Meet the Winemakers: RIVINO Winery
Tierra – Art, Garden Wine
312 N. School Street
Ukiah, CA 95482
RIVINO husband and wife winemaker team Jason McConnell and Suzanne Jahnke-McConnell pour their limited production wines, paired with hors d’oeuvres.
COMPLIMENTARY
Thursday, April 29, 2010
5:00 pm – 8:00 pm

(707) 468-7936

Hopland Spring Passport Weekend
Hopland, CA Wineries
Tasting glass, wristband and passport picked up at any winery and usable at all wineries, all weekend: Brutocao Cellars, Dogwood Cellars, Graziano Family of Wines, Jaxon Keys Winery, Jeriko Estate, McDowell Valley Vineyards, McFadden Vineyards, McNab Ridge Winery, Mendocino Farms, Milano Winery, Nelson Family Vineyards, Rack & Riddle, Terra Savia, Saracina, and Weibel Family Vineyards
$35 per person online through Thursday at 5:00 pm
Saturday, May 1, and Sunday, May 2, 2010
11:00 am – 5:00 pm

(800) 564-2582

3rd Annual “The Mamas & The Tatas” Mother’s Day Fashion Show
A Benefit for Breast Cancer Awareness

Tierra – Art, Garden Wine
312 N. School Street
Ukiah, CA 95482
Spring Fashion Show, Hors d’oeuvres, and Wine. Great fun for a great cause.
$20 per person
Saturday, May 1, 2010
2:00 pm

Chardonnay TweetUp
Parducci Wine Cellars

501 Parducci Road
Ukiah, CA 95482
Taste the 2008 Parducci Chardonnay and 2008 Paul Dolan Vineyard Chardonnay, paired with an Apple-Mushroom Risotto, and Apple Pie topped with Chardonnay Apple Ice Cream prepared by guest chef John Cesano (me!)
COMPLIMENTARY
Thursday, May 6, 2010
5:00 pm – 7:00 pm

(800) 362-9463

14th Annual Wine Country Golf Classic Invitational
A benefit for Cornerstone Media Inc

Windsor Golf Course
1340 19th Hole Drive
Windsor, CA 95492
This is the best golf event I have ever taken part in. 18 holes of golf on a great course, with cart, and lunch, and dinner, and champagne, wine and micro brew beer. First class, lots of contests, and prizes. Fabulous auction items. Winery and non winery teams compete. Proceeds go to help children.
$195 per player
Thursday, May 13, 2010
11:00 am Registration Starts
11:30 am Grilled Gourmet Lunch
1:00 pm Tee-Off Ceremony/Shotgun Start
6:30 Evening Cuisine Extravaganza, Silent/Live Auction, Awards Ceremony
(707) 431-8336

Open House
Toad Hollow Vineyards Ranch

4024 Westside Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448
Toad Hollow’s wines are usually poured only in their tasting room; this is a rare opportunity to taste them in the beautiful vineyard setting of their ranch.
COMPLIMENTARY
Friday, May 14, 2010
4:00 pm – 7:00 pm
(707 431-1441

Vinify Winery Collective Wine Tasting Event
3358 Coffey Lane, Suite D
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Vinify is a Santa Rosa custom crush facility hosting 16 wineries, 12 varietals, and over 40 wines. Come taste the best from the member wineries in Riedel stemware which you will take home after the tasting. Vinify will also be providing food. Wineries include: Baker Lane, Bevan Cellars, Bjornstad Cellars, Lattanzio Winery, Pfendler Vineyards, Sojourn Cellars, Westerhold Family Vineyards, Calluna Vineyard, Jemrose Vineyard, Barbed Oak Vineyards, Claypool Callears, Desmond Wines, Frostwatch Vineyard and Winery, Olsen Ogden Wines, Gracianna Winery, and Cinque Insieme Wines
$20 per person
Sunday, May 23, 2010
1:00 pm – 4:30 pm

(707) 495-4959

Wow. I am fully whelmed. Not merely whelmed, certainly not underwhelmed, fortunately not overwhelmed; I am completely, perfectly, and fully whelmed from my high school 30 year reunion weekend activities and interactions.

I had the best 30 year high school reunion experience imaginable – and I have a pretty good imagination. If I found the event boringly underwhelming, I was prepared to write lies about former classmates hooking up in men’s room stalls to add spice to my recounting of events, but the interactions I had were wonderful in their own right and will suffice in their retelling. I will say that there was one rumor so salacious that I was nearly overwhelmed by simply considering whether it could be true or not, but out of love and respect for the subject of the rumor, I won’t repeat it here…but it rocks, true or not, trumping any departure from reality and truth I had considered.

