Marking Another 50th Anniversary in Napa Valley

Branch of red wine grapesIn Wednesday’s blog, we shared some memories of Robert Mondavi Winery on the occasion of that Napa Valley estate’s 50th anniversary.

The late founder of that winery, as we know, made countless important contributions to the California wine industry. But he couldn’t have done it without people like Jose Gallegos Sr.

Gallegos did not work for Mondavi, but rather for another rather well-known Napa Valley Estate: Beringer Vineyards. On Monday, Gallegos retired from Beringer, completing a 50-year run.

Comments Gallegos made to the Napa Valley Register give you an idea of the man’s work ethic.

“I feel happy — satisfied for accomplishing the 50 years,” he said. “I feel excited because Beringer let me work that 50th year; I turned 65 last year and I could have retired, but they let me work another year.”

They LET him work another year…

Originally, as a teenager, Gallegos sought work at Beringer because that’s where his father had worked before retiring and returning to his native Mexico. There were many lonely days in those early years, and Gallegos often thought about going home. But, ultimately, he made the Napa Valley his home. Now, he has completed 50 years as a laborer, mechanic and foreman.

How did he last so long?

“I tell people to be responsible at work, and when you do something, to do it to the best of your knowledge,” he said. Simple… yet profound… advice.

Like at the Mondavi celebration, there was music at the party marking Gallegos’ retirement — provided by a seven-piece mariachi band in full regalia.

Here’s wishing Jose Gallegos Sr. a happy retirement. Beringer was lucky to have him.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

A No-Red-Sauce Dish to Serve With Italian Red Wines

spaghetti aglio e olioI was looking through my recipe box the other day — a mish-mash of index cards, handwritten notes, and old pieces of stationery with tattered edges that I inherited from my Mom — and I came across the recipe that follows.

Obviously, when I was a kid, I did not have this dish with wine. But now, far removed from kid-dom (yes, I just made up that word), it dawns on me that it serves a useful purpose (besides being delicious).

When it comes to Italian pasta dishes, I think most of us automatically presume there will be some kind of rich tomato or meat-based sauce involved. I love such sauces, but they can play havoc with one’s diet.

This dish, on the other hand, garners much of its flavor from garlic. Yes, there is some waist-challenging Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese among the ingredients, but it wouldn’t be Italian without that.

Here’s the best part, though: Even though there’s no red sauce, this is a dish that can be enjoyed with a good Italian red wine — like any of those featured in this Vinesse sampler.

This recipe renders 6 servings (depending on your appetites). Salud!



  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (divided)
  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2-cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


  1. Over high heat, bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil in an 8-quart pot.
  1. Stir the spaghetti into the boiling water.
  1. Cook the pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until tender but firm.
  1. Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  1. Add the garlic and cook, shaking the skillet and stirring, until pale golden.
  1. Remove from the heat and add crushed pepper.
  1. Ladle about 1 1/2 cups of the pasta cooking water into the sauce.
  1. Add the parsley, the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and salt to taste.
  1. Drain pasta, return it to the pot, and pour in the sauce.
  1. Cook until pasta is coated with the sauce and done.
  1. Serve immediately in warm bowls alongside glasses of Italian red wine.
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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Robert Mondavi Winery

RMwineryIn the early days of the Robert Mondavi Winery, Michael, one of the sons of the founder, would do his best to slow down traffic — if you could even call it “traffic” back then — and try to get people to come in for a tour.

That was called marketing.

From very humble beginnings — the elder Mondavi had listed his “wife, three children and clothes” as collateral in order to obtain a loan to break ground — Robert Mondavi Winery grew to become one of the best known and most influential wine estates in the world.

Mondavi was almost clinically curious and extremely energetic, and loved experimenting with blends, cellar techniques and vineyard farming practices. Yes, the ultimate goal was to sell wine — he did, after all, change the name of Sauvignon Blanc to Fumé Blanc for that very purpose — but he wanted to make sure the wine he sold was good.

This past Saturday, several hundred friends, family members, customers, and past and current employees gathered at Robert Mondavi Winery to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Guests enjoyed sips of Mondavi’s 2014 Napa Valley Fumé Blanc, 2015 Napa Valley Rosé, 2013 Maestro, 2013 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2014 Moscato D’Oro. They listened to the River School World of Percussion, and watched the Ballet Folklorico el Valle.

But mostly, they shared memories of past vintages, and of the man who had such a profound influence on the growth of the California wine industry.

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Posted in Wine Buzz, Wineries of Distinction

A Challenger for Pokemon Go: Chardonnay GO!

