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Friday, July 31, 2015

Visiting Wine Country - A Wine Buyer's Manifesto

Take a shot glass. Put half an ounce of water in it. Pour it in a wine glass. That tiny bit of liquid is what you usually get when you get a taste of wine in a tasting room. 
No problem…wineries aren’t bars and they don’t want their patrons getting drunk and driving around on the rural roads that usually appear in wine country (by the way, you’re not supposed to swallow’re supposed to taste it and spit it out into the bucket provided so the alcohol doesn’t erode your sense of taste).
We love wine here at The World on Wheels. We love that, in our biased opinion, we live in the greatest wine producing area in the world.
Many of our trips involve wine tasting and drinking. Some are even taken just to taste the wine and we usually come home with at least two cases of wine in our trunk.
Winery owners…take note of that last sentence above…at least two cases, a lot of the time, even more.  Now, let me tell you how you’re killing the golden goose…wine buyers like me.
Here are the reasons that I’m really starting to sour on going to wineries for tasting and wine buying…

Exorbitant tasting fees.  Wine tasting used to be free. This perk is fast diminishing.  Then it became a token fee, to dissuade from getting plastered and driving down those narrow country lanes.
Let’s face it, a $5 fee isn’t going to break the bank and, if you let me apply that price to my purchase, not a problem.  The problem comes when I go to a winery, they charge $12 to $20, or more,for 5 small sips (the minimum going rate in many wine destinations these days) and then tell me I can’t apply that amount to my purchase.  First, I’ll probably look you in the eye, say “are you serious?”, and turn around and walk out when I find you are. Second, I won't be back and I won't be buying your wine.
I usually visit 5 or more wineries a day. I’m not going to pay $24 or more (for at least my wife and myself) at each stop for the “privilege” of sampling wine (see the first paragraph for how much of a taste you get) at each one, especially if I can’t use that amount for my purchase.
High Wine Prices.  I realize that some wines are so good, so lovingly had crafted with great care by the winemaker that they justify quite a premium. However, I just paid for the gas to drive my butt up to your vineyard, to (probably) pay for the “experience” of tasting your wine. I just saved you plenty in shipping costs alone. I don’t want to pay $25 a bottle for your wine, then drive down the hill and see it on the shelf of Albertson’s for $6.99.  If they can sell it to me for that price, you sure can too.

Wine Clubs. The latest lame excuse to extract more money from winery customers to get them to buy more.  I don’t know of any winery that doesn’t have a wine club these days.  The come on is “join our wine club and you’ll get free perks” like free tasting, discounts on wine, and other special promotions. The catch is that you’ll have to buy at least a couple of bottles of wine that they select for club members that are not cheap, and pay for shipping if you don’t live nearby, several times a year. On average, with shipping, this will cost you at least $60 for each two bottle shipment.
At many wineries, this is the only way you’ll get a discount and that is usually measley…something on the order of 10% per case. Hell, my local Ralph’s offers me a 30% discount on 6 bottles now, how is this supposed to entice me – especially if you just have a few selections of wine that I’ll get over and over?  And am I expected to join every winery’s club?  All 3,300+ in California?
Give me a meaningful case discount without having to join an expensive club. Give me a club where I don’t have to pay (Sobon Estate, for example, only asks for your e-mail address to join the club and get a 20% case discount).

Or if you absolutely must have a club, why don’t you join forces with other wineries in your area and have a regional wine club? Can you imagine what a wine club featuring selections from all the Sonoma wineries would be like?
(NOTE: There are several independent wine clubs that get wine from all over the world and not charge you an arm and a leg for the privilege – one I’m a member of and highly recommend is The Wine of the Month Club in Monrovia, California.)
Nightclub Atmosphere. Recently, on a wine tasting adventure, we stepped into a winery tasting room. It was like entering a disco. Loud live band, crowded, dancing, complete with bartender wiping down a spot saying “twelve dollars each, what’ll you have?” Turned around and walked out. If you’re going to foster that kind of atmosphere, just stop calling yourself a winery and say you’re a bar or nightclub.

