Category Archives: That’s life

A Woman of Valor

A woman was buried today. In her eulogy she was described as a “woman of valor”. I love that phrase…”woman of valor”. I didn’t know the woman, never met her. I know her daughters and other members of her family, but would not consider us close and only “social” on a few occasions. So why did I find myself sitting at her funeral with her friends and family? I believe her grandson had the answer to that question when he said, “…she brought us all together today.” Something about that statement, the peculiarity of the situation and the statement of my driving companion kept my thoughts with the funeral proceedings long after I had left the cemetery and gone about the rest of my day. She had said something like, “isn’t it odd that we get back in our car and check phones and go on with our day while others are hurting. Life goes on like normal”. And life does go on…like normal. But for me..today…not so much.

Why was I helping to bury this woman? Why was I a part of this moment in this family’s history? It occurred to me that this “woman of valor” had played a part in my own history, totally unbeknownst to her. How interesting the way we have the ability to touch people’s lives without ever knowing it. She had given birth to a daughter, a strong independent woman who would as an adult inspire me to make a decision that would forever change me…for the better. A decision that would place me in a position where I would share a mind set and experiences with a group of people that would foster a bond whose strength never ceases to amaze me. A very special bond that preservers through the years…lots of years.  And it is this bond with these people, including that daughter of that “woman of valor”, that brought me to that funeral today.

I feel blessed to have been a part of the event, sad as it may be, because it a testament to the power of connection, and the awe it inspires. Thank you….Gita.

Napa Station Wine Tasting

Last Friday night, being as our regular Friday night dining companions were out of town, we decided to try something different. We’d heard that Truxton’s American Bistro in Westchester has monthly wine tastings featuring the wines of a specific winery and paired with their food. I’d been to lunch there a couple of times, so I knew the food was good, but really, why in the world would we get in our car at 6:00pm on a Friday night and take the 405 anywhere, let alone to Westchester from the Valley?Well…wine was involved…it’s summer…and we didn’t want to be whiners…so we went! And no traffic! I know, shocking.

About 30 guests had gathered in the private dining room at Truxton’s for the event and within a few minutes the guest of honor arrived. Peter Huwiler is the driving force behind Napa Station Wines. The winery is a family endeavor, with his son Peter working closely by his side. Peter Sr, a native of Switzerland, lived in Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand before landing in Seattle where he spent many years in the restaurant business. It wasn’t long before the wine industry beckoned and he went to work for what was to become Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, later for Kendall Jackson and finally Merryvale in Napa. With his passion for all aspects of the wine making business, it was inevitable that he would end up owning his own winery. It is here at Napa Station wines that Peter truly shines. And it was at this tasting that Peter Huwiler shared his boundless knowledge and passion with his captive audience. While most winery owners/winemakers like to talk primarily about the wine, Peter regaled us with stories about Napa soil structures, (there are 110), tannin management, the density of woods used to make the barrels, cork taint and NASA images taken to determine micro climates in the vineyard. He talked about racking and fining, the astringency of grape seeds, acidity and sugars and how the Carneros AVA straddles both Napa and Sonoma counties. I hung on every word.

The wines of Napa Station

The wines of Napa Station

His first wine of the evening was a 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, (with 2% Semillon). This wine was complex with good acidity and a long finish. (Bought 2 bottles) 27% of his 08 Chardonnay is  fermented in 2 yr old oak while the rest goes into stainless. I didn’t think the food brought out the best in this wine, but the Shrimp Po Boy Sliders with Cajun Remoulade were really tasty.

Shrimp Po Boy Sliders

Shrimp Po Boy Sliders

The 07 Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic blend of 88% Cab, 9% Merlot, 2% Malbec and 1% Petite Verdot. Paired nicely with Chef Greg’s Chanterelle Flatbread Pizza with Yukon Gold Potatoes, Fontina Cheese, Arugula and Truffle Oil. The arugula complemented the anise notes in the wine. (Love that)

Chanterelle Flatbread Pizza w/Yukon Gold Potatoes, Fontina Cheese, Arugula & Truffle Oil

Chanterelle Flatbread Pizza w/Yukon Gold Potatoes, Fontina Cheese, Arugula & Truffle Oil

Of the two Merlots poured, 07 and 08, I preferred the latter. A smooth, elegant wine, the 08 Merlot displays notes of black fruit and bittersweet chocolate, with more complexity and character than the 07. (I bought one bottle of that as well)

Needless to say, I really enjoyed meeting Mr. Huwiler, chatting with my table mates, the food and an evening out.

Me with Peter Huwiler

Me with Peter Huwiler

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

Paso Robles Grand Tasting in Los Angeles

Paso Robles is my favorite area in California to go wine tasting so I was excited to attend this year’s Paso Robles Grand Tasting Event, held this week at the spectacular Vibiana in downtown Los Angeles. Paso Robles is home to more than 200 wineries and over 26,000 acres are planted to vine, with special focus on Rhone varietals and Zinfandel. About 40 of those wineries participated in this event, and I was anxious to try their new releases.

