Wine Travel Adventure

A tasty wine, food and travel blog

How Keith Richards boosted the Tequila Sunrise, and other good cocktail stories

When Keith Richards was in his hard-partying prime in the 1970s, he and his fellow band mates on the Rolling Stones showed up one night at the Trident, a watering hole in Sausalito on the edge of San Francisco Bay, looking for some alcoholic refreshments. Richards ordered a margarita and the bartender, a creative mixmaster named Bobby Lozoff, served him something different instead: a then mostly unknown drink of tequila, orange juice and grenadine.

Richards loved the Tequila Sunrise, as it was called, and it rapidly became his go-to party drink. His fame, and the fame of the Stones, helped spread the fame of their favorite cocktail, and the Tequila Sunrise became not just a mere drink but a cultural touchstone for that era of rock ‘n roll. The Eagles’ hit song “Just Another Tequila Sunrise” added to the popularity of Lozoff’s invention.

This story—and the accompanying recipe—is only one of the many nice treats in Beach Cocktails: Favorite Surfside Sips and Bar Snacks (Oxmoor House, $25), a new book by the editors of Coastal Living Magazine that contains the recipes for 125 cocktails. Generously illustrated with photographs of tropical sand and surf scenes, the theme here is that of the beach—light, refreshing cocktails that you might enjoy in your leisure on the beach, or on your backyard patio, in those lazy hazy days of summer.

Keith Richards.

The cocktail that Lozoff did not serve Richards that day, the margarita, is of course here. As are The Drunken Sailor, Caribbean Rum Swizzle, Sex on the Beach, Key Lime Gimlet, the Bahama Hurricane, Missionary’s Downfall, Singapore Sling, and other delightfully named and often quite delicious concoctions that Richards in his prime probably also imbibed.

A good cocktail, like a good book or movie, has a good story attached to it. Beach Cocktails has many such stories, such as:

  • One extraordinary mixologist, Ernest Gantt, invented three cocktail classics: Zombie, Navy Grog, and Mai Tai. Gantt is better known as the impresario of Don’s Beachcomber Café, a famed tiki bar of the 1950s.
  • There is a cocktail named after the star of “Lawrence of Arabia,” and “Doctor Zhivago.” It’s called the Omar Sharif; it’s a citrus vodka drink designed to evoke the actor’s Egyptian roots. Have one while hosting a game of bridge; Sharif, an expert bridge player in his day, would approve.
  • Unlike the Tequila Sunrise, some people still argue over who invented the Bushwacker, which contains rum and vanilla ice cream (four scoops, according to the recipe here). Two bars, one in Pensacola and the other in the Virgin Islands, both claim they invented it and the dispute continues to this day.
  • Every cocktail book must contain at least one reference to the great novelist and drinker, Ernest Hemingway, and this one has two. Hemingway is credited with the invention of the pink daiquiri; he was the one who suggested that maraschino liqueur and grapefruit juice be added to a traditional daiquiri, thus creating a new pink variation. The authors also run a brief excerpt from Hemingway’s posthumous novel, Islands in the Stream, in which the main character sips gin and coconut water.

Two of the stars of the book, the Tequila Sunrise (right) and El Diablo, in a photograph from Beach Cocktails.

The recipe for gin and coconut water and these other drinks are all included in this 288-page hardcover volume, along with tips on what bar snacks to serve, “mocktails” for non-drinkers, glassware recommendations, and other features.

One celebrity who would surely enjoy this book is Francis Ford Coppola, who never directed Omar Sharif but did direct Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert DiNiro, Diane Keaton and a host of other fine actors in his “Godfather” movies. Early in his moviemaking career, Coppola loved tiki drinks, as you can read here.

Actually, most anyone who enjoys a tasty summer drink will appreciate, and perhaps learn from, Beach Cocktails. Whether on the beach or the back patio, it’s a tasty mix. —Kevin Nelson

The best place to start your next motorcycle adventure

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For sheer excitement and travel adventure, it is hard to top motorcycle riding. And if you’re looking for the best deals on parts, gear, accessories and tires for your next bike trip, the place to go is BikeBandit.com.

BikeBandit, headquartered in sunny San Diego, California, offers an eye-popping eight million products on its easy-to-negotiate website, making it the biggest power sports store on the web.