Okay, now that I’ve listed my biggest pet peeves, know that I still find some outstanding examples of wineries that mostly do it right. Props go to the wineries of Amador County – home of some of the best red wines on earth – for scoffing at the idea of charging for tasting, at least for now (though a couple of pretentious newcomers are trying to change that); Galleano for hanging on by a thread, charging a modest fee ($5) that can be applied to their very inexpensive and delicious selections (they’ll even give you a coupon to have a glass of their wine at a local Basque restaurant); and the increasingly hard to find, honest winemakers of California that prefer to let their wine to the talking before you open your wallet.
For the rest of you, please take some of this commentary to heart. I’d like to enjoy trips to the wine country again.
Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 27, 2015



California has 100 American Viticultural Areas (AVA).  An AVA is a distinct wine grape growing region with boundaries set by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF).  Some you’ve heard of…Napa Valley, Paso Robles, Sonoma Valley, Mendocino, Russian River…others may have escaped notice such as North Yuba, Seiad Valley, or Covelo.
Once, the MAJOR wine producing area of the state was 40 miles east of Los Angeles in the Cucamonga Valley, better known today as the Inland Empire.  With commercial vineyards dating back to 1838, it is among the oldest wine grape growing areas in the state.  At over 20,000 acres at the start of Prohibition, it was also the largest.  At that time, it had more vineyard acreage than Sonoma and Napa Counties combined.

Watch the Video!

With the booming expansion of the Los Angeles metro area, development pressures hit this area hard.  Skyrocketing land prices found many vineyards being sold, plowed under, and becoming housing tracts, shopping centers, highways, factories, and warehouses.  Little is left of the wide-open countryside I enjoyed as a youth.
Still, the old, historic vines have not completely disappeared but they still face enormous pressure.  Now, two larger producers and a couple of very small boutique wine makers are all that are left.  Sitting beneath the snow-covered peak of Mt. Baldy, this is California’s most endangered wine producing region.
It’s a Saturday with rain off and on, mostly on.  We start our day at the Original Pancake House in Orange County’s Yorba Linda.  After a filling breakfast of 49’r Flapjacks, we head over one of the last rural roads in the area, Carbon Canyon Road, which connects the area to the Inland Empire community of Chino Hills.  From there, we make our way over to our first stop, Galleano Winery in Mira Loma.

My grandmother lived a few blocks away when I was a kid.  We’d ride our motorcycles and horses for miles over the wide-open countryside here.  Now, it’s covered with houses, factories, and warehouses but at the junction of the 15 and 60 freeways, if you look to the east , there’s several acres of grapes being grown in the sandy soil.  On the street, you’ll be surrounded by warehouses.  If you turn at just the right stop sign (at Wineville and Merrill), you’ll enter a time machine and be on a small country lane with barns, farmhouses, animals, and the winery itself. 

This is exactly the way I remember Mira Loma from when I was a child.  It’s also so out of place these days as to be called “historic.”  The area is known for growing big, bold red grapes.  Zinfandel, Grenache, Mission, and Mourvèdre…all good grapes that stand up to the valley’s intensely hot summers.
At the back of the former truck mechanic’s garage is a small house that now serves as the tasting room.  Five tastes are $5 per person, price will be applied to any purchase.  While white wines are available (Galleano sources these grapes from other areas or contracts with other wineries to produce them), the reds are the star of the show here.  Cucamonga Peak Red, Legendary Pioneers Zinfandel, Old Vine Zin, Port, and Sherry are made very well here.
The valley terroir has a strong taste that infuses the wines made here.  Galleano is very good…and also very reasonable in price.  Wines here start at around $5 a bottle…good wine, too.  Many of the wines are also available in 4L jugs which make the price even lower and are great for parties.  We particularly like the haute sauterne, port, and Chianti in the jugs.

Be sure to grab a flyer from Centro Basco, a local Basque restaurant, which includes a coupon for two free glasses of Galleano wine with your dinner.
If you bring a picnic, this is a great place to grab a bottle.  Borrow a couple of glasses from the tasting staff, go outside to their little park, and have a nice relaxing lunch.  Nearby is a small zoo with farm animals such as geese and donkeys.  Hundreds of guinea pigs roam in their enclosure and a few peacocks preen.
I could spend an entire, relaxing day here but we’ve got another stop to make.

