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Santa Barbara, CA, United States
I enjoy creating original wine-pairing recipes that are healthful and delicious. I work for Touring & Tasting a Santa Barbara based wine club and national magazine as Food Editor. However, I am not paid for this blog and the opinions expressed here are strictly my own. I received my Personal Chef Skills Competency Award from the SBCC's School Of Culinary Arts. In 2012, I started Inside Wine - Santa Barbara with pal Lila Brown which features wine tastings with winery owners and winemakers. I also serve on the Board of the Santa Barbara Culinary Arts group, which had Julia Child as one of the founding members and funds scholarships for SBCC culinary students in her name.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Ran-Tong (Save and Rescue Elephant Centre) Chaing Mai

What does it look like from the top of a Thai elephant?
We made sure to ride elephants at a facility where they treat their animals well--no hooks, pins, heavy chains or mistreatment. The elephants are rescued from labor camps (mostly logging) and the riding is done to generate income to feed the elephant. One elephant can eat up to 700 pounds of food a day!

The Patara Elephant Farm and Rescue Center is in Chaing Mai, Thailand.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Luscious Red Wine Blends

France produces the most wine of any country and for generations it was the standard bearer for high-end wines, particularly Grand Cru Bordeaux. A certain snobbery in French wine circles existed until the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 where California wines won a blind tasting competition judged by the premiere wine experts at the time, beating wines from the top Grand Cru chateaus of France. Suddenly, the United States was front and center on the wine stage. Our wine industry has grown astronomically since then, both in terms of volume produced, number of wineries and accolades. Top American schools like UC Davis have been on the forefront of research on viticulture and viniculture, bringing a scientific backbone to the passion, intuition and experience of the best winemakers.
Foley Food & Wine Society
But, modernity is balanced with history as the French Bordeaux tradition of blending red grape varietals has been embraced by top American wine producers. A single varietal wine is like a solo musician. A blended wine is like a symphony with each varietal bringing its "voice"--a unique flavor profile, texture and color--to the mix. The winemaker can fine tune a blend like a conductor masterfully creates a well-balanced and intriguing composition.
Geoff Tate Insania Red
Bordeaux wines are roughly divided according to the wineries' position relative to the river Garonne. "Right bank" Bordeaux like Saint-Émilion and Pomerol use primarily Merlot, with the other Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère taking a smaller role.  The 2010 Geoff Tate Insania Red from Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla wine country of Washington state is such a wine. A full-bodied Bordeaux blend sporting ripe blackberries, black pepper and cured meat in the nose, it was awarded 91 Points by Wine Enthusiast!
2007 Langtry
Another food friendly example is the 2007 Langtry "Old Soldier Road" Propriety Red, Tephra Ridge Vineyard from the Guenoc Valley of Lake County, just over Howell Mountain from Napa Valley. The wine is blended from selected barrels of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec from highest quality fruit grown on the hillside vineyard of acclaimed Tephra Ridge. Heady aromas of ripe strawberry jam, rhubarb, and spice lead to a silky soft entry. The tannins are soft, with the balanced acidity enjoy a long finish while making it food friendly.
2010 Foley Johnson Handmade Red Blend
The "left bank" Bordeaux blends, such as Château Haut-Brion and Château Latour,  highlight Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2010 Foley Johnson Handmade Red Blend from the Santa Ynez Valley lets the richness of Cabernet Sauvignon predominate in a wine that features red raspberry tones dancing at the higher end of the spectrum with hints of leather and sandalwood as well as vanilla and dusty earth. Individual barrels from special lots are blended to create this noble blend.
2007 Three Rivers Svelte
Wine Spectator liked the 2007 Three Rivers Svelte from the Columbia Valley so well they gave it 90 Points! Deep, dense, thick, and concentrated, it is an absolute blockbuster from the stellar 2007 growing season. Three Rivers Winery's flagship red blend, this profound wine is created after every barrel in their cellar is rated for color, aromatics, flavors, varietal and site accuracy, balance, intensity and complexity--then individually selected and blended.
Chalk Hill red wine
For a very special occasion, the 1.5 liter magnum of the 2008 Chalk Hill Red Blend delivers the ultimate expression of the famed Chalk Hill estate winery. The fruit is from low yielding, exposed, rocky, hillside estate vineyards that produce intense, extracted flavor in the grapes. Each lot was harvested and vinified separately-- a labor-intensive and costly procedure that yields a superior wine.
2011 Roth Heritage Red
Zinfandel is commonly thought of as "California's wine grape" due to its popularity in the Golden State and long history that dates back to the Spanish missions. You can sample this "New World" blend in the 2011 Roth Heritage Red that spotlights beautiful notes of blueberry pie, cherries and vanilla in a well-structured wine or the 2010 Sebastiani Heritage Red from Sonoma County, redolent with aromas of black olive, Earl Grey tea, black pepper, dark cherry and cedar/oak overtones. It's a fruit-forward blend with flavors of blackberries, blueberries and a blast of caramel/coconut oak.
2010 Sebastiani Heritage Red
The Foley Food & Wine Society encompasses a wide range of red blends, perfect for pairing with a great meal or for a red blend tasting party! Browse our selection of red blends HERE.

