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You can read Part One of my time spent in Livermore Valley Wine Country and the Tri-Valley area, a beautiful travel destination in the San Francisco East Bay region, at this link. In fact, I had such a fun time with my wine-loving media group, that I couldn’t limit myself to just one feature. Follow along on Part Two, starting off with a visit to Retzlaff Vineyards as part of the annual Taste our Terroir festivities (click the photo below to read that recap).
Retzlaff Vineyards Vineyards and Estate Winery is a 30-year old winery situated on 14 acres and surrounded by vineyards and picturesque grounds shaded by century-old pepper trees.
Founded by Dr. Robert Taylor and his late wife Gloria on an abandoned sheep farm once part of a Victorian estate, winemaker Dr. Taylor, along with his sons, Aaron and Noah, grow certified organic grapes to produce their award-winning wine.
We were greeted by Aaron’s wife Salome, who is the general manager of this idyllic property, as we learned about wines such as Isabelle’s Blush Merlot rosé, a Gold Medal San Francisco Chronicle winner, and an acclaimed port made from estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
We spent a relaxing morning enjoying an al fresco brunch and wine tasting, and you’ll find Retzlaff also hosts events on the lawn such as comedy shows and music concerts, and tours of the property including the home built in 1860 and the family’s straw bale vegetable garden. You can find a full calendar of events here.
To fuel an afternoon of planned winery visits, our lunch stop was Sauced BBQ & Spirits, one of the 21 breweries and alehouses that make up the Tri-Valley Beer Trail. Now having grown to four locations, the original was launched in 2012 in Livermore by cousins Brenden Scanlan and Barrett Gomes and is home to an extensive selection of brews, bourbons, and BBQ in a warm, rustic space.
I’m a fan of both wings and burnt ends, so chose them to comprise my combo plate, with my smoked wings ordered “naked” with a dry rub and accompanied by sides of stone-ground jalapeno grits and sweet potato casserole. Judging from my lunchmates’ comments, they were just as happy with house specialties such as tender brisket, apricot-glazed smoked chicken, and the “Loaded Jumbo Sweet Potater.” Be sure to try all their signature sauces - Tin Roof, Hot Tin Roof, Pig Candy (with molasses and brown sugar) and the vinegar-based Georgia Gold. My favorite was the Hot Tin Roof with its zippy habanero kick.
Next on our agenda was a visit to Concannon Vineyard. While our visit was too brief to partake in a wine tasting, I can’t imagine a prettier spot to linger for an afternoon picnic on the lawn or under the grape arbor.
Founded in 1883 by James Concannon, this winery survived Prohibition to become the second-largest in Livermore Valley and is a registered California historical landmark. While it’s widely known for its Petite Sirah (Concannon was the first to release this as a varietal wine in 1961), it may be best recognized for its Cabernet Clones, estimated to be the basis for 80% of the Cabernet Sauvignon vines planted across California today. The original cuttings were imported from Château Margaux in Bordeaux in 1893, from which the famous Concannon Clones 7, 8 and 11 were sourced.
You can learn more about the legacy of Concannon through private wine tastings and tours such as the Library Tour set in the vintage wine library, or the Landmark Tour, a walking tour of the vineyard estate encompassing historical aspects such as the original Spanish mission bell, the Ellen Rowe Concannon Victorian House built in 1885, and the Mother Vine Vineyard.
Our next stop, Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard, is so popular that reservations are required to visit the tasting room and winery. One of California’s original wine estates, its history dates back to 1884 when Louis Mel purchased the land and planted a vineyard from Chateau d’Yquem and Chateau Margaux cuttings. In 1930, Mel sold it to his friend Ernest Wente and in 1990, Philip Wente partnered with winemaker Sergio Traverso to relaunch the winery as Murrieta’s Well, with a focus on small-batch blends from 100% estate-grown grapes.
I was especially excited to learn that we would be enjoying the Wine and Food Experience tour as Murrieta's Well in-house chef Tony Glanville created one of my favorite food pairings (Provencal pork terrine with cherry-fennel compote) at Friday night’s Taste Our Terroir.
We were welcomed with a chilled glass of The Whip, an aromatic blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay, Orange Muscat, and Viognier delightfully paired with crispy goat cheese gnocchi crowned with creme fraiche and Meyer lemon gremolata, before setting off on our property tour.
Our guide was the knowledgeable and vivacious Jillian Holmes as we wandered this beautiful property. We started at a fountain marking Murrieta’s Well, where legend has it that during the Gold Rush era, Mexican miner-turned-bandito Joaquin Murrieta and his companions would set up camp and water their horses. She also shared historical aspects of the building itself. “The original building was a working winery with two floors,” she said as she pointed to old wine corks encased in the masonry work. “I love that because it shares a sense of continuity and history.”
We meandered past a display garden with rows of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot to show the variation in vines and leaf shape as we learned more about current winemaker Robbie Meyer. His wines are sourced from 20 varietals over 500 acres, and Jillian pointed out an estate map as she described the five vineyards covering a variety of elevations, soils, and slopes: Hayes, Louis Mel, Sachau, Raboli, and Ernest Wente.
Our tour finished in the Barrel Room where our table was set for our pairing courses. Throughout our luncheon, Jillian spoke about the thoughtful wine pairings, and, bonus! - we were also joined by Executive Chef Glanville who described his delicious dishes.
I loved our first pour, Murrieta’s Well Dry Rosé, a beautiful rosé made with a unique blend of varietals - Grenache, Counoise, and Mourvedre. I’m obviously not the only fan of this elegant wine as it was sold out on our visit, with just a few bottles reserved for Wine and Food Experience customers.
It was partnered with an airy chickpea fritter graced with lemon juice and turmeric and served with fava and pea puree with whipped chévre and toasted almonds. This tasty introduction was followed by Murietta’s Well bright and lively Sauvignon blanc paired with a plump brown butter grilled shrimp perched on a bed of farro salad scented with citrus and flecked with fresh herbs.
Reds were next: Smoked pork bolognese over hand-cut pappardelle paired with Tempranillo, and beef filet with velvety blue cheese potato puree and sour cherry-balsamic reduction complemented by a glass of Petit Verdot (wine tasting notes below).
I highly recommend booking the Wine and Food Experience to fully savor Chef Glanville’s seasonal menu and Murrieta’s Well’s wonderful wines (I plan on joining their Wine Club), but you can also reserve wine tastings, dine on the patio or Barrel Room, and attend Winemakers Dinners and special events. You can find more information here.
Our final stop, and the perfect finale to an amazing Livermore Valley Wine Country trip, was Cuda Ridge Wines. Founded in 2007 by winemaker Larry Dino and his wife Margie, this winery celebrates small-lot (100-450 cases) Bordeaux-style wines, producing mainly Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.
Rows of Petit Verdot vines beckoned us to the entrance of a renovated 1908 barn, the site of their newest tasting room and production facility, which opened in 2016.
The first thing you may notice is the pop of vibrant purple in the decor and wine labels - a car color called Plum Crazy Purple, to be exact. “I have a 1970 Barracuda muscle car, and Cuda Ridge is named after our car,” said Larry. The story goes that his wife Margie was not a big fan of this car that he spent years, time, and money refurbishing, but when a friend jokingly suggested calling their wine Cuda Ridge, the name stuck.
We had the privilege of sitting down with owner Larry Dino for a private wine tasting as he shared more of the story behind his award-winning wines.
“I used to work in high-tech, Silicon Valley,” he said. “My wife and I have always been into wine, so for years we’d go up to Sonoma and Napa and do the tours and tastings. Then we decided to do home wine-making in our garage in Fremont. We did it for five years, and, well…it wasn’t great. The ‘cuda was always parked right next to the barrel and my wife always said the wine tasted like the ‘cuda,” he laughed. “We moved to Livermore in 2001, built a barrel room in our garage, planted a little vineyard, and continued to do home winemaking. Our wine got better, we started to know a lot of the winemakers and growers in Livermore, and one thing led to another.”
“Our friends had a winery and garage so rented them out to us, we got bonded, made 13 barrels the first year in 2007, and opened in 2008 with tastings by appointment only. That same year, I got laid off, and decided to ramp up the winery.” While Syrah may have been the impetus to grow their home winemaking craft (“we did a syrah in our garage that was just incredible and all our friends told us we should start a winery”) it’s Cabernet Franc that launched their commercial winery (“we made a name for ourselves with the franc, and now it’s 20% of our production”).
As we start with an aromatic Semillon barrel fermented and then barrel aged in oak and acacia barrels (“it adds another dimension and a hazelnut flavor”) before moving on to a Sauvignon Blanc (“100% sauv blanc, 75% stainless, 25% neutral oak, refreshing and clean”), Larry talked about the history of these grapes both in Bordeaux and in Livermore Valley. More education followed as we compared his Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon, a recent Gold Medal winner at the Orange County Fair Competition and recipient of a San Francisco Chronicle Silver Medal, to his non-Bordeaux Black Label (“we consider this more of a California, New World-style cab, and more fruit-forward”).