And when we say “power sports,” we mean it. BikeBandit’s mega-sized inventory has everything you need for powerhouse street bikes, cruisers, dirt bikes, ATVs, UTVs, dual sport bikes, as well as quick and nimble scooters.

Motorcycle riding, on the roads and off, is all about personal protection. That begins with the right “brain bucket”—that’s a helmet, to the uninitiated. Your brain bucket needs to fit right and not squeeze your head too tight.

The Bell Moto 9-Tagger from its 2017 line.

BikeBandit offers all the top helmet brands—Shoei, AGV Pista, Arai, Bell—and something else besides: top-notch customer service. The power sports superstore, operating on the web since 1999, prides itself on delivering an easy, no-fuss shopping experience that helps people get the parts and accessories they need.

“You pick ‘em, we ship ‘em. It’s that simple.” That’s BikeBandit’s motto, and it lives by this motto every day.

BikeBandit’s staffers are motorcycle riders and power sports aficionados. They know what they’re talking about and they will steer you straight. The store’s return policy is really good too; full refunds within 60 days on purchases.

In addition to helmets, BikeBandit offers the top brands in OEM parts, riding gear, tires, aftermarket parts, and tools. Its clothes and accessories closet is full of goodies too, featuring jackets, boots and shoes, pants, jerseys, casual garb, gloves, goggles, suits, and personal protection items such as shin guards, elbow guards, and chest protectors. Brand name closeouts and money-saving specials are always available.

One more reason to visit the site is the BikeBandit Blog, which carries all the latest motorcycle news and items, such as how some states let bikes run red lights legally or what it’s like to ride with a dog. There are consumer tips, awesome bike photos, and top ten lists on essential info such as choosing the best motorcycle boots.

Where you go on your next bike adventure is up to you. But the best place to start? That is, without doubt, BikeBandit.com.

This is Chase, a black Lab riding in a sidecar of the motorcycle of Ken Wahlster, BikeBandit.com’s founder. BikeBandit was originally named after another dog of Ken’s, Bandit. Photographs courtesy of Bell, Kawasaki USA, and BikeBandit.com.

‘Facing Darkness:’ the dramatic story of faith, and medicine, in the fight against Africa’s deadly Ebola virus

Facing Darkness, a new, feature-length documentary film, tells a story that is, as they say, ripped from the headlines: how two Americans, Dr. Kent Brantly, a Texas physician, and Nancy Writebol, a Christian missionary, contracted the deadly Ebola virus during the 2014 Ebola epidemic that killed thousands across Liberia and west Africa.

Dr. Kent Brantly, before he was taken ill.

Brantly and Writebol were members of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief organization led by Franklin Graham, its president and CEO who acted as executive producer of Facing Darkness and also appears prominently in the film. Brantly and Writebol were working together at a small Liberian hospital when the first cases of Ebola, a stone-cold killer of a disease in which, at the time, there were no known cures, started showing up among the people there.

There were only two organizations in all the world, Samaritan’s Purse and Doctors Without Borders, that were in Liberia at the time and willing to treat those infected with the disease. The rest of the world turned a blind’s eye to it.

When Brantly, whose wife Amber and his two young children were living with him in Liberia, suddenly developed Ebola, along with Writebol who was working with him, it stirred the attention of the United States government and American and international media, and shined a badly needed light on the disease and how it was ravaging the families and population of west Africa. He and Writebol survived due to the experimental drug, ZMapp, which had never been used on humans before.

Ebola is transmitted by human contact, and emergency health workers needed to take extreme measures to avoid being contaminated.

In recent weeks Facing Darkness has been shown twice across the country in special showings at theatres, the latest being this week, Easter week. It will soon be released in DVD, Blu Ray, and Digital HD—and it certainly deserves a wider audience, given the extraordinary real-life events it portrays featuring on-camera interviews with the Brantlys, Writebol and her husband, also a missionary worker, and many other members of the Samaritan’s Purse medical team, both Americans and Africans serving side by side at great personal risk to themselves as the disease threatened to overwhelm them and spread far beyond Liberia’s—and Africa’s—borders. Continue reading

Francis Ford Coppola’s favorite drink has a rummy history

By Kevin Nelson

Some time ago I was having a glass of pinot and a pizza at the bar of Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, and I asked the bartender what Coppola himself liked to drink. Coppola, the well-known filmmaker, owns the place.

