Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Michel-Schlumberger: My New Home In The Dry Creek Valley

     A steady and slow rain fell as we drove along Wine Creek Road passing homes and wineries neatly tucked into the quiet corners of the Dry Creek valley. So often when we visit the Healdsburg area our time and hearts are occupied with wineries we have loved in the past. On this trip we were determined to plot a new course and try some new selections.

     In the early afternoon we approached the Michel - Schlumberger winery excited to learn more about their wines and vineyards. I spotted the property and imagined how lovely it would be to live there and enjoy of glass wine on an evening walk through the vineyard.We were immediately enchanted at how this beautiful old estate incorporates a reverence for nature, the business of winemaking and a spirit of relaxation one rarely sees these days. We were also amazed to discover this old elegant estate was actually built in 1979. It was evident that Jean-Jacques Michel chose to share the flavor of his European roots with his guests,and we are grateful. 

     The centerpiece of the property is a long reflecting pond filled with lily pads and frogs that croak a robust greeting. Were they greeting us or insuring the future frog population? I like to think both are true. As we entered into the atrium surrounding the pond, the big open arms of the winery walls seemed to embrace us and welcome us home.     

     To us, our host Jim is the face and heart of Michel-Schlumberger wines. If you have ever met someone and felt an instant kinship you will understand how we felt upon meeting Jim. It is evident he loves people, enjoys talking about wine and feels proud to promote a company he feels passionate about. 

     We began our visit on the back terrace over looking the organic garden. We watched finches and bluebirds dance on and off their feeders while learning a bit of winery history. Seeing the barrel room and the production facility is always a fun prelude to a tasting and we welcomed the opportunity accompany Jim as he led a tour. The winery has the feel of an elegant country home, sophisticated yet very comfortable. Every area invites you to linger a while, take it all in and have a glass of wine.  

      It was time to begin our tasting and Jim could not have picked a better place for us to enjoy it than seated at the round table in the spacious yet cozy kitchen of the estate.To have friends gather in the kitchen sharing stories and sipping wine is one of life’s great joys. French doors allowed us to look out over the terrace and beautiful property as we relaxed and got reacquainted with the wines of Michel Schlumberger.

      I thoroughly enjoyed the 07 La Brume Chardonnay with it’s crisp citrus and floral notes. I generally gravitate more to Sauvignon Blanc because I find many chardonnays are too heavily oaked and buttery for my taste The La Brume is not and therefore perfect for me. I’m a big fan of malbec and the dark berry richness of the Humanitas malbec did not disappoint. My favorite taste of the day was the 1991 Cabernet, which was even more delicious than you are imagining it was.   This tasting will spoil you for the rushed impersonal crowded affairs that often pass for tastings. This is the way wine was meant to be enjoyed.

     Imagine being invited to the country home of a dear friend. You are welcomed and given a tour; after which you share wine and good conversation. You leave smiling, having made new friends and having tasted some extraordinarily good wine made by a socially conscious producer. If this sounds like heaven to you make an appointment to pay a visit to Michel-Schlumberger and say hello to Jim for us.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Twisted Oak: Meeting El Jefe On Our Calaveras County Wine March

     Exploring Calaveras county on the road from Angels camp to Murphys one could sneeze while driving along Hwy 4 and bypass the historical town of Vallecito California. That would be a mistake because it might cause you to miss visiting the Twisted Oak winery on Red Hill Road. 
A sign on this building guides you up Red Hill Road to Twisted Oak

     A few weeks ago we traveled to Vallecito to meet with Twisted Oak Winery owner Jeff Stai, see his vineyards and taste his wine. The private road that led us up to the tasting room wound through the property taking us ever higher and afforded us a bird’s eye view of the surrounding countryside. As our car rounded the first turn up the hillside we found ourselves in what Jeff Stai refers to as the “Rubber Chicken” national forest and we knew immediately that we would be very fond of Jeff. At each bend in the road clever whimsical road signs marked our journey making us laugh and giving us some insight as to the unique wine tasting experience we were about to encounter.

     The Twisted oak tasting room is like no other I have seen. It is not the sterile, modern, minimalist, yearning to be chic style and it is not the cottage, homespun but elegant grape logo encrusted style either. It’s the comfortable, barn like, rustic, rubber chicken, pirate style and proud of it. There are rubber chickens everywhere, for sale, as décor and as a catalyst for conversation and laughter. I believe Jeff got it right; wine, conversation and laughter are a natural pairing. While it is impossible miss the rubber chickens that grace the tasting room, it is also impossible to miss the wall displaying the ribbons, awards and accolades bestowed on Twisted Oak wines. Jeff seems to place a high value on the whimsical lighthearted joy of not taking life too seriously but make no mistake; he takes the art of producing top quality fine wines very seriously. He is true to his values and I respect that he honors all of who he is in making his business a success. 

