What's great in wine, beer, fine dining,
places to stay, & places to visit
in California State

Wells Fargo Sculpture Garden and KidsKids can get into sculpture, too.

TASTE News Service July 27, 2015 - Art and nature lovers can view, touch, walk through, and climb 16 colossal wood sculptures made from salvaged old-growth redwood and metal in the new one-acre outdoor sculpture garden at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa.

Created by acclaimed local artist Bruce Johnson and installed in a natural setting designed by Bill Mastick of Quadriga Landscape Architecture and Planning, the free outdoor exhibit "Root 101" opened to the public in June 2015.

The result of two years of planning, design, construction, and collaboration, the new sculpture garden stretches along the border of the arts center and its new neighbor, Sutter Hospital. Johnson's artwork will be on display in the sculpture garden for two years.

The garden will showcase large scale works by regional artists on a rotating basis, with new exhibits installed every other year. A free audio tour is available via cell phone, or guided docent tours can be arranged with advance reservations. The sculpture garden is an expansion of the center's visual arts program, with art by more than a dozen other artists displayed throughout the center's campus.

The nonprofit Wells Fargo Center for the Arts presents world-class performances, nationally recognized education programs, contemporary visual art, and many popular civic events.

Editor’s note:  Wells Fargo Center for the Arts is located at 50 Mark West Springs Road, just north of downtown Santa Rosa off Hwy 101. More information about it can be found at wellsfargocenterarts.org. If you’re thinking of visiting we suggest your first check out the Sonoma County listings in the North Coast section of Taste California Travel’s Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as those to Wineries and Craft Beer specialists.

Sunday, 26 July 2015 11:14

July 24, 2015 Wine Pick of the Week

Dry Creeek Vineyard 2014 SB Picmonkey

2014 Sauvignon Blanc


Dry Creek Vineyard

Dry Creek Valley

Alcohol: 13.5%

Suggested Retail: $18


“The Dry Creek Valley is a recognized grapegrowing region within Northern California’s Sonoma County. It is home to many wineries, one of which has a similar-sounding name. Dry Creek Vineyard  was established by Dave Stare over 40 years ago and, while it produces other wines, it’s probably best known for its Fumé Blanc.

“Legend has it that Robert Mondavi thought consumers wouldn’t order a wine whose name they might mispronounce, so in the late 1960s he began marketing a white wine made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape as Fumé Blanc. Today California wineries produce similar wines under both names. In general, those with the Fumé designation are thought to evoke a style popular in the Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé regions of France’s Loire Valley and those using Sauvignon to resemble the white wines of the Bordeaux region. However, differences in Sauvignon Blanc/Fumé Blanc wines can be substantial depending on where the fruit is grown and how the winemaker chooses to interpret the variety.

“This week’s Pick, the 2014 Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc is made up of 82% Sauvignon Blanc grapes, and the balance of two close relatives, Sauvignon Musqué (14%) and Sauvignon Gris (4%). The Musqué clone typically provides some nice aromatics and a bit of roundness in the mouth. This wine hints of an intriguing balance from the very beginning. The aroma is both floral and citrussy--particularly lime zest. On the palate this Sauvignon Blanc shows a little white peach and crisp winter pear, backed by some more citrus. Throughout, there is a roundness, or creaminess in the background. This one is subtle and sophisticated—almost elegant.”

Food Affinity: “Mussels in white wine with garlic or a lobster bisque.”

sea lion PicmonkeyCalifornia sea lions often seen on North Coast

TASTE News Servicer July 24, 2015 - With the addition of another 2,769 square miles of ocean and coastline to two national marine sanctuaries, a much larger section of sea life along the Sonoma Coast is permanently protected from oil drilling.

In the works for decades and made official on June 9, 2015, the expansion more than doubles the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (established in 1981), taking it from 1,282 square miles to 3,295 square miles of ocean and coastal waters.

Now renamed the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, this protected area stretches from Bodega Head in southern Sonoma County to just north of Point Arena in Mendocino County, protecting critical habitat along the entire Sonoma County coastline.

Plus, the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary (established in 1989) increased from 529 square miles to 1,286 square miles, covering an area of ocean waters from Bodega Bay south toward San Francisco.

The marine sanctuaries contribute to ocean and coastal management by creating public outreach and education, promoting stewardship, conducting scientific and applied research, and developing and supporting programs to strengthen the long-term health of the region.

Editor’s note: If you’re planning to do any touring in this beautiful part of California, we suggest you visit the North Coast listings in Taste California Travel’s Resource Directory. There you’ll find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to Wineries and Craft Beer specialists.

Griffo Gin bottle Picmonkey

TASTE News Service July 23, 2015 - The new Griffo Distillery creates small-batch, grain-to-glass spirits, hand-distilling them in a 250-gallon American-made copper pot still in the Sonoma County riverside town of Petaluma.

