February 2005

Bay Bridge Follies
Letters to the Editor
New Ship Sails to Sausalito–Opportunities for All!
Mare Island Welcome Center is Now Open in Historic Mansion
Dispatch from the Dogpatch… A SeAm Between
In Richmond Today
Crab Fest Fever
Afterguard’s Broiled
Salmon Afloat
Bay Crossings Gardens
“Food from the Heart” at the Ferry Building Marketplace
Giant Storms in LA Affect Bay Area
WTA Pages…Ferry Rewards
Minds Meet at Underwater Forum on California’s Ocean Future
Bay Ghost Phenomenon
Bay Crossings Calendar
New Horizons at Webster Street’s Arts & Crafts Campus
Love, Lust, and Heartbreak


Winter Wine Tasting Wonders in Our Backyard

By Dianne Boate and Robert Meyer

Once more, the Bay Area wine scene astounds us, just like Sideways. So many people asked us if we had seen the movie, that we were forced to go and totally enjoy ourselves. It’s the new movie about making one’s way through a week of wine tasting as other forces intrude upon the characters’ lives. Since we were about to go on a special wine tasting weekend, it was perfect and helped us see what we were looking at.

In January 2005, we were invited to the Winter Wineland of Sonoma County. This is the 13th year for this weekend event but a first for us. The wineries of different appellations in Sonoma County join forces for all-out hospitality and a good time. For $35 a person (less if you order ahead), practically the whole county is open to you for wine tasting at 95 wineries and sampling delicious food at many locations. The weather was chilly and overcast, so at this time of year almost everyone had some kind of hot soup with beans or lentils, vegetables, sausage or ham, all very tasty. There were plenty of good Sonoma cheeses, too, which have a fabulous reputation of their own.

Nature was putting on its own show, with bold green spear-like leaves announcing the imminent return of spring daffodils...full blown pyracantha trees with millions of red berries....holly trees in bloom with berries....lush shrubs of rosemary sporting myriads of tiny blue blossoms (this seems to be shrub of choice at many wineries), lavender, and beautiful orange trees with perfect fruit at the Madrona Manor. Huge lemon and orange trees can be found here and there along the roadside. Dianne especially likes the oak trees with their wintry, diaphanous shroud of bare branches looking like an enveloping mist. These leaning, deciduous oaks create the impression that they are on the march somewhere, like Tolkien’s Ents.

There is a similarity between the wine folks of Sonoma County and those from the Santa Cruz Mountains: Just Folks, folks. It is charming to meet people who are so passionate about working with something that came from the land; the head, heart, and hand work together to create something truly wonderful for us to enjoy.

Here is what we did in a day and a half:
In the Russian River area: Battaglini, Dutton-Goldfield, Hartford Family, Hop Kiln, (where we saw for the second time a group of girls with tiaras on their head who told us enthusiastically they were from Los Angeles and come up every year), Iron Horse, Marimar Torres Estate, Paradise Ridge, Sunce, and Topolos.

In the Dry Creek area: Alderbrook (big roaring fire, great gifts to buy), De La Montanya (our apple orchard friends), Nalle Winery, Pezzi King (pouring at Madrona Manor, where the orange trees are).

In Alexander Valley: Geyser Peak, Locals (right on the main drag, a unique place for six small winemakers to join forces for a tasting room), Meeker.

In Healdsburg: Camilla Cellars, Holdredge Wines, Huntington Wine Cellars, Sapphire Hill (these four are located together near the Russian River, very charming), Selby, Thumbprint Cellars.

Here are the most interesting individual tastes we found:
At Miramar Torres:
Bacon-Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Almonds
24 blanched almonds, toasted
24 medium dates, pitted
8 thin slices bacon, cut in thirds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stuff an almond inside each date, wrapping date around almond. Wrap each date with bacon and secure with a toothpick, crosswise. Bake on baking sheet 20-30 minutes, or until bacon is crisp. Drain on paper towels and serve while still warm.
Recipe from Catalan Country Kitchen, by Miramar Torres.

At Hartford Family Winery:
Crisp crackers held delightful morsels of sturgeon that had been infused with lemon, salt, and sugar, prepared like you would make gravlax. Unbelievably good.
(Recipe upon request from

Over at Topolos, their young chef was busy stirring up Saganaki (Greek Fondue) in a skillet. Try this at home!
8oz Kasseri cheese, cubed
3/4 teaspoon red wine vinegar
3/4 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon Greek oregano
1-1/2Tablespoons Metaxa or brandy
Melt the cheese over medium heat in a skillet, stirring occasionally. Whisk the red wine vinegar and lemon juice into the cheese, sprinkle oregano over the top, drizzle with brandy and ignite. Serve with sliced baguettes or crackers. Have it hot!

At the end of the day, we were grateful for the cozy and comfortable accommodations at the Geyserville Inn in Geyserville. It is a beautiful place, well appointed, and has a restaurant next door that serves breakfast and lunch. We stopped into the restaurant as we were leaving for the day and instantly regretted not having breakfast there. The menu is very appealing, and there was a fire in the fireplace!

Our experiences together in wine tasting, and the hospitality that goes with it, began 25 years ago. (You should have seen us with Mrs. Cat, the white Persian with yellow eyes, who traveled with us to many places in California and once to Oregon, calmly watching everything from her perch in the rear window of the car!)

We looked up wineries on lots of roads less traveled and met the real stars of the process–the winemakers and the growers. Some had very grand tasting rooms and landscaped grounds; others were in barns, sheds, back rooms, and industrial parks. We saw all sizes of fermenting tanks in steel and in concrete, crept into dark mold-covered caves, shared our picnic food countless times with a wide variety of people in the business. While traveling abroad, we tasted older wines and enjoyed various traditions and cultures. On one of our first trips to France, we had the nerve to take a California wine to some French experts in Burgundy at the VINEXPO (a major wine event that takes place every two years, but in recent times has expanded to other cities), long before there was a big California presence in Bordeaux.

In the meantime, our recent getaway weekend proved once again that you don’t have to go far at all, when you live here, to have a memorable wine country experience. We’d be willing to bet that with the wide array of activities in the Bay Area related to wine tasting, you could not do everything in 52 weeks, but you sure could have fun trying.

For more information, call Russian River Wine Road (800) 726-6336; wwwwineroad.com; Geyserville Inn (707) 857 4343;

Dianne Boate is a San Francisco-based writer, photographer, and designer. Her work can be seen at www.danielakart.com. Robert Meyer is a consultant to the wine and spirits industry. Some of their wine adventures would make good cartoon features. Or shorts.