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in California State

Sunday, 08 June 2014 10:55

June 6, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week


Red Hat bottle Picmonkey

Red Hat (N/V)


Mellowood Vineyard

El Dorado County

Alcohol: 14.2%

Suggested Retail: $28


“We tasted this wine at a visit to the winery a couple of weekends ago, liked it and purchased a bottle to take home. Without having tasted it, we'd never have spent more than 10 bucks for a non-vintage product without varietal components identified on its somewhat hokey label. However, quality tells, regardless of how it's presented.

“The fruit is bright and shows cherry and raspberry aspects. A bit of spice and white pepper in the background reminds us of Zinfandel the way Sierra Foothill winemakers used to do it. Underlying these first impressions is a deeper, almost plum-like quality. After tasting the opened bottle today, we spoke to Linda Neal, the winery proprietor, who told us that her Red Hat is a blend of 2009 Syrah and Syrah and Zinfandel from vintage 2010. Asked about any residual sugar that might have left a finishing impression of softness, Linda said the wine was fermented completely dry and such softness/sweet impression on the finish was likely due to the oak cooperage. This wine is easy to drink and has way more significance than you might think—another reminder not to judge a wine by its bottle.”

Food Affinity: “Would play well with most meats you want to have with red wine. We think that the white pepper from the Zin and the subtle smokiness of the Syrah would make this a great choice for some slowly-cooked pork ribs or beef cuts finished with a tomato and vinegar-based sauce. 

Saturday, 31 May 2014 13:28

May 30, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week

Miraflores 2012 Estate Rose Wine Picmonkey

2012 Estate Rosé Wine



El Dorado County

Alcohol: 13.5%

Suggested Retail: $18


“Vibrant color hints that this might be a rosé with a little more personality than most. While there would be nothing wrong with knocking back a couple of glasses by the pool, there's enough substance in this dry rosé to regard it as worthy of more serious applications. It is made from Barbera grapes grown on the Miraflores estate south of Placerville in California's Sierra Foothills. Raspberry, cherry and a little blackberry are evident in the aroma and these qualities are repeated in more vivid form on the palate. There are those who dismiss rosés as merely insufficient red wines, or worse—insufficient and slightly sweet red wines. This wine might cause them to rethink those attitudes. There's enough fruit for the wine to stand on its own and its good acidity makes it appropriate to pour with food.”

Food Affinity: “We enjoyed this wine with garlic and rosemary marinated grilled chicken We think it would also be a winner with sardines grilled over an open fire. While not big enough to pair with beef, it would work with spare ribs and maybe even lamb riblets (also grilled).” 

Niello Concours 2014 Poster Picmonkey

TASTE News Service May 30, 2014 – Featured marque at the 2014 edition of the Niello Concours d'Elegance will be Packard. The show will also be celebrating Maserati's 100th anniversary. Serrano, just east of Sacramento in El Dorado Hills, is the host venue for the October 5th gathering.

A series of low-key events for car owners and car appreciators defined as Concours Raduno are summer preliminaries to the main event. These will be held at locations not too far from Serrano and are casual affairs where people can enjoy a drink and an appetizer and maybe hear a little music while admiring some beautiful cars. The locations include 36 Handles Pub and Eatery on White Rock Rd. in El Dorado Hills on June 10, the Design Galleria by Valentine on Fair Oaks Blvd. in Sacramento July 8 and Grebitus Jewelers at the Palladio in Folsom on August 5th.

Maserati grill at 36 Handles PicmonkeyAnother opportunity to preview some of these beautiful automobiles will come on October 3rd, just two days before the Niello Concours, when Northridge Country Club hosts Viva L'Auto Gala, a fund raiser for Sacramento Children's Home Crisis Nurseries. Further information about the Niello Concours d'Elegance can be found at www.theconcours.net.

Editor's note: If you are planing to visit the Sacramento/El Dorado Hills area for any of these events, you may want to check out the Central Valley and Gold Country sections 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 links to area wineries and craft beer purveyors.