Upon entering the historic Vibiana, I am always struck by the beauty of this  Baroque style church built in 1876. The ceilings soar and light streams in through the upper windows. And on this day the tables were lined up with some of Paso’s finest.

Interior of the Vibiana in Los Angeles

Interior of the Vibiana in Los Angeles

My first encounter was with old friends, David and Amparo of Minassian-Young Vineyards. I met them a number of years ago in Paso when they were pouring at a special event held on the gorgeous grounds of Carmody McKnight. I have always enjoyed their white Rhone blend, (64%Grenache Blanc, 19% Viognier, 17% Marsanne) and the 09 didn’t disappoint. Redolent of apples it has plenty of crisp acidity. A unique offering from MY is their 08 Black Saint Peter, a blend of 45% Zinfandel, 17% Petite Sirah, 16% tannat, 11% Cinsault, 6% Carignan and 3% Mourvedre. Big fruit and full body on this one. Their 07 GSMV, (GSM with 3% Viognier thrown in to brighten the blend), offers a long spicy finish. Nice.

David and Amparo of Minassian-Young Vineyards with Eve Bushman

David and Amparo of Minassian-Young Vineyards with Eve Bushman

Aram Deirmenjian of Kiamie Wine Cellars was there and it was great to re-connect with him. He had first poured me his White Kuvee in 08 and I’ve been hooked ever since. On this day he was premiering his 09 vintage of this Rhone blend. Steve Glossner, the winemaker, describes this blend as full-bodied on the palate with ripe casaba melon and lemon meringue richness. Scents of honeysuckle, lemongrass and persistent minerality. I describe it as “yummy”!

Silver Horse Winery, represented by owner Steve Kroener, has been producing some fabulous wines at their gorgeous winery in Pleasant Valley since 2005. Standouts on this day were the 08 Estate Petit Verdot (100%), 08 Estate Tomori, (60% Syrah/40% Cabernet Sauvignon), and the 08 “The Main Thing”, (45% Malbec/25% Cabernet Sauvignon/15% Merlot/15% Petite Sirah).

A new one for me was Thacher Winery and I really enjoyed meeting owner/winemaker Sherman Thacher and hearing his story. He started as a brew master in Santa Cruz, but along with his bride, fell in love with Paso Robles and eventually relocated there to make wine and enjoy a lifestyle they thought was perfect for raising a family. Couldn’t agree more! Their first vintage at this location was in 2008 and his 08 Triumvirate Reserve Zinfandel was named “Red” Sweepstakes Winner at the 2011 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. He had the 07 Triumvirate to taste that day which was silky with good acidity, and a bit of cinnamon. Also really liked the 09 Viognier and the 07 Syrah. The syrah fruit is from the Halter Ranch and Alta Colina Vineyards and offered a wine that was spicy, balanced and elegant.

And it just wouldn’t be a Paso tasting without visiting with Jeff and Karin from Roxo Port Cellars. Roxo offers ultra-premium Port style wines made in the metodo Portugues style. These are not the super sweet syrupy wines you may have always associated with Port. These are carefully crafted from hand-picked high quality grapes and include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Negrette, Barbara, Zinfandel, as well as the traditional Portuguese  varietals Touriga Nacional, Souzao, Tinta Roriz and Bastardo. Many of their blends pair beautifully with foods other than chocolate, although the Negrette with chocolate is fabulous! Next time you visit Paso, think outside the Port box and stop into Meritage Tasting Lounge downtown where you can try these delicious and unusual wines.

Two hours just isn’t enough time to taste all Paso has to offer, and this event left me yearning for a good long visit to El Paso de Robles. Good people, beautiful vistas and wonderful wine. And there are now so many great places to eat and beautiful hotels and B & B’s to complete the perfect wine country getaway.

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

Last night we enjoyed a 2004 Cabernet from D’Anbino Vineyards and Cellars. It paired beautifully with beef tenderloin with an herb/mustard crust and leek and wild mushroom bread pudding. This wine had soft tannins, was full bodied and well balanced, and all around a delicious Friday night selection. Cheers!

Carmine Rubino of D'Anbino Vineyards and Cellars

Carmine Rubino of D'Anbino Vineyards and Cellars

This just in from Paso Robles….

I just got back from a whirlwind 24 hour trip to Paso Robles, and I thought I would let you know about some of the interesting people I met there and what they are up to in their wonderful wine country town.

First off, Spring has sprung. The vineyards are awakening from their winter slumber and bud break has occurred. The blue lupine and the yellow wild mustard intermingle,  painting the green rolling hillsides with spectacular color. The apple trees show off with their delicate pink flowers.

Your next glass of sangiovese?

Your next glass of Sangiovese?

Apple blossoms at Laraneta

Apple blossoms at Laraneta

This last week the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce put on their Business Expo, Mission Possible, bringing together many of the local businesses to showcase their services and meet the residents of the city.

