Kashawe Camp: Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

The fourth safari destination on our Overseas Adventure Travel Ultimate Africa safari was Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. At this point in our trip we had spent nine nights in three tented camps in Botswana and Zambia. We had only three nights left in Hwange National Park before we headed back to the city (Victoria Falls and then on to Cape Town.) I tried not to think about the fact that our safari was coming to an end, but tried to remain in the moment and enjoy everything Hwange had to offer. And no, we were not tired of watching and photographing the animals!

Drums at Kashawe Camp in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
It was early afternoon by the time we reached Kashawe Camp. Once again multiple transfers were required. We road in a safari vehicle, an airplane and two busses before reaching the safari vehicles that took us to Kashawe Camp.

Fried mopani wormsAlong the way we stopped at an open-air market to purchase two local delicacies: fried mopani worms and the local beer called Chibuku. We would enjoy both one afternoon at Kashawe Camp. The mopani worms had a tough, leathery consistency and were a bit salty tasting. I ate one, but can’t honestly say I enjoyed it very much (but I wanted to)!


ChibukuThe Chibuku beer, which is fermented sorghum, tasted tart, a bit yeasty and was slightly granular in texture. The color was a cloudy beige. It’s also referred to as “shake shake” for its tendency to separate as it sits. Giving the Chibuku a quick shake re-suspends the solids into the liquid.

Speaking of beer, when we finally reached the safari vehicles that would take us to Kashawe Camp it was early afternoon and quite warm. Our guides, Mafuka and Tendai, offered us refreshments and almost everyone chose a cold beer. We so enjoyed the warmth of the afternoon and sipping on that cold beer during our drive to camp.

I also noticed that neatly folded on each seat, along with the usual fleece-lined poncho, was a lap blanket. Assuming we would need both, I wondered just how cold the mornings and evenings would