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We left Thursday for a whirlwind wine trip: first stop, Paso Robles. We checked into the tiny gatehouse at Lago Giuseppe Cellars. Our accommodations were sorely disappointing, but the rest of the trip has so far more than made up for it. Several people told us we needed to dine at Villa Creek in downtown Paso Robles. Are we ever glad we took their advice. Villa Creek is charming and the smells that greet you as you enter let you know tasty food is soon to follow. I enjoyed ceviche while Laura opted for the butternut squash enchilada. We each had a flight of Villa Creek’s sublime wines. We will definitely return.

Friday morning after a wonderful breakfast at Vic’s, we met General Manager Jeff at Vinoteca, a wonderful downtown wine bar. Each week they host a different winemaker for Wine Wednesday. You get a chance to visit with the winemaker, enjoy three 3 ounce pours plus a bonus pour selected by the winemaker. Pair it with tapas and you’ve got a great deal for $20. We visited Kiamie Cellars and tasted through their lineup including new releases of their Kuvée and Meritage. Next we set off for Anglim Winery for a visit with Steve and Steffanie. They are charming people and Steve never disappoints… consistently good wines.

I write this on Friday morning and we are getting ready to head home. I’ll just touch on some of the trip’s highlights and expound when time permits. We spent the weekend in Paso and visited several wineries that included Whalebone, Rotta, Carmody McKnight, Starr Ranch, DuBost, Chateau Margene, Villa Creek, Fratelli Perata, Booker, Caliza, Villicana and Barrel 27. Bob and Maggie Tillman met us at Alta Colina, took us on a tour of their vineyards and then poured their wines for us. They are delightful people who produce exceptional Rhône style wines. Friday evening I accepted an invitation to a wine and food pairing at Le Vigne (formerly Sylvester). The food and wines were wonderful and the Amarone Zinfandel was a rare treat. We love Paso Robles and its people and look forward to several return visits.

 

Laura, Mather & Stella Ransom and Tom

 

Sunday afternoon we headed north for a visit with family in San Francisco. Laura’s granddaughters are sprouting like roses and we had a great day and a half in the City by the Bay. I need to mention a major winter storm hit last Friday. Strong winds and several inches of rain pummeled San Luis Obispo County. W caught a one day break in San Francisco, but the rain returned with a vengeance. We drove to Napa Thursday morning, made a brief stop at Domaine Chandon (loved their Pinot Noir) and then off for a private tasting at Joseph Phelps Winery. Phelps has been producing spectacular wines for decades and Keith treated us like royalty. We also had nice visits at Turnbull, Rutherford Ranch and Elizabeth Spencer.

We had been looking forward to a return visit to Chef Michael Chiarello’s Bottega restaurant in Yountville and we were able to get a 5:15 reservation. We dodged raindrops and entered the beautiful dining room. Dinner at Bottega is an experience not to be hurried. We enjoyed a leisurely two hour feast of incredibly good food paired with excellent Chiarello Cabernet. I spoke briefly with Chef Michael and made arrangements to return on Wednesday to have him speak on video for our sister site Why Local Matters.

Wednesday morning we drove up to the top of Spring Mountain to visit Cain Winery and chat with vineyard manager Ashley Anderson. Ashley has been in charge of Cain’s vineyards for twelve years now. She exudes passion and our vist with her in the barrel room simply flew by.

When we visited Napa last year, we paid our first visit to Venge Vineyards. We only met owner/winemaker Kirk Venge in the parking lot on our way out, but promised to return. Kirk’s dad, Nils Venge, was the first winemaker to receive a 100 point score for the 1985 Groth Reserve Cabernet. Kirk proudly shared with us his 2008 Reserve Cabernet was just awarded 99 points by Steve Heimoff of Wine Enthusiast. Kirk is a wonderful guy. We spent quite a bit of time in his barrel room, tasting tank and barrel samples before heading up to the tasting room. We have a new friend in Kirk and we will always make time to visit Venge when we’re in the Valley.

The final stop of the day was at Tudal Winery. General Manager Doug Eisele is the son of Milton and Barbara Eisele, proprietors of the famed Eisele Vineyards, producers of legendary Cabernets. Tudal is very rustic. Their wines are substantial and a return visit in the summer or fall is on our agenda.

We awoke yesterday morning to torrential rains. We decided to head to Sonoma and some of my old stomping grounds. The drive was an adventure, with winds whipping and rain coming down so hard we could barely see the road. We stopped at the KZST studios where I had spent several years behind the microphone as a mid-day disc jockey. From there we drove north to Geyserville for a delightful lunch at Rustic at Coppola Winery. The facility is drop dead gorgeous and houses many pieces of movie memorabilia, including the desk and chair from The Godfather and the car from Tucker. After lunch we made a quick stop at Trentadue and then drove into Napa for a vist to Ceja Winery, the first Mexican- American winery in the country. Their tasting room is beautiful, the wines are elegant. Our host Javier was just charming.

The piece de resistance was a winemaker dinner with Nils Venge at Restaurant Cuvée in Napa. Kirk had wanted us to meet his dad. We just didn’t know it would happen so quickly. He’s a fascinating man who has been part of the history of the Napa Valley for the past several decades. We enjoyed his Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, a barrel taste of his ’09 Zin and his spectacular ’05 Cab with delicious dinner.

Our home away from home for the past few days had been the delightful Brannan Cottage Inn  in Calistoga. Doug and Judy Cook are the penultimate innkeepers and took excellent care of us. We are preparing to head home after a fabulous week on the road. The adventure never ends.

 

Kirk Venge

 

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