Baby Sister And Retirement – Take 3

Recently, our family has experienced two momentous events.

A few weeks ago we welcomed our fifth grandchild and first granddaughter!!!

Baby sister

To say that girls are scarce in our family would be an understatement. Baby sister is the first female to be born on either side of our family in almost 25 years.

She’s kind of a big deal. And she is beautiful.

Her twin older brothers, Chip and Dale, are quite besotted with her. The household is settling in nicely; that is to say, they will be once the wee darling gets a little better grasp on night vs. day.

To celebrate her arrival, we opened a bottle of 2009 Wallis Family Estate “Little Sister” Proprietary Red Wine from the Diamond Mountain District of Napa Valley.

2009 Wallis Family Estate Little Sister Proprietary Red

Perfect, right?

We discovered Wallis Family Estate at a Family Winemakers of California tasting event about 5 years ago. Pouring wine at their booth on that day were both Mr. Wallis and his younger daughter, AKA the Little Sister.

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Shortly after Baby Sister’s arrival, Peter started retirement.

For the third time.
Peter Begins Retirement

Retirement #1 never really happened even though the date was set and we completed the planned relocation.

You see, Peter is a team player. When the company came to him saying, “We’ve had a bit of a situation and we really, really, really need to have you stick around for another six months or so. Pretty please???”, he couldn’t say no.

Retirement #2 proceeded swimmingly for a grand total of three months.

During that time we packed in all sorts of fun activities like concerts and wine events.

I became quite accustomed to having Peter cook dinner, pairing it with the perfect wine, as I perused my People Magazine.

Well, that arrangement came to a screeching halt when Peter received a call asking if he could help out on a teeny, tiny project  – “should last no longer than a couple of months” – which turned into a big, big project consuming about fifteen months.

Now, finally, all is as it should be in Maison Lux. Peter is home and splitting his time, once again, between his two happy places: the kitchen and the wine cellar.

Wine Spectator magazine’s website has a series called “8 & $20” which features wonderful recipes (with suggested wine pairings) serving up to 8 people for $20 or less (not including wine, obviously).

One, in particular, caught Peter’s eye and he decided to give it a whirl.

Braised Chicken Thighs in Mushroom Sauce

Braised chicken thighs in mushroom sauce.

Now I was a little wary of this dish for two reasons: I don’t like dark meat chicken and I REALLY don’t like mushrooms. Other than that, it sounded great…

But, if Peter was doing the cooking I figured the least I could do was to be a good sport and try the dish without complaining. Besides, I knew it would be served with a great wine so not a total fail.

I may not have instantly become a dark meat/mushroom convert, but I will tell you that this combination was delicious! Check out the recipe here.

Peter paired this yummy gem with a 2012 Foxen Melville Vineyard Pinot Noir.

2012 Foxen Melville Vineyard Pinot Noir

Located in Santa Barbara County, Foxen makes a wide variety of wines including single-vineyard Pinot Noirs like this one, as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah and red blends.

The Foxen tasting room in Santa Maria is a simple and rustic but beautiful place and one I highly recommend to anyone visiting Santa Barbara County. Just a tiny bit down the road is their second tasting room, known as The Shack, where visitors can enjoy selections from Foxen 7200 which focuses on Italian style and Bordeaux wines.

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Now that Peter has more free time, I’m looking forward to many delicious meals, great adventures and lots of time to spend with the five grandchildren: Baby Sister, brothers Chip and Dale and cousins Andy and Harry.

Life is, indeed, good!

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Wine Gift – It’s All In The Name

My youngest grandson was born on his paternal grandfather’s birthday. His first grandchild born on his 60th birthday. The best gift ever.

Peter and I shopped for a special wine to commemorate the double special occasion and found the perfect bottle.

Legacy Wine

This got me to thinking about other wines which could be given as gifts based on the name of the wine.

For example,

Let’s say you are looking for a wine gift to say “bon voyage” to a friend. How about a bottle from En Route, makers of wonderful Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, California?

Or, you could wrap up a bottle of Sojourn Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir, also from Sonoma, California.

Sojourn wine

Even the image on the bottle suggests a vacation!

Retirement? I recommend Ayoub Memoirs Pinot Noir from Oregon.

Do you know someone who is starting a new endeavor? How about a bottle of Pursuit Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir or Red Blend. These wines are produced by the wonderful folks at Bounty Hunter in Napa.

Need a gift for a law school graduate or to celebrate passing the bar exam? Bounty Hunter also makes Jurisprudence Red Blend.

Jurisprudence Red Wine

There are many, many wines named after members of the winemaker’s family. Perhaps one of these would fit the bill for a birthday or new baby gift:

Domaine Drouhin “Arthur” Chardonnay from the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

Foxen “Julia’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir from the Santa Maria Valley area of Santa Barbara County.