Yosemite USA PicmonkeyYosemite Valley in June as captured by Guy Francis

TravMedia April 30, 2014 —Yosemite National Park in Northern California is popular year round, but in summer and autumn its popularity swells with full hotels, campgrounds and queues at entrance points.  Many visitors aren't aware of the abundance of lodging options in communities at three of the park's main entrances. 

The park and its surrounding Gold Country communities offer visitors easy access to attractions such as El Capitan and Yosemite Falls, and offer insight on lesser known, yet worthwhile experiences both inside and outside the park.  The communities to the north, west and south of Yosemite provide visitors a local perspective and helpful tips on great places to stay, best times to visit and other visitor services such as vacation planners and maps. 

Dispelling a major myth--cars are allowed in Yosemite National Park.  Visitors are welcome to drive to the park and within it, including the Yosemite Valley.  For those who prefer not to drive, transportation companies, like Yosemite Areas Regional Transit (www.yarts.com) and private tour companies provide a round trip to and from the park for visitors staying at various gateway lodging locations. In an effort to reduce entrance wait times and parking issues during peak season, the National Park Service is recommending that motorhomes use designated Park and Ride locations outside park gates or in selected campground facilities and ride YARTS or tours into and out of the Park.

When visiting Yosemite during the peak summer season, it's a good idea to plan on early entry through the park's gates to avoid queues.  Head to the Yosemite Valley floor either early or later in the day (busy times are between 10 am and 2 pm, especially on weekends).  Park in the day use area and take advantage of the free Valley Shuttle to see all the iconic sites like Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Merced River, Vernal Falls and Yosemite Chapel.


Tuolumne County – North Entrance – Highway 120Groveland Main Street PicmonkeyGroveland's colorful Main Street

Tuolumne County is the North entrance (Highway 120) to Yosemite National Park.  Highway 120 is the shortest route to Yosemite from San Francisco and all points north.  Driving time from San Francisco to the Yosemite Valley floor is approximately four hours, traffic dependent. Visitors heading to Yosemite via the Highway 120 entrance can stop by the Tuolumne County Visitors Center in Chinese Camp to the latest information on activities in around the Park as well as on Tuolumne County and the surrounding Gold Country.

Continuing south from Chinese Camp on Highway 120 towards Yosemite for approximately 30 minutes you will encounter the quaint town of Groveland. The Groveland Hotel offers comfortable accommodations with each room dedicated to a famous, and sometimes infamous, character of the past.  The hotel's Cellar Door Restaurant has held the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence since 2011.

A stop at the Groveland Museum will give visitors insight into the colorful past of this Gold Rush town.  Just a couple minutes south of Groveland on Highway 120 (towards Yosemite) is the popular Rainbow Pool swimming hole.

Madera County – South Entrance, Highway 140

The south gateway to Yosemite National Park, on Highway 41 in Madera County, is the most traveled year round entrance for visitors who wish to self-drive, or sight-see on a tour bus, to experience this awe inspiring region of California.  From Los Angeles, drive time is approximately 5 hours.  Madera County offers convenient and affordable lodging options from full service resorts to local hotels/motels, vacation rental homes and bed & breakfasts.

Papagni tasters PicmonkeyBevy of tasters at Madera's Papagni WineryWhen you're leaving Yosemite plan to depart in the early afternoon and take advantage of the long summer days to explore the many south gate attractions like the popular Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.  Ride back in time on the one-hour narrated tours that depart several times a day and enjoy the Thornberry Museum, gold panning, gift shops, and more. 

More popular south gate attractions include the Madera Wine Trail, art galleries, museums, Fossil Discovery Center and an abundance of outdoor recreation.


Yosemite Mariposa County --   West Entrance, Highway 41

This region of the Gold Country offers access to Yosemite National Park from Highway 41 through the West gate is one hour north of Fresno, and is the shortest distance to the popular Mariposa Grove, a square mile home to the Earth's largest and oldest living organisms. 

More than 500 Giant Sequoias keep the grove cool on even summer's hottest day.  You can explore the area on foot or take a 75-minute guided tram tour from May through October, with programming in English, German, Japanese, French and Spanish.  Tip:  To avoid parking lot jams, visitors may park their car at the historic Wawona Hotel and take the free Wawona-Mariposa Grove shuttle to see the Sequoias.

