Saturday morning tea, reflections on Sonoma – Part 1

Sonoma and Crater Lake, both beautiful, both potentially intoxicating, one in a not-so-good way the other most desirably good. We try to take one trip a year, yet we have not been there for three years so we enthusiastically anticipated this trip. First off – Sonoma and food.

We visit Sonoma for great food and exploring wineries, seldom are we disappointed, this trip was one of theimg_2463 best. We discovered that some things are changing in the Napa-Sonoma world. In the past we gravitated toward the less presumptuous Sonoma, and less expensive. Well, Sonoma has become more like Napa, and Napa has become a bit less stuffy

Thursday night we started the gastronomical part of our trip at John Ash & Company, part of the
Vintners Inn at Windsor. A new place and definitely on our list of places to revisit.

Friday lunch we headed for Brix, near Yountville. Plein aire dining with a view of the gardens has always been a must on our trips of the past; not sure about the future though. The food was good, but not as stellar as in the past. My flatbread was soggy. The roasted, thin red peppers were so good, they could have been my meal. The service that makes you feel tended to but comfortable was right on. A good meal.

So why the uncertainty about the future? We noticed it in the food, good but not as great as in the past. We learned that there was a new manager. Making conversation with one of the servers I asked how long she had worked there. She said she came over with the new manager, from a restaurant we were not familiar with (she seemed slightly put off that we did not recognize it, apparently it has prestige). She explained that the new manager brought some of his old staff in so they could raise the standard of the restaurant up. When I said I liked Brix better than Thomas Kellar’s  famous French Laundry or Bouchon it was clear she did not agree. So I am concerned that Brix is changing, sad for us, but we pretty much agreed that on our next trip we might just skip it.

img_2462We had reservations for dinner Saturday at Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, CA, another fixture for us on our trips to Sonoma. Nothing but good things to say. I had the Spicy Crusted Liberty Duck, duck is right up there with flatbreads in my food addiction collection. It came with roasted peach, duck confit ravioli, and Swiss chard. I find my limitations as a food writer surface when I have an extraordinary meal, I focus more on the experience and it all becomes a kaleidoscope of flavors, all good but my vocabulary is just too limited, and metaphors elude me. “Deliciousness” is the pop term, but it sounds goofy to me, Tony Bourdain and others use the term “food porn” but that offends me. So just think of wonderful tastes, a bit of spice, but not chili or Thai, crispy crust, and perfectly pink meat. I smile just trying to write about it.

Sunday we tried a new place, Brava Tapas, in Healdsburg. We love anything with small-plates, and of course the Spanish invented the premier small-plate, tapas. In Barcelona, one of our favorites was tomato bread, it is so simple that it has evaded reproduction in our own kitchen, just toasted bread rubbed and topped with tomato; of course we started with that. We paired the bread with roasted potatoes and sautéed mushrooms. While we ate we watched a chef prepare Paella over an open fire, in a paella that was about six feet in diameter, great entertainment.

I finished off with Spanish Sardines, another Barcelona memory. Do not even think of the canned sardines available in the stores, check the photo.

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Completing the food part of the Sonoma leg of our trip were a few picnics, procured at the Oakville Market, the oldest continuing operating grocery store in California, opened 1881. It is an iconic place in Healdsburg. We ate well, and shock of shocks, did not gain any weight.

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Quick trip to Rattlesnake Hills – the best plans are not planned

A winery dinner seemed like a good excuse to get away for the weekend, reservations made, a few things packed, and we were off.

Cowiche Canyon Kitchen + Ice House in Yakima was our first stop. There is a sign as you enter Yakima on I-82 that calls Yakima “the Palm Springs of Washington”, well most of us that know the city find that humorous – really? Yet Yakima has made a concerted effort over the last 10 years or so to improve its image and overcome its reputation as a major drug port of entry. The transformation is working, it really is a different city today, Cowiche Canyon is proof.cck-cowiche-canyon-kitchen=exterior-yakima-best-restaurant

The decor is contemporary, rustic, industrial. The staff are welcoming, friendly and professional –  it is clear that customer service is a priority. The menu fits the rustic decor, local as much as possible, grilled entrees, and creative offerings – perfect.