Rubber chicken and award winning wines find a home at Twisted Oak

      The tasting began, as all tastings should, with head pats, ear scratches and belly rubs. Before the first sip of viognier touched our lips we paused to visit with the beautiful and charming wine dog, Garnacha Blanca (Nacha for short). Nacha took to us right away, as we looked to be the type of people who rub dog bellies and might accidentally drop a cracker on the floor.

      The relaxed atmosphere of the tasting room encouraged us to take time with each pouring. Discussing the agricultural aspects of the wines with Jeff helped us to appreciate the subtleties of the terroir that make these wines their own. A few of my favorite selections were the crisp dry Grenache Blanc with fruit and citrus notes that I knew would be a perfect summer wine. I also enjoyed the potty Mouth Red a beautiful Rhône style blend of Grenache syrah and mourvedre. I thought it had a nice spiciness combined with rich plum and berry flavors. I found the Tempernillo bold and rich with elements of cherry, tobacco and a bit of spice. I remember thinking how good this wine would be with John’s pork tenderloin recipe.

     Our first introduction to the wines of Calaveras County was a smashing success. We found beautifully crafted wines offered at what we considered to be extremely reasonable prices. If you ever find yourself driving through Vallecito California stop in to Twisted Oak Winery, pet the dog, check out the rubber chickens, taste the excellent wine and say hello to Jeff (El Jefe) Stai. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Where love Grows

It was 2005 and at forty-five I’d finally fallen in love and moved to Texas to be with the love of my life. This would be a big adjustment for a city girl like me. John supported my decision to give up my almost 20 year job in retail to become a homemaker and take time to explore my creative interests. I wanted to cook, bake from scratch, write my masterpiece, garden, craft, do yoga and put retail management on the shelf for a while to discover more of who I was inside.

My main priority quickly became learning all I would need to know to get our food choices in line with our health goals. I read, researched experimented and developed a plan of action. We would eat fresh foods in season, prepared simply in moderate proportions. We would eat smaller meals more often and make our meals interesting and delicious. In no way were we prepared to sacrifice our love of trying new foods, fine wines and sweet treats. We were determined to find that balance between our health and quality of life while never losing the pure joy we find in eating all kinds of foods. 

 Forward to February 2010 John and I began talking about Valentines Day gifties. We had been learning about how the food we buy is sourced, reading Michael Pollan and realizing that the next step in our evolution would be to choose ingredients we felt were clean and ethically produced. To that end we decided that since Valentines Day is about our hearts, we would build beds and plant each other a garden that would care for and nurture our bodies and souls. I could think of no better gift. John built the beds and we prepared them for crops. He’d grown up in Ohio and his family had gardened every year so he was very familiar with what would follow. I grew up in Manhattan and did not know the first thing about what I was in store for. I did remember that my first year with John we planted a tomato and a squash plant and the feeling of bringing something into the kitchen that I had grown was so rewarding. I took photos as if we’d had a baby.

With limited knowledge and unlimited enthusiasm I set out to comb the Internet for information. It’s funny sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know till you know it. I looked up planting layouts but forgot to look up planting schedules. I planted summer kale and broccoli, which I eventually found out are crops that thrive in cool weather. I learned what happen when you don’t get the composters ratio balance correct (its not pretty). I learned those pretty Disney like white moths will, if unchecked, decimate my crops. On the other hand I learned that the pesto I create from my own basil will transport me to herbal ecstasy and that my non ending crop of cucumbers will provide succulent bread and butter pickles that I will be enjoying all winter long.
During this process I made a serendipitous connection between my twitter account and my inaugural gardening endeavor. I love it when two hobbies collide and both are made more enjoyable by the collision. I discovered a community, gardeners of all sorts sharing information and helpful hints. There were vegetable gardeners Landscapers, community activist gardeners and cooking enthusiasts like me, making the move to grow their own. I met some friends who deal with the unsung finer points of making ones garden a success, providing tools, seeds, fertilizer and décor. I learned of the magical properties of Moo Poo Tea, which insects were my friends, which were foes and how be an obgyn for squash blossoms when the bees never showed up to pollinate them.
John built these tiered strawberry beds
 My first year with a garden has provided me with more than just fresh vegetables. I have gained new friends, a feeling of accomplishment and the knowledge that anyone can stretch their boundaries beyond their own definitions of who they are and become what they dream of being.  