I was very happy to finally meet longtime Facebook friend, Dina Mande of Juice Marketing, a company specializing in website, print and video for wineries.  She has recently designed the beautiful new website for Mojo Cellars, a Westside winery owned by Sleepy Guitar Johnson, Denis Degher.

Sleepy Guitar Johnson, Denis Degher of Mojo Wines, performs regularly at Vinoteca Wine Bar in downtown Paso Robles

Sleepy Guitar Johnson, Denis Degher of Mojo Wines, performs regularly at Vinoteca Wine Bar in downtown Paso Robles

We walked around the event for about 2 hours, while tasting some wine from Sylvester WineryEberle Winery and Sculpterra Winery and Sculpture Garden. We met the folks from The Paso Robles Inn, La Bellasera Hotel & Suites, Hunter Ranch Golf Course, Taylor Party Rentals and tasted some goodies from the famous Chef Andre of Dining with Andre catering company. I especially enjoyed having a look at some of the wonderful and creative items produced by Marv Kohlman of California Barrel Crafts. He makes furniture, bottle racks and murals all out of recycled wine barrels!

Having walked the entire expo, we were quite hungry and decided a visit to Good Ol’ Burger was in order. For years we have been coming to this place after hours spent tasting the big red wines of Paso. That’s when we are seriously craving meat and this place is conveniently located on 24th Street right off the 101 and at the crossroads between the East and Westside winery areas. They moved into shiny new digs a couple of years ago from their original, shall we say, more “rustic” location, but the food remained the same. Great burgers and the best onion rings, period! Don’t forget the ranch dressing on the side. Just give it up and splurge. Although, for lunch we usually split a cheeseburger and a small order of rings. Plenty, trust me, especially if you’re planning on dinner in town in the evening.

Friends enjoying post wine tasting repast at Good Ol'Burger

Friends enjoying post wine tasting repast at Good Ol'Burger

Clearly, no longer hungry, it was time to head to town to Vinoteca Wine Bar where we were going to meet up with the popular Matt and Annie of Hoot ‘n Annie’s Blog fame. Vinoteca, located right across the street from the park and within walking distance of many of Paso’s finest restaurants, is the place to stop by after dinner to enjoy a glass of wine and mingle with the locals. Its cozy atmosphere  creates the perfect ambiance for an evening of meeting up with friends, old and new.

Friends at Vinoteca Wine Bar

Friends at Vinoteca Wine Bar

Friday nights they feature live music, (see Denis above),  and on  Winemaker Wednesday,  one of the local wineries pours flights of their featured wines and can be paired with savory tapas. On the night we were there our friends Melinda and Joe Laraneta of Laraneta Vineyards were pouring their wines and the place was buzzing with activity. We totally enjoyed meeting Matt and Annie, chatting with them about wine, food and their Paso Robles lifestyle. We met many others who call Paso home including Daniel and Corrine Appelbaum, proprietors of Safe Haven Wine Services. These two have figured out the solutions to many of the shipping issues for the wineries themselves and for the consumer, not only increasing cost effectiveness of shipping and storage, but making it “greener” as well. If you’re planning a touring and tasting vacation in the Paso Robles area, give these people a call to find out how easy they can make it to ship your treasures home for you. Cyndee Smolik provides vital services of another nature to the wineries with her Uncorked Compliance Wine Industry Consultants company. She helps them stay on top of all the governmental compliance issues – no small task. It was also fun to meet Ashley Rae Fischer and her mother Becky Zelinsky of First Crush Winemaking Experience. First Crush offers wine lovers the opportunity to try their hand at crafting their own wine through a variety of interactive, wine-related learning experiences. We talked about the possibility of bringing their blending seminar to I’ll Drink to That’s members in the near future as a special event. Sounds like fun!

The next morning we had some errands to run in town so we first stopped at Vic’s Restaurant for a hearty breakfast. Delicious omelets, tender hash browns and tall buttery biscuits were just we needed to get us through the drive ahead of us. Then off to Safe Haven to drop off wine shipping inserts that I had been saving to recycle. Next, the mandatory stop at Cider Creek Bakery to restock on F.R.O.G jam. Fig,raspberry, orange and ginger marmalade, really, a pantry staple in our house. Great all by itself on toast, it is also so good mixed into dressings and marinades, for sauces, on top of a baked brie, and mixed into mashed sweet potatoes, with a little bourbon. We  come up with new ways to use it all the time.

We had only time for one tasting, so we stopped at Kiame Wine Cellars, whose tasting room is in the downtown area. I wanted to pick up a couple bottles of their White Kuvee, Proprietary White Blend, which is a favorite of mine. A delicious blend of 60% Roussanne and 40% Viognier from the Westside Derby Vineyard, this wine has scents of honeysuckle and lemongrass and a minerality component that makes this wine a great change-up from the heavy, oaky Chardonnays. We also picked up a bottle of their 06 R’Own Style Blend, comprised of 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache, 8% Zinfandel and 2% Viognier. Give this one some air to allow the bright strawberry and rhubarb flavors to unfold, finishing with cinnamon spice.

