Wine Travel Adventure

Bay Area & California travel blog

Tag: wine (page 1 of 3)

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.

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Share the fantasy adventure at Castello di Amorosa


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

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. Continue reading

6 superstar athletes (and a coach!) who make wine


Owning a vineyard and making your own wine is a dream shared by people in all walks of life, including professional athletes and coaches.

Here are six sports superstars and one coach—a Formula One world driving champion, Heisman Trophy-winning Pro Bowl NFL cornerback, four-time NASCAR Cup champion, Hall of Fame pitcher who led the New York Mets to their first World Series title, a Rose Bowl and Super Bowl-winning coach, another race car driver and an elite PGA golfer once ranked No. 1 in the world—that have turned their dreams into a reality by establishing wineries or wine brands.

Despite their varied backgrounds, all share one thing in common: a love of wine. Known mainly for their sports achievements, they would also like to be known as the makers of excellent Cabernets, Chardonnays or Pinot Noirs.

Mario Andretti


Mario Andretti looks every inch the consummate winemaker: hale, hearty, in robust good health. If you did not know better you would not suspect he was one of the fastest men to ever drive a racing car, the winner of the Indianapolis 500 and Formula One world racing crown, among many other titles. Long retired from racing, the 76-year-old oversees a Napa Valley winery that goes by his name. Andretti Winery’s Montona Reserve wines are named after the area in Italy where he was born and raised before immigrating to the U.S. as a teenager. Continue reading

Wine industry veteran shares the secrets of his success

Wine drinkers and wine lovers can learn a lot from the story of Peter M.F. Sichel, whose ancestral family winemaking roots stretch back to Germany in the 1850s, who lived and worked in the wine industry in Bordeaux for many years, and who created one of the first and most successful international wine brands, Blue Nun, which sold millions of cases in the United States and around the world during its heyday in the 1970s.

Sichel is also an international wine authority who has judged many wine competitions and has an insider’s grasp of the wine business, which he first became involved in as a young man in 1930s Germany and France. “My early youth,” he recalls with some poignancy, “was spent living in the world of wine.”

Peter Sichel    His vinous youth, however, came to an abrupt end due to the calamitous world events of that time. A Jew, he fled Europe to escape Nazi persecution. Finding sanctuary in this country, he joined the American military and became an intelligence officer for the OSS and CIA, working to defeat Hitler’s Germany and then against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. All of these stories he tells in a personal anecdotal fashion in his memoir, The Secrets of My Life: Vintner, Prisoner, Soldier, Spy, which was published earlier this year. Continue reading

Five top Napa Valley winemakers tell what inspired them to make wine

When you go to a winery tasting it is only rarely that you see the winemaker, the creative talent behind the red. pink and white liquids you have come to sample. But what stirs these men and women to make wine? What inspires them to do what they hope will inspire you?

It probably will not come as a great surprise to learn that what inspires winemakers is, well, wine. Here are five leading Napa Valley winemakers and the “epiphany” moments that started them on their calling:

Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock Winery


For her it was the taste of a 1970 Mouton Rothschild that made her think about wine in a new way. “For me that was it,” she said. “One wine, one moment. That was when I realized that wine was more than a beverage; it’s poetry, it’s art. There’s a tale behind every wine.” Chimney Rock is on the Silverado Trail in the Stags Leap District AVA. Continue reading

Chic and tasty dining at Solbar in Calistoga


Even before you enter the lovely dining room of Solbar, the surrounding Solage Resort has begun to work its magic. Comfortable outdoor seating and contemporary fountains—some with flames rising from the water—set the casual, upscale tone.

Michelin-starred Solbar is a hotel restaurant, but looks like a chic bistro, and the superb service and food live up to expectations.

Solbar 1

We started lunch with a beet salad ($15). The beautifully prepared beets were prepared four different ways, including in chip form, and served on watercress. An unusual green goddess dressing had a strong cinnamon note.

Solbar 2

Spicy shrimp lettuce wraps ($17) are highly recommended. Tamarind-sauced rice noodles and shredded carrots nestle on avocado slices, and a traditional nam pla sauce spikes up the simply prepared shrimp. Continue reading

Carmel Valley getaway ranch has wine, old Hollywood glamor and a million dollar view


Nick Elliott, proprietor of Holman Ranch in Carmel Valley, calls it “the million dollar view,” and he may be underselling it.

Nick Elliott, right, and a guest with the Santa Lucia Mountains behind them.

Nick Elliott, right, and a guest with the Santa Lucia Mountains behind them.