On Thursday, I met my best high school friend Christina Lang in the baggage area of the San Francisco airport. We hugged, went outside so she could replenish her nicotine load, then went back in to collect her bags. Can I just say that women pack way too much shit, or the things you pack weigh way too much?

Years ago, when I smoked, I loved Noc Noc, a bar in the lower Haight of San Francisco, because you could smoke inside. I have never done heroin, but I also thought Noc Noc would be a great place to do it. Drippy organic shapes, odd textures, and couches that are really mats on the floor and wall are just a few of the stand out features that differentiate Noc Noc from it’s neighboring bars.

Christina flew in at a time that put us at odds with north bound rush hour traffic, so instead of joining the stream, I took Christina to Noc Noc. Sadly, for her, smoking is no longer tolerated. Happily, for us, they had happy hour beer prices. Ra’Mat, Noc Noc’s owner and bartender was friendly and fits his establishment well. I am glad it remains in the area.

Fortified, we drove to Santa Rosa, making great use of the carpool lanes, and I tried to introduce Christina to Guy Fieri’s cooking, or style anyway, at his Tex Wasabi restaurant; but the restaurant is closed for restoration. Instead we went to Chevy’s and ate appetizers in the bar, washed down with shots and beer.

Christina and I reminisced, remembering back 30 years, to when the restaurant we were in was called Sourdough Rebo’s. 30 years ago, Christina and I, as high school seniors, cut school and were lunching at Rebo’s, complete with alcohol beverages, when the waitress brought Christina another drink. When we were puzzled, not having ordered the drink, our waitress explained that the drink had been bought and sent by another table. When we turned to see who sent the drink, I saw my mother raising her own drink to Christina. I was not surprised to find, later that afternoon, my mom was not happy to see her 18 year old son cutting school and drinking a margarita.

After dinner, we checked in to our one night only hotel, the America’s Best Inn (formerly the Ramada) on Hopper Avenue.

Christina and I have been friends for a very long time, and have shared numerous rooms, platonically, in several states. I am not a big fan, no, wait, I loathe sleeping clothing. When with Christina in the past, I slept in a swim suit or shorts. For this trip, a once in 30 year event, I found, purchased, and wore Raiders pajamas.  Christina’s pajamas were not as amazingly cool, but fit her personality well, composed of an over indulgent use of the color pink.

After watching some television, mixed with conversation, I fell asleep, and commenced to snore. Christina said I answered a question she had asked, and quite literally was asleep and snoring within three seconds of speaking. She thought I was joking, but with panic at having forgotten earplugs, quickly realized I was actually asleep and the snores, now ascending in volume, were quite real.

Christina woke me up, and I offered up my iPhone, set to iPod mode. Christina found that random songs from my musical library, played at full volume, were superior to mere earplugs when trying to battle my snoring.

On Friday morning, I awoke much earlier than Christina, and read for hours before inviting her to wake up and put her feet to floor to begin the day. I walked the entirety of the 100 yards that separated our hotel room from a neighboring Starbucks for a pair of large coffees.

As we were going to be eating lunch shortly, we skipped breakfast (If you have seen pictures of me, you know that is a sentence not written often – I like breakfast like Hobbits like second breakfast).

We drove to the Dry Creek Store and stocked up with sandwiches, cheeses, salami, salads and waters, packing what we could in a mini cooler. Next we drove to Preston Vineyards in the north end of the Dry Creek Valley.

Christina and I tasted a Sauvignon Blanc, Madam Preston (a white Rhone varietal blend), Carignane, L. Preston (a red Rhone varietal blend), Zinfandel, and Syrah-Sirah. Christina prefers whites and settled on the Sauvignon Blanc to buy a bottle of; a red lover, I loved both the Carignane and L. Preston, and purchased a bottle of the L. Preston. I was sad that fresh made breads were not available for purchase, but soldiered on stoically. We grabbed a basket filled with bocce balls, our bottles and glasses and our picnic cooler and made our way to the picnic area next to the bocce courts.

The day was beautiful. Perfect 81 degree temperature, blue skies, flowers, vegetables, herbs, olive trees, and vineyards, all grown organically adding color and scents. Christina and I ate our sandwiches, sipped our wines, and I taught Christina to play bocce.

I love Christina, and while she can get a ball from one end of a court to another, she will never join the Women’s Professional Bocce Tour. Christina is a greatly skilled actor, gets paid for doing it, while I am but a mere clown when given a stage; so in our variety we make the world more interesting.

In a short while, we were joined at Preston by Nancy Howard and Rachelle Merian.

Note: with great respect to the lucky men who married the beautiful and talented women of the 1979 graduating class of Piner High School, all names of the women of our class will be their maiden names. Are we cool, Misters Iannios and Albini?

