Tag Archives: tasting

The Paso Underground

Paso Underground

On a recent visit to Paso Robles, I went underground….or shall I say, to the Paso Underground.

Enter through an unassuming door on Pine St. across from the Paso Robles Downtown Park and the visitor is taken into what used to be a garage space, now the very cool tasting room location for four of Paso’s rising star boutique wineries – Edmond August, Turtle Rock Vineyards, Aaron Wines and Clos Solene. Enter through the back off of Railroad St via a nice patio space where gnarly, twisted grape vine samples hang on the walls and, along one fence,  planted vines represent the varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Grenache, Mourvedre and Roussanne. This will undoubtedly be the site for many a musical evening under the stars this coming summer.

Patio wall at Paso Underground

Patio wall at Paso Underground

Way cool chalk drawn site map takes up one whole wall at Paso Underground

Way cool chalk drawn site map takes up one whole wall at Paso Underground

Edmond August owner, Ed Sauret, and winemaker, Jacob Toft, share the view that Paso Robles’ climate and soils are perfectly suited for growing the Rhone varietals, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne. Their first “full” vintage was 2009, and their wines are blends of Rhone varietals, all named with literary terms beginning with”I”, a nod to the many educators in the Sauret family. (Ed, himself, was a High School English teacher at PRHS)

Edmond August Wines

Edmond August Wines

I tasted through the entire line-up and quite enjoyed them all. I especially liked the white blends, “Interuption” and “Inference” and the barely pink rosé, “Inquiry”, made from Grenache and Mourvedre. Of the red blends, I particularly liked the 2009 “Implication”, a blend of 71% Syrah, and 29 % Grenache from the esteemed Torrin Vineyard.

Central Coast native, Aaron Jackson, knew at the young age of 15 that he wanted to make wine and planted his first vines. Now at just 29 years old he is making wonderful wine under two labels and clearly with his own distinct style. In 2002 he started with his Aaron label focusing on making superior Petite Sirah from Paso Robles vineyards. His “Life Should be Outrageous – Go Big or Go Home” attitude created success in that arena and propelled him into his second venture under the label “Æquorea”,  “of the sea”. From the coastal vineyard, Spanish Springs near Pismo Beach, Aaron gets his Viognier and Pinot Gris and his 2012 vintage is fantastic! The viognier is lighter and crisper than most  with a tiny bit of orange on the palette. His Pinot Gris, is crisp with a full mouthfeel and long finish accentuated with baking spice. A rich, nuttiness along with hints of honey and pear and good acidity are a result of a twice weekly stirring of the lees. These are wonderful wines to enjoy anytime of year, but with summer just days away you’ll want to try these two lovelies soon.

Aaron Wines

Aaron Wines

Aaron Jackson of Aaron Wines

Aaron Jackson of Aaron Wines

Don Burns tasted us through his line-up of Westberg Cellars/Turtle Rock wines made at the family owned winery in the Templeton Gap. My favorite from this tasting line-up was the 2009 Turtle Rock Willows Cuvee (48% Tempranillo, 29% Syrah, 23% Zinfandel). This is a big wine full of black fruits both on the nose and the palette along with notes of coffee and cherry-vanilla in it’s long finish. I’m thinking lamb…..

Westberg Cellalrs/Turtle Rock Wines

While Guillaume Fabre was not available on this day, I had had the pleasure of tasting his Clos Solene wines the previous week at a private event in the San Fernando Valley area at Liquid Assets Cellars. Guillaume ventured to Paso Robles from his family vineyard in the south of France to assist Stephan Asseo with the winemaking at L’Aventure before taking on his own label named after his wife, Solene. His extensive list of 2013 Spring releases include wines primarily made from Rhone varietals sourced from such esteemed vineyards as Russell Family, Saxum, Booker and James Berry. I would describe his wines as elegant, powerful, complex, intriguing, bright and delicious!  Standouts for me were the 2011 Essence de Roussane (100 cases made), 2011 Harmonie (41% Grenache, 37% Syrah, 22% Mourvedre – 100 cases), the 2011 L’Insolent (45% Syrah, 36% Petit Verdot, 19% Cabernet Franc – 50 cases), and the 2010 Hommage a nos Pair, an incredible blend of 95% Syrah, 3% Grenache and 2% Mourvedre.