The great man himself.

The bartender grabbed a menu and pointed to the top where a box with a picture answered my question. His “favorite tropical drink,” it said, is “Navy Grog” and its ingredients are “fresh lime juice, grapefruit, soda, honey, Puerto Rican rum, dark Jamaican rum, Demerara rum, Angostura bitters, crushed ice cone.” No details on the proportions.

The drink, it said, was created by a Dr. Bamboo who served it at Luau, a Beverly Hills Polynesian restaurant where Coppola liked to hang in the late 1960s and early ‘70s when he was making The Godfather and other landmarks in the history of American cinema. This piece of information piqued my curiosity so I went online to see what I could learn about Luau, which closed many years ago. (Another Polynesian restaurant bearing its name now operates in a different Los Angeles location.) In its post World War II-prime Luau was like Trader Vic’s (also gone to restaurant heaven), which served tropical food and drinks in settings designed to evoke Elvis’s Waikiki in Blue Hawaii or Marlon Brando’s Tahiti in Mutiny and the Bounty. Bamboo and coconut trees, tropical plants, decorative volcanic rocks, bananas, Tiki carvings and of course, rum drinks like Coppola’s Navy Grog.

Continue reading

Share the fantasy adventure at Castello di Amorosa

BY KEVIN NELSON

Here we are, in a darkened dungeon deep underground, watching as our tour guide shines a flashlight on various torture devices and explains how they were used to spike, stretch, suffocate and inflict pain on sufferers in the Middle Ages. Not your typical Napa Valley winery tour, I’ll say.

Then again there is nothing typical or ho-hum about Castello di Amorosa, a spectacular $40 million Calistoga winery built in the style of a medieval Tuscan castle. Besides the dungeon it has 106 other rooms, a chapel, church, farmhouse, dry moat, drawbridge, hidden passageways, courtyards, massive stone walls and towers that rise in the center of picturesque hills and acres of grapevines.

It is not mandatory to take a tour of the castle when you go, if you go, although there are so many wonders and curiosities about the place you really don’t want to miss any of them. We are there as part of the Napa Valley Wine Train’s “Castle Winery Tour,” and our guide greets us in the chapel with an introduction you don’t hear every day.

“Hi,” he says. “I’m Mark. I’ll be your tour guide and bartender.”

The bartending would take place later, at the end of the tour, in a private tasting room. As Mark explains, Castello di Amorosa makes lots of wine in addition to hosting tourists from Italy to Indiana. (Word to the wise: The castle can be shoulder to shoulder with people on busy weekends. Best to go midweek if you can.)

Seated in the chapel listening to his introduction, we have a chance to admire a lovely fresco depicting Mary and Joseph set back into the sanctuary behind an arch. Perhaps surprisingly, given the castle’s Imax-sized scale and scope, attention and care are given to the details. Outside the chapel, tucked into a recess in a stone wall—8,000 tons of imported stone and a million bricks went into the making of the castle—is a figurine of St. Catherine of Siena, holding flowers and a Bible.

Continue reading

Meet you at the Grape Crusher, gateway to Napa Valley

One of the unexpected pleasures of a visit to wine country is how much art there is to see, and these pleasures include the Grape Crusher Statue, a landmark monument at Vista Point in Napa Valley.

Since its erection in the 1980s millions of cars have driven by it and hundreds of thousands of people have stopped to see it. In this sense it is like the “Welcome to Napa Valley” signs on Highway 29—a place to meet up and shoot selfies and have pictures to show the folks back home that you were there, you really were in the land of wine.

At least one couple has gotten married at the Grape Crusher. And its creator, sculptor Gino Miles, jokes that one or two babies may have been made up there too. There is a small parking lot there, a perfect spot for having lunch, enjoying the views, and apparently doing other things as well.

“I’m not from around here,” a woman visitor told this writer as she was trying to find the right angle to take a picture of the Grape Crusher. “But I saw it driving by the other night when I was going to a concert, and I had to come back and see it.”

