Touring & Tasting's Wine Lounge

A forum for wine lovers to share their thoughts and experiences...

Cycling & Tasting in Dry Creek Valley

November 30, 2013 | Wendy Van Diver

I’ve always dreamt of touring wine country on a bike and this fall, it finally happened. As I was making plans for my editor’s tour of northern Sonoma County, I was contacted by Lifecycle Adventures: a custom cycling vacations company that have operations in the Napa Valley, the Willamette Valley, and on Hawaii’s Big Island.

LifeCycle plans custom designed and self-guided trips for people through wine country and other fabulous terrains. I told my contact that I happened to be planning a six-day tour in Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys and at first; she wanted to plan the whole thing for me because they can even work on lodging and dining options. But once she realized that I had a huge itinerary (I visit up to five wineries a day and my schedule’s very complicated), we agreed that we’d stick to a Dry Creek Valley itinerary.

Before I left, I filled out several forms describing my interests, fitness level, etc. I had a choice of bike: road or all-terrain; as well as a choice of terrain: a flat ride-to-rolling ride, or a head-to-the-hills, heart-pounding excursion that lead to breathtaking views. I opted for the all-terrain/flat ride since I was planning to taste wine and talk coherently with the people I met along the way.

About a week in advance of my trip, a representative from the company sent me a packet with a map of my basic route, packing advice, and an invitation to email her if I had any questions whatsoever. Life Cycle stresses that its adventures are meant to be a vacation where they take care of all of the details. And do they ever! Besides the logistics, they have support vans nearby in case of an unlikely mishap. They even pick up the wine you buy as you taste along your cycling route!

On the morning of my tour, I was met in the lobby of Hotel Healdsburg by Laura Rondet a co-owner of the company. She sat down with me and showed me my route in detail and then checked me out on my bike for the day. The bike was equipped with a little pack that had ample room for power bars and water (which Laura also provided), plus my phone and camera. Laura reminded me to text her if I bought wine or needed any assistance at all.

The ride from Healdsburg out Dry Creek Road was beautiful! The vineyards were abundant with fruit and I felt so alive and connected to them as I pedaled past! I road northwest out of Healdsburg along the east side of the Dry Creek Valley past the Dry Creek Valley General Store. This is a great place to stop for a sandwich, and I would have if I hadn’t already made plans for a picnic at one of my winery stops.

My first stop was Dutcher Crossing Winery where I was treated to a tasting in the lovely grapevine-shaded picnic area out back. Sadly, I missed Owner Debra Mathy and Dutchy, the winery dog, who were at the vet that morning. From there, I crossed the bridge to West Dry Creek Road and the quieter west side of Dry Creek Valley. I stopped at Martorana Family Winery where I was greeted by the ultra-charming Hospitality Director Wendy Cox, Co-owner Gio Martorana, and his wife and newborn baby. After an informal tour and tasting, I enjoyed a fabulous lunch which Wendy had prepared. From there, I pedaled up the hill to Dry Creek Vineyard where I was greeted by Director of Marketing and Communications Bill Smart who treated me to a tasting in the barrel room. By the time I got back to Healdsburg, I had ridden 23 miles and acquired eight bottles of wine. Laura met me in the parking lot with the wine—plus a special bottle of estate olive oil from Gio Martorana!

I can’t say enough good things about LifeCycle Adventures. I am definitely going to tour this way, and with Lifecycle again soon!

T&T's Hallowine Wrap-Up

November 1, 2013 | Carol Dinh

T&T's Hallowine

Didn't get a chance to see all of our Hallowine campaign? No worries! Here's a quick list from head to toe of submitted recipes and ideas from wineries!

DAY 1: Spooktacular Scallops with Squash Purée by Seghesio Family Vineyards

DAY 2: Battynut (Butternut) Squash & Candy Cap Mushroom Crème Brûlée by Pine Ridge Vineyards

DAY 3: Haunting Honey Tuscan Herb Turkey by Oak Mountain Winery

DAY 4: Bewitching Prosciutto & Apple Panini by Conundrum Wines

DAY 5: I Want My Mummy's Meatballs with Eggplant Purée by Concannon Vineyard

DAY 6 (Soup Day!): Cauldron of Curried Carrot Soup by Brys Estate and Supernatural Spicy Pumpkin Soup by Claiborne & Churchill

DAY 7: Silence of the Lamb Shanks by Castello di Amorosa

DAY 8 (Pie Day!): Caramel Poison Apple Pie by ROCO Winery and Chilling Chocolate Pecan Pie by Lucas & Lewellen Vineyard

DAY 9 (Drinks Day!): Jack o' Lantern Cocktail by Korbel Champagne Cellars, the Walking Red Punch by Thousand 

Islands Winery, and Pumpkin Wine by Cardinal Hollow Winery

DAY 10 (BIG Candy Day!): Fun candy and wine pairings from Vivac Winery, Riverbench Vineyards & Winery, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Ponte Winery, and Trinitas Cellars

Big thanks to those that submitted! It was so much fun to see what creativity lies behind each and every winery from all over America. Tune in for our upcoming special Thanksgiving and Christmas promo events.

