Everything Tastes Better at the Beach

I was able to sneak away from the winery yesterday and head down with June to Capitola, one of our favorite places.

Home to Pizza My Heart’s original location along the beach and this day, playing host to what seemed like a million kids at Life Guard Camp, Capitola shone (even in the intermittent sun).

The town itself is tiny and when you look at from the end of the pier it resembles – in its multi-colored buildings rising up away from the water – like a kid’s exuberant and capitola imagetemporary block sculpture. There are nice shops and decent beach food and the weather always seems ideal, sun or not. Capitola is the same as a lot of beach towns in California in all these regards, but there is just something about how it has all come together that makes every experience a little more heightened. A little more perfect.

This is the way the wine experience at a winery ought to be. You are as close to the source as you can be. As close to the grapes hanging pendulously in the vineyard, as close to the crush pad where that fruit is started on its way to vinous glory, as close to the hospitality and the stories that make that one winery different than any other. That’s the way it should be.

And just as a slice on the beach will never taste better, that glass of wine (in that setting with the winery’s folks’ careful attention to helping create your extraordinary experience), will be this close to perfection.

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Winning the Jackpot Without Betting a Dime

I’ve never seen the odds in cards or craps or slots. Too little control, too much to lose.

Too little control when it comes to sucking the marrow out of the Las Vegas experience

Short Rib Ravioli - Marche Bacchus

Short Rib Ravioli – Marche Bacchus

too…but everything to gain.

June and I LOVE Las Vegas. We go to eat and to relax and to bring Lineage and The Premier Cabernet out to like-minded sommeliers at the great restaurants in town. And as transient as the restaurant business is, we have now begun to create some really great relationships with folks that we’ve dined with a number of times.

Las Vegas is the kind of place you want to have your wines. There are more Master Sommeliers here than in New York; the quality of the restaurants attract people who are passionate about food and wine; and the traffic is truly international, so there is that chance that someone at CarneVino or Bouchon or Delmonico’s will taste our wines here and bring back a great memory to their home an ocean away.

On this most recent outing we ate at Jaleo in Cosmopolitan and had amazing Tapas. The┬áChorizo with olive oil mashed potatoes and Endive with Orange and goat cheese were amazing dishes. We didn’t know until recently that one of our good friends is the sister-in-law of Jaleo’s owner and master Chef Jose Andres. Small world. That’s another great thing about Las Vegas too.

Another first time spot for us was Restaurant Guy Savoy in Caesar’s Palace. Classic French cuisine; classic (and utterly spectacular) service. Chef Mathieu Chartron prepared one of the great foie gras dishes I’ve ever had and the soups were rich and light and perfect.

Year of the Horse: Bellagio Conservatory

Year of the Horse: Bellagio Conservatory

And as great as the food was, the people (true professionals!) who took care of us were every bit its equal: at once, gracious, on point, and warm. It was as if your friends decided to put on the perfect ballet in your family room. Just an amazing experience. Thank you General Manager, Alain Alpe, and your team!

Marche Bacchus off the strip was a great lunch choice. About 20 minutes away from the Bellagio, this restaurant is also a wine shop (and one with an amazing selection of some of the best wines in the world). June and I had a table in the enclosed patio that looks right out onto a lake where black swan, ducks, and turtles meander a few feet from you.

photoWe finished off the weekend, as we always do, with brunch at Bouchon. One of Thomas Keller’s bistros, Bouchon has the best roast chicken to be found, amazing pastries, and a stellar wine program. One of our friends, Paul Peterson, is the sommelier here, and he treated us to a great tasting of Loire Valley and California Cabernet Francs. He was incredibly generous with his time, as well. This is THE perfect spot to finish up a trip to VinCity.

I’m a very lucky man to be able to combine the things I love to do most with the woman I love best; I’m sure there are Las Vegas trips ahead…here’s to hoping they’ll all be as great as the one that just ended.

Speaking the Same Language

Working in the cellars all day for weeks at a time, you tend to lose track of what’s going on around you. In at 5am out at 7pm…kiss the wife, have a drink, go to bed. Not the most balanced life, but it is short and it leads to its own kind of magic.

The carved-out hours here and there I can spend with June are the best. Getting to spend a minute or two in passing with a fellow true-believer is good too.

I ran into Collin Cranor, a friend, and the winemaker at Nottingham Cellars, the other day and we tasted boxesb&wout of a fermentor together and shot the shit for a few minutes. We are living the same kind of life, dealing with the same pressures, the same hopes…the same fears, and it’s comforting to know that you are not alone.

Talk always comes back around to the current vintage, about the prospects for greatness, about folks who are doing a good job and folks who aren’t; sins of commission and ommission. Our watercooler holds 265 gallons of Cabernet.

Some people in our business like to think they can control all inputs, that the finished product is only the formulaic addition of certain ingredients at certain times. Nature is an irritant only, something to be overcome, they believe. With all these great tools, Nature can seem inconsequential as the wines are pretzeled into something that bears no real resemblance to what the season chose to give but is a close-enough approximation to what they thought they wanted to achieve.

They miss the point, of course. Once the vision is created, you spend the rest of your life trying to divine one more small piece of the Mysteries each year so that, at some point, they travel down the same lit path – Nature, the grapes, the winemaker – figuratively hand-in-hand in the words of James Dickey “in full knowledge/Of what is in glory above them….”

Trying to coax some bit of self-awareness and truth out of the thing I love to do is as religious as I care to get. But for those who’ve read in these pages before will know, I acknowledge that the bottomless nature of wine, those unplumbable depths, guarantees a lifetime of kneeling at her altar.

Taking the Livermore Valley to the Next Level

I have never been so excited to be part of the wine and food scene in the Livermore Valley. In my 17 years here, there have never been more people displaying a passion (both in their demeanor and in their wines and cuisine) for excellence as there are now.

Livermore-Valley-Wine-MapThe Livermore Valley is going through a tremendous renaissance, but there is still a long way for all of us who work to bring enjoyment to peoples’ lives to get to a level commensurate with the quality of the place we work and live.

And as someone who intends to be part of this excitement here until they pry my cold, dead hands from around the wine barrel, I am intensely interested in learning what it is we could be doing to improve the Livermore Valley experience.

So, shoot me a comment or suggestion, and let’s see what we can do!