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Thursday, 19 May 2016 10:11

Shades of American Graffiti in Petaluma

red and black 57 Buick Century in Petaluma PicmonkeyRare '57 Buick Century captured in Giuseppe Lipari photo as it rolls through Petaluma                             

TASTE News Service, May 19, 2016 - May and June are perfect months to plan a weekend getaway to Petaluma. You can go for classic cars, craft beer or just to relax and enjoy the beauty at the gateway to Sonoma County Wine Country.

Saturday, 08 June 2013 22:49

Tasting in Classic Circumstances

by Dan Clarke

Sometimes I have to work on the weekends. Sometimes this is not such a bad thing.

Editing a publication that covers both wines and cars, I couldn't pass up Wine, Tunes & Classics. The wineries of Lake County had put together this event, which was to be held at the California Automobile Museum in Sacramento. The museum is open year-round and has a fine permanent collection of cars. They also feature rotating exhibits and on this day they were to be celebrating the opening of Elegance in Motion: Cars of the Golden Age. Lake County wineries would be pouring. There would be some food and a live band, too. I had not visited a vineyard or winery in Lake County in a couple of years and it had been even longer since I'd been to the museum. It was time.Cad V16 nose iewCadillac elegance on a massive scale.

Entering the museum I hear music coming from an adjacent room. The band isn't playing the music of the age of elegance defined by the automobiles featured, but it s playing music I remember—tunes from the 50s and 60s. Happy music.

Winery pouring tables are arrayed against the walls of the main hall around the centerpiece exhibit, the roped-off display of these gorgeous cars that were joining the museum's ongoing collection through October 13th. When I get to the rope I am nose-to-nose with a Cadillac. It is a blue four-door convertible, a 1939 model, I think. It seems as big as a float in the Rose Parade. Years earlier when I acquired a pre-owned Coupe de Ville with a 500-cubic inch V8 engine, I thought I was really styling. This blue beauty is a V16 and way cooler.

Pierce Arrow front PicmonkeyArcher on radiator cap and headlamps springing from fenders are distinctive Pierce Arrow features.Inside the ropes there are other examples of this Golden Age of motoring, many whose names might be unfamiliar these days: Stutz, Deusenberg, Hispano-Suiza, Cord, Auburn, La Salle, Pierce Arrow, Packard—they might not be in motion, but they are undeniably elegant.

Driving down to this event I was thinking about Lake County. My first awareness of the wines was probably the Kendall Jackson Chardonnay that made such a spectacular debut 30 years ago. In those days the winery was in Lakeport. K-J has since become hugely successful, moved to Sonoma County and now sources grapes from all over the state. A few years later I was attending a dinner at the Buena Vista . Their Sauvignon Blanc was wonderful. Winemaker Jill Davis said that the grapes came not from the winery's own estate in Sonoma, but from Lake County. The wine had a purer expression of fruit than I had ever experienced with this variety. So I began paying more attention to Lake County.

When compared to the wine experience in neighboring Napa and Sonoma, Lake County has always been sort of a stepchild. It doesn't have the cachet of these regions, but important things are going on there. If those bent on making a lifestyle statements aren't developing vineyards and wineries in Lake County, savvy professionals in the wine business are.

I thought of Lake County people I had met over the years. I knew that some, like the late Bob Romougiere, wouldn't be in attendance. Orville and Karen McGoon had sold their Guenoc property a few years ago and presumably were living in happy retirement. The Holdenreids of Wildhurst Winery were among the first Lake County vintners I had met years ago. Might they be here? How about Jerry Brassfield and Kaj Ahlmann? They own neighboring properties (Brassfield Estates and Six Sigma) and Don Neal, another writer, and I had enjoyed an overhead tour of their vineyards in Jerry's helicopter a few years ago. As it turns out, many of the people in my Lake County memories aren't at this tasting. But most are still alive, at least, and still in the wine business. If I won't be renewing old acquaintances, I'll enjoy making new ones.

I see a name I recognize, if not a face. The sign says Rosa d'Oro Vineyards and I remember that they had sent wine samples for review a few years ago. The recollection is less than vivid, but I'm pretty sure that I liked their wines. I meet owner Nick Buttitta, who is pouring several of his wines, one of which is a Barbera, a variety that appeals to both of us. After some talk about farming and food-friendly wines, we realize that we'll both be at the upcoming Barbera Festival in Amador County and decide to continue our conversation there.