Finally it was time to head home from our short trip, but happy to have met many more of the great people from this wonderful wine making area. See you soon, Paso Robles…..

Pinot Days- Winemaker dinner and a tasting

To quote Sid Goldstein, author of “The Wine Lover’s Cookbook”, “Pinot Noir is, in a word, a wonder. It is a mysterious and seductive wine that echoes the smell of the earth from which it comes.”

Sometimes referred to as the “heartbreak grape”,  it is difficult to grow, and demands great attention both in the vineyard as well as the winery. It is the coveted grape of Burgundy, and currently widely planted in Oregon and California. Although I enjoy a bottle of Pinot every so often, I don’t drink a lot of it. Pinot Days, held here in Los Angeles for the first time last weekend, was a real eye opener for me, introducing my palate to many different styles of Pinot ranging from dry and austere to fat and juicy. I was happy to meet and learn from producers from many prime pinot growing areas including Washington, Oregon, New Zealand and California.

My Pinot adventure started with an impromptu winemakers dinner held at Upstairs 2, the restaurant that is, you guessed it, upstairs over the Wine House wine shop. I had received an e-mail from Lisa and Steve Rigisich, the producers of Pinot Days, informing us that they and several of the winemakers in town for the festival were going to put on a small winemakers dinner a few days before the festival and limited reservations would be taken on a first come, first serve basis. Well the dinner sold out in half an hour – we were among the 80 or so lucky ones that secured a reservation.

Each table was set for 8 with a “winemakers chair” at the head of the table – winemakers would be rotating to a different table with each course so we would have the opportunity to speak with a number of them before the night was through.

Our first course was a salad of Arugula, Frisee and Belgian Endive with Duck Confit and a Pinot Noir Lingonberry Dressing. With that we were poured 2007 Inman Family Russian River Valley. Owner, winemaker and all around lovely lady, Kathleen Inman, also shared with us her 2006 Olivet Grange Vineyards Pinot Noir. Both were my favorite style – dry, earthy, elegant and well balanced with bright natural acidity. The second estate wine served with this course was the  Suacci Carciere Wines –  Suacci Vineyard – 2007.

The second course was a wonderful dish of Wild Mushroom Crusted Halibut with a red wine sauce. Mushrooms are so delicious paired with Pinot Noir and the first of two wines served with this course was the Lachini Vineyards Cuvee Giselle – 2007, Chehalem Mountains, Washington. Ron Lachini explained to us the intricacies of  bio-dynamic farming techniques and the reasons he and his wife chose to go that route. Oddly enough his wine had a very strong grassy aroma. Both his and the Willamette Valley Vineyards, Tualatin Estate 07 paired nicely with the fish.

Next up was Grilled Free Range Veal Chops with Herbs du Provence and Veal Demi-Glace.  The first wine poured was a Fess Parker Winery – Ashleys Pinot, Santa Rita Hills 07. This was one of the biggest pinots I have ever had, having even Syrah like qualities.  I figured this one would pair nicely with the chops, but obviously it did not behave like a Syrah and it flattened with the food.  A better choice was the 07 C. Donatiello Winery – Maddie’s Vineyard. Still a bigger and bolder style of Pinot than I normally choose, it held it’s own with the grilled meat and potatoes.

The dessert course was two cheeses served with fig bread and candied walnuts. Ana Keller of Keller Estate joined us at our table for this course and shared with us her family’s history in the wine industry. I enjoyed her 07 “El Coro” , a fleshy wine redolent of cherry, plum and currant flavors mingled with spice and tobacco. Also enjoyed with this course Perception Wines Russian River Valley 07.

This would have been a nice enough event by itself, but it was just a prelude for so much more Pinot yet to come.

Trade tasting gets under way

Trade tasting gets under way

The festival was held at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, a venue I had visited once before for the Make-a-Wish annual winetasting fund raiser. It’s big and roomy offering plenty of elbow space for thirsty tasters. So much Pinot, so little time as there were over 75 wineries represented and the walk around trade tasting was a mere 2 hours. A quick perusal of the offerings and off we went. A couple of  producers had Chardonnay or Pinot Gris tucked away under their tables and I was glad I had a bottle of SanTasti palate cleansing beverage with me – yes you really can go back and forth from red to white with optimum enjoyment and appreciation. Highlights for me included:

Carr Vineyards & Winery: 07 Pinot Noir, Three Vineyards, Sta. Rita Hills and 07 Turner Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills

Clouds Rest Vineyards: Tried and enjoyed 4 vintages from Sonoma: 02,03,04,05

Bouchaine Vineyards: 2006 Carneros

Demetria Estate: 2006 Cuvee Sandra, Sta Rita Hills

Kindred Wines: 2007 Pinot Noir Amber Ridge Vineyard, Russian River Valley

Papapietro-Perry: 2007 Russian River Valley

Kindred Wines,member of SFWA

Kindred Wines,member of SFWA

Besides tasting some very interesting wines and meeting the creative men and women behind those wines, it was nice to catch up with friends. Eve Bushman of Eve’s 101 and Denise Lowe, the “goddess of vino”, were on hand for a photo op.

