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Master-Vinters Lake County PicmonkeyL-R: Pablo Zellman, Jaime Rosas, Amador Villalobos, Federico Gonzalez, Tacho Corona,  Gabriel Martinez, Gerardo Mendoza, Antonio Batres, Felix Aguilar, Alonso Raygoza, Geronimo Rico, Randy Krag                                                    Photo By: Casey Carney


by Susan Stout


Ten individuals representing Lake County’s professional vineyard work force received accolades when the Lake County Winegrape Commission presented its first graduating class of the Commission’s Master Vigneron Academy. The graduation and celebration took place in the Lakeport Yacht Club in November..

The 2012 graduates of the yearlong course are Felix Aguilar and Gabriel Martinez of Bella Vista Farming; Antonio Batres and Alonso Raygoza, Beckstoffer-Red Hills; Tarcisio Corona, Stokes Vineyards; Federico Gonzalez, L & L Vineyards; Gerardo Mendoza, Red Hills Vineyard; Jeronimo Rico, Dorn Vineyards; Jaime Rosas, Lyon Vineyards; and Amador Villalobos, Nissen Vineyard Services.

“You guys are tops,” said Randy Krag to the group of vineyard foremen and supervisors. Offering congratulations to the class, Krag said the men had each earned the title of “Master Vigneron” by completing the course and pursuing a career path.

In a video presented prior to the introduction of the graduates, Krag said, “It’s the people who make our business work.” While praising the class’ work over the past year, he reiterated the comment to the approximately 50 people attending the graduation.

“People are the strength of what we do. (Lake County) is in good shape if our industry is in such capable hands,” Krag said. Krag, research/education chair for the Lake County Winegrape Commission, has been credited with the concept of the Master Vigneron program.

He explained Thursday that he proposed a program to help develop the professional workforce of vineyard managers. The experience workers and managers involved in the industry are at the core of the program goals, he said.

Krag and Paul Zellman, director of the Master Vigneron Program, presented each of the graduates with certificates of completion in English and Spanish and a hat sporting the “MV” logo on its band.

Zellman coordinated the monthly meetings of the Master Vigneron Academy and led the group on its visits to wineries and vineyards in Lake County and outlying counties.

Commission Chair Peter Molnar acknowledged the group, noting that the first year of any type of program is usually the hardest but that from what he observed “there is every indication that it was successful.”

Molnar said the Master Vigneron Program is “very important” to the commission and he thanked Krag for the idea.

The program contributes to professional development and recognition of the workforce leaders while allowing the individuals to stay in Lake County, have their families with them and build their careers, Molnar said.

The graduates were congratulated by Molnar and commission President Shannon Gunier who called the completion of the yearlong program “an amazing accomplishment,” Gunier said the individuals' recognition was well-deserved.

Honorees, their families and guests of the commission enjoyed lunch and dessert prepared by Chic Le Chef. A selection of Lake County wines was served at lunch.


Sexy outdoor cafes in Southern California, ultra-fresh ingredients in Northern California, just-caught seafood along the coast—virtually every corner of the state has extraordinary restaurants, bistros, and cafes. You can sample California’s incredible variety of dining experiences year-round, but in January, there is even more reason to try them out. Welcome to California Restaurant Month, a month-long statewide celebration of special offerings and events. Treat yourself to that urban hotspot you’ve always wanted to try, or plan a quick getaway (and a great meal) in gorgeous wine country, along the dramatic coast, or at a cozy mountain retreat. Look for special deals on a host of experiences, including:

• celebrity chef dinners• wine-pairing specials• gourmet prix-fixe events

  Northern California

Berkeley - Berkeley Restaurant WeekRumbo night 8486 PicmonkeyOakland's Rumbo al Sur has January specialsJan 13 - 20, 2013