Hope everyone had a great Halloween!

The Best of Southern California Wine Country Travel

October 31, 2013 | Tama Takahashi

The image of Southern California is one of movie stars, sunny beaches, and surf culture. But, increasingly, Southern California brings to mind affordable, friendly wine country travel. The largest concentration of wineries in Southern California is in Temecula, which is between Los Angeles and San Diego, just 19 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. Forty years ago, Temecula was barely more than a flash of a sign seen from highway 79. Today it bustles with shops, restaurants and a burgeoning wine industry. More than 35 wineries in Temecula and the luxury accommodations of South Coast Winery Resort & Spa have put Temecula on the wine touring map.

South Coast Winery Resort & Spa

The region boasts excellent granitic soil and ample sunlight with little rain--perfect for ripening wine grapes. A large aquifer supplies water for irrigation and cool air from the ocean flows inland to provide acidity to complement the sugar in the wine grapes. Due to diverse microclimates from the changes in elevation in the hills and mountains, a wide range of varietals are produced from cool-climate Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Chardonnay, through the moderate-climate Bordeaux varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc, to the warmer climate Mediterranean varieties, including Viognier, Syrah, Grenache, Sangiovese, and Tempranillo.

Wilson Creek Winery

Temecula is centrally located, being less than and an hour drive from Orange County, San Diego, and Palm Springs. Indulge in signature spa treatments at the Grapeseed Spa at South Coast Winery Resort, take a hot air balloon ride, or explore the beautiful mission-style grounds of Keyways Vineyard & Winery--don't miss their Winemaking Tasting Tour that demonstrates every step of the winemaking process from vineyard to glass.

Lorimar Vineyards and Winery has two tasting rooms: a Tuscan-style winery in Temecula Valley wine country and one in the trendy Old Town district of Temecula, both with art galleries and with live music on weekends. You'll love the Mediterranean-style wines of Danza del Sol Winery and you can learn about cane pruning, barrel aging and more during their 2.5 hours Educational Vineyard and Winery experience.

Lorimar Vineyards and Winery

The rural atmosphere of Temecula is enhanced by sustainable farming practices and an agricultural preserve known as the Citrus/Vineyard zone. You'll enjoy the farm-to-table cuisine at many fine restaurants, including the Pinnacle at Falkner Winery, favored for its commanding hilltop views and Mediterranean/American menu. The Sunday brunch at the Creekside Grille at Wilson Creek Winery is a must--they have seasonally-inspired specials plus gluten-free options.

Herzong Wine Cellars

As you wend your way north towards Los Angeles, be sure to plan a stop at the Fairplex in Pomona. The home of the L.A. County Fair, the center hosts 500 events per year, including the prestigious Los Angeles International Wine Competition. Their organic farm supplies fresh ingredients year round to the farm-to-table Sheraton Fairplex Hotel & Conference Center restaurant.

Make an appointment in advance to visit Rosenthal Estate Winery along the magnificent Malibu coastline to taste their award-winning wines. And last, but by no means least, make a point to visit Herzog Wine Cellars to dine at Tierra Sur, one of the best restaurants in Southern California. Housed in an unlikely site--an industrial park--this 5-star gourmet restaurant serves a seasonal menu that’s inspired by fresh ingredients from local farms and paired with their delicious wines. Year over year, Tierra Sur has received the highest ZAGAT ratings in Ventura County, and in the 2013 ZAGAT – the highest ratings in a 40-mile radius. Besides special dinners, including three-course prix fixe meals, wine pairing adventures, and blind tasting challenges, the yearly Herzog International Food & Wine Festival held in spring in Los Angeles is a glorious exploration of food and wine from around the world.

Visit our Southern California page for a listing of our featured wineries, accommodations, and restaurants.  Also, learn about our free travel concierge service! Our knowledgeable staff may save you hundreds of dollars on travel and often can provide VIP access to private tours and tastings.


Michigan Wines Gain International Recognition

October 31, 2013 | Tama Takahashi

Traverse City, Michigan is the gateway to the Leelanau Peninsula and the Old Mission Peninsula to the north, whose rolling hills provide ideal terroir for dozens of wineries. The region has gained international recognition for its white wines: Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Gewurtztraminer and now is being recognized for its French-style reds: Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. The Michigan peninsulas are among the world’s top producers of ice wine, an ambrosial dessert wine made from the concentrated juice left in winter-frozen grapes.