Denise Lowe, Xochitl Maiman and Eve Bushman catch up at Pinot Days in Los Angeles

Denise Lowe, Xochitl Maiman and Eve Bushman catch up at Pinot Days in Los Angeles

At 1:00 sharp Los Angeles Pinot fans, and there are thousands of them, converged on the festival, not letting the approaching storm keep them from the task at hand. I left with a new appreciation for this intriguing grape, respect for the fortitude of those who make the wine and a strong craving for a steak. However, one of my favorite recipes to go with Pinot Noir is this one shared by Chef Douglas Keane of Cyrus in Healdsburg, CA. Kathleen Inman likes this one too.

Truffled Red Wine Risotto with Parmesan Broth

I’LL DRINK TO THAT !

Michael’s Syrah gets crushed

Mike, anxious to get the next phase of his first wine making endeavor under way, called to let me know that the brix was down to nada and it was time to go press off the wine. Who knew that Woodland Hills is the location to  one of the only home wine making supply shops in the LA area? So last weekend I met Mike at the Home Wine,Beer,Cheese Making Shop just off the 101 freeway where he was to press his 130 pounds of Syrah grapes.  The store was mobbed with customers purchasing jugs, bottles, corks and wine presses so I had some time to look around. They have everything there, even a small de-stemming machine. Hmmmm….

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When it was our turn, “the guy” went to the back to get the wine press out, took it out to the curb and instructed Mike on how to use the press to get the juice from his grapes. I found it amazing that after hundreds of years, the process and the machinery have changed very little. Very basic really. First Mike hosed off the machine – winemakers are apparently big on “hosing” everything, before and after using. I’ve seen plenty of video footage of people hosing off equipment this harvest season.

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Then right to it. First the macerated fruit was poured by bucketfuls into the press, and the “free run” juice allowed to flow freely into another bucket. The color of the juice was an incredible deep raspberry color.

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As the buckets filled up, the juice was poured into jugs. Mike kept this up until all the free run juice had been collected. Then it was time to press the grapes to get every last drop of his “wine” out of the must. He piled on the blocks and began to ratchet until no more liquid ran and the “cake” was pressed hard. The yield was over nine gallons!

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Disassembling the press to remove "the cake"

Disassembling the press to remove "the cake"

Compost anyone?

Compost anyone?

Michael has a lot to show for his efforts.

Michael has a lot to show for his efforts.

And then more hosing…..

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I’LL DRINK TO THAT !

Trueblood Syrah – Napa Valley – 2004$29.95Long legged beauty was my 1-08 first thought when I poured a glass of this blood red wine. The viscosity of the “legs” was incredible, slowly making their way down the inside of my glass after a good swirl. Dark, rich, lush, elegant…spicy with figs and licorice in a long finish. Bloody good wine.

Rankin Ranch – Like Going Home

There are few places on this earth “that never change, the trees just get taller”. So says Bill Rankin, the patriarch of the Rankin family and the dearest cowboy I know. He and his equally endearing wife, Glenda, along with 4th,5th and 6th generation Rankins live and work on their historic California cattle ranch, continuing a tradition of cattle ranching that began in 1863.

Bill’s father, Leroy Rankin, died in 1954 leaving Bill’s mother, Helen, in charge of making the decisions on behalf of the family’s ranch. A precarious position for a woman of that era. Nonetheless, her “frontier” heritage and considerable fortitude allowed her to not only maintain the ranch, but pilot her family’s future with a strong and confident hand. In 1965, in an effort to diversify her agriculture business and ensure her family would be able to continue to live and work on the ranch, she added the guest ranch to her cattle operation. The Rankin’s beloved Helen passed away in  2003, but her legacy lives on.  Rankin Ranch and the wonderful family that runs it and the guest ranch, now in it’s 44th year, is a place where others  now come to make their own history…cowboy style.

My “history” at Rankin Ranch started in September of 1993.  A two hour drive brought me, my friend, Robin, and her young son, Adam, to the small farming town of Arvin, at the base of the Tehachapi Mountains in Kern County. From there it’s a half hour drive up the mountain, under the curious scrutiny of small herds of white faced Herefords, and then down into Walker Basin, the parcel of land where Rankin Ranch was founded by Walker and Lavinia Rankin in 1863.