Fred Brander: "King of Sauvignon Blanc"

What could be better on a gloriously sunny Southern California Saturday than to visit the friendly winery of Fred Brander? Known around Santa Barbara wine country as the "King of Sauvignon Blanc", Fred "really knows his stuff"--in the words of one of our group members. Born in Argentina, Fred obtained a degree in chemistry at Harvey Mudd College before studying enology at UC Davis. He and his family established the winery in 1975--it was one of the first in Santa Barbara County and was the first to receive a gold medal at a major wine competition.

Brander Vineyard

Brander originally focussed exclusively on hand-crafted Sauvignon Blanc and its many expressions. Among them were Cuvée Natalie, named after his daughter and in the off-dry style of French Alsace, and Cuvée Nicholas, named after his son and a great example of the opulent Bordeaux style. Later, 10 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 6 acres each of Merlot and Chardonnay, 3 acres of Cabernet Franc and 2 acres of Semillon were added to the 13 acres of Sauvignon Blanc.
Fred Brander in vineyard

Inside Wine Santa Barbara visited Brander Vineyard on a perfect Santa Ynez with ample sunshine. Marketing manager Jeff Butler facilitated our visit; Fred and his assistant winemaker Fabian Bravo split us into two groups to tour the vineyards and the winery. We learned some canopy management in the vineyard--like using adjustable trellis systems, how to orient the vineyard rows to maximize sun exposure to each vine, and the balancing of leaf and fruit to maximize ripeness and flavor. Fred showed us some newly planted Sauvignon Blanc vines and explained their use of biodynamic principles in tending the vineyard.
Brander Vineyard winery

In the winery, we saw the Cabernet Sauvignon fermenting in bins and learned about the punching down of the cap and testing of the alcohol level. Fred poured us fizzy, cloudy and utterly delicious tank samples of the Sauvignon Blanc fermenting in steel tanks. Not only delicious, but the fermenting juice is full of vitamin B!
the crew at Brander Vineyard

Afterwards, we had a lovely picnic lunch with Brander wines in the courtyard shaded with sycamore trees. Everyone enjoyed savoring the excellent Brander Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon in this bucolic setting. If you are planning a trip to Santa Ynez wine country, make sure to stop in the congenial Brander Vineyard tasting room.
picnic at Brander Vineyards

In conjunction with the Santa Barbara Vintners’ Association annual Celebration of Harvest weekend, Brander Vineyards will hold a special tasting on Saturday, October 12th to honor this year’s vintage with a selection of great Brander wines, handmade pizzas and salad from David Checchini of Cecco Ristorante, and acoustic guitar music from Chris Fossek. Just $20 for the general public; $10 for Brander wine club members. Email or call 805.688.2455.

