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.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Stay Alert! "Adventures In Wine Country" with Co-Hosts Chuck Byers and Greg Rist will be airing in April 2010 on CHEX Channel 12 Durham and the Greater Toronto Area. Watch For It And Don't Miss One Episode!
Just how does one begin to thank so many people who have been involved with the concept of this project. Each has has done his/her share for making it a success.
I can best do it in groups. My thanks to you all will never be enough and I can only exhibit my gratitude in this way.
My thanks goes out to those who gave advice and worked to make this show happen.
Elaine Garnett/Dan Carter: CHEX Television where the program will initially air in April. Without the air time, we would not have been able to deliver the product and the show would have not gotten off the ground.
Marcio Ferreira, Vini Portugal: A truly remarkable young man who has great insight and ability. He saw the project for what it was, a love of wine and of his homeland, Portugal.
The many fine wines of Portugal will find a good home in this series.
Paolo Ponti, Italian Trade Commission: Mr.Ponti proved to be a man with great integrity and patience. His contacts in Italy made the job much easier and more adventurous. His hard work has earned him my unrelenting support for anything he will do concerning wine and Italy.
Paula Orkesovich, California Wine Institute: Paula was the very first to assist me when I came up with the Wine Frontier and Fess Parker program in April of 2006. That initial program was a major success and actually went to the Cannes Film Festival. She was one of the first to assist in this project and hopefully it will also be a success. Paula helped open up my mind as to how great California wines are.
Bill Phelps: Bill and I go back to my first venture to California and his expertise and guidance has never failed to be accurate and caring. The man is a marketing genius as well as just one excellent person.
Alex Eberspaecher, Wine, Food and Travel Writer: If it had not been for Alex, I would have left the business long ago. Being a wine writer is not what you would call a lucrative business. Many hours go into writing something that will be edited and eventually pay little. Then there are the little expenses that add up. Alex served to encourage and suggest alternatives which proved invaluable to me. He also suggested contacts such as Paul Orkesovich. He never fails to give good guidance and I will never forget his kindness.
Patrick Olive: Commissioner of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism Region of Durham:Patrick was always there with his advice and support. His contacts both national and international were invaluable for the production.
Dan Hostick: Author, Motivational Speaker: A master marketer and an excellent friend. Dan used his vast knowledge to help market the series.
Samuel Christopher Weir: Chris was one of the first public relations I met when I came to California in 2006 and has remained an integral part of all my ventures to this area.
Mary Harris: Santa Ynez Valley Visitor Association: Mary was there suggesting various places to see and things to do. Thanks Mary!
Cecci "Bulldog" Boccali: My trip to the area of Verona would have been indeed very dull had it not been for the undying attention of Ms. Boccali who I nicknamed "Bulldog" since when she wanted something for the "two Canadians", she would not let go! I have phoned her twice since I returned to Canada just to say thank you. The Consorzio Dei Vini Valpolicella never had it so good. She also knew the writers of the Wine Spectator on a first name basis----impressive!
Jack Sparrow, Fess Parker Winery: Jack has become a long time friend who has never failed to amaze me with his gentle manner and expertise. He describes a wine like a mother describing her children. A very thorough person, Jack is also very kind and thoughtful. Jack has formed a place in my heart that will always be there for him. This year, he made a special trip just because he heard Iwas going to be at the winer. His advice and suggestions will always be taken seriously and I look forward to our next meeting-----as always.
British Colombia
Colletta Consultants
Vincor Canada, A Constellation Company
Del Rollo, National Director Of Hospitality: Del couldn't have done it without your support!
Andrew Howard, Senior V/P Vincor--A Constellation Company!
Debi Pratt: You are always there when I need help!
Sally Sharpe: You made our trip amazing!
Christa-Lee McWatters Bond: You and your great dad are much more alike than you think!
Kelli Reid: Tourism Penticton: A wealth of information and cheery disposition.
California Wine Institute
PR Praxis
Hadsten House
MoonCatcher PR
Renee Oltman (Red Barn, Santa Ynez)
Sam Marmorstien (Los Olivos Cafe)
Chef Bradly Ogden (Root 246)
Italian Trade Commission (Toronto, Canada)
Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco
Monica Latini: The Consorzio should be proud to have you on staff.
Maura Baldoni: A great guide and a lovely one at that!
Maria Christina Tili: I will always remember your great suggestions and the "three chairs" of Bevagna!!!!
Conzorzio Per La Tutela Dei Vini Valpolicella
Luca Sartori: Presidente di Consorzio: Thank you for the honour that you gave us!
Daniele Accordini: V/P di Consorzio: You inspired my interest in Ancient Grapes of Valpolicella
Emilio Fasoletti: Direttore di Consorzio: Your diligence kept us on track and your kindness kept us happy.
Fiona Formosa, Consul General For The Island Of Malta
Malta Tourist Board: Alexia Maggi, Angela Said
Kumitat Festi Esterni (Qormi Wine Festival)
Delicata Winery (Delicata Wine Festival, Gozo): Mr. Bill Hermitage
Montekristo Wines: Mr. Charles Polidano, Mr. Victor Bonello
Trudy Grech
Mr./Mrs. Lorry Farugia, Zejtun
Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia Tourist Board
Taste of Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia Winery Association
Vincor, Canada---A Constellation Company
British Colombia
Osoyoos Larose
Jackson-Triggs, Okanagan
Inniskillin, Okanagan
Sumac Ridge
Nk'Mip Cellars
See Ya Later Ranch Winery
Inniskillin, Niagara
Jackson-Triggs, Niagara
Le Clos Jordanne
Stratus Winery
Henry of Pelham
Cave Spring Cellars
Peninsula Ridge
Vineland Estates
Konzelmann Estates
Nova Scotia
Jost Vineyards
Grande Pre
Blomidon Ridge
Bear River Winery
Benjamin Bridge
Gaspereau Vineyards
Lunenburg Winery
Sainte Famille Winery
Petite River Winery
L'Acadie Vineyards
Montekristo Wines
Delicata Winery
Ta' Mena
Camileri Wines
Cantina Novelli
Cantina Colpetrone (Salagricola)
Cantina Cesarini Sartori
Tenuta Rocca Di Fabri
Gruppo Matura
Cantina Perticaia
Colle Coicco
Antonelli San Marco
Cantina Negrar
Sartori Di Verona
Tenuta Sant Antonio
Gruppo Italiano Vini/Bolla
Guerrieri Rizzardi
Malhadina Nova
J. Portugal Ramos
Quinta Dona Maria
Herade Sao Miguel
Quinta da Lagoalva
Quinta da Alorna
Casal Branco
Estremadura/Torres do Sado
Jose Maria Da Fonseca
Quinta da Cortezia
Jose Santos Lima
Qunita de Chocopalha
Quinta dos Lorridos (Bacalloa)
Luis Pato
Quinta Do Encontro
Vinho Verde
Quinta Da Lixa-Monte
Casa de Sezim
Sogrape Vinhos (Sandeman)
Quinta Da Pacheca
Quinta Vale D. Maria
Quinto Do Crasto
Quinta Do Portal
Quinta Casa Amarela
Douro Superiore
Ramos Pintos
Santa Ynez Valley
Fess Parker Winery
Zaca Mesa
Rancho Sosqui
Terravent Winery
Hitching Post Winery
Bernat Wines
Lucas & Lewellan Vineyards
Epiphany Cellars
Andrew Murray Vineyards
Buttonwood Winery
Fontes&Phillips Wines
Paso Robles
Ortman Cellars
Arron Hill
Grey Fox
Castoro Wines
Ancient Peaks
Rancho Margarita

Finally a big thanks to all the wineries and restaurtants that helped us with food demos and lunches/dinners. The numbers here are quite numerous and you will always be held in the highest acclaim by me!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Direct From Hadsten House:Day Eleven: October 15th: Last Day In California: Thank You Solvang--------You All Are Winners!!!