A few miles to the north, in the town of Rancho Cucamonga, is the other large wine maker here.  Joseph Fillippi has a winery and tasting room set up on Baseline Road, just east of Day Creek Boulevard off of the 210 freeway and a few blocks north of Route 66.  While there is a very small vineyard here, you can see the houses built right up to the winery’s walls…an eerie reminder that this place may not have too much of a future left.
More businesslike and industrial than Galleano, Filippi’s tasting room is a large retail establishment.  Tasting is not free here…$5 gets you five poker chips.  You trade a chip for a taste of wine.  With over 20 wines available for tasting, those five chips won’t get you very far.  If there are a few of you, share tastes with each other so you can try a larger variety of wines.
We taste several wines starting with the chardonnay and the Alicante rose and ending up with their cab/franc, zinfandels, and a variety of ports.  It’s all good but not quite as good as the wine we had earlier in Mira Loma.  That, and the fact that we just spent our money on tasting, meant that we bought the day’s wines at Galleano…not Filippi.
When will wineries stop being greedy with the tastes?  I always end up buying more where I can at least deduct my tasting fee from my purchase…this is not the case at Fillipi.
Still, they have decent wine and bottles starting at $3.95, which makes them quite a bargain compared to wineries up north and to the south in Temecula.
There is also a small appetizer bar here.  You can buy a bottle to take outside and share an app.  Not a bad way to spend the day.
I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about the area’s other major tasting room, San Antonio Winery off of the 60 freeway in Ontario.  It’s also a nice place with complimentary tasting and they too have a small zoo.  A branch of the main winery in Los Angeles, this winery does not grow or produce wines here in the valley…it is strictly a tasting room.
At the end of the day, we drive back over the Chino Hills to Anaheim and have a nice dinner at the Phoenix Club, a private German club which has a restaurant and pub that is open to the public.  Here we finish the adventure, dining on schnitzel, sausages, and pretzels and wondering how much longer that handful of wine makers over the hill can last.

Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, July 24, 2015


UpTake Travel Gem

See Part 1 of this trip here.

Lunchtime, and it’s time to test the drive-in portion of our food adventure. This time it’s Taylor’s Automatic Refresher in nearby St. Helena. No, I do not know what an “automatic refresher” is but I do know that Taylor’s is a 63 year old burger stand that servers lean Nieman Ranch burgers, delicious green garlic fries, and an assortment of beer and wine.

Watch the Video for this Trip!

The burger was delicious and juicy, not like a lot of lean burgers I’ve had in the past. We also had a hot dog, a quarter pounder, that was good but there are better out there for less. The picnic are seating area on the lawn out back is wonderful…a great place to escape the crowds out front.

Afterward, we continued on to V. Sattui winery just down the tourist-clogged road (why was it so crowded on a Tuesday afternoon?) because they were one of a number of wineries to have a free tasting coupon in the local rag. We weren’t the only ones who noticed this as there was a traffic jam to get in and no parking available at all. We turned around and kept heading south.

That would be the case at a number of wineries along highway 129…Beringer, Mondavi, and more were just packed to the gills. We went to the south end of the valley and turned west at Napa and followed the map on our guide to Folio Winery, just off of highway 12 heading for Sonoma.

It’s just hard enough to find that the crowds can’t materialize. It’s just us and one other couple in the tasting room. Quiet, relaxed, and not a speck of pretentiousness. We hand over our free tasting coupon and are presented with a list of ten wines. We can pick six of them to taste. For another $10, you can taste their reserve wines with list prices of up to one hundred dollars. Getting our tasting glasses, we sit by the crackling fireplace and sip the delicious wines as we shed the chill of the cold day outside.

There are a number of good buying options, I settle for a three-pack of Hangtime Winery wines (Folio handles about a dozen labels) for $50.

After our wine tasting adventures in the Napa Valley were done, we continued up highway 12 into the mission town of Sonoma. It was raining off and on so we ducked into Murphy’s, a warm and inviting Irish pub hidden up an alley behind the old Sebastiani Theater.

