Thursday, August 9, 2012

Way up yonder at DK Cellars

How often do you enter a least one that sits literally on top of a large hill in the middle of nowhere, USA, and hear, "Hey, you're Gary's sister, right?" This happened to me a few weeks back while visiting Dave and Kim Pratt of DK Cellars.

To begin with, yes, I am "Tea-tolaling," "Wine is yucky," "I don't get it," "When I die, I'll be clutching a can of Fresca,"  Gary's little sister. Moving forward. Kim at one time used to work with Gary in another life. (I clearly see why you moved to the middle of nowhere Kim) Anyhoo, on this visit, it was not Kim who recognized me, but a different former co-worker of Gary's named Emma who could not wait to tell me how much he bragged about my recent graduation and how proud he was of me. (Kudos for the big bro.!)

Like any appreciative little sister, it was only natural that I wanted Emma to tell me everything that Gary said. (Positive adjectives only.) However the conversation switched to why we both were at the winery, Dave and Kim Pratt; they know how to throw a party, and we were there to celebrate their 12th anniversary with a vertical tasting of their Meritage lineage.

What is a Meritage?
A Meritage; a blend of red and white Bordeaux varietal grapes. Red grapes consist of the dominant and familiar Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot. White grapes include Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Sauvignon Vert which is not too commonly grown in California. Red Meritage wines must be made from at least two of the listed red grapes. In either red or white Meritage wines, no one variety can make up more than 90% of the blend.

The word "Meritage" is a blend of the words "merit" and "heritage," and often denotes a Bordeaux blend of grapes not grown on French soil. Wineries that produce Meritage blends cannot produce more than 25,000 cases of the blend and the wine must be considered a high end offering for the winery.

Dave definitely does Meritage well. Beginning with the 2001 vintage, my cousin and I were treated to a wine education like no other. For a wine that was nearly 12 years old, the 2001 revealed that wine can and often does get better with age. The tannins (These are what often cause bad reactions for the uninitiated) had softened a bit,  but all of the dark rich characteristics of a fine Bordeaux were still present. If you are familiar with the intense flavors of mountain wine, this one would not disappoint. We both enjoyed the noticeable differences of each wine and agreed that the 2002 and the 2005 were our favorites. For good measure, we re-visited each, several times, just to be sure.

To accomodate everyone's palate, The Pratt's poured other wines from their colorfully named collection. (Kim designs the labels) "Short Bus Zinfandel" and "Rattler Red" are two of their easy to drink but very potent offerings. This is mountain wine; virgins need to tread with caution. Another favorite, the Cab-Shiraz blend. Done Aussie style, the wine consists of 52% Cabernet Sauvignon and 48% Syrah. Yummy!

Because this was a party, the Pratt's provided a luncheon of pulled pork sandwiches and strawberry shortcake for dessert. A wine club member who just happens to be a DJ provided the music. We were able to fully enjoy the picnic area and watch as Kim busted a move on the lawn.

Sauntering into the tasting room, a special blend of every vintage of the Meritage was offered for sale by the glass. Maybe because I WAS after all, Gary's sister, a taste appeared in my glass. "Boo yeah!" Now we are talking. What a treat. There are no words to describe this blend...except, awesome! I really wanted to ask Dave more about why he blended his entire lineage for the day. Well, it is his winery, and his wine. He can do whatever he desires. Instead, we agreed that the need to re-visit the food line was becoming too hard to resist. (I was not convinced as to why I gave up pork, seriously) Moving forward.

As we mingled with the other party revelers, it became clear as to why I prefer the small winery as compared to the larger commercial facilities. Dave is a techno-geek who could be described as the poster child for A.D.D. (Wait, that describes me!)  He and his wife Kim began their journey into all things wine by visiting wineries, volunteering during crush and observing how other wineries did the deed. With extension courses taken at UC Davis, Dave turned his close observations into becoming 2007 wine grape grower of the year in El Dorado County. With Kim by his side and often on the tractor during harvest, they have created a winery and a lifestyle that personifies their love of life and passion for wine.

There are a few perks to being Gary's little sister, and meeting Dave and Kim Pratt is one of them. I have visited their winery twice so far and enjoy following them on Facebook. Located in Somerset, California, top of the hill, middle of nowhere, USA, the drive is worthy of a visit. Check out their events calendar often and pay them a visit. I'm sure if you convince them that you too are somehow related to Gary, they will treat you extra special. (If not, you drove all the way up there, have some fun!)

DK Cellars, you done good!

