Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Winetasting Trip --If You Can't Say “Gundlach Bundschu Gewürztraminer,” You Shouldn't Be Driving!

Andrew and Connie – married just three months ago - were visiting us for the weekend from Santa Monica, Alex was home (sadly without Cass who was in LA), it was the last weekend here in the Bay Area for our friend, Franco, before his return to Buenos Aires, and it was a beautiful day. Clearly a road trip was in order.

So, early on Saturday morning we got our gang together and, with Andrew as the designated driver, headed north. It was the weekend of the FRAM Autolite NHRA Nationals at
Infineon Raceway so there was a bit of traffic along Highway 37 leading to Infineon (and a vast herd of RV’s parked in the campground across from the Raceway – a good sample of Americana for Franco). However, as soon as we got by the track things opened up nicely.

Our first stop was the Gloria Ferrer winery in the Carneros area at the very southern tip of Sonoma County. We arrived there just after 10:00AM when their tasting room opened and enjoyed some excellent samples of their sparkling wines on the terrace overlooking the vineyard.

Then it was off to downtown Napa and the Oxbow Public Market for a bit to eat. We wandered through the Market before making our food selection. Franco and I made a beeline for the Fatted Calf to pick up some of the roast porchetta (which Nancy and I had seen on our last trip to the OPM last year).

We also picked up some cheeses at the Oxbow Cheese Merchant and some offerings from Rôtisario. The Fatted Calf porchetta was excellent (see recipe here), and even approached the porchetta gold standard we had enjoyed at Porchetta da Franco, a roadside truck stand we had been introduced to on a trip to Umbria in 2006.

After lunch we drove up the Silverado Trail before cutting over to Younteville at the Younteville crossing. We made a pass through Younteville, past the French Laundry,

and then headed south on Rt. 29. When we got back to Napa we headed west up the slopes of Mt. Veeder to The Hess Collection. The Hess Collection is one of the several wineries around the world owned by the Hess Family Estates, and since those wineries include Colomé in the Province of Salta in northwestern Argentina, we felt that would be an appropriate one to which to take Franco.

Although The Hess Collection is in a beautiful and secluded setting, and includes a wonderful art collection, I found the the wines we sampled there a bit disappointing. However, all was not lost as I was able to pick up a couple of bottles of Colomé’s wonderful white Torrontés wine which Andrew and Connie had brought us from Argentina where they had been on their honeymoon.

Our final stop of the day was back in Sonoma County at “Gun-Bun,” the
Gundlach Bundschu winery just off of Rt. 121 and not far from the town of Sonoma.

Gun-Bun’s Pinot Noir has always been one of my favorites, and while that was as impressive as always in our tasting, we also really enjoyed their Chardonnay (crisp and unoaked) and Tempranillo. We picked up a few bottles to take home, and then passed the warning sign at the Gun-Bun gate.

We are looking forward to our next trip to Wine Country, and hope to get down to Argentina sometime soon to visit Franco and the Argentine wine regions.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

If the Shoe Fits – “Connoisseur’s Cheese” Class

Could it really have been THREE MONTHS since our last class (our 23rd) at the Cheese School of San Francisco? When the schedule came out at the end of April for the Spring/Summer series of classes we had somehow failed to act.

When we realized a few weeks ago that we had let things slip, Alex, Cass and I looked over the schedule. Although there were understandably a number of classes that we had already taken, Sara Vincenzo who runs the Cheese School always does a good job of adding some new classes each term and we noted one entitled “Connoisseur’s Cheese” coming up in late July taught by Judy Creighton from whom we had taken two enjoyable classes in the past. Per the course description:

“As a true connoisseur, you know and love cheeses of all kinds. But maybe your taste buds have been lulled into sleepy complacency. For those who have the basics covered, this advanced class offers a tasting experience of what is truly extraordinary and rare in fine cheese with a discussion of how they get that way. These cheeses will take your senses to new heights with big bold flavors that are not for the faint of heart as well as delicate treasures that aren't easy to find in peak condition. Take your cheese love affair to the next level by diving into this distinctive connoisseur’s sampling from the finest cheese makers around the globe.”

Happily when we called the Cheese School there was still space available so we signed up. As the date approached it turned out Cass was going to have to be out of town that evening. However, we were able to fill Cass’ spot with our good friend Antonio.