Jed Steele is likely the longest-serving and best-known Lake County winemaker. One of the bottles on the table under the sign reading Steele Wines is a Zinfandel labeled “Writer's Block.” Of course I want to know more, but Jed isn't here and the women pouring, while very attractive, are considerably less knowledgeable than he is. The wine is tasty, but since it takes me two weeks to begin this article, a sip of Writer's Block doesn't appear to be an antidote for the condition.

At the Alienor table I meet owners Bonnie and David Weiss. David explains that they are involved primarily in the grape farming part of the operation. They are pouring a nice Sauvignon Blanc and their 2008 Grand Vin, an excellent proprietary blend, which seems very right bankish to me. Bonnie seems pleased that I have noticed and says that it is mostly Merlot and Cabernet Franc and that a St. Emilion style is the intention of the winemaker.Tasters at Obsidian Ridge tableTasters get perspective from Clark Smith of Diamond Ridge.

In the two to three hours available to me I try to hit every one of the 19 winery tables. This would be difficult enough to accomplish, even without the distractions of the band and all those beautiful cars. As I appear in front of one table, the pourer and I do double takes, both thinking something like, “Don't I know you?” We share similar handles, his a first name and mine a surname. Clark Smith is a triple-threat performer in the wine game—a winemaker, an adjunct professor and an author (his Postmodern Winemaking is being published this summer) . We talk about the Diamond Ridge Vineyards Cabernet Franc and the composition of the 2008 “Aspects” he is pouring and the advantages of Lake County vineyards. He's damned knowledgeable about the winemaking process and often looks at issues in ways that fascinate me, yet seem to be just slightly beyond my ability to fully understand. Sometimes I feel that if I have one more glass of wine, I'll get it. On the other hand, maybe one less would clear the path to my enlightenment.

At another table I make the acquaintance of Bill Brunetti, and though he doesn't seem to have any direct connection to the winery for which he is pouring, he really knows about vineyards and wineries in the area and knows most of the people I mention having met from earlier visits. Turns out he is a Member of the Board of the Lake County Wine Grape Commission.

Couple Tasting by DeusenbergEven if it's not Jay and Daisy, the Deusenberg sets a Gatsbyesque toneBullion Creek Vineyards is another operation unfamiliar to me, but at their table I meet proprietor Richard Brand. He and his wife Gail grow Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on the north side of Mount St. Helena in the Middletown area. He pours me a taste of their estate-bottled Cab and we spend some time discussing grape growing. Since his property is in the southern part of the county and not too far from Guenoc, I ask if he knew Orville and Karen, the former owners. He did and says to the best of his knowledge they are fully retired and living in Hawaii. Richard concurs when I say they were nice people. He tells me that in addition to their public involvement in ways civic and philanthropic, Orville contributed anonymously to many families in the area when they were in need.

Part of me thinks it would be just fine to stick around. The winery folks are convivial people and the tasters are becoming ever more so as the afternoon moves into evening. The band still sounds good. The finger food served to pair with some of the wines has been excellent and there may yet be some more of it. A few of the docents from the museum are here and could answer my questions about the cars. But timing an exit can be tricky business. I decide to leave on a high note and know that I'll return to both the California Automobile Museum and to the wine country of Lake County.

PB 2012 bestofshow 01 PicmonkeyPhoto copyright 2012 by Kimball Studios/Courtesy of the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

Culmination of several days of automotive events on the Monterey Peninsula, this is the most prestigious show of rare and beautiful automobiles in the world.

Cars are displayed on the 18th fairway at the famed Pebble Beach golf course, an incomparable setting. Admission is expensive, but the event benefits local charities.

Selected as a recent year's Best of Show was the 1936 Mercedes Benz 680S Saoutchik Torpedo pictured at right.

Region: Central Coast     City: Pebble Beach    

Contact: www.pebblebeachconcours.net

Sunday, 06 January 2013 14:20

April 30, 2017 Dream Machine Festival

Region: SF & Bay Area     City: Half MoonBay     Contact: www.miramarevents.com/dreammachines

Sunday, 06 January 2013 14:00

April 7-9, 2017 Toyota Grand Prix

Region: Los Angeles County     City: Long Beach     Contact: www.gplb.com

Region: San Diego County     City: La Jolla     Contact: www.lajollaconcours.com

Region: Deserts     City: Palm Springs     Contact: www.classic-carauction.com

Friday, 10 August 2012 01:05

Memories on Fulton

by Dan Clarke

 

Cars used to be exciting. But that was a long time ago.