Charles Caleb Colton was an English cleric, writer and collector who did a lot of living during his 52 years on the planet, beginning in 1832.

These days, he is perhaps best known for this observation: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

And so it is in the world of free-to-play location-based augmented reality mobile games.

Yes, I’m talking about Pokemon GO. (Who ISN’T talking about Pokemon GO?)

Whether you love it or hate it or don’t know anything about it, there’s no way you haven’t heard about this phenomenon, which surpassed Candy Crush Saga as the most successful mobile device app launch ever in the United States.

How exactly does Pokemon GO work? Here’s a brief description, courtesy of AndroidPIT: “The game sees users move an avatar across a real-world map using their phone’s GPS. Dotted around the world are PokéStops, which can be used to gather Pokéballs and other in-game items, and gyms, where players can train their Pokémon. When a Pokémon appears on the map, you can press on it. When you do this, the Pokémon appears in augmented reality, superimposed onto the image seen through the phone’s camera, allowing you to throw Pokéballs at it until you capture it.”

While this sounds like fun… and it obviously is for many people… it also has resulted in people being late for doctor’s appointments, two men falling down a cliff and automobile accidents due to distracted driving.

Meanwhile, it didn’t take long for Charles Caleb Colton’s most famous observation to come into play. As this video shows, Pokemon GO has spawned a new free-to-play location-based augmented reality mobile game for wine lovers: Chardonnay GO.

Okay, okay… perhaps there isn’t a Chardonnay GO app… yet.

But I do have one question: Why is it that when it comes to depicting Chardonnay on TV, in the movies and now in faux free-to-play location-based augmented reality mobile games, it’s almost always being consumed by a woman? For Exhibit A, I give you Claire Dunphy of “Modern Family,” played by Julie Bowen. She drinks A LOT of Chardonnay, especially when her mother comes to visit. Rarely do we see a man drinking a glass of Chardonnay. (Things would change if I were in charge of Hollywood…)

A final word about Charles Caleb Colton: He left England in 1828, four years prior to his death, reportedly fleeing from creditors. According to contemporaries, a “legal docket” had been taken out against him, identifying him as a wine merchant.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Midwest Wine Country: More Ideas for a Fun Vacation

midwestRarely do we get to do everything we’d like to do while on vacation.

Eating is a good example. If we ate at every good breakfast spot, every good lunch spot and every good dinner spot suggested by friends or family members, we’d be doing nothing but eating… and setting ourselves up for lots of salads once we got home.

So when Michelle and I hit the road, we try to limit ourselves to two meals per day. It doesn’t matter which meals they are. For instance, when we were in Wisconsin, one day we had breakfast with my cousin Ruthann at one of her favorite local places, and dinner at Brett Favre’s Steakhouse in Green Bay that night — no lunch.

On this trip, we heard about several places we would have liked to visit… if only we’d had the time.

For instance, in Green Bay, we didn’t get a chance to visit Captain’s Walk Winery, which offers tours and tastings, plus an upstairs lounge and outdoor porch for lingering over a glass of wine. The on-site bistro features artisan meat and cheese trays, gourmet pizza, and cheese or chocolate fondue. And each May, Captain’s Walk hosts a Fondue Wine Festival.

Our Lambeau Field tour guide told us about The Bottle Room, which offers more than 75 wine and craft beer selections, a tapas menu and live music.

The night we stayed in Kenosha, the nice woman who checked us in told us about the Schuster Mansion in Milwaukee. It’s a bed-and-breakfast inn that hosts a six-course dinner with 12 different wines on the third Friday of each month. We’re definitely keeping that in mind for the next time we’re in the area.

Fun events are held throughout the summer in Paw Paw, Mich., including the annual Paw Paw Days and Classic Car Show this coming weekend. Each September, the Paw Paw Wine & Harvest Festival features everything from grape stomps to live music all over town.

Here’s one final word of advice: Whenever you travel, take a few minutes to peruse the display of travel brochures at your hotel, motel or B&B. Yes, you’ll encounter a good deal of information about “tourist traps,” but you may also find a brochure or two about local wineries or wine-focused local restaurants. At our B&B in St. Joseph, for instance, there was a Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail brochure and map, as well as a Southwest Michigan Beer, Wine & Spirits brochure and map.

As I’ve noted before, no matter where you travel in America today, you’re bound to be pretty close to “wine country.”

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Posted in Editor's Journal, Our Wine Travel Log

A Surprising Discovery at Michigan’s Warner Vineyards

Warner1For visitors to Paw Paw, Mich., a stop at Warner Vineyards is a must — and not just because my Dad’s name was Warner.