We started with a grilled artichoke, easily the best artichoke I have ever had. It was sliced in half, the “hairy parts” scooped out, then grilled with flaked sea salt. It was so good that I tried to do it the same way at home Sunday, came out pretty close, will keep working on it.

I had the steak frites with black peppercorn sauce, Tricia had an amazing omelet. The wine list is just right, not overwhelming, but with enough variety to satisfy, some local wines along with some from further afield. This was the perfect start for our weekend.

Our dinner was not until 6.00pm, so we had time to hit a winery or two. I had tried to visit Dineen Family Winery a year or so ago but it was not open, this time it was. Good wine, we bought 4 bottles, and I must get back to do a sketch or two in the future. Jenny, the tasting room manager invited me to do some artwork for their tasting room next spring, so I know I will be back.

The reason for the trip was a winery dinner at VanArnam Vineyards. I have been a fan of their reds and their Viognier for some time, so we were looking forward to a good meal in a nice setting. I make it a point to not embellish my disappointments at restaurants and events, so I will only say that I was hoping for something more than just an average paella, served with a salad of greens with a vinaigrette dressing. I know the weather forecast caused them to change the venue, sadly that produced poor acoustics which rendered the music superfluous. Allison VanArnam really does work to make everyone feel welcome, I am sure she had some disappointments as well. The highlight of the evening was the sunset, words won’t work, check the photo.IMG_2451

Sunday morning we stopped at Roslyn, remember the show Twin Peaks, we drank tea while wandering through the farmers market – another place on our growing list of must return places.

Again I am reminded that the best parts of most of our trips are the unexpected and unplanned. Plan enough to get you where you are going, then throw the script away and just see what is around the next corner, it just might be great.

Traveling on a Saturday morning, with tea

It has been less than two weeks since we got back from Japan, we have two more trips on the calendar, and are already talking about our next trip to Europe. Anticipation is as much a part of the journey as the trip itself.

timthumb.phpThe next trip is a quick jaunt to Eastern Washington for a dinner at VanArnam Winery. They are a small winery in the Rattlesnake Hills AVA, part of the Yakima Valley wine region. Unfortunately this area does not get the recognition of the Washington Wineries further East. The landscape is much more like the Oregon or Sonoma regions, more green and hills. The vineyards are interspersed with the fruit orchards, VanArnam actually started as apple growers and still do.

A week later we fly to Sonoma, a few days in wine country – sipping, eating, and hiking. Then we drive to Crater Lake National Park, more hiking and some painting. Then we drive home through Eastern Washington, just might need to make a stop along the way to pick up a wine club or two.

Next year though, Europe is on the radar. I have only spent 2 days in Italy, Tricia has not been there, so it is about time. Tricia has a friend who lives north of Inverness, I have a friend near Edinburgh, so Scotland is in the mix. There is a used bookstore in York, and San Sebastian in Spain is enticing. You can see there is lots of talk, web searches, and planning to come. Nothing like a glass of wine, some cheese, and maps to make for a perfect evening.

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A page from a Victorian Journal, possibly done by Queen Victoria herself

Personally I am on a quest for a Victorian Journal. I saw two on our last trip to Bath, England. Long before the days of recording life with photos and Facebook, people would have a journal that they would take when they went to visit friends. They would exchange the journals during their time together and each would make an entry in the others. Sometimes a paragraph, or maybe a poem, a sketch or a cartoon. These were treasured, a record of friends and family more personal than selfies on Instagram. The two I saw were at a book fair, for sale, but sadly not in the budget on that trip. So this trip we plan to hit used book stores and watch for book fairs.

We are always traveling, even on a Saturday morning like this, while sipping green tea made in the teapot I brought from Japan. I guess this is what they call wanderlust, a favorite pastime for theWinesketcher.

May and June madness

This has been a travel heavy couple of months. Since May 20, 2015:

  • Honolulu (1 night)
  • Walla Walla, WA
  • Hayward, CA
  • San Jose, CA
  • Indiana
  • Portland, OR
  • Back to Portland
  • Denver, CO
  • Phoenix, AZ
  • Portland, OR
  • Tacoma, WA
  • Anaheim, CA
  • Sacramento, CA
  • Tempe, AZ

Of course between most of these I was back in Seattle, then off again.