Automobiles have evolved since I first began noticing them. If reliability is the standard by which you judge, then the modern products are much better. They're reliable. They get better gas mileage. They might last for 200,000 miles—maybe longer. And, if truth be told, most of them are faster than cars that seemed pretty quick when I first started driving.

All that said, there isn't much produced these days that stirs the blood. You hardly ever see a convertible and all sedans tend to resemble the ubiquitous Toyota Camry (a solid and reliable vehicle, well worth its price, but essentially a soul-less conveyance). It wasn't always thus.P8042103 PicmonkeyNot a Toyota.

Reportedly, my first words,“car keys,” were spoken as the family was about to drive away from my grandmother's house in San Mateo. It's likely the car keys referenced were for the ignition of my father's blue 1947 Dodge, purchased shortly after the war when new cars were still in short supply. Later, we moved to Sacramento and my father traded in the Dodge on a '51 Oldsmobile Rocket 88 from Foulks Motors. It was another four-door sedan, uninspiring pale green in color. But it was a powerful-for-the-time V-8. And the automatic transmission had a passing gear, so that if you really stomped on the accelerator you'd get a surge of power that might be critical in overtaking a slower car on a two-lane highway. After a couple of Volkswagens purchased in the mid-50s, Dad returned to Detroit Iron in the form of a 1959 Chevy Bel Air. Once again, it was a stodgy four-door, but it was an unusual and attractive rose color and did have a lively 283-cubic inch V-8.

As an eighteen-year-old college student with a job and moving out on his own, I accepted my father's offer to tag along when I went to slightly seedy area to check out a '53 Ford Victoria, which was about to become my own first car. Wow, a two-door hardtop, with automatic transmission and a flat-head V-8. It had a sporty black roof over body of teal green and seemed in good shape for a 10-year-old car. For my $325 I was about to start living large.

50 Ford Conv Picmonkey1950 Ford Convertible.Hearing that California Automobile Museum was to sponsor its fourth annual Sacramento CarCruise, which would mean a parade up Fulton Avenue followed by an informal car show, I began to reminisce. Fulton Avenue was a major commercial street in the post-war suburbs of my youth. I grew up in the neighborhood and have many memories.

By the time I arrive, the Highway Patrol has actually closed a half-mile stretch of this busy, four-lane road. Participating cars are already parked along the sides of the road and in lots in front of businesses and offices.

It is an all-comers event which draws proud owners of cars of no narrow definition. There are antiques, low-riders, hot rods, classics, customs and muscle cars. It is an everyman's—and everywoman's—activity.

The first car I see is a '50 Ford, a classic body design in its most Volvo 544 PicmonkeyThe 544--more function than flash.exciting convertible form. Though my '53 was a sleeker and more modern body style, they are kin. Across the street is a white Volvo 544, a bulbous design for the late 1950's and early '60s. It resembled a '46 Ford, only smaller. I'd owned a white 444, the earlier model which was nearly identical except for a split windshield. After a couple of years of good service, I traded that Volvo in on a red Triumph TR-4 at Von Housen Motors, located in those days on Fulton Ave about a couple of miles to the south.

The event organizers have hired a live band to play music of the '50s and '60s. They sound pretty good, especially since none of the musicians was alive when the tunes they are playing were popular.

Ah yes, memories are coming back. Just across from the street from the Von Housen's dealership was the Gilded Cage, a bar where a young man could hear jazz musicians of the day like Vince Guaraldi, Les McCann and Bola Sete. Less than 100 yards to the north was a Lincoln-Mercury dealer where my Dad and I had gone to see the new Lincoln Continental Mark II. Not that we could afford it, of course. We were just window shopping. The car cost $10,000—a lot of money in 1956 when you could have a new Cadillac for something less than $6,000.

There are some young people oohing and aahing over the cars of their parents' and grandparents' eras, and it is good to see them, but most of the CarCruise crowd seems considerably older. And there are a lot of smiles on their faces.

