Ask Chuck

Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

New Vines: New Wines

Wine Year In Making: 2008
It's been a very interesting wine season in Ontario. On the heals of what undoubtedly was the best year in Ontario ever, 2007, 2008 has had its problems. What kind of problems? In a nutshell, rain!
Vine roots go deep and in order for the crop to be good, the vines must work hard. I don't know what the symantics are other than that this is so. Rain is not as important as people think though I am not talking here of drought conditions which aren't great for anything but long dry periods such as those exhibited in 2007 make for excellent, disease free crops with magnificent concentration. 2007 was perfect in every way: just enough rain, dry weather, warm days and cool nights. The reds are magnificent (and long aging) while the whites are superb.
2008 has not been so lucky! Though many have said that the year was a good one, rain brings with it the scourge of disease, moulds and fungus. It takes much more work to keep the vines healthy. In addition, the rain has with it---clouds which keep temperatures to a minimum. It just was not summer this year and on top of all the rain, some vineyards had hail which is a merciless killer and indiscriminate----affecting one vineyard while sparing the one next to it!
The One Silver Lining
There is one silver lining however. The last two weeks have been mild and dry with the projected outlook of warmer and dryer weather as the weeks go by. If this is so, then the vintage will become one that is a miracle vintage such as that of 1978 Bordeaux when rain was the scourge but wonderful dry weather at harvest saved the day----and the vintage!
It is far better to have this type of scenario than the opposite where rain (lots of it) follows a drought summer. The reason for this is obvious. Dry vines with clusters of small grapes will act as a sponge resulting in very large grapes that are "watered down". The grape concentration is diluted and the result is wines of little concentration. Let's keep our hopes high that the rain stays away and warm dry periods are ahead of the harvest.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Caledon Equestrian Centre's Classic

I know that what I usually speak about is wine, food and travel and in fact this may come under the travel title however, whether travel or not Equestrian Riding has become a big part of my life. This is not because I ride. Far from it! What I know about horses can fit onto a half page of writing paper. My daughter, Taryn----now that is different.
At 15, she has just finished her divisions second Zone Classic competition. An avid Hunter/Jumper competitor, she achieved Reserve Champion this time around. Her consistency in scores, got her this title today and I was quite happy for her since she was having some self doubts lately. I tell her, like I tell others in any sport that when you hit a plateau, that is when you must keep trying and most gains are made during this period of mental and physical challenge. Funny enough, this competition comes at the heals of Eric Lamaze's magic gold medal win in China. He is an inspiration to all those who have had hard luck and come back. Other athletes have also mentioned that they too have had some hard times in their sport but perseverance won out. Today it was Taryn's turn to see the turn around. It came at a good time!
I enjoy going to Caledon Equestrian in Palgrave for two reasons. I get to meet other parents of other competitor friends of Taryn and also I get a chance to eat the mouth watering food that the little restaurant in the main building puts out. They have the meanest Bacon, Egg, Cheese on a Bun anywhere. I followed that up with a Steak on a Bun. Man, to say it was delicious is to basically say it was just okay-----it was magnificent!!!!
The scenery around Palgave which overlooks the Caledon Hills is breathtaking and one can look over and watch the jumping competitions in the Grand Prix Ring just next to the main building while enjoying the eats. What else could one wish for except that his daughter places well in competition-------and that happened today.
All I would need is a bottle of Jackson-Triggs Proprietor's Grand Reserve Meritage or an Inniskillin Pinot Noir along with all the rest and life would be so happy! You see, I got wine into it somehow!!!! Winemakers Bruce Nicholson (Inniskillin) and Marco Piccoli (Jackson Triggs) would certainly like the venue.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Twilight In The Vineyard Meets Canada AM