Anyway, Nancy got a glass of red and Rachelle drank water, and I showed the girls how to play bocce.

Another note: all of our 47 or 48 year old female classmates are, and will always be, girls to me.

Rachelle split up the practiced team of Christina and myself and paired me with Nancy and herself with Christina. It has been written elsewhere that Nancy Howard may just be the most interesting woman in the world, but to her list of accomplishments can now be added Queen of Bocce.

Rachelle captured my favorite picture of Christina and me while at Preston. Thank you, I love it and you.

Next we were joined by Shannon Smyth and Tim Vigil, and shortly after Nancy and Rachelle departed, Bill Towner arrived.

There was more wine tasting and conversation than bocce playing, and the entire afternoon, spent with friends, was wonderful.

Christina and I, sadly, had to leave, as we needed to drive to the Flaming-O Hotel and Resort, check in to our room, and change clothes for the cocktail reception.

Upon checking in, and lugging Christina’s extraordinarily too heavy luggage to our room on the elevator free second floor, Christina found that our room was not equipped with a smoking balcony and one short phone call later we were moved to the other end of our building.

Christina and I dressed for the cocktail reception. I got to break out a totally cool (it’s my story, so I get to to say it’s cool) seersucker suit with alternating chalk green and white stripe, burgundy shirt and gold Jerry Garcia tie (I completely forgot that our school colors were burgundy and gold). Christina, after accidentally matching my yellow shirt choice for our day in wine country, matched me with a purple and gold color combo cocktail dress and shoes. I will say that we may have overdressed for the event, but at no time did I feel overdressed – just damn good looking with a gorgeous date.

I hesitate to try to begin to chronicle the interactions that we had with each of our classmates, because I know I will forget someone and then I will feel a less worthy scribe. Suffice it to say that I loved that so many people showed up at the lounge of the Flaming-O for a reunion eve cocktail reception.

I was thrilled to see my cousin Lorenda Rossi, who continues to be a total babe (clearly she shares no blood with me); Susan Ward, who is the only woman in our graduating class that I will acknowledge openly is more intelligent than I am; our complete Senior class cheerleader squad; and of course Nancy.

Not long ago, Connie Fiori wrote that she was having difficulty telling the good-guys and d-bags apart. That stuck with me, because there are always, sadly, a few douchebags out there, masquerading as good guys.

Friday night, while Christina and I were at the cocktail reception; Nancy was with a group at dinner, and a complete and total douchebag said something horrifically insensitive, rude and insulting to her. I won’t say what was said, or by whom, but I didn’t say word one to him at the reunion the next night and gave him the stink eye when I did see him briefly. If he weren’t so large, I would crush him like a Formicidae insect.

Hungry, not having eaten since our picnic lunch, Christina and I travelled to the nearby Lyons restaurant where I ate a truly revolting Chicken Alfredo special. Refueled, we ventured back to the cocktail reception, but the noise of the night’s band, Crossfire, and the ever increasing crowdedness in the lounge drove us back to our rooms by 11:00 PM to rest before the next day’s events.

Saturday morning, after waking, Christina and I headed across the street to Hank’s Creekside Cafe where I had coffee, the fresh milled wheat pancake special with a side of homemade corned beef hash. Simple quality ingredients make for a great meal.

After breakfast, I switched into orange swim shorts and white shirt, and headed down to the pool to read. During the day, I was joined by Tim Vigil, Keith Lewis, Dave Giffiths, Curtis and Beverly Allsop, Doug Duffield, Rachelle Merian, Nancy Howard, and Christina Lang. I didn’t swim, I didn’t read much, but I got in lots of fun conversation and a couple of spicy bloody Marys made by Chuy, the lounge bartender. The pool gathering broke up shortly after 5, giving us about an hour to get changed for the reunion main event.

I quickly changed into a classic black suit, black tie, shined black shoes, french cuff white shirt, Obama cuff links. Christina, in a much more leisurely fashion, changed into a beautiful black Calvin Klein dress with gorgeous black high heels with sparkly accents. I had to play Bob Mackie (Cher’s most famous clothier), forget I’m a straight male, remember Christina is married and I like her husband, and help her double stick tape the décolletage of her dress above and to her strapless black bra. I did this only after failing to find Rachelle or Nancy in their room after running down the hallway to ask for their help instead. I performed what was the oddest task of my week. Christina did indeed look beautiful.

Christina had wanted to sit with Rachelle and Nancy during dinner, but when I arrived earlier to check us in while Christina was finishing with her last minute finishing touches, Connie Price (and her husband Joe) asked me to sit with her.

