Wine Travel Adventure

A tasty wine, food and travel blog

Thomas Keller’s Yountville

            Thomas Keller did not grow up eating in restaurants like The French Laundry, his world-famous Michelin 3-star restaurant in Yountville. As a boy he ate Dinty Moore stew out of a can. “I’ve liked stew since I was a boy,” he confided, “even when it was Dinty Moore out of a can, which it often was in a household of five kids and a working mother.”

Goodies at the Bouchon Bakery, one of Thomas Keller’s restaurants in Yountville.

Born at Camp Pendleton near San Diego, Keller is the son of a Marine Corps drill instructor. But his father abandoned the family when the children were very young, leaving Betty, his auburn-haired mother, to raise the boys on her own. She headed off to Florida to start their lives anew. There she found work as the manager of the Palm Beach Yacht Club, the starting point for her son’s glittering culinary career. This was where he entered the restaurant business, finding work as a pearl diver—old school lingo for a dishwasher—before gradually moving up to cook.

Thomas Keller.

“I wonder if I love the communal act of eating so much because throughout my childhood with four older brothers and a mom in the restaurant business, I spent a lot of time fending for myself, eating alone—and I recognized how eating together made all the difference,” he recalled. “The best meals are the ones you eat with the people you care about.” Continue reading

Sex sells a new vodka

Sex sells, and it’s helping to sell Bellion Vodka, a new specialty vodka being rolled out across California and other markets around the country this month.

To tell people about their product, the New York-based firm behind the vodka has introduced two new video commercials featuring gorgeous, sexy women, such as above. Got my attention, I’m not afraid to say. Continue reading

The many pleasures of Sonoma

Sonoma County is a land of sprawling beauty. Vineyards and wineries abound, as do secret, forested hideaways with pot farms. It is a place of rivers and redwoods, mountains and warm inland valleys, and a rocky, rugged coastline where cool fog and winds blow in from the Pacific.

The view from Viansa Sonoma, at the gateway to the Sonoma Valley.

Less than an hour from San Francisco, it boasts a number of charming small towns of rural flavor—Sonoma itself, Glen Ellen, Petaluma, Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Bodega Bay—each with its own unique history and virtues. There are Michelin-starred restaurants, sidewalk cafés, hipster bistros, tasting rooms, brewpubs, organic fruit and flower marts, gardens galore, oak-laden parks, and lots of cute shopping streets filled with boutiques of every kind.

It’s an awesome place to spend a day, or a week, or however long you have. Here is a quick peek at a few of Sonoma’s many pleasures: Continue reading

All things wine: Ken Frank, Etude rosé, Winesong tribute, top U.S. wine sales

Once upon a time in Napa Valley, people had to go up valley to Yountville or St. Helena for fine dining. Those days, thankfully, are long behind us.

One of the top restaurants in Napa Valley—indeed, in all the Bay Area—is La Toque, which is inside the Westin Verasa Hotel in downtown Napa, on the same street as the Oxbow Public Market. Known for its creative and oft-inspired pairings of wine and food, it is a Michelin one-star restaurant and has been for more than a decade.

Ken Frank in action. Photo courtesy of La Toque.

Late last year Jennifer Kaiser and I had an exemplary meal at La Toque and sat down beforehand for a talk with its executive chef and owner, Ken Frank, who noted that his favorite word appeared between “delicatessen” and “delight” in the dictionary.

“Delicious is my favorite word,” he said in our interview, which was published in the current issue of The Preiser Key magazine. “Food has to look good. It has to be interesting. And at the end of the day it needs to be flat-out delicious.” Continue reading

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: Continue reading

The best place to start your next motorcycle adventure

SPONSORED CONTENT

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. Continue reading

‘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.

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.

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.” 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. Continue reading

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.

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

« Older posts