Guillaume Fabre of Clos Solene

Guillaume Fabre of Clos Solene

Clos Solene - Paso Underground

The Paso Underground is a “not to be missed” wine tasting experience during a visit to Paso Robles wine country. Plan ahead as their hours of operation are limited, but they do take appointments. This is one “underground” you’ll want to tell everyone about!

Located in Downtown Paso Robles, next door to Villa Creek Restaurant – Entrance on Railroad St. just off the Park

Address: 1140 Pine St.   Paso Robles, CA  93446

805/2370799

e-mail: info@pasounderground.com

Hours: Fri-Sat 1:00PM-7:00PM
Sun 1:00PM-5:00PM
& by appointment.

Local Wine Tasting Events Focus on Wines from Around the World

It’s the season for wine tasting festivals, events and private tastings and I’m trying to squeeze in as many as I can.

Friday, April 12 –

Alta Colina Wine

Private Tasting at Liquid Assets Cellars in North Hollywood, CA of Alta Colina Wines from Paso Robles. This Tillman family owned and operated winery has come to be known as one of the Central Coast’s most acclaimed Rhone producers and Maggie Tillman brought along an impressive line-up to share. She started the tasting off with their 2012 Grenache Blanc, as yet un-released, which was luscious and crisp, then we moved into a variety of Syrahs and Syrah blends.

-2012 Grenache Blanc.  86% Grenache Blanc, 14% Marsanne.

-2010 GSM.  45% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, 25% Syrah.

-2010 Toasted Slope Syrah.  100% Syrah.

-2010 Block 2 Bio Syrah.  100% Syrah.

-2010 Old 900 Syrah.  95% Syrah, 4% Mourvedre, 1% Viognier.

Saturday, April 13 –

Wine tasting group over for tapas, Paella and Spanish Wines (of course a few non-Spanish wines made their way into the line-up). Always a good time, good food and good wine when this group gets together! Guests this evening included wine writer/educator, Denise Lowe, the “Goddess of Wine“, Shawn Burgert, The Wandering Wino, Shawn Shai Halahmy of Shai Cellars, Rico Mandel, photographer extraordinaire and many more of my favorite “wineaux”.

Paella

Shrimp

Spanish Wines

Thursday April 18 –

Valley Cultural Center Food, Wine and Micro-Brew Festival – Large event in Woodland Hills, CA featured many fine wines and tasty bites from local restaurants and caterers. I was pouring at this event so didn’t get to do as must tasting as I would have liked, but from where I was standing it sure looked like a great time was had by all. What was I pouring, you ask? Rabbit Ridge 2010 Grenache Blanc Paso Robles. Wonderfully crisp, floral and refreshing. Great summer wine! Check it out here.

Saturday, April 20 –

1st Annual Sierra Pelona Valley Wine Festival – Aqua Dulce, CA – Yes, there is wine in them hills, in fact Sierra Pelona is one of California’s newest AVA’s and is located just 45 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.  The festival was held at the beautiful Reyes Winery and featured the wines of  over a dozen wineries, a couple of  tequila’s and gourmet bites from some of the local restaurants. Highlights for me were the wines of Pulchella Winery and Harris Wine Biz, along with the Tequila Anejo from Tres Sietes.

Harris Wine Biz

Tres Sietes Anejo Tequila

Sierra Pelona Valley Wine Festival at Reyes Winery

Monday,  April 22 –

32 chateaux from the Right Bank of the Gironde estuary of Bordeaux were featured at this grand tasting from Le Cercle Rive Droite de Grands Vins de Bordeaux held at The Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.