Upon our arrival at the Cheese School the evening of the class we met Sara who was there for the pre-class reception, as well as Abby Ward, one of the School's Assistant Directors, and Karen Tran, a newcomer to the Cheese School staff. The gang was pouring the Keller Estate Chardonnay that was one of the wines for the class and while we waited for the class to start we had an enjoyable chat with the staff and also re-introduced ourselves to Judy Creighton.

Judy mentioned that she is living in Murphys (aka “The Queen of the Sierras”) in Calaveras County in the Sierra foothills, and encouraged us to come up to sample some of the wines offered by the Calaveras Winegrape Alliance [“20 wineries, 3 traffic lights“]. I came across a blog entry from Luscious Lushes which makes a trip there sound quite tempting, but I digress...

As the class description had indicated, the selection of cheeses for the evening was geographically wide-ranging (3 US, 3 Italy, 2 France, 1 England and 1 Australia) and of quite diverse types. The following were the ten cheeses we sampled:

1. “Yaquina Bay Pavé” from River’s Edge Chèvre [Three Ring Farm] – Logsden, Oregon - Goat

2. “Fior di Langa” from Caseificio dell'Alta Langa – Piemonte, Italy – Cow, goat & sheep

3. Sheep milk cheese from Sally Jackson – Oroville, Washington – Sheep

4. “Sunlight” from Haystack Mountain – Longmont, Colorado – Goat

5. “Caciotta di Bufala” [producer unknown] – Campania, Italy – Water buffalo

6. “Timanoix” from the Cistercian Abbey Notre Dame de Timadeuc and affineur (cheese ager) Pascal Beillevaire - Bréhan (Brittany), France – Cow

7. “Ogleshield” from Jamie Montgomery and Wayne Mitchell – Somerset, England – Cow

8. “Lagrein [Weinkäse]" [producer is a cooperative] – Alto Adige, Italy – Cow

9. “Signature Blue” from Tasmanian Heritage [National Foods] – Tasmania, Australia – Cow

10. “Bleu de Sassenage [Bleu du Vercors-Sassenage],” another aged by Pascal Beillevaire – Rhône-Alpes, France - Cow

They were paired with the following wines:

~ Chardonnay, “Oro de Plata” (2006) from Keller Estate in Sonoma, and

~ Südtiroler Lagrein, a red wine from Weingut Niklas [Niklaserhof] in Kaltern in the Alto Adige area of Italy.

We also enjoyed the standard wonderful range of accompaniments, bread, fresh and dried fruit, honey and some great pear jam from Blue Chair Fruit.

Our Favorites. At the end of the evening Judy asked us to rank our top three favorite cheeses and then took a poll. My top three were #1 Signature Blue, #2 Lagrein, and #3 Fior di Langa (although at least 4 others could have made it into my personal top 3), and that turned out to be the class consensus. Antonio went with the three Italian entries. It was one of the best overall selections of cheeses we have had a the Cheese School.

Japanese Beer and Australian Cheese. In researching the cheeses after the class I learned that National Foods, the Australian company that owns the Tasmanian Heritage brand under which Signature Blue is produced, is itself owned by Japan’s Kirin Brewing. Ah the joys of globalization (although if they continue to produce cheeses like that, I for one am not complaining).

Lagrein. Nancy and I are hoping for another trip to Italy in the near future, this time to the northeast, including the Trentino-Alto Adige region. I was very happy to find I really enjoyed both the Lagrein Weinkäse cheese (“weinkäse” means wine cheese in German, which is spoken as much as if not more than Italian in that northern area of the country) and the Lagrein wine. As the name suggests, the cheese is in fact soaked in Lagrein wine as part of the production process which gives the rind a deep red color. Hopefully the next time we try them together will be in Alto Adige!

As the above picture of Abby, Antonio, Karen and Alex suggests, we all had a good time at the class. Happily we have signed up for another class at the Cheese School for early August so we will not have so long to wait this time for our next visit.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

A New Sausalito Spot for Breakfast (and Lunch)

It is always great to have a comfortable place to go for a relaxed breakfast. A couple of months ago, CIBO (“food” in Italian) opened in Sausalito at the corner of Bridgeway and Pine, right next to the McCloud Design Studio.