"Adventures In Winecountry" with Co-Hosts Chuck Byers and Greg Rist is a new series airing in April 2010 on CHEX Channel 12 Durham and the Greater Toronto Area.
The Sun Is Back But We Must Go!
I awoke to a blue sky and rising Sun. With mixed feelings I met Greg at the Hadsten dining lounge for our last breakfast before heading out to Santa Barbara Airport. By 8 AM we were on our way down the 101 South towards Santa Barbara. The Sun was shining its best and the scenery was enchanting. I could tell that had this been any other day, Greg would have yelled "Stop!" and got out to take some shots. This time he only insinuated that he would have stopped.
It was a good shoot! We were tired and anxious to see our loved ones and it was time to go home!
We arrived at the airport a bit too early to check in our luggage though I did take the vehicle back to the rental office. The airport had so much camouflage in the form of fences etc. that I missed it. Greg was the one who recognized the vehicle rental.
We got ourselves comfortable while waiting for the luggage check to begin and when that happened we waited for the flight.
The flight to Phoenix was comfortable and uneventful as was the flight from Phoenix to Toronto. One thing, I wish US Airways provided at least some crackers on these flights. The sandwiches that they sell in flight are okay but nothing special for about $7.00 but a coffee and crackers would go well on a five hour flight.
We arrived in Toronto around 10 PM and I was home by Midnight.
It was a sort of anti-climactic way to end a four month journey that saw Greg and I visit 5 countries! 20 wine regions! Do over 60,000 miles! Visit over 100 wineries and taste over 400 wines! We met many marvelous people and exciting places. We were indeed lucky. Somehow I thought there would be a bit of hoopla when we came home. Rather, Greg and I shook hands and I came home to a rather quiet abode. Darlene was waiting for me and the first thing she said to me was: "Wanna glass of wine!" I looked at her and said: "Why not!"

Direct From Hadsten House In Solvang, CA: Day Ten: October 14th: Tarantulas At Ballard Canyon, Red Barn, Nojoqui Ranch, River Grill

"Adventures In Wine Country" with Co-Hosts Chuck Byers and Greg Rist is a new series airing in April 2010 on CHEX Television Channel 12 Durham and the Greater Toronto Area.

More Rain
The weather reports all pointed to the rain stopping by morning and the sun peaking out by noon. it was still drizzling around ten when Greg and I left Zaca Mesa Winery. It was still coming down when we arrived at the winery. We were met by Brook Williams, President of the Winery and one of the nicest guys that I had met. Brook was another "catch all" person where he oversaw the duties of: National Sales Marketing, Hospitality, Vineyard and Winemaking, I hope that he gets paid well!
Zaca Mesa is one of the older wineries in the area. It was purchased in 1972 and planted with a mixed variety of grapes in 1973. A winery was built in 1978.
The 1990's saw a drive towards Rhone style wines which is where the winery is now! President Clinton gave the winery a boost by offering the Zaca Mesa Syrah to the French President on a visit to the U.S.A. and Zaca Mesa, in 1993, was given a 6th place in the Wine Spectator's top 100 feature.
Brook poured several of his wines which had great Rhone characteristics.
Z Cuvee
It was great going over to Zaca Mesa and talking to Brook. It was till raining when we left. On our way back, I took Greg for a ride down Ballard Canyon Road.
The Deadly Tarantula Migration
Greg had an idea about doing a piece on the "Deadly Tarantula Migration" but with a twist. most people think that Tarantula's are the deadly creatures that movies make them out to be. But in fact, they were far from dangerous. They were just big. The title insinuates that the Tarantula migration is a deadly one but deadly to whom?
When we saw our first Tarantula, we were amazed that it was not squashed by on coming traffic.
We imagined that if thousands of these creatures were crossing a busy highway, many would perish. So the Deadly Tarantula Migration here means deadly to the Tarantulas.
We found yet another Tarantula actor crossing and wanting to become a star. We filmed it and also filmed numerous cars just missing it. Don't worry, we were in the way so the Tarantula was not harmed. Greg calculated that with all the problems with flying, driving and walking, it was easier to die from an accident than being bitten by a Tarantula. Matter of fact, a Tarantula bite may sting but will not harm one other than be a bit uncomfortable. On the other hand, there are the Black Widows and Recluse Spiders.
Greg and I then drove over to visit the Red Barn one more time. We decided to stop in and have lunch. We also took some shots of the front of the building and while we were there we shot inside once more got the chance to say good-bye to Renee and Kelly one more time (Love those hugs)! We had a small lunch (hamburgers) and then went our merry way to visit Amber at the Nojoqui Ranch. Hallelluliah! The Sun came out!
We arrived at the Najoqui Ranch in partly sunny Sky. Amber took us up to Nojoqui Falls which turned out to be a spectacular 120 foot falls. Since it had rained, the usually small trickle had a substantial amount of water going over it and that made it impressive for the camera. Greg took some excellent shots and then we were off to the main part of he ranch where Amber was going to do some riding for sake of the show.
We were there for about two hours filming Amber doing some Reining moves and then doing some range riding as Greg tried to film and stay upright on an all terrain vehicle which traversed across the countryside following Amber and her horse.
Greg was happy with the shoot. The time was getting and we had one more shoot to do before heading to Hadsten House to pack.
We went to the River Course At Alisal's River Grill where we interviewed and filmed is chef making a meal. Chef Koorey was on hand to prepare an absolutely delicious Chicken Piccata. We also tried the River Grill's specialty, the "Alisal Tortilla Soup". Delicious. Chef Koorey also struck me as a very positive and unique young man. Very happy with his job and down right impressive in his attitude. That ended our "California Shoot" and we were ready to pack.
Greg and I then visited the Hadsten House for our final evening.

Day Nine: Direct From Hadsten House In Solvang, CA: October 13th:A Rainy Day: Lunch At The Los Olivos Cafe, Dinner At Red Barn, Buttonwood Winery

"Adventures In Wine Country" with Co-Hosts Chuck Byers and Greg Rist is a new series airing in April 2010 on CHEX Television Channel 12 Durham and the Greater Toronto Area.

Weather forecasts as a general rule seem to always be wrong---especially when they predict heavy storms on any given day. My experience has always been that it's a 60-40 type of thing. The chances are 60% against them being an accurate prediction. The 13th of October was when the 40% won out. It not only rained, it poured and poured and poured! The only salvation was that we a) did not get it as badly as we were supposed to and b) we didn't live in San Francisco where they got over 12 inches of steady downpour.
The clouds were cloudy and all hopes of doing a production that day fizzled. Greg and I agreed to meet at breakfast and then met around 10:30 AM to do something in the wet mess. The only consolation was that the Santa Ynez Valley and surrounding area were getting much needed rainfall.
Darlene (my wife) had asked me to visit Monty Robert's "Flag is Up Farms" in order to get his latest book on handling horses. Greg and I were also to go and visit Amber Giorgi at her Nojoqui (pronounced: NA-HOE-EE) Ranch. We were to visit the falls not far from the ranch as well as shoot her riding but the rain was making that impossible.
It was off to visit the Monty Robert's farm first where Guilia Orth met us and gave us one of Monty's signed books. We made arrangements to come and film should the rain have ended.
Then it was off to visit Amber.
Our visit lasted about an hour or so and the only thing we could do was to take a "wait and see" policy as to our shooting. Maybe tomorrow would turn out better.
We then went off to visit Los Olivos and the Los Olivos Cafe where I new the sun was shining in the form of a Los Olivos Burger and a great glass of Bernat Syrah. We were not disappointed. I ended up buying some of the Syrah to bring back with me to Canada. Sam Marmostein was always the perfect host and lived up to his "Sideways" reputation of being a fine Wine Merchant.
Sam's Beginings
Maybe it is here that I should tell you about Sam's wine and family history. Sam was a stockbrocker who liked to make wine! His passion for wine eventually inspired him to move to Santa Ynez. He moved to Los Olivos after buying some land. He planted three acres with grape vines (it increased to four acres some time later). He opened the Los Olivos Cafe shortly after and got married in 2000. In 2006 Sam's cafe was used in the movie "Sideways" and the rest is history. Sam lives in Los Olivos with his wife and four children. His Cafe and wine business is doing just great and I find his Syrah among the best I have tasted anywhere.
I have always envied Sam as a person who has it all and presently I am knocking on wood so I do not jinx him! If I could, I would move to this area in a split second!
We left the Los Olivos Cafe quite full. It was then off to the Hadsten House until dinner time where we had an appointment to visit with Rene Oltman and the Santa Ynez Red Barn.
The Red Barn
I had initially met Renee Oltman in 2007 when I brought my family down in 2007. Renee was away in 2008 when we came down again but I did want to interview her for three reasons. The first was that she was the inspiration of the character of Maya in the movie "Sideways". I was intrigued at meeting someone who inspired a movie and swore that I would interview her on camera some day. The second reason was that the Red Barn made great food and many "movie stars" frequented the place. I would have loved to be there when Bo Derek and/or Cheryl Ladd came in for a visit. Not my luck!!! Finally, Rene Oltman oozed good looks, charm, beauty and intelligence! I could not think of a better person other than she to have in the program!
Greg and I got there around 6:30ish and to my surprise, I was greeted by a very smiling face from the past.
Back in 2006, I had stayed at Fess Parker's Wine Country Inn and Spa. A waitress by the name of Kelly Durbiano was always there to wait at my table. She truly impressed me with her cheerful and positive disposition. She was also very, very pregnant. The father in me came out and so did a lot of advice! "Keep your feet up at least 15 minutes twice a day! Kelly, don't overdo it!" You get the picture. I was a nag! When she had her baby son, I sent her a tiny gift.
You couldn't believe the look on my face when Renee told me that Kelly was working there and had been very excited to learn that I was coming. She even brought her family (Mom, Dad, two children and hubby) and family friend to meet me! The place was packed. Even the owners were there. I know some restaurants in Canada that would kill to have a packed house on a Tuesday night!
Greg interviewed Rene and then went into the kitchen to film the making of our dinner which was "Prime Rib" for me and "Barbecued Ribs" for Greg! The owner of the Buttonwood Winery, Brett Davenport, was on hand to discuss his winery and have an interview. What better wine to have with the meal than a Buttonwood Cabernet Franc.
When the meal came, my Prime Rib was absolutely perfect and so tender and juicy that my fork could easily cut through it. Apparently it was slow cooked for over 16 hours in its own juices. All I could do was to make lovely sounds as I engulfed the large piece of meat. Greg seemed to enjoy his "Ribs" also and the Buttonwood wine went exceptionally well with the meal. It had great concentration and strong blackberry/currant and vanilla flavours that melded with the meat so very well.
I could not eat much more but Greg had some pie that was home made at the Red Barn. It was a delicious evening.
Kelly and I discussed "old" times and she introduced me to her parents and family. Who would have known that a meeting of two minds four years ago would in fact become a friendship that spans time and space. Life is indeed exciting and special.
Greg and I went home satisfied and happy that night. I was especially thrilled and gratified. I met old friends and made new. I spanned time and space. That night I felt invincible. There is indeed a God up there!
End Of Day Nine!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Day Eight: October 12th: Direct From Hadsten House In Solvang, CA: Solvang, Los Olivos Cafe, Andrew Murray, Santa Ynez River and River Grill Golf