Until next time, Salute'.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Revisiting Sarah's Vineyard

Living in the upper central valley has it perks. However, the heat factor in Sacramento is not one of them. Let me be more specific; Sacramento heat is akin to Satan's arm pits! Now that you have a good visual, allow me to take you away to a small winery that is nestled along a stretch of Hwy. know, that highway that goes through, uhhh, and ends up near, uhhh, and eventually leads to the Pacific Ocean? That highway.

A little history about how I/we found this road. The Road Dawg and I were on a field trip a few years back. Our mission; get to Santa Cruz to escape the Hellacious Sacramento heat. Our plan; drive south until we got to, uhhh, oh yeah, Interstate 5 to uhh, that road that goes towards uhh, west, yeah, that's it, west to 205 and then, uhh, was it 580 or 680 south? Anyway, whichever way we went, it was wrong!

For some strange reason, the road looked unfamiliar. I was sure that the sign for Andersen Pea Soup would come into view at any point. This is a landmark that I have always used to navigate my way to Santa Cruz. The road that veers off of 205...whatever it is, cuts a shortcut through the valley and ends up at one of my favorite diversions, Casa de Fruita. Surely we could not have missed such a huge and nearly the only visible sign in the desolation of the central valley? We did.

Los Gatos. Yes, somehow, we ended up in Los Gatos. Not a bad place. The heat factor was at least three, chilly, degrees cooler than Sacramento. I can honestly say that the town was flat, dry and hot. Moving on!

After driving through Los Gatos...which seemed to take forever, we decided to make a U-turn...which meant that we had to drive back through Los Gatos. There is only one road that leads into this hovel and one road out. Neither would lead us to where we wanted to go, so we had to make a few adjustments to get back on track...sort of. (It never occurred to us to use the GPS device on our phones)
Anyway, we knew we had to go west, and the first road in that direction, we took.

Big mistake. Somehow, we managed to end up at a crossroad that gave us two options; left turn, or right turn. Left, more desolation. Right, things were beginning to look a little green Neither looked familiar, but fortunately, we took the right one, literally.
 Hecker Pass Highway! Please do not ask me how we did this. It just felt right to turn right. Besides, the temperature had dropped to a comfy 70 degrees, and we were sorely in need of libation...and valium. (Two lost females in an SUV with no man to blame, not good!) We drove ferociously down this road not paying attention to much. We had five hours of daylight left, no wine, food or any of our usual travel comforts, and we had yet to dip our feet in the calming waters of the Pacific Ocean.

The Road Dawg, a more keener navigator than myself noticed a sign for a winery possibly owned by a female. Hmmm, must check this out. Besides by now we could care less about who owned anything; We just wanted to imbibe.

Entering the gate that welcomes visitors with a view of the vineyards, we drove around the vines which were covered in nets to protect the nearly ripened fruit. I had never seen this type of covering and could not wait to ask questions. We entered the tasting room and were met by the now more common winery dog. Personally, as a dog lover who speaks fluent Doberman Pinscher,(Don't over think it!) I have come to expect to be greeted by a cold wet nose, wagging tail and an expectation of a good ear scratch. When my fellow dog loving friends visit my home, this is the way I choose to say hello! All kidding aside, the tasting room was warm and inviting.

We made our way up to the counter and were immediately acknowledged by a friendly group of ladies.( On a recent visit, I was thoroughly delighted to be served by Megan.) Beginning with a stellar Chardonnay, we found the wines to be enjoyable and easy to drink. The atmosphere was lively and our hosts were informative and attentive. After identifying ourselves as industry types, were were treated to a unfortunately no longer made Syrah Port. OMG! As mentioned before, I am not a Port drinker. However, this one made us retreat to the Road Dawgs SUV to dig up enough change to purchase a bottle. And we did!

New plans began to formulate. We would buy a bottle, continue on our journey to the ocean...we now had three hours of daylight, buy a cigar and enjoy this phenomenal wine on the beach. Yes, it was going to be a good day after all. We still had not eaten, but who cared...we had a great bottle of Port. Food would have to wait.

Realizing that we also did not have wine glasses, ( we have since rectified this situation and keep them in our cars) the winery was kind enough to give us two glasses from a previous event. In my opinion, this was a customer service home run! We left vowing to return some day soon.

With less than three hours of daylight left, we were told that Santa Cruz was 30 minutes west of where we were...unless it is five o'clock on a Friday! An hour and a half later, we were on Hwy.1 driving north to Santa Cruz. The plan, find a place that sells cigars, find a beach, enjoy at least an hour of daylight and watch the sun go down.