I went back to the room to collect Christina, had our pictures taken by the official photographer, and mingled.

At dinner, I decided that I would enjoy cigarettes that night (only the second time smoking in 2009), and while I was outside, some weird interplay unfolded between Christina and another table mate. Christina was described to me as confrontational, but before things could escalate or turn odder still, the table mate in question was scooped up by their spouse and they left the event.

I know Christina was neither confrontational or hostile, and the only real weirdness of the evening passed quickly, although I may jokingly refer to Christina’s ongoing hostile behavior in the future. Somehow word got out, and Christina was jokingly chided the next day for her ways.

I loved everyone and tried to see everyone, but I was shocked that there were people I did not see and I know that there are many who I had no chance to talk with. I wish we had at least another 12 hours, seriously.

Among my stand out favorites were Janet Bertino who eschewed the dress up aspects and showed up in a bright orange t-shirt; I now love Janet for her fearless fashion sense.

Another note: speaking of fashion sense, over the weekend, more than one classmate shared their remembrance of a pair of bright yellow pants I wore in high school.

I loved Todd Grames’ facebook text suggesting that I might meet an 8:00 AM group Saturday to run. Perhaps my best laugh, among many, over the weekend.

I loved seeing Melanie crash the room, as a class of ’81er she was rocking her young chick status.

I loved seeing Dean and his incredibly sweet and perfect wife Mindy.

Still another note: Dean, a practicing preacher, was the perfect person to ask the religious question of the night: Did Lee Ann and Sourette sell their souls to the devil to look so remarkably unchanged by time?

I loved seeing Julie O’Keefe, and her husband Buck.

I loved seeing Stefanie, one of my serious elementary school crushes. I hope to dance with the brides at your wedding – soon.

I am a little in awe of Brian Teager. Brian, your poem was beautiful.

I loved seeing Christina, who was nervous about not knowing anyone, deflect a troubling event with aplomb and have a terrific time.

At one point in the evening, Kim Finitz was giving out awards; you know, most children, farthest distance travelled, longest career in porn, longest marriage, etc. When Kim finished, I got the microphone and made two toasts.

With some personal friends in mind, I asked everyone to think of those from our class who couldn’t attend our reunion, because of passing, accident, distance or economy, and instructing everyone to raise their glass, we drank to absent friends.

Next, I raised a glass to Kim Finitz who singlehandedly pulled off the best reunion event imaginable. Kim did a magnificent job and has the love and appreciation of our entire class. The toast was met with a roar from all assembled, and Rachelle came up and presented Kim with a beautiful vase full of long stem roses, suitably ribboned in burgundy and gold.

The evening ended all too soon.

On Sunday, we packed and readied ourselves to leave the Flaming-O. Before leaving, Christina and I joined Rachelle, Nancy, Keith and Dave for Sunday brunch.

After brunch, Christina and I drove south to Cotati to pick up my 12 year old son from his grandparent’s house, where he spent the weekend, and take him home to Ukiah, by way of Windsor’s Riverfront Regional Park, where the last reunion weekend event was being held – a picnic gathering amongst the redwoods.

It was great seeing everyone who attended the final event. I had a chance to see some of the pictures that are now up on facebook from the reunion events, and a wonderful “in memory” video tribute to our classmates who have passed on that Todd created.

The only real bummer of the weekend was how cold it was in the shade of the redwoods. We did not stay as long as I would have liked, because it was uncomfortable. I can’t say my son Charlie was bummed, he didn’t really want to hang out with what he considers to be old people.

I dropped my son off at home in Ukiah to begin the homework he forgot to take to Cotati, and continued with Christina to Willits, where I dropped her off at her sister Susie’s house. With a hug and a kiss of my best friend, my reunion weekend ended.

I was amazed at how young my classmates are. I could see the spark of fun and life and youth and joy in each one. I love you all and thank each of you for an amazing reunion weekend experience.

__________

I have come back to this post and edited about a dozen times. I notice that a phrase is inelegant and fix it, or a sentence confusing or ambiguous and clarify it. Sometimes my first post even includes an embarrassing misspelling and I clean it up during a subsequent read.

This blog entry had over 100 reads in the first two hours it was up, and now has over 300 reads, so I felt I should try to make the effort to have it best reflect my reunion experience.

I have added content to my entry, something I haven’t done before.

I reserve the right to come back and further edit more into or out of my piece.

I want to say, but separate from the main piece, that I almost didn’t attend my own class reunion. I was almost, foolishly, scared off by someone who didn’t even come. Somewhat ironically, I wish the person who almost scared me off had been able to attend.