A leisurely pint here while chatting with the other patrons quickly warmed us up. We continued on to the mission at the end of the block. This is one of the smaller missions in California with the basic church and outbuildings surrounding a courtyard. The military barracks are across the street. We’d seen this before, and frankly, the Sonoma Mission is about as basic as it gets. For historical value, though, the building across the street…back towards the pub…is interesting. The Blue Wing Inn, according to the docent, is the only unrestored Spanish era building left in California. It’s a two story adobe structure that looks like an old apartment block. It’s closed these days, waiting for funds from the ever more bankrupt state government for restoration.

Leaving the mission grounds, just a half block away is one of the more touristy spots on the plaza, the Sonoma Cheese Factory. This all-purpose picnic emporium is worth a stop. At the long cheese case in the front of the store, customers can take as long as the need to sample the dozen or so cheeses being sold. After that, move to the adjacent fudge counter for another tasting of the several varieties being sold. Do this again at the ice cream bar in the back. If it’s daylight hours, be sure to try one of their delicious barbecued burgers on the side patio. Get some bread, deli meats, cheese, and a bottle of local wine to have a picnic later. Great place to explore.

As the sun sets, we get back in the van and head back to Santa Rosa to bed down for the night.
The next morning, we have breakfast at Dierk’s Parkside Café, just south of downtown. Letty has a broth infused egg dish that is delicious but defies description. Tim and I share their delicious chicken fried steak platter that also comes with a side of their light and fluffy pancakes. On top of this is the pull-apart, kind of like Indian fry bread. For Letty and I, this will be the best restaurant of the trip.

Walking off breakfast downtown, there are some fun things to see. First is an old fashioned stationary store. It’s amazing what we took for granted growing up, but these stores are very rare back home. Someplace where you can go in and just buy a couple of pens and envelopes instead of buying them by the case as you do at Office Depot and Staples.

At the end of the street is the Zap Car showroom with their fleet of cool looking electric cars. No, they have no plans at the moment of making a wheelchair accessible model.

Later, we head west of town along the Russian River Valley to our last food test of the weekend. If you’re keeping track, this would be the “dive” portion of the trip and a dive we would get.

Into the muddy parking lot of the Russian River Pub we drive. A side door provides access into the dark room with the pool table in the middle. Thousands of names are etched into the wooden walls and we grab a table near the front. A woman with a sling on her arm welcomes us and introduces herself to us, explaining that she’s usually in the kitchen cooking but with her arm this way…not today.

We order some prime rib steak andwiches and are told they are not available, why not order the prime rib dips instead? Why not. Basically the same sandwich with au jus I guess. Still good.

We also get an order of their wings, which they are famous for and what was featured on the show. They are bright orange, spicy, and pretty good. Service was a little spotty and the jukebox didn’t like the feel of paper money, but overall the food was good and the place was fun. Fieri gets high marks on all three places. Of the three, we like Taylor’s best; followed by Hank’s Creekside Diner; and then this place.

The next morning, we pack up, have another breakfast at Dierk’s…this time having their great French toast and a benedict that was just oh so good…before heading down the 101, over the Golden Gate Bridge and on south to Los Angeles.

Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME: Living In a Disaster Movie

Southern California may be seen as a blessed-by-nature, sunny paradise but there's a darker side to that coin. We are also cursed with a range of natural disasters.

It's summer. Hot, dry, and ready to burn. With little rain in the last four years, we have millions of acres filled with dry brush, dead trees, and even shrubs that will spontaneously combust.

Walking outside and smell smoke? Well, it could be one of my neighbors having a barbecue but I glance up to the mountains behind our house to make sure I don't see any plumes of smoke.

There are plenty of natural or accidental causes to fires but the worst are the people who go up into the wilderness to either start them on purpose or do things that they should know better not to, like the three brain dead cretins who went up to have a campfire and smoke pot. They ended up starting the Colby Fire last year that burned thousands of acres and more than a few homes.

You don't want to look up and see this yellow plane flying low over your house. It's a super scooper, a plane that flys low to scoop up water from a nearby lake then dump it on a fire. This one was snapped from our driveway during one of last year's fires.

While we've been lucky so far, we did have the van loaded up and ready to go for the evacuation order that was coming until our firefighters finally stopped the advance of the Colby fire.