"Adventures In Wine Country" with Co-Hosts Chuck Byers and Greg Rist is a new series airing in April 2010 on CHEX Television Channel 12 Durham and the Greater Toronto Area.
Shooting In Solvang
Solvang indeed has much to offer in both the sites and the sounds of the Santa Ynez Valley. We needed some make up shots of various areas that we had been to as well as opportunity shots of the "touristy" shots of the area such as the windmills, street signs, mermaid, stores and restaurants. We also met with Bill Phelps of Hadsten and Mary Harris of the Solvang Visitors Bureau first to interview them for the "Adventures In Wine Country" series and second to thank them for all that they have done for us. Mary and Bill had been crucial in the production not only from a logistics point of view but also from the support that they provided through their many suggestions and contacts. Had it not been for them, the show would indeed have a totally different perspective.
I then went over to pay my respects to Mr. Jack Sparrow at Fess Parker's Winery. I purchased some wines (Crockett---a fiftieth anniversary bottle and a Frontier Red) and made arrangements for Jack to meet me at Hadsten House for a final goodbye on Wednesday. Jack and I go a long way. He was the first person that I encountered with the exception of Bill Phelps and I consider both good friends and look forward to seeing them again in the very near future.
Rain Warnings
Throughout the weekend we had had many ominous warnings of tumultuous rain storms coming. The weather forecasters were predicting some four to six inches of rain for the Santa Barbara area and even more---much more----for San Francisco. Greg and I decided to do some localized shooting near the Santa Ynez River, just in case it flooded and the river went from empty bone dry to very full wet. We also made arrangements to go to the River Golf Club and visit the River Grill later on in the week.
Tarantulas A Plenty!
On our way to see Andrew Murray, we found yet again another Tarantula that was making its way across Foxen Canyon Road. It seems that this area is in one of the main migration paths of Tarantulas. We decided to film this big spider again and this time took many pictures of it crawling on our hands and arms. Tarantulas are not the dreaded creatures that one sees in movies. Matter of fact, all this creature wanted to do was get away. It seems that the local people have found this out since they go out of their way not to hurt them. Why not? These spiders probably save the district a fortune in "bug control" funds and complements the "Green" thinking that is becoming so prominent today. Funny enough, a more dangerous spider is so small that it sometimes goes unnoticed until it bites. It is called the "Brown Recluse" and it has made many people ill. Not even the dreaded "Black Widow" spider which is all over the area is as potentially dangerous since it can be noticed easily. "Watch out when you're groping around hay!" is the warning some gave me! Tarantulas were good for both the environment and the episode since it made our adventure a bit more exciting.
Andrew Murray Vineyards
Then it was time to visit a person who I had been in contact with via email. That was Andrew Murray. Interestingly enough, I was a long time devotee of his wines but only corresponded through email. How this happened was indeed a comical situation. I was on "Face Book" when I got an message from Andrew Murray. It seemed he wanted to become my friend. I responded telling him how great his wines were and how much I loved California. He responded rather quizzically. He said that he did not have a winery in California but his was in Australia. I was puzzled. I was sure the Andrew Murray that I knew was in California. To make a long story short, it seemed that there were TWO Andrew Murrays: One was the Andrew Murray I knew about from California and the other was Andrew S. Murray from Australia. Both since have made contact with each other.
It proved difficult to find the Andrew Murray that I know about since his winery was rather hidden from view and the only signs available directed people to the tasting rooms in Los Olivos. We found Mr. Murray working the pipes and doing all sorts of routines at the winery. He was the master of all trades here. He operated most of the machinery and produced the wine. He was the best description of a one man operation.
Andrew told us that he was doing all this since he was 18 years of age. He had gone to visit the Rhone Valley for a short visit and fell in love with the whole concept of making wine. He then went to Australia to apprentice and study Shiraz or as we call it Syrah. When he came back, he obtained a degree in Viticulture and Oenology from U. C. Davis and made great strides in producing fine wines by buying grapes from growers who were very serious with his idea of making wine. He has since won the respect of not only his peers but also of the critics all over the world.
Andrew Murray Wines
We could tell that Andrew had a passion for Rhone style wines especially Syrah as he had a wide representation of various Syrahs from the Central Coat. He had also Viognier, Roussanne, Grenache, Chardonnay plus a series of wines called "Days Off Wines" which are produced in limited amounts and are of a varietaly nature.
I found that Andrews wines especially his Syrah and Rhone Blends to be very exciting, concentrated and "a must" for any serious restaurateur and/or wine drinker. I just loved his Central Coast Syrah as well as his Syrah Reserve. His "Esperance" which is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, none too shabby either.
I cannot say enough for this innovative and likable winemaker/owner. He is everything that is good about the Santa Ynez area and California in general. I would love to see his wines in Canada on a regular basis. Not wonder Robert Parker frequently awards his wines with 90+ scores.
Greg and I had no special things planned for the evening so we went to a grocery store in Buelton and collected a few odds and ends for dinner. We went back to the hotel and ate while watching Tarantulas crawl up our arms. The wine choice----Andrew Murray Syrah of course!!!
End of Day Eight

Direct From Hadsten House In Solvang, CA: Day Seven: October 11th: Pig Heaven, Rancho De La Florecita, Ostrich Land, Los Olivos Cafe

"Adventures In Wine Country" with C0-Hosts Chuck Byers and Greg Rist is a new series airing in April 2010 on CHEX Television Channel 12 Durham and in the Greater Toronto Area.