Rudd “Samantha’s” Cabernet Sauvignon from the Oakville area of Napa Valley.

Lewis Cellars “Ethan’s” Syrah, “Mason’s” Cabernet Sauvignon or “Alec’s” Red Wine Blend – just a few of the fabulous wines made in Napa and Sonoma by former Formula One race car driver, Randy Lewis.

Lewis Cellars Mason's

Hall “Ellie’s” Cabernet Sauvignon, “Jack’s Masterpiece” Cabernet Sauvignon or “Craig’s Cuvee” Red Wine Blend from Napa Valley.

Hall Jack's Masterpiece

Walt Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. Walt is owned by Hall Wines and produces wines from several spots along the Pacific Coast from California to Oregon.

Walt Wines

Hartford Court “Jennifer’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley.

Hartford Court Jennifer's Vineyard

Or maybe something a little different…

Eighty Four Wines Malbec or Syrah from Napa Valley.

Nickel & Nickel (Single Vineyard) Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Chardonnay from Napa for someone celebrating their 55th birthday. Nickel & Nickel, get it?

Nickel & Nickel

Martinelli “Three Sisters Vineyard” Pinot Noir or Chardonnay from Sonoma.

Wallis Family Estate “Little Sister” Proprietary Red Blend from Napa.

Wallis Little Sister

Maybe you are looking for a “just because” wine gift.

Just because…

…your friend has great memories of times in New Orleans (or is a fan of Davy Crockett): Fess Parker “The Big Easy” Red Blend from Santa Barbara.

…your friend is facing a big challenge: Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.

…you want to celebrate the resolution of “a situation”: Poetic Justice Red Wine, another great wine from Bounty Hunter.

Poetic Justice

…you know someone with a soft spot in their heart for “Old Blue Eyes”: Sinatra Family “Come Fly With Me” Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.

…you want to show your love: Hall “Coeur” Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.

Hall Coeur

These are just a few ideas based on wines we have in our cellar. All or most of these are available for purchase online directly from the winery.

Do you have more ideas to add to the list? Something you have seen in your local wine store or given as a gift yourself?

By the way, just a hint for my family and friends…

Shotbox wine bottle photo


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Solvang And Los Olivos

Over the weekend Peter and I joined my brother, sister-in-law, her sister and a couple of friends on a trip to Solvang and Los Olivos – the setting of the movie Sideways.

Unlike the original, our version of the film had:

  • zero drama
  • an absence of violence
  • lots of laughs
  • much better food
  • excellent wine (even some Merlot)

Our first stop was Andrew Murray Vineyards. Thanks to the membership of one of the friends in our group, we enjoyed a wine tasting – complete with an incredible box lunch – in the stunning Wine Club Member Tasting Room.

Andrew Murray VIneyards Club Member Wine Tasting Room

Folks, this is why people join wine clubs.

Not unlike frequent flier clubs, wine clubs reward loyalty with special perks and discounts that can really make a difference in the winery experience.

We arrived at Andrew Murray Vineyard on a busy, noisy holiday weekend Saturday. Instead of fighting for elbow room at the tasting bar, we were treated to this:

Andrew Murray Club Member Room

Here we spent a leisurely 90 minutes or so tasting Andrew Murray Vineyards current releases including my personal favorites: the lovely 2013 Santa Maria Valley Viognier, the yummy 2013 Enchanté Curtis Vineyard White Blend and the rich and luxurious 2013 Tous Les Jours Santa Ynez Valley Syrah.

The perfect beginning to our trip.

The next stop was the nearby Fess Parker Winery.

Fess Parker Winery

I have to admit that the first time we visited Fess Parker, I didn’t have high hopes. I thought this might be another “capitalize on the name recognition and we can get away with mediocre wine” places.

It most definitely is not.

We tasted a wide array of wines ranging from the 2013 Santa Rita Hills Chardonnay (which has made a convert of this previous Chardonnay-hater) to the 2011 The Big Easy Red Blend (Wine Enthusiast and Wine Advocate 91 points).

Our fabulous wine hospitality host, Adrianne, treated us to a pour of the 2010 Rodney’s Vineyard Crockett. This red blend was created by the Parker family as an homage to the winery’s namesake upon his death in 2010.

2010 Fess Parker Crockett

Our group agreed that this was the best wine we tasted all weekend. At $80 per bottle is was also the most expensive, but so well worth the price!

We made our way back to our hotel for the weekend, The Hadsten House in Solvang.

The Hadsten House

Located on the edge of the charming Danish town of Solvang, this great hotel is within walking distance of about a million bakeries, some delicious restaurants and some wine tasting rooms.