The Peninsula Hotel - Beverly Hills, California

18 appellations were represented pouring their Merlot driven wines and introducing the 2012 vintage, which seemed generally to get a “thumbs up”. The other vintage widely represented was 2010, “Wines To Dream Of”, thanks to the year’s exceptional weather. Most of the wineries pouring are family-run and under 40 acres in size. It was great to listen to the family representatives, many of them also the winemaker, speak so passionately about their wines. It’s times like these that I really wish I could speak French! Paying close attention, I received a wonderful explanation/history of Malbec and Grand Cru classifications from the gentleman from Chateau de Pressac.  While many of the wines were young and could use bottle aging and/or decanting, I found most of them to be elegant, well balanced with interesting notes of various fruits and spice, making each wine unique yet truly indicative of the region. I very much enjoyed this tasting and look forward to my next opportunity to try these wines.

Le Cercle Rive Droite Grands Vins de Bordeaux

Chateau de Pressac - Bordeaux

Chateau Gaby

Chateau Jean de Gué

Next up:

Chianti Grand Tasting LA – Thursday, April 25

Cabs of Distinction – April 26-27 – Paso Robles, Calif.

paso-robles-cab-collective

Which tasting events are your favorites? Cheers!

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!



The Garagiste Festival – Southern Exposure 2013

Wine glasses Garagiste Festival Southern Exposure 2013

In November of 2011 The Garagiste Festival held it’s first event in Paso Robles showcasing the “maverick” wine makers of the area and their wonderful limited production wines. The event was a huge success and the word was out in a big way – small wineries, creative winemakers, delicious wines! 2012 brought the second Festival and once again the public was wowed by the passion, vision and wines of  forty-eight artisan “garagiste” winemakers producing wines from thirty-eight varietals.   With an estimated nearly 200 garagiste winemakers in the Paso Robles area and on down the Central Coast of California into the Santa Ynez region, clearly there was a need for another Garagiste Festival a little further south. Enter The Garagiste Festival – Southern Exposure!

Last weekend, once again, 32 winemakers pouring close to 100 wines, let the wine world know they were playing for keeps – whites like chenin blanc, grenache blanc, viognier and chardonnay – crazy yummy rosés and reds – oh the reds! While you might expect plenty of great pinot noir from this area, and there was, grenache seemed to win the day. The event, held at the Solvang Veterans’ Memorial Hall, was sold out and social media is all a buzz about the great time had by all.

Garagiste Festival - Southern Exposure - 2013

Garagiste Festival - Southern Exposure - 2013

A “more or less” complete list of wineries and what they were pouring:

Who's Pouring What? at Garagiste-Southern Exposure-2013

Who's Pouring What? at Garagiste-Southern Exposure-2013

Some of the highlights:

Always good to see Larry Schaffer of Tercero Wines. Especially liked his ’11 Viognier, White Hawk Vineyard, ’09 Mourvedre and his 2012 Rosé of Mouvedre, soon to be bottled.

Tercero Wines - Garagiste Festival Southern Exposure 2013

Tercero Wines

Shawn Shai Halahmy of Shai Cellars, was there pouring his very popular ’09 Adome (Cab/Syrah blend) and his ’09 Grenache. He had excellent help pouring from good friend, Denise Lowe, the Goddess of Wine.

Shawn Shai Halahmy of Shai Cellars with Denise Lowe

Shawn Shai Halahmy of Shai Cellars with Denise Lowe

The “king of grenache”, Mikael Sigouin of Kaena Wine Co. had 3 grenache wines from different vineyards to pour along with barrel samples of his soon to be released ’12 Grenache Rosé. All were delicious!

Kaena wines at Garagiste Festival Southern Exposure 2013

Kaena wines at Garagiste Festival Southern Exposure 2013

Good to re-connect with James Ontiveros of Native 9 (’09 Pinot Noir) and to meet Jeff Fink, the winemaker for Pence Ranch. He and owner Blair Pence had 3 pinots, all 2010, but from different areas of the estate. All got top marks in my book!

Jeff Fink, winemaker, Pence Ranch

Jeff Fink, winemaker, Pence Ranch

Other notables were C. Nagy (’11 Pinot Blanc-Bien Nacido Vineyard), Larner Winery (’10 Estate Viognier, ’09 Elemental and ’09 Syrah), and Storm Wines (’09 Pinot Noir,Santa Maria Valley). Best car of the day clearly went to El Rey Wines, who also poured two pinot noirs, both very good.

El Rey Wines - very cool car!

El Rey Wines - very cool car!