Mission Santa Innez
The day started well with me going to Mass at Mission Santa Innez. Founded in 1804 and named for Saint Agnes by Father Estaven Tapis, a Franciscan missionary, it is the oldest functioning church in North America. The missions were founded by Father Junifero Serra in 1769. Father Serra was a kind of enigma since he forsook all earthly pleasures---even wine---and in some cases seriously hurt himself through self inflicting abyses. In spite of this, he did introduce viticulture to Santa Ynez by bringing grape vine cuttings from Mexico and planting them in the area. This in effect, started the seeds for the wine industry that exists now although the vines were originally intended for religious purposes. Some wineries such as the Ancient Peaks Winery in Sana Margarita (where the shell of a mission known as "Assistencia" still exists) have planted the historic "Mission Grapes" in honour of these pioneering missionaries. For interests sake, Father Junipero Serra also founded a mission in this area in 1772.
I enjoy going to Mass at Mission Santa Innez since it keeps me in touch with my spritual and viticultural sides all at once.
Pig Heaven:: Lil' Orphan Hammies
Potbellied Pigs were once the rage and many still use them as a pet. However, the problem is that small cute pigs like any other animal with the exception of the common Guppy (a small tropical fish) grow to be much larger---some weighing a couple of hundred pounds or more! These are certainly not any where near the average household pet.
What happens to these intelligent and basically loving creatures is that people find out the real truth and get rid of them---some dying horrible and nasty deaths.
Enter Sue Parkinson, cute, tough, smart, dedicated and rescuer/defender of Pot Bellied Pigs everywhere.
Sue started out as most did with a Potbellied pig as a pet. She quickly realized two things a) she liked them and b) they didn't remain 30 pounds for ever. She also found out that many so called pet lovers were either abusing them or abandoning them. Sue started accepting pigs at her farm which quickly became a sanctuary.
News articles on newspapers and television publicized the sanctuary and Lil' Orphan Hammies was founded as a sanctuary for homeless and abused pigs.
That was in 1990's. When we visited there were now over 100 pigs of all ages in the sanctuary. The cute little pig village had houses for the pigs as well as a communal feed and special areas for pigs who ate slower either due to old age or infirmity. The pigs, all of which were not for sale, lived out their lives in relative ease and contentment.
They received all the care, medical and lodging, that they required plus one more thing----each one was loved.
The pigs also displayed talents. The artist in the group was Duke, the guitar playing pig (he really did). Duke also plays the xylophone. As a matter of fact, Duke was approached by Jay Leno regarding an appearance on the "Tonight" show. Duke turned him down 'cause he wanted more feed per trick and Leno could only give so much!!!
Sue's sanctuary has proved to be a salvation for these creatures and donations can be made via her at Sue Parkinson, c/o Box 924, Solvang, CA, 93464. The total amount will go toward helping a Lil' Orphan Hammie!!
Rancho De La Florecita
Back in the days of the Conquistadors, when Pizarro was busy exterminating the Incas in Peru, a group of horses emerged that were strong, sturdy, full of endurance and sure footed with a nice gait and temperament. What these horses gave up in speed and agility was made up in their ability be easy to ride and work in all types of terrain and climates.
Today, these horses are still known for the same talents as they had in the past. Now they are used in many countries as great riding horses and for competitions.
Brian and Terry Jarchow started riding these horses back in 1981 when Terry learned that in spite of her bad back (surgery), she could ride a Peruvian Paso without discomfort or damage to her back. The love affair began then and resulted in a breeding program that resulted in many national champions and a whole career/business and passion.
From the first time that I had spoken to Terry and subsequently brought my family to visit the farm, I knew that I would do something about this fascinating breed and of course on Brian and Terry themselves.
Greg and I came over to film and were not disappointed. Terry pulled out all the stops (as she usually does) and introduced us to her champions. Riders Enrique Subauste, Vincente Analdon, Tessa Brown and Helen Brown performed some precision riding techniques for us and were dressed in full traditional outfits.This was most impressive to all of us watching. Greg decided that he wanted a try and was escorted onto one of the horses and given a ride around the riding area. Greg, filmed as he rode.
The horses were magnificent and I was so very impressed with the grace and beauty of these horses who were ridden so well by trainers Enrique and Vincente as well as National Riding Champs Helen and Tessa.
Unfortunately, due to unexpected problems we could not go to our main destination of Tawley Vineyards in Arroyo Grande but there will always be a next time.
We did however manage to get to Ostrich Land later on that day. As part of the movie "Sideways" Ostrich Land played a small part where one of the characters mentions being chased by a group of Ostriches through a field. He was lucky to have had only that happen to him since these birds can get to be nine feet tall and weigh some 250 to 300 pounds. Their kick could easily break the jaw of a lion so imagine a human fooling around with one of them. No chance! By the way, they also can run 45 miles per hour.
Both Greg and I found the birds quite amusing. They were quite safe to be around and were quite interested in his shirt and buttons. Me, they liked to peck at my hands and fingers. They were really not a problem when they pecked either. Just curious.
We then went over to the Los Olivos Cafe for some shooting and a great meal as usual. The meal was a Paella that had rice and sea food. It was delicious! Of course the accompaniment was a Bernat Syrah, one of my all time favourite wines. The food and wine went lovely and after an interview with Sam Marmorstein, the cafe's owner, it was to go and veg at our Hadsten Refuge.
End Of Day Seven

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Day Six: October 10th: Good-Bye Pelican Cove Inn, Arron Hill Vineyards, Ancient Peaks Winery and Vintners Harvest at Rancho Sisquoc

"Adventures In Wine Country" with Co-Hosts Chuck Byers and Greg Rist is a new series airing in April 2010 on CHEX Television Channel 12 Durham and the Greater Toronto Area.

Good-bye Pelican Cove Resort----So Long Paso Robles!

Before we knew it, morning came and we were out in the misty fog that this area experiences and trying to take pictures. Greg and I took advantage of the buffet breakfast that the Pelican Cove Inn supplied and I also took a look at the wines that the Inn had in stock.

These wines that had the Pelican Cove label, were made by Castoro Cellars of Paso Robles. They have fine Chardonnays, Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet and much more. We actually had a wine tasting just before dinner yesterday and the wines were quite inviting. But, all good things----! We had to leave. We were to meet Chris at the local Starbucks Coffe at the junction of Hwys 46 and 102 South to go to Ancient Peaks Winery. On our way, we made several stops.

Yah Never Know When You Gotta Shoot!

It wasn't long before we came to a very spectacular formation of fog/mist that seemed stratified just over the valley. Greg had to shoot this and I knew full well that these shots do not come all the time. After this shot, we continued on only to come up to another formation, this time right in front of us. We shot that. What Greg really wanted was a shot of the fog hovering over the vineyards. This we got just up the road from where we stopped yet again to take pictures. Our final shooting was came as we were travelling towards the meeting place and we saw pickers harvesting grapes. We stopped and this turned out to be a bonanza for us since we met the owner of Arron Hill Vineyard with a crew picking Zinfandel. We learned that the picking was being done very quickly since rain was well on the way. The vineyard had been hit by frost the night before but it had not done any true damage. We got a great deal of footage and then were off to meet Christopher for our trip to Ancient Peaks.

Ancient Peaks Winery

Located in the town of Santa Magarita and on the southernmost tip of Paso Robles was the unique winery of Ancient Peaks. The vineyard lay amid the Santa Lucia mountain range and just 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The land that the winery is on was planted with vines by the Franciscan Missionaries in 1774. It also had a deep history concerning Native Americans and Mexican Rancheros. Owner Doug Filipponi met us at the tasting room.

On the property was the remnants of a Franciscan Mission that has somehow evaded a over 200 years of earthquakes, fires and other destructive forces. Though just a shell of what it was, the mission still retained an air of elegance and pride. Who knows, someday, it may be restored to its former glory. The ranch itself was part of the original Mission Trail of Father Juniper Serra and the shell that remains was the submission now known as "Asistencia". The ranch is now owned by three wine making families who frequently bring guests from the tasting room to view their treasures.

Very close by, were the "hobby" trains of one of the winery owners. These, however, were not just model trains. They were full sized restored and "about to be restored" railway cars that once belonged to the Disney corporation in the 1950's and 60's. One definitely was not a Disney car but one that belonged to the President of a South American Country over 100 years ago. I guess in those days that was travelling in style. Seems that there were some Secret Service Agents who travelled similarly in a movie called "Wild Wild West!" The trains cost a staggering amount of money to restore but with almost two miles of rail road track layed down for use, I guess it would be worth it. Also on the property were old steam powered tractors and crop harvesters. The history is amazing. A cattle ranch is also one of the attractions on this property. It seems that Doug is overseen the cattle ranch operations of what is one of the oldest cattle ranches in California.

Everything is done on a natural basis. As a matter of fact, the ranch has earned an Environmental Quality Incentives Program designation for implementation of agricultural production and environmental quality as compatible national goals. Because of this, Oak trees are proliferating on the grounds as are native grasses making a comeback thus reestablishing themselves around the grounds. This can only be a good thing.

Another thing that caught my eye were the hawks, vultures and crows up overhead. They followed us very carefully. It was mentioned that the ground squirrels were sometimes culled to save the vines and the birds kept an eye on the humans below with the anticipation of a very easy meal.

Regardless, the birds are plentiful. Doug, spoke to me of a fight he saw between a Red Tailed hawk and an Golden eagle. The hawk kept on diving on the eagle but the eagle kept on going on its back trying to snatch the hawk. Doug never did say who won. I would put my bet on the eagle but you never know!!!

Rancho Santa Margarita Vineyard

The first thing noticed when one approached the vineyard were the peaks of the Santa Lucia Mountains that frame the SW border of the vineyard. The vineyard itself was just full of fossilized oyster shells which added tremendous amounts of nutrients and minerals to the soil. The sheltering mountains and the intermingling Pacific breezes gave a variety of terroirs to the vineyard allowing for a wide variety of grapes to be grown in various areas of the vineyard.

The vineyards themselves were well kept and even though the frost had hit some, most looked healthy. The pickers were rapidly picking grapes and both Greg and I were amazed at the speed of these people. The grapes looked exceedingly healthy and tasted so very good.

Wines At The Tasting Room

After our vineyard visit, we went to the tasting room for a taste of Ancient Peaks Wines. I was full of anticipation as to what the wines had in them!