Petit Verdot followed, another OC Competition Gold Medal winner. “We made one barrel in 2007 when we started out as a winery, mainly as a blender to blend it into cab, merlot and cab franc, but then we liked it so much we decided to make a couple barrels and actually release one. People liked it so we just kept increasing our production every year. This comes from a Wente Vineyard, Smith Ranch, and now we do 350 cases.” Our final tasting was their signature Cabernet Franc, a complex and textured wine tasting of rich black cherry with chocolate notes, and my favorite cab franc of our trip.
For more information about Cuda Ridge Wines and their calendar of events, visit this link.
Last month's press trip introduced me to a beautiful part of California I had never visited: Livermore Valley Wine Country and the Tri-Valley area, encompassing Pleasanton, Livermore, Dublin and Danville. Located just east of San Francisco Bay, Livermore Valley's east-west orientation and coastal diurnal temperature variations (95-degree days can drop to 50-degree nights) makes it a premier wine-growing region with over 50 wineries and some of the country's oldest established vineyards.
Landing at Oakland International Airport, a half-hour Uber ride brought me to Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham Livermore Wine Country, where I checked in before meeting my fellow travelers in the lobby.
We would be chauffeured by Black Tie Transportation for the duration of our visit, and being greeted with bubbly daily by our friendly drivers was just one of the nice perks we would appreciate in our weekend's travels.
We were here to experience Livermore Valley’s annual Taste Our Terroir, a weekend of wine-related activities that kicked off with a winemaker and chef pairing competition. What a great event! Click the photo below for a separate detailed recap of our night's festivities
The next day, we headed to Danville to spend the morning at Blackhawk Museum. An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, this museum houses traveling exhibits, The Spirit of the Old West, and an acclaimed collection of vintage and custom automobiles (look for an upcoming feature highlighting this impressive destination).
For lunch, we gathered on the shady patio of Danville Harvest, and I loved everything about this quaint spot! From the cozy atmosphere and friendly service, to the well-crafted cocktails (a refreshing Lavender Harvest with vodka, lavender, lemon and cava was perfect on a warm summer day) and farm-to-table menu. Like this seasonal special of beet and fennel gazpacho with an almond and pumpkin seed crumble.
And you can't go wrong with the other delicious dishes that we dined on, such as shrimp and grits with a zippy Creole sauce and farmers cheese; scallion hush puppies accompanied by butter drizzled with sugar cane syrup (I was tempted to order another); a salad of grilled shrimp decorating a melange of garbanzo beans, arugula, red onion, cucumbers, Easter egg radish with fresh herbs and a bright grilled lemon vinaigrette; or sandwiches served on flaky croissants with a side of fries or a farm-fresh salad.
And the desserts were just as wonderful, including buttery poundcake, vibrant tangerine sorbet, and a silky chocolate mousse.
We were also in the heart of the Tri-Valley Ice Cream Trail, which includes 14 gelato and ice cream stops in San Francisco's Bay Area. In the pretty town of Pleasanton was Meadowlark Dairy, whose history dates back to the early 1900s and was the first certified dairy in California. It has been operating as a drive-thru since 1969, and you can also walk up for their popular soft serve cones. Offering year-round flavors of chocolate, vanilla, orange and strawberry, look for seasonal specials such as Dole Whip pineapple in the summer and pumpkin in the fall.
Happy and well fed, we were off to the Wente Vineyards Winemakers Studio for a wine tasting class. Wente is the largest winery in the Livermore Valley AVA and this year celebrates their 135th anniversary. It is also the oldest continuously-operating, family-owned winery in the country with Karl Wente its fifth generation winemaker and CEO Carolyn Wente, his aunt, a fourth generation winegrower.
Wente is also recognized has helping to establish the Livermore Valley as one of the celebrated wine-growing regions in California. In 1912, C.H. Wente imported chardonnay grapevine cuttings from Burgundy and this Wente Clone is credited as the genetic source for 80% of the California chardonnay plantings existing today.
Next on our agenda was a wine tasting that really showed how much we rely on our senses when drinking, especially sight. At our Black Glass Blind Tasting, four Wente wines were poured into opaque black glasses, making it impossible to ascertain if they were red or white, light or dark. Our session was led by Wente's knowledgeable sommelier, who educated us on points such as sipping on a sparkling brut between tastings ("the acidity and lemon notes cleanse your palate") and using familiar analogies to grade varietal signatures ("think of tannins as going from silk to velvet, suede, corduroy and burlap"). I had to lean heavily on the aroma and taste - citrus? floral? firm tannins? oak? - in trying to discern the varietal characteristics to identify the wine, which made this a lot of fun with our lively group. I missed a riesling which I thought might have been malvasia, but congratulations to my friend Elaine of Carpe Travel, who correctly identified all four!
The Wine Maker Studio offers a range of other classes and experiences, such as identifying aromas in Wine Aroma Discovery, how to pair sparkling wine in Tiny Bubbles, and exploring your inner winemaker at the Winemaking Blending Experience.
Though we were still full from lunch, on my next visit, I'll plan to settle in on the inviting patio at Wood Fire Kitchen at Wente Vineyards for a bite. Serving pizzas and rotating specials such as sliders, chili and wings, this casual eatery turned out one of my favorite dishes at the previous night's Taste our Terroir (maple compressed watermelon with pork belly, balsamic reduction, and fennel pollen).
Darcie Kent Vineyards was our final stop on our afternoon exploration. Owned by a fifth-generation winemaking family, this vineyard is named for artist and vintner Darcie Kent, whose great-great-grandfather came from Switzerland in 1874 to become a viticulturist. His Alpine Winery was in St. Joseph, Missouri because he felt the area represented the Rhine River region, and wine ambassador Diane shared that the clean and crisp grüner veltliner we were sipping on was his favorite varietal, and also the first varietal he produced.
"Darcie knew of the heritage and had always been fascinated and got her Master's degree at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she met her husband David, who had the same passion," said Diane. Eventually, David worked for Gallo Winery in marketing while Darcie was producing her first 120 cases of California merlot. Fast forward to 1997 when Darcie Kent Vineyards was established, and they've owned their present location since 2013 (trivia: this property was once owned by Bing Crosby). Take note of the artwork in the tasting room gallery - Darcie has been a professional artist for 25 years and her paintings are commissioned worldwide.
We then sat down to a tasting led by Diane including the 2015 DeMayo chardonnay we enjoyed next (the 2010 has been poured at the White House), followed by the Alpine White, a refreshing blend of 50/50 sauvignon blanc and grüner veltliner.
We then progressed to a tasting from their portfolio of reds, including Madden Big Petite from Madden Ranch Vineyard owned by former NFL coach John Madden ("you're going to get your boysenberry, your blackberry, your currants; it's really big and bold"), and the 2013 Clone 337 Cabernet Sauvignon ("one of the most consumer-friendly cab clones that loves the Mediterranean climate here, doesn't ripen too fast, and has lots of cherry with soft tannins)."
Another highlight was the 2012 Stone Patch Cabernet, a well-balanced blend of 80% cab franc and 20% merlot aged for 24 months in Burgundian oak, with notes of cassis, vanilla and nutmeg. The label, like all of the wines, was designed by Darcie, and the name? "The myth is that there are stones that surround the vineyards. They take them out to irrigate, but when they return to prune the vines, the stones are back again."
Then it was back to our hotel for a brief respite before heading out to Taste our Terroir's Winemaker Concert (click photo for details, including a video).
Click here for part two, as we visit Sauced BBQ, Concannon Vineyards, Cuda Ridge Vineyards, Murrieta's Well, and Retzlaff Vineyards.
Last month, I traveled to California to experience the Livermore Valley Winegrower's Association premier event, Taste our Terroir. An annual celebration of one of California's oldest, but lesser-known, wine regions, Livermore Valley's Taste our Terroir takes place every July. Originally a one-day food and wine pairing competition that repeatedly sold out, it has since expanded to a full weekend of festivities, and you'll want to mark your calendars for next year. I know I do!
Every year brings a different roster. This year, from July 26th to the 29th, Taste our Terroir and local wineries hosted 12 different activities in addition to the main event - from a winemaker concert to a sunset lobster feast; from wine-tasting seminars to vineyard tours. I had the pleasure of partnering with our lovely hosts of Livermore Valley Wine Country and Visit Tri-Valley to experience three of Taste our Terroir's special offerings.
The Taste Our Terroir competition on Thursday night was the signature event and the ideal way to kick off the weekend. As a journalist (and wine lover), I've enjoyed similar fetes and I have to say Taste our Terroir is one of the best I've ever attended - an idyllic setting, well-run and organized, and the friendly participants spoiled the crowd with their wine and food pairings. Surrounded by vineyards, Casa Real at Ruby Hill Winery was the perfect venue.