No one in Santa Cruz smokes cigars! We looked everywhere, and with little time to spare, we ducked into a smoke shop that kept the cigars...all four of them, somewhere between to smokeless tobacco and the Red Bull energy drinks. Not to be picky, we bought the most expensive one...$9.00, and proceeded to find a beach that was not occupied by volleyball players. We were in Santa Cruz after all, and that huge body of water we were staring at was the ocean. Beaches must abound in this area, right? They do not.
We drove up and down the highway only to find cliffs...lots of cliffs. Cliffs that were high above the water and cliffs that were even higher above the ocean. Where the heck were the beaches? With the sun rapidly descending beneath the horizon, we drove back to the smoke shop which in the first place, was next to the volleyball courts which were on the beach. To our delight all of the players had left. It was nearly dark, and we had a cigar and a great bottle of Port. Let's get this party started!

As soon as the sun goes down in Santa Cruz, the fog rolls in. This is not a bad thing, unless... So, you think you have talent? Try lighting a cigar in the fog. Uh huh, try to see the cigar to light it in the fog. While you are struggling and looking rather silly to the locals who know better, try pouring a glass of Port in rapidly encroaching, visibility altering, fog. Give the locals a good laugh. Keep trying, and once you realize how cold it also gets in Santa Cruz, spend a few moments wondering why you carry jumper cables in your car and not a parka! At this point, we did not care. We hunkered closely together, cupped our hands and desperately forced the flame out that refused to leave Road Dawgs lighter, puffed as if we were on life support and managed to light the cigar. The bottle of Port, which was becoming slippery, cooperated by allowing its' cork to easily be removed. Alas, we were finally going to have a moment to reflect on this eventful day.

As I slid my feet into the still warm sand, and marveled at the sound of the surf...which we could not see due to the fog, it became obvious that the day was not all bad. I had the company of a good friend, a glass of warm libation and the comfort of knowing that my life was on course to better days ahead. To further enjoy the cigar, I slid my glass, stem first, into the sand so that I would not have to hold it. A few seconds later, the Road Dawg and I heard a strange noise that sounded like the "plink" that you hear when a light bulb burns out. There were no bulbs nearby, and although the Road Dawg does have a luminescent personality, she was still intact. We both looked at one another and wondering what it was that we heard. Instinctively, we reached for the bottle of Port only to find that it too was still intact. Weird?

As I reached for my glass to take a swig of the warm, chocolatey, silky Port, my lips seemed to miss the rim of the glass. As the precious warm wine poured down the front of my shirt...which was barely visible due to the fog, but very obviously red, I began to panic. Did this have something to do with the "plink" we heard? Oh Lord, was it my glass? Did I cut myself? Was this wine or blood? Hopefully blood!

No sooner than I took a few sips of this wonderful, warm, succulent wine, my glass, the freebie given to us, somehow managed to explode! A huge chunk...big enough to cause the wine to escape unattended was missing from the glass. Worse yet, the Port, that warm and fuzzy beautiful Port was now all over my shirt and the beach! Awwww Lawd, take me now! In the words of Florida Evans from the iconic 70s show, "Good Times..."Damn, Damn, Damn!"

Not to be defeated, (the thought of turning up the bottle and taking a long swig did cross my mind), we finished the cigar and the Road Dawg was kind enough to let me have a sip from her glass...after she finished snickering no less. We packed up and vowed to visit the winery least to let them know that their wine glasses from a previous event had a minor flaw, and to hopefully score another bottle of that phenomenal Port.

Sarah's Vineyard is located in Gilroy on Hecker Pass Highway. Because the Road Dawg could not join me on this revisit, I decided to map out my journey this time so that I would make it to the ocean before the sun went down. I arrived at about three o'clock and instead of being greeted by a winery dog, I was met by Megan. She was younger than the previous ladies who greeted us originally, but exemplified true professionalism and warmth. As I began my tastings, a young man entered the tasting room and was equally engaging. He was the current owner, Tim Slater, and his sense of humor was infectious.

Tim played the, "Oh hey, I remember you sort of" card and proceeded to make me feel at home. After a couple of compulsory "So you really do know about wine" questions, which is customary when industry people talk...or is it? Hmmm. Tim advised Megan to let me try the wine club releases. Thank you Tim...scratch behind the ears...that's a good Tim..who's a good Tim, scratch, scratch scratch!
The wines were awesome! Tim really knows how to balance his flavors to appeal to a broad palate.

One wine in particular caught my attention. The 2007 "Nuits d 'Enfer," a Merlot with a hint of Cabernet was outstanding! The wine had a good mouth feel and was not too fruity. It was obvious that this winemaker had mad skills. I love a wine that surprises me, and this one did. Because I am not a huge Merlot fan, Tim definitely knew what to do with this grape. More importantly, Tim seemed to not take himself too seriously. All artists have a tendency to let their egos dictate their personalities. Yours truly is no exception. Tim was playful and genuine; a lot like his wines.