For one thing, the grounds are gorgeous, with lush landscaping, its own little “river,” bridges and even an old train car. For another, the wines are pretty good.

Warner Vineyards was founded in 1938, and because it has been around for so long, is one of the few wineries in the country that is allowed to use the word “Champagne” on its sparkling wine labels. The specialty of the house is the Warner Brut, a wine that was served at the White House in 1976 by Michigan’s first President of the United States, Gerald Ford.

The wine also was the official champagne of Super Bowl XXIII in 1982, and Super Bowl XL in 2006. It’s a traditional blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, and I found it to be the equal of many California sparklers.

Warner Vineyards, like many Michigan wineries, also makes fruit wines, using red currants, Michigan Balaton cherries, peaches, apricots, cranberries and blueberries.

Yes, blueberries, straight from one of the blueberry-growing capitals of the United States, South Haven, Mich. The wine is called Blueberry Splash and it was delicious… but would it pair with the blueberry kringle we’d purchased at O&H Bakery in Racine, Wis. a few days earlier? With its 9.3% residual sugar level, my educated guess was that it would not.WarnerInterior

But then I had an idea: What if one were to pour a glass of Warner Brut Champagne, and then add a splash of Blueberry Splash?

And just like that, our kringle conundrum was solved. Our concoction had just the right sugar level — sweet but not too sweet — plus a subtle blueberry flavor to complement the abundant blueberry flavor in the kringle.

When it comes to football, Wisconsin residents and Michigan residents do not get along. When we’d taken the tour of Lambeau Field in Green Bay a few days earlier, our guide told the group that the stadium had been visited by people “from all 49 states and the independent republic of Minnesota.”

But when it came to wine-and-food pairing, a blueberry kringle from Wisconsin and a “sparkling blueberry” wine from Michigan was pure bliss for this wine and blueberry lover.

– – – – – – – – – –

Monday: A few final notes about our trip through “Midwest wine country.”

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Posted in Editor's Journal, Our Wine Travel Log

St. Julian: A Visit to Michigan’s Oldest Winery

StJulianSign It was fun… and, frankly, a little emotional… re-connecting with my Dad’s bakery roots in Wisconsin, first by visiting some of my cousins in Dad’s hometown of Eau Claire, and then by stopping by a Danish bakery that specializes in the pastry known as “kringle” in Racine.

Both Mom and Dad passed away in June of 2009, and to this day, certain sights or smells or sounds will trigger memories of one or both of them. With Mom, it’s usually an aroma in a restaurant. With Dad, it typically involves music, especially renditions of “Rhapsody in Blue” or other tunes with a strong piano presence.

But at O&H Bakery in Racine, memories of both were vivid, because the family bakery they owned in Balboa, Calif., during my childhood really was a FAMILY bakery. All four of us — Mom, Dad, my brother Terry and I — performed various tasks, from making the bakery products to boxing goodies for customers.

So when Michelle and I visited O&H Bakery, it was as if Mom and Dad were there. We selected a few pastries for the road, including a blueberry kringle.

I have to say, that kringle topped anything we ever made at our family bakery. (Sorry, Dad.) And, believe me, we set a pretty high bar.

As a wine lover, I immediately began thinking about what type of wine might pair with the sweet, flaky, fruitful confection. But even though I’ve tasted literally hundreds of different varieties and cuvees of wine through the years, nothing came to mind.

So, we continued our vacation, and met up the next day with our friends from Chicago. I’ve been going with them to a concert called “Smooth Jazz at Sunset” since the days I was living and working in Chi-town, and now my (relatively) new bride has joined the group.

We would be spending three nights at a lovely B&B called the South Cliff Inn in St. Joseph, Mich., overlooking Lake Michigan. The agenda called for multiple games of Scrabble, lots of wine drinking, the StJulianEventSpaceSaturday night concert featuring Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers, and a day trip to some nearby wineries. There are quite a few in that part of Michigan, and we try to hit different ones each year.

This year, we headed to the town of Paw Paw to check out the tasting rooms of two wineries that are right next door to each: St. Julian Winery and Warner Vineyards.

St. Julian was founded in 1921 by Mariano Meconi, making it the state’s oldest winery. Today, it’s run by Mariano’s grandson David and granddaughter Angela.

Michelle and I shared a six-wine tasting, and I selected a mix of dry reds (mainly for me) and sweet wines (mainly for Michelle). The star of the sextet was a wine called Cream d’Or, a perfectly balanced dessert wine made from Niagara grapes with a gorgeous nose of vanilla and almond, along with a kiss of caramel.