Our evening began with a glass of Big White House Peche Mignon peach sparkling wine as we arrived at Casa Real. We were then escorted to an al fresco VIP wine reception in the lush and breezy Sun Garden where more wines were poured, such as Elliston Vineyards and Darcie Kent Wines, and Olivina olive oil sampled. These superlative olive oils are harvested from trees planted in 1881, pressed, and bottled on a historic estate. These were my first introductions to Livermore Valley wine and olive oil - a true taste of terroir.
Indoors in the Grand Salon, twenty Livermore Valley winemakers had partnered with Bay Area chefs to compete for judges' and people's choice honors. Along with savory dishes, the night ended on a sweet note in the dessert room. I especially loved Rios Lovell Estate's cabernet franc port.
Guest judges Jim Gordon of Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Ellen Fort of Eater SF and Ian White of San Francisco Magazine voted on their favorites, and the winners were:
Best Pairing: Longevity Wines and Backdoor Bistro with a 2017 Pinot Blanc paired with shrimp aguachili and melon on a chili-dusted potato chip with avocado crema.
Best Classic Pairing: Mitchell Katz Winery and Atria Senior Living with the 2013 Speechless Cabernet Sauvignon Blend paired with a Wagyu ribeye with barrel-aged shoyu and freshly-grated horseradish by executive chef Chad Welch:
Both Judges' Most Innovative Pairing and People's Choice Best Red Wine Pairing went to Wood Family Vineyards and First Street Alehouse with a pairing of VIVA Cabernet Sauvignon and curry fried chicken with mango chutney aioli and chimichurri by chef Tara Teetsel.
People’s Choice for Best White Wine Pairing was also my vote - McGrail Vineyards Kylie Ryan Rosé and Mexican street corn by chef Jourdan de Sanctis of Attraversiamo
Other delicious highlights included:
Garré Winery and Cafe's pairing of Primitivo with braised short ribs on cheddar mashed potatoes topped with bacon jam
Retzlaff Vineyards Merlot Rose with Salt Craft's strawberry, cucumber and chevre salad
Nottingham Cellars Smith Ranch Designate Cabernet Sauvignon with Hop de Vine's braised wagyu brisket with yucca root puree, taro root chip, and fresh horseradish
Las Posita's Vineyards Estate Reserve Chardonnay with pickled oysters and cucumber capellini
And these two fantastic bites were among my top favorites:
The next evening, we joined fellow guests at a beautiful private home and vineyard for the Winemaker Concert at Chandler Estate Vineyards.
And spoke to the crowd about their wines. You can listen in on the video below:
We were greeted with Dane Stark's blanc de blanc, a sophisticated sparkler made by hand - from a double fermentation to bottling and corking - using chardonnay grapes grown on this 20-acre vineyard.
As the sun set, our media group mingled and chatted with our hosts and the winemakers as we sipped on Page Mill's and McGrail Vineyard's wine. It was a special honor to spend some time with these engaging and passionate vintners who are winning accolades and making their mark on Livermore Valley's exciting wine scene.
And a heartfelt thank-you to our gracious hosts, David and Karen Chandler, who opened their gorgeous home for this exclusive event. Their stunning house is one of only four residential homes designed by famed architect César Pelli, and took two years to design and three years to build.
Our group ended our fun-filled weekend of Taste our Terroir activities on Saturday morning with a chance to enjoy Yoga in the Vineyard at Retzlaff Vineyards with DragonFly Yoga under the shade of 100-year-old pepper trees. This picturesque family-owned winery is a certified organic vineyard and situated on a historic Victorian estate (look for an in-depth feature next week as I spotlight the local wineries).
Nella Terra Cellars is a small but growing vineyard. As I was poured their aromatic estate Viognier, I learned that though they source from other vineyards, on-site they grow Pinot Noir and Viognier on 2.3 acres, just planted another two acres of Petite Sirah and Primitivo, and are planning to plant another eight acres in the spring.
I drank more liquid education with a new-to-me grape varietal called Alicante Bouschet in the newly-released Madera by Omega Road.
Isabelle's Blush, a Merlot Rosé from Retzlaff was the perfect refreshing summer sipper. A Gold Medal San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition 2018 winner, this was one of the bottles that came home with me.
For a full list of this year's events, visit this link. But you don't have to wait until next year to experience the wineries of Livermore Valley. The Livermore Harvest Wine Celebration returns on Labor Day Weekend on Sunday, September 2, 2018. Visit more than 35 wineries as they host festivities at their individual tasting rooms and vineyards, celebrating with wine, food, local artisans and live music. Visit www.LVwine.org for tickets and details.
Click photo below to read more in my series about my Livermore Valley trip as I share 9 Places to Wine and Dine.
TASTE OUR TERROIR IN LIVERMORE VALLEY WINE COUNTRY JULY 26-29
The French term terroir expresses “a sense of place,” the way local conditions of land, climate, culture and technique combine to create wine attributes specific to a region.
Livermore Valley, Calif (PRESS RELEASE)—Taste Our Terroir, Livermore Valley’s premier food and wine affair, returns for four delectable days in 2018 as the historic region celebrates and educates wine lovers about its unique “taste of the land.” From July 26th to the 29th, Livermore Valley wineries will offer 13 different events, including the popular food and wine pairing competition, a winemaker concert, cooking demonstrations, wine tasting seminars and vineyard tours. VIP tickets grant early access to Thursday’s food and wine pairing competition. All event tickets are on sale now at www.LVwine.org.
Taste Our Terroir 2018 will begin Thursday night, July 26, 6-9pm with the region’s signature event, the annual quest for food and wine pairing excellence at Casa Real in Pleasanton. Twenty Livermore Valley winemakers have partnered with Bay Area chefs to compete for honors. Experts Jim Gordon of Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Ellen Fort of Eater SF and Ian White of San Francisco Magazine (see bios below) will sample the gourmet pairings in a blind tasting before awarding Most Innovative Pairing, Judges’ Best Pairing and Best Classic Pairing.
Guests will have the opportunity to taste the 20 pairings, bid on luxurious silent auction items, enjoy decadent desserts presented by Sysco and cast two votes in the People’s Choice competition for the best red and white wine pairings. VIP tickets ($125 until sold out) include a sparkling wine reception at 4:30pm with wineries pouring on the patio and access to the pairings at 5pm (one hour early). General admission tickets are $85 in advance and $95 after July 1st at www.LVwine.org. This event sells out every year—there will be no tickets available at the door.
On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, wineries across Livermore Valley will host cooking classes, blending sessions, vineyard tours and other unique experiences highlighting the region’s terroir. Visit www.LVwine.org for tickets and details on all events, which include:
FRIDAY | JULY 27:
Wente Lunch in the Garden
10:30-1pm at Wente - Arroyo Road Location
Savor our Terroir - a garden lunch at Wente Vineyards.
Join Wente Vineyards' Winemakers and Master Gardener, Diane Dovholuk, as they take you through an experience like none other. Sip on wines created from the very vines ou are standing amoung as you are guided though the vineyards. Afterwards, rest your feet and feast on a delectable meal made with fresh ingredients from Wente Vineyards' on-site organic herb and vegetable garden. [$115]
Cure it & Pair it with Chef Chad Welsh
12:00pm-2:00pm at Mitchell Katz Winery
Meet at us Mitchell Katz winery for a delicious lunch and food curing demo from Chef Chad Welsh. Chef will be performing a live demonstration on how to cure two different varieties of Salmon, paired with Mitchell Katz sauvignon blanc, two chardonnays, and their rosé. [$50]
Winemaker Concert with Mark Clarin and Dane Stark
6pm-9pm at Chandler Vineyards Estate
Join us for a special night at Chandler Vineyards. Experience the terroir of the vineyard through a rare comparative tasting of Page Mill Winery and McGrail Vineyards’ Chandler Vineyard Chardonnay wines. Winemakers Mark Clarin and Dane Stark will be performing their musical talents throughout the evening. Spend your night wine tasting, dancing, and dining on delicious hors d’oeuvres. You don’t want to miss out on this one of a kind event! [$100]
A Well Aged Evening
7pm-9pm at Rios Lovell Estate Winery
Guests will begin the evening in the banquet hall of Rios Lovell Estate Winery for a short lecture dedicated to Ports and Port making. The night will continue with Port tastings out of the barrel, with pairings of delicious chocolates and an array of fine cheese. [$45]
SATURDAY | JULY 28
Yoga in the Vineyard
10am-12pm at Retzlaff Vineyards
Start your morning off with some relaxing Yoga on the lawn at Retzlaff Vineyards. Your yoga instructor will guide you through an hour of stretches, followed by tastings from Retzlaff Vineyards, Nella Terra Cellars, Omega Road Winery and Nottingham Cellars. Make sure to bring your own mat, towel and water! [$30]
Bees and Beads at el Sol Winery
1:30-3:30 at el Sol Winery
Beads 101: Join the Sol Sisters at el Sol Winery for a fun and creative jewelry making experience. All skill levels welcome. Tools and supplies provided for you to make your choice of a lariat, choker, bracelet or earings. "I have enough jewlery," said no one ever!