So much great wine under one roof! Congratulations to the folks at Garagiste Festival for providing another great wine-tasting opp! After a couple of hours tasting and schmoozing, we took a walk through picturesque Solvang, bought cookies and danish, ( a must when visiting the town), and finished the day with a detour to some tasting rooms in Los Olivos to pick up wine to take home. A great “day-cation”!  One more treat on the way home….a perfect California sunset…..

Sunset at Ventura Beach

Sunset at Ventura Beach

The Back Roads Wineries of Paso Robles to Host Grand Tasting During Harvest Weekend

Back Roads of Paso Robles Wine Country

Back Roads of Paso Robles Wine Country

In the 12 years or so that I’ve been visiting Paso Robles, the number of wineries has grown from 50 to almost 200! As I see it, so much more to love about this beautiful and welcoming California wine producing region.

Without question, some wonderful wines are being produced in Paso Robles, many by the small family owned and operated wineries that, I believe, are the heart and soul of the area. The rolling, oak studded hills, corduroyed with endless rows of vineyards on both sides of Highway 101, are home to small charming tasting rooms where visitors can enjoy an intimate wine tasting experience, often while visiting with the winemaker or owner. Sharing the landscape with the vineyards, olive orchards offer the sculptural beauty of the trees while providing the fruit for some of the state’s finest quality olive oil.

Olivas de Oro olive tree orchard

Olivas de Oro olive tree orchard

The Back Roads Wineries of Paso Robles, is a collective of over 20 such wineries along with olive oil producers and charming B & B’s located in the beautiful countryside east of Highway 101. Together these wineries produce an impressive and large variety of wines. Expect to find carefully handcrafted wines made from Rhone varietals such as Viognier, Rousanne, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre.   Classic Bordeaux varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. You’ll even find wines made from Italian varietals like Pinot Grigio, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Primitivo and Barbera. Of course, there’s plenty of Zinfandel and creative and innovative blends abound! A tour of the Back Roads wineries could take days, especially when it’s so easy to get lost in a long, relaxed conversation over a glass of wine while hanging out on a patio with a stunning vineyard view.

A Back Roads vineyard view.

A Back Roads vineyard view.

For the first time, visitors to the 2012 Paso Robles Harvest Wine Weekend, October 19-21, will have the opportunity to taste wines and olive oils from many of the “Back Roads” producers all under one roof at the “Taste of the Back Roads” Wine Seminar and Grand Tasting to be held Friday, October 19.  Join the winemakers, as they take a break from the busy harvest, in tasting and learning about their fine hand-crafted wines and olive oils. The “Foaling Barn” at the picturesque Windfall Farms will be the setting for what I’m sure will become a Back Roads harvest annual event. Also available will be delicious food offerings from local favorites, Ted’s Taco Bar, Dean Brothers Smoke House and LaGuardia’s Homemade Since 1912. Guests will also be treated to the cool sounds of Acoustify to take them into the evening.  A special tasting seminar led by a panel of five “Back Roads” winemakers is being offered prior to the main tasting event.  Proceeds from the event will benefit the Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation.

Windfall Farms

Windfall Farms

The area has many family run B&B’s, many located in vineyards or on orchard property, and all with tons of local charm. Click here for more lodging info. The event and Harvest Wine Weekend are just a couple of weeks off, so don’t delay in booking your room reservations.

More info about the wineries and olive oil producers of the Back Roads is available at www.backroadswineries.com. Tickets for “Taste of the Back Roads” are available at participating wineries and at Brown Paper Tickets.

I’ll Drink to That!

Family Winemakers of California – Pasadena – 2012

With all the wine tasting events held each year in California, Family Winemakers of California is always a favorite of mine. First of all, the event is all about exactly what the name implies. It truly celebrates family owned wineries, big and small. But mostly small. And every year there are so many new wineries to get to know, winemakers to meet and wonderful wines to try. What’s not to like?

With close to 200 wineries represented, some pre-event planning is definitely called for. This year I pulled the exhibitor list off the website with the site map and highlighted the tables I would give priority to. While there were so many old favorites I wanted to visit, I tried to choose those wineries I had heard about over the last year, but had yet to try.

