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Displaying items by tag: Central Valley

Wednesday, 21 May 2014 00:23

Zinfest at Lodi Lake

 Zinfest PickmonkeyZinfest arrivees picked up their glasses by the lakeby Dan Clarke


Lodi grows about one-third of all the Zinfandel grapes in the U.S. While justly famed for its Zins, the area also produces a diverse array of other varietals. Curiously enough, it was Lodi's just-concluded Zinfest that showcased many of these wines.

Zinfest has a ten year history. The cornerstone event is an outdoor tasting held at Lodi Lake. On Saturday over 40 area wineries poured samples of their Zinfandel, of course, but many had other wines to taste, too. The festival actually is more than a one-day affair, as many wineries welcome visitors with tours and open houses on Sunday. A few wineries even arranged special dinners for the evenings preceding the big Saturday tasting. Beyond the tasting and the socializing, attendees had other diversions, as they could drop by tents devoted to the Zinfest cooking and wine schools. Separate areas were home to barbecue and barrel building demonstrations. Music was played on a main stage, and at a comfortable, outdoor piano bar. The Vintners' Regatta featured a parade of vessels made from wine barrels and “sailed” by local winemaking teams. Food was available from about a dozen local restaurants and purveyors.

Woman pouring at ZinfestBusy, but not too crowded

While the Lodi wine region has experienced huge growth in recent years, it retains a family farm and small winery feel. Many of the booths were staffed by people whose vineyards supplied grapes for the products being poured. In some cases the pourers were also the winemakers or winery owners.

Offerings at Bokisch Vineyards included a delightful white wine made from the Verdelho grape, which is grown in Lodi, of course, but is a variety native to Portugal. Another white, an Albariño, traces its ancestry to Spain, as did their two reds varieties that Bokisch poured—the Graciano and the Tempranillo. E2 Family Winery also had a Verdelho and Estate Crush, Harney Lane Winery brought their own bottlings of Albariño. Tempranillos were also offered by d'Art Wines, Harney Lane and m2 Wines.

If you wanted to venture beyond the Iberian varieties, there were several wineries whose lineup included wines made from grapes native to the Rhône Valley of France. Acquiese Winery specializes in white wines made from such grapes as Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Viognier. H-G Vineyards also produces a Vigonier. Estate Crush makes a Cinsault. Syrahs were offered by Berghold, Klinker Brick, Kidder Family and Michael David. Petite Sirahs were available at the booths of Ironstone Vineyards, McConnell Estates, Peltier Station and Viñedos Aurora. There was even a Rhône blend made by The Dancing Fox. Their “Cote de Renard” comes from grapes grown in the Clements Hills area in the southeastern part of the Lodi Appellation. It is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvèdre (sometimes called a "GSM), with the addition of 3% Viognier, a white variety.

Larry Mettler at Zinfest Larry Mettler poured Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon from Mettler Family Vineyards

Wines made from more familiar but-not-Zinfandel varieties, included Chardonnays, Pinot Grigios, Sauvignon Blancs, Barberas, Sangioveses, Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots. Toasted Toad Cellars even brought their Primitivo.

Visiting an event named “Zinfest” and concentrating on experiencing everything but Zinfandel might seem to be missing the point. However, you can't taste everything in one afternoon and I already know that Lodi is home to greats Zins. Saturday's Zinfest and the Red & White Night that preceded it were the most recent evidences of Lodi's continuing evolution and that it deserves to be taken seriously for more than just its Zinfandel.

Editor's Note: If you're planning to visit this wine region, we suggest you check out the Central Valley section of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of all the wineries, as well as links to the sites of Lodging and Dining options.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014 22:54

A Red & White Night in Lodi

Crowd Shot at AcquiesceThe evening began at Acquiesce

by Dan Clarke

When invited to an evening in Lodi billed as “Red & White Night!” I was intrigued. Two wineries, Acquiesce and Macchia, planned to put on a progressive dinner with each pouring its own wines. Macchia specializes in red wines, mostly Zinfandels. The winery produces several bottlings of Zin each vintage, each of them expressing the virtues of specific vineyards. Some years ago I served on a panel of wine writers that was charged with picking a dozen Zinfandel wines to represent Lodi. We judges worked our way though many wines in what is called a “blind tasting” (bottles covered so that we could not identify the producers). My recollection is that four or five of the Zins selected for our final dozen turned out to be Macchia wines. Obviously, winemaker Tim Holdener has a special touch with this variety and I thought any other reds he makes were also likely to be good.