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Reverence And Reflection On A Sunday Morning Hike

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to the body and soul.” 
~ John Muir
 Just up the street from our home in California we have discovered a quiet little wilderness area called Canyon Park. Nestled in the San Gabriel Mountains just minutes from the 210 freeway and a bustling city it is an eighty-acre refuge offering hiking trails, a nature center, places to enjoy a picnic and the waterfall that was our destination this morning. The park literature explains how volunteers opened the park in 1911 but I couldn’t help imagining what it must have been like for the visitors who happened upon the canyon in the 1800’s.
The quiet peacefulness of a Sunday morning seemed like the perfect time for us to explore this cathedral of nature located in our own backyard. Right after breakfast we made our way up the hill and into the canyon. The ranger who greeted us at the gate provided us with map parking and trailhead information.
We left the car and breathed in the sweet scents of the forest as walked to the trailhead in the dappled sunlight smiling and holding hands. Sharing the trail with families, couples, dogs and visitors from as far away as England and Asia we noticed of how well loved and well known this community park has become. 
The one-mile trail to the waterfall is just one part of a much bigger trail, a portion of which is closed to hikers as a result of a fire. We enjoy hiking but, I would put myself in the beginner to intermediate classification  and I pick my trails accordingly. This was what I would consider an easy trail. The trip to the falls is mostly uphill on a grade. It was a good workout but I had no difficulties with the rise in elevation or crossing the water on the stones nestled in the streambed.
Before too long we had arrived at the thirty-foot spring fed waterfall. A small crowd milled around taking photos and enjoying the sight and sound of the water as it pooled at our feet. The water was as clear as any I’d seen and our fellow hikers hopped back and forth across the rocks in the sparkling streambed balancing children puppies and cameras. I knew at that moment we were all sharing in the wonder of this beautiful little waterfall tucked away in a small corner of Los Angeles County.
We completed the hike in about an hour and fifteen minutes, which included several stops along the way for photographs. We could have continued along the trail past the waterfall if time had allowed but unfortunately today it did not. 
As I walked along the trail I thought it fitting to spend Sunday Morning in this spectacular forest. I was a member of the congregation in God’s own cathedral.    Wherever I travel I’m always humbled and moved by the beauty of our natural spaces. It is my hope that we will in the midst of our busy hectic lives pause and seek out similar places of refuge and renewal in our own backyards.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fall Delights at the Lakeside Cider Mill

     What would fall be without the inevitable search for cider doughnuts? As we motored north on highway 87 we called our usual place and found they were sold out. Disappointed but not surprised, I quickly developed a plan B which involved a computer search for Saratoga Springs and cider doughnuts. I drove while John manned the iphone. 
      The first call found a farm only open on weekends. The second call resulted in an open shop and farm stand just a few miles up the road in a town located just a bit south of Saratoga called Ballston Springs. “Yes”, came the answer “we have plenty of cider doughnuts” as I pressed my foot slightly harder on the accelerator I realized I was smiling from ear to ear.
   If I could have described my ideal vision of a New England farm stand where shopping for the doughnuts would be as much of a thrill as eating the doughnuts, I could not have conceived of a place as charming and befitting of the event as the Lakeside Cider Mill. We entered the parking lot and I could hardly wait to park the car. Had I not been driving I am pretty sure I would have asked John to slow down just long enough to have me safely jump out of the car.

     I began snapping pictures as I approached the building like some Autumnal paparazzi, torn between my desire for the perfect shot and the perfect doughnut. I was even more charmed as we entered the store. It was obviously a working convenience store serving the local community year round. It seemed to me that the place came alive in the fall. I marveled at the pumpkins, gourds and apples that were everywhere as the smell of baked goods filled the air. “Hot apple cider and a dozen cider doughnuts” I gushed as I approached the bakery staff wide eyed and grinning like a fool.

     Turns out the Lakeside Cider Mill had been a farm since the late 1800’s and was purchased by the Pearce family in the late 1940’s. Their literature says it has been in the same family for three generations. Perhaps that is why we found everyone working there so helpful and friendly.