Fire news on our local stations also come in two flavors.  In dry years..."the vegetation is super dry so we need to be very careful not to set in on fire," or in the wet years..."the rain has made everything grow so fast so we have to be very careful not to set it on fire now that it's dry."

Basically, any way you look at it, we're screwed with fire. 

Speaking of wet years, after a big burn, you can bet the next big rain storm will be washing all of that burned off soil into people's homes.  Mudslides are another big disaster we need to deal with on a regular basis.

In the desert, they have to be on the lookout for flash floods. In fact, just a couple of days ago, a flood took out a bridge on the main L.A. to Phoenix freeway.

While we don't usually deal with hurricanes, we do have wind storms.  Every couple of years, there seems to be a major one taking down trees and cutting power in our neighborhoods. We get more damage from this in our area than anything else. In fact, my mother lost the roof to her garage several years ago to a small tornado.

And last, but certainly not least, earthquakes are our claim to disaster fame.  We tend to shake 'em off...slight pun intended...because, what else are you going to do?  They only last a minute or so and for the most part, people aren't really hurt by them. There are a few in concentrated areas that can make it scary if you dwell on it but it's kind of like flying. You know people crash and die but the odds are extremely long that it will happen to you.

So, living here, you need to know that you can easily get shaken, burned, blown away, or flooded but you'll get over it.

At least we don't have hurricanes.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 20, 2015


UpTake Travel Gem

It’s a long, long drive from our base in the San Gabriel Valley (just east of Pasadena) to our destination of Santa Rosa. Eight hours of driving, not including stops. The final reckoning is ten hours.

Watch the video of this trip!

Up to the final days, it was touch ‘n go as to whether we’d even go here. The final week of the year can have terrible weather up north. Our alternate destination was Tucson but checking the weather forecast, the temperatures were the same either way with just a slightly greater chance of rain up in the wine country.

Our choice was sweetened by tacos. Tim lobbied hard to go to Napa for one reason…the lunch stop in Bakersfield would be at Los Tacos de Huicho. Huicho’s is known in our family as having the best tacos on the face of the earth. Yeah, we’ve looked hard…both north and south of the border…and have still yet to find a better taco. We’re still looking, but the crown still firmly resides on this neon-green outpost of carne asada, tripas, and al pastor sitting on a grimy side street in a forlorn industrial neighborhood.

The al pastor is rotating on a vertical spit as the cook slices of chunks of moist, juicy meat. The tripas, crispy little bits of intestine, are fried up. Battered fish filets are dropped into the deep fryer for my wife’s fish tacos. When we get our order, we prep our food with chopped onions, cilantro, green or red salsa, and Huicho’s ungodly good creamy guacamole salsa. Deep fried jalapenos are sitting at the end of the salsa bar…take as many as you’d like. At 99 cents per taco, the best food on earth comes cheap.

Bladders drained, gas tank filled, it was back on historic highway 99 north to Santa Rosa. Our room is at another historic location, the Flamingo Resort built in 1957. It was built to be a mirror image of the Flamingo hotel in Las Vegas. This restored property has the look and feel of a late 50’s or early 60’s Vegas hotel. It wouldn’t look out of place to see Frank, Sammy, and Dean lounging around the Olympic size pool.

Our room is a large, 500 square foot, second floor unit in the newer executive wing out back. It features a king size bed, queen size sofa bed, a large bathroom with a roll-in shower, and a view over a small farm that has somehow escaped the city’s rampant development.

One of the themes of this trip is to test the abilities of Guy Fieri in picking places to eat.  Our family is a fan of his show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives on the Food Network and my wife is always saying we should check his listings before we go on a trip.  Well, Fieri is from Santa Rosa so what better place to put him to the test.  We're going to have dinner at his restaurant, Johnny Garlic's, and test a diner, a drive-in, and a dive from the area he's had on the show to see if they are as good as they look on TV.  Either it will be, or I'm gonna be taking one for the team here. 

First up is a diner...

Hank's Creekside Cafe is just a short block from the hotel.  It's a tight fit, but we get the chair inside and order up our food.  Service is quick.  We get eggs benedict, french toast, pancakes with some bacon and eggs.  It is all very delicious.  The first couple of tables are wheelchair accessible but tight.  There is one parking spot in front of the door that's handicapped.