Ancient Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon

Excellent nose with cassis, black currant/black fruit flavours and some vanilla spice. On the palate it has deep ripe blackberry/blackcherry flavours with some pepper spice and lovely lenghty finish.

Ancient Peaks Zinfandel

On the nose ripe red and black fruit with a bit of vanilla spice. On the palate: Much flavoured. Raspberry and black berry with a touch of plum. Black Cherry completes the picture. The finish is very long, with black pepper and a slight anise smell/taste.

Ancient Coast Oyster Ridge

I wonder why the name Oyster Ridge is used here. I am just being funny since the oyster name is very appropos. A big wine! A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Zinfandel, this wine has a nose that is floral and fruity with black fruit all the way. There is a touch of smoke toastiness and cedar in the aromatic mix. On the palate, dark berries, chocolate and coffee with a lingering finish of anise spice. A truly great wine that will become ancient if one can resist its taste now.

All in all, it was a great day.We enjoyed our stay with Ancient Peaks Winery and of course Pelican Cove Inn.

Now it was time to make our way back to Santa Maria and Foxen Canyon Road to attend the Vintners Harvest at Rancho Sisquoc and the Vintners Harvest. Where we made aquaintances or saw the following wineries. Terravent, Fess Parker, Zaca Mesa, Andrew Murray, Demetria, Riverbench, Nadia, Gainey, Persidio, Sanford, Huber and Lafond. We also made too much of an acquaintance with many food distributors and wondered if all the food and wine matched with the wine was a bit too fine for us! We stayed and shot some film scenes and then before we knew it was time to go. The event was a big success and it was one of the that I had ever attended. What made it good were the people such as publicist Christopher Weir and his lovely wife. Chris and I go way back to when I first started filming in this area and his dedication, competence and knowledge kept me coming back. Thanks Chris!!

End of Day Six

Day Five: October 9th: Direct From Hadsten House In Solvang, CA: Paso Robles, Ortman Cellars Moonstone Pelican Cove Inn.

"Adventures In Wine Country" with Co-Hosts Chuck Byers and Greg Rist is a new series airing in April 2010 on CHEX Television Channel 12 Durham and the Greater Toronto Area.

Off To Paso Robles
We left just after breakfast and were off to Paso Robles. The almost 100 mile trip was an enjoyable one as we passed many vineyards. As we passed through Los Alomos the Lucas and Lewellan Vineyards came up and we were astounded by their size and age. No wonder they have such good wines when you consider the thirty and forty year old vines that they have. Somehow, tasting rooms do not indicate the vineyard size that many of the winery boutiques have.
The trip to Paso Robles was long and rather uneventful. It was a thrill to see the names of wine areas/regions that I have read about so often: Arroyo Grande, Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles.
Ortman Family Vineyards
Chuck Ortman is known for his balanced wines and especially for what they call "the Ortman style" and the name of "Mr. Chardonnay". How he got into the wine business and those titles is a story unto itself.
Chuck Ortman's history in wine began some forty two years ago in 1967 where the budding graphic artist got the "wine bug" after tasting some wine via a home wine maker friend. He went to work at an entry level job with Heitz Cellars in 1968 and moved to Spring Mountain Vineyards about three years later. He then decided to go out on his own as a consultant where he did work for some of the well known wineries such as: Far Niente and Shafer Vineyards.
In 1979, he founded his own Charles Ortman brand and later changed the name to Meridian. Chuck sold his winery to Beringer in 1988--staying on as winemaker. In 2003, he and his son Mathew released vintages of Ortman Family Vineyards.
His son, had obtained a degree in construction but had been exposed to wine from his earliest days. He decided to carry on the family tradition and spent time at Castello di Gabianno in Tuscany. When he returned, he brought back much knowledge in the making of wine from the areas he apprenticed in. He now is winemaker and manager for Ortman Fmily Vineyards.
Ortman Style
The titles of "Ortman Style" and "Mr. Chardonnay" came from the fine balance that he seems to get from fermenting the Chardonnay he makes in barrels. Chuck also felt that the creaminess in the wine came from ageing the wine on its lees and intermittently stirring the wine to give it more creaminess. He got the idea from the "creamy" sparkling wines that were made via the"Traditional Method" became creamy by the riddling of the bottles in order to have the debris moved to the neck of each bottle. He decided to stir the wine with a stick. His theory proved correct and the rest, as they say, is History.
The tasting room is located in Paso Robles. Here he sells some fine wines. We tasted the following:
Chardonnay, Edna Valley: The wine has a nose that exhibits tropical fruit, with a mineral hint in addition to vanilla spice. On the palate the wine has an elegant flavour of a mixture of white and tropical fruit with a unique balance and nice finish. Pleasant fresh acidity keeps the wine lively.
Pinot Noir, Salisbury Vineyard, Avila: Lovely black fruit with some red fruit levels on the nose. Touch of minerality. Palate shows cherry notes with some black fruit i.e. plum and black cherry on the side. Some spice and strawberry notes on the finish.
Cuvee Eddy: A Rhone blend with a forward nose of black and red fruit, vanilla spice and a similar palate with a great mouth feel and lingering finish.
The Ortman style is certainly there with all the wines and while some may pinpoint it as being with Chardonnay, I may in fact say it comes from the man who invented it and propounds its virtues. The Ortman style is none other than the man with style----Chuck Ortman, that humble individual whose lay back manner makes great wines and people feel good. Thanks Chuck-------------I really like your name!!!!
We left the tasting room at Paso Robles and were met by Chris's lovely wife, Malei Jessee. She took us to the Moonstone Pelican Cove Inn in Cambria----not far from places like Big Sur and Carmel By The Sea. The trip was a scenic one with transverse hills/mountains and a multitude of wineries---some very famous names.such as Grey Fox and Arron Hill.
We travelled down some of he nicest coastal scenery around. The hills and mountains in the background seemed much like a pastel drawing. We drove intermittently through heavy wooded areas and then, just as quickly, back onto wide open and very dry pasture land.
Moonstone Pelican Cove Inn
We finally ended up on the Pacific coast at a resort called the Moonstone Pelican Cove Inn, a four diamond property right on the shores of Moonstone Beach in Cambria. Here we found luxurious rooms surrounded by lovely gardens and a beach that did not want to quit. We spent some time interviewing the General Manager of the resort. George Marshall gave us a brief history of the Pelican Inn as well as filling us in on the geographic location of the Inn.
Hearst Castle or as many call it San Simeon, was only a short distance away and was the home of one time billionaire and news magnate, Randolph William Hearst. I think the best reference to that was the famous part that almost destroyed the career of actor Orson Welles and created a controversy that has lasted until the present day. The movie was called "Citizen Kane".
The Pelican Cove Inn had uniquely designed suites with rich fabrics and wall coverings as well as very comfortable furniture. The beach across the road teeming with bird life----much of which seemed to be pelicans. However, I am sure that there were other birds gliding through the sky.
I was told that on many days, whales, dolphins, sea otters and elephant seals could be seen playing in the distance. Tidal pools also exhibited much marine life.
We got together with Marshall for a wine tasting and then Malei Weir took us out to dinner at another Moonstone property, Moonstone Cambria Pines---another luxurious hotel that came complete with great gardens (25 acres of specialized gardens) which housed imaginative entries such as a flower bed (a bed planted with flowers), a herbal garden, a bird houre garden (bird houses with plants planted on top of them) and a some very cute cats that some unmentionables decided to abandon but who where befriended by the Cambria Pines Manager, Peggy Evens.
We had a great meal at the Moonstone Cambria Pines Inn along with a glass of Ortman Cuvee Eddy for me (to match the New York Steak that Malei and I had) and a White for Greg (to match his Scallop dish).
After, Malai escorted us to the Pelican Inn and it was bed for us---I say bed but what time do you think that I normally would write and finish this blog----It "ain't" during the day!!!!
End Of Day Five

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Direct From Hadsten House in Solvang, CA: Day Four Part Two: Meet Chef Ogden at Roots 246

"Adventures In Wine Country" with Co-Hosts Chuck Byers and Greg Rist is a new series airing in April 2010 on CHEX Television Channel 12 Durham and the Greater Toronto Area.