When I asked everyone to raise a glass to absent friends, in my thoughts were Joe Menth who passed the night we received our yearbooks, Ron Pipes who had work and distance issues that could not be overcome, Michelle Hampton who was at once my catnip and my Kryptonite, Bob McLean who with all the heart in the world had too weak a heart to travel, and two friends from our Comstock junior high school days who did not stay with us through to graduation at Piner: Gregg Stebben and Michelle Roney. With over a hundred graduates holding dear their missed absent friends in their own mind, I am sure that we included everyone.

I can not begin to tell you how much I enjoyed this reunion weekend. Reading over the chronology of what transpired gives you, the reader, a glimpse into the experience. I imagine that you can appreciate that I enjoyed myself. Magnify the enjoyment you imagine I experienced ten fold, and you may start to approach an accurate appreciation of how good a time I had.

I am immensely glad that I attended my 30 year reunion.

Today, I had to drive from my home in Ukiah to Santa Rosa to pack up and be ready for my 3:45 AM wake up and trip to San Francisco to set up and work the North Beach Festival (of really cool handcrafted art topped Corkers for wine bottles and other not as cool things).

As I have applied for my dream job, and the dream job is being offered by Murphy-Goode Winery, I thought I would pop into the tasting room in downtown Healdsburg for a taste of what was being poured today.

Rather than drive directly to the tasting room, getting off the freeway, US 101, at the last possible moment; I chose to leave the freeway in Geyserville, and drive out Hwy 128 through the Alexander Valley of Sonoma County, taking the long way to Healdsburg.

As I left the little town of Geyserville behind me, along with the freeway, I quickly found myself driving through vineyards. The lushly green canopy of leaves on the trellised vines spreading out on both sides of the turning country road, orange California poppies growing wild on the sides of the road, the earth brown, and the grass on the hillsides dried to nearly the same tan brown color of the earthy dirt roads around and through the vineyards themselves, the green vineyards on the hillsides contrasting green against brown, oak trees brown and full leafy green, white feathery bands of clouds against a sky of baby blue; the beauty of the Alexander Valley so powerful, I am happy that I can take the time to drive a slower road.

The road becomes emptier of cars as I reach the turn off to the Indian casino, River Rock, where all cars but mine turn up the hillside drive to give their money away.

I see vineyard workers in cowboy hats and boots. I worked one summer in the vineyards of Healdsburg. I like my view of the vineyard now much better than my view of countless individual vines then.

I pull over and park across from the Murphy Ranch vineyard at the Sonoma Wine Company Alexander Valley Facility. Once upon a time Murphy-Goode used this facility to make wine and pour them for visitors to their co-located tasting room. No more, a large “CLOSED” sign seems perpetually in place to dissuade visits. While I walked about, remembering past visits to the Murphy-Goode tasting room, remembering the friends I visited here with, and the wines we tasted, lost in fond memories, a truck with two men pulled up beside me near the front door and asked me if they were at Murphy-Goode.

I told them that their memory was either very good, or their information very old. I told the two ballooners (their vanity license plate: BALLOON) that the tasting room was gone from here, but directed them to 20 Matheson in downtown Healdsburg. I felt good. Get my dream job or not, 99% of the applicants could not have been able to help these men, fewer than 1 in 100 would have known that this was the former location of Murphy-Goode so would not have stopped to gather memories. I felt more qualified that ever, there is something very special about local knowledge.

Eventually, I got back in my van and continued generally south toward Healdsburg. At the corner of West Sausal Lane and Alexander Valley Road is the closed and dusty Alexander Valley store. I pray the store reopens after remodeling and site improvements, it is both iconic and a perfect landmark, “turn right at the Alexander Valley store.”

I did make my right turn at the Alexander Valley store, saw two women selling cherries by the side of the road, looked down and saw canoes and sunbathers as I crossed the Russian River, and made my way to Healdsburg Avenue.

At the corner was someone selling cherries, strawberries, and oranges; and a taco truck. In northern California taco trucks are ubiquitous, and many a meal is produced at restaurant quality yet at a low price. I smiled at the sign painted boldly on the side of the truck, “Taqueria Guanajuato,” as I made my turn onto Healdsburg Avenue to drive the final leg of my trip to the Murphy-Goode tasting room.

I am pleased to be able to write about more than the tasting room and the wine. The wines I tasted were more delicious for being in the mood my drive through Murphy-Goode’s past, and mine, put me in.

Upon entering the tasting room, I saw a lap top opened to allow people to view video applications for my dream job, so I cued my application (#1015) for the next lap top fiddler to encounter. I noted the upcoming summer jazz performances that Murphy-Goode was sponsoring. I looked at the Murphy-Goode logo clothing that I will want to wear when I am chosen for “A Really Goode Job.”