Under David’s and Angela’s leadership, St. Julian has become Michigan’s largest winery, with additional tasting rooms in Union Pier, Frankenmuth and Dundee.

We then walked next door to Warner Vineyards — which got me thinking about my Dad again because his name was Warner.

I’ll tell you about our visit to that tasting room… and an unexpected discovery… in tomorrow’s blog.

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Posted in Editor's Journal, Our Wine Travel Log

Connecting Past and Present With Pastry

KringleSignMy Dad was a baker. Although he met my Mom during World War II while building airplanes at Douglas Aircraft in California — he was a supervisor of some sort, and she was a “Rosie the Riveter” — he grew up in Wisconsin where his father had been a baker.

Both Dad and my Uncle Clare followed in their father’s footsteps, learning the fine art of kneading dough into various shapes of sweet goodness. Dad tried his hand at other occupations once he moved to California, but when I was growing up, the Johnsons were the proud owners of the Balboa Bakery on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach, Calif. We operated that bakery for about 20 years.

One might presume that owning a bakery in a rich community like Newport Beach would be akin to printing money. Well…

All I can tell you is that we lived in a small two-bedroom apartment about a mile from the bakery, and Dad would get up at 3 each morning to go to work, fire up the oven, and start making products. Mom, my brother and I would follow about two hours later — on foot — and if we had all of our homework done, my brother and I would pitch in with the various baking projects. If not, we’d hit the books until the school bus arrived.

We were a working class family living amongst rich people — some very rich — but we always had enough dough (pun fully intended) to do fun things like go bowling as a family and take visiting relatives to Disneyland. Some of those relatives are among those we visited on this trip through Wisconsin… almost 50 years later.

The bakery in Eau Claire, Wis., in which my Dad and uncle worked is long gone, but an iconic Wisconsin bakery product is not. It’s a Danish pastry called kringle, and we’d been told that the city of Racine was the best place to get it. When both relatives and friends mentioned the O&H Danish Bakery as the place to go, that’s where we headed.

O&H was established in 1949, at a time when Racine was home to one of the largest populations of Danish immigrants in the United States — including the bakery’s founder, Christian Olesen. To this day, the bakery adheres to the tradition of baking skills originated in Denmark late in Europe’s medieval period.

In those days, quality-focused artisans, merchants and craftsmen wanted to maintain the proper methods of their profession, and began to form organizations known as guilds. The guilds also were used to provide merchants with a guarantee of legitimacy, and often required a blessing from the monarchy.

In Denmark, the guild of skilled bakers chose the symbol of a pretzel, often topped with a crown. It turns out that the sweet pastry known as kringle originally was made in the shape of a pretzel.

KringleInsideSignToday, the pretzel symbol remains, but most kringle is made in the shape of a circle or a horseshoe. And making it involves several more steps than we used at the Balboa Bakery when making our Danish pastry.

Back then, we’d mix the dough, allow it to rise, then shape it, add a fruit topping such as apple or cherry, and bake it. While the baked pastry was still warm (but not too hot), we’d add a sugary icing by hand.

Making kringle is a two-day process that begins with making the pastry dough, then allowing it to rest overnight. Rather than a fairly thick single layer like we used back in the day, kringle consists of several thin sheets of dough that are stacked. Frankly, I was surprised by how thin the finished product was — even when infused with fillings and topped with icing. But that thinness made it very easy to bite into.

O&H offers an array of kringle flavors throughout the year, as well as some seasonal selections. A sure sign that summer has arrived is the appearance of O&H’s “Red, White and Blue” kringle: a blend of cherry, blueberry and cream cheese, enveloped in that flavorful and flaky pastry.

The “Wisconsin” kringle is made entirely from ingredients farmed and grown in the Dairy State: a mix of cream cheese, Door Country cherries, plus cranberries fresh from the bogs.

There also are more “simple” kringles, consisting of just a single fruit filling or a single nut filling. I’m a simple guy, and I love blueberries, so Michelle and I picked up a blueberry kringle to share with friends during our annual trip to St. Joseph, Mich. for that community’s “Smooth Jazz at Sunset” concert.

In addition to being a simple guy, I’m also a wine guy, and I couldn’t help but wonder what type of wine might pair nicely with blueberry kringle. Some table wines have an impression of blueberries in their flavor mix, but I couldn’t see the dry quality of the wine working with the sweet quality of the pastry.