Not complaining but I must say I am glad that things are a bit slower in July. Now I can focus on painting bathroom, working in yard, and getting ready for two, yes two weddings this month. July 11, my sister gets married and I get the honor of officiating. Then on July 31 our daughter gets married, should be a wonderful day.

ThankfulIMG_1463ly there is time to sit on the patio by the garden and write on a cool morning before the heat comes, I love this yard. Then a glass of rosé after the work is done, after all thewinesketcher knows how to relax as well.

Hopefully August will not be as frantic, that is the plan.

Wine cellars for the rest of us

For centuries, wine cellars have been dark, windowless spaces with bottles stuffed into cubbies, more function than form. But that doesn’t suit a new generation, for whom wine collecting is as much a social hobby as an investment strategy.

For these collectors, the cellar needs to be a showpiece, maybe with single-paned glass, LED lights and clear sleeves that put labels on display. And befitting their elevated status, sometimes these spaces aren’t in the basement at all. “They’re not wine cellars anymore,” said Robert Bass, president of Greenville, S.C.-based Kessick Wine Cellars. “They’re wine rooms.”

So wrote Lisa Selin Davis in an article for The Wall Street Journal on October 16, 2014.

This is one of the cellars featured in her article, yet this is not what theWinesketcer’s cellar looks like. E2217045-1A9B-4B9F-BBD0-A54DCCD0F7DFOne contractor, quoted in the article, said his custom cellars start at $10,000; some were well into 6 figures, a bit beyond my budget, even if I did have a house with the square footage for such a wine cellar. OK, I will admit a bit of envy, they are beautiful. Thankfully you do not have to have an air-conditioned, custom designed wine museum to enjoy your wine to the fullest.

So what about the rest of us? There are many varietals of wine drinkers. Most wine is drank within a day or two of being purchased; no real need to think about how to store needed. Then there are those who like to accumulate wine. It could be a few bottles of a favorite label picked up on a visit to a winery, shipments from a wine club, or just the convenience of having wine on hand to pick from. Once the wine bug bites you will find that you buy an occasional bottle that deserves to be aged or at least saved for a special occasion.

Those who invest the big bucks to create these wonderful cellars have taken wine to a different level; wine becomes a collector’s item or an investment. They spend far more for bottles of wine than the other 80-90% of wine drinkers, and it justifies having a cellar that matches that investment. It is easy to see the attraction, but most of us can enjoy the pleasure of wine without the intensity. We may be “new generation” yet “function and form” may be just fine.

When you have more than a bottle or two to keep, a few simple concepts will serve your wine well. First, if you are going to drink it in the next 3 or 4 days you don’t have to be overly concerned, just away from heat and you will most likely be fine.

Secondly, know that most decorative wine racks are not great places to store wine for more than a day or two. The tops of refrigerators are frequently adorned with some wood or wrought-iron wine rack holding a half a dozen bottles. This is about as bad as it gets. It is too hot, probably too much light, and then there is the vibration of the refrigerator, which just irritates the wine, and it rebels by breaking down into an inferior beverage.

Furniture and kitchen designers make some beautiful wine cabinets and racks, the problem is, you will want to keep them on display, they are furniture. That means they will most likely be located in a part of the house that is too warm for wine to thrive.

Wherever your wine ends up being stored the important considerations:

  • Wine likes to be cool, not cold, but cool – so under 65F for most, and in the 50F’s for optimal. (Some argue 53-55F is the absolute best.)
  • Wine likes the dark – light and especially direct sunshine will ruin a bottle in a short time
  • Wine likes to sleep – so vibrations and frequent movement disturb the rest.
  • Wine hates dry corks – so except for screw tops, which are no sign of inferior wine, it should lay on its side, all the better for sleeping. Sparkling wines can be stored upright because the pressure keeps the humidity in the bottle high enough to keep the cork damp.

Basements, or closets in a spare room (that is not always heated) work great.

IMG_1144Here is a portion of my cellar; it is in a basement room, actually the whole double closet. The wooden racks, work well and are affordable, the wrought-iron rack is for bottles that are bigger in diameter. (There is also an experimental rose fermenting there from some grapes in our garden.)