While I was initially skeptical as to whether Sausalito could support yet another restaurant, after giving CIBO an initial try I was won over. Since then I have been spending a number of weekend mornings there enjoying the great food, atmosphere and people.

Although it is a brand new restaurant, CIBO has deep Sausalito roots. Like many who live in Sausalito, our “go-to” Italian restaurant for many years has been Angelino Restaurant on Bridgeway owned by Pasquale and Donna Ancona. Although Angelino is in the heart of the main Sausalito tourist zone and has its share of customers who are only visiting Sausalito for the day, it has always also prided itself in being a neighborhood place that takes good care of the locals, and we have had many pleasant meals there with our family and friends. Plus, apart from Pasquale who is originally from the Naples area, there have at least a couple of waiters from Italy with whom I can practice my feeble Italian.

Alfredo Ancona, Pasquale and Donna’s son, and his wife, Tara, are the owners of CIBO. Apart from just serving good food, they have also demonstrated in many ways at the restaurant support for the local Sausalito community and local producers. To point out just a few examples:

~ The Sausalito architectural firm of Donald K. Olson designed the restaurant and helped preserve some of brick and other elements from the previous structure which adds a great deal to the restaurant's charm and character.

~ All of the dishes that are used at CIBO come from Heath Ceramics at the north end of Sausalito.

~ Robert Bengtson photographs grace the walls, all reflecting design elements found in or near the restaurant.

Needless to say, any restaurant is really about the cuisine, and happily CIBO gets high marks there. For starters they serve organic coffee from Blue Bottle, a Oakland-based coffee company. I had never tried their coffee before but, now having had it at CIBO, I think I am beginning to understand what the fuss is about.

On the food side, Tara is a pastry chef and there is always an interesting variety of pastries to accompany your morning beverages. CIBO also serves lunch and, while I have not yet had a chance to stop by later in the day, they have a number of tasty-looking panini in their display case every morning, not to mention a variety of preserves, cookies, and assorted Italian yummies.

To round it out, Tara and her staff, including Guillaume, Tasha, Carina, Ojha and Charley, are always cheerful and welcoming, even though they have to get up early to bake the pastries and work hard get ready for those of us who like to arrive at 7:00AM when they open.

And, if you are there at the right time, you may even run into Pasquale and Donna enjoying a cup of morning coffee!

CIBO is well worth a visit.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What a NICE Day!

There are some days that are just more beautiful than others. Today was such a day here in the Bay Area. Above is a photo of the sun rising this morning over Richardson Bay between Sausalito and Belvedere, and below are two clips taken on the 7:10AM ferry ride - the first at the dock in Sausalito and the second approaching the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Enjoy!

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

North to Santa Rosa – Nagasawa Park and the Paradise Ridge Winery

I was recently asked to write an article about US/Japan relations for a Japanese publication, and as part of that wanted to include the story of Kanaye Nagasawa, who was born in 1852 in Kagoshima on the island of Kyushu in southern Japan and, through a very circuitous route, ultimately made his way to the Santa Rosa area north of San Francisco in 1872 where he was one of the founders of the California wine industry.

Nagasawa's accomplishments were recognized during a speech made by President Ronald Reagan before the Japanese Diet during a visit to Japan in 1983 as follows:
"The Pacific Basin represents the most exciting region of economic growth in the world today. Your people stretch your abilities to the limit, and when an entire nation does this, miracles occur. Being a Californian, I have seen many miracles hardworking Japanese have brought to our shores. In 1865, a young samurai student, Kanaye Nagasawa, left Japan to learn what made the West economically strong and technologically advanced. Ten years later he founded a small winery at Santa Rosa, California, called the Fountaingrove Round Barn and Winery. Soon he became known as the Grape King of California. Nagasawa came to California to enrich our lives. Both our countries owe much to this Japanese warrior-turned-businessman."

The winery that Nagasawa helped to establish no longer exists today, but the property

where the winery existed is close to the Paradise Ridge Winery in Santa Rosa and the Winery has a small exhibit of photographs of Nagasawa and related memorabilia at its tasting building. In addition, Paradise Ridge has named its wine making building the Nagasawa Building, and one of its vineyards the Nagasawa Vineyard. They produce an excellent Chardonnay from the grapes grown there.