I had just about given up on the pairing idea when, two days later, we took a day trip from our “Smooth Jazz” base in St. Joe to a couple of wineries in Paw Paw, Mich.

I’ll share what we discovered there in tomorrow’s blog.

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Posted in Editor's Journal, Our Wine Travel Log

A Fun Wine Experience 40 Minutes from Milwaukee

CedarCreek1Even if you are not a Green Bay Packers fan… even if you absolutely hate the Packers… you owe it to yourself to take a tour of Lambeau Field.

Obviously, I’m just a tad prejudiced when it comes to the Packers. My Dad was born in Eau Claire, Wis., so even though I’m a native Californian, I grew up a Packers fan. Late in my Dad’s life, some of my fondest memories are of watching Packers games on TV with him, especially during the Brett Favre era.

To see what a city of 104,000 has been able to do with a major professional sports team — the only such community-owned team in the United States — is truly jaw dropping. When you take the tour, you’ll learn the history of the franchise, its tradition of winning, and the story behind the “re-birth” of Lambeau Field.

You’ll also learn the Packers’ “fight song” — all three words of it: “Go, Pack, Go!”

CedarCreek2After taking the tour, we were back on the road and headed for the Wisconsin city of Kenosha. The plan was to spend the night there, then get up early the next morning in search of fresh kringle — another homage to my Dad and his roots as a baker.

En route, we decided to stop in Cedarburg for a visit to Cedar Creek Winery. I’d visited Cedar Creek many years ago, so I was curious to see how’s it’s doing and to check out the quality of its wines.

CedarCreek3All in all, I’d say the quality is pretty good. The “secret” of its success involves bringing in juice from other locales — primarily Washington state. There’s also a nice Beaujolais made from Gamay grapes grown in France, as well as a handful of Wisconsin-grown varieties that vintner Philippe Coquard has crafted into award-winning wines.

Cedarburg is located about 40 minutes from Milwaukee, and Cedar Creek Winery can be found amidst The Shops at Cedar Creek Settlement, where you can also do some shopping and have a good meal.

You can read more about this unique destination here:

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Posted in Editor's Journal, Our Wine Travel Log

Pasta and Zinfandel at the Brett Favre Steakhouse

BrettFavresSteakhouseThere may be better restaurants in Green Bay, but as a lifelong Packers fan with only one evening for a meal out, there was only one choice for dinner: Brett Favre’s Steakhouse.

As you might imagine, the restaurant is packed with Favre photos, paintings and memorabilia. It provided the perfect backdrop for a superb meal — and neither my bride nor I had a steak.

Michelle ordered the Bruschetta Chicken ($23) — lightly breaded, pan-seared chicken breasts, fresh local mozzarella, and a medley of marinated tomatoes.

VeggiePastaWithGlassOfZinI chose the Roasted Vegetable Pasta ($19) — penne, marinara, spinach, caramelized onion, roasted red pepper, basil and feta. Michelle decided to pass on wine, so instead of ordering a bottle, I had a glass of California Zinfandel that paired perfectly with the pasta.

Signature dishes at Favre’s are the Goat Cheese and Balsamic Filet ($43), Steak en Frites ($32), Gaucho Rib Eye ($51), and the Black and Blue New York ($42).

All of the beef is sustainably and locally raised Black Angus that has been aged to perfection. In addition to the standard cuts, there’s a Surf and Turf dinner with a lobster tail ($65), and a Steak and Cake meal with crab cake ($49).

The menu also includes some enticing starters, soups, salads, sides, fish dishes, and Southern specialties such as Jambalaya ($23) and BBQ Baby Back Ribs ($28).

Of course, we had to stop by the gift shop before leaving, and there I encountered three different types of Brett Favre wine ($28 each). I figured that these were the types of wine that might cost $2 for the beverage inside and $26 for the licensing, but I didn’t care.

BrettFavreCabernetThat said, I did want to get the best wine of the three since the prices were the same, and after checking the back labels to see what part of California each was from, I opted for the Cabernet Sauvignon, which was made in the Paso Robles growing area — a good region for Cab.

Once consumed, that bottle will have a place of honor on my display wine rack, right alongside the bottle my bride and I enjoyed on the day we got engaged, a bottle signed by the late Fess Parker on the day his Parker Winery first opened north of Santa Barbara, and others.

We took a dessert sampler back to our room and finished it off later in the evening. Then it was time to get some sleep, because a tour of Lambeau Field — where we’d see a whole lot more Brett Favre memorabilia — was on the agenda for the next day.

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Posted in Editor's Journal, Our Wine Travel Log
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