Walker Basin

Walker Basin

Very little has changed since 1863, except that now guest cabins, built in the 60’s, can be seen along the driveway lined with giant lilac bushes. In fact, very little has changed since 1993, providing me on each of my subsequent visits with the familiar and comforting feeling that I have “come home”. The first indication that perhaps Rankin Ranch is some kind of portal to the past happens as you drive down the dirt road past the cabins, and there on the right is the large old barn, still standing and very much a part of Rankin’s charm and identity. Countless pictures adorn the walls of the dining room and activities building featuring that barn with various gatherings of Rankins, old and new, posed outside its tall doors on one occasion or another. Only the garb of the people in those images indicates the passing of time, the barn never changes.

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As you walk onto the guest ranch property, serene and quiet, past the activities building, the ranch gift shop/office and Lightner Square where guests gather before dinner, you see the original home of Walker and Lavinia that was built in the 1870’s. Helen Rankin occupied this home until her death, and now I believe it is being readied for 5th generation Rankins to move in to. The dinner bell still stands in the square, just the trees have grown and now hide the uppermost portion. Continuing the stroll past the tree shaded pool and the expansive lawn, down a few steps….and there it is in all its cowboy glory. Confirmation that indeed you have traveled back to a time when cattle was king, ranches were vast, and cowboys were the real action heroes. The meadow stretches on until it reaches the surrounding mountains. The corral where guests gather to  start their trail rides is in the foreground, and cattle graze lazily on grass and yellow sage. The air smells of dirt and grass and  Robin inhales deeply and smiles.  What you won’t see is a cell phone tower, vetoed by Bill years ago. As he put it, “would you want to see that thing every day on our mountain top?” Indeed, as the sun sets slowly over the meadow, and darkness encroaches, there is an unobstructed 360′ view of the mountain ridge with stars making their appearance on cue, until the sky is a dazzling display of pinpoints of light.

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The Rankin family is like our family, warm, glad to see us, and welcoming us home on our most recent visit. Besides the Rankins there are the smiling familiar faces of the cowboys, the cooks, (Rudy has been head cook for over 30 years),even the gardener –  all happy to have us with them once again. We get caught up on the news of  who’s gotten married, who’s had children, and who has passed on. We were sad to learn of the passing of  the square dance caller and his wife who had been coming up to the Ranch every Saturday night during guest season for the last 42 years.

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Girlfriends shared wedding dress 42 years ago and still celebrate their anniversaries together with their husbands

Loyalty, family and history – that is the legacy of Rankin Ranch – a legacy that is passed down not only to the family members themselves, but to the guests who visit the ranch to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, family reunions and myriad other of life’s milestones. On this particular trip there were two couples who have celebrated every one of their 42 wedding anniversaries together – each year going somewhere new. In honor of this occasion, the traditional Rankin Ranch cake was made and presented to them after dinner and we all sang and shared in their special day.

Another couple and their grown son, who had visited the ranch many times when the boy was younger, were their after a number of years away. They were celebrating life. She had just finished chemotherapy and her son had suggested a family trip to a place that had brought them so many good times together as a family in the past. Robin and I couldn’t remember how many times we had visited the ranch, but we spent hours recalling happy times spent there with so many of the people we love. There were multiple girlfriend trips, trips with mom, trips with kids, and the most memorable trip of all  when we celebrated Robin’s 40th birthday there with a surprise party like no other.

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Girlfriends - April 1995

For Robin, however, this trip held special significance. It was at Rankin Ranch so many years ago that the seed for her non-profit organization, El Dustberry Ranch, was first planted in her heart. Her dream of owning horses and a ranch and helping sick kids with those horses did become a reality, but 9 years later, it was time to move on and fulfill the next dream. For Robin, this trip brought her full circle. She would be moving on from her beloved El Dustberry to a new venture in helping children.

So many traditions have been started at Rankin Ranch, inspired by the many traditions that are Rankin Ranch. Besides the people, the meadow and the cabins, the food holds much familiarity to those who re-visit. Three hearty meals a day to satiate the hungry appetites of the cowboys and the guests who have been hiking or riding in all that fresh air. Beef, obviously, is a mainstay and the tri-tip barbeque in the meadow is always a highlight. Guests cozy themselves in the back of a trailer full of hay and are driven out into the meadow where the cooks have prepared a lavish spread of tri tip with amazing bbq sauce, beans, corn, rolls and gingerbread. After dinner and lively conversation, the guests are put into teams and a game of horseshoes is played until the sun sets.  Then the relaxing ride under the blanket of stars back to the ranch for an evening of fun and games in the activities building. The walls inside the cozy wood paneled building hold  testament to the many celebrations held at the ranch, and looking at all the photographs connects you to those that came before.

In the meadow for tri-tip bbq

In the meadow for tri-tip bbq

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Amanda Rankin

As final photos are taken, e-mail addresses exchanged, and good-byes made all around, I get my final good bye and giant bear hug from Bill along with a quick bit of philisophical advice. I feel that bond strengthen once again, and  I just know that when it’s time for me to return, everything will be the same – the trees will just be taller.