Bacara Resort & Spa Hosts Culinary and Wine Event

The Bacara Resort & Spa hosted the launch party of the Foley Food & Wine Society on September 28th at the culinary highlight of the year. Attendees sipped nearly 40 different wines, including a limited quantity of premium cellar selections not available anywhere outside the tasting rooms, and nibbled on delectable appetizers from a stellar line-up of chefs.
Diana Cuttrell caterer
The launch party benefited the Santa Barbara Culinary Arts Scholarship in Honor of Julia Child at Santa Barbara City College. Santa Barbara Culinary Arts (SBCC) was proud to be represented at the gala launch party by two of the top caterers in town--both of them members of SBCC: Chef Diana Cuttrell of Dining With Di and Chef Michael Hutchings of Michael's Catering. They joined Miró Restaurant's Chef de Cuisine Johan Denizot and the Bistro's Chef de Cuisine Chris Turano, who was featured on the Food Network's popular program Chef Wanted.
Diana Cuttrelll caterer
Chef Diana Cuttrell grew up in a family well rooted in the art of fine cuisine. Her grandfather was the founder of Mother's Cake and Cookie Company in Oakland, CA and her parents owned the Branding Iron Restaurant on Cobb Mountain. Diana uses her culinary skills for groups large and small. Her skills as a chef are always enjoyed by her many private clients and friends. The photos above show some of her creations that have delighted guests and clients.
Michael Hutchings caterer
Chef Michael Hutching's career began in the kitchen of Disneyland's fabled private Club 33 where he was trained by the Master Chef Rudolph Stoy. Michael's impressive resume includes working in London at Le Gavroche where the Roux brothers were so taken by his work that they offered to provide financial backing for his own restaurant. For 10 years this Santa Barbara institution, Michael's Waterside, was recognized as a leader in contemporary California-French cuisine. Now, Chef Michael oversees his catering service and creates a diverse range of cuisines and styles.
Michael Hutchings caterer

Santa Barbara is a gourmet's paradise. For a relatively small town of 90,000+, we have a remarkable number of excellent dining establishments and caterers. Part of the reason may be that our prosperous town on the "American Riviera" can support a vibrant culinary scene. Beyond that, we are in close proximity to where top quality of the fresh fruit and vegetables are grown, available year round due to our ample sunshine and moderate climate. Farm-to-table and organic movements that foster the best produce and hand-raised meat and poultry.
Fine food follows fine wine--as vineyards go in, great restaurants are launched. The same people who enjoy exploring the myriad flavors and nuances of wine are also likely to be food connoisseurs. Great wine deserves great food and the launch party delivered both.
Foley Food & Wine Society wines

Alaska Wine Cruise with Touring & Tasting

Seattle from the ship Celebrity Solstice
Allan and Marianna Green from Greenwood Ridge Vineyards and Milla Handley from Handley Cellars, both of Mendocino's Anderson Valley, were aboard Touring & Tasting's wine cruise to Alaska--pouring their wines for our group of wine lovers.

Allan Green of Greenwood Ridge Vineyards
Greenwood Ridge Vineyards has been chosen three times in the past few years as one of America's top 30 wineries by Wine and Spirits Magazine, which says, "Allan Green is a winemaker's winemaker and grower...He consistently produces phenomenal wines."

We loved his Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Late Harvest Riesling. His vineyards' position ridge-top allows him produce fully ripe Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in the cool Anderson Valley AVA.

Milla Handley on Touring & Tasting wine cruise Winemaker/owner Milla Handley has also won countless gold medals and high ratings for her wines, including 95 points for her Mendocino County Pinot Noir and 93 points for her Pinot Gris. We loved these varietals she poured for us, plus her Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Noir Rosé. She also has ridge-top old-vine Zinfandel with great character. As she commented, "You can taste it in the vines all the way through to the wine...these wines have intensity, they have a story."