I'd never heard of Acquiesce, whose wines would provide the white contribution to the event. They were fairly new and, frankly, I didn't expect much. But they had chosen to make only white wines. That was unusual enough in this area, but they were making only wines from grapes native to France's Rhône Valley. White wines—but not the ubiquitous Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. This could get interesting.

About 60 people would be attending the red and white dinner, many of them members of the wine clubs of these wineries. Acquiesce would host the evening's first segment and winemaker Sue Tipton suggested I arrive a little early to taste her wines. All were from the 2013 vintage. They included a Grenache Blanc, a Vigonier, a Grenache Rosé and the Belle Blanc (a blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Viognier). The latter wine is Sue's version of the little-known white wine of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. All four of these wines were of surprising quality.

Guests began to gather in the Acquiesce tasting room and soon were all enjoying glasses of Belle Blanc and snacking on the goat cheese and smoked trout appetizers. Conversations were animated and an apparent good time being had by all when the word came that it was time to move on to Macchia, a couple of miles to the west. Ten minutes later we were entering the shady Macchia courtyard adjacent the winery where the rest of our evening would be spent. Ordinarily, a May event like this would be held out of doors, but temperatures reached the mid-nineties earlier in the day prompting the move to air conditioned surroundings.

Red and White Centerpiece

I was fortunate to share a table with Sue and Rodney Tipton where I found out more about these people who have charted such an innovative course. The short story is that Rodney's career necessitated they make frequent moves earlier in their married life before settling in Lodi about 15 years ago. The couple lived in many parts of the world prior to that time and along the way Sue developed a fascination with Rhone whites. Though she has made wines at home since 2003, she has been making her own versions of these white wines professionally for just three years. The Tiptons grow 12 acres of Zinfandel on their property, but those grapes go to Gallo's winery, not theirs. Two other Acquiesce wines—the Grenache Blanc and the Viognier—were paired with the first two dishes at this sit-down segment of the evening. These were followed by three courses paired with wines from Macchia—a Barbera, a Zinfandel and a Port-style wine. (see menu below)Short Rib Pairing at Red and WhiteShort Rib Pairing with Macchia "Serious" Zinfandel was brilliant

Sacramento caterer Community Tap and Table provided a creative dinner menu. The food was tasty and helped show the wines to good advantage. For me the most successful course of the evening was the beef short rib with candy carrots accompanied by Macchia 2012 “Serious” Zinfandel. It was splendid. Chef Emily Baime and both winemakers gave the diners brief background on the ingredients and preparation of each course and the wine accompanying it. Sue and Rodney Tipton, Tim and Lani Holdener and their staffs created a very cordial environment for the evening.







Red & White Night


Mint-Smoked Tahoe Trout Tarts with Goat Cheese-Crème Fraiche & Chives

Acquiesce Winery 2013 Belle Blanc


San Joaquin Spring Lettuce and Tarragon Soup with Green Apple Chip

Acquiesce Winery 2013 Grenache Blanc


Cauliflower Salad with Honeyed Onions and North African Olive-Harissa Dressing

Acquiesce Winery 2013 Viognier


“Minnestrone” Pesto Pasta with McFarland Heirloom Beans, Fingerling Potatoes and Blistered Tomatoes

Macchia 2012 “Infamous” Barbera


Lucky Dog Ranch Braised Beef Short Ribs with Candy Carrots

Macchia 2012 “Serious” Zinfandel


Decadent Chocolate Fudge Brownie “Sundae” drizzled with Port

Macchia 2011 “Dangerous” Port


Friday, 16 May 2014 14:04

May 16, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week


Belle Blanc from Acquiesce Picmonkey

2013 Belle Blanc


Acquiese Winery & Vineyards


Alcohol: 13.5%

Suggested Retail: $26


“Lodi is known primarily for its red wines. This grapegrowing region 35 miles south of Sacramento produces outstanding Zinfandels and decent, if unspectacular, Cabernet and Merlot. Lodi also grows white grapes and many wineries in more prestigious wine regions are happy to bolster their Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc bottlings with fruit sourced from Lodi.

“But there's more to the story than that . . .

“At Acquiesence, Sue Tipton makes wines from white grape varieties native to France's Rhône Valley. Production is small, but all her wines are selling out, so she and her husband, Rodney, are about to convert more of their Lodi Zinfandel vineyard to these whites. Yesterday Taste California Travel experienced three whites and one rosé from this winery—all were excellent. Today's 'Pick' is comprised of Grenache Blanc (45%), Roussanne (45%) and Viognier (10%). It is the winemaker's homage to the relatively rare white wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

“The 2013 Belle Blanc has much of the minerality and lean, racy quality of the winery's Grenache Blanc that makes it such a good food wine. However, there is a bit softer and rounder mouth feel and a lovely, though subtle, floral and spicy aroma likely contributed from the Viognier.”

Food Affinity: “Smoked trout and crème fraiche canapés, Salade Lyonnaise, salmon in almost any preparation.”

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 ( 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.)

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 (


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.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014 00:07

Winemakers Discover Lodi Natives


Lodi Native six wines and brochure PicmonkeyOur first tastes came at Wine & Rosesby Dan Clarke

Lodi is both an old region and a new one. Though some of its century-old vineyards are still productive, much new planting has been done in recent years Lodi is now home to between 110,000 and 120,000 planted acres of winegrapes. It produces about 40% of all the Zinfandel grown in the state.

Though maps will show Lodi just about in the middle of California's very warm Central Valley, its growing conditions belie that fact. Lodi benefits from a marine influence that travels eastward from San Francisco Bay, making its climate considerably cooler than the interior growing regions south of it.

As wine consumption in America has grown in the last couple of decades, Lodi has become a valuable resource for California's wineries, producing good quality varietal grapes at reasonable prices. However, much of each harvest has gone to large wineries outside the area, often to be blended into wines carrying the identities of more prestigious coastal regions.

Todd Maley in Wegat Vnyd PicmonkeyTodd Maley explains the nature of head-trained vines to his visitors

The Lodi region is diverse and grows more than 60 different grape varieties commercially with more planted experimentally. Two thirds of the production is reds, but the signature grape here is Zinfandel and some of those old Zin vineyards are absolute gems.

As the quality of Lodi fruit has become better known, the area has attracted artisan winemakers. At the moment there are more than 70 wineries in the area, most of them small and family operated. Many of the winemaking newcomers have sought out those old Zinfandel vineyards that are the heritage of the region.

What are the best of Lodi's Zinfandel vineyards capable of producing? At the instigation of wine writer Randy Caparoso, some of the area's best winemakers and growers put their heads together to explore that idea. After a considerable number of meetings, the group devised the “Lodi Native protocols,” which defined what the winemakers could do—or perhaps not do—in making that fruit from these vineyards into wine. The vineyards were already known to the six participating winemakers and had supplied grapes for some of their best wines. But this was about the vineyards, not the wineries. It was decided that the vinification would involve minimal intervention from the winemakers. Only the ambient (native) yeasts on the grapes would be used, no new oak would be employed, no alcohol reduction techniques, no fining, no filtering. As Caparoso put it, “the objective was to make the most vineyard-expressive wines possible.” Each winemaker agreed to make a quantity of wine in this manner from the 2012 harvest. Ultimately, 120 six-bottle cases would be made available for sale—every case containing a bottle from each of the half-dozen winemaker/grower collaborations.

St Amant Marians Vnyd bottle PicmonkeySt. Amant label shows vineyard sourceAs part of The Lodi Zinfandel Experience, a few journalists joined a larger group of Zinfandel fans to hear from the growers and the men making wine from their heritage vineyards. Visitors who gathered in the ballroom of Lodi's Wine & Roses Hotel recently had half a dozen glasses in front them, allowing tastes from the products of each of these six vineyards as it was being discussed. Later in the day attendees boarded buses to visit three of these Lodi Native vineyards, where they could again sample the wines expressing their essence while hearing about the viticultural practices from the growers themselves.

Locals speak of “West Side” and “East Side” vineyards, with the division being Highway 99, which bisects the area in a north-south line. Asked about this East-West difference, Maley Brothers winemaker Chad Joseph replied as a winemaker at first, saying vineyards to the east tend to produce fruit that is more spicy, giving clove and cinnamon qualities. In those to the west, he believes fruit tends to produce wine with more baked cherry aspects and pronounced herbal notes.

Todd Maley's family has been farming in the area since the 1850's. Our group got first hand experience at his Wegat Vineyard, which is located on the West Side. It was field-budded onto St. George rootstock by the Maley family in 1958 and was one of the three vineyards our group visited in the afternoon. There we again tasted the wine that the Wegat Vineyard has produced and got a chance to hear Todd Maley tell us more about how he farms the property while we walked among his vines.

Stuart Spencer, winemaker at St. Amant, related that he and his father started using the Mohr-Fry Ranch's Marian's Vineyard in 1999. The relationship with Bruce and Jerry Fry has been felicitous. “We had no written contract, we just worked it out,” remembered Spencer, who added, “which I think is what Lodi is all about.” The 113 year-old, eight-acre vineyard is about in the middle of the West-to-East divide, but shows more of the sandy soils typical of Lodi's East Side vineyards. Marian's Vineyard yields the more classic big Lodi cluster with big berries, he said.

Tim Holdener at Noma Vnyd PicmonkeyTim Holdener gestures toward encroaching properties

Macchia is known for producing an array of vineyard-designated bottlings and its proprietor-winemaker Tim Holdener chose the Noma Ranch to source grapes for his contribution to the Lodi Native project. The vineyard, planted in the early 1900s, is half-a-mile east of Highway 99 and is described as one of the East Side's sandiest sites. It is dry-farmed and yields only about one ton per acre on scraggly, low-lying vines, but its small Zinfandel berries provide powerful flavors. The 15-acre vineyard is becoming surrounded by commercial neighbors and, at such tiny production, doesn't return much on the ever-increasing value of the land. Its future agricultural viability may be in doubt, but for the moment the Noma vineyard remains the source of Macchia's most intensely concentrated fruit.

The six vineyards providing grapes for the 2012 Lodi Native wines are part of the heritage of this winegrowing region. It's expected that others will join these pioneering growers and winemakers and that The Lodi Native project will continue in each subsequent vintage. Stuart Spencer called the development, “very encouraging,” adding “I think we'll keep looking at it to raise the profile of the Lodi region and help tell its story.”

Editor's note: More detailed information about the Lodi Native project can be accessed at If you're planning a visit to this growing region check out the Lodi listings in the Central Valley section of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of area wineries, as well as links to Wine & Roses and other Lodging and Dining options. 

Wednesday, 05 March 2014 17:45

Shack Fest Celebrates Beer Week 2014

by Dan Clarke


Sacramento is in the middle of Beer Week. Actually, the week seems to run from February 27th through March 9th, but why limit a good thing to that narrow seven days definition?

Dan Scott at Shack Fest 2014 PicmonkeyDan Scott at Shack FestCalifornia's capital may not have created America's craft beer renaissance, but since hopping on the bandwagon it certainly has helped it grow. The Sacramento News & Review estimates there are now 37 breweries within a 50-mile radius of downtown. More are rumored to be opening in 2014. Hops to Table, a bi-monthly tabloid billing itself as “a magazine dedicated to covering the Greater Sacramento and Chico beer and food scene,” is celebrating it's first anniversary. The current issue contains lots of good editorial and seems to have strong advertising support. May they live long and continue to prosper.

Dan Scott created Sacramento's first Beer Week five years ago. San Francisco had already done such a promotion, so Dan may have been capitalizing on their good idea, but there's no doubt his work has been a major contribution to the phenomenal growth of craft beer in the Central Valley. The local breweries have happily participate in Beer Week, of course, but so have many bars and restaurants. Most have created events of a style that will appeal to their own clientele and even some upscale places known to serve their plates on white tablecloths have put some effort into beer-pairing dinners.

Orange Jeff and Johnny Beer PicmonkeyOrange Jeff and Johnny Beer stayed dry talking hops under refuge of the eavesThe Shack on Folsom Blvd has the most diverse beer program in town. It doesn't brew its own beer but has frequently-rotated tap handles, exposing its customers to a broad spectrum of quality products. While you can find such esoterica as a Belgian sour or farmhouse ale, most of those handles tend to dispense variations on the West Coast IPA theme. These are big beers, often high in alcohol and high on the IBU (International Bittering Units) scale.

When a customer is unsure whether he's going to like the taste of something new, a server is usually happy to offer a taste. Between the bar taps and bottles in the refrigerated walk-in box, there's ongoing availability of about 100 brews.Crazy Mtn Rep PicmonkeySarah Langston poured Crazy Mountain beer

Sunday afternoon was the occasion of their annual Shack Fest. For a fixed price ($30 in advance, $35 at the door), beer fans can have access to food, music and unlimited tastings. Though space inside this building that's been serving beer since repeal of Prohibition is limited, there's ample seating and standing room on the patio. In addition, the small parking lot in back is fenced off for the event, giving more room for pouring, tasting and mingling. Thirteen breweries were represented, most of them showcasing multiple offerings. From the Sacramento area were Auburn Alehouse, Berryessa, Bikedog, Device, Loomis Basin, New Glory, Out of Bounds, Track 7 and 2-Rivers Cider. The Brewing Lair from a couple hours north in Plumas County came down and Dustbowl, a similar distance south of here also arrived to pour. Oregon's Beer Valley was here, as were two Colorado entrants, Boulder Beer and Crazy Mountain.

Band at Shack  Fest 2014 Picmonkey 2The Schwamigos, One Eyed Reilly and friendsWho knows what weather in early March will be like? Prior editions of this event had been blessed by sunny and spring-like conditions. Not so this time. It was merely overcast when things began at noon, but there was serious, steady rain falling a couple of hours later. While it may have kept away some would-be tasters, the rain didn't dampen spirits of the 200 or more who did show up. In fact, it added a What the hell. We're all in this together—let's have fun!  quality to the day. Hunter Merritt and the Schwamigos, abetted by some members of One Eyed Reilly and the occasional talented guest from the audience, played under a small tent, but there was plenty of water near the microphones, cords, amps and speakers, adding potential electrocutions to the scheduled entertainment. Trouper that he is, Hunter played on through the rain and was seen alive and nattily attired at The Shack's Mardi Gras party two days hence.


Editor's note: The Resource Directory of Taste California Travel now includes links to the websites of most of the brewpubs and craft beer purveyors in the entire state. 

Friday, 10 January 2014 23:19

January 10, 2013 Wine Pick of the Week


Twisted Rivers Primitivo bottle Picmonkey

2011 Primitivo


Producer: Twisted Rivers

Appellation: Clarksburg (California)

Alcohol: 14%

Suggested Retail:


“Bright cherry and raspberry aspects from this wine made from the Primitivo grape, a 'close cousin' to the more familiar Zinfandel. The fruit comes from the Clarksburg AVA, an area just south of Sacramento, and has been vinified by Gary Branham, a veteran California winemaker, who has made great Sonoma Zinfandels under his own Branham Estate label. In the background of that cherry/berry flavor is a subtle brambly and slightly spicy undertone reminiscent of white pepper. This is a medium-bodied wine and much more food-friendly than syrupy, high-alcohol reds.”

Food Affinity: “Pizza, Italian dishes incorporating tomatoes or tomato sauces, dry-rubbed barbecued ribs, enchiladas with a bit of heat.”

Sunday, 13 October 2013 02:04

Celebrating a Decade at Serrano

Bruce Canepa with 21 Duesenberg PicmonkeyBruce Canepa with first Duesenberg

by Dan Clarke

Sunday was the Niello Concours at Serrano. The Serrano Country Club setting doesn't have an ocean view, but references were made to the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, nonetheless. If this 10th year tradition in the El Dorado Hills area just east of Sacramento doesn't quite have the panache of Pebble, it's still a damned fine car show. The event honored Rolls Royce, as it did in its inaugural edition a decade ago. Also celebrated at this October 6th gathering were the 50 year anniversaries of Lamborghini and the Porsche 911.

This year's Grand Marshall was Bruce Canepa, famed for his racing career and, more recently, for his high-end automobile restoration business in the Santa Cruz area. It was his Scotts Valley shop that restored the entry judged 2013's Best of Show, a 1921 Duesenberg A Bender Coupe. The car was purchased new by current owner James Castle, Jr's grandfather. And it was the first production Duesenberg ever built. How's that for provenance?

XK140 Jim Perell PicmonkeyJim Perell with his heirloom JaguarI walk through the gate and see so many gorgeous vehicles it's hard to know where to start. There are some very valuable automobiles here on the lawn, but nothing is roped off. Though everything is very accessible, common sense tells me that it would be very bad form to touch these cars or drip one's drink over somebody's gleaming bodywork. I soon discover that many of the owners are in the vicinity of their cars and are friendly and happy to talk about their entries.

First to catch my eye is a 1956 Jaguar XK140. It's a convertible or drop head coupe in British parlance. It is unrestored and is entered in the Preservation Class. I ask a dapper fellow standing nearby if he is the owner. Jim Perall says he is. Turns out he is the second owner of this car. Jim remembers he was about seven or eight years old the day he and his Dad drove this Jaguar home from a Southern California dealership. Except for the new leather in the cockpit, everything else is as original as they day it was purchased. Apparently, it still runs well. We share some conversation and I learn a lot about his car. Later Jim will be seen, microphone in hand, chatting with car owners as they wait to drive their winning entries up to the reviewing stand to receive their awards.

Auburn Boattail Speedster PicmonkeySupercharged Auburn Boattail Speedster

Wandering among all this elegant machinery I meet a couple of other owners. They seem to be enjoying the day as much as I am. Everybody has his favorites, but none of the entries could really be faulted.

Some evoke good memories, like a red '62 Impala convertible—the fabled Chevy 409—and the '65 Sunbeam Tiger, a British sports car fitted with an American V8 engine, à la the AC Cobra. Others are from a time long before mine, but almost make me wish I were even older so that I might have experienced them when they were on the road—the 1936 Auburn Boattail Speedster, for instance.

Bentley 1948 PicmonkeySaoutchik Bentley -- such elegance!Many are far removed from any world I ever experienced, such as the 1948 Saoutchik Bodied Bentley Mark VI (in periwinkle blue). Some newer vehicles like the 2013 McLaren MP4-12C are exotic by any definition. It looks like it should only be driven an astronaut. Driving home I admit to a little jealousy (what car guy wouldn't want to possess any of these beauties?), but console myself in the thought that I don't have spend the money to maintain such a classic or worry about that inevitable fender-bender if I chose to drive it. The Niello Concours at Serrano was a beautiful way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The 2014 edition is on my calendar.

Editor's note: Photos for this article were shot with an iphone. At the Facebook page of this event we found a link to really wonderful pictures shot by Tyler Visger. It's beautiful work and is worth checking out

Friday, 11 October 2013 16:32

Pumpkins Two Ways

by Dan Clarke

Sometimes we discourage publicists from sending products we just don't think sound very interesting. However, in the case of the two interpretations of seasonal beer that arrived recently, we were intrigued.

Two accomplished brewers collaborated on the project not to produce one beer, but to come at the pumpkin-theme from different perspectives: Shaun Sullivan, the brewmaster at San Francisco's 21st Amendment Brewery and his friend Dick Cantwell of Elysian Brewing in Seattle. Both beers are available in cans labeled “HE SAID,” but sporting different colors and stories of the beers inside them.

Each of these beers contains 8.2% alcohol by volume. Their “recipes,” as included in the information accompanying our two samples, follow:


 HE SAID Tripel can Picmonkey

HE SAID Belgian-Style Tripel

“The story starts in 2010 when Dick Cantwell walked into our San Francisco pub. We'd heard about his little pumpkin fest and wanted to get together to brew a pumpkin beer like no other.: a Belgian-style Tripel brewed with pumpkin, galangal and tarragon. In a dark colored can.

Malts: 2-Row, Aromatic, Belgian Candi Sugar

Special Ingredients: Pumpkin Puree, Pumpkin Juice

Hops: German Northern Brewer, US Golding, Sterling

Spices: Galangal, Tarragon

Yeast: Trappist Ale Yeast”


HE SAID Porter can Picmonkey


HE SAID Baltic-Style Porter

“The story starts in 1999 when Shaun O'Sullivan walked into my Seattle pub. He'd heard about my massive pumpkin fest and wanted to get together and brew a pumpkin beer like no other: a Baltic-style Porter brewed with pumpkin , caraway and cinnamon. In a light colored can.

Malts: 2-Row, Carafa II, Cara-Vienne, Dark Munich, Carafa III

Special Ingredients: Pumpkin Puree, Pumpkin Juice

Hops: German Northern Brewer, Sturian Golding

Spices: Vietnamese Cinnamon, Caraway Seed

Yeast: German Lager Yeast”


The pumpkin beers are being marketed together--two 12-ounce cans of each interpretation in a four-pack. Since they're distributed just during this autumn, tasting and reporting wasn't to be put off. The project seemed like fun and I thought we'd invoke the principle of a jury, rather than just one reviewer, for whatever coverage we might do. With just one can of each beer, we weren't really outfitted for a party, but I decided to convene an ad-hoc tasting panel. The staff and customers at The Shack in Sacramento are among the area's most knowledgeable. And my car knows the way there.


Five people tasted with me. They included one customer and four of the staff (one from the kitchen, three from front of the house). It wasn't a competition, but when you have two different interpretations of the same subject it's only natural that folks would take a “which one's better?” approach. Following are some of the comments:


Sean Montgomery:  (re the Tripel) “Really good because it actually tastes like pumpkin and not just cinnamon and allspice like most pumpkin beer.” (re. the Porter) “Just doesn't work. It's a little medicinal for me. A little cigarette ashy.”Jen Witek PicmonkeyJen Witek


Jen Witek:  (re the Tripel) “Excellent. Absolutely fabulous.” (re. the Porter) “O.K., but I much prefer the other.”

Christopher Fairman Oct 09 2013 PicmonkeyChristopher Fairman

Chris Delgado:  “They were both easy drinking.”


Christopher Fairman:  (re the Tripel) “This really tastes like a pumpkin pie (with whipped cream). I would drink this.” (re the Porter) “It's revolting.”


Dan Clarke:  (re. the Tripel) “Nose seems a little like mentholated cough drops, then more like pumpkin as I get used to it. Taste exhibits much more pumpkin quality.” (re. the Porter) “Not bad taste, but doesn't seem very 'pumpkiney'.”


Charlie Ellis PicmonkeyCharlie EllisCharlie Ellis:  (re. the Tripel) “It tastes like fall, but better because it has alcohol. I taste a little black olive.” (re. the Porter) “Had a little 'ashy' aftertaste. Thought it tasted of cardamom. I'd like to mix something with it (use as an ingredient in creating a dish).”


Editor's note: In addition to links to the websites of thousands of Lodging, Dining and Winery options, Taste California Travel's Resource Directory has links to the website of The Shack, as well as the sites of most of all the other beer centric establishments throughout California.


Wednesday, 03 July 2013 01:30

June 28, 2013 Beer Pick of the Week



Berryessa Double Tap Pint Picmonkey

Double Tap IPA


 Berryessa Brewing Company

 Location: Winters, Caifornia

 Style: Strong IPA

 Alcohol: 8.5%

 IBUs: 70+

 Serving style: Keg only at this time

 Availability: Year-round in Northern California


Appearance:  "Medium-amber"

Aroma:  "Floral hop aroma, but subtle compared to the floral hoppy taste."

Taste:  "Substantially bitter with a strong citrus flavor with floral undertones. It's pretty good."

Food Affinity:  "Dried sausage with fennel served with a sweet-hot, honey mustard and dark rye bread."

Sean Montgomery at Shack bar July 2 Picmonkey



Reviewed by Sean Montgomery, a homebrewer in Sacramento.


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