Jackson Triggs and the Eberspaechers Too!
As you may know from my previous columns about California, I a) do not really like driving long distances and b) when I have an appointment, I like to leave early----real early! Things didn't change much when Darlene and I got a very generous invitation to attend Niagara Jackson Triggs Winery's highly successful "Twilight in the Vineyard" series of events featuring some of Canada's greatest entertainers. This time we would be quintuple blessed! But back to that in a moment.
Our friends, Wine, Food and Travel writers/authors Alex and Judy Eberspaecher invited us to drive up to the event with them. Being in their company is something always to be cherished but to have them drive also was a real treat.
Getting to the Eberspaechers' was not what you'd call easy---I like to leave early and, well, Darlene doesn't. Showing up late from one of her shopping sprees Darlene had to get ready quickly and by the time we left, we had about 1 hour to make it to their Oakville home on time. This was from Whitby which was about 1.5 hours away!
On the way, we had to stop for gas since I forgot to fill up and if that wasn't bad enough, we hit two separate accidents on the 401 West not far from Oakville. We managed to arrive about 15 minutes late and some of the Eberspaehers' plans of stopping at Southbrook Winery on the way up had to be cancelled. My fault----should have insisted that we leave about 2 hours or so ahead of time. As it was, we got to the event just a few minutes late (5:45 pm) but not late enough to do any harm.
On arriving, we were met by Del Rollo, Jackson Triggs National Hospitality Director who directed us to the main desk where Lois Chapman, Wine Club and Box Office Administrator made sure that we were taken care of! We all went down to the J-T Barrel Cellar which is a wonder to see at any time. We were greeted with a glass of Jackson Triggs Cuvee Close, an excellent sparkler that I have used many times in my own wine tastings (such as the latest BMO Nesbitt Burns function in Mississauga) which was served along with a cheese platter. This set the stage for the meal to begin.
Now I mentioned that there were five things that we were blessed in at this event. The first was of course coming with the Eberspaechers. The second was the dry weather. This was one of he few "Twilights" this year that was not rained on. The third was the attendance of Vincor CEO Jay Wright and Jackson Triggs co-founder Allan Jackson. Both dropped over to our table and chat. The fine meal and perfect evening were fourth and fifth.

A Fine Meal!
The meal was delivered with class! The Jackson Triggs Cabernet Franc Rose was very compatible with the BLT appetizer that came first. The second course featuring a delicious Corn Chowder was actually my favourite of the whole meal. Two things made it so. First, my favourite Chardonnay Jackson Triggs Proprietor's Grand Reserve Chardonnay from the best year ever (2007) was served along side it. Tasting the wine by itself: a beautiful brilliant golden colour with the aromas of heated butter, lychee, pineapple and toasted oak on the nose and apple, citrus (mandarin) and pear on the palate was an experience though I thought that it was quite young and further aging would bring out much more integration. With the Corn Chowder with its butter taste, there was a merging of flavours that was exquisite.
Alex suggested that we put a bit of the wine into the soup. It made it all that better. Being an experimenter par excellence, he added some of the Rose to the soup and that went well also. Pretty soon we were experimenting with everything-------well not really!
Next on the agenda was a J T Pinot Noir matched up with Cornish Hen with Carrots. The Pinot with its light red berry flavours, clove and smoke went well with the Hen.
The crowning touch of the whole meal was the Peach/Blueberry Crumble that was presented along side of the Jackson Triggs Icewine. The initial aroma of the Icewine with its aroma of appricot, peach and petrol aromas set the stage for the welcoming sweetness of the wine which was complemented with the delicious dessert. The meal ended with a congratulatory clap to the Good Earth Cooking School that prepared the meal and the Jackson Triggs Team that organized the event. It was then off to see the talent at the Amphitheatre.

Seamus O'Regan Introduces Gordie Sampson and Kim Stockwood.
Canada AM's Seamus O'Regan introduced the talents of singers Gordie Sampson and Kim Stockwood. Both are "Down Easterners" Gordie being from Cape Breton Island and Kim from Newfoundland (which also happens to be Seamus O'Regan's). Both are well known in the international scene as well as the national. Gordie won a Grammy for Best Country Song Of The Year in 2007 and a Juno for Songwriter Of The Year. I had a particular preference for Kim because she was by far the prettier of the two! The evening went well with no lull in the entertainment and a very exuberant crowd many of whom danced their way to the music.
The weather behaved itself such that the full moon gave a luster to the going's on below. However, all good things must end and the concert wrapped up around 11ish.
Twilight in the Vineyard and other events at Jackson Triggs such as Savour The Sights and Custom Corporate Entertaining Events are economical and highly regarded events that are more than worth the price of admission. Contact 905-468-4637 for your inquiries.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Gourmet Barbecue: Fazio Style