Further enjoying my visit, the tasting room began to get busy. Megan was a master at taking care of everyone and never ceased to make sure I was okay. I also took note of how some of the guests were happy that she was working on this day. She poured adequately and at all times had a smile on her face.

I asked about the infamous Port wine and was told that it was no longer made. Bummer! Not missing an opportunity for a good story, I began to tell Megan about the experience of the exploding wine glass on the beach.

She listened intently as I explained what happened. A look of utter disbelief but true concern crossed her face. Like me, she too was amazed at what occurred. She remained professional and empathetic throughout the whole story...and managed to stifle a few giggles. After all, it was a weird situation.

Sensing that she was getting busier, and it was beginning to get late, I asked how far of a drive was Santa Cruz. Megan replied that it was about a thirty minute drive, but because it was a Friday, there would be delays. One of the other guests suggested that I visit one of the wineries nearby. Megan called ahead to make sure they could receive me. Another home run for customer service!

Sarah's Vineyard is located at 4005 Hecker Pass Highway in Gilroy, California.
Now that I know how to find them from Sacramento... Interstate 5 to 580 to 680 to 17 not deviate...stay south, I will visit them again. They genuinely know how to welcome a visitor, and at no time during my visit did my wine glass explode!

Until next time, A Votre Sante!


Friday, July 13, 2012

We Have Corn!

This time last year, for reasons that are still unknown, my ability to taste and smell vanished. Because of this, many of my beloved favorite foods also vanished due to not being able to enjoy them. Foods such as shrimp became allergy inducing demons to my immune system. Chocolate, which had been a replacement for sex on the regular, became toxic. (Don't over think it!) In short, life was not good. The weirdest part of this situation involved cravings for foods that I hate! Yes, the rarely used "H" word, hate.

Corn! I developed an insatiable craving for this gastro challenging, nearly nutrient deficient, starch laden, funny looking vegetable that, (squeezing my throat) I was forced to eat as a kid. And not just any corn, it had to be, Sloughouse corn. However, before delving into all things wonderful about Sloughouse corn, we must journey back to my traumatic corn infested childhood for a moment to understand why this veggie is so gross to me. (Okay, it isn't any more, but we'll get to that)

Every child has a food that they dislike. Why? Who knows, but I challenge anyone to look back in their life and find the foods that they exuberantly disliked. (Didn't use the "H" word) Mine was corn...especially, clenching my throat, holding back the saliva, creamed style corn! Oh Lord, slap the demon who invented this crap! Seriously, what kind of crack were they smoking? Who in their right mind combines corn, sugar and vomit into an edible substance to be consumed by humans? And who, willingly searches this gruel out, slaps it on a plate next to fried liver, smothered in onions, floating in a vile brown gravy, along with candied yams, rice, and string beans? My father. Yes,  this was his favorite meal, which meant that for many long suffering years, it was cooked often, and served with military abandon. Allow me to delve way back into my childhood. I have two distinct memories of my father's culinary expertise. One involved his mastery of all things Creole. Seafood was consumed, but not every day. (More like major holidays, special occasions, or whenever he felt like cooking it) The other, his penchant for foods that revealed his ultra humble roots in Louisiana. These almost inedible meals consisted of potted meat sandwiches, (Aw hell no, I would not eat these!), Ho cakes, (not a misspelling) which were similar to pancakes, except that they made better frisbees, anything starchy that floated in anything brown and thick on top of a plate of rice. (Seriously, I can remember the first time I ate a potato!) and always, something "good" as he referred to dessert. In hindsight, that something "good' was always something that he liked, and something that we would not eat. (Think grown folks ice cream. Lord, he liked the weirdest ice cream. Black Walnut, Maple Nut, etc.)  If there was any dissent among the ranks, he would rant, "In dis house, you don like what I cook, you not gon' eat!" Needless to say, we ate, lest we had to endure the same meal the next day. Got to love those depression era parents!

Back to corn

As mentioned earlier, a craving for Sloughouse corn had developed during a lengthy convalescence. There was no real reason to desire this corn as I had only eaten once. My in-laws were regular visitors to the Davis Ranch roadside combination fruit/vegetable stand, Christmas tree farm, picnic area, and pick your own strawberry mecca. They would drive from North Sacramento to Sloughouse, fill up the back of a pick up truck with corn, and regularly host "corn" parties where the veggie was boiled, grilled and eaten raw. Imagine, someone eating corn raw? Gross! So, I tried it; at least it wasn't floating in vomit!