56 Nash Ambassador PicmonkeyThe Ambassador comes equipped with a bed.A 1956 Nash Ambassador with the original white, grey and pink color scheme draws considerable attention. Even sporting trendy colors of that era, a Nash would never have been on any boy's wish list in the 1950's. Not even nerds would not want to be seen in one. However, a Nash had one practical application. For years, these cars had front seats that could recline all the way so that they'd be flat and flush with the back seat, thereby making a serviceable bed. The cruise night Ambassador has the passenger side folded down to demonstrate this feature. A fellow about 25 years old stares at it for a moment, then turns to his girlfriend and says, “Hey, this would be good at the drive in.” I scan the faces around us to see if there is any concurrence from the grey-hair crowd. There is no response at the moment; perhaps I'd been the only one to hear him. But I'd like to believe that before the evening is over, a grandmother will look in the window of that Nash, smile a wistful smile and remember that yes, it was good at a drive in.58 Impala PicmonkeyImpala looks stock, but for the wheels.

There is a gorgeous 1958 Impala just like the ones I gawked at in the showroom of the Lew Williams dealership at the corner of Fulton and El Camino. There is a '59 on display, also. While it shares the same oddly-horizontal fins of our family sedan of that vintage, being a convertible, it is way cooler.

A brown '70 or '71 Coupe de Ville is parked, top down, in front of the now-defunct Buggy Whip restaurant. Many years ago I had climbed into a brown '52 or '53 Cadillac sedan in front of the Coral Reef, a popular Polynesian place which used to occupy the now-vacant lot half a block away. The restaurant's owner was one of my father's more prosperous friends and we were on the way to the Memorial Auditorium to watch Gorgeous George wrestle. A luxurious ride, sports (of a sort) and flamboyant showmanship—it all contributed to a heady and memorable night for a nine-year-old.

Crossing back to the east side of Fulton I see a cluster of Studebakers, these of the “Orphan” category, apparently Car Museum-speak for companies no longer in existence. There is a 1915, which is about a decade younger than that manufacturer's Phaeton that my grandfather bought when the family moved “down the Peninsula” from San Francisco. There is a low-mileage example of the 1963 Avanti, a Raymond Loewy-designed car that combined high performance with really great looks. It's sad that this landmark automobile wasn't enough to save a manufacturer on its way out of existence.

Chrysler 300E MB 220SE PicmonkeyChrysler 300E and Mercedes Benz 220SE.Twenty-five yards to the north are a 1959 Chrysler 300 E and a 1960 Mercedes Benz 220 SE, both gorgeous convertibles. It's possible that either could have been parked in this same spot when they were new and I was working as a busboy at Scheidel's, a German restaurant whose former parking lot they were now occupying.

I spy a '55 Buick. It's a handsome sedan and I compliment the apparent owner, a man about my age, on its appearance. He tells me it's a Century—the Buick model with the lighter body, but the bigger engine of the Super and Roadmaster models. I smile and remember that's exactly the reason I really was interested in a '55 Buick Century convertible (white body and top, with red and white leather upholstery, as I recall). Test drove it and almost bought it, but not quite (probably called for a little more money than I had at age 19 or 20). It isn't the first time this Saturday night I say to myself, “wish I had that car now.”

Almost back to Town & Country Village where my own car is parked, I notice Chevy Camaros across the street. Well, one last stop to look at some things a bit more modern while I make the transition to 2012, I decide.

Among these beautifully maintained Camaros is a handsome example of the 1969 vintage in a metallic silver-gray that catches my eye. Or maybe it is the tall blonde woman who is standing next to it. It turns out she is the owner and she tells me all about her pride and joy, even pulling out a photo album to show pictures of various stages of its restoration. In this fine Camaro, the woman has a tangible reminder of some of her own great memories and I appreciate her sharing them with me.

Getting into my own car I remember when my boyhood pal Alan returned from the South with a new red and black Camaro. It was the debut year for this GM challenger to the well established Ford Mustang. But it was better looking than the Mustang and had gobs of power. And it had an 8-track stereo. How cool were we?

Everybody who sees cars such as those at the 2012 CarCruise, sees them through his own prism. Memories will differ, but most will be happy recollections. I'll look forward to the 2013 edition of this event, but in the meantime I'll return to the museum on Sacramento's Front Street. Further information can be had at the website www.calautomuseum.org.