A light, crisp, and fresh twist on the traditional English Gin, Scott Street Gin is the distillery's initial offering. Made in the London style, it's mixed with the balance of botanicals inside the pot still and distilled in a single run. The process requires intensive preparation and attention to detail.

Griffo's bourbon and rye whiskeys are distilled and aged in brand new, locally coopered, charred barrels. The grains are hand-selected from the local farmers, all within 15 miles of the distillery, and hand-milled on site. All whiskey is distilled four times, and every drop of water used in the process is collected and given to local farmers.

Michael and Jenny Griffo founded Griffo Distillery as part of the movement back to creating things with intention, love, and responsibility. After five years of planning and hard work, they opened the doors to their distillery in April 2015.

Editor’s Note: If you’re planning a visit to Sonoma County, we suggest you first check out the North Coast listings at Taste California Travel’s Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to Wineries and Craft Beer specialists. Further information about Griffo Distillery can be found at GriffoDistillery.com.

Liz Thach PicmonkeyDistinguished Professor of Wine Liz Thach

TASTE News Service, July 15, 2015 - Master of Wine, Liz Thach has been named Sonoma State University's (SSU) Distinguished Professor of Wine. Dr. Thach will work collaboratively with the faculty, staff, board, and leadership of the Wine Business Institute to conduct ongoing wine research programs; provide thought leadership to the global wine business industry; teach courses, seminars, and workshops in wine and wine business; and connect with SSU alumni working in global wine industry businesses.

In addition to the many accolades that Liz has brought to the Wine Business Institute, she has made significant impact in students' education and the careers of alumni. "Liz has a collaborative style of teaching that empowered me as a student. She provided the path to where I am now as National Sales Director at Ehler's Estate," said Armen Khachaturian, who graduated in 2002 with his bachelors in Wine Business Strategies.

"Even in the program's infancy, Liz had a vision for what it would do to elevate students in their careers. A defining moment for me with Liz was when we were sitting down to a SSU Wine Sense Club meeting and she very clearly told me that she could envision me as an Executive in the international department at a leading winery," recalled Elizabeth Rice, Director of International Operations & Marketing at Delicato Family Vineyards. "Her words helped me navigate my way into my now career at Delicato, a leading California wine brand."

Liz Thach holds a doctorate in Human Resource Development from Texas A&M University, and a Master in Business Communication from Texas Tech University. In 2011, she received her Master of Wine from the Institute of Masters of Wine in London. She has published six wine books, over 120 trade and scholarly articles, and eight book chapters throughout her career. Her most recent book is Call of the Vine: Exploring Ten Famous Vineyards of Napa and Sonoma, which won the 2014 Gourmand Award for Best Women in Wine Book in the US.

About Sonoma State University's Wine Business Institute

Sonoma State University's Wine Business Institute is located in the heart of California wine country and was created through a public-private partnership between the university and the wine industry. Founded in 1995, it is the first program in the United States to offer undergraduate and graduate degrees focused exclusively on the business aspects of the wine industry. In addition to its academic programs that include the first undergraduate and graduate degrees with a concentration in wine business, the Wine Business Institute offers an array of professional development courses for the industry. Its faculty members are published experts, active researchers, and requested presenters on pressing industry topics. The Wine Business Institute operates within Sonoma State's School of Business and Economics, a fully accredited AACSB institution. Learn more at sonoma.edu/winebiz

Friday, 26 June 2015 20:28

June 26, 2015 Wine Pick of the Week

The Rule SB Picmonkey

2014 Sauvignon Blanc


The Rule

Napa Valley

Alcohol: 14.6%

Suggested Retail: $14

“Nose shows lemon, a little peach and some honeysuckle. The taste is lean and pleasing in a style that’s quite distant from the aggressive grassiness of the New Zealand examples of this grape variety. The winemaker’s tasting notes suggests it tastes of lemon cream pie—that’s accurate for the reviewer’s palate, too. Balanced and almost gentle, this is an easy wine to like.”

Food affinity: “Ceviche. Scallops with a green curry sauce. Steamed basa with lemon grass, black mushrooms and cilantro.”

Carneros Wine Alliance logo Picmonkey

TASTE News Service June 18, 2015 - The non-profit Carneros Wine Alliance will host a “Year of the Ram” 30th Birthday Bash on Saturday afternoon, July 25. The event will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the group’s founding as well as the 2015 Year of the Ram (“carneros” in Spanish) in the Chinese zodiac calendar. The Carneros wine region has American Viticultural Area (AVA) status and includes land in the southern parts of both Sonoma and Napa Counties.

Though famous for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which represent approximately 90% of planted vineyard acres in Carneros, the remaining 10% includes varietals ranging from Syrah and Merlot to the more unusual Marsanne, Roussane, Albariño, Petit Verdot, Pinot Meunier, Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, and Tempranillo.

Anne Moller RackeAnne Moller Racke“When we founded the Carneros Wine Alliance 30 years ago we saw the potential for The Carneros AVA to be considered a leading appellation for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay,” reflected Anne Moller-Racke, CWA president and president and winegrower of The Donum Estate in Carneros. “Now, Carneros is known around the world as a producer of world-class wines and a wine capital in its own right. I’m so very proud and honored to have been part of this history and I’m looking forward to the next three decades of promoting our beautiful appellation and the wines that are created here.”

The 30th Birthday Bash is open to the public. A broad selection of Carneros wines is to be paired with locally sourced appetizers while participants enjoy live music and art at the stunning di Rosa property in the heart of Carneros. Tickets to the 30th Birthday Bash are limited and available at $100 a person. A portion of the proceeds will benefit di Rosa, a non-profit contemporary art museum celebrating the artists of Northern California. For further details visit: carneros.com/yearoftheram-30anniversary.

About the Carneros Wine Alliance:

The Carneros Wine Alliance is a non-profit association of wineries and grape-growers in the Carneros American Viticultural Area (AVA). Carneros is located at the crossroads of two major wine regions, the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. A cool-climate appellation influenced by the waters of the San Francisco Bay, Carneros has long been known for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sparkling wine production.

About di Rosa:

Located on over 200 acres in the Carneros region of Napa Valley, di Rosa celebrates the artists of Northern California through a wide array of exhibitions and educational programs for all ages. The permanent collection features nearly 2,000 works by 800 regional artists working from the 1960s to the present. A wide range of styles, media, and subject matter provide an overview of the creative energy and freedom to experiment that characterize this region of California. For more information, hours, and tour schedules, visit diRosaArt.org.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015 15:52

Explore Peanuts in Sonoma County

Charlie Brown sculpture Picmonkey

TASTE News Service June 10, 2015 - With a new Peanuts movie hitting movie screens in November 2015, this is a perfect time to celebrate the funny, touching, and loveable Peanuts cartoon characters by visiting their "home town", Santa Rosa, California.

Created by the late cartoonist Charles "Sparky" Schulz, the Peanuts gang lives in our hearts and minds: Charlie Brown working up the courage to talk to the red-haired girl. Lucy pulling away the football at the last possible moment, or just being her crabby self. Linus philosophizing while clutching his security blanket. Snoopy flying his doghouse in a battle against the Red Baron, dancing with wild abandon, or simply being cool.

Schulz passed away in 2000, but his characters continue to charm us, and make us laugh. Nowhere is their presence felt more than in Sonoma County, which Schulz called home for more than 40 years. He moved to the town of Sebastopol in 1958, and settled in Santa Rosa in the early 70s.

A modest man, Schulz nixed the idea of sculptures of himself. However, he approved statues of his characters. In tribute, the city of Santa Rosa sponsored "Peanuts on Parade" art projects, in which local artists decorated five-foot-tall fiberglass statues of a single character.

Charlie Brown figures were decorated in the summer of 2005, Woodstock in 2006, Snoopy in 2007, and Lucy in 2010. In all, the program distributed more than 200 statues and raised more than $500,000 for art scholarships and to install permanent bronze Peanuts sculptures at three sites in town.

As a result, whimsically decorated images of these four Peanuts characters are scattered across Santa Rosa and its environs, tempting fans to explore the community that Schulz loved. Each individual statue has its own color scheme and personality, depending on the organization or individual who commissioned each piece and the vision of the artist who decorated it. Although they are privately owned, more than 70 are still in public view.

Sonoma County has designed a two-day itinerary to take you to some of the most memorable and entertaining of those images, along with places significant to Schulz.

Editor’s Note: If you’re planning a trip to Sonoma County, we suggest first visiting Taste California Travel’s Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to Sonoma Wineries and Craft Beer Purveyors.

Sunday, 07 June 2015 14:34

June 5, 2015 Wine Pick of the Week

Bodkin Cuvee Agincourt Picmonkey

Cuvée Agincourt (N/V)

 Blanc de Sauvignon Blanc


Bodkin Wines

North Coast

Alcohol: 11.5%

Suggested Retail: $23


“The thought of a sparkling wine made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes was intriguing. Your reviewer had never tasted one. Never even heard of one ‘til recently. Apparently, they’re not unknown in Australia and New Zealand, where winemaker Chris Christensen found inspiration to create such a wine in California. To our knowledge, Bodkin Wines’ Cuvée Agincourt is the only such wine made in America.

“In years past, almost any wine with bubbles was labeled ‘Champagne.’ However, most wineries outside France now eschew using the name ‘Champagne’ on their effervescent wines, not wanting to unfairly appropriate a place name for a similar product (which would be kind of like a winery in some other country producing a Cabernet Sauvignon and calling it ‘Napa Valley’). However, emulating the style of winemaking in the Champagne region of France isn’t a bad way to go if you want to produce a quality sparkler. Such style would include using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and—to a lesser extent—Pinot Meuneir, the traditional grapes of Champagne. California is turning out ever better efforts in this methode traditionelle.

“But who’s to say that’s the only way to make a good-tasting sparkling wine? Unfettered by tradition and regulation of their Gallic counterparts, California winemakers have always been innovative. Cuvée Agincourt is made entirely of Sauvignon Blanc grapes sourced from Lake County and the Russian River area of Sonoma County. When first tasted, it was not clearly recognizable as Sauvignon Blanc, yet it wasn’t quite like Champagne or California sparklers either. There was that yeasty, toasty aspect reminiscent of Champagne (the French stuff), but predominant aromas and flavor came across to us in a more citrusy personality. The mid-palate was fairly rich and showed a roundness in the mouth. The wine finished dry and lingered a bit. Unsure about the whole idea when we first popped the cork, we warmed to this unique wine as we got used to a taste and style new to us. It’s an interesting concept, one we suspect will encourage similar experimentation by other California wineries.

“As the wine itself is intriguing, so is the story behind it. The name Bodkin, the Battle of Agincourt and the winery’s motto all tie together, but it’s too involved to get into here. We suggest you check out the winery website--or your books on European history and a copy of William Shakespeare’s Henry V.”

Food Affinity: “We enjoyed Cuvée Agincourt with grilled chicken breasts that had been marinated in lime juice, Tequila and cilantro. You might try this wine with brunch-time egg dishes or smoked salmon.

Tuesday, 02 June 2015 18:55

An Icon Exits

By Dan Clarke


Geo Starke photo courtesy of St Helena Star PicmonkeyGeorge Starke photo courtesy of St. Helena StarMy friend George Starke died Saturday.

After serving his country as a naval officer in World War II, George enjoyed a career as a petroleum engineer. He and his wife Bette moved up to the Napa Valley after leaving Standard Oil.

In the early days of his retirement George and Bette were involved in the ownership of Napa Cellars winery, but we met subsequent to that part of his life. George was penning his column, Up and Down the Wine Roads, for the St. Helena Star and I was writing for the California Wine Press. He had taught wine classes for UC Irvine in Southern California and, later, at Napa Valley College. He knew all the major players in Napa’s wine scene and most of the minor ones, too. Though living in Sacramento, I was in the Napa Valley frequently and would always pick up a copy of the Star, mostly to read what George had to say. His column was breezy—sort of a wine country version of those by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Herb Caen—but there was real news in it.

Our paths crossed frequently at winery events. He and Bette were delightful company. She was substitute teaching in the Valley and would sometimes have a story or two to share about how her day had gone. George and I could swap wine writer tales and, on occasion, he’d even ask what I knew about some developing story. Hardly ever would I know more than he did, unless the action was taking place far beyond Napa. Mostly I listened and learned.

Though they were older than I was, George and Bette didn’t seem like it. They were fun to be around and must have been way more adventurous than most of their contemporaries. This morning I spoke to David Stoneberg, Editor of the St. Helena Star, seeking permission to run a picture of George for this article. During our conversation I mentioned a moment with George and Bette at a luncheon in San Francisco about 20 years ago. They had just returned from a trip and George was still feeling the effects of a European skiing accident. I confessed my fear of heights and said I’d stick to cross-country, adding, “But, George, I guess if a man grew up with downhill skiing it’s probably not so intimidating.” That might be so, he concurred, but he hadn’t grown up in the sport. He said he’d taken up skiing just two or three years earlier. Mr. Stoneberg replied that George had long championed the construction of a zipline running out of the Napa hills toward the valley floor. Though the zipline didn’t come to pass, the publisher said George would likely have been the first passenger for such a thrill ride. He showed a zest for life many younger folks might have admired, but didn’t emulate.

George Starke is survived by Bette, his wife of 68 years, sons James and Paul, grandson Zane and granddaughters Elizabeth and Francine.

George had a shorthand for recurring aspects of his column—things like “Didyaknow” and “Rumor Du Jour,” but always ended with what he called a “Caboose Item.”

In David Stoneberg’s obituary, which appeared in both the St. Helena Star and the Napa Register on June 1, 2015, he reprised George’s last Caboose Item which ran in both those papers on May 7th:

“My ballpoint pen has been sputtering lately, so I took it to downtown St. Helena, and was told by several shops that it was running out of ink and could not be repaired.

“The alternative is to replace it with a new pen. At my stage in life, an investment in a new pen seems to be less than prudent. I made several inquiries to find a ‘lend-lease’ arrangement, but none of the merchants seemed interested. So, it appears that the only solution is to, after over a half a century of writing, call it quits. I need to thank all who submitted material to me. And to all of my faithful readers — thank you!”

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