After you hand craft your jewlery, enjoy some honey tasting and bee keeping demonstrations with a live, working colony. [$45]
Concannon Vineyard’s 135th Anniversary Landmark Tour
4pm-6pm at Concannon Vineyard
Join Fourth Generation Vintner John Concannon for this fun and fascinating winery experience which includes a walking tour of our stunning 135 year old landmark vineyard estate and unique topiaries that Ernesto, our chief landscaper, has been carefully curating for over 30 years. You will enjoy a special tasting of four of our award-winning Reserve wines while learning why Concannon is a wine pioneer in California Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. Complete this memorable tasting experience in a historic setting where our Estate Sommelier LeeAnn Kaufman will guide you through a featured wine paired with one exquisitely prepared, small bite. [$55]
From Past to Present, a Spirits Tasting
6pm-7:30pm at Eckert Estate Winery and Artisan Spirits Distillery
Take a step back to the 1800's and experience a live and educational demonstration of the process of spirit distillation. Eckert Estate Winery and Artisan Spirits is inviting you to engage in a historical overview of the distilling process of brandy, gin, absinthe, and liqueur productions. Admire several rustic 100 year old props and tools that were used to produce a number of unique spirits, and partake in three different aroma bars and tastings. Challenge your palate in an new way, and see which spirit is your favorite. [$40]
Sunset Lobster Dinner
6:30pm-8:30pm at Darcie Kent Vineyards
Start your evening by sampling Livermore Valley award winning wines from Darcie Kent Vineyards, McKahn Family Cellars, Fenestra Winery, Wente Vineyard and Page Mill Winery while watching the preparation of a typical East Coast Lobster Bake, hosted by Darcie Kent Vineyards. Put on your lobster bib and dig in! The table will be filled with fresh Maine lobster, prawns, sausage, corn on the cob, garlic, artichokes, potatoes, bread, and lots of butter served family style! Ticket includes: Wine Tasting, Lobster Dinner and 1 bottle of wine per 2 tickets [$115]
SUNDAY | JULY 29
Boots on the Ground, Wine in your Glass
10am-12pm at Murrieta's Well
Learn about the Bordeaux varietals that surround Murrieta’s Well Estate Vineyard while hiking through the vineyards with winemaker Robbie Meyer. After experiencing some of Livermore Valley’s best views during the vineyard hike, Robbie Meyer will lead you through an array of Estate Grown wines while sampling some small bites from the Murrieta's Well culinary team. [$75]
Micro Climate Tasting of Livermore Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
1:30pm-3:30pm at The Steven Kent Winery
Spend the afternoon inside the Reserve Room, as you experience a rare micro climate tasting of cabernet wines. Featured wineries and vineyards are The Steven Kent Winery - Ghielmetti Vineyard, Murrieta's Well - Sachau Vineyard, Nottingham Cellars - Smith Ranch Vineyard and Mia Nipote - Lencioni Vineyard. Winemakers from each location will discuss the vineyard and its particular climate and what it contributes to the finished product. [$65]
A Little Taste of Italy
3pm-5pm at Garré Vineyard and Winery
Conclude your weekend with an escape to a little slice of Italy. Garré Vineyard and Winery is hosting an afternoon featuring special Italian Varietal wines, Bocce Ball, and some antipasto provided by Garré Café. You will sample wines from Garre Vineyard, Charles R Vineyards, Rios Lovell Estate Winery, Rodrigue Molyneaux and Mitchell Katz Winery. The menu will consist of Nonna's Beef Meatball in Nonna's Gravy, Lamb Lollipops, Cherry tomatoes stuffed with avocado mousse, Baked Brie cheese in puff pastry with Jamaican relish, Cheese & fruit board. This relaxing and unique event is the perfect way to wrap up your weekend of Taste Our Terroir activities. [$55]
My travels have always revolved around where to eat. Of course, in Paris we wandered The Louvre, and in Athens toured the Acropolis, but leisurely lunches, beverage stops, and dinner reservations are always researched diligently. Thus, when I was tasked to partner with Discover Torrance to seek out culinary gems in a new-to-me California city, I couldn't wait to embark on a road trip from Phoenix, Arizona to explore.
Torrance is located in the South Bay region of Los Angeles and is a hidden food mecca, with more than 400 dining establishments and 10 craft breweries within its city limits. Situated 20 miles southwest of downtown LA, this coastal community includes Torrance Beach, is home to the largest Oktoberfest celebration in the area, and boasts some of the best Japanese restaurants in the country, thanks in part to Toyota moving their headquarters there in 1982, with other companies such as Honda following suit.
I wasn't able to visit all the restaurants I had on my list - that's for my next trip! - but follow along on my food adventures with these culinary highlights.
Not Your Mama's Kitchen
Our Torrance eating adventures started with our stay at the Residence Inn by Marriott Los Angeles Torrance/Redondo Beach, a perfect home base within minutes of many of the restaurants we were to visit. Our spacious penthouse suite featured the top two floors of a townhouse with a loft, two bedrooms and bathrooms, a full kitchen, and amenities including complimentary breakfast, free wi-fi, pool, outdoor grills, and a fitness room. Serendipitously, we checked in on a Food Truck night which takes place on alternate Wednesdays with pop-up restaurants and rotating food trucks . Helping myself to a complimentary brew in the restaurant lounge, I headed to Not Your Mama's Kitchen food truck, where I decided on wings and waffles. Verdict? Some of the best fried chicken I've ever had! If I hadn't already made dinner plans, I would have been back at the window sampling more of the menu. Not Your Mama's Kitchen celebrates their Southern roots with family recipes for fried chicken, catfish, smothered pork chops, red beans and rice, and more. You'll want to be on the lookout for their yellow truck if you're in the area, and you can follow their schedule here on Instagram.
King's Hawaiian Bakery & Restaurant
Torrance is home to the main bakery facility for King's Hawaiian bread, and no trip would be complete without beginning your day with the signature French toast made with Hawaiian sweet bread. King's Hawaiian was founded in the 1950s in Hilo, Hawaii, where the first loaves were made at Robert's Bakery, later moving to Honolulu renamed as King's Bakery. In 1997, King's Hawaiian Bakery production facility opened in Torrance, and in 1988, they debuted a full service bakery and restaurant. Now tourists and locals alike flock to this restaurant for a menu offering both Hawaiian food and traditional American dishes. Open seven days a week and serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you'll find island favorites such as poke, kalua pork, loco moco, huli huli chicken, spam musubi and saimin, and, of course, the popular Big Island Breakfast. This includes King's Hawaiian French Toast, two eggs and choice of bacon, turkey sausage, fried Spam or Portuguese sausage. I suggest choosing the Portuguese sausage and asking to substitute the regular syrup for a side of coconut syrup (photo above).
Of course, you can pick up bread, cakes, and pastries from their bakery too. And an insider's tip from Shannon, a friend and fellow writer who used to work at Toyota's headquarters: "Their Paradise Cake is a guilty pleasure - layers of guava, passion fruit and lime chiffon. It’s wildly popular and was the go-to for office birthday parties (in honor of people we truly liked!)."
King's Hawaiian Bakery & Restaurant: 2808 Sepulveda Blvd, Torrance, CA 90505. Phone: (310) 530-0050
Pinwheel Café & Bakery
This charming French bakery and café is located in Rolling Hills Plaza off the Pacific Coast Highway and is open seven days a week until 6 pm. On the menu you'll find wonderful pastries along with breakfast items, soups, and sandwiches. That includes, waffles and omelettes, French onion soup, salade niçoise, croissant sandwiches, and croques. I ordered a delicious Basque tartine (leading photo) layered with a tangy tomato spread, fresh arugula, Bayonne ham, shaved Basque and a drizzle of espelette pepper olive oil, while my husband enjoyed a fluffy omelette with tomato soup and bread so good, we bought more baguettes to take back to Phoenix and share with family, along with chocolate croissants and a white chocolate and cashew scone.
Pinwheel Cafe & Bakery: 2553 Pacific Coast Hwy, Torrance, CA 90505. Phone: (310) 325-5055
Hey 19 Public House
We stopped in for lunch at this retro pub paying homage to the '70s and '80s. Check out the fun and funky decor, and you might spy prints of Farrah Fawcett and Han Solo, vintage video game covers, or the band Kiss memorialized on a lava lamp. The menu is just as eclectic, ranging from addictive snacks of bacon-wrapped tater tots to the popular Meat Your Maker's, a double-cut pork chop with Maker's Mark bourbon-spiked chutney, mashed sweet potatoes and collard greens. Creative specials also lure the crowds, such as the recent "Let’s get Kraken" with grilled Spanish octopus, organic red quinoa, fried oyster mushrooms, and lemon vinaigrette. With an aim towards sourcing from local farmer's markets, their vegetable dishes shouldn't be overlooked either. Even though I'm not a vegetarian, I'll find it hard not to order the Hippie Tacos again - a flavorful medley of roasted cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, radicchio, toasted almonds, goat cheese, and slaw tossed with house Bourbon BBQ 19 sauce. Pair it with one of the well-crafted cocktails such as Don't Cry for Me with Fernet Branca, Carpano Antica, Double Cross vodka, Elixir G ginger, and house-made ginger ale. Hey 19 also has live music on the weekends, and daily specials such as half-off Wine and Whiskey Wednesdays and all-day Happy Hour on Mondays.