The next morning, after that delicious breakfast, we drive over the hill to Calistoga at the top of Napa Valley. A sign points the way to Chateau Montelena, one of many wineries in the area, that was featured in the movie “Bottle Shock” with Alan Rickman and Bill Pullman.

A big, vine covered stone building sits impressively on the hillside among a web of ramps leading into the winery, tasting room, and the small lake with its Japanese Gazebo used by picnickers. Drivers with a disabled parking placard or license place can park at the top of the hill, next to the tasting room.

Famous for its chardonnay that beat the French wines at a Paris tasting in 1976, the chateau capitalizes on that fame, charging a sky-high tasting fee of $20…refundable if you buy at least $100 worth of wine. No, those souvenir glasses, cookbooks, and the signed DVD of “Bottle Shock” don’t count. There is no rule against sharing, however, so we did the tasting and shared our five samples between the three of us. One relative bargain was a package featuring a copy of the movie, signed by winemaker Bo Barrett (portrayed by Chris Pine in the movie) and a bottle of their cabernet for $35.
Tim at the Chateau Montelena Lake, Notice the Chair Cam (watch the video)

We take some time to explore the grounds, which include a small lake with a pagoda gazebo on an island you can use for picnicking.

Stay tuned for part two, were we find a better tasting bar, a drive-in, and a dive.

Copyright 2010, Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, July 19, 2015

THE COCKTAIL HOUR - Paso Robles Wine Tasting

This week, we take the Cocktail Hour out on the road again. This time it's to Paso Robles to taste some of the fine wines of this area.

Watch the Video!

We start off at Castoro Cellars...home of "Dam Fine Wine" (Castoro means beaver in Italian)...and try their late harvest zinfandel port along with some truffles.

Other stops included Eagle Crest Winery and Tobin James...but the star of the show with great wines at super low prices is a rather mundane local location.  All is revealed in the video above.



Friday, July 17, 2015

TRIP REPORT: Southern California - Inland Empire Wines

Continuing with our Inland Empire (IE) theme, did you know that it's the home to one of the state's oldest wine producing regions? Granted AVA status in 1995, the Cucamonga Valley is home to acres of zinfandel, mission, grenache, and Carignane...all red wine grapes that do well in the areas very hot summers and sandy soil.  They've been at it here since 1838.
Massive ongoing construction has uprooted many farms and ranches here.

It's also one of the state's most endangered wine countries.  The IE has long played the role of relief valve to the exploding population of the region.  What was mostly empty stretches of vineyards, citrus groves, farms, and ranches 40 years ago is now full of homes, freeways, factories, and warehouses.  Most of the area's grape plantings have been ripped up, paved over, and built upon.

Two major wine producers plus a couple of smaller wineries still make a go of it in the area, however. J. Filippi and Galleano are the majors.  Rancho de Philo and Hofer are the smaller producers.

You can visit Filippi and Galleano wineries almost daily.  Fillipi is in Rancho Cucamonga, Galleano is in Mira Loma near the junction of Interstate 15 and the 60 freeways.

The Galleano farm is a step back in time.  Exiting off of the Etiwanda exit of the 60 freeway, you might think you've taken a wrong turn.  You're immediately in the heart of factories and warehouses...not a grape in sight.  Follow the signs and you'll soon find this slice of old California tucked in between.

The old farm buildings house the tasting room, the winery itself, and the residences of the Galleano family and their workers.  A nice lawn is on your left.  Beyond that, many farm animals in a small zoo.  It's peaceful, pretty, and looks just like the whole area did when I used to visit my grandmother here back in the 1970's.

Past the old motor bays and the antique gas pumps, a banging, wooden screen door guards the entrance to the small tasting room.  The staff will be happy to pour you several complimentary tastes.  If Don Galleano is there, odds are that he'll try to sell you a membership in their wine club.  He's a great talker...odds are that you'll join and receive two of their wines every few months.

Get a little cheese, buy a bottle (hint, the same good wines come in large jug sizes with different names at a huge discount), and have a little picnic on the lawn.  Especially good are the local zinfandels...a highly endangered and rare grape...and their fortified ports and sherries.