Nirvana! The corn was ridiculously sweet and actually had a good flavor. However, after a few bites, childhood memories flooded back, and I refused to eat a whole ear.

Many years later, and a debilitating condition that robbed me of the ability to savor food, I had to have this corn! The good news, it was corn season and they had plenty! Even better news, they had freshly picked ( it is picked all day)...yellow corn; and if you bought a certain number of ears they gave you a certain number of ears free! (I think they are closet Creoles, because we call this act, lagniappe!) Without any hesitation, Kenji roared down the highway towards Davis Ranch.

One year later, and a partial and sometimes intermittent return of the olfactory senses, the cravings for Sloughouse corn never ceased. Because of the proximity to wine country, it would be rude to drive by without stopping and checking in on these good people. Good is an understatement as the Davis family is more than generous with their abundant crop. Two years ago, the family donated 100 ears of corn for a fish fry that was held to benefit my cousin who has Leukemia. The family was and still is eternally grateful for this and enjoyed grilling and eating several ears per person. (Warning, it is possible to eat more than two ears at a they say) Grilled, the sweetness of the corn, combined with the char from the grill,  a slathering of soft, warm butter, running down the length of the ear, careening in between your fingers, and eventually sliding down your arm, with a smidge of Red Dot hot sauce, a plate of Red Snapper and a red soda, can you say, "Orgasmic!" Food porn for sure, this experience is better than se- curing a spot at the head of the food line at your next fish fry! (What did you think I was going to say?)

The family has 500 acres of agriculture, and 300 acres is allocated to corn. Yellow, white and bi-color are available. The ranch manager, Tammy allowed me to photograph the inner working of production and gave me a plethora of information. She was warm, friendly and gracious even if she wouldn't allow me to take her photo. According to Tammy, the ranch hosts several events throughout the year. Fruits and vegetables are seasonal and they grow some unusual items as well.

Gourds are grown for decorative and practical use. Tammy informed me that a group of ladies from Hawaii regularly buy the gourds to make musical instruments. Having a childhood friend visiting recently who lives in Hawaii, I plan to follow up on this knowledge.
FYI, there will be a gourd festival in September! Check it out at:

Another interesting item on the ranch is the hydroponic strawberries.

Unlike traditional strawberry patches, the berries are grown in upright water baskets. This allows for more space, a cleaner picking environment, and parasitical control. Folks can come and pick their own using scissors. This keeps the plants healthy and allows for a tidier selection of berries.

Tammy also informed me that the strawberries were unusually sweet and rather large for local berries. Having never picked a strawberry, Tammy advised that if while taking photos, and if the urge to snatch a berry off the vine occurred, to please ask for a pair of scissors. I behaved and only took photos as there was no chocolate available. (Who can eat a strawberry without chocolate?)

The ranch also offers other food items such as homemade jams and jellies, walnuts, pistachio nuts, sunflower seeds, trail mix and cold beverages. It is a perfect diversion on a road trip to the nearby wine country.

The ranch also boasts a picnic area complete with clean tables and a large green lawn. The area can accommodate groups, but please call ahead for specifics. (916) 682-2658.

Lastly, the ranch is also a Christmas tree farm. Located at the northern end of the property, there were several varieties of tree available. From observation, I could see a Douglas Fir and a Silver tip Noble. Having a bit of experience in tree cutting and selling of firewood in a past life, a good friend of mine, Bobby, RIP, used to sell Christmas trees. He would explain that the best trees came from Oregon, and that California trees were cut long before the holidays and would dry out sooner than trees grown in Oregon. In his opinion, the Noble fir was the best tree, and if you could afford it, a Silver tip was even better. He really gave me an education in tree morphology....I digress, and he really loved corn from the Davis Ranch!

Evidence proves that this corn is still eaten in my household. My youngest can hold her own with a few ears. I don't know what is more enjoyable, shucking or eating? Regardless, the whole experience allows people to commune and enjoy the pleasure of eating some of the best corn available anywhere. Is it the soil, or is it a combination of passion that makes this corn so phenomenal? I believe it is a little of both. The next time you are driving up to the wine country, be polite and stop by the Davis Ranch. Ask about the bi-color corn. It is usually located to the far right of the counter. Tammy says it is the best!

Happening this weekend, go get your corn on!

Sloughouse corn, it doesn't get any better than this!

Until next time,


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I'm a sucker for Italian varietals!

Do distractions piss you off? Seriously, the day is planned, the car is gassed up, mileage case you couldn't afford to actually fill it up, and off you go! There were wines to be tasted, staff to be evaluated, and stories to be written. Nothing would deter my course, except, Italian varietals.