Model A at Yosemite Falls PicmonkeyFord Model A at Yosemite Falls The town of Mariposa, first settled in 1849, is the southernmost in the Gold Rush chain of towns.  The streets follow the original street grid laid out by John C. Fremont in 1850.  Several disastrous early fires convinced settlers to rebuild with stone, brick and adobe.  Consequently, many of today's existing structures in the historic downtown had been built by the late 1850s, with most of the remaining ones completed by 1900.  Because they have always been in use, the old buildings haven't had to be restored or recreated.

The old west is historically represented on Main Street with the wooden sidewalks, a tour of the oldest court house west of the Rockies still in continuous operation since 1854 and the Mariposa Museum and History Center at 5119 Jessie Street, named one of the best small museums in America by the Smithsonian Institute, where you can see remnants of the gold rush, a Sheriff's office and miner's camp, early Miwok Indian life, early frontier furniture and player piano and one-room school house.  (Open daily year round, Adults $4, children under 18 are free.) http://mariposamuseum.com.

The Mariposa area has vineyards and wineries where you can taste or pick up a bottle to accompany your afternoon picnic.

A unique way to explore the area is in an historic, original Model T automobile with the top down. Visitors may choose from a variety of vintage vehicles, from a 1915 Touring car to a 1929 Model A Roadster with Rumble seat for children (www.driveamodelt.com).


Editor's note: To help you understand California better, we identfy our features as relating to one of a dozen separate regions of the state. Sometimes these regions have exact boundaries such as Los Angeles and San Diego Counties. Sometimes they are more general, such as “North Coast” or “Deserts.” At Taste California Travel we define Gold Country as that foothill land between California's great Central Valley and its High Sierra Mountains to the east. Since there is not precise dividing line, we consider our High Sierra section to start somewhere above 2500 to 3000 feet. Yosemite National Park would fit that definition. Other attractions mentioned in the article above might be at lower elevations in areas we call either Gold Country or the Central Valley.

In any case, we suggest you check out the Central Valley, Gold Country and High Sierra sections of our Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to area wineries and craft beer specialists.

Tuesday, 04 March 2014 15:17

Revisiting Some Familiar Wine Territory

by Dan Clarke


Saturday I took a drive up to Amador County to check out Behind the Cellar Door, a two-day event that offers more than just the usual wine tasting opportunities. Most of the 39 participating members of Amador Vintners put out some food for this occasion and many have live music. Educational opportunities are offered, too. Visitors can experience unfinished wines poured from the barrel, see how vines are pruned or maybe watch a barrel-making exhibition.

My friend Ray agreed to ride along. He likes Zinfandels, but hasn't spent much time in this nearby area that is known for them. Amador is a big county and there a few scattered wineries elsewhere, but most of the action is in the Shenandoah Valley, just east of the little town of Plymouth. After picking up our wristbands and glasses at the Visitors Center, we continued up Shenandoah Road and made our first stop at Bray Vineyards, where we tasted both wine and “Eric's famous meatballs with raspberry and roasted chipotle sauce with polenta.” It was delightful and the raspberries in the sauce really complemented the flavors of the Zinfandels.

Turley tasting bar PicmonkeyTasting bar at Turley was busy

Across the road is the new Turley Wine Cellars tasting room. When old friends Buck and Karly Cobb retired, they sold their winery to Larry Turley, who had created a great reputation at his Napa Valley winery, Frog's Leap. Turley had already been sourcing grapes from Amador County and apparently now has access to the great vineyards that had supplied Karly Wines. We tasted three Zins, two of them composed of fruit from vineyards in diverse parts of the state and one from nearby--the Bell Vineyard. Of these three, both of us preferred the blend referred to as “The Juvenile” by the pourer. At $22 it was also the least expensive of these three. Two other vineyard-designated Zinfandels from this area are to be released soon; one from the Sadie Upton Vineyard, the other from the Cobb Vineyard.

Barjon Family PcmonkeyThe Borjon FamilyBorjon Winery, just up the road a ways, was our next stop. There we enjoyed tasting some Zinfandel and a few Spanish varieties, bottled under their sister label, Los Portales. There were good Mexican snacks and I was sorry that Mariachi Mi Tierra wasn't scheduled to perform until Sunday. The Barjon family has deep knowledge of the vineyards in the area and has built a handsome winery of their own in recent years.