Hey 19 Public House: 4525 Calle Mayor, Torrance, CA. Phone: (310) 378-8119.
Din Tai Fung
Din Tai Fung's fame as a dumpling restaurant was born in Taiwan in 1972 as an extension of a cooking oil shop. By 1993, the New York Times had declared it one of the top ten gourmet restaurants in the world, and in 2010 the Hong Kong location had been awarded a Michelin star. Fast forward, and Din Tai Fung now has branches in countries from Malaysia to Australia, including eleven restaurants in the US (all in California and Washington). The Torrance location is an upscale, modern space located in the Del Amo Fashion Center shopping mall. Like its counterparts, crowds are drawn to the excellent handmade dumplings and noodles. The signature dish is xia long bao, steamed soup dumplings which contain a minced filling and savory broth. With an emphasis on Southern Chinese cuisine, the menu offers an array of appetizers, noodles, soups, stir-fried vegetables, steamed buns, and a variety of dumplings. Tip: Late afternoon is usually the best time to avoid the lines.
Din Tai Fung: 21540 Hawthorne Blvd #519, Torrance, CA 90503. Phone: (310) 214-1175
I'm jealous of those who live nearby and are able to dine on Japanese food of this caliber regularly. The only other locations of this stellar Japanese restaurant are in Tokyo and Singapore, so it's no surprise that it's a spot that is deservedly busy. We were also pleasantly surprised to find the lunch menu a bargain, offering sushi bowls paired with miso soup and salad, and set meals of seafood or steak accompanied by chilled tofu, chawanmushi (steamed egg custard), rice and Japanese pickles for $12.95 (menus below). My husband loved his shrimp and vegetable tempura, while I was just as delighted with a chirashi bowl brimming with pristine raw tuna, salmon and yellowtail, ikura (salmon roe), and tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette), plus a side of a half-order of zaru soba (cold handmade soba noodles). The dinner menu is more extensive, with daily specials of fish flown in from Japan, grilled and fried seafood, and Japanese Wagyu.
Wadatsumi Torrance: 1757 W Carson St, R&S, Torrance, CA 90501. Phone: (310) 782-7356
Torihei Yakitori Robata Dining
Like Wadatsumi, Torihei has its roots in Japan, with its original restaurant still garnering praise in Yokohama. Torihei specializes in oden (a style of hotpot) and yakitori/robata (skewers grilled over charcoal). If you're that person who likes to try a multitude of different dishes and flavors, this is the cuisine for you. You'll receive three menus - sushi, izakaya, and yakitori - to check off your selections. We didn't do justice to all the delicious-sounding options as we were slightly full from lunch at Wadatsumi, but happily dined on octopus carpaccio, negima yakitori (grilled chicken thighs with scallions), shio ramen, shiokara (salted raw octopus), grilled shiitake mushrooms with bonito, and "cabbage with spicy sauce" (so simple, but one of my favorites of the night). Be sure to make reservations as this is a small, casual spot, but a must-visit when in Torrance.
Torihei: 1757 W. Carson st. Torrance, CA 90501. Phone: 310-781-9407
Madre Oaxacan Restaurant and Mezcaleria
A spotlight on Oaxaca is the focus of Madre, and as shown by a boisterous packed house for dinner, we weren't the only fans of this regional cuisine. More familiar Mexican dishes are on the menu, but we were there to dine on specialties such as molotes (masa empanadas) and memelas (tortilla-like masa cakes garnished with toppings). Oaxaca is renowned for its moles (complex sauces made with dried chiles, fruit, herbs and spices) and here at Madre you'll find not one, but six different styles - verde, amarillo, rojo, coloradito, estofado, and mole negro Oaxaqueño, the region's famous black mole made with chocolate. Tlayuda is another traditional dish you will want to try. Often described as a Oaxacan pizza, the base is a large thin tortilla heaped with toppings. With four options, we chose the Tlayuda Madre, piled high with layers of black beans, shredded cabbage, tomato, quesillo (Oaxacan string cheese), avocado, chorizo, tasajo (grilled thinly-sliced or pounded beef) and cecina (dried spiced pork).
Excellent margaritas can be ordered to wash down your feast, but I suggest entering the world of mezcal. The flavor of this smokier cousin of tequila is derived from pit-roasting the heart of the agave plant. As a cocktail writer and frequent competition judge, I thought I had a pretty good handle on mezcal producers, but as I learned from Madre's incredible collection, I was mistaken. Have a seat at the bar and ask for one of the artisanal single-village mezcals to sip. They're served the authentic Oaxacan way, neat, with traditional accompaniments of chapulines (crispy fried grasshoppers), cacahuates (peanuts), and orange slices with sal de gusano.
A relative newcomer to the dining scene, debuting approximately a year and half ago, Primo was our finale dinner and a highlight of our California trip. We loved everything about this modern Italian restaurant: The elegant yet cozy atmosphere, well-crafted cocktails and wine list, friendly and professional service, and, oh yes, the food. You'll find it hard to decide between mouthwatering dishes on the expansive menu such as Gamberoni alla Griglia (grilled red prawns with escarole and lemon), Osso Bucco di Agnello (braised lamb shank over polenta), or Porchetta Pizza with fontina cheese and arugula, and all eleven pastas are made fresh daily. My husband raved about his traditional Spaghetti alla Carbonara made with authentic guanciale and an entree of veal piccata, and I was just as impressed with the fabulous Carciofi alla Romana (Roman-style artichokes) and decadent Pici Toscano with hand-rolled pici pasta enrobed in a sausage cream sauce and finished with a shower of truffles. End your evening with an indulgent dessert and a glass of grappa or Primo's barrel-aged Negroni while enjoying the ambiance of live music on the piano.
Primo Italia: 24590 Hawthorne Blvd, Torrance, CA 90505. Phone: (310) 378-4288
I partnered with the Torrance, California tourism board on my trip to Torrance. For detailed information on trip itineraries, dining, lodging, and special events, visit Discover Torrance.
Tucked away in the Santa Monica Mountains is beautiful Conejo Valley, a picturesque region encompassing the communities of Thousand Oaks, Agoura Hills, Westlake Village, Newbury Park, and nearby environs. Surrounded by rolling green hills, this Southern California gem is located just 30 minutes from Malibu and 45 minutes from Los Angeles, but far removed from the bustling crowds and busy traffic.
While tourist attractions such as the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, annual festivals such as Conejo Valley Days, and miles of hiking and horse trails attract visitors, this region is also home to a flourishing culinary scene with a variety of restaurants, from brewpubs to fine dining; from New Zealand specialties to Peruvian sandwiches. My husband and I recently embarked on a road trip from Phoenix, Arizona to spend some time in this beautiful part of Southern California. Here are some of the culinary highlights we discovered.
Start your day in Thousand Oaks at Chocolatine French Café. Step through the door of this charming patisserie serving breakfast and lunch, and you'll be greeted with a cheery "bonjour!" by owner Sandrine Casanova-Paccallet. Casanova-Paccallet and her husband and pastry chef Ludovic fell in love with the café while visiting from Lyon, France, bought it from the original owners when they retired, and recently celebrated four successful years. Spoil yourself with treats such as croissants, macarons, chocolates, and crepes with your café au lait, or visit at lunch for the soupe du jour, quiche, or bistro sandwiches such as a croque monsieur.
Chocolatine French Café: 2955 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, CA. Phone 557-0561.
Next door to Chocolatine is Bad Ass Tacos, a busy spot that has grown from a popular after-hours taco stand to its present location with seating inside and out at picnic tables under a canvas tent. Diners can order tortas, burritos, and quesadillas, but the street tacos take center stage. Warm tortillas are folded around eleven fillings ranging from traditional carne asada to red wine-marinated, slow-roasted short ribs and fish grilled with lime butter. I didn't have a chance to work my way through the entire menu, but favorites include the cochinita pibil (a Yucatán specialty of pork seasoned with achiote and sour orange and cooked in banana leaves) and chorizo y papa (a spicy-savory duo of cubed potatoes sauteed with crumbled chorizo).