I don't know how to describe it, but the terroir here imparts a strong, unique taste to the wines.  If you taste 
a Cucamonga Valley wine and taste it again years later, you'll recognize it.

Another hint for Galleano.  A great, local Basque restaurant...Centro Basco in nearby Chino...proudly pours Galleano as their house wine.  Pick up a coupon here at the winery and have a free glass with dinner at this historic and great restaurant.  If you want more, the Galleano Claret is only $8 a bottle at the restaurant.

Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


Our traffic is legendary here in Los Angeles and the surrounding metro area. I've seen worse around the world but it is pretty stifling here. Depending on who's calculating, there are 17 to 18 million people here.

That's 44% of the entire state of California's population.

It sometimes seems like every one of those 17 million souls are on your freeway sometimes.  As residents, we create strategies to minimize our time on those roads.

For example, we won't travel west of Interstate 110 more than a couple of times a year. I haven't seen the beach in Santa Monica in over a decade.  Malibu? Might as well be in another state.  It takes less time for me to drive to Bakersfield than Marina del Rey most of the time.

The biggest curse is to have to navigate that traffic every day. The biggest blessing is to be 'going against' traffic on your commute.  Even driving to our church on a Saturday evening is a car-filled slog across the San Gabriel Valley.

One big disadvantage we have in the valley is it is bisected from north to south by a river. That the 'river' is nothing but dry dirt 90% of the time is of no consequence.  There are still only nine bridges in the 12 miles from the bottom of the valley to the mountains. Three of those are freeway.  Block one, and the rest are hopelessly gridlocked.

I've heard of people begging off of family wedding invitations because the 15 miles they'd have to drive would take a maddening 90 minutes or more.

Our beach drive is usually to Seal Beach because it's not only among the closest beaches to our house but there's also a carpool lane on the 605, giving us a slight advantage in travel time.  

I commute to my job in downtown Los Angeles by driving not into L.A., but over to El Monte to catch an express bus that goes in it's own reserved lane on the middle of the freeway. Soon, when the next light rail expansion is finished, I can dispense with that and take a trolley from a station five blocks from my house.

When we're not cooking dinner and my wife wants me to go and get takeout, our dinner choice is limited to what is in the local area that I don't have to sit in traffic to get to. 

Even our narrow, two lane street get's clogged at rush hour because it has a dubious distinction of running east to west from one end of our city to the other.

Of course, the real culprits are drivers who value a few seconds shaved over the safety of others on the road, get into accidents, and clog everything up. Even the president can get traffic snarled here, woe to those who get stuck in Obamajams.

True, we do get to live in a good climate but I admit, I get tired of the headaches we have to deal with to live here at times and this is one of the biggest.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 13, 2015

Paso Robles, California - Part 3

After a couple of days spent exploring the trails, the vineyard, wines, and entertainment of Paso Robles, our final day has us hitting the road.

Watch the Video!

The Pacific Ocean is only 25 miles west via highway 46. Many interesting sights await at the coast. Upon hitting highway 1…a major destination in itself…a left turn takes you south to the classic beach towns of Cayucos and Morro Bay, and the tiny town of Harmony.  Turn right to the quaint village of Cambria and Hearst Castle perched high upon a local mountain.

We go beyond both of these northern landmarks to the beach at Piedras Blancas.

Four miles beyond Mr. Hearst’s estate, this stretch of rocky sand is home to a colony of formerly endangered elephant seals.  Now protected against molestation, the seals have made a nice comeback and live in a few colonies along the coast.

Large, fat, and lazy, the elephant seals seem to be content to lie on their bellies, flipping sand occasionally on their backs as a sort of natural sunscreen.  Now and again, a couple will flare up…barking at each other, butting heads, maybe even biting…but as soon as it starts, the animals seem to lose the strength to continue and flop back down on the sand, content to rest until another flash of energy enters into their blubber lined bodies.

The human spectators gather in the parking lot and along the top of the sand. A fence keeps the two species separated, allowing plenty of opportunities to spectate.

In the water, a few seals joust with each other bashing heads, barking loudly, and occasionally biting each other while the waves crash against them.

The animals are much bigger than the harbor seals of Morro Bay or the sea lions crowding around the local wharves, very similar looking to the manatees of the east coast.