El Dorado County - El Dorado EpicureanJan 20 - 27, 2013

Marin County - Marin County Restaurant Month Jan 1 - 31, 2013

Napa Valley - Napa Valley Restaurant MonthJan 1 - 31, 2013

Oakland - Oakland Restaurant WeekJan 18 - 27, 2013

Redding - Redding Dining DaysJan 13 - 26, 2013

Sacramento - Dine Downtown Restaurant WeekJan 9 - 18, 2013

San Francisco - Dine About TownJan 15 - 31, 2013

San Mateo County / Silicon Valley - Share the BountyJan 15 - 31, 2013

Shasta Cascade - Shasta Cascade Restaurant MonthJan 1 - 31, 2013

Tri-Valley - Eat Tri-ValleyJan 1 - Feb 3, 2013

Vacaville - Vacaville Restaurant WeekJan 18 - 27, 2013

 Sardine Factory Wine Cellar PicmonkeyMonterey's famed Sardine Factory will also have Janaury specials. Central California

Manteca - Manteca Restaurant Week Jan 14 - 20, 2013

Monterey County - Monterey County Culinary MonthJan 1 - 31, 2013

San Luis Obispo County - San Luis Obispo County Restaurant MonthJan 1 - 31, 2013

Santa Barbara - Santa Barbara Film FeastJan 24 - Feb 3, 2013

Santa Ynez Valley - Santa Ynez Valley Restaurant Week Jan 20-26, 2013

Tuolumne County - Tuolumne County Restaurant WeekJan 20 - 26, 2013

  Southern California

Beverly Hills - Around the World in Beverly HillsJan 7 - 13, 2013

Costa Mesa - California Restaurant MonthJan 1 - 31, 2013

Irvine - Irvine Restaurant WeekRite Spot in Pasadena PicmonkeyThe Rite Spot in west Pasadena circa 1924. It was here that Lionel Sturnberger was the first man to put cheese atop a burger. In his honor, the city of Pasadena now celebrates Cheeseburger Week each January.Jan 11 - 17, 2013

Downtown Long Beach - Downtown Long Beach Cheese WeekJan 21 - 27, 2013

Los Angeles - dineLA Restaurant Week Jan 21 - Feb 1, 2013

Moorpark - Moorpark Restaurant WeekJan 21 - 27, 2013

Newport Beach - Newport Beach Restaurant WeekJan 18 - 27, 2013

Oxnard - Oxnard International Restaurant WeekJan 21 - 31, 2013

Pasadena - Cheeseburger WeekJan 13 - 18, 2013

San Diego - San Diego Restaurant WeekJan 13 - 18, 2013

Santa Maria Valley - Dine Out Santa Maria StyleJan 13 - 20, 2013

Santa Monica - Santa Monica Eat Well WeekJan 6 - 12, 2013

Simi Valley - Simi Valley Restaurant WeekJan 28 - Feb 3, 2013

Temecula Valley - Temecula Valley Restaurant MonthJanuary 1-31, 2013


Editor's note: To find out more about restaurants participating in these special January programs you can contact the visitors bureaus in specific areas or try www.visitcalifornia.com/restaurantmonth.

by Dan Clarke


Some folks in wine country used to feel tourists got in the way.

Twenty years ago a friend was lamenting the growing incursion of tourists in the Napa Valley. Jon managed a vineyard known for producing very high quality Cabernet and Merlot grapes. Yuppies were coming up from the Bay Area, he said. They clogged the main traffic arteries up and down the Valley, especially on the weekends. They impeded business and personal travel for the locals. More than once he'd had to slam on the brakes to avoid crushing a clueless bicyclist who'd decided to execute a u-turn right in front of him on the Silverado Trail. The free-spending ways of these profligates had led to the closure—or even worse, gentrification—of some of the watering holes he and his friends favored. He didn't see himself as a beneficiary of this tourist boom.

DowntownCalistogaByPeterStetsonPSI PicmonkeyDowntown Calistoga photo courtesy of Calistoga Visitors Bureau

About this time the bar and restaurant of Calistoga's Mount View Hotel had just been remodeled to effect an upscale Italian theme—obviously at significant expense. Jon and I were enjoying a couple of quiet beers one Friday evening and wondering if the house would ever recoup its investment when we had an epiphany. A handsome young couple came in and ordered a couple of beers. They asked for the grappa list and ordered a couple of those, too, though each glass was about $12-14. Fifteen minutes later they were out the door and on to the next beneficiary of their largesse. They'd just dropped about thirty-five bucks, not counting tip. At this point Jon and I realized that we were no longer part of the Mount View's* targeted demographic.

Perhaps Jon didn't benefit directly, but the winery that purchased his grapes didn't seem to mind catering to tourists. Visitors tasted wines there and bought bottles of wine; sometimes even cases. Moreover, if these tourists were treated reasonably well, they took home memories. They became ambassadors for wine and helped push the price of Merlot made from Jon's grapes to $75 a bottle.

Though wineries have existed in the area since the time of America's Civil War, it wasn't all that long ago that prunes were a more significant crop there than grapes. When Robert Mondavi opened his Oakville winery in 1966 there were approximately 25 wineries in the Napa Vallley. The Napa Valley Vitners Association now counts 436 wineries among its members. Obviously, the wine industry in Napa and the rest of the state has grown substantially in the last few decades and this has triggered a whole new category of tourism.

A couple of weeks ago I joined approximately 230 others at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa. They came for the second edition of the Wine Tourism Conference, which was organized by Zephyr Adventures. While most at the two-day meeting hailed from California, tourism interests in 18 additional states and two Canadian provinces were also there. Attendees represented government-sanctioned promotional boards, regional grower and vintner organizations, individual wineries, vendors of specialty travel services and members of the press. According to Touring & Tasting, one of the conference sponsors, overall U.S travel is expected to account for $852 billion dollars in 2012. It's projected that 27 million people will visit wineries in the United States this year.

The phrase “wine tourism” is fairly new and lacks a universal definition. Actually, it might be considered a subset of larger categories like “agricultural tourism” or even “culinary tourism.” Whatever it is called, experiencing a rural environment can be a great adventure for many Americans trapped in hectic urban lives.

Jean-Charles Boisset PicmonkeyJean-Charles Boisset has inherited Haraszthy's legacyAs keynote speaker at the recent conference, Jean-Charles Boisset spoke of his first visit to California. In 1981 the 11-year-old boy visited Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma County with his grandparents. Perhaps imbued with a sense of history from his French family, Boisset was quite taken with both the story of the short-lived Bear Flag Republic, a product of the area's secession from Mexico in 1846, and the pioneering efforts of Agoston Haraszthy who had planted vinifera grapes and established the Buena Vista Winery not long after that time. Though too young to qualify for sampling in the winery's tasting room, the young man from Burgundy did get a taste of California's wine elsewhere on the trip and found it very much to his liking. Three decades later Boisset now owns Buena Vista and seems acutely aware of its heritage. He is investing in substantial restoration and declares “a winery should be a place where people need to feel comfortable, to learn, to reflect.” In tying the efforts of America's wine pioneers to the country's recent focus on food, he observed, “The U.S. has always been a country running toward the future. You're the place that is creating this magic around the world.”

Consumers can get wine at the nearest supermarket; what they are seeking in visiting wine country is an elusive concept—an experience. Traci Ward, who represented Visit California at the tourism conference noted “a shift coming in who the traditional wine consumer is. Younger people don't want to be told what the have to do; they want will let you know what they want.”

People in the wine business attended the two-day meeting to learn more about how to create a a positive environment for visitors. Others—those in the travel business—came because they wanted to learn how to offer wine experiences for their clientele. Readers of Taste California Travel are typical of the audience all of these people traveled to Santa Rosa to learn how to please. Whether you're going to Napa or anywhere else in California's wine country, you're likely to be welcomed by people who're happy to see you. Enjoy the experiences you can have with them. However, if your experience is less than happy, don't put up with it. Your satisfaction is paramount

*While the Mount View probably does not have a grappa list these days (that was at least two concepts and two more remodelings ago), it is still a worthy establishment in Calistoga, one of the many offering a upscale environment for its visitors, be they yuppies or not. Currently there are two restaurants at the property, Barolo and JoLē. A decidedly unpretentious alternative down the street is Suzie's, where some of the locals go for a shot and a beer.


Editor's note: Planning a trip to any part of wine country? Taste California Travel's Resource Directory contains links to the website of thousands of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to all of the state's wineries. We've also added a section for brewpubs and beer-centric restaurants and bars.

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