  The weather was a cozy 106 degrees in Sacramento County. There was nothing desired more than to have a glass of big red wine to compliment the sweltering heat. Admit it, red wine is good all year long, and we will not let a little heat wave spoil our wine preference! If necessary, do as Robert Mondavi did on a regular basis, add a few ice cubes to your favorite red. It's all good, and the ice does not change the character too much, I digress.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch. Driving to a particular winery for some research, (code for imbibe without abandon), a sign popped up indicating that Italian varietals were nearby. This caused my car, Kenji, to make a sudden  U-turn without any help. (he does this all the time, really) As Kenji, like a hound dog in pursuit of a runaway convict, followed the scent of Sangiovese, Barbera and a unique table wine, we found ourselves roaring up the gravel driveway of Palissandro Winery.

Note: when driving on gravel roads near vineyards, please drive slowly too avoid kicking up too much dust. This can adversely affect the grapevines growing nearby.

The winery sits atop a small hill overlooking a small vineyard. At first glance, the place looks like a fruit stand. It is small, quaint...yada, yada, yada, let's get to the wine!

Entering the tasting room, the acknowledgement clock ticked for about five seconds before a loud and rambunctious, "Hey, how are you" filled the air. Being caught off guard because the greeter stood no more than five feet tall and had a voice that bordered on a soft tenor, the welcome was genuine.

Ten second greeting acknowledgement test, pass, and they were about to snag another wine club member. (I'm so easy...oops, pronouns!)

My Vinista's (made up word, remember, the author, know personally?) were on top of their game. Because the day was a bit warm, the wine was stored in a small refrigerator behind the tasting counter. With tag team precision, the wines were poured in perfect synchrony.

Beginning with Sangiovese, the noble grape of Italy, and a favorite, the wine was darker than expected. Sangiovese has a thick skin which lends itself to long aging. However, this wine was very dark for a it's lineage. Not to be concerned, upon first presentation to the awaiting tongue, the reason for the dark color became obvious very quickly.

 "Ka-boom!" Wow, nothing like being choked by a tart Sangiovese. Personally, this is a wonderful feeling. Your throat locks up, salivary glands go into over drool, eyes squint and every nuance of moisture in your  mouth is pulled down your throat with the wine causing your lips to pucker up tight like a snare drum.  Can we all say, "yummy?" Love me some Sangiovese!

On to the next wine, a Super Tuscan called, Felice. This wine consists of 60% Sangiovese, 15% Syrah, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and ten percent Merlot. As Super Tuscans go, this was not the big, chunky familiar wine that is customary at many restraunts. This was an easy to drink, fruit forward blend that would pair well with any Italian food. (leftover Italian food that is, nothing like second day spaghetti!)

Revisiting the Sangiovese, to better determine a preference, (yeah right!),  the difference between a pure Sangiovese and a blended one was enough to consider joining the wine club. We'll talk about that later.

Next, bring on the table wine! Vino da Tavola, which literally means, wine of the table, would be the decisive factor. However, before delving into this naughty little non-vintage blend, it must be mentioned that the two vinista's were at all times engaging and knowledgable. The owner, Jeannine Blaylock, also stood guard in the tasting room like a mother hen watching over her flock of chicks. There was a sense that at any time, she would produce a plate of food for pairing with the wines, and of course, she did...sort of. While going outside to take a few photos, Jeannine somehow managed to escape the tasting room only to reappear with a pan full of melted cheese covered baguettes.(forgot what they were called, but they did go well with the Vino da Tavola!)

Sauntering back into the tasting room, a plate full of tapenade's beckoned. Etiquette demands that you politely say yes to any tapenade. Hunger demands that you try them all...especially if there is a  vast selection of crackers. Try them on each cracker with each wine. Seriously, get in touch with your inner ghetto, and sample all of them. If necessary, take out the aluminum foil, ziplock bag, wax paper, or whatever you use to take home leftovers from the smorgy, and get your tapenade on! It is a good idea to check for video cameras. Less embarrassment.

After indulging the tapenade's to the extreme, the Cabernet Sauvignon awaited. (Not Italian, but France and Italy are neighbors...sort of) Expecting a lighter than usual fruit bomb, the wine had a nice structure and again, was easy to drink. Cabs are known to be big, hearty wines. Not this one. It could be likened to a good beginners red wine. Not too tannic, not too heavy, not too fruity...for mountain wine that is.

Because the winery is fairly new, it will be interesting to see how the wines develop over time. Which brings us to the wine club.