Bad Ass Tacos: 2951 Thousand Oaks Blvd, Thousand Oaks, CA 91362. Phone: (805) 370-8226
A Westlake Village gem, eLoong Dumplings can be found hidden inside the North Ranch Gateway Shopping Center. The menu offers authentic Chinese dishes including wonderful appetizers, soups, and stir-fried rice, noodles, rice cakes and vegetables. However, as the sign outside signifies, the handmade dumplings are the main draw. These delicious bites include tender steamed shu mai stuffed with shrimp, vegetarian dumplings, and spicy pork wontons, but it's the xiao long bao (or XLB as fans call them) that are the star of the show. XLB are soup dumplings encasing cubes of gelatinized stock which melt as they steam, and at eLoong you'll feast on supple, thin-skinned packages bursting with a juicy filling and flavorful broth. I like to order them with extra chili oil and a side of Sichuan cucumber salad.
eLoong Dumplings: 30843 Thousand Oaks Blvd, Westlake Village, CA 91362. Phone: (818) 532-7668
Plan a visit to Mouthful Eatery for Peruvian-inspired sandwiches, bowls, salads, and sides. Co-owner Luis Alberto Sanchez drew from his Lima, Peru roots and his training at Le Cordon Bleu in creating a unique menu where everything is made from scratch. This local favorite opened as a 16-seat restaurant that expanded within a year to its current 55-seat space. The colorful chalkboard menu invites you to choose dishes such as frito pescadito (cod topped with tropical peanut slaw and chile de arbol gastrique) or La Sarita (roasted pork with sweet potatoes and aji amarillo aioli) before "Selecting your Style" - stacked on house-baked bread or in a bowl over organic quinoa or steamed rice. I'm partial to lomo saltado, a traditional Peruvian stir-fry dish of tender and flavorful soy-marinated skirt steak, tomatoes, red onions, yuca fries, and aioli. In the evening, the menu expands to entrees, or you can make reservations for a special three-course prix-fixe dinner that takes place once a month. Tip: Don't leave without ordering alfajores, addictive Peruvian dulce de leche sandwich cookies.
Mouthful Eatery: 2626 Thousand Oaks Blvd, Thousand Oaks, CA 91362. Phone: (805) 288-6055
The unique moniker of Ladyface Alehouse and Brasserie in Agoura Hills is a nod to Ladyface Mountain, which is in full view on the pretty patio shaded by sun sails. Conejo Valley's first craft brewery, Ladyface is known for their award-winning Belgian, French and American-style ales, though the restaurant also offers a full bar with cocktails featuring house-infused spirits. The menu, which sources local and seasonal ingredients, reflects the beer list anchored by Belgian ales with European favorites. Thus, in addition to brew-friendly partners such as fish and chips and the Ladyface Burger (made with dry-aged, grass-fed Novy Ranch beef from nearby Simi Valley), you'll find duck confit, tarte flambée, moule frites, and salade niçoise. Sit back and order a beer flight, or try one of their cask ales, such as the Pedal Pusher, a Dérailleur bière-de-garde with hints of cardamom and coriander that I enjoyed on my visit (photo above).
Ladyface Alehouse & Brasserie: 29281 Agoura Rd, Agoura Hills, CA 91301. Phone: (818) 477-4566.
At Aroha (meaning "love" in the Māori language of New Zealand) chef-owner Gwithyen Thomas shares his love of his native cuisine with ingredients sourced from his island country. Feijoa (pineapple guava) and passionfruit are grown on the patio, his dishes are seasoned with wild herbs such as kawakawa and horopito, and fresh seafood, meat, and poultry are flown in from New Zealand. This means you'll find NZ Cloudy Bay surf clams and green-lipped mussels in a fragrant coconut-curry broth spiked with chile and garlic, hāpuku (grouper) with carrot puree, smoked mushrooms and bacon emulsion, and the signature horopito-crusted NZ venison with sweet potato crisps, vanilla-parsnip purée, pistachios, and cherry compote. On a past trip to New Zealand, I fell in love with traditional desserts such as Hokey-Pokey (ice cream studded with honeycomb toffee) and Pavlova (crispy meringue filled with cream and fruit), so was happy to see a modern take of these kiwi classics on the dessert menu. Alas, I had left no room and will have to save that for a future visit. If you're lucky, you'll meet GM Jillian, who will expertly guide you through the menu, suggest wine pairings from the curated list, and introduce you to her well-crafted cocktails.
DINNER WITH A VIEW
An idyllic destination for brunch, lunch, or dinner in Conejo Valley is Zin Bistro Americana in Westlake Village. With a prime location lakeside, it's the perfect spot for a relaxing sunset date. Start with a classic Kir Royale (champagne and raspberry liqueur) as you share a chilled seafood platter or yellowtail crudo before moving on to a Caesar salad made tableside. Enjoy steak and seafood options such as lobster ravioli, diver scallops with mushroom risotto, filet mignon, or an excellent chicken cordon bleu stuffed with ham and Gruyère cheese. There's a cozy firepit on the patio for cooler nights, and live music in the lounge Thursday through Saturday.
Zin Bistro Americana: 32131 Lindero Canyon Rd #111, Westlake Village, CA 91361. Phone: (818) 865-0095
Gelato and Sweet Treats
TIFA Chocolate & Gelato is a family-owned business that began in 2007 as a retail online chocolate company. Now you can visit their welcoming shop in Agoura Hills' Marzin Market Shopping Center to indulge in decadent chocolates (try dark chocolate whiskey, pistachio-rose, and hickory-smoked salted caramel), pastries, brownies, cookies and wonderful gelato made onsite. You can sample flavors such as cookie butter, milk chocolate hazelnut, coconut chai and sugar-free cinnamon. Can't decide on just one? You don't have to! You can get a combination of three, which is what I did - settling on a fantastic trio of fig and mascarpone, honey and lavender, and strawberry-balsamic gelati.
TIFA Chocolate & Gelato: 28888 Roadside Dr, Agoura Hills, CA 91301. Phone: (818) 879-0685.
I partnered with Conejo Valley Tourism for my fun, food-filled trip, and you can find more information on the region's activities, dining, lodging, and annual events at Visit Conejo.
Tell your friends you're headed to Napa and their next question more likely than not is "which wineries are you going to visit?" Naturally, the valley's award-winning wineries and vineyards are a must on your travel itinerary, but be sure to spend time in downtown Napa enjoying all it has to offer. You'll find a thriving arts scene, shopping, restaurants, walking tours, outdoor activities, seasonal festivals and more. Here are six ways to explore this beautiful California city and Do Napa.
The Napa ARTwalk
The Napa ARTWalk is a rotating exhibition of stand-alone and integrated sculptures (each available for sale) around Downtown Napa and the Oxbow District. Pick up a guide at the Napa Valley Welcome Center on Main Street or download it here, and learn about the Otocast audio app for a self-guided tour at this link.
One way to embark on this artistic journey is to begin at the historic Napa Mill (tip: start with breakfast or lunch at the Napa General Store) to view the newest exhibit along with more established art pieces. This is also the site of Alan Shepp’s mosaic fountain entitled "Ars Longa Vita Brevis," or "Life is Brief But Art Endures," with his colorful vignettes capturing the history of Napa and the animal denizens of the Napa River. Follow the path along the riverfront and admire Terrence Martin's metal art "Fish On" (a 2010 ARtwalk People's Choice winner) as you head downtown to peruse more works. End at the striking 9/11 Memorial Garden, a collaboration with the City of Napa and local artist Gordon Huether incorporating steel beams from the Twin Towers.
Oxbow Public Market
The Oxbow Public Market is a downtown riverfront hub, a 40,000 square foot marketplace with indoor and outdoor seating for restaurants, locally-owned businesses and their wares, and grocers showcasing California artisans and regional specialties. Start your day here with breakfast, spend the afternoon drinking, dining, and shopping, or stop in for Happy Hour and dinner. You can read more about dining options here.
CIA at Copia
Next door is the Culinary Institute of America at Copia. Here you can attend cooking classes with topics ranging from "California Bounty" to "Indian Cuisine"; from "Homemade Cheese" to "Eclairs and Their Cousins". Learn about "The History of Napa Valley in 8 Glasses" in the Vintners Theater, or bring the kids for Sunday Family Fundays.
The Restaurant at CIA Copia (see more here) also welcomes guests with a sleek dining room, open kitchen, and olive tree-shaded patio to enjoy lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch. Take note of more pieces by famed Napa artist Gordon Huether, including "Bob & Margrit" atop the CIA's 75-foot tower, a tribute to Robert and Margrit Mondavi, and "The Fork" at the restaurant's entrance, composed of over 8,000 recycled utensils.
Downtown Tasting Rooms
Downtown Napa also plays host to a variety of wine tasting rooms, many in walking distance to each other for easy ambling. One of the most unique settings is the Capp Heritage Tasting Room. Settle in with a tasting flight in the main room with a striking antique mahogany and brass bar and steampunk elements, or relax in the Deco Room anchored by a circa 1910 stained glass ceiling dome (tip: visit on Saturday nights for live music). If you're lucky, you'll have time to chat with Gary Koehler, who is not only the tasting room manager, but a singer, songwriter and historian - be sure to purchase his CD and ask him about the Capp family and great-great-grandfather David Hudson's Napa legacy.