I bellied up to the tasting bar and asked to taste the first wine being poured, Murphy-Goode’s 2008 North Coast Sauvignon Blanc, “The Fume.” The wine was crisply delicious, showing an abundance of fruit, tropical, citus, and a hint of pear, with a touch of Sauvignon blanc’s straw and cat pee nose. The fruit was so forward, and the straw and especially the cat pee notes so well hidden that I guessed incorrectly that the wine had some Semillon blended in to help boost the fruit. 1 wine tasted, 1 wine loved, 1 bottle purchased.

Next, I tasted a 2007 Chardonnay made with oak barrels sourced in Minnesota. Huh? Okay, The wine maker David Ready is from Minnesota, and likes to link the winery in ways surprising to Minnesota when possible (Viking horns are part of the company uniform). I was told that the Minnesota oak was smaller grain than typical American oak barrel grain. I remember that there was a time when a trained taster could identify American oak held wines by a dill note imparted, a note absent in French oak held wines. I asked about this note, and whether it occurred in these Minnesota oak held wines. The tasting room gal I asked suggested I taste for myself. I would love to tell you about this wine, but I can’t. Served almost ice cold, I couldn’t break much nose or mouth free from the icy clutches of the cold. I liked what I tasted, but I couldn’t taste enough to write more about this wine. Sad, I was really intrigued by the uniqueness of Minnesota oak, I love different, I love unusual, I love quirky.

The other tasting room pourer, I think his name was Will, and I talked of Murphy-Goode past and present. We both had been around wines and wineries for quite a long time and knew many of the same people. It made our conversation easy. We talked about Jess Jackson buying Murphy-Goode; Tim Murphy passed away in 2001, Dale Goode wanted to transition into retirement, and Jess Jackson believes in keeping everything the same in a hands off “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” way, welcoming David Ready Jr. as the winemaker following in his father Dave’s footsteps.

I noted other wineries Jackson had picked up and allowed to continue unchanged, doing what they do best. If you buy a Russian River Valley Pinot Noir artisan winery, you don’t force them to make Sangiovese, or blend Cab into their Pinot, or any other crazy change.

Not sucking up, but Jess Jackson is an icon to me for wine business prowess; up there with Mondavi and the Gallos.

Anyway, next up to tast were a trio of reds.

I started with the 2005 Alexander Valley Snake Eyes (think Reserve) Zinfandel. Oh my God, I think I fell in love with this wine at first nose. I want to marry it, at least get a room and spend the night together. Big, bold, rambly raspberry and black pepper spice for days. Everything promised in the nose, delivered in the mouth. A big mouth feel wine, lots of finish. lots of wine flavor in just a 750 ml bottle. The grapes come from vines of the Ellis ranch which are about 70 years old and you can taste the maturity. This is not your friend’s mom’s white zin; this monster of a Zin, all red, all the time, comes in at a whopping 15.8% alcohol, which is huge; especially as it doesn’t taste hot and thin like some other high alcohol Zinfandels.

Next I tasted the 2004 All In Claret, a Bordeaux style blend, some would call it a Meritage. This wine had a little Petite Verdot, more Merlot, and was mostly Cabernet Sauvignon. Absent in this Claret were Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Supple, delicious, far tamer than the Zinfandel; big, but not scary big. This was a red my friends would love. Filled with Blackberry and currant, with leathery fat cherry. This would be a phenomenal food wine. I would love to drink it with grilled steak. Simple and perfect. Feeling a tiny bit adventurous? Melt a little gorgonzola onto the steak while grilling. The party will be in your mouth.

Finally, I tasted a 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon because of a promised eucalyptus note. it seems the vineyard is planted next to a roadside wind block stand of eucalyptus trees, and the flavors sort of leech their way into the first rows of nearby grape vines. I have tasted a wine that had the same notes for the same reason before, and liked it very much. I liked this wine, a little rough around the edges, but chockablock filled with blackberry and eucalyptus notes. The tasting room pourer, Will (?), poured me a second tasting glass through a Vinturi, a wine aeration device. the 2004 Cabernet was instantly improved. The rough edges I had noted before were smoothed out. I liked the wine more, but loved the Vinturi.

I wanted to buy a bottle of red to go with my Fume purchase. The choice came down to the Zinfandel that I would love the most, or the Claret that my friends would love the most.

My friends are going to have to love giant Zinfandels, or they can drink some really perfect Sauvignon Blanc instead; these are the two wines I chose to buy today.

On Friday, I drove an hour south to Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, picked up my friend Shannon, and together we drove the half hour or so west to the coast.

I love the ocean, and living so close to the Pacific, it is odd that I spend more time on Atlantic ocean beaches each year for work than I do on our own coast for enjoyment.