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Girlfriends sharing more history at Rankin Ranch - 2009

RANKIN RANCH- www.rankinranch.com – (661) 867-2511


I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

Rosenblum Napa Valley Reserve Syrah – Holbrook Mitchell Vineyard – 2005

Some friends shared this bottle with us last night. “Wow” was my exclamation as the inky colored wine poured into my glass. This wine tastes like luxury in a glass. Smooth and voluptuous, holbrookmitchell_vyd_rsv_syrah_nvvelvetty and perfectly balanced. Black currants, blueberries and vanilla flavors. This wine is a hedonistic pleasure and lovely to drink.

2006 currently available at $45.00

Vines on the Marycrest featured at networking/tasting event

To hear Victor Abascal, owner of Vines on the Marycrest in Paso Robles, tell his story about how he got started in the business of making wine, is to once again learn what happens when someone just “fires” to pursue their passion. Last Monday night at I’ll Drink to That!s monthly networking/wine tasting event, Victor regaled the attendees with his story of how he secretly planted a vineyard on a vacant hillside belonging to a nunnery, got caught, had to pull the vines out and ultimately decided to forgo the “5-year plan” and replant his passion and his vineyard in the beautiful countryside of Westside Paso Robles.

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Victor Abascal, owner, Vines on the Marycrest

Victor Abascal, owner, Vines on the Marycrest

The anxious “wine tasters” were then guided through a tasting of four of Victor’s luscious red blends, all named after some of his favorite songs. Plenty of humming could be heard as guests tried to remember the tunes to: “Summertime”, a Grenache based rose, “Heart of Glass” and “‘Round Midnight”, both Rhone blends, “Satin Doll” (Cab,Syrah, Cab Franc) and “My Generation”, a blend of estate Zin and Rhone varietals. Victor described his wine making style as balanced and food friendly. I would describe it as delicious!

Gourmet mini grilled cheese sandwiches made with Gruyere, caramelized shallots, blue cheese and apple were passed around with the wine, as well as other delectable treats made by executive chef Tori Rodriguez of Artisan Cheese Gallery. And to “cleanse the palate”, SanTasti, “the world’s first palate cleansing beverage”, was available for guests to try.

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Although Victor did punctuate the fact that blended wines are his preference, he did bring along 3 bottles of his reserve single varietal wines which he donated to the “opportunity drawing”, with all proceeds benefiting the non-profit organization, Make a Senior Smile. Attendee, Sara Polinsky, representing the organization, spoke about their mission to fulfill “wishes” of members of the senior community who might find themselves without funding or family to otherwise support them.

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Xochitl Maiman, IDTT founder, Victor and drawing winner, Michellene Debonis of Debonis Consulting

Blake Goodwin, owner of Video Optimize, was on hand to speak about the benefits of utilizing video as a powerful SEO tool, and his videographer was there to film the event.

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Blake Goodwin of Video Optomize

The evening ended with some networking done via I’ll Drink to That’s “wine swap”. Each attendee brought with them to the meeting a favorite bottle of wine, and after breaking off into small groups, had the opportunity to swap their bottle and their business information with each other.

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Barbara Cohen, IDTT Marketing Coordinator with Sara Polinsky

Barbara Cohen, IDTT Marketing Coordinator with Sara Polinsky

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

Vines on the Marycrest – Heart of Glass – 2006 – 72% Grenache, 15% Mourvedre, 13% Syrah – $22

Victor served this delightful wine slightly chilled making it the perfect wine to sip while  preparing dinner, or enjoying a sunset during these last warm days of summer. With fresh strawberries and cherries on the nose, the fruit carries through to the palate with the addition of smoky, earth and leathery touches. Beautiful clear, bright color.

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Friends – Part 1

I am blessed for I have been fortunate in being able to share my life with many friends. The  friends from my childhood are a group which to this day I still remember with great fondness and with complete recollect, except that I always see them in my mind’s eye as children. They never grow older – they are always suspended in my memories playing and laughing right where they once did…..we grew up in Hollywood when living in a big city didn’t preclude having  a neighborhood and a community to which one could and did belong. My block of Orange Dr. and the surrounding blocks were full of kids, all of whom I knew because we all went to the same neighborhood elementary school, Melrose Elementary, and walked or rode our bikes to the same neighborhood parks and public pools. (Only one of my friends actually had a pool of their own) My “best friends” lived right across the street and we were always together playing Barbies, handball on the garage door, singing Abbey Road songs into a tape recorder or running through the sprinklers. Birthdays were celebrated in our backyards or Poinsettia Park or perhaps on a very good year, at Beverly Park where guests would be treated to carnival rides and a go ’round on the track aboard your gallant steed at “the ponies”. In those days, girls put on their good dresses to attend parties and cone-shaped party hats or paper princess tiaras were a must. Girl Scouts met once a week, my mom was one of the leaders, and many Saturdays were spent at Tsilah’s house, (her mom was the lead leader), spending hours doing arts and crafts and earning badges.  After school always meant stopping at Rudolph’s Drug Store, on the corner of Melrose and La Brea, to stock up on jawbreakers and Abba Zabas before heading back to the playground for hours of handball tournaments and tether ball till my hands were bruised and raw from hitting the ball or that hard part that connects the ball to the rope. I was quite the “tomboy”. Spring meant a Maypole dance at “the park”, Halloween meant trick or treating and then maybe the carnival at “the park”, and Christmas meant practicing those wonderful holiday songs for the school concert. Rainy days at school were spent in our classrooms playing “Heads Up-7-up”. And best of all, during those blissful, endless summer vacations, kids would gather at Gardner pool to cool off and heat up summer romances – I think those were some of the last times I unabashedly wore a bikini and carelessly soaked up the sun till I was golden brown. The neighborhood movie theaters, The Gordon and The Pan Pacific, were also places to cool off and spend an afternoon watching a double feature. Then in the coolness of the summer evenings, after dinner,  the kids re-emerged from their homes for a game of  “war” when entire neighborhoods were divided into teams and spent long hours hiding and capturing one another. Backyards, front yards, driveways and streets all became our giant playground. So much to do and all the time in the world to do it in. Such is childhood,  and it is there where I can still transport myself  as if no time has passed at all, and a smile comes to my face. But time did pass, and we  actually grew older and moved away, and got jobs and got married and had kids and lost parents…..and then one day we came back to each other. Life had given us a second chance, under new circumstances, to re-connect….and it was like nothing had changed…we were still friends. Clearly our lives have changed and so has our city and its lifestyle. But we make the effort to stay in touch and have gathered many times to celebrate, to mourn – to stay connected and be there for each other…again. To my “Melrose girlfriends” – You have left your hand print on my heart. Thank you and I love you.

The pony rides next to Beverly Park where the Beverly Center now stands

The pony rides next to Beverly Park where the Beverly Center now stands

Birthday party  in our summer dresses

Birthday party in our summer dresses

My mom, my sister and me in front of Melrose Elementary School

My mom, my sister and me in front of Melrose Elementary School

Some of the girls at my birthday party

Some of the girls at my birthday party

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Some of us Girl Scouts celebrating our leader, Adinah's (center), birthday

Girl Scout Troop #421 at Camp Wakonda - Dec '68

Girl Scout Troop #421 at Camp Wakonda - Dec '68

The girls today

The girls today

I’LL DRINK TO THAT !

Deep into a hot August night a rendezvous with “Agent V” produces a bottle of  a luscious elixir known as My Generation, produced by the very popular Vines on the MarycrestNewColors~1 in the not too distant land known as Paso Robles. I quickly return to my headquarters, grab a glass and a hunk of cambezola,  and with great anticipation I pour a few precious drops of the deep purple juice into my glass. I gaze, I swirl, I sip….round and full, ripe with the fruit of the vine, my thoughts turn to….. Barbara. (Yes, this is one for you) More on the not so elusive “Agent V” in future posts.

Vines on the Marycrest – “My Generation” – ’05 – Paso Robles – 45% Zinfandel, 28% Syrah, 18% Mourvedre, 9% Petite Sirah – $25.00

Cass Winery featured at launch event of new networking group

This last Monday night, I’ll Drink to That! – A Business Networking Group for Wine Enthusiasts, held its inaugural event at the charming Artisan Cheese Gallery in Studio City.  The concept and format of this networking group was created out of a desire to connect people in a way that would work to promote their businesses  and support the pursuit of  their passions, while giving them an opportunity to learn about and taste new wines.  Over 30 people attended creating an eclectic and very interesting representation of businesses large and small. After a brief welcome, Lindsay Dodson-Brown of Cass Winery in Paso Robles spoke about the winery’s Rhone varietals and the newly opened creamery. The tasting included three Cass wines and a new member to the lineup under the second label name of Flying Nymphs. Also included was a tasting of the creamery’s first release, Truffled Fresh Goat Cheese. Absolutely delicious.  A tantalizing array of appetizers created by Artisan’s executive chef, Tori Rodriguez, were passed by the very competent Artisan wait staff.viognier_2008august-09-0016693_237972665304_236800935304_7568695_6213604_n

Finishing off the evening, Debbie Miller of Logo Woman, spoke about the importance of maintaining market share during these challenging economic times through branding and merchandising. It looks like this group is going to have some fun – future events will include wine-maker dinners, special wine classes and weekend trips to local wine regions.

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Debbie Miller of Logo Woman

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Barbara Cohen of The Worth Collection and Diane Fonteboa of Two Tomatoes Boutique

Barbara Cohen of The Worth Collection and Diane Fonteboa of Two Tomatoes Boutique


I’ll Drink to That!

Any launch deserves a bottle of the bubbly, and this one was no different. We indulged in a bottle of Veuve Cliquot Champagne, Yellow Label. This delicately bubbled, yet perfectly balanced wine is a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with a touch of Pinot Meunier. Cheers!