Chocolate Tasting Class at Anette's Chocolate
A visit to one of Anette's Chocolate locations (1st Street or Oxbow Market) is a given, but you're in for more decadent fun if you combine her confections with a chocolate class. Anette Madsen and her brother Brent are famous for their wine-infused chocolates and other sweet treats, and at their 1st Street location, she leads a variety of classes. Sign up for the 45-minute Chocolate Tasting Class ($20 per person) to learn about the history of chocolate and candy-making, the proper way to taste and savor, and how regionality and chocolate-making methods influence distinctive flavors.
Afterwards, take a seat on the cozy patio to linger with coffee, ice cream, candy, and more, or purchase packages of chocolates, truffles, caramels, marshmallows, and candied popcorn along with award-winning wine-infused dessert sauces and fantastic brittle.
Enjoy Napa Valley Rental and Tours
Napa native and local expert Justin Perkins of Enjoy Napa Valley has been leading tours in Napa Valley for 25 years, loves his job, and it shows. His signature Napa River History kayak tours are understandably popular due to his warmth, enthusiasm, and wealth of knowlege. Along his tours, you'll learn fascinating details, from flora and fauna to historical anecdotes and local tips. Enjoy Napa has recently expanded to bicycle tours and Justin will work with individuals and groups to customize bike routes, such as this one that started at Oxbow Public Market and led past vineyards and gorgeous Napa views to the Gordon Huether Gallery (look for an upcoming feature on artist Gordon Huether).
For more information and to plan your next Napa trip, visit DoNapa, the official website of the Downtown Napa Association.
On a beautiful fall afternoon, I arrived in Napa, joining fellow travel writers for an exploratory press trip of downtown Napa's unique offerings. We were hosted by the wonderful team of the Downtown Napa Association on our guided journey. Join me on a photo recap of the culinary highlights of our October weekend.
Napa General Store: 540 Main St Ste 100, Napa, CA 94559, (707) 259-0762.
Located in the historic Napa Mill district on the riverfront, this inviting restaurant, wine bar, and shop is filled with local artisanal products, jewelry, clothing, wine-related gifts, furniture, and more. The shop is open from 8 am to 6 pm, and breakfast and lunch is served daily with a special brunch menu on the weekends. Guests can dine in the cozy cafe or enjoy Napa's beautiful weather on the pretty patio.
On the lunch menu, you'll find soups, salads, sandwiches, and flatbreads. I opted for the vermicelli salad, an ode to Vietnamese bún gà nướng. It was the perfect warm-weather choice, featuring a heap of chilled rice noodles, lettuce, cucumber, carrots, and mint topped with peanuts, a crispy spring roll, and fried shallots. Another popular order is "Our Famous Chinese Chicken Salad" combining shredded chicken breast, red and green cabbage, scallions, and toasted almonds tossed with a soy-sesame dressing and garnished with crunchy wonton strips.
Wine tastings are offered daily from 11:30 am to 5:30 pm, focusing on wines made by smaller Napa Valley wineries and boutique producers not often seen outside of Northern California.
Our group were invited to sample four wines to accompany our lunch, two whites and two reds. We started with a chardonnay comparison between Herencia Del Valle cool-climate Carneros Chardonnay and Dos Lagos neutral-oaked Cloaked in Secrecy, before moving on to Ecletic Winery's Charbono from Suisun Valley and Napa General Store's exclusive Petite Sirah made by Julie Johnson, owner and winemaker of Tres Sabores Winery. I loved learning about the smaller producers and esoteric varietals. For example, Eclectic's charbono is an unusual Italian grape varietal with wine produced in very limited quantities and in the US grown almost exclusively in California on less than 85 acres.
Oxbow Public Market: 610 and 644 First Street in Napa; (707) 226-6529
Located in the Oxbow District of downtown Napa, this 40,000 square-foot marketplace is a community gathering spot celebrating local restaurants and purveyors. You'll find shopping, drinking - from coffee bars to distilleries - and a variety of dining venues. The Market is open seven days a week except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. I didn't have a chance to eat here on this visit, but did some strolling.
Some options that caught my eye include Hog Island Oyster Co. (serving oysters and seafood small plates and entrees), Five Dot Ranch Cookhouse and butcher shop (owned by the Swickards, a seven-generation family of Northern California ranchers), Live Fire Pizza (offering indoor and outdoor seating for beer, wine, antipasti, and wood-fired pizzas), and Three Twins Ice Cream (organic ice cream made with cane syrup and all-natural flavors). I suggest spending a few hours exploring this vibrant scene - something I plan to do on my next trip!
Eight Noodle Shop:1408 Clay St, Napa, CA 94559; (707) 637-4198
We picked a beautiful day to have lunch on the sunny patio at Eight Noodle Shop, a comfortable spot boasting an Asian-influenced menu (steamed buns, rice plates, ramen) and handmade noodles. The draw here is not only the delicious dishes, but friendly owner David Lu, who guided us on our menu choices including addictive Korean chicken wings coated in a crunchy batter and a spicy-sweet gochujang glaze.
What else to order? I would recommend all of the dishes I tried: Fried pot stickers stuffed with juicy pork and shrimp; sesame pork "dry" ramen enrobed in a thick and creamy sesame sauce studded with minced pork, preserved pear, and diced long beans ("one of my favorites" said Lu); Kimchi fried rice topped with soy-braised beef cheeks, sliced cucumbers, and fried eggs; butterscotch panna cotta made with white miso and scotch whisky; and five-spice Okinawa donuts with caramel and apple cream.
Crush Ultra Lounge: 875 Bordeaux Way, Napa, CA 94558; (707) 251-3066
Don't let the name Crush Ultra Lounge fool you into picturing a simple and familiar bar menu, as it did me. My expectations were quickly adjusted when we arrived at the stunning Meritage Resort and Spa, where this entertainment lounge is located. I love the fact that you can enjoy great food and drinks at Happy Hour, wind down after a day of wine tasting, or meet with a bunch of friends for dinner and bowling, as our group did. Some of my favorite bites were the flaky Sonoma duck samosas with coriander yogurt dipping sauce, the short rib sliders layered with horseradish aioli, celery leaves and crispy shallots, and Niman Ranch spiced ground lamb skewers with avocado, tomato, and goat cheese, especially good with my Negroni below (a cocktail favorite).
Sit at the bar or in front of the fireplace, or relax at seating areas with high-back leather chairs. Bonus! After dinner, try your hand at shuffleboard, pool, or one of six bowling lanes.
Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin' BBQ: 975 First St., Napa; (707) 226-3976
This local favorite is a combination restaurant, wine bar, and retail shop and you'll find it a lively, casual spot to settle in for a menu ranging from charcuterie plates and pimento cheese dip to Caesar salad and a Bounty Burger with Wagyu beef (all from a suprisingly tiny kitchen!). Of course, the BBQ plays a starring role and the best way to sample and share is The Bounty Hunter Smokin’ BBQ Platter. We feasted on smoky pulled pork, sliced brisket, a slab of meaty St. Louis-style ribs, and coleslaw.
You'll find suggested wine pairings for each menu item with 400+ bottles available and 40 wines by the glass, in addition to craft beers and an extensive selection of hard-to-find spirits. I had to order a rye whiskey flight when I saw one offering an exclusive Bounty Hunter barrel of WhistlePig 10 Year rye (Vermont), along with Sazerac 6 Year (Kentucky) and High West Rendezvous (Utah).
And although BBQ features predominantly in the name, Bounty Hunter is also known for its beer can chicken roasted with Tecate beer and lime, which I can attest is the best I've ever had - juicy and tender with a crispy skin seasoned with a Cajun spice blend that includes fennel, coriander, thyme and turmeric. It's a must-order.
Celadon: 500 Main St G, Napa, CA 94559; (707) 254-9690
Celadon is an award-winning fine-dining restaurant tucked away in the Napa Mill riverfront district. To enter, pass through a verdant arched entryway which opens onto a rustic indoor-outdoor space outlined with whitewashed brick walls and anchored by a freestanding fireplace.
Open for lunch and dinner, its global menu is inspired by flavors from Asia to the Mediterranean. A fat Dungeness crab cake reflected Thailand with a green papaya, carrot, and cilantro salad and a chile-spiked sambal aioli.
If it's a special, I highly recommend the clam chowder, one of the best renditions I've had since moving from my homestate of Massachusetts. I also loved the signature cinnamon and cardamom-scented Morrocan lamb shank served with its rich braising jus and Israeli couscous with dried apricots and sultanas.
The Restaurant at CIA Copia: 500 1st Street, Napa, CA 94559; (707) 967-2555
Lunch at the Culinary Institute of America at Copia before my flight home was the perfect finale to a fantastic time spent in Napa (look for more details on the CIA at Copia on my next Napa feature).