Note to self: get to the beach more often.

The salty smell of the air, and something more deep yet subtle, the powerful smell of the ocean itself with the water, fish and plant life mixed into a living and dying smell, it always gets to me. I connect with the unseen, but very felt, energy of the ocean…and I get hungry.

Both Shannon and I were hungry, and we turned north at the coast and shortly pulled into Lucas Wharf. Lucas Wharf features a restaurant, an island themed deli, and fresh fish cut up and sold right off boats.

I wanted a crab sandwich, and the restaurant’s menu didn’t offer one so we went to the island deli where years before I bought delicious dungeness crab sandwiches, sliced sourdough bread brimming barely containing a thousand island dressing like cocktail sauced bounty of sweetly delicious fresh dungeness (the best) crab.

The island deli was new to me, replacing the deli that had made the delicious crab sandwich previously, but it too offered a crab sandwich, so I was in.

Shannon ordered shrimp and chips, I ordered the crab sandwich, and we picked up two bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale to wash it all down with.

While waiting for our food, I stepped outside out of habit. Although I haven’t had a cigarette this year, I still have the habit of going outside while waiting for something. Instead of smoking, I breathed in the rich moist air. The smell of fresh fish for sale made me take a small walk to look at the fish. I thought about how nice it would be to cook some of the great looking fish being offered.

Back inside, our food came. The fare was rather pedestrian. The food tasted good, but wasn’t anything remarkably special; Shannon’s shrimp and chips was just that, shrimp and chips. My crab sandwich was nothing like I had in mind when I ordered it, instead of delicious sweet fresh crab between slices of tasty bread, I got what looked like a “crabby patty” cooked by Spongebob Squarepants, a fried crab cake served on a bun, burger like. Honestly, it was disappointing.

Our deli server brought a sauce that was made in house, and recommended that I try it on my burger. A passion-fruit and chili blend, sweet and hot, textured and layered, it was okay on the crab burger, but brought to mind many possible better pairings.

Shannon had recently said that she would like me to cook a meal for her. Earlier in the week, another friend, Bill, had taken Shannon, Linda and me to dinner in Windsor. I asked Shannon if she would like me to cook dinner at Linda’s house, where Shannon is staying, and if she thought Bill and Linda could join us. With a couple of phone calls, Shannon had everything set up.

After lunch, Shannon and I went outside to look at the fish. I was torn between some beautiful Copper River salmon from Alaska  (I last tasted Copper River Salmon at the Original Fish Market when working the Three River Arts Festival in Pittsburgh, and it was flavorfully delicious) and some ling cod fresh off local boats.

I really wanted the salmon, it was what I had in mind, but local and fresh off the boat won out, and we picked up some beautiful ling cod fillets.

Before leaving Lucas Wharf, I also left with the most important purchase of the day, an 8 ounce jar of the passion-fruit chili sauce.

Shannon and I went up the road, found an uncrowded beach, and took a nice walk. The walk might have been longer, but I was anxious to pick up some groceries and get back to Santa Rosa to start prepping dinner.

We stopped at the Fir Crest market in Sebastopol for additional provisions. In short order, we had assembled carrots, two Mexican papayas, green onions, purple cabbage, grape tomatoes, a bottle of quality Teriyaki, and a bottle of 2007 Rick Sayre Rodney Strong Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

Not much later, I was in Linda’s kitchen and the prep began. I intended to make a Thai style Som Tom shredded green papaya salad. The inspiration was the sauce of passion-fruit and chili from the island deli on the coast. I wanted to plate the salad and rest a piece of Teriyaki marinated salmon on top. Lots of flavors on one plate, all playing beautifully with the dusty rose petal and warm cherry notes of the Pinot.

That was the meal I put together in my head at Lucas Wharf tasting the sauce and smelling the fish. I made some changes, but here’s what I did – so you can do it too.

First, pour one bottle of quality Teriyaki over 4 fresh ling cod fillets as a marinade, put in fridge.

Open the Pinot, pour a glass to swirl and smell, noticing changes as it opens up. Pouring a glass also increases the surface area for the wine to touch air, allowing breathing to hasten. Bring on the nose and mouth treats.

I peeled the papaya, scooped the seeds out, and grated the papaya into a large bowl. The Mexican papayas were not green, were very ripe, and did not grate so much as smoosh wetly through the grater. After smoosh grating the papaya into the bowl, I pressed the moisture out of the papaya by hand and poured the liquid out. To the drier papaya, I added two grated carrots, 3 thinly sliced green onions, and 1/2 of a cored and super thin sliced purple cabbage. I added about 3 ounces of the magic passion-fruit chili sauce, some salt and pepper, and tossed it all to mix and dress the slaw type salad. I moistened a towel, covered the salad, and put it into the fridge to sit and allow the flavors to marry.

