVER IN ARROYO GRANDE - Part 2 - Saucelito Canyon Vineyard

Part 2
(Saucelito Canyon Vineyard)

When last we “talked,” Richard and I were enjoying a beautiful day wine tasting in Arroyo Grande with friends Candace and Craig and their daughter Liza.  The day was not only beautiful because of the weather (a much welcomed reprieve from the 100 degrees + we were experiencing in L.A.), but also because of the lovely countryside dotted with vineyards.

We pulled into the Saucelito Canyon Vineyard tasting room amid the vineyards

and, after seeing how crowded it was inside, 

we again opted to taste outside.


Liza multi-tasking - tasting & texting

We started our flight with the 2010 Zinfandel Estate ($32) – a full-bodied red wine that had a fruity “nose” and rich berry taste and gravelly terroir. (OK, that’s French which, I’m told doesn’t have a single English word translation and means a wine’s sense of place; the soil in which the vines grow; how much sun the grapes get, the topography – all add up to the wine’s unique personality.  “Topography,” “soil” – in other words, “dirt.” But there’s nothing dirty about this wine, just a wonderful earthy taste. See, I found one English word – earthy.  Well, maybe not.  Recommended pairing from the winemaker: a T-bone steak with peppered shoestring fries or a smoked mozzarella and chipotle pizza.  My mouth’s watering just typing that.

The 2010 Zinfandel Dos Ranchos ($32) – is a robust (love that word) wine with a wonderful spicy ‘kick’ to it. Pairing suggestions:  Open a bottle the next time you grill a rack of lamb or broil some lamb chops or try it with a balsamic-glazed portabello burger. Now I’m really hungry.

Next was the 2010 Tempranillo ($28) – a dry, smoky, hearty wine that I really enjoyed and would be perfect paired with a marinated steak or, perhaps, a tandoori chicken with garlic, as the winemaker suggests.

As the tasting day was winding down, Tom Greenough, Saucelito Canyon’s young winemaker joined us as we sipped a 2010 Sauvage Estate red ($34) - a blend of French varietals.   

Like all the reds, there was nothing “insipid” about this wine… dark, deep and delicious.  No food needed - just give me a straw.  (Gotta wrap this blog up – my stomach’s growling and my taste buds are craving any one of these Saucelito Canyon reds.)

As we chatted with Tom we learned that the vineyard started in 1880 on an original land grant when three acres of zin grapes were planted.  A century later, Tom’s father, Bill, bought and restored the vineyard, which had been abandoned years earlier, and started making zinfandels using modern methods in sustainable wine growing coupled with his own ideas on winemaking.  Son Tom, who became the winery’s winemaker in 2009, has carried on the family traditions.

As the tasting room witching hour approached, we were sated and happy as we reluctantly left Saucelito Canyon Vineyard nestle in the countryside amid the old zin vines.

Ciao – I’m off to lunch now.

Saucelito Canyon Vineyard
3180 Biddle Ranch Road
San Luis Obispo, CA. 93401

Monday, October 8, 2012

A SLEEPOVER IN ARROYO GRANDE - Pt. 1 - (Chamisal Vineyards)

Part 1

It had been blistering in Los Angeles for weeks and weeks, so when our friends, Candace and Craig, invited us for a sleepover at their lovely weekend home “up north,” we were packed and in our car in a NY minute.  “Up north” was Arroyo Grande (AG), a charming little town near San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach, set among rolling vineyards...

... and wonderful wineries and tasting rooms.

When we left that Saturday morning, the temperature was already in the 90’s (at 9:30 a.m.!), and as we drove through the Valleys toward Santa Barbara, it peaked at 103.  Folks down south and back east always smile when So. Californians complain because our heat is “dry” heat, they say… Well, not this summer.  Humidity covered Los Angeles like a wet dog who had no intention of leaving.  Who says there’s no climate change?  If I wanted humidity, I’d have never left Manhattan.

But, as we passed Santa Barbara and headed into the mountains, we forgot the heat and humidity (we were in an air-conditioned car, after all) and gazed at the beautiful scenery.  We made a pit stop in the quaint town of Los Olivos and checked out the latest wines in the Wine Merchant CafĂ©, our favorite little wine shop/restaurant in town.

We arrived in AG just in time for lunch and hung out in the cooler climes till it was wine tasting time.

Our first stop was Chamisal Vineyards.  In existence since 1973, Chamisal is the first vineyard planted in the Edna Valley.

The tasting room is in a big red barn affair in the midst of one of its vineyards.   

The tasting room was crowded... we, along with Candace and Craig’s beautiful daughter, Liza, opted for a table outside overlooking the vineyard.
(oops - where's Richard?)

There he is!
First in flight was the 2011 Estate Pinot Gris ($24) - as advertised this is a Pinot Gris, not a Pinot Grigio. It’s the same grape but is produced in the Alsace style, making it richer and fuller, which I prefer. I liked it.

Next up was the 2010 Califa Chardonnay ($40) made over 14 months (and lots of tastings) from the wineries very best blocks and clones. I really loved its density and rich citrus flavor with a hint of butterscotch.  Yum.