     The Lakeside Cider Mill along with leaf peeping, whoopee pie hunting, maple syrup searching and friend visiting will now become one of my fall in New England rituals. As many times as you visit an area there are always new wonders to be discovered and delighted by. Thank You Lakeside Cider Mill for providing one of these seasons delights 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Loving the Loveless Cafe

      While on the trip home from our wedding in 2009 I was to pick up a tourist magazine that would effect all future visits to the area. This magazine listed ten things I needed to do before I left town. The entry that caught my eye was for a place called the Loveless café. It was nearing dinnertime and we decided to seek it out and see for ourselves if it would make our own cut of top ten things to do in Nashville. It more than qualified. It became a highlight of our trip home and we knew we would always include a stop there on any future trip through Nashville
The Loveless Cafe
      We arrived at the café and I was immediately intrigued and charmed. I could tell right away this was not just any restaurant. It was a village of sorts, a compound really, including shops full of trinkets, works of art and a large line of Loveless café brand food products and souvenirs. I was told that prior to fifteen years ago these buildings were the Loveless café’s hotel rooms and I thought it looked like a place I would have enjoyed staying, had I only known. The building that housed the café was an old home and each room has been transformed into a comfortable cheery dining area. The lobby walls are covered with photos of celebrity patrons who just like us had visited the Loveless café and fallen in love. 
No visit is complete without a stop at the store
The staff is gracious & helpful no matter how busy they are
      On this trip we returned to visit, enjoy brunch and stock up on some of the famous loveless café preserves. We arrived about twenty minutes after every church service in the area ended. The hungry congregations had flocked to the Loveless as well and swarmed the hostess podium like bees around a hive. We opted to take out our breakfast and enjoy it, and the beautiful day on one of the picnic tables scattered throughout the property. 
       The omelets and home made biscuits were as good as we remembered served with three kinds of preserves and hot coffee. Sadly, the creator of the iconic Loveless biscuit Ms. Carol Fay Ellison has passed away but, she has left a legacy that will be shared by generations to come. 
       When we visit the Loveless Cafe we feel as if we are visiting the home of a good friend. I was especially impressed with the staff who made us feel welcome despite the Sunday crowds. I can’t wait to stop there again on our return trip.
The cafes famous biscuits and preserves
  Here is a link to the Loveless cafe website


Sunday, October 10, 2010

La Grande Maison d'Arthenay

    We left Paris for the first leg of my 50th birthday road trip with a basic outline of our route. We generally let the road and our curiosities dictate the finer points, preparing for the unexpected, and reveling in all that we encounter.
 A vineyard we passed as we drove through the Loire Valley
     For the most part we find our lodging as we go. There are times we swallow hard, times we shrug our shoulders and have a good laugh.

The welcoming entrance of the Grand Maison
      Then there are times through serendipity, good karma or sheer divine intervention we find ourselves at a place like La Grande Maison d'Arthenay. 
Stone walls surround the property

the view across from the main house
     As the Loire valley unfolded before us we were relieved we had uncharacteristically booked our Loire accommodations based on the friendly and helpful correspondence with Michaela via the Internet. She seemed warm, informative and welcoming and we looked forward to meeting her and staying at the Grand Maison. Nothing could have prepared us for the feelings we experienced pulling up to the property that evening. 
Our room was elegant yet cozy
The night we arrived
 It’s the slow excited feeling you get when you know you have stumbled upon a treasure and stand on the threshold of a memory you will cherish forever. We parked Surrounded by vineyards and entered the gate where the warm glow of the house beckoned. Michaela and Sue welcomed us and we shared a glass of wine. I was immediately amazed at how perfectly our hosts had taken this centuries old building infusing it with a level of warmth and comfort that is rare to find anywhere while maintaining the integrity and history of the structure. 
The main house
     Our room was representative of the entire home, beautiful in its upscale simplicity. Each piece of furniture and décor seemed to be one that had been carefully collected and selected with an eye toward comfort to make a guest feel at home. I slept like a baby and woke to a delightful and delicious breakfast of hot coffee, freshly squeezed juice, croissant, muesli and yogurt. We were very pampered and very grateful. 

Breakfast was lovely & made with care
To the right of the main house are more accommodations
Every corner has a beauty and a peacefulness  about it
After breakfast Michaela very kindly gave us a tour of the property including the various buildings and explained their use in times past. We especially like learning about the pigeonnier ( here is a link to learn more ) and touring the wine caves where for hundreds of years both wine and history were made. 
A Fascinating tour of the wine caves
     I will return La Grande Maison d'Arthenay as it now has a special place in my heart. Thanks to our gracious hosts who made my 50th birthday trip so memorable and perfect. 
The pigeonnier

inside the pigeonnier

The pigeonnier from below

 Here is a link To  La Grande Maison