Those who do what she did—stop and get a closer look at the Grape Crusher—are rewarded by picturesque views of the surrounding hills, Napa River and the wetlands of San Francisco Bay. It is not called Vista Point for nothing.

As for the Grape Crusher himself, he is more impressive up close than when you buzz by him on the highway. Reports sometimes peg him at 20 feet high; in fact he is considerably bigger than that because of the base that lifts him high above ground, out of reach of any children who might be tempted to climb him. In bare feet, with his cuffs rolled up, wearing a hat but with his face turned down and mostly hidden from the curious eyes of visitors staring up at him, the Grape Crusher uses muscle power and both his hands to turn the crank on an old school (very old school) grape press.

In addition to welcoming visitors to the valley, the Grape Crusher helps publicize what some call the “Grape Crusher District,” the wineries and businesses in this southern section of Napa near the junctions of Highways 29 and 12. But Miles turned it into something more—an honest, non-kitschy tribute to the men and women whose work in the vineyards and the wineries provides such idle pleasures for the rest of us.

The Grape Crusher Statue is above the Meritage Resort and Spa, itself an attractive place to stay, have a soak and a bite to eat. If you’re there for brunch, try the Eggs Benedict ($15) at the Siena restaurant; it’s tasty and ample.

5 things you must do at Domaine Carneros winery in Napa

BY KEVIN NELSON

Many Napa Valley travelers begin their day with a stop at Domaine Carneros winery in Napa. Many travelers also end their day there. One reason for this is the winery’s strategic location almost equidistant between the twin capitals of northern California wine country—four miles from Napa and five miles from Sonoma.

There are, of course, many other reasons to stop at this lovely hillside winery built in the style of an ancient French chateau. Only the state’s second-smallest volume producer of champagne, Domaine Carneros nonetheless has a giant reputation in the world of quality sparkling wines, winning many awards for its products. For those who love Marilyn Monroe’s favorite drink, here are five things you must do when you visit Domaine Carneros:

The hilltop chateau of Domaine Carneros.

The hilltop chateau of Domaine Carneros.

  1. Take in the views

There is not just one view to be seen at Domaine, there are many. There is that moment when you spot it at the top of the hill when you’re driving the Sonoma Highway (also highways 12 and 121), and there is the view of it as you turn off the highway and drive up Duhig Road into the parking area. Once out of your car, walk to the base of the steps and look up to the chateau. At the top of the terrace, after you climb the steps, look back down across vineyards and the mountain ridges that flank Napa Valley to the east. The terrace and lawn on the north side of the chateau offers still more views of the diRosa preserve and lake and surrounding landscape.   Continue reading

A review of Vertical, the sequel to Sideways

VerticalVertical, by Rex Pickett, is a funny, sad, sexy, depressing, curious and at times bravely comic novel tailored especially for men and women who like to drink wine. The novel, published originally some years ago but updated and released in a new edition in 2016 by Loose Gravel Press, is the sequel to Sideways, Pickett’s first novel upon which the 2004 hit movie was based.

Sideways, both the novel and film, followed the comic misadventures of Miles and Jack, who drank and screwed their way around the Santa Ynez Valley in California’s Central Coast wine region. Fans of Sideways will be pleased to learn that Miles and Jack are back at it in Vertical, drinking and screwing aplenty. Although the novel’s subtitle suggests that the twosome do all their carousing on “the Oregon Wine Trail,” this is somewhat deceiving. While they do tarry, a bit, at a pinot festival in the Willamette Valley, they also pass through such places as (naturally) Santa Ynez Valley, Fresno, Clear Lake, and on the road to Wisconsin, a state better known for its cheese than its wine. Continue reading

Tribute to Margrit Mondavi at blessing of the grapes

 

Robert and Margrit Mondavi.

Robert and Margrit Mondavi.

They held the annual blessing of the grapes at Robert Mondavi Winery Wednesday, and it turned into a tribute in words and song to Margrit Mondavi, who died in early September at age 91.

Margrit was the wife of Robert Mondavi, the late founder of the landmark Napa Valley winery, an artist, and a cultural and artistic ambassador for Mondavi wines and Napa Valley for decades. Her passing added a special poignancy to the formal ceremony that marks the beginning of harvest.