Fat squirrels and aggressive sea birds fight for scraps of food from the visitors.  A seagull takes a nip at a squirrel and flies off with an inch of the rodent’s tail while the squirrel takes cover under a car.

As we return, we make a short stop in Cambria to shop and have a snack.

Back in Paso Robles, we take a little time to relax at the hotel and go for a swim.  Across the street from our base of operations, the Best Western Black Oak Inn, is the local fairgrounds.

Many of our fellow hotel guests are driving big pickup trucks, wearing Wranglers and cowboy boots, and walk with a swagger.  They’re competitor in a regional team roping competition going on across the street.

Letty and I, curious about this, walk over to the main gate of the fair and walk in.  There is nobody around, no signs, no ticket booths…not a soul in sight. We walk tentatively to the north end of the fairgrounds, waiting for the inevitable security guard demanding to know what we’re doing here, but nothing.  Nobody. Not a single luxury.

Eventually we hear a buzzer, follow the sound to a large shed, and find some activity.  We wander inside and find the team roping competition going full force.

It’s like going to one event in a rodeo. Team roping consists of a team of two riders on horseback. A calf is released who tries to run away. One rider attempts to lasso the horns while their partner tries to throw a loop around the hind legs. A special cap is worn by the calf to prevent injury and the animal is released as soon as it is caught.

Teams compete for the best time with penalties assessed for sloppy roping. If either team member misses, no time is given.

It’s fun and exciting for a little while.  After watching the same activity time and time again for 45 minutes, it gets a little old so we take our leave, heading back to the gate where we entered.

Again, it’s back into the deserted grounds. We get to the gate…and it’s locked. We walk to the administration building. It’s locked and so is the gate next to it. Again and again, we walk along the perimeter fence. Every gate is locked. We can find no one.

At the end of the fairgrounds, there is one last gate. It is also locked but has a gap.  Letty can fit through but not the bigger dimensions of my body.

Uh oh…

(You can see our fairground adventure in the video above)

We walk waaay back to the other end of the fairgrounds where the roping is going on. The lady who seems to be in charge doesn’t know where we should go except to try to go out where the trucks go in.

It’s quite a walk, but we find the access road and eventually find our way out and then walk about another mile to get back to our hotel.

With our escape , we call it a day and in the morning high tail it back home…Tim’s camp called.  He’s sick and they need us to come pick him up right away.

Paso Robles now just a quickly fading memory in our rear view mirror as we speed to the San Bernardino Mountains, we say goodbye and face up to getting our son better.

The epilogue? Tim is sick but not real bad. We have a couple of frazzled days of caregiving getting him back up to health but he’s fine and we can all look back at it with a smile now.

Copyright 2011
Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, July 12, 2015

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Sierra Foothill Wine Sip Off

This week, we're pitting neighbors against each other...Story and Villa Toscano wineries.  Both are located in Plymouth, California, about 2 miles apart from each other in the Shenandoah Valley in the heart of Amador County.

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Story weighs in with a 2006 Miss Zin.  This is a blend of 50% mission grapes and 50% zinfandel.  Villa Toscano brings it with their 2008 old vine zinfandel.  Both wineries dry farm their zin grapes.  That means no water other than what Mother Nature provides.  Some of these vines go back over 100 years.  The area is intensely hot and dry in the summer, baking these vines and providing small, intensely flavored fruit.  It takes a little extra work to extract it.

The resulting wine is a heavy, jammy, spicy, tasting inky wine.  Done right, it's a sublime experience and holds up well to food with big, bold flavors like the steaks at JD's in nearby Sutter Creek or the smoked jalapeño, bacon wrapped poppers at the Dancing Bear in the historic Plymouth Hotel.

Both wines retail in the $20 range but the wineries will be willing to cut a deal in person.  Story has several six packs that can effectively cut the price in half.  I got a case of the Villa Toscano for $99, bringing their price to about $8.25.

Which one is best?  Watch the video, above.  We declared them a tie but we'd drink the heavy, bold Villa Toscano while sitting in front of a roaring fire on a winter night while the Story wine goes better in an outdoor setting thanks to the lightening effect of the mission grapes in their wine.


Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved