Each year seems to pass a bit more quickly than the one which preceded it. I spent a lot of time on the road this year, and I was out of commission for nearly two months. At the end of January and into early February, I was in Italy for the International Wine Tourism Conference. I flew into Rome and then traveled by bus to Perugia in the heart of Umbria. I had the honor of speaking at the conference and the pleasure of meeting so many amazing winemakers and chefs. At the end of the conference we made our way to Naples when a funny thing happened. It snowed. It snowed like crazy. News was that Campagna hadn’t seen a snow like that in 50 years. Our hosts scrambled to make alternative travel plans, but when all was said and done it was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life.
Shortly after returning home, Laura and I made the four and a half hour drive to Las Vegas for the annual conference of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association of which we are members. We spent two nights at The Venetian and The Palazzo where we experienced divine food and over the top experiences including observing the preparation of a $750 cupcake and a full-blown wine tasting with Riedel stemware. Later in the year I returned to Las Vegas for the North American Travel Journalists Association (of which I am also a member) conference downtown. It was wonderful to see and feel the ‘old’ Vegas.
I made my first of three trips to Napa in April. After a very quick visit to Paso Robles, we headed for Yountville to meet with the Chef de Cuisine and the Culinary Gardner for the legendary French Laundry. Gardener Tucker Taylor displayed an incredible passion for what he does and walked us across the street to the restaurant’s exquisite garden. We then sat down with Chef Tim Hollingsworth who told us how he advanced from banging on the door until Thomas Keller finally relented and hired him to where he is today. On a humorous note, I asked ahead of our visit if Chef could prepare a dish I could photograph. I watched as he took baby vegetables and a paintbrush with truffle coulis and created a masterpiece. After I took my photos, the plate was whisked away before I could get my hands on a fork.
Also in April I made the first of what would wind up being four flights in and out of the Jacksonville, Florida airport. I spent three nights on St. Simons Island at the gorgeous King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort. My thanks to Vinny D’Agostino, Jeff Kaplan, Bud St. Pierre, Rick Mattox and Cap Fendig for introducing me to a place I hope to visit many more times.
In early May, my life took a sudden turn. I slipped and fell on a hardwood floor at home and landed square on my left knee. After two misdiagnoses of a sprain, an MRI revealed I had ruptured my left quadriceps. Following surgery I spent about a month in a wheel chair and and another month with a brace and walker and then eventually a cane. I’m happy to report my physical therapy went well (thanks Molly!) and I now work out three time a week at Elevate Fitness in Menifee. Paul David and his staff are making me stronger by the visit.
I was pretty much tethered close to home until late July when I took off for Bryan, Texas for a visit to Messina Hof Winery for a reunion with new friends I had met in Italy in January. In California, harvest was at least a month away, but in Texas it was in full swing and Messina Hof had several harvest events including a grape stomp the weekend I was there. If you don’t think any good wines come out of Texas, I urge you to think again. The Bonnarigo family is producing some exceptional wines and you couldn’t ask for better hosts. They have a beautiful resort and a wonderful restaurant. There is already talk of another reunion this summer.
In August I reunited with good friend Chef Frank Miller and spent a few days in the San Francisco Bay Area. During our visit we stopped at Arns Winery in St. Helena and met the delightful Sandi Belcher who makes their silky smooth Cabernet Sauvignon. Two days after I got home I was back on a plane bound for Portland, OR for the Wine Bloggers’ Conference. I spent two days in Washington County falling in love with Pinot Noir all over again and savoring delectable food from the Pacific Northwest. I also met Wilfred Wong of BevMo fame and have stayed in contact with him ever since.
Come September and it’s back to the Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Jordan Winery invited me to a harvest luncheon at the winery. Jordan’s grounds are strikingly beautiful, lunch was wonderful and I had the chance to tell John Jordan his fly was down. In Napa I visited Venge Vineyards, one of my favorite stops and paid another visit to Arns Winery where Sandi put me to work punching down her Syrah.
Come October I returned to Las Vegas for the North American Travel Journalists Association conference. At the end of the month, things started going crazy. I knew I was headed to St. Augustine and Jacksonville Beach, FL in Novemeber, but I got an invitation to return to St. Simons Island and the King and Prince Resort. That was the first of three flights in and out of Jacksonville in a month. I loved St. Augustine and its historic charms. I stayed at the charming Casablanca Inn and had divine meals at the Bistro de Leon and Meehan’s on Matanzas. In Jacksonville Beach, the weather was bone-chilling, but I loved staying at the Casa Marina Hotel and visiting with the delightful Maitre d’ Sterling and savoring Chef Aaron’s food. I also had some great Irish Fare at Lynch’s Irish Pub.
I was went back to Oregon for a return visit to Washington County and the American Wine Society’s conference in Portland. I loved visiting Ponzi Winery, Cooper Mountain, David Hall, Elk Cove, Shafer and Oak Knoll wineries. At the conference I met some wonderful folks, tasted some pretty good amateur wines and got the chance to pour Temecula wines for hundreds of people from across the country. I also was a guest at King Estate Winery in Eugene. The fall colors are beyond decription.
I returned home and three weeks later I was headed back to Jacksonville for a visit to Eagle Island, a private island off the Georgia coast. You have to love a guy who left a career as a Wendy’s franchisee to follow his dream and buy some islands. The lodge at Eagle Island is an idyllic retreat. We enjoyed the bounty of the sea, tranquility and spent some time exploring Sapelo Island, home of the RJ Reynolds mansion and museum. We also walked with owner Andy Hill along May Hall Island, Little May Hall Island and Grassie Field Island. It was the perfect ending to an unforgettable year.
Today is my birthday. As I write this, I am grateful for you, my reader and for my many blessings. I wish you a fabulous 2013. I already have plans to visit Croatia, Italy and British Columbia. I’m sure there will be a few other surprises along the way.