Friday was a beautiful day and since I was going to be in Petaluma and needed some pictures to accompany my article, I decided to drive up to Fountaingrove, both to visit the Nagasawa exhibit at the winery and to see the Nagasawa Community Park which was opened in 2007 and dedicated to Nagasawa’s memory. I first stopped by the park, which is on the shore of Fountaingrove Lake and is quite a pretty spot.

I then drove the short distance to the Paradise Ridge Winery where I visited the Nagasawa exhibit. I had met Walter Byck & Marijke Byck-Hoenselaars, the husband and wife who founded Paradise Ridge on a visit to the winery in 2005, and appreciated the efforts they had made to honor Nagasawa’s memory.

Sadly, Marjike was killed in a traffic accident in 2006, but the Byck’s children remain active with the winery. The Paradise Ridge tasting building is set on a hillside with a beautiful view from its terrace to the west across the vineyards to the Russian River Valley.

I also took some time to visit Marijke’s Grove next to the winery building and its wonderful sculpture garden, currently featuring works by a number of artists, including Gale Wagner, Ron Rodgers, Robert Ellison and, in particular, the “Rootings” exhibit by Bruce Johnson, several pieces in redwood and copper.

Since it is not in the heart of the Sonoma wine producing area and is in a relatively developed area, I am afraid that Paradise Ridge may be overlooked by some. However, both the excellence of its wines and the beauty of its surroundings are deserving of attention. Paradise Ridge's wines are not the easiest to find in wine stores, but one place I know in San Francisco that usually has a good selection is Wine Impressions in the Laural Heights Shopping Center.

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"You Cahn't Get Theyah From Heeah" – A Visit to the Pine Tree State

Every year we have a reunion of Nancy’s side of the family somewhere around the country. Given the size and dispersion of the large and growing Brown clan, there is no single place that works well for everyone, and our past annual gatherings have been in a wide variety of locations across the country.

This year the family meeting was held at the Inn by the Sea, a resort in Cape Elizabeth, just south of Portland, Maine. It was a beautiful location, although unfortunately, as can be seen from the following photos taken from our room on successive mornings, the weather was not very cooperative. If anyone was watching the US Open being played on Long Island, a bit south of us, you will get the idea.

Of our four sons, only Patrick was able to make the meeting this year, but there was a good turnout from the other family members and it was good to see everyone.

Although a good deal of time was spent at the Inn, we did manage to make it up to Freeport, a bit north of Portland, one day to visit the LL Bean mothership store, as well as some of the other high-end retail outlets which are clustered around LL Bean in downtown Freeport.

Pat and I even happened to be caught in a photo which appeared on the front page of the Portland Press Herald while we were there (see two non-descript individuals on the far right of the picture, obviously not contributing to the Maine economy).

As far as food goes, one of the high points was our visit to the Two Lights Lobster Shack just a couple of miles north of the Inn – reputed to be one of the best places in Main to get lobster rolls and fried clams. We tried both and they were excellent.

Maine is Boston Red Sox country and Pat and some friends took in a game one afternoon at Hadlock field, the home of the Portland Sea Dogs, one of the Red Sox farm teams. The field even sports a mini-“Green Monster,” just like at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox theme continued that evening at our dinner at Joe’s Boathouse in South Portland.

One of the most memorable activities of the trip was a trip we took one evening on the schooner Wendameen from the Portland Harbor to Cow Island, one of the islands in Casco Bay.

There we had a proper Maine seafood dinner prepared by the folks from Rippleffect, including lobster, mussels and corn on the cob.

On Monday morning on the way to the airport we met up at Becky’s Diner, a Portland institution, with Sam Van Dam, a college classmate of mine who is an architect in Portland. It was great to see Sam after many years and the breakfast at Becky’s (especially the the grilled blueberry muffins which I tried) was fantastic.

Incidentally, the quote in the title to this post comes from a performance of “Bert & I”, collections of humorous stories reflecting traditional Maine culture and told with a Maine accent, created by the storytelling team of Marshall Dodge and Bob Bryan in the 1950s and 1960s. When I was at Harvard in the 1960’s my roommate, Duncan, who was from the Boston area, introduced me to the stories. The above quote is the very Maine-esque punchline in the story “Which Way to Millinocket?", a portion of which can be heard here. A performance by Bob Bryan can be seen here.

On to Pittsburgh for next year’s family gathering!

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