Family Winemakers of California Pasadena 2012

Somewhere in the vortex of the internet I had heard about  A Cellar Full of Noise, operated by two charming young men, James Judd and Eric Alvarez. Their reds, made from Paso Robles area fruit, were rich and full, the Cab and Malbec with their other label, James Judd & Son, being standouts.

Just prior to the event I had received an invitation to taste from BX of Napa Wines. Her label logo is BX, and since those initials are near and dear to my heart, I was intrigued. I also liked the fact that she was a one woman show producing only 100 cases of wine in her inaugural release. This release was comprised of 3 wines, a Syrah, a Chardonnay, and the only 100%  Ruby Cabernet in America! I loved the Chardonnay and the Ruby Cab is a light, fruit forward red which would make an easy sipping wine with summer bbq’s. Owner/winemaker Bex Bishop is charming, knowledgeable and passionate and I really enjoyed meeting her.

Bex Bishop of Bex of Napa Wines

Bex Bishop of BX of Napa Wines

I first tasted the Chardonnays and Pinots of Fog Crest Vineyard at last year’s event, so this year I was anxious to try their just about to be released 2010 Pinots and say hi to James Manoogian, owner and passionate force behind these fine wines. (Daniel Moore is their winemaker). The 2010 Estate Pinot Noir , Russian River Valley,  (200 cases produced),  is a beautifully balanced wine with long lingering fruit, and upon release I’m sure will be a hit with Pinot lovers.

James Manoogian, owner, Fog Crest Vineyard

James Manoogian, owner, Fog Crest Vineyard

I really enjoyed the wines from Harrington Wine, a new find for me this year. They are producers of an extensive line of Pinots, but they had brought with them this year their new releases which included a  Grenache Blanc and their 2011 Fiano, a white varietal I hadn’t heard of before. Fiano was a popular grape in ancient Rome, now primarily grown around the town of Avellino in the southern Italian region of Campania. The wine was similar to a Pinot Grigio, crisp and clean, but with a lusher, fuller mouth feel. I’m generally not a fan of Pinot Grigio, so this Fiano would be a welcome summer white at my house.

Getting back to reds, I really enjoyed those of Muscardini Cellars. Their Zinfandel was big but not jammy, their Syrah, lush, and my favorite was the “Tesoro“, a Super Tuscan style blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Some old favs visited were Buttonwood Winery, Cass (never want to miss an opportunity to say hi to co-owner Ted Plemons), Les Deux Chats (love their Roussanne and Viognier), Eberle, and Tercero, where I found owner/winemaker Larry Schaffer almost unrecognizable with a new, way shorter haircut.

Ted Plemons, co-owner, Cass Winery, Paso Robles

Ted Plemons, co-owner, Cass Winery, Paso Robles

Eberle wines

Larry Schaffer, owner/winemaker, Tercero Wines

Larry Schaffer, owner/winemaker, Tercero Wines

The wonderful whites of Les Deux Chats

The wonderful whites of Les Deux Chats

Hope your own tasting adventures have led you to some delicious new finds, and I totally recommend you seek out and try some, (or all), of the wineries I mentioned here. Support family owned business… of any kind – it’s a really good thing. Cheers!

I’LL DRINK TO THAT!

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!

Crushpad/SFWA Holiday Tasting Event

What a girl won’t do for a glass of wine….It all started with a conversation with a friend of mine about  Crushpad, a custom crush facility in San Francisco and the San Francisco Wine Association, whose members all produce at that facility.  Of course I’d heard about Crushpad many times before, but had only tried a very few wines from some of the winemakers producing there. He said about 20 members of the SFWA were holding a holiday tasting event at Crushpad and it would be a great opportunity to see the place and meet some of the wonderful and creative people behind the wines.  Well it didn’t take too much cajoling to convince me that I should attend this event, check this  place out for myself, meet some of these winemakers and taste their wine.

So…I called my dear friend who lives in Fairfax and she said she’d be happy to pick me up at the airport, schlep me to Crushpad, have me for the night and take me back to the airport the next morning. It would be a fun and fast little adventure. Well it did turn out to be fun, but not so fast.