The region is on the on the 45th parallel--the same latitude as the wine growing regions of France--with Lake  Michigan moderating temperature extremes. The area is a year-round destination, beautiful in all seasons. The scenery is so spectacular along the lake that Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was crowned "The Most Beautiful Place in America" by Good Morning America viewers. Bon Appetit named Traverse City one of the Top 10 Foodie Destinations in America and Golf Digest calls Michigan one of the world’s 50 top golf destinations. Breath-taking vistas of the lake from atop high dunes, miles of pristine sugar-sand beaches, forests ablaze with color in the fall, hiking trails, charming historic farmsteads and shaded lanes welcome the wine taster.

Chateau Grand Traverse

Chateau Grand Traverse has won countless awards for its portfolio of Rieslings and is credited with bringing international acclaim to Michigan. Their Inn at Chateau Grand Traverse offers well-appointed guest rooms with complimentary breakfast and a bottle of Chateau Grand Traverse wine for each night of stay.

Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery

Brys Estate Vineyard & Winery has won more than 275 medals in national and international competitions. As proprietor Walter Brys says, “These awards show that Michigan wines can compete on the world stage, and win.” Brys' 2-bedroom, 1100 square foot guest house is a storybook transformation from a former barn, with vineyard and lake views.

Shady Lane Cellars

Another highly acclaimed winery is Shady Lane Cellars whose wines have won numerous Gold medals and Best of Class. Winemaker Adam Satchwell crafts Sparkling Riesling, Dry Riesling, and Semi-Dry Riesling as well as Blue Franc which won Best of Class for Dry Red Wine in the 2012 Michigan Wine and Spirits Competition. Adam states, “Cool-climate wine growing presents a certain style with intense aromatics, beautiful flavors, and an elegant structure,”

Chateau Chantal

Other noteworthy stops on a tour of Michigan wine country are Black Star Farms and Chateau Chantal. Black Star Farms offers luxurious guest rooms with access to miles of hiking and skiing trails and fresh, local produce at their Hearth & Vine Café. Chateau Chantal offers cooking classes and wine dinners in addition to their French-style bed & breakfast and tasting room.

Black Star Farms


Book your trip to the xxx Michigan wine country with our FREE concierge service! We may be able to save you money and give you inside tours and tasting not normally available to the public.


We Olive: A Sensory Experience

October 24, 2013 | Tama Takahashi

Step into the bright and sparkly We Olive wine bar in the Thousand Oaks mall and you step into a world of sensory experiences. Like all the We Olive stores, this one is chock-full of mouthwatering treats. From authentic extra virgin olive oils, some infused with delicious flavors like fresh basil or jalapeño peppers, to handcrafted pestos, mustards, and tapenade, a world of flavor combinations await. Select We Olive stores, like the Thousand Oaks We Olive, carry a stellar line-up of California wines from premium small-lot producers.

We Olive wine bar

Touring & Tasting was invited to the opening party for the Thousand Oaks We Olive Wine Bar. Owners Alan and Pam Davis [at left, below] opened their store in March and added the wine bar six weeks ago. Alan showed off his impressive wine list which is constantly evolving and changing. Alan explained, "We listen to our customers to see what they are looking for", so he adapts to customer feedback. He also wants to carry only unique wines, so if a particular one becomes too widely available, he will discontinue carrying it. We Olive is dedicated to supporting small producers, giving them a venue to showcase their wines while providing We Olive customers with an exceptional selection of wines they might not find elsewhere. Wine is available by the bottle, glass, half-glass or taste--a wonderful way to sample a wide range of wines. In fact, We Olive wine bars are designed to have representative wines from all the wine regions in California, so you can tour the state all from one location!

Owners We Olive

We Olive founders Frank and Ruth Mercurio and their son Josh [Josh and Ruth, above right] were helping celebrate the opening. The eleven We Olive stores expanded from the flagship store in Paso Robles. Frank and Ruth were celebrating their anniversary in 1997 when they found an olive tasting store and decided to purchase it and develop their vision of an enjoyable and educational experience featuring California’s finest extra virgin olive oil producers, artisan food purveyors, wine tasting, chef demonstrations, and cooking classes using local seasonal produce. Frank is a scientist and used to work at a biotech company. Ruth has a culinary degree from San Diego Culinary Institute, such an arduous program that only 9 of her class of 35 graduated because it was so challenging and competitive. Ruth joked, "I can't watch Hell's Kitchen on TV because I get PTSD!" Now, she uses her culinary expertise to create innovative culinary treats using We Olive's line of gourmet products.