Open for lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch, the restaurant makes use of the fresh produce grown on-site. Guests can dine on the patio shaded by olive trees, in the airy dining room, or at the chef's counter, or enjoy a pre-dinner glass of wine or craft cocktail in the lounge, such as a barrel-aged Vieux Carré, one of my favorite classics.
Seasonal dishes draw inspiration from around the world, such as these four favorites at my luncheon:
- Crudo of local halibut with citrusy Japanese ponzu, pomegranate seeds, and micro-cilantro.
- Fire-Roasted Tomato Toast, a take on the Spanish tapa of pan con tomate with boquerones/marinated white anchovies.
- Vitello Tonnato, a northern Italian specialty and a personal favorite of mine - thin slices of rare roasted veal served chilled, draped in a creamy sauce of egg yolks and preserved tuna, and garnished with capers and arugula.
- Eggplant Involtini, grilled eggplant slices rolled around a goat cheese filling and nestled in a smoked tomato sauce.
Finally, if you're looking for the perfect B&B serving some of the best breakfasts in Napa, click on the photo below for details of my stay at The Inn on First.
I was hosted by the Downtown Napa Association on a media press trip.
The Inn on First has a prime location within walking distance to the shops, restaurants, wine tasting rooms, and riverside activities in downtown Napa, a picturesque setting with lush landscaping, and is the perfect spot for a romantic getaway with luxurious rooms featuring whirlpool tubs, gas fireplaces and no TVs. They were also the first Northern California B&B to be certified “green” by the State of California, and serve some of the most delicious breakfasts in town. The Inn on First has it all.
This inviting bed and breakfast is a lovely property owned by Jamie Cherry and Jim Gunther consisting of the main historic mansion and a separate building with first-floor Garden Suites and second-floor Honeymoon Suites. Checking in, you are greeted by your hosts in a bright and airy foyer and shown the main rooms, including the dining room and living room with a baby grand piano that guests are welcome to play.
You'll find thoughtful details such as a split of Mumm sparkling wine and truffles made by innkeeper Jim in your room, complimentary picnic baskets and wi-fi, and a decanter of California port in the mansion sitting room.
You'll find other relaxing spots on the property that invite you to relax and linger such as a quiet fountain-side retreat and a firepit for cozy Napa evenings.
I stayed in the Heritage Estate suite, a beautiful room located in the Garden Suites decorated in cool grays and complete with a heart-shaped two-person whirlpool, spacious bathroom, gas fireplace, and an enclosed private deck.
After a restful night in my comfortable king bed, I woke to a sunny morning and al fresco breakfast on the main patio. Chef/owner Jim Gunther is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy and delights guests daily with his homemade specialties. You'll find classic favorites and creative dishes such as breakfast lasagna, tempura sushi roll omelettes, and roasted pear tacos with strawberries and whipped cream. In fact, he has a breakfast repertoire of over 150 dishes, which you can make yourself with his cookbook, A Napa Valley Breakfast Book. It also makes a perfect Napa gift or souvenir.
I started in the dining room at the buffet which offered a platter of flaky warm cinnamon twists, homemade granola, yogurt and fresh fruit, before making myself a breakfast parfait and heading to the patio.
Here, Jim served one of his signatures, fantastic breakfast risotto tots. I loved these crispy nuggets containing creamy herb-flecked risotto that were topped with a poached egg and accompanied by thick slices of toast and jam (homemade of course!). In a weekend of wonderful food at Napa's many excellent restaurants (read about those here), this was a highlight, and I can't think of a more perfect way to begin your Napa exploration.
I was hosted by the Downtown Napa Association on a media press trip. and my stay was complimentary.
Luxury Boutique Brand Leads Downtown Palm Springs Redevelopment with Hotel Opening
PALM SPRINGS, CALIF. (PRESS RELEASE) – Soaring to new heights in Palm Springs is Kimpton The Rowan Palm Springs, now accepting reservations in anticipation of its opening this fall. The seven-story, 153-room urban desert escape anchors the city’s major downtown revitalization project and features Palm Springs’ first and only rooftop pool, two restaurants and two bars, serene views of the majestic San Jacinto Mountains, and inspiring spaces for meetings & events.
The first full-scale hotel built in the area in decades and Kimpton’s first project in the Palm Springs market, Kimpton The Rowan Palm Springs is a celebration of the desert’s organic, rugged beauty artfully balanced with refined glamour and modern touchpoints. The hotel sits at the intersection of the high desert and local scene, where the base of the San Jacinto Mountains meets the center of the city’s best shopping, dining, outdoor pursuits and arts & culture scene.
“Palm Springs has stunning architecture and design, an inspiring landscape, and a stylishly cool spirit that’s exactly what the Kimpton brand is all about,” said Abe Liao, General Manager of Kimpton The Rowan Palm Springs. “With amenities like our rooftop pool – the first in the city – and several guestrooms with balconies, guests have a new way to stay and play in Palm Springs while still enjoying the desert’s authentic aesthetic and laidback vibe.”
A collaborative effort between Powerstrip Studio and the Kimpton Design Team, the design of Kimpton The Rowan Palm Springs is inspired by the resurgence of the Midcentury Modern movement, reimagined from a contemporary viewpoint while retaining the era’s essence, and infused with a playful beat. The light-filled spaces embody a sunny mix of minimalist, modern-desert urbanity with clean-lined furniture, custom art installations such as a 16-foot macramé owl behind the front desk and lobby-adjacent library display, grand staircase, and rooftop where six luxury cabanas line the pool. Subtly designed geometric patterns in an optimistic color palette – blues and greens in the guestrooms and pinks and oranges on the pool deck – are tempered with natural wood, creamy neutrals and white.
Guests can opt for Mountain View rooms with picturesque views of the San Jacinto Mountains, Balcony rooms with private outdoor terraces to chill and unwind, King rooms with a glass-walled bathroom offering views of the desert landscape, spacious Spa rooms with separate soaking tubs and glass-enclosed showers, and for the ultimate luxury stay three one-bedroom suites and a presidential suite, each with its own wraparound balcony.
Guests can get a genuine taste of Palm Springs throughout the property with treats by local purveyors in the Honor Bars and menus driven by locally sourced ingredients in the dining concepts. In the lobby living room, guests can enjoy a craft cocktail at Window Bar before heading out for the night or a nightcap before turning in. Juniper Table, a refined yet casual Mediterranean café, offers food & beverage for dining in or on the go. Perched atop the prime rooftop space is 4 Saints, an open-air bar and restaurant by day that transforms into an alluring environment after sundown and nightlife venue during peak season weekends.
For custom meetings, events and weddings, the hotel offers more than 5,000 square feet of multipurpose indoor and outdoor space including a ballroom, rooftop annex, and boardroom.
ABOUT KIMPTON THE ROWAN PALM SPRINGS: Entering the Palm Springs hospitality scene fall 2017 is Kimpton The Rowan Palm Springs, a 153-room urban oasis that effortlessly blends laidback cool and rugged desert beauty with high style, culture and unrivaled Kimpton hospitality. Kimpton The Rowan Palm Springs boasts the city’s first and only rooftop pool complete with six luxury cabanas, two restaurants and two bars, idyllic views of the San Jacinto Mountains and desert landscape, and 5,108 square feet of multipurpose indoor and outdoor space for custom events & meetings. With its prime location anchoring the very center of the revitalized Downtown Palm Springs, Kimpton The Rowan Palm Springs puts guests just steps away from some of the city’s best dining, shopping, art and attractions. For additional information, visit www.rowanpalmsprings.com or call 800.532.7320.
ABOUT KIMPTON HOTELS & RESTAURANTS: San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants is a leading brand of boutique hotels and restaurants and the acknowledged industry pioneer that first introduced the boutique hotel concept to the United States. In 1981, Bill Kimpton founded the company that today is renowned for making travelers feel genuinely cared for through thoughtful perks and amenities, bold, playful design and a sincerely personal style of guest service. Out to help people live full, balanced lives, Kimpton aims to inspire with touches like yoga mats in every room, complimentary coffee and tea to start the day, hosted evening Wine Hour, in-room fitness programming and complimentary bike rentals. The award-winning restaurants and bars are led by talented chefs and bartenders who offer guests a chance to dine like a local.
Kimpton is consistently ranked as one of the top companies in the Market Metrix Hospitality Index, Upper Upscale Segment, for Customer Satisfaction. The brand is highly-regarded for its innovative employee culture and benefits and has been named a FORTUNE magazine “Best Place to Work” seven times since 2009. Kimpton is continuously growing and currently operates over 60 hotels and 70 plus restaurants, bars and lounges in 30 plus cities in the U.S., Caribbean, and Europe. In January 2015, Kimpton became part of the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) family of hotel brands. For more information, visit www.KimptonHotels.com.