With just two or three hours available, there certainly wasn't time to visit everybody—half a dozen wineries was about all that would be practical. We took the left turn onto Steiner Road and passed the familiar driveways of Renwood (nee Santino), Shenandoah Vineyards and Amador Foothill Winery, continuing on to Driven Cellars where we enjoyed a couple of tastes of their wine, as well as some small but very tasty roast beef sandwiches-- “sliders” in the current parlance. There was a man playing his gently-amplified 12-string guitar. He was no doubt a very capable musician, but I was hoping for something livelier. I think since leaving Barjon I was lamenting that the mariachis were not playing until Sunday. That and the fact that there didn't seem to be any Tequila to taste.

We exited Driven and made a sharp right turn into the drive to neighboring Dobra Zemlja. I'd met the owner, Milan Matulich, years ago. I liked him and enjoyed hearing his plans for developing his small-production family winery, but at the time found his wines higher in alcohol than suited my taste. Our printed guide to the weekend's event indicated there would be daily seminars on brandy making at this location. That could have been worthwhile, but our visit was brief. We enjoyed our encounter with Dutch Stamppot and grilled sausage and tasted a couple of wines. Bottled in a one liter jug was a blended red wine identified as Milan's Ruz, priced at $20. A blend of Grenache, Syrah and Zinfandel, it was peppery and more complex than I'd have thought, given the price. I loved it. This was my discovery of the day.

Bocce at Il Gioiello PicmonkeyBocce court at Il GioielloFor a year or so I've been receiving the newsletter from Il Gioiello Winery and Morse Wines. The concept of this dual operation is intriguing and I enjoy the editorial. At last summer's Barbera festival held at Cooper Vineyards, I met the owner, Robert Morse, and planned to visit his property one day. The map showed it had a Fiddletown address, but was more easterly than these Amador wineries we'd visited thus far. Finding Il Gioiello shouldn't have been a problem. There are many more wineries up here than when I began the Foothill Wine Press 30 years ago, but roads follow the same paths laid out by prospectors in the Gold Rush of 1849. I'd driven many miles in this country, so I shouldn't have had much trouble. And I had a navigator. Ray spent time in the back seat of a Cessna 172 as a forward observer in Viet Nam. Reading maps of Amador County should be a simpler job than that. We headed up the hill from Fiddletown. We saw fewer and fewer vineyards as the land was getting more forested. Our ears began to pop as we continued to climb the winding road. We hadn't yet encountered snow, but Ray began to talk about taking at least one ski trip this season if we got another good storm. When our road came to the intersection with Highway 88, we realized we had bungled things. We could have found the Kirkwood ski area from that point, but not our winery. Chastened, we turned around and headed for the barn.

I was still looking for a winery with lively music, so when we saw that Serra Fina Cellars was featuring Geoff Miller Country Blues, we decided to stop in. It was a few miles west of Plymouth on Latrobe Road and it was on the way home. The music was good, the view better than expected. We sampled several offerings at this relatively new winery. The woman pouring didn't know very much about the Sera Fina wines, nor much about wine in general, but she was pleasant. A Vigonier was palatable, as was a rosé. Unfortunately, several others we tasted were not.

While we encountered a few bad wines on Saturday, we found more good ones. People were cordial and it was good for two old pals to get out of town on this mini road trip. There's unfinished business, though. That visit to Il Gioiello has to be the first stop on my next visit to Amador wine country. If I omit the detour that took us halfway to Nevada, it should be less than an hour's drive from Sacramento.

Editor's note: If you're planning to visit wineries in this beautiful and fast-developing wine region, you should check out the Gold Country listings in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the wineries throughout the Sierra Foothills, as well as links to the sites of Lodging and Dining options.