Why join this wine club? Unlike wine clubs where the owner, winemaker, or whomever selects the wine for club members, this wine club allows its' members to select whatever they want. If there are only two wines that are enjoyed, pick those two for every shipment lest ye re-gift something that is not liked. Makes sense. Pass the Vino da Tavola and the Sangiovese!


Palissandro is a fairly new winery with an extreme amount of warm hospitality. How warm is the hospitality? Well, let's just say that the winemaker, Robert Van der Vijver,  literally and figuratively lives next door. Robert has his own winery, and offers his winemaking expertise to the Blaylocks. Between the two wineries, there is enough energy to power a small nation. (think Belgium)

I give this winery two slaps upside the head, and that is a good thing, and a high five for their wine club strategy. Make a customer happy, and they will keep you busy. The next time you plan to visit a particular winery, be adventurous and make a few U-turns when something catches your eye.

Until next time, Salute'!


Friday, June 22, 2012

Make a Left Turn in Plymouth, California

The road that leads to Plymouth, California is treacherous for many reasons. One being that the native deer have a habit of meeting oncoming headlights just as they come into view.(Road kill is abundant the closer you get to the town) However, another involves a sinister predator that lurks around every bend...there are few of these, and behind every bush and tree that dot Jackson Highway. The predator in question, the California Highway Patrol! You see, the road to Plymouth, is an endless speed trap. Beginning at the junction of Grantline Rd. in Sacramento County, the distance to the town is roughly 25 miles northeast. The CHP have nothing better to do than to monitor this vast stretch of nothingness for the slightest challenge of the myriad of speed limits which range from 15-65mph. Try pushing the pedal to the metal on any straight length of the road, the CHP will appear as if they've been beamed down by Scotty himself from Star Trek!  Seen it happen more than once. You've been warned. Now, about that left turn a few weeks back.

When entering Plymouth, the speed limit immediately drops from 55 to 45 miles per hour, and then becomes 35 mph even quicker. Assuming that this is by design so that one can marvel at the antiquated old gold rush town, there are a few unique attributes that make the drive worthwhile. For one, this is wine country. Plymouth is considered the gateway to wine country. More than 40 wineries are within five miles of beautiful, barren, downtown Plymouth.

With all of the wine guzzling that goes on the area, there are few places where  a hungry vinophile (word made up, know the author personally)  can satiate their appetite at a fair price with an abundance of choices and some good old fashioned UN-pretentious hospitality.  However, good people, such a place does exist...if you are willing to make the left turn before you get your drink on...which is a right turn on the same road...different name though.

To say that the discovery of this culinary mecca was accidental would be dishonest. The blame is to be placed on this blog which was read by a phenomenal social media director of the fine dining establishment known as the Amador Vintage Market. (OK, this proper journalism writing is killing me!) Her name is Sarah, and she cast her bait right in front of the nose of this blogger.

The Amador Vintage Market at 9393 Main Street in Plymouth, California is situated about three quarters of a mile west of the left turn mentioned earlier. Nestled among a few old buildings, the sign as well as the awning on the front of the building are hard to miss. Look for outdoor diners, or the looky-loo types gazing in the window watching the happenings going on inside, or praying that the line of eager patrons become shortened...soon!

Sarah plays hardball. What does this mean you ask? Previously, it was mentioned that the market was unpretentious. A more accurate description would be, "down homey." Sarah and the staff of the market were more like a family welcoming a stranger into their home with open arms. If you have ever visited the south, it is customary to offer your company, or as it is more commonly pronounced, "Cump-nee," a "cool" drink while they await your arrival into the parlor...or  on to the porch, whichever works for your piece of real estate.

There is something nostalgic about ice cold grape soda in a bottle. Popping the cap off of the bottle took me back to my childhood and the road trips across the country that my father would drive because he did not like to fly. (an Air Force lifer who hated to fly, imagine that...I digress) Anyway, back to being a journalist. Grape soda is only one of the many offerings in the large cooler located near another cooler equally filled with delectable goodies.

Sarah sat a spell and described what happens in a place no more than 2000 square feet packed to gills with all things yummy. But before she could get into her spiel, she asked if anything had been offered as a sample. Batter up! Let the game begin. Returning with a just out of the oven, perfectly golden brown, thick, meaty, succulent, mouth watering crab cake, it was all this blogger could do not bite her arm off!

The crab cake was filled with, uh...crab. No annoying fillers like bread crumbs and flour, this beast was full of crab! Yes, there were a few kernels of corn...different, and surprisingly welcome, but the amount of crab was unbelievable. Served with a side of aioli, better known as "uppity mayo" in the southern part of the country, and which went untouched, (no likey dat stuff!), the crab melted as it rested upon a tongue nearly drowning in saliva. Can Y'all say, Boo yeah, baby, whoooo dat be some good crab! I digress, again.