I was looking forward to yesterday for over a week. Tino Fazio, owner of Fazio's Ristorante, did his annual barbecue thing at his home with Chef Martin Polidano, head chef at Fazio's, doing the honours in the meal preparation. A barbecue is usually just a barbecue until you taste the results of Polidano's cooking!
There were a couple of added items for this one in the form of Roger's producer Greg Rist and his son who was doing some footage for his television program "Durham Living". Also present was Richard Halenda owner of Halenda's Meats. Richard brought some of his best quality steaks, kolbassa (kielbassa in Polish), spare ribs and Italian sausage. I brought the wine-----what else!!!
I did an interview for Greg's show about a new trend in barbecuing----"The Gourmet Barbecue" which, I had written about in the latest issue of "East of the City Magazine". To put it simply, Gourmet Barbecue is a multi wine matched to a multi entree feast starting with light whites and salad and proceeding to heavier wines matched to similar meats and sauces. This event could have three, four or more entree/wine matches. Funny thing, you would think that such an event would result in more inebriated guests but what I found was that with so many wine and food matches, guests tend to sip and eat rather than gulp and guzzle. Regardless, i always advised that arrangements be made to get everyone home safely.
The interview went well and then attention turned to Tino's fabulous cooking. Richard Halenda brought over the wares and off Tino went. First on the grill was the Kolbassa which was so yummy that it was almost totally gone before it was ready. Then came the steak, ribs and sausage. Tino shared some of his delectable home made wine---explaining every step in his wine making process. Tino then went to make his very special Italian tomato salad with onions, spices, herbs and garlic. I proceeded to open up the first of a series of red wines starting with a Magnotta Chilean Carmenere and progressing to a Parker Station Syrah. The meal was on its way!!!
The Magnotta Carmenere (which is an ancient cousin of the Merlot) was impressive on two counts. First it was excellent in body (full), taste (black fruit, spice and pepper) and second it was so inexpensive ($8.00) but worth much more. The Parker Station was a mass of concentrated Syrah that could easily match any meat that challenged it. The wine and food matches were enjoyed by all.
In addition to Greg Rist and son, Richard Halenda, Tino and yours truly, there was Janice Coupland of CHEX Television in Peterborough. Janice is always a welcome sight to see and her personality always lifts any event.
The meal went well and as all meals do, people had far too much to eat and just enough to drink. Tino as usual was the perfect host of the event right to the end. I advised him to invite more people next time since the food outnumbered those present about 25 to one.
Great time, great food and great friends. That's what it's all about.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sam Marmorstein's Bernat Syrah Has A New Fan

Tino Fazio is a very discriminating wine drinker. Even with good wines, he'll tease and say,
"What are you trying to do---serving me this!" He does this smiling but you never know what to say and he basically is testing your commitment to this wine.
Today, I went down to visit him and I took with me my most recent discovery, a Bernat Syrah from Los Olivos Cafe. Sam Marmorstein who owns the cafe also owns vineyard acreage consisting of Syrah and Chardonnay. I love his Chardonnay but am over the top with his Syrah. It has everything a wine drinker wants: Concentration, fruit, pepper, integrity and balance. I loved (and still love Fess Parker's Rodney's Vineyard Syrah) but Bernat is high on my new comer's list and challenges even the great Rodney!
Sam gave me a bottle to take home with me and the 2004 (of which there were only 100 cases made) is magnificent. With food such as steak or venison it is a priceless experience. Now for Tino!
Tino made the usual ramblings. "What king of a wine has this guy given me?" I was quite confident but was waiting for him to taste it. Steven the waiter opened up the bottle and then poured.
Tino gave it the usual sniff----and looked up at me while his nose was still embedded in the glass. I read his eyes! He then tasted it! There was no, "What kind of stuff have you made me drink." Tino looked at me and then the waiter. "Give me this and give him the Merlot" was the gratifying response. He loved it.
Ironically, Adam Evans of Charton Hobbs Wine Agents came in while we were about to have the wine with Tino's favourite steak. We gave him a taste and he expressed how good it was.
With the food, it was as I had stated earlier. The wine had won over all who tasted it. Sam Marmorstein, you have a tiger by the tail.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Chatterpaul's Fine Casual Dining & Lounge

What happens when the Chef of a successful and highly respected restaurant leaves and starts one of his own? The answer is a new very successful and highly respected restaurant. Chatterpaul's Fine Casual Dining and Lounge is just that----Whitby's newest very fine casual dining and lounge with one thing----the meals are anything but casual. They are handcrafted with all the carefulness of a four or five star resort and taste just as good!
Tourism and Trade Commissioner Patrick (Pat) Olive and I did the business lunch thing by visiting Chatterpaul's. After 10 days being wined and dined in California I wasn't sure what I wanted to do but am so glad that I was introduced to this new gem!
Decor is what I'd term "Deco Modern" with a brightly lit (natural daylight and electric) dining lounge and comfortable seating area. The business has an open kitchen with all the up to date ammenities as well as a private room for special event entertaining.
Our server/host Robert Notman was well versed in the menu and very accomodating. He was expecially clean cut and well presented----a joy these days of quickie servers. The lunch menu was excellent, filled with a variety of items such as Linguini with Mussels and Shrimp, Baked Roughie with trimmings etc.---- all entrees ranging around a $14.95. The dinner menu was equally appealing.
Wine list consited of some Canadian: Wayne Gretsky, Spanish: Monticello, French: Chateau Timberlay and like wines. Most of the wines could easily be found at the L.C.B.O. and I would suggest some consigment wines that are a bit avant garde in addition to the above which are excellent but predictable choices.
Owner Manager Penny Johansen came over to our table to welcome us. Her natural good looks and friendly manner put us at ease immediately as she discussed plans for her new restaurant. She later introduced us to James Thomas-Chatterpaul who is the face behind the food at Chatterpaul's. James is the former chef of the Shrimp Cocktail and is putting his vast 15 year experience into his own place now! He is both owner and Executive Chef at Chatterpaul's.
It is indeed nice to see a new enterprise show promise and immediate reactive growth. Chatterpaul's has all the signs of become one of Whitby's and Durham's main squeezes!
Congratulations. Phone: 905-665-7575
3500 Brock Street N. Whitby, ON L1R 3J4

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Home From Hadsten House in Solvang, California: Report Of The Final Day!

Sadly, we bid our adieus to Hadsten House and Solvang early Tuesday morning at about 10:30. We had one more stop to make and that was a reining lesson with Amber Stanchfield the Nojoqui Ranch. I've already mentioned that this ranch has been in the Family for over 100 years
and has a great history behind it! Amber was away in Texas at a "Cutting" competition so the only time we could see her was Tuesday when she got back.
On arriving at the ranch which is situated just off HWY 101 South just a few miles away from Buellton, we found out that her horses received some very high standings out of 300 others. If I'm not mistaken one of her horses scored a third and another took 8th and 10th.
Amber is a very youngish 25 and quite pretty. Her looks remind me a an excellent cross between the sophisticated blonde Californian look and one that is "girl next door/down to earth Texan). Regardless, she is not hard to look at and that smile of hers would warm the meanest persons heart in seconds!
When we arrived she was busy practicing "Cow Cutting" with one of her horses. She greeted us with the same enthusiasm that she always has. One would have never known that she has just arrived from what I think was a three week hard competition.
After talking to us briefly, Taryn and Victoria were able to saddle up two horses and Amber proceeded to give them some Reining instruction. Now, keep in mind that Taryn and Victoria are both Hunter/Jumper competitors and the "seat" is different. That is the way one has to sit and balance on a horse. Victoria had never ridden this type of western activity and Taryn had some intro to it from Amber last year (though she had been given excellent instruction prior by Tim and Lisa Stanton of Stone Ridge Farm in Pickering some years ago).
Taryn and Victoria had a ball galloping, sliding and twirling the prized horses. Amber has a way of getting the best out of people and Taryn profited greatly.
I slipped out and went to Los Olivos to leave a package for Fess Parker and also met with Sam Marmorstein at Los Olivos Cafe in order to give him a copy of the program that I did in 2006 as well as make some arrangements of receiving some of his prized 2004 Bernat Syrah. That still has to be arranged with one of the agents here but Sam did give me one of his bottles as a gift. Thanks Sam and I intend to share this with a good friend of mine who is also a restaurateur, Tino Fazio of Fazio's Ristorante in Oshawa, Ontario!
I arrived back at the ranch while the lesson was still going on and could see that the girls were having a hoot! It took about one hour and forty minutes to get to the end of the lesson and after we bid our good-byes, we were off to Santa Barbara and the Sandman Hotel!
The Sandman is a well run and well kept hotel (or Motel) with usually spacious rooms and a good sized swimming pool. Decorated with mature Hibiscus, Magnolia and various other colourful ornamental trees with a backdrop of a huge mountain I found it always a pleasure visit.
The room the four of us were given this time could have been a bit more spacious and the air conditioning a bit more efficient but I would still give the hotel a passing grade! The girls and I then went for a late lunch.
The Downtown Brewery not far from the hotel was on our list to try partially because the hotel management suggested it and also because it was a hop skip and a jump away from the hotel. On first appearances it looked a dark and ominous but the very pleasant waitress who seated us, the very reasonable prices, the airy patio next to the eatery and the exceptional food made believers out of all of us. Darlene returned to have supper there and were lucky enough to get a two for one special. Imagine: two steak dinners with the trimmings for $14.95 and that is in Santa Barbara, California folks. Two India Pale Ales rounded out the meal and we left satisfied. It was then an early night for all of us since we had to get prepared for the early morning flight to San Francisco and then home.
Now I must tell you all that I am an apprehensive traveller. I firmly believe that if something can go wrong it will go wrong-----especially since I have been "caught" by mid-stream errors that were not of my doing. I am very sceptical with electronic services especially tickets. I wanted to get up and arrive at the airport some three hours prior but was overruled by the girls and Darlene. We ended up getting to the SB Airport at 5 am for a 7:12 flight to San Fran!
The beginning of my problem began when I noticed that the display monitor had 6, 6:12, 6:30 and 8:38 flights on time but no 7:12 am flights as per our tickets. When we got into line, the agent did her computer thing and said "there are four of you". "Yes" was my response.
"Do you have paper tickets?" she said somewhat confused.
"No, just what you see there!"
"This is not enough. I can't give you boarding passes!"
"There must be a mistake! We have flights confirmed with Air Canada!"
"You must call Air Canada because I can't let you on the flight!"
Keep in mind that the flight was now at 6 am not 7:12 am and also that it was now 5:30 am and we had not yet checked in our luggage or got passes!!
She rang the AC number as my heart started to sink and my mind was racing as to what to do next. She gave me the phone and I went through several voice messages until a human being came on. The voice behind the phone was clear, concise and cool seemed very competent.
"What can I do for you?"
"Well I had confirmed tickets on an AC Flight out of Santa Barbara and the the agent does not want to give us boarding passes!"
"Can you give me your "E-ticket" number?" I gave it too him!
"If they would just do their job the reply was. You are confirmed---let me speak to the agent!" All I could see her do was reply defensively and her hand started shaking and her voice started quivering. When it was over, she was quite upset----so much that I had to interject and build her confidence up a bit. She finally came through and gave us our boarding passes and couldn't do enough to help us.
I always tell those who are travelling to prepare for the worst case scenario since if it happens you will be prepared. Arrive at least three hours ahead of any flight in case there is a problem. The rest of the trip was pretty straight forward. Our flight to San Fran came in early and I made the adjustments by contacting Air Canada at the SF Airport. At roughly 1 pm we were on our way to Canada and I relaxed by watching two excellent movies. We arrived at Toronto Pearson International Airport at about 5:15 pm and were home by 8pm. Victoria's Mom picked us up.
In general, the whole trip was excellent. With the exception of the incident at SB Airport (the second one I have had with staff in two years) the trip was a very enjoyable adventure.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Direct From Hadsten House In Solvang, California: Final

How quickly time has gone! This will be my last message to you from Solvang, California but not the last you will hear about this great area from me since I will be putting my thoughts down in a magazine article due for Christmas 2008. The magazine, East of the City, is a terrific publication that is part of the Metroland News Empire and this particular article will be available East of the Toronto Area in Ontario, Canada. However, those mentioned will receive a copy via me when it comes out.
Yesterday saw us visit, once again, Monty Roberts' "Flag Is Up Farms" where we all sat in on Monty's beginning class seminar on the care of horses. The three hour seminar given by Monty was very informative and it would have been nice to join those attending for the rest of the week. There were horse breeders, riders, competitors, ranchers from all over the world (Chile, South Africa, Germany, Canada, England, Holland) as well as many parts of the United States. The message was one of non-violence in the keeping and training of horses. I was surprised to learn that Monty has centres of this type all over the world. It is good to see that his message is being spread and is succeeding.
We later went down to Fess Parker's Winery in Los Olivos and met with my friend Jack Sparrow. He always introduces himself as the "real" Jack Sparrow and not Johnny Depp. Jack put Darlene and me through a wine tasting extarordinaire. He brought out several bottles of Fess's wine: Ashley's Vineyard Chardonnay, Viognier, Ashely's Pinot Noir, Fess Parker's SB County Syrah and Rodney's Vineyard Syrah. Of course he knew that Rodney's was one of my favourites and it never fails to please.
Any who are going to visit this area must take in Fess Parker's Winery and if possible visit with Jack Sparrow whose polite and gentle voice reflect the gentleman he is!
From there we went out to lunch at the Los Olivos Cafe where I met with Sam Marmorstein to discuss ways of getting some of his Ber Nat Syrah to my abode in Ontario (a town just 30 miles east of Toronto called Whitby). I had my usual, the Los Olivos Burger while the teens survived on their usual which was Chicken Tenders and salad.
Since this was our last full day before going to Santa Barbara (We leave on Wednesday August 6th) to spend our night we decided to take it easy for the rest of day.
Our agenda for today, August the 5th will see us visiting our friend, Amber at the Nojoqui Ranch just off Hwy 101 South in Buellton. Amber and her family have a ranch there that has been within the family for over 100 years. They breed some very fine Reining and Cutting Horses and Amber also competes. She just came back from Texas from such a competition. Amber is also a Veterinarian It will be good to see her again though we're getting this done by the "skin of our teeth."
That will mark the end of our stay in Solvang and after a brief stay at the Sandman /Motel Hotel, we will be off to San Francisco and then Canada.
My thanks go to many for making this trip a good one. First and foremost I would like to thank Mr. Bill Phelps, General Manager of the Hadsten House. I met Bill two years ago and we became instant friends. Bill is the kind of guy who will go 150% to ensure that anything he does or that you are doing succeeds. He has a knack for making the right decisions at the right time and never ceases to amaze me the the tireless energy and enthusiasm he has for his work. Always coming up with ideas of how to do it better, he is a leader in his field and I value my association with him. Everything that Bill touches seems to pan out very well and as I can see with Hadsten House, he has succeeded once again!
My plus also goes to the staff of Hadsten House from his managers such as Cassandra and Michael to those who cook the fine meals to those who prepare and maintain the rooms, all I can say is: "Job well done!" To the Hadsten House I leave with one comment: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
I would also like to thank
I would also like to thank all those who either directly or indirectly made this trip enjoyable:
Hadsten House, Bill Phelps, Los Olivos Cafe, Sam Marmorstein, Red Barn, Musterseed Restaurant, Paula's Pancake Cafe, Firestone Winery, Fess Parker Inn, Fess Parker Winery, Quicksilver Ranch, Monty Robert's Flag Is Up Farms, Andrew Murray Wines, Solvang Grocery Store, Valley View Farms, Refugio State Park, Santa Ines Mission, City of Los Angeles and last but not least, the wonderful people of Solvang, Californian.
Thank you and as your Governor says: "I'll Be Back!!!"

Monday, August 4, 2008

Direct from Hadsten House In Solvang, California: Two Breakfasts A Dinner And A Dip!

I started the day off yesterday by going to Mass at the Mission Santa Ines. Started in 1804 it sufered under the earthquake of 1812 where part of the Mission was destroyed but it was rebuilt in 1817 and has had continuous services since. A place that has something for both the religious and not so religious, the Mission has a lovely garden some of it from plants introduced by the original founders. The place is a focal point of tranquility and serenity.
I had the usual great breakfast at Hadsten House and then quietly had my second cup of coffee while seated outside my room watching people and traffic while also looking off in the distance as vultures flew round and round above the Santa Rita Hills.
Shortly after, my daughter Taryn and her friend Victoria informed us that they were going to do some shopping in Solvang and Darlene informed me that she wanted pancakes. So off we went to Paula's Pancake House for some treats. Now, I was not that hungry but could not resist "Paula's Special" of two humungous pancakes complete with choice of fruit topping and whipped cream (as if I needed that)! Darlene had three Buttermilk pancakes with Blueberry topping.
De-e-e l-i-c-i-o-u-s!!!!
Darlene and I then went onto a horse drawn trolley ride around Solvang and then looked into some stores. Returning to the room we were informed that the girls would be ready to eat very shortly. "Yes, your Majesties!!!"
About two hours later we set sail for the Los Olivos Cafe, made famous in the movie, Sideways. It seems that this movie has had a great deal of influence in Santa Barbara County and many places still advertise its making. Los Olivos Cafe does not need any advertising. It is known for its great entrees and fine food. The staff is top knotch and the owner, Sam Marmorstein has his own winery called Ber Nat Vineyards which makes some of the best Chardonnay and Syrah anywhere.
Executive Chef Nat Ely produces gourmet items that are not only delicious and unique but satisfy. I never leave feeling that I really didn't get my share. You all must try the Los Olivos Burger and some of his great pizza dishes----the Florentine is my favourite.
After munching down our food (again, I really didn't need it but----) and a brief visit to the Jedlikas Tack Store, we were off to Refugio Beach State Park. This is a large park about 15 miles south of Solvang on the 101 Highway! There is much frontage and the beach seems to go on forever. Last year when we were here we could see the whales in the far distance as they came up to spout their air and then plung again into the ocean.
The beach is very clean and groves of Palm trees line the length of it. The water can be cold but this did not deter the young ladies from going down for an inspection.
The girls decided that they did not wish to go but go they did. Once there, it was: "Let's go to the water and dip our feet!"
This turned into a "free for all" whereby they got soaked while doing "wave surfing". They had a ball! They also informed us that they DID bring their suits but they thought doing in with their clothes was more fun that in their suits------Sometimes the "ladder just doesn't make it to the window." They are teens after all! Darlene commented that this was the first time that people changed from wet clothes to come home in their bathing suits!
The rest of the night was uneventful and we settled down without much of anything!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Direct From Hadsten House In Solvang, California:Los Angeles And/Or Bust!!!

This morning I went to hear mass at the Mission Santa Ines in Solvang. The brightly decorated stucco walls in this historic church along with the beautifully painted pictures, statues and the elaborately decorated alter gave me a feeling of peace and yet also a feeling of pride that I belonged -----and was made to feel very welcome by those who regularly attend service at the 8 am mass on Sundays.This feeling was in contrast to the anticipation that I felt while going to and driving through the Sunset Strip yesterday.
Los Angeles was never a place that I wanted to drive to from Santa Barbara. I travel regularly to Toronto on a daily basis and that is enough big city for me. Going to a city that I am unfamiliar with is not my idea of spending a vacation even though it was a working vacation. Going there with two teenage girls and a wife who loves to give directions is even worse.
I had promised Taryn that I would take her to Los Angeles the next time we came to California but I never thought that it would be this soon----or ever. Taryn had this thing about California ever since she became enthused (and that's putting it mildly) with American Idol. She is a fanatic about Simon and Paula so it was a must for her to go to LA.
Bill Phelps gave me great directions on how to get there. My apprehensiveness was based on my supreme knack of getting lost and taking the right turn when I should have turned right. Matter of fact, I did do it twice but managed to catch on very quickly so we did not get lost.
The route that we went on through the Malibu Canyon with its majestic mountain scenery and the Pacific Coast Highway with names that we had learned to recognize such as Malibu Beach was something else----- Then came Sunset Blvd and Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Hollywood, Hollywood and Vine and all that came with it.
The girls and Darlene did go shopping at the Beverly Hills Center just off Sunset Blvd. and we did stop off to get some eats but unfortunately they did not see what Taryn wanted to see and that was the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. They did see the Hollywood sign however, though they complained that it was too far away. I wasn't about to go sign hunting!
In all, the girls did get an eyeful and managed to take in an Equestrian Centre towards the end of the trip. I was never so glad to get back on the 101 North and back to the Solvang area.
A shower, glass of wine and a pizza made me feel much better. The comfort of Hadsten House certainly did much to get me back into gear!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Direct From Hadsten House In Solvang, California: Never A Dull Moment

Hadsten House has been voted the best hotel in Solvang by "Tripadvisor", an Internet Website! Now to be fair to the other hotels in the area, I have only stayed in Hadsten House but judging from the quality of service and friendly faces, I can believe that title. Friend Bill Phelps introduced me to this lovely resort last year when it was going through renovations and there was little persuasion in my decision to stay here this year.
The rooms are not only comfortable but very convenient. No surprises exist and they seem to be very sound proof as my very pleasant sleep can testify. Bill is also very gracious in allowing me to use his computer while on my stay.
Mornings always begin with Hadsten House Buffet Breakfasts. The coffee is full flowing the the bacon, sausages and scrambled eggs ever present. For those who like other items there are Danish Pastries, Oatmeal, Home Fries and a selection of juices. I always say "Today I will cut down on my eating." However, it never fails. I can't resist the food! It is delicious.
While I have not eaten other meals here, I have come in while they were being served and they look simply marvellous. The distinctive European syle of the buildings, classic French furnishings, fireplaces and other features such as the Spa and Pool are unique. This is a place that for sure, I will come to every time I'm going to stay in the area.
Yesterday the gang and I decided to take some picts at Lake Cachuma which has lovely Nature cruises, incidentally. The two hour rides are simply great for any naturalist. Later on in the day we decided to visit the Miniature Horse "Quicksilver Farm" in nearby Los Olivos and then ate our late lunch at the Mustard Seed Restaurant in Solvang.
The day before, we visited Fess Parker's Inn for a "Sing Along". Fess and Marcy could not attend but the capable piano hands of Bill Powell tuned up some old favourites and there were many fine songs sung that night. Fess and Marcy were definitely missed but I did manage to run into Kristopher Parker, Fess's grandson along with his dad, master (Fess Parker Winery) Eli Parker. I couldn't get over this man's size. I stand about 6 feet tall and the man towered over me. Funny thing, it seems that almost all the fellows I meet seem to be taller. maybe I'm just shrinking at an advanced rate. Bill Phelps is one of those guys who at 6'3" looks down on me also. Life is not fair. I don't even have hair----maybe I'll become a poet!
The Sing Along went well and I got the surprise of my life the following morning when Jack Sparrow----not the pirate----phoned me and stated that he was in the hotel lobby for a visit.
I befriended Jack on my first visit in 2006 when I was doing some filming here on a production called "Wine Frontier" based mainly on Fess Parker. Jack managed the wine boutique at the Winery and he and I shared some great stories. It seems that Jack has come out of full retirement and is now working for Fess as well as managing the boutique. He is a great gentleman and a credit to any who know him. I always look forward to seeing Jack and---incidentally----he's also one of those who is much taller than I (and he has hair)!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Direct From Hadsten House In Solvang, California: RDLF Peruvian Passos Rule

Where Peruvian Passos Are Kings!
I have fallen in love with this area. The Santa Ynez Valley is truly amazing and of course the City of Solvang is very special. What makes a place special? What makes one love one area and not an other that may be very similar in style and geography. It basically boils down to people for truly, people do make the difference. Those that I have encountered here and within the Santa Ynez area are truly the ones that make this God's Paradise different from places that I have been in many parts of the world. That is not to say I dislike the other places that I have been but I feel a special attraction to the people and sites of this area.
Terry Jarchow is one such person. Her Rancho de la Floricita (or RDLF) she offers a welcoming hand to fellow horse enthusiasts and lovers. I'm the first to admit that I know nothing about horses. My daughter, Taryn and her friend Victoria Delsnyder are the true "experts" on this trip. They compete in Hunter/Jumper events in Canada and spend most of their waking moments at the "barn" either working or taking care of the horses. Yesterday, July 31st, they got the thrill of visiting Terry's ranch and riding two of her famous horses.
Taryn was here before last year and was thrilled to ride Terry's National Grand Champion----a beautiful Chocolate Brown Palomino Peruvian Passo.
The story of Terry and her husband, Brian's interest in Passos begins when Terry had back surgery and found that the riding these gentle horses was less jarring on her back than regular breeds. In 1980 they bought land and built a home on West Oak Trail though they lived in Santa Barbara at the time. They moved to the area permanently in 1991.
Terry, with degrees in literature and history, was the perfect person to ask how the Passo breed came to be.
"The horses are descended from those that were brought from Spain by Columbus on his second voyage in 1493. The breed was further established in Jamaica and Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) and can been traced to the Spanish Conquistadors. Those that are descended from the Caribbean area are called Passo Finos however, Francisco Pizzaro (1471-1541) with him in his decimation of the Inca Empire. The breed settled there and is different from the "Finos" in that it has a longer reach giving it a more fluid gait thus allowing it to go further---easier. Both breeds are farm animals."
At the ranch, Terry and her staff of expert trainers (which includes her very pretty 14 year old daughter) treat each horse with tender loving care. These horses which range in size from 14 to 15 hands are truly a sight to behold as they they move around the ring in their "broken, four-beat pace". What got me was not only the sheer beauty of their colours and long manes but also their especially defined and delicate faces that seemed so expressive and intelligent as they looked at me. In many ways, their movements could easily be imagined to be that of the legendary Unicorn as it moved so poetically through the forest.
All the horses at Rancho de la Florecita are bred via purebred parents thus ensuring that the foals have all the attributes that make this breed so famous. Several interesting features that Terry spoke about was that the horses do not have shoes.
We toured the ranch visiting the stables, young horses and the foals. Darlene made a comment how quiet it was and I just watched, quietly admiring poetry in motion as these horses moved.
Taryn and Victoria got the surprise when two horses were saddled for them to ride. Keep in mind that both these girls, though very experienced in the riding of Thoroughbred Jumpers, had little in the way of introduction to the Peruvian Passos. Taryn rode the "RDLF Fantasia" a light grey mare while Victoria rode "RDLF Bugambilia", a pretty chestnut mare. It was somewhat amusing to see them trotting around the paddock ring with that particular gait. Terry's trainer put both girls through a series of trials such as weaving around red road cones in patterns. The girls both reacted in much the same way: "It was so cool----what cool horses!"
I guess if there is any word to describe the horses and Rancho de la Florecita I guess the word would be "cool". Terry Jarchow, however, in that case, would be the coolest of all!!!"

Definitely a must for any person wishing to see some of the loveliest animals this side of Paradise!

Rancho de la Florecita or 805-688-1447