Employees at the Oakville winery, the media and others gathered in the To Kalon Cellar as Mondavi’s General Manager Glenn Workman began the ceremony with a toast to her, noting how this was the first harvest in nearly a half-century in which Margrit did not participate.

“While it does bring sadness that she’s not here, we know how she loved to celebrate,” he said as he and the 75 other people who were there raised glasses in her memory. Small tastes of Fumé Blanc, Mondavi’s trademark version of Sauvignon Blanc, were handed out to celebrants as they arrived for the ceremony.

The ceremony took place near a sorting machine used to clean twigs and other unwelcome material from the grapes before they go into tanks for fermentation. The machine was turned off for the moment, and a half-dozen Mondavi workers in neon green vests and white gloves stood by watching and listening as Director of Winemaking Genevieve Janssens also spoke about the woman who was such a presence at the winery that she even advised Janssens on when it was time to pick the grapes for harvest.

Genevieve Janssens talks with a journalist at the ceremony.

Genevieve Janssens talks with a journalist at the ceremony.

“Margrit is everywhere with us in the vineyard,” said the French-born winemaker who has been at Mondavi since the late 1970s, the decade after Margrit arrived at the winery, starting in public relations before eventually marrying Robert and rising to prominence in Napa Valley and the wine world. “She was the first person to tell us when to pick. Margrit, you are with us in our hearts. You were incredible.”

Janssens added glowing words about the 2016 vintage to date, saying that the relatively cool August and September—which changed dramatically over the weekend with the onset of hot weather—had made for an ideal growing climate especially for chardonnay. “Just superb,” she said.

“It’s been cool, beautiful foggy weather. Exactly what we want to bring in the grapes in a fresh condition,” she added.

Father Gordon blesses the grapes as the media films the moment.

Father Gordon blesses the grapes as the media films the moment.

Father Gordon Kalil, pastor of the St. Helena Catholic Church, performed the ritual blessing of the grapes, sprinkling holy water on bins of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that had been picked in the To Kalon vineyard that day. He lightly sprinkled more holy water on some of the employees and media, saying how “it is a blessing to remember Margrit and Bob. In remembrance of their great love of the land, the beauty of nature and her love of art, how grateful we are to have known them.”

An artist and a great supporter of the visual arts, Margrit founded in the 1960s the winery’s summer musical festival that helped turn Napa Valley into a travel destination not just for wine, but for music as well. The Mondavi summer festival, which continues to this day, became a model for other wineries to import musical acts and performers to the area.

Winery workers at the sorting machine.

Winery workers at the sorting machine.

Bob Thiesen, a Mondavi employee who sings at local churches, delivered a stirring a cappella rendition of “How Great Thou Art.” His singing seemed to have particular feeling, perhaps he also had the Mondavis in mind. Someone gave the word, and the sorting machine started up. A man flicked grapes from a bin onto the conveyor belt, and the workers in vests and gloves started whisking away stems and leaves as the vibrating grapes passed by them.

Afterwards the celebrants gathered for lunch at the Margrit Mondavi Vineyard Room, a bright and sunny gathering spot in the winery that was named after her last year. A plaque devoted to her hangs at the entrance with one of her paintings, and there are photos of her and Robert Mondavi in the room.

The Margrit Mondavi Vineyard Room, filled with celebrants.

The Margrit Mondavi Vineyard Room, filled with celebrants.

Many tributes to Margrit have appeared in recent days; here is a remembrance of her by the English wine critic Jancis Robinson. Meritage Resort in Napa is holding a celebration of Margrit’s life at its winemaker dinner Oct. 7 featuring Robert Mondavi Winery; a portion of the proceeds will go to the Oxbow School in Napa, which Margrit co-founded. See here for more details on the event.—KEVIN NELSON

 

Hidden treasures of Napa Valley

Today the very popular international travel site, Dave’s Travel Corner, published a wine and travel piece of mine entitled, “7 Hidden Treasures of Napa Valley.” The treasures include the Bufano statues at Robert Mondavi Winery, a surprising find near the deli counter at Oakville Grocery, a leafy tribute to a wine master, a unique Abraham Lincoln bust, a schoolteacher’s legacy roses near the French Laundry in Yountville, and more. Click over here to the site if you’d care to learn more.

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