Moving to “reds” – we sipped the 2011 Stainless Pinot Noir ($24).  No oak or malolactic fermentation (converting tart tasting malic acid found in grape must to softer tasting lactic acid), it’s fresh and fruity with hints of pepper. It’s said to be similar in style to a Beaujolais Nouveau, and I agree. Just slightly chilled, it’s awesome.

We followed up with the 2010 Califa Pinot Noir ($60), a classic pinot noir filled with rich ripe fruit and spice flavors.  And, I love the classics.

Last, but certainly not least since it was my favorite tasting at Chamisal, was the 2009 Estate Grenache ($38).  Doing the ritual ‘sniff” before sipping, I felt I was Brer Rabbit – “don’t throw me into the strawberry patch” when he was really thinking “throw me in.” The strong strawberry scent, mixed with tastes of cedar, red cherries and touches of pepper and anise, put me in red wine wonderland.  I really loved this velvety wine.

Our smooth flight over, it was time to see what our next landing would be like.

7525 Orcutt Road
San Luis Obispo, California 93401
805-541-9463 - 866-808-9463

Wednesday, October 3, 2012



When I was five my best friend received her First Holy Communion. Afterward she asked me what religion I was.  She went to Catholic school and was a Catholic. Since I went to public school, I told her I was a “Public.”  It wasn’t until I was six that I learned my family was Lutheran. That the church we went to was Redeemer Lutheran.

Like many of my childhood peers growing up in Bayside, I attended Sunday school, sang in the choir and, at twelve, started confirmation class.  However, this was not your everyday confirmation class. Pastor Walter Schwolert, our wonderfully wise minister and teacher, knew that most kids believed what their parents believed. But he was determined that we learn not only our parents’ faith, but the faith of others. By discovering our differences, he believed, we’d learn more about our similarities. He taught us about the Koran and Torah… he took our class to talk to the priest, the rabbi and Protestant ministers of the neighborhood. I can’t say I remember what they told us, but I don’t think that was Pastor Schwolert’s purpose. He just wanted to open our eyes to other worlds. And he did.

It was because of Pastor Schwolert I kept going back to church each Sunday, kept singing in the choir, taught Sunday school and performed in church plays, religious and otherwise. He looked out for me when my father died (I was only thirteen), and he encouraged me to dance and to write when my high school guidance counselor thought I should be a teacher. Yup – being a writer or being in showbiz back then, even in NYC, wasn’t something a guidance counselor was supposed to support – but Pastor Schwolert did. He taught me to accept and embrace people’s differences… to be open to the “public.”

And his door and church were always open to the public… no matter who you were, he welcomed you. When the church was renovated and a school was built alongside it, those doors stayed open.

Years later when I was living and working in Manhattan, I would often walk by the old Lutheran cathedral that stood where the towering Citicorp building now stands. One night I was lured inside by a poster announcing to the “public” a lecture on Chairman Mao. I’d never been inside the church before, so I thought, “why not?” After the lecture I discovered that St. Peter’s had an Equity waiver theater which supported new playwrights and fledgling actors and that it worked with the music community, offering children the chance to see free live concerts. An associate minister was even a bartender in Greenwich Village, “tending his flock” while serving up a Bud to the public.  

One pastor, John Gensel, was known in Manhattan as the jazz minister (and a Peter Jennings “Person of the Week”) and opened up the church to struggling musicians during jazz vespers, allowing people a chance to hear them play. He encouraged and fed their bodies and souls and by doing so nourished the public with art.

When the old cathedral was demolished and a new structure replaced it inside Citicorp, I was afraid that “my” church would disappear.  But St. Peter’s was not a church that only preached scriptures… this was a church that continued to lend its hand throughout the community without judgment. When Pastor Gensel married my husband and me one of my Jewish girlfriends was so impressed by his humor and humanity, she invited him to speak at her son’s bar mitzvah.  He did.

A few years ago when I did my Bayside “roots” thing, I wanted to share “my” hometown church with my husband, but the doors were locked. I led him down the sidewalk to the gym and offices entrance to see if it was open. They were. Maybe someone inside would take us into the church I so wanted to see again. A woman approached us, perhaps a secretary or office worker, maybe a teacher, she didn’t say, and I told her who I was… how I grew up in this church and hadn’t been back to Bayside in many, many years. I asked her if she’d let us go inside. She refused and told me that I could come back on Sunday when the church had its services. I explained this was my only day in Bayside and how much it would mean to me to see the inside of the church again. She apologized, but still refused.

I left disappointed, hurt and angry. This was not the open policy of Pastor Schwolert who believed in learning about and accepting all people. I realize times have changed and doors can’t just be left open anymore, but to refuse someone entrance who has come knocking on the door politely and sincerely was a shock. I hoped this woman did not represent the minister of my former church… a church who welcomed strangers and travelers.

Both Pastors are gone now and I don’t go to church as often as I should, but I believe they were true men of God who taught by example what real Christian love is.  It’s “Public.”  Of the many definitions of “public” offered by Webster I think of “devoted to the general or national welfare” and “humanitarian.”  I strive everyday to be a good “Public.”