Do you need a wine refrigerator? Maybe. My daughter lived in an apartment with no air-conditioning, it was hot in the summer, no place cool enough for happy wine. So she needed a small wine refrigerator. If you start to explore some higher end wines that you plan to keep longer, or are just worth extra protection, then a wine refrigerator for those makes good sense.

Wine responds to just a bit of care by giving us great enjoyment. Set up your own cellar, whether 10 bottles or a 100, then when the urge for a bit of cheese and a glass of wine hits, you are ready.

Bunnell Family Wines, they do it all right!

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Bunnell Family Cellar is everything I love about wine. It only takes one tasting flight to know that they make wonderful wines, I am particularly partial to three: Via, Lia, and Syrah. Yet good wine is made great by pleasant surroundings and convivial company, that is what makes Bunnell all that it is.

If you are treated to Susan and Danielle’s hospitality at Wine O’Clock, or Rochelle and Cheryl in the Woodenville tasting room you know that their terroir compliments the skill of Ron, the winemaker.

Susan is the ultimate hostess. She welcomes and makes you feel like you are special, and I truly believe she thinks you are special. We have eaten at Wine O’clock and been lavished on with tasting after tasting, she always has just one more she wants you to try. Some would do that and it would seem like high pressure sales, but with the Bunnell’s it is because they love food and wine, and they want you to enjoy them as well.

Woodenville has become a wine haven, Bunnell sits next to Kestrel, another favorite. We went in a week or two ago because I had to miss the release party. Rochelle and Cheryl gave us what amounted to a private tasting. Now that they have food, cheese and salami plates, it was a wonderful time. We laughed and sipped, they love having you there.

There are those who can write more in depth about the technicalities of the wines they make than I can, so I acquiesce to them. What I know is that I have never had a disappointing wine at Bunnell. Being a family winery, Ron will most likely be the winemaker for many years, that ensures consistency for the long run.

My criteria for a great wine experience is a decent wine, with pleasant people, in a amicable setting, and stories to tell or create. Bunnell excels at all of these. Stop by and have a glass, check out my art that they recently are showing, and tell them theWinesketcher sent you.

Bunnell Winery has my art on display and for sale.

So thrilled! Bunnell Winery in Woodinville, WA has a display of a new acrylic on canvas of mine, and matted prints and cards for sale. Bunnell is one of my favorite wines, their Lia, Via, and Syrah are always the best. Stop by, have a sip, and take a peak.

See more sketches and art at theWinesketcher.

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Big Bold Red’s are not a right of passage

big bold redDundee, Oregon is one my favorite places, it is in the center of the Yamhill Wine country. On multiple intersections there are signs encouraging those who are seeking “big bold reds” to visit some winery. At any quality retailer in Washington State the refrigerated section dedicated to domestic beer is likely to be heavily stocked with IPA’s challenging you with their hoppy bitterness, the stronger the better. Less obvious, but just as prevalent to those who are lured by good Scotch whisky, is the proclamation of peat and smoky taste.2920783.deschutesbrewery

Flavor, and taste are pleasures to be savored in all of their diversity, yet I fear that in our current propensity for competition and unisex-machismo we have turned drinking into a contact sport. “I drink white wine but have not worked my way up to reds,” is a frequent reply when I inquire if a person likes wine.

Let’s be clear, if you like wine of any color, you like wine. Some of the finest wines of Burgundy in France are from Chardonnay grapes — white. There are more Pilsners and lagers consumed in the world than ales, hoppy or not.

There is one rule about what to drink — drink what you like, with people you enjoy. Wine Spectator ratings are helpful, but only a guide; a wine in the 80’s is not vinegar, in fact it may be downright enjoyable. Yes, you often do “get what you pay for,” but price is only an indicator. I remember a $60 limited Oregon Chardonnay that we saved for a special occasion. It was good, but we both felt that the $20 label from the same vintner was just as good.

Should you try a big bold red, yes, absolutely! Because it is part of the pleasure to experience as many as you can, you may like it, but to drink it because you are supposed to, or because it is seen as some higher calling, not a good thing. TheWinesketcher loves bold reds, and hoppy brews, but for the flavor, not as a right of passage.

In the summer I drink less red wine than in the winter, rosé and white just work better on the sunny deck. Hoppy beers and pilsners work in the summer but when Fall arrives stouts and doppelbocks are a perfect match, along with a Barbera or a Malbec. (Oregon Pinot Noir is good year round.)

TheWinesketcher never tires of reminding the world that wine is a blessing from God, bringing people together, adding to the mystery we call taste. If you see me with my sketchpad at some winery, grab a glass of whatever you like most, sit down and join me. We may discuss taste and terroir, but I will toast whatever is in your glass and be grateful for making a new friend. Then tell me you read my blogs and I will do a sketch just for you, on the spot.

 

 

“Beer is made by men, wine by God.” Luther

The view from Torri MorSo how did this fascination of mine with wine develop? I remember the days of Annie Green Springs wine (last produced in 1977). Or Almaden jug wine, it comes in a box today; but a box would never work for a candleholder, which graced many of our tables, alongside concrete block bookshelves, and kerosene lamps, in the late 60’s. We thought Blue Nun was for special occasions. Growing up under the cloud that “good Christian boys don’t drink” added a cavalier mystic about the whole thing.

Somewhere along the way tastes and availability changed. In the late 60’s and the 70’s wine was either a cheap drink that tasted cheap, or the beverage of the hoity-toity. Us commoners drank beer; Bud or Miller, or spirits, mine was Black Velvet. We drank either for social status or for the buzz; thankfully my goal was rarely for the buzz, but I did fit in with the crowd.

Today I drink beverages for one reason, the enjoyment of taste. I drink San Pellegrino because I like the carbonation, wines of all types because of the tastes and experience, beers and whisky. The whole idea of intoxication is revolting, but the pleasure of taste is wonderful. And of course Martin Luther got it right when he said, “Beer is made by men, wine by God.”

1986-1987 marked a turning point in my life. Divorce, new job, new marriage, new city – all resulted in a new relationship to food and wine.

Pre-1986 my culinary repertoire included Hamburger Helper, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and dehydrated Potatoes Au Gratin. Special occasions might produce steak, baked potato, and broccoli. Beverages were usually beer.

On my own, living on a houseboat at Hayden Island in Portland, I began to cook, nothing exciting but less out of a box. Sautéed mushrooms, and some experiments that turned out badly, but I have not had Hamburger Helper since.

A new lady in my life who drank wine, liked good food, and listened to jazz changed it all; add a new boss who frequented fine restaurants, ordered wine I would never have known of let alone been able to afford, produced the climate for change. I developed a taste that my mother tells me I had when I was in the 7th grade experimenting with gourmet cooking; it just needed the right environment.

Our first wine club was Sunset Magazine, a grand adventure in each shipment for one such as I who had tasted so few. The dates and times get cloudy looking back all these years, but we visited a winery one day in Dundee, Oregon; there was a trip or two to Sonoma in California, the interest was growing.

Then Trader Joe’s came to Lynnwood. Wine from all over the world, at prices we could afford. Two-Buck-Chuck (Shaw) never did work, but there were plenty of wines that did. We tried new labels, asked for advice, all the while I was attempting to act as if I knew what I was talking about. In those days we splurged on $8 bottles for special occasions.

More trips to Sonoma, returning from each one with many bottles in the trunk, we actually had extra bottles in the house, a wine cellar! So sophisticated. The final push happened when our daughter went to George Fox College in Newberg, Oregon. It is located in the heart of the Oregon wine country. We quickly became regulars at a few of the wineries and restaurants.

Torii Mor was our first winery-based club, the rest is history; many more trips to wine areas, more wine clubs, lots of reading and tasting. Wine is more than the liquid in the glass; there is a style of life, the ambiance of the tasting rooms, the beauty of the vineyards, the pleasure of fellowshipping with friends and food.

Today I am often sipping wine with pen ink and paint; sketching a winery over a glass of wine is one of life’s great pleasures. These last 27 years I have been privileged to eat some wonderful food, taste some fantastic wines, and see some incredible sites. I am grateful to God every day for the blessing of travel, taste, and friends. Sante!