Cruising aboard Celebrity is definitely THE way to see Alaska! The spectacular scenery and wildlife unfolded beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows of the ship, we saw bears, orcas, bald eagles...without endless driving or uncomfortable camping. The Celebrity ships are loaded with amenities and activities, clean, comfortable and luxurious. Yet, we could still find adventure, back country hiking, glaciers and all the wild attractions of Alaska available at our ports of call.
Celebrity in Alaska Paul Arganbright of Touring & Tasting in Alaska

Some highlights of Touring & Tasting's "Wine Festival at Sea": the wine reception the first evening, the two winemaker seminars, and the impeccably paired wine luncheon in the Tuscan Grille.
wine tasting aboard Celebrity with Touring & Tasting wine seminar with Touring & Tasting aboard Celebrity

Click here to read more about Greenwood Ridge Vineyards Click here for Handley Cellars' website.
baby bears from Celebrity cruise Tracy Arm Fjord from Touring & Tasting wine cruise

Happy Canyon AVA of Santa Barbara County

Happy Canyon, Santa Barbara County's newest wine AVA,  is just east of highway 154, north of the turnoff towards Solvang. Few people have visited the wineries in Happy Canyon because there are no tasting rooms or public tours, in order to keep the quiet, rural atmosphere.

The first property one sees on Happy Canyon Road is the impressive spread of Happy Canyon Vineyards. The picture-perfect horse stables and training grounds are visible from the road; much farther back on their private property are two regulation-size polo fields where proprietor Tom Barrack and a team of professional Argentinian polo players practice the sport. They provided a demonstration match at the end of the day for a group of us, including Touring & Tasting, who had been invited to a trade-only open house at the five Happy Canyon wineries.

Starlane gravity flowTouring &; Tasting President Paul Arganbright and I chose to start our Happy Canyon winery visits at the farthest end of the AVA. Dierberg & Starlane Vineyards is comprised of two brands: Starlane Vineyard, which produces Bordeaux varietals in Happy Canyon, and Dierberg Vineyard, which produces Burgundian varietals from their Santa Maria and Sta. Rita Hills vineyards. I had heard the size of the Starlane property was impressive, but the point hit home with a sign at the gate indicating "3 miles to winery". Along the drive, we marveled at the acres of vineyards curving among the hills, the pristine blue sky, and the spectacular setting of the residence, wine caves and winery at the foot of Figueroa Mountain.

gravity flow wineryThe gravity flow winery was designed to minimize handling of the grapes and juice. The massive winery is set into the side of the mountain with a ramping drive up the back to the third floor where trucks can unload the grape harvest. Grapes are pressed on the third floor, flow down to tanks on the second floor, then down to the ground floor for bottling. The Dierberg & Starlane Vineyard wines are made with exacting standards, including handpicking the grapes. Mary Dierberg was pouring samples of the elegant results.

Vogelzang winesVogelzang had a charming outdoor setting next to their vineyard for the tasting, pouring their highly-rated Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier. Michelle described to us how the Vogelzangs found their property. They were looking for loamy clay soil with a shallow pan--that is, poor soil that was not too deep, because both of those factors favor concentration of flavor in the grapes. They also were looking for land with native mustard and brush rather than land covered with trees and bushes because the latter means the soil will produce a more vegetative taste to the wine. Another factor was ample well water, a very important factor in the Santa Ynez Valley where the higher elevations can have low water tables.  On good advice from their vineyard manager, they entered a contract to sell their grapes for the first eight years before making their own wine, helping to amortize the cost of startup. Today, Vogelzang's premium grapes are purchased by other notable wineries such as Fiddlehead, Foxen, Dragonette, Andrew Murray, Ken Brown, Rusack, Zaca Mesa, Carr and Gainey. Vogelzang's own estate wines have been crafted under the care of winemaker Robbie Meyer.
Grassini Vineyards on Touring & Tasting coverWhen we turned into Grassini Family Vineyards, something seemed familiar about the gorgeous grounds. Paul reminded me that their picturesque lake was on the cover of the Summer/Fall 2011 Issue of Touring & Tasting. I think the photo captures the beauty and tranquility of the place. Mandy GrassiniThe winery has the feeling of a tenuto in Italy, complete with the friendliness of the family and staff. Account Manager Paul Azdril was pouring their well-balanced Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blend. Mandy, one of the lovely Grassini daughters, showed off her Rhodesian ridgeback. We also had a peek at their wine caves, reminiscent of those in "the old country" and ideal for maintaining temperature and humidity levels.