Thursday, 23 January 2014 12:18

Springtime Fun in Yosemite in Middle of Winter

Yosemite hikers PicmonkeyYosemite hikers

January 23, 2024 - Visitors to Tuolumne County, California, where the northern half of Yosemite National Park is located, are finding fun in many activities they would normally have to wait to do until Spring. This area of California that ranges in elevation from near sea level in the foothills, to over 9,000 feet in the Sierra is experiencing an unusually dry and warm winter that is giving visitors and residents alike an opportunity to get out and explore trails and roads that are otherwise under blankets of snow this time of year.

Miles of old railroad grade trails are easily accessible for off-road bicyclists, equestrian riders and hikers. Most trails are located off of Highway 108. Visitors can access detailed trail guides at www.tuolumnecountytrails.com. The City of Sonora (the only incorporated City in Tuolumne County), has just released their new “Walking in Sonora” guide, giving visitors and residents an urban escape that guides them among historic buildings and Victorian homes, dating back to the 1800’s and to scenic vistas overlooking the City.

Two State Parks are open year-round for the enjoyment of visitors. Step back in time at Columbia State Historic Park, just a ten minute drive from Sonora off historic Highway 49. Just ten minutes west of Sonora is Jamestown, home to Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. Also, known as the Movie Railroad, this Park is a treat for train lovers young and old.

Getting to iconic Yosemite National Park is a cakewalk. The roads are clear, uncrowded and scenic. Route 120 to Yosemite National Park is the shortest route from San Francisco and the greater Bay Area. Along the route, visitors can enjoy parks, the historic town of Groveland and wide open vistas. Bed and Breakfast Inns, hotels, motels and resorts along Route 120 are open and offer visitors unique accommodations, from historic to rustic to modern.

Tuolumne County is located in California’s Gold Country and High Sierra regions. 58% of Yosemite National Park lies within the borders of Tuolumne County. Two State Historic Parks – Columbia and Railtown 1897 greet visitors year-round. Just a two hour drive south of Sacramento, east of San Francisco and north of Yosemite Valley, Tuolumne County is easily accessible from all points on the compass. More information can be had at www.YosemiteGoldCountry.com.

Editor's note: If you're planning a visit to this part of California we suggest you check out Gold Country and High Sierra sections of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options.


Murphys CA snowy sceneAn unusual snowstorm adds wintry charm to the Calaveras County town of Murphys Murphys, California November 25, 2013 – Murphys native Maya Radisch is opening Roquefort, a new restaurant emphasizing organic, local and GMO-free ingredients.

While the official grand opening is not happening until January, the new menu will be launched during the winter festival on December 6th. On this date the town shuts down the streets and local residents and visitors walk the town to experience a “taste” of Murphy’s. Every year on the first Friday in December, Murphys celebrates the holiday season with a community Open House from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and admission is free.

“I am very excited to introduce our new menu. This is an innovative, new concept for the town of Murphys and I am pleased to offer a more affordable selection for our patrons without compromising our high quality ingredients!” said Radisch. “I am pleased to offer a GMO-free, organic, and highly creative menu. I am also very excited to offer a super fun 'happy hour' in town. I think this is a great way for our customers to get away, even for just a little while to enjoy a night out.”

Editor's note: Murphy's is one of those little towns in California's Gold Country that has a wonderful history. Like many other such spots in California's foothills, this Calaveras County town has changed as its population has benefited from recent arrivals from the more hectic parts of the state and the proliferation of wineries in the area. If you're thinking of visiting Murphys or another colorful town in this part of the foothills, we suggest you check out the Gold Country sections 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 links to the wineries and even nearby craft beer specialists.

Friday, 15 November 2013 16:25

November 15, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week


Sobon Estate Syrah Picmonkey

 2011 Syrah


Producer: Sobon Estate

Appellation: Amador County

Alcohol: 13.8%

Sugested Retail: $16


“It wasn't that many years ago that Syrah, the predominant grape of France's northern Rhône Valley, was the up-and-coming variety in California. New plantings went in, notably on the Central Coast and in the Sierra Foothills. For reasons nobody seems to have figured out, America's wine-drinking public hasn't embraced the variety to the degree expected. That's a puzzler, because California produces some very high quality Syrahs.

“This week's Pick, the 2011 Amador County Syrah from Sobon Estate, is a wonderful wine regardless of price. That it is well under twenty bucks, makes it also a bargain. It's a big wine, lush but not 'over the top.' The current vintage is 84% Syrah, 12% Petite Sirah and 4% Primitivo.