It is a beyond-doubt spectacularly gorgeous view of the Santa Lucia Mountains, a coastal range in the Monterey Peninsula and central California. Stretching out for miles and miles are green ridges and mountains covered by live oak trees. Above is a pale blue sky with nary a cloud in sight.

“Charlie Chaplin, Marlon Brando, Vincent Price, June Allyson, all these great old Hollywood stars used to love coming to Holman Ranch,” said Elliott. “It’s always been a place to put up your feet and get away.” Continue reading

Adventures in California and Canada—and another on the way

By Kevin Nelson

My editors at reminded me the other day that I had been writing for the site for two years, and during that time I’ve met some wonderful people and gone on some extraordinary adventures. Here are a few of those adventures, all recommended:

A bagpipes player at the start of the Rockies trip.

A bagpipes player at the start of the Rockies trip.

Rocky Mountaineer train trip across the Canadian Rockies. Starting in the wonderful British Columbia city of Vancouver and ending in the spectacular mountain village of Banff, this was a two-day ride through ridiculously beautiful scenery with tasty food and wine included. Those Canadians are nice people, too. Continue reading

Francis Ford Coppola Winery: A cool resort-style scene for wine and movie buffs

By Kevin Nelson

Being a fan of wine and the movies, I headed with great anticipation up Highway 101 north into Sonoma past Santa Rosa and Healdsburg into the Alexander Valley. Just before the funky little wine country town of Geyserville, I turned off the highway and found what I was looking for: the gates leading me into the Francis Ford Coppola Winery.

Coppola gate

Coppola is, of course, a big name for film fans and increasingly for wine and travel devotees as well. He is the five-time Academy Award director of such landmark films as The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. He is also a winery owner and winemaker and the owner of resorts in Argentina, Belize, Guatemala and Italy. Home base for him is California and one of his holdings is the historic Inglenook Winery in Napa Valley, where he lives. The Geyserville winery is about an hour and a half north of San Francisco.

Parking in a dirt lot with olive trees, I climbed a flight of steps up into the main buildings and saw something I can’t recall seeing in any other Sonoma or Napa Valley winery: a spectacular resort-style swimming pool that could fit in just fine with the best of Miami or Las Vegas.

Coppola pool

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A wine to celebrate with

Greg Norman Shiraz Being in the mood to celebrate, we looked in our wine stash and found something to celebrate with: a Shiraz from Greg Norman Estates. It turned out to be a deft choice. It took a while for it to open up but once it did, it provided rich flavors that were earthy yet smooth. We liked it. We have had other Greg Norman wines, including the sparkling, and there is not a glass we have tasted that we have not liked. They’re top flight.

Greg Norman is himself a top flight former pro golfer, one of the world’s best in his time, whose nickname was “The Shark.” Thus, the red shark logo on the label of the bottle. The grapes for the Shiraz are grown on the Limestone Coast of Norman’s native Australia and based on what we’ve tasted this is no celebrity brand; this is wine with a point of view and character. Good for a celebration—or not. We did not quite make it all the way through the bottle the first night and so the next night, with nothing more than to celebrate than being alive, I finished it off. I may have enjoyed its unfolding pleasures even more the second night.

Want to know how a Sauvignon Blanc resembles a Doris Day song? See more of our wine tasting notes and comments at Tasty Sips. —Kevin Nelson 

Where to quench your thirst and eat really big burgers in Banff



One of the first things I do before I travel is to find out where to get the best drinks once I am there. My wife and I were going to be stopping in Banff, Alberta on our trip through Canada so the search was on. A short search found a list of many places to go but we were only going to be in Banff for one night and so I had to choose wisely.Grapes Wine Bar

Fast forward to our arrival in Banff, we checked into our hotel and set out to explore what we could. The Fairmont Banff Springs is a beautiful hotel but the best part of it (in my opinion) is The Grapes Wine Bar (pictured). Found by chance, we were exploring the hotel before setting out to the Banff Park Museum and stumbled across this gem on the second mezzanine level. We took in the view from our window table while we sampled their wonderful wines, cheeses, and great charcuterie. Fortunately, we arrived during a lull in the day so our food and drinks came out in a flash and we were able to make it to the museum before it closed.

“Our Canadian neighbors know that beer is part of a normal lifestyle. After water, coffee and milk, beer is Canada’s favorite beverage. Smart folks, aye?” This is a quote from GreatClubs. Truer words never spoken. After the wine bar and museum, we set out to the place my wife and I both agreed on (I know, we agreed on something! No seriously, we did): the Banff Ave Brewing Company.

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