Crown Point vineyards' Sara BushCrown Point Vineyard encompasses Westerly Vineyards, bought by proprietor Roger Bower last year and the former Cimarone/Three Creek Vineyard he purchased last year that will yield the grapes for the first Crown Point wines, due to be released in 2017. The utmost care is being put into the vineyard and winery practices, with promises of ultra-premium wines. The pretty and vivacious Sara Bush was pouring the Westerly Cab, Syrah, and Merlot, plus pinot from the Sta. Rita Hills. She recently joined Crown Point after being with KCOY and KEYT and was excited about her new career path. We chatted with news reporter John Palmintieri, who was at Crown Point to cover the trade event, and enjoyed some nice catered food, live music and the spectacular panoramic view of Happy Canyon from the expansive deck.

panoramic view Crown Point Vineyards
Tom Barrack polo
At the end of the day, everyone made their way to the Piocho Ranch polo fields for a lavish bbq dinner and some beautiful wines from Happy Canyon Vineyards, made by their winemaker Doug Margerum, who beside making his eponymous wines, has been the winemaker for Happy Canyon Vineyards since its inception. Tom Barrack brought one of the polo horses to the visitors' pavilion to explain some of the facts of polo to the guests, joking that polo was "the sport of gentlemen, played by thugs". The athletic proprietor showed his prowess in a game that is a blaze of thoroughbreds furiously galloping from one end of the 300 yard field to the other. We had the chance to chat with daughter Jodi and her husband Sean, who said they are "working hard to be great stewards of the land". Happy Canyon is committed to sustainable, organic and biodynamic practices. One vineyard block of Cabernet has never had a machine in it--all vineyard tending is done by hand.

Happy Canyon AVA is notable because, as the most easterly AVA in Santa Barbara County, it is the warmest, allowing ripeness to develop in the grapes. Yet it still benefits from the cooling marine influence that travels through the only east-west transverse range in a winemaking region. Great terroir, attention to detail, top-shelf winemaking techniques, and familiy legacies all contribute to making Happy Canyon AVA wines remarkable. We'll be hearing much more about this idyllic corner of the Valley as their excellent wines continue to garner recognition.
For more on Happy Canyon AVA, click here.

A Wine Themed Cruise to Alaska with Handley Cellars and Greenwood Ridge Vineyard

Touring & Tasting wine cruise to Alaska
We're about to set sail on Touring & Tasting's wine-themed cruise to Alaska with the winemakers from Handley Cellars and Greenwood Ridge Vineyard.

The splendors of majestic Alaska will unfold before our eyes as the luxurious Celebrity Solstice glides past the San Juan Islands, through the Inside Passage, up to Juneau--and hopefully some Northern Lights!

Handley cellars on Touring & Tasting wine cruiseHandley Cellars is a small family-owned vineyard and winery, now celebrating over 30 years of winemaking in Anderson Valley. Owner/winemaker Milla Handley produces a variety of well balanced wines, including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sparkling Wine and Gewürztraminer and she will be on the cruise and pouring a selection of her wines.

Greenwood Ridge on Touring & Tasting wine cruiseAllan Green has been producing wine in Anderson Valley since 1980. Since that time Greenwood Ridge Vineyards has built a reputation for producing world-class wines in small lots (total annual production is only 2000 cases). Owners Allan and Marianna Green will be onboard the Alaska cruise and pouring their award-winning wines.

One of the special events--just for Touring & Tasting wine cruise participants--is a four-course gourmet luncheon in the Tuscan Grille, specially prepared to pair with Greenwood Ridge and Handley Cellars wines.

I'm thinking seafood for the first three courses, then crème brûlée for dessert. What would you choose?

wine pairing luncheon on Touring & Tasting wine cruise