“This Syrah shows aromas of blueberry and plum. There's also some ground white pepper in the background and maybe a hint of that bacon-like character that creative reviewers sometimes describe as 'feral.' The first taste fills the mouth--it's rich and velvety and reprises those blueberry/plum qualities evident in the nose. The fruit is substantial, but the wine would be one-dimensional if that's all there was. Fortunately, there's much more.

“Those subtler aspects that make good Syrah so appealing become more apparent on second and third tastes and as the wine opens up in the glass. The white pepper background, maybe just a hint of brown spices and some of the 'roasted meat' character are all there, but in a understated way. Overall, this was a very satisfying bottle of wine.”

Food Affinity: “We encountered the 2011 Sobon Estate Syrah at a restaurant when we ordered it with a pizza. While that wasn't a bad pairing, this Amador County wine would be better accompaniment to many of the hearty dishes appropriate for brisk fall and winter evenings. Grilled fennel sausages might work. Considering this variety's geographic origins, how about boeuf en daube, a deeply flavorful French version of beef stew, or maybe a cassoulet?"

Madrona Lake Tahoe Zinfandel sm Picmonkey

CAMINO, CA – Nov. 11, 2013 – Madroña Vineyards, one of the premiere wineries in the Sierra Foothills, has turned its unique Lake Tahoe labeled wines into a fundraiser for the Tahoe Basin by donating a portion of sales to key groups supporting the region.

In its first try, Madroña raised more than $6,000 for four of the most respected organizations doing work to help protect the natural beauty and health of the Tahoe Basin and the county around it -- the Tahoe Fund’s Angora Bridge Project, Ag in the Classroom’s Tahoe Farm Day, the Schnell School Garden of Learning, and the American River Conservancy.

“Tahoe is such a wonderful, precious place,” said Maggie Bush, a co-owner of Madroña and the winery’s general manager. “At our winery and vineyards, we’re focused on protecting what nature gave us. The Tahoe Basin is such a beautiful natural treasure. We want do everything possible to protect that and to get as many people involved as we can.”

The special Madroña label is sold in wine shops, stores and restaurants in the Tahoe region, and at Trader Joe’s in Folsom, East Sacramento, Fair Oaks and around the region. It says Lake Tahoe across the top and bottom of the label and includes four scenes of the lake, each from a different season. The most recent vintages include a Zinfandel and a white blend. Coming soon is a Lake Tahoe label Chardonnay.

“To some people,” Bush said, “that $6,000 may not sound like a huge deal. But we’re a family winery and that’s a lot of money to us. Our goal is to raise even more with the new vintage and this is a combined effort to get people to drink local and to think about giving back to a place that matters so much to all of us.”

Thursday, 06 June 2013 19:25

Cooper Mouvèdre Wows Judges.


Cooper Ranch Mouvedre and Winemaker PicmonkeyWinemaker Michael Roser proudly displays his winning Mouvèdre. Photo by Jeri SwifCooper Vineyards' 2010 Mouvèdre was chosen Best Red Wine, as well as Best of Show by judges for the Amador County Fair. The 2013 edition of this annual competition was held at the Fairgrounds in Plymouth on the first day of June.

Also honored was Amador Foothill Winery, whose 2012 Sauvignon Blanc was named Best White Wine of the annual competition.

Other wines singled out for recognition include the Best Blush Wine (2012 Barbera Rose from Solune Winegrowers), Best Amador County Rhone (2010 Petite Sirah “Bodacious” from Macchia Wines), Best Amador County Italian (2010 Primitivo “Reszerve” from Sobon Wine Company), Best Amador Zinfandel (2010 Zinfandel “Old Vine” from Bella Grace Vineyards) and Best Dessert Wine (2011 Black Muscat from Shenandoah Vineyards).

Editor's note: Though vineyards and winemaking in Amador County date back to Civil War days, the region has really been taking off lately. The diversity of wines produced and the quality of winemaking has never been higher. Prospective visitors to this area will find links to websites of all of the wineries, as well as Lodging and Dining options, in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

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