Root 246
When Bill Pelps told me about Root 246, I thought it was just another local restaurant that he was inspired by and perhaps was trying to promote because it was in Solvang. We all know that Bill lives, eats, breathes and sleeps Solvang. I agreed to include it in the itinerary for the series that Greg and I were doing.
Root 246 is located next to Hotel Corque, 420 Alisal Road in Solvang. Both hotel and restaurant are owned by the Santa Ynez Chumash Native Band. They've done a great job.
We were greeted by Nerissa Sugars, Public Relations Specialist for the property. We were introduce to the dynamo that was Chef Bradley Ogden. He was so disarming with his charm and his smile could melt the hardest heart but one knew that underneath that charisma was a very serious person intent on perfection. He was a "take charge" kind of guy.
"Let's start the interview outside and I will then give you a tour of restaurant," he directed all the time with that disarming smile. Greg knew enough to let this pro take the reins and move on it. "Welcome, to my restaurant. I will show you around!"
Chef Bradley then proceeded to show us his Root 246. It reminded me of a small tent which when entered proved to be larger than Buckingham Palace. The kitchen itself was huge (about 1200 square feet) and the remainder of the restaurant also seemed larger. The furniture in the lounge had the most recent design and the wine cellar had over 1800 bottles---most of which were local wines. The whole experience was overwhelming when one looked at the sheer size
that dwarfed the kitchens of many large Canadian hotels.
In his cooking, Chef Bradley believed in the philosophy of 'keeping it simple'. He had long been accepted as a uniquely talented chef with one of the most respected names in the business. His belief in fresh ingredients is legendary and he has been quoted that his greatest influence on his cooking came from his early exposure to fresh, Native American Foods such as fresh caught trout, fresh vegetables and fruit. His success is obvious with appearances in many television programs such as Good Morning America, Today, Early Show, Great Chefs Of The West and now, Adventures In Wine Country.
Chef Bradley has won many awards including: Best Chef In California (James Beard Foundation), one of the Great American Chefs (International Wine and Food Society), Golden Plate Award (American Academy Of Achievement), Chef Of The Year (Culinary Institute Of America).
In addition to Root 246, he has created many restaurants throughout the United States in cities such as San Francisco, San Diago, Las Vegas (2004 winner of James Beard Foundation's "Best New Restaurant" award), Larkspur, Walnut Creek, Santana Row and Santa Clara.
It was exciting to see this man work his genius with food but you could also tell that his talent wasn't just with the food. It was also with the people who worked with him.
There is an old saying respect can never be demanded----it has to be earned! You could tell that this man had the respect of all that were around him. They looked at him with admiration and care----not just as a chef but as a person who they trusted implicitly. And so they should.
Chef Brad prepared an Oak fired Halibut with Heirloom Melon "Gazpacho" & Vegetable Fritter; Maytag Blue Cheese & Coachella Valley Figs, Spiced Walnuts.
Dessert: Butterscotch taster with Chocolate Crinkle Cookie.
Nerrisa said it best when she referred to Chef Bradley as an undying talent with heart.
I enjoyed meeting this kind man with a big heart, great talent and infectious passion and hope that our paths will cross again.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Direct From Hadsten House In Solvang, CA: Day Four Part One: October 8th: Hadsten House Spa Therapy and Terravent

"Adventures In Wine Country" with Co-Hosts Chuck Byers and Greg Rist is a new series airing in April 2010 on CHEX Television 12 Durham and the Greater Toronto Area.

More Solvang Shots
Both Greg and I are early risers. It was nothing for us to get up at dusk and work. Today was no different. I was up at 3 AM to finish my blog and both of us were out and about at around 7:30 AM. A good breakfast and we were ready to move on the show. Greg began his day with the hard work of filming massage therapy session at the Hadsten House Spa. Lovely girl, getting a massage-----someone had to do it and Greg was the man for he job!
He also got a facial complete with grape seed therapy administered to him. Whether it worked on him or not, it made for some great filming and you will see the results either on one of his published pictures or on the show when it airs.
Terravent Visit
We had already visited Terravent on October 6th and learned that this "Crush Facility" was open to many smaller and mid range wineries that did not have access to the equipment that was needed to fully produce quality wines. The fact that the process could be totally handled by the winemaker of each respective winery is bonus and made this type of winery facility stand out. If the winery wanted to, it could have allowed Terravent's own directing winemaker to take charge of the process. The machines that Terravent had to make good wines seem to certainly stack the odds on Terravent making some very good wines.
Director of Winemaking Allan Phillips a former rugby player for Wales International, has over 30 years experience in the field, working for over 10 years for Foly and Lincourt Wines now in charge of a winemaking operation that he said is second to none in equipment and design in California. Terravent had the capability of providing a full service to premium wineries from custom crush to custom bottling and right to custom tasting in the new tasting room.
It was amazing to see the numerous amounts of containers filled to the brim with grapes such as Chardonnay and/or Syrah brought in on huge tractor trailers or even by pick up trucks and placed into the destemmer crusher and then into the huge "rotating bladder press" which brought forth the juice ready for fermentation.
The large number of stainless steel vats were ready to take the wine and ferment. Each one had a large flat, circular shaped utensil which "punched down" the floating grape "cap" (the CO2 which formed during the fermentation would make the grape cap lighter than the surrounding must and float it up. The puncher would push the cap down to allow the skins to have more contact with the fermenting juice and thus extract more colour and tannin.)
Then, there were the very special machines that many wineries did not have. While Terravent does have the normal types of filtration (pads, Diatomaceous Earth) styles it also has some very unique alternative styles.
While some will argue that mechanical intervention may harm wines, Terravent had a machine that can filter without damage. It could even save wines that have bacterial taint or smoke damage. What it did is to take the tainted and/or smokey liquid and bring it back to a drinkable form. The machine that does this is called Memstar which not only could remove taint, smoke damage or even alcohol from wine.
It would work this way: the tainted/smokey material is circulated through a reverse osmosis system. The permeate flow is then separated from the wine by Memstar RO.
This flow is then passed through an adsorbent medium such as activated charcoal or similar things. The result would be wine that that is free from bacterial taint that would otherwise be thrown out.
Wine can also be de-alcoholized using this method. Wine in certain areas were naturally high in alcohol and needed to reduce it by a degree or so. This machine made it so!
Terravent also had a unique filtration "cross flow filtration" system that used a hollow fibre in removes all types of suspended contaminants from the system. Capillary movement in an inert membrane provided clarification without the use of filter aids or any physical or chemical component. The machine had many advantages including: economical energy use, low wine treatment time, negligible temperature variance, no other mechanical interventions needed and a little risk of damage to wine.
The result is that the product produced is a wine that is full of its natural tastes and qualities without the worries of influences that could harm it.
Tasting Room
The new tasting room was certainly impressive with examples of all the wines made at the facility as well as "state of the art" dispensing equipment which allowed those interested to have a tiny taste or get a glass of the chosen product. Argon gas automatically replaced air after each wine with drawl from any one of the many bottles on display. This kept the remaining liquid fresh and ready for use. A card issued by the front counter allowed for one or many tastings and recorded each tasting as one went on the "sampling journey".
Terravent's concept of a "Community Crush" was indeed and will be indeed, a saviour to many wineries who just do not and/or cannot have the means to obtain advanced wine making equipment. Whether one needs twenty cases or two thousand, Terravent will be there.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Direct From Hadsten House in Solvang CA: Day Three: October 7th: Curtis Vineyard, Firestone, Sanford, Hitching Post and Tarantulas On The Road

"Adventures In Wine Country" with Co-Hosts Chuck Byers and Greg Rist is a new series airing in April 2010 on CHEX Television Channel 12 Durham and the Greater Toronto Area"