Prep done, Linda arrived home and quickly the Pinot I intended for dinner was in three glasses. Bill arrived and the Pinot was in four glasses. The Frasier in me regretted that the wine was going to be gone before dinner, the regular guy in me was thrilled that I was with 3 friends and that the wine was being enjoyed. Some say red with meat, white with fish; I say any wine goes best with friends. Let go, and things work out fine. Letting go means that the Rodney Strong Chardonnay Bill brought was going to be served with dinner and was going to be great.

Linda and Bill were hungry after working all day, so we fired up the oven, and put aluminum foil over a broiling pan (to make clean up easier). With the oven at 350 degrees, we placed the fish skin side down on the foil and baked it for 25 minutes.

Just before the fish was finished, I gave the salad a final toss, then plated the salad evenly on four dishes. I sliced some grape tomatoes in half and used them as edible decoration around the outside of the salad. Then I rested the baked Teriyaki ling cod atop the bed of thai style salad.

Dinner was great. Great food, great wine, great friends. We decided to head over to John Barleycorn’s for dessert, and to see another high school friend who was working as a bartender. We saw our friend John, but there was no chocolate mousse at Barleycorn’s.

Note to self: The Villa will make chocolate mousse even if out. Never ending chocolate mousse.

__________

Saturday morning, I awoke at 3:00 AM to head out and set up my booth so I could sell my handcrafted art topped wine bottle stoppers at the Sunnyvale Art and Wine Festival.

I worked all day without a break and was quite hungry when I was allowed to close up at 6:00 PM.

I had an invitation to a graduation party for the daughter of another friend Rachelle. I had known Rachelle since the 4th grade when we attended Mark West Elementary school in northern Santa Rosa. In addition to Rachelle, I was going to get to see another High School friend, Nancy. Nancy is now the tasting room manager for Schmidt Family Vineyards in Oregon.

Before going to the party and seeing my friends, I needed to get some food, check into my surprisingly wonderful hotel, get a shower and change into a suit. Food was the biggest priority.

Near the Domain hotel, I found a Korean restaurant, pulled in and ordered pork bulgogi to-go. I spent a year in Korea, love Korean food, and knew that my hunger would be sated. I would check in to my room and eat dinner.

Jang Tu restaurant, un-fancy on the outside, tucked into a strip mall, has food was beyond adequate. The pork bulgogi, marinated in soy and sesame, and barbecued with garlic, onions and green peppers, was the best I’ve ever had, the absolutely most delicious. The rice that came with it tasted good. I’ve not smoked in over 5 months, but I was surprised to find the rice delicious. I also enjoyed the accompanying kim chi greatly. Chop-sticking a bit of pork, and rice, and cabbage into my mouth, the flavors all delicious, somehow the sum greater than it’s parts, I achieved a near nirvana experience.

The food was so absolutely delicious that i almost went back and ordered another meal, but I wanted to see my fiends more. Barely. That was some fine Korean grub.

The graduation party was an amazing event. My friends both look beautiful, as did their daughters. Rachelle’s daughter Courtney, the graduate, was lovely, amazingly possed, yet unspoiled. Nancy’s daughter will not graduate from high school for about 15 years, Lia is just 3 years old. Lia is amazingly cute. I am envious of Nancy having a child small enough to hold; my own 12 year old son Charlie is taller than I am, we don’t cuddle much anymore.

I have a 2007 Applegate Valley Merlot from Nancy’s Vineyard that I look forward to sharing with some of Nancy’s other friends. I’ll have to build a dinner around it.

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On Sunday, back working the Art and wine Festival on Murphy Street in Sunnyvale, I was visited by Chris Cesano and Jim Cesano. Chris is roughly my age, Jim is roughly the age my father would be. We must be related somewhere generations back, we must have common ancestors from Italy; although we don’t know how we are related, it is comforting to meet others with my last name. I am the oldest Cesano in my branch of our family. To keep this entry rolling along food-wise, Chris has promised me his grandmother’s recipes foe gnocchi and ravioli.

__________

It is Monday, I am finally back at home and looking forward to seeing my son when he gets home from school.

All is right in my world.

Plans for my week:

Create an application video for my dream job,

Attend my son’s promotion from elementary to middle school on Wednesday,

Go to the island deli at Lucas Wharf on Friday.

That sauce has haunted me all weekend. I want to make another Som Tom salad. I want to toss chicken wings in it (it would be similar but superior to Buffalo Wild Wing’s Asian Zing sauce). I want it on eggs. I must buy more and reverse engineer the recipe.

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