I always fly Burbank to Oakland when I visit SF. Well, because of the short notice and crazy ridiculous rates on that route, this time I would fly from Los Angeles International to San Francisco International. Thursday I arrived at LAX  with just a bit over an hour to make my 10:55 AM Virgin America flight. I took a quick look at the departures monitor and learned that my flight was on time. I proceeded directly to the security line where I patiently stood for over 30 minutes before beginning the process of disrobing. Think about it…here in this globally public place and with hundreds of strangers, everyone takes off all coats, scarves, hats, belts and shoes, empties their pockets of all their valuables, keys, wallets, phones, removes large pieces of jewelry, puts their personal sundries in little ziploc bags for public viewing, and walks cautiously across the cold and dirty floor through the screener, hoping all their “stuff” will be waiting for them on the other side – all the while worring if they remembered to take the Swiss Army knife they usually carry in their purse out to be left at home. Travelling sure isn’t glamouous anymore, that’s for sure. Anyway, now I’m rushing a bit to get to my gate and hit the restroom once more before boarding. As I approach the gate an announcement is made that due to bad weather at SFO our flight has been delayed for one hour. Shortly thereafter the pilot comes out, (that’s a first), and says it’s his experience that these weather delays don’t take as long as they say, so sit tight and he’ll try to get an accurate update.

About 40 minutes later we board. I have secured myself an aisle seat and from this vantage point I watch as late boarders scramble to find overhead space and one woman tries in vain to shove her oversized “carry on” in what clearly was too small a spot. After dropping it finally into the lap of the person unfortunate to have the seat underneath, she finally yanked the valise out and moved on to find new digs for her belongings. I introduced myself to my seat mates, and luckily they were very nice people who I would have the pleasure of getting to know…..very well. After we had left the gate and taxied somewhere, the captain said we would be waiting…in the plane for another hour before being able to take off.  I call my friend who happily answers her phone expecting me to be calling her from my arrival gate. I explain the situation. I later found out she pursued some retail therapy while waiting for me, and that Sephora would probably be delighted by further delays.

We finally arrive SFO a little after 2:00, to the announcement by someone on the plane who already has their Blackberry turned back on, that the outside temp is 41 degrees!  Aargh!! I’m from LA. I don’t have clothes for this kind of weather! My friend is happily waiting for me and we’re finally off, lunch being a priority. We leave the parking lot, paying our $16.00 ransom, off to the Ferry Building in search of warmth and sustenance.

It’s cold and gloomy outside, but at least it’s not windy! As we approach the area where the Ferry Building is located, I notice vintage streetcars that I’m told by my friend are actually working streetcars. How cool – only in San Francisco. We search for 15 minutes for a place to park. Even if we could find a spot on the street, who has $3.50  an hour in quarters just hanging out in their purse?? So we opt for another parking lot, which after 2 hours will cost us another $15.00. And….this lot is a half mile from our destination so we walk…in the cold…by the water. Did I mention I’m from LA. We don’t walk! And especially not in the cold! And in heels!

The Ferry Building turns out to be a foodies paradise. We choose to sit at the counter of a little sandwich shop where we both order the egg salad with tarragon and truffled artichoke pesto on toasted brioche.  Ahhh…things are looking up. We then go on to explore the gourmet market, the wine shop,  the cheese shop, the mushroom shop, the herb shop, the pork shop,(ha ha), and the antique shop  before heading out into the cold, (which I whine about incessantly) and on to…..Crushpad. I am really ready for some wine at this point.

The bay looks foreboding as we travel south past the new baseball stadium. AT&T Park  just sits there in the middle of everything without acres and acres of parking lot buffering it from the rest of the city like our beloved Dodger Stadium. But what this stadium lacks in parking, it more than makes up for in personality. It’s vintage brick veneer reminds me of the old stadiums in New York that used to draw their fans from the surrounding neighborhoods. The sun has set by now, and all of San Francisco seems to be lighting up. I’m told that all those  lights are always up and not just for the holidays. And since we are downtown amongst all the tall buildings, the lights seem to ascend straight into the heavens. We can see the lit bridges in the distance. Gorgeous!