Walking to dinner we stopped at The Good Life Wine Cellar. Peter and the waiter conspired to come up with a variety of wines by the glass for our group to try and share. We wrote the name of each wine on a cocktail napkin that was passed along with the corresponding glass so we could keep them all straight.

This wine tasting thing is serious business.

Every one of the seven wines was a hero but our collective favorite was the 2013 Cane and Fable Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon.

2013 Cane and Fable Cabernet

I don’t love the insect on the label but I sure do love the price. The wine retails for about $25 but I’ve seen it online for as low as $15.99.

Dinner was at The Succulent Café. We started with the gorgeous and delicious cheese and charcuterie platter.

The Succulent Cafe

Every single dish was extraordinary. I’d put this place on the “must visit” list for any trip to the Solvang and Los Olivos area.

Sunday morning we enjoyed brunch at Mattei’s Tavern. Although not a huge menu, each item sounded intriguing and delicious. We started with an order of the breakfast sausage corndogs because, seriously, how could you NOT order something like that?!?! Scrumptious!

Mattei's Tavern breakfast sausage corndogs

Everyone loved their main course – a wide variety of dishes ranging from fried rice to cornmeal pancakes. I ordered the belgian waffles: sourdough waffles with bananas, whipped mascarpone and dulce de leche.

I’d show you a photo but I had cleaned my plate before I could get out my camera.

After brunch we walked around downtown Los Olivos, visiting several in-town wine tasting rooms and shops.

We visited Dragonette Cellars because some of us had enjoyed their wines before and were interested to see what else they had to offer.

Dragonette Cellars

We tasted a variety of wines including Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Syrah blends – both the 2012 Seven and the 2011 MJM (named after the wives of the owners). The wine was great and lived up to our expectations.

Based upon the description in the Touring Guide published by the Santa Barbara Vintners, we were all very curious to try the wines at Blair Fox Cellars.

“The ultra-boutique winery produces hand-crafted bottling of small-lot, limited production, 90+ point wines of exceptional quality.”

from Santa Barbara Vintners 2014 Touring Guide

Blair Fox was named the Andre Tchelistcheff Winemaker of the Year at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. In addition to making wine for his own label, Blair Fox just happens to be the winemaker for Fess Parker Winery and their sister label, Epiphany Cellars (more on Epiphany later).

Blair Fox Cellars

This 2013 Paradise Road Vineyard Viognier is incredible. With a wine like this kicking off our tasting experience we knew we were in for a treat.

Let’s just say that by the time we left, two of us had joined the wine club and we had collectively purchased about a case of wine to take with us.

We decided to take a little break from wine tasting and walked over to the Olive Hill Farm shop for some tasting of flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars. For a mere $3 visitors can try any combination of 5 oils or vinegars. My personal favorites were the blood orange olive oil and the blackberry balsamic…although the bacon olive oil, rosemary olive oil and strawberry balsamic were close contenders.

Our tasting day wrapped up at Epiphany Cellars, Fess Parker’s sister winery. The tasting room is beautiful. While Fess Parker’s tasting room is rustic and warm, Epiphany’s tasting room is hip and modern. A nice counter point that reflects the difference in the wines as well.

Epiphany Cellars

We strolled through some shops as we walked to dinner at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Cafe. This spot has a ridiculously huge selection of wines to buy by the bottle. As far as the food on the menu, we loved the scallops, pasta bolognese, gnocchi and pizza.

By the way, each member of our group brought a bottle from their home collection along on the trip and, rather than buying wine off the menu at dinner, we paid the $20 per bottle corkage fee and enjoyed our own wines.

The final stop on our tour was at Foxen Vineyards. Peter and I have been fans of Foxen (and wine club members) for a while and we were thrilled to host the rest of the crew at Foxen’s beautiful “7600” tasting room.

Foxen Pinot Noir

See the “Mr. Bill” doll sitting on the shelf? It was a gift from the winery staff to Bill Wathen, one of the owners.

Our host, John, made sure we had a chance to taste all the yummy wines that would be included in our upcoming club shipment along with many of the other current releases. We all agreed that we would be hard pressed to pick a favorite from among the spectacular wines we tasted.

We were also big fans of this bit of wine art on display in the Foxen tasting room.

Foxen Vineyards

The trip was a huge success – so much so that we are already planning our next travels: a pilgrimage to the Paso Robles area of California. Count me in, I’m ready to go!

Have you ever been to Solvang and Los Olivos? Tell the truth, did the movie “Sideways” color your opinion of Merlot? Have any recommendations for us in Paso Robles?



Do not drink and drive!


No one paid me to say this.

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