The conversation nearly became silent, or perhaps the words were being drowned out by the pleasure of chewing each tender bite of the extremely fresh and perfectly seasoned cake. Steam rose from within the flaky, buttery meat. Each bite was better than the first. Finding it impossible to photograph and chew at the same time, the camera was set aside and the conversation was temporarily halted as Sarah left to fetch another morsel of debauchery.

Chef Beth Sogaard, who unfortunately was not available, began her journey into culinary nirvana by developing the chip to the right. According to Sarah, the recipe is only known to Beth. The chip was indescribable in that it had a, uh, sort of, uh, not quite sure texture and a uh, kind of, uh, flavor that went really well with the house made hummus. Seriously, you cannot describe this chip. It is too complex and simple at the same time. However, the hummus was to die for! Unlike the paste pre-school children use in arts and crafts, which hummus can sometimes resemble and taste like, (you know you ate paste!), this hummus was wildly flavorful.

Chocked full of veggies, the only one discernible was probably onion or scallions. Sarah would not elaborate. Garlic and other flavors were perfectly balanced and the texture was as smooth as butter. If hummus had always tasted so good, this blogger would have another excuse for not being able to squeeze into a size 10 pair of jeans!

The chips can be purchased in bags, and the hummus is located in the cooler next to the endless selection of cool drinks as we say in the south.

Sarah was not done yet. Like a good southern hostess, she insisted on a tour of the facility. Mind you, this place is not that big, but what takes place here is amazing. Reluctantly putting the fork down, and tearing away from the hummus, Sarah drew attention to a corner of the room. A mirror hung precariously from the ceiling above a pseudo kitchenette. Get your mind out of the gutter, this is where they offer cooking lessons. According to Sarah, Chef Beth is always creating something new, and that she thoroughly enjoyed sharing her latest masterpieces with her cump-nee!

Sarah then diverted attention to the shelves located near the ice cream cooler. (you can tell by now, there is something for every taste in this place.) Grabbing what appeared to be a cake mix, she explained that the market was known for their bacon chocolate chip pancake mix.

As if your cholesterol wasn't squeezing the blood through your arteries by now, she went on to describe how popular the the pancakes were.

"We have a hard time keeping them on the shelf." Beth said. "They are a favorite  around here."

 After reading the label, they are not that unhealthy...unless you have them with a side of bacon, sausage, ham, three eggs, toast and grits washed down with a cup of hot coffee and a toothpick to pick your teeth afterwards! Did somebody say, coffee?

Yes, they do coffee! In fact, they do most of the "fru fru" hot beverages. For a country style, homey kind of place, they are up to speed with their state of the art machinery.

Another cooler directly...that's "drectly" in the south, across from cool beverage heaven is stocked full of fresh fish, salads, pasta dishes, deli meats, gourmet what not's and some veggies.

As an added bonus for those who over indulge on the endless assortment of goodies, or who for whatever reason choose not to drive up the hill to go wine tasting is the market serves local wines as well as a few rare gems. Wine is sold by the glass, or a bottle can be purchased to accompany your meal. Additionally, when cooking class are offered, wine and food are included in the purchase price of the lesson. Book early, classes fill up fast.

Nearing the end of the tour, Sarah offered a bit of history on the building and a good amount of information on Beth and her creation of a business built on humility and hard work. The market is very conducive to supporting other businesses. There is an area near the demo kitchen that is full of business cards, brochures and information from other local and distant businesses. Because she also caters, the staff is accustomed to multi-tasking. Weddings are a big part of the catering operation as well as fundraisers and private parties.

To conclude the visit, Sarah offered one last tidbit of hospitality. Located just to the right of the bacon chocolate chip pancake mix is a small cooler full of Italian ice cream.

Known simply as "Gelato," this cold, smooth, fruity treat has significantly less butterfat than ice cream, is not as solid and because of this,  the flavor bursts forward faster than ice cream. When asked if chocolate, raspberry, vanilla and a few other flavors would be desired, the response was, Uh, huh!

The next time you head up to Plymouth, or if you are within 10 miles of the area, make the left turn on Main Street. The Amador Vintage Market is worthy of three slaps upside the head...and that is a good thing, with an additional back handed slap as you leave...hopefully with a bag of chips, hummus, some bacon chocolate chip pancake mix, a few crab cakes and a Gelato washed down with a grape soda.
Now, go work out!

Until next time, Salute'!