Crushpad is located in an inconspicuous warehouse building, with, you guessed it…no parking! At this hour we are able to find an un-metered spot on the street and only a couple of blocks away. Finally at “the event”, we were delighted to see the vast area with the perimeter lined with racks and racks of wine barrels, was decorated in the holiday spirit, a lavish cheese buffet had been set up, and of course the tables were set with the wines, their proud winemakers poised and ready to delight us with their wares. We picked up our glasses and the list of offerings and decided to start at the beginning.

Aver Family Vineyards was first, and his excitement and enthusiasm were immediately contagious. We clicked glasses and toasted his Rhone Blend and Syrah. Bartz-Allen had an 07 Pinot Noir, Split Rock Vineyard, that was wonderful. Their were more Pinot Noirs at this tasting than any other I had previously attended. And represented by so many different styles. Jazz, Joelle and Think Tank Wine Co. were just three more of the many vineyard designated Pinot offerings. I particularly enjoyed the 06 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley from Guy Riedel Wines, and the 08 Sauvignon Blanc, Galleron Road Vineyard, Napa Valley from Damian Rae Winery was deliciously unique and the bottle my friend took home for later.

My family would later ask me if I thought it was worth the trip to attend this event. I answered emphatically, yes. A bold statement, considering that I was in for yet another long journey the next day to get home.  Much to my chagrin, my Southwest flight scheduled to leave SFO at 12:00 pm was delayed, due to weather and construction, for 2 hours. We were told that if we wanted to go on standby on another flight scheduled to leave at 11:30AM, we’d have to hustle over to another gate and get in line. Well, before the announcement was even finished I was already on the move. There was no way I could wait for 2 more hours! Well I was third in line and was thrilled to be handed a boarding pass with a B-2 boarding position only to find out shortly thereafter that this flight had been delayed until 1:00PM. At 1:00, we finally board and I am once again on the aisle with a “front row center” position to watch the female flight attendant do the lifejacket and oxygen mask demo. We pull away from the gate and then…..we stop! Where is the female flight attendant? She’s….leaving with the paramedics?!!! Our captain announces that our attendant is unable to complete this flight, and apparently they travel in pairs, because I see two sets of luggage carted down the aisle and off the plane. We are to wait for a plane to land from which two of their flight attendants will be re-directed to our plane. At 1:26PM my cell phone, which is supposed to be turned off, rings. It’s Southwest calling to inform me my flight’s updated time of departure is now 1:30.???? At this rate, my original flight will probably leave before I do. Two new attendants arrive at 1:40 to a rousing round of applause. At this point I am becoming really grateful for the large bagel I had eaten for breakfast, as lunch was once again going to be late. By 2:00 it looked like we were good to go, but alas, it was not to be. By 2:10 the plane had moved but only into a queue that would leave us on the tarmac with fuel fumes filling the cabin until about 2:30.  Finally with the now falling rain running in sideways streams along the windows, we are wheels up.

By now a good many of the passengers had fallen asleep, including, thankfully, the 2 year old boy sitting to my right. He has been a real trooper through all this, eating his french fries, playing with crayons, and now sleeping with his head on his mom’s lap and the red soles of his black sneaks turned up on his dad’s lap. The girl in front of me, although she looks about 18, has sudccessfully convinced the flight attendant that she is old enough to order a Bloody Mary – it looks really good. The young couple next to  me are headed to Las Vegas to celebrate their 8th wedding anniversary and are now confident they will indeed arrive in time for the 6:00pm event they are scheduled to attend. The little boy awakens and is not happy to discover he is still confined to the seat and restricted by his seat belt. Out comes Dr. Seuss and the crayons. I keep my fingers crossed.

After the obligatory gold bags of honey roasted peanuts and drinks are passed out, we begin our descent. The chilly cabin air is now punctuated with the mingling aromas of nuts, food and……. And since we are now back in the clouds, turbulence. It just keeps getting better. I’m back in LA by 4:30 and thrilled to see my husband waiting for me. But it would be another hour and a half until the San Diego freeway would release me from my travels. I was clearly back in LA again.

What a girl will do for a glass of wine….I’ll Drink to That!