Josh Mercurio of We Olive

The Mercurio's son Josh, a bright and articulate young man well-versed in the specifics of olive oil production, poured an olive oil tasting for us and explained the difference in quality of the We Olive oils. The US has weak laws governing the labeling of extra virgin olive oil. As a result, oils can be sourced from different countries, vintages and even types of oil, so you may buy a bottle of "extra virgin olive oil" in the supermarket that actually contains corn and canola oil and may be several years old. The mighty health benefits of consuming olive oil are mainly from the antioxidant polyphenols which are destroyed by age. Imported oil is often stored for some time, then must be shipped in containers overseas. Josh pointed out, "The majority of Americans believe they have tried virgin olive oil, but after 2 years, all the polyphenols are gone." We Olive only offers California extra virgin olive oil stamped with the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) seal. Their strict standards exceed any international standards and ensure:

  • The olive oil was mechanically extracted without the use of chemicals or excessive heat.
  • There is less than .5% free oleic acid [a measure of acidity].
  • It has passed a blind taste test, performed by a certified tasting panel, to ensure positive taste elements and no defects.

We Olive basil oil

Interestingly, California produces 99% of the olive oil produced in the United States but accounts for only 2% of the olive oil actually consumed here. Also, three UC Davis studies found that  2/3 of oils on supermarket shelves are falsely labeled. We Olive is in step with the growing desire for Americans to eat locally and healthfully and the products they carry are of the best quality. Besides exploring the many flavors of oils from buttery to peppery, you'll enjoy spending time tasting the many spreads and sampling the small plates while wine tasting. We Olive is the perfect spot for finding gifts, with friendly and knowledgeable staff who will provide the compelling story behind each artisanal product or wine. Don't forget to try the lovely body care products made with olive oil, which is light and moisturizing and free of harmful chemicals. READ MORE about We Olive.

We Olive pesto

Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association

October 21, 2013 | Tama Takahashi

On a splendid Saturday with perfect weather, the 22nd Vintners' Festival was enjoyed by wine lovers. The largest event of the Santa Barbara County Vintners' Association "Celebration of Harvest Weekend", it showcases over 100 wineries pouring their offerings, gourmet food from local restaurants and caterers, live music and more. We were pleased to see Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard's winemaker Karen Steinwachs pouring her well-balanced wines. Buttonwood is a popular spot for visitors to the Santa Ynez Valley, both for Karen's wines and for their wide range of farm fresh produce, herbs and preserves.

Ampelos Cellars

Close by the Buttonwood booth, the friendly folk at Ampelos Cellars were pouring their organic, biodynamic, highly-rated Pinot Noir, Grenache and Syrah. Peter and Rebecca Work had brought tank samples of their 2013 Viognier and Pinot Noir. The tank samples were rich with lees. They were delicious, with a fresh bread scent and full mouth-feel. I've been told tank samples are high in vitamin B--maybe someday winemakers will bottle this!

Cold Heaven Cellars and Touring & Tasting

Among the many notable wineries at the event were Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards whose estate fruit is coveted by premium wine producers, Zaca Mesa Winery & Vineyards whose wines have been chosen for White House state dinners, and Cold Heaven Cellars whose wines have been receiving 90+ points. We missed meeting winemaker Morgan Clendenen, but came away with Cold Heaven panties and temporary tattoos! Kevin and Niki Gleason were pouring their luscious and high-scoring wines at their Refugio Ranch booth; tasting their wines is always a treat. Their spacious Los Olivos tasting room has hosted a series of food and wine pairing dinners with chef David Cecchini of Cecco Ristorante; check out their website for upcoming events. President Paul Arganbright was manning the Touring & Tasting booth, conveniently next to the live music stage.

Sara Bush of Westerly Wines

The radiant Sara Bush added a glow to the Westerly Wine booth. Westerly wines, crafted by Adam Henkel from Happy Canyon and Sta Rita Hills fruit, have been racking up impressive scores from Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. After nibbling on savory bites of pork from the Willows restaurant at the Chumash Casino, plus other delicacies, we made sure to stop by the Grassini Family Vineyards and Sanford Winery & Vineyards booths for some sublime samples. The former produces lovely wines--primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc--and the latter Burgundian Pinot Noir from the area's longest established Pinot Noir vineyard. We continued on to Blair Fox Cellars and Fess Parker Winery & Inn which can both boast high scores and Blair Fox as winemaker. He was awarded "Winemaker of the Year" in 2008 at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, the largest wine competition in the world.

Steve Clifton

Not only does Steve Clifton make excellent wines under both the Palmina and Brewer-Clifton labels, but he can rock the house! He fronted the band while attendees sipped their wine under the shade of Rancho Sisquoc's sycamore trees or soaked up the abundant sunshine on the green grass. A lovely day in picturesque Santa Barbara wine country!

Touring & Tasting wine gift bag

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