Walkabout Solvang!
It was about 8 am and Greg and I had just finished breakfast when we decided that prior to going to meet Christopher Weir, publicist for Curtis Vineyards we would visit Olsen's Bakery which was the place to meet people in Solvang. We went down and introduced ourselves and took some great shots of the bakery but intended to go back at some point to meet local people in their "relaxed" contemplation of their daily activities. We also decided to shoot local scenes and went about the streets taking shots of the wine bars and town spots i.e. the magnificent windmills located at different points of the city.
We then hustled ourselves to the Curtis Winery which was just off Foxen Canyon Road near Los Olivos. I've always loved this drive which included some great scenic shots of hills, cattle and other wild life.
Curtis Winery
The Curtis Winery always struck be as being somewhat special with its large oaks and vineyards. Still owned by the Firestone family, it had a charm all its own and the drive past the gates reflected the care and interest that the family gave to it. We were met by Christopher Weir who I had met some four years before when I was doing the "Wine Frontier" program. Chris has proven to be a good friend and contact who I kept in contact with during the years that followed the program. He introduced me to Chuck Carlson, winemaker and general manager for Curtis.
Chuck seemed a no nonsense individual who was proud of his wine making at Curtis. He was full of great information regarding the winery and its history! We went on a tour of the winery and vineyards.
The vineyards still had much Syrah grapes on vine. This was great in as much as Greg needed to interview him in the vineyard and if that had to be done, there may as well have been grapes on the vines. After the interview we went back to the winery.
Teddy Roosevelt, Art And A Great Punch Down!
Curtis is part of the Firestone Family and as part it is subject to its history. Its vineyards had begun being planted in 1990 (Ambassador Vineyard) and 1997 (Crossroads) were dedicated to Rhone style wines. The Syrah vines are accompanied by several blocks of Grenache and Roussane.
The tasting room which used to be an art studio has an air of openness about it. It still reflects the artistic flair with many paintings which reflect a rich native heritage. One massive mural can be viewed in another room just off the main tasting area. Again, it depicts a native American theme and apparently was brought from New York by the Firestone family.
One interesting item I found on one of the side walls was an original letter from President Theodore Roosevelt, framed. It was addressed to Elroy Curtis basically telling him that more is expected from a person of his training than the norm. I do not know what the significance of the letter was but it certainly was impressive. The Firestone family has a rich and somewhat enviable history of which this letter is part of.
While I was reading the letter, winemaker,Chuck Carlson came over to tell me that Greg had arranged a special "stand up spot" for filming. Stand up it was!
I had to try my hand at "punching down" the fermenting "must cap" in one of the fermenting vats.
This was not without a bit of danger to both the wine, my clothes and ego since I had to balance myself atop the edge of the square fermenting vat while holding a long handled, plunger shaped utensil that was designed to push down the grape must cap thus mixing the skins with the juice below. This would bring the skins and juice in contact with each other and thus extract more colour and also assist the fermentation in proceeding more evenly.
I got up on the edges and could imagine slipping into the tub of purple juice---bubbles of ferment oozing out of the mixture. In addition to keeping my balance, I had to physically plunge the plunger up and down---very gently so that the skins and juice mixed without extracting acid into the mixture (by pressing too hard).
"A bit more to the left. A bit more over there," came the orders of the assistant winemaker who, I am sure was finding this bit humorous. Greg , on the other hand was taking the shots and secretly hoping that I lost my balance and fell in! However I disappointed him and completed my task. Years of Judo training allowed me to keep my composure and balance.
Wine Tasting
Chuck Carlson then had the difficult job of picking three of his wines for us to taste on the show. He picked a Curtis Vineyards Viognier, an Ambassador Syrah and Heritage Cuvee.
Curtis Viognier
A wine that is a brilliant light yellow in colour with a floral/citrus and almost toasty nose. The palate is full of tropical (lime/pineapple/mango) fruits with a light creamy finish that fails to disappear quickly.
Ambassador Syrah
Dark garnet in colour with a nose of black fruit and vanilla spice with tannins that indicate a capability to age, this wine has a similar effect on the palate with a pepper accent, a touch of chocolate and a very long lingering finish.
Heritage Cuvee
A blend of Rhone varietals (though never the same percentages from vintage to vintage) this dark wine has a nose of red and black fruits with smoke toastiness and spice. The wine has a great mouth feel on the palate with raspberry, plum and black cherry fruit along with vanilla spice and some light chocolate leading to a long and lasting finish.
Chuck Carlson proved again why he was one of he leading Rhone winemakers in the valley.
A Visit To Firestone
While at Curtis, I ran into Chad Munsey of Firestone Winery. We had been missing each other via emails etc. and it seemed that Greg and I weren't going to get a chance to visit. However, that all changed when we finished at Curtis a bit earlier than anticipated and had over an hour and a half to do some extra visiting. Since Firestone was only a hop and a skip from Curtis, we decided to go ahead with a visit.
We were welcomed at this lovely winery perched atop of a hill overlooking the valley. The mountains in the distance had not lost any of their charm or their scenic looks as I viewed the scene while Greg got his equipment out of the car.
Firestone has a long standing history in the area. It was started in 1972 by Leonard Firestone and his son Brooks and is by virtue one of the oldest wineries in the area. Recently, the winery was sold to Bill Foly who has put new efforts into the Firestone tradition.
The tasting room still smacks of the Firestone's, however, with wall pictures of the family with various United States Presidents such as: Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr. and Jr. as well as older pictures of family members with Presidents, Taft, Harding and Eisenhower.
There were other "shots" of Harvey Firestone in the company with the likes of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.
The Crush
ChadBold led us out to the back of the building where he "crush" was going on. Sauvignon grapes were being placed into a destemmer/crusher which prepared the vines for pressing and fermentation. Dry ice was placed as he grapes were being moved through the crusher destemming machine so to keep them cool thus avoiding the early onset of fermentation and also to prevent damage to the grapes on their journey through the process.
Kevin Willenborg, the winemaker, came over to join us and the three of us watched in horror as Greg appeared to be having some problem with a wasp---we thought!
In actual fact, Greg had not been paying attention and smacked his head on the sharp edge of a roof which knocked him on his fanny.
"I saved the camera!" was his answer to how he was! Kevin applied some first aide and Greg was up and around.
Kevin then took us for a brief tour to the stainless steel tanks from which he extracted some fermentation juice of Sauvignon Blanc. It is too bad that an economical way of bottling some of this ferment could not be achieved since the drink is very refreshing, fizzy and sweet.
We then tasted some of the Sauvignon Blanc from the 2008 vintage. It was great with a nose of tropical fruits and herbs and a similar palate of citrus, mango, pear and herbal spice with a refreshingly crisp acidity.
Our visit was not a long one but one that reassured me that the Firestone Tradition was in good hands.
Tarantula On The Road
We were a bit late for our next winery so we had to rush. Sanford was some 45 minutes away and we had to hustle. Going down Foxen Canyon Road is not what you'd call a speed area. one had o watch for other cars coming down the winding road as well as wild life. Speaking of wildlife, as I drove at a reasonable clip up a hill, my eye caught sight of a rather large spider running across the road. "It's a TARANTULA!" I yelled and swerved the car around to try to find the spider. All rush to Sanford was forgotten. Greg was equally excited but to our chagrin, no spider could be found when we got to the scene.
Sandford Winery
Sanford was made famous by the movie "Sideways" but its wines have long been enjoyed by many oenophiles around the world. Owned by the Terlato Wine Group the winery was founded in 1971, the winery has made classic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay deep within the Santa Rita Hills Appellation.
Winemaker Steve Fennel has overseen the operation for years . I remember filming him when I first came to the valley about four years ago. He still looks the same. There must be something about the air in this area.
Some things have changed however, a new tasting room is absolutely super with high ceilings and a great wine displays. Plenty of room to move around also.
The very interesting elevator fermentation tanks are still there. In order to avoid pumping and thus possibly harming the must to the tank, special tanks with a capacity of 40,000 gallons each (there are four of them) have he capability of being lowered to floor level so gravity could be used to guide the grape juice/must down. They are then elevated to normal height when filled.
The winery otherwise had not changed much and sometimes, no change is the best.
Wines Tasted
Sanford Chardonnay
Almost Burgundian in style, this lemon yellow wine has a brilliant colouration to it. It has a nose of tropical fruit, butter and citrus with a palate that expresses minerality, fruit with an acidity that keeps it fresh.
Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir
A Pinot with attitude. The dark wine needs some time. It has the medium body of a Pinot but is more of a brooding wine with dark fruit as well as some red representation on the nose with similar tastes on the palate but leaning more to dark fruit. The mouth feel is round and velvety.
The finish is a long one that keeps on coming.
Rinconada Vineyard Pinot Noir
If you want to meet the big brother of the above wine you will not have to go far since the Rinconada Vineyard is just a pebble's throw away. This is a dark wine capable of some aging. It still is quite young and if the top one was brooding this is down right "Eastwood" in character.
On the nose it is complex with dark fruit and spice on the nose with a similar palate structure. The mouth feel is round with present tannins that show promise for the wine. The concentration is excellent and makes one want to buy several of these bottles to try on a yearly basis for some years to come. The taste remains in the mouth for minutes.
After the tasting Greg and I scurried our way back home to prepare for a great filming meal at the Hitching Post.
The Hitching Post!
Just off Highway 246 in Buellton is a culinary landmark that was so long before it became part of the "Sideways" movie legend. Frank Ostini founded the Hitching Post in 1986 and has been going strong since. The movie "Sideways" served to make the Hitching Post even more popular.
Frank Ostini is also a winemaker who makes some pretty great wines at Terravent. So Greg and I with a lot of help and encouragement from Bill Phelps at Hadsten House went over to film a meal being prepared.
First of all, I must say that people always make a conducive atmosphere. In this case, I was right again. I met some great people while waiting for Greg to finish his filming portion at the Hitching Post.
I ran into a lovely couple who celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary. They were from Colorado. Lee and John Nicoll told me about their family. They were obviously very proud of their son who was a "TOP GUN" and served in the Gulf War. They also told me about their other son who was a CEO of a company and his passion for wine. Another interesting fact was that John's great grandfather was involved in the wine industry years before. What a story.
Another great couple were the Hanrahan's from Las Vegas, Nevada. This twosome loved good food and wine. They really made a good looking couple and represented Las Vegas very well.
People here made the difference and I never knew what story I would hear next.
The food came and it was humongous!!!!
Filming it was tough as I could hardly wait to get my hands on it and into my big mouth. But soon the filming was done and Greg and I ate. OH! What did we eat?
I had Lobster and Steak while Greg had a Black Angus Rib Chop (it was 24 ounces of meat)!
We shared the food as well as the Green Pepper stuffed with Cheese and Shrimp. The meal came complete with Garlic Bread and all the extras. Our wine was an excellent Hitching Post Syrah!
Lovely people, great meal and super Hitching Post!

Day Two: October 6th: Direct From Hadsten House: Davy Crockett's Winery, Roaming 'Round Solvang and A Hadsten Dinner!!!

"Adventures In Wine Country" with Chuck Byers and Greg Rist" is a new series airing in April 2010 on CHEX Television Channel 12 Durham and the Greater Toronto Area.

King Of The Wild Frontier
It seemed very apropos that the first winery we visited was Fess Parker's on Foxen Canyon Road, Los Olivos. Had it not been for Fess and his General Manager at that time Bill Phelps (that name sounds so familiar!!!---), chances are that I would not have visited and revisited this area at any time and, certainly, this series would not have happened. It was because of this first visit and the feature "The Wine Frontier" that any subsequent visit ever happened! I ended up falling in love with the area and with Fess's family! The rest, as they say, was history!
Tim Snider (General Manager/VP Marketing and Sales)
The very first person that met us on our first visit and the first to meet us on this visit was Tim. As then, Tim came across as a friendly, sharply tuned individual whose focus was the winery without losing any form of hospitality when dealing with people. He seemed as I had left him about a year ago on my last visit. He looked in great shape and I was jealous of his still luxurious head of hair. After a general introduction and tour aimed at familiarizing Greg with the winery, Tim allowed us to film withing the winery confines. He was off to a meeting but asked us to contact him when we were about to leave.
Jack Sparrow
I was quite surprised to see my good friend Jack walk in as we spoke to Tim. Jack also goes back to that first visit and was prominently featured in the production. Jack now as was then was one of the finest gentlemen I had (and will ever) encountered. He brought with him a sense of peace which translated very aptly through the tone of his very soft and gentle voice.
Jack and I gave a big hug to each other and while Tim was showing Greg around, Jack and I talked old times. It was good to see my friend and wish him continued wellness. It seemed very apropos indeed that the first person to do a tasting for the first show would be the first person to do a tasting on the new Californian segment of "Adventures In Wine Country"!
The Winery
As Greg and I toured the winery, I was happy to see that the winery was still doing well. Even with the disastrous recession that hit the world, the Fess Parker's Winery & Vineyard seemed okay----a testament to those who work in it and for it. I was also quite happy to see an Ontario connection in the form of Henry of Pelham "Family of Wines" which is one of the foremost and historic wineries in Ontario----the Speck's family history going back to the American Revolutionary War.
The building that was so well depicted in the movie "Sideways" and where so many people have had good times was still there and within its walls were a host of wines that would make any gourmet or connoisseur's palate yearn. Pictures of Fess Parker in his "Coonskin Hat" were there as were the references to Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone via the DVD's for sale.
What most people did not know was that Fess had many other movies to his credit----as well as television series. He played in Disney's "Old Yeller" as well as one of my favourite movies was with Jeff Chandler in "The Jayhawkers". His roles were many but his best role of course was that of the head of an ultra fine family.
As I looked around, I saw wines that were excellent in each of their own right. Jack Sparrow brought out three that quite superb:
Frontier Red
Mainly Syrah blended with Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Mourvedre, the wine had a nose of black fruit and berries with a palate of black berries, vanilla and a touch of chocolate with a lingering spice finish.
Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County
On the nose this excellent Pinot has great berry (strawberry, blueberry, cranberry flavours) with a light pepper spice with a palate that tingles the side of the mouth when sipped and also expressing a nice mouth feel with a lingering spice/berry finish.
The Big Easy, Syrah
One of my favourites on two counts, first, I was here attending the dinner when Ashly Parker-Snider introduced this great wine in 2007 and second, it is an amazing display of what can be done with fine grapes. On the nose is it is full of black fruit, pepper, vanilla and chocolate with an introduction of smoke. On the palate it is mouth bursting with black fruit and chocolate flavours with an ever present but not overwhelming touch of vanilla. the finish is very long and persistent.
Greg and I thought that we would be spending two and a half hours maximum at the winery but after our visits to the top plateau at Rodney's Vineyard, We realized that we had been there close to five hours having arrived at 9:30 AM and finishing at around 2:30 PM. Incidentally, the top of the plateau is probably one of the most scenic anywhere with vineyards that seem to stretch out to the distant hills as well as a Willow surrounded pond/reservoir that serves to irrigate the vineyards but also serves as a home to what seems to be schools of Small Mouth Bass. Nice picnic spot indeed!
Mary Harris, Executive Director: Santa Ynez Valley Visitor's Association
Throughout Greg and my tour filming the fabulous wines around the globe, we encountered many excellent guides and advisers to help us along the way. For example there was Christine White from Nova Scotia or Sally Sharpe from British Colombia and then there was the "Bulldog"
Cicci Broccoli of Veneto, Italy. Their enthusiasm was infectious and their guidance sublime. Mary Harris falls into this elite group. He dedication to the area and her job made her invaluable to us. I woke up yesterday morning not knowing for a fact, what I was going to do since I felt my itinerary starting to weaken somewhat. Bill Phelps introduced me to Mary and within a short period of time, my itinerary was not only full but almost overflowing.
Mary is a gem that needs to be nurtured and respected. Her advice was accurate, to the point and very much appreciated. We need more people such as she everywhere.
Wandering Dog Wine Bar
Mary introduced us to Charles Williams and his very lovely wife. They own a unique and rather nicely designed wine bar that consists of wines from wineries that have a very small production and would otherwise be relegated to a home or probably sold to another vineyard/winery. In this case, the wines are relegated to a place where they can show their true nature and keep their identity as well as entertaining the taste buds of those who visit the bar. We made plans to return when they had a few people visiting and tasting.
Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards
"For over 35 years, I've grown the grapes that produced some of the finest wines in California. I strive to find a balance between the soil, the vine and Mother Nature."
This statement epitomizes the work and pleasure that Louis Lucas puts into his vineyards, wine and wine business. He is one of the first to produce grapes in the area----"When I first came here there were no vineyards-----now there are over a hundred!"
Louis knows his work and business yet his personality is natural and he shines when he speaks to people such as the group of Italian business people---all young ladies, who came to taste wine at his premises. Louis's manner seems to transcend all languages and personalities. Maybe that is why he is so successful.
Louis also reminded those who think that the job is easy by mentioning that even in California, Mother Nature still plays hardball sometimes. "Last night we had frost. It went down to 29 Fahrenheit. I was up all night." This comes after 100 plus temps the week before.
I am sure that somehow, he will survive this on much as he survived the last 35!
A Yummy Dinner At Hadsten House!
Greg was busy filming Chef Aaron cook the Fillet of Beef and Halibut Steak Wrapped In Prosciutto when I walked into the kitchen. The Hadsten House kitchen was amazingly clean and well equipped. The Chef seemed to know what he was doing as did Greg. I was a bit extraneous so I went back to my room only to receive a call saying, "Dinner is Ready!"
Back I went to find to find a marvellous setting ready to be eaten. First, however, we had to film.
Filming went through the usual bloopers but when all was said and done,we dug in and enjoyed.
Greg had a "Big Easy" from Fess Parker and I had a Viognier from Consilience Vineyards with my Halibut. Both wines were ideal with the meals.
Standing Guard
While at the restaurant, we met four United States Coast Guard officers enjoying a meal at the Hadsten House. We had a great discussion with them and came out of it feeling secure that, if all Coast Guard personnel were like these four, America was in phenomenal hands in keeping it secure. My congratulations to these fine officers and the great contribution that the United States Coast Guard performs in the security of North America.
Mike Lopez
I have made it a habit to know the people who I share space with----even in a restaurant. Mike Lopez was the entertainer at the Hadsten House yesterday. A brief discussion ensued and some enlightening information came forward. Mike took me on a journey into his ancestral past when his great grandfather rode cattle herds along the beaches to Gaviota. Mike told me about the fact that his family heritage is buried at the mission built inn 1804 and the oldest functioning church of its kind in America. Mike is more than just an entertainer. He is a story and as he said
"Everyone has a story to tell! All we have to do is listen.
Greg asked Mike to sing a couple of his songs for the show and Mike complied. It became an end to a very fine evening.
Final Note
The day ended well not because of any massive effort from me but because of people such as: Mary, Bill, Charles, Louis, Tim, Jack, Terry. I prayed for some help and boy did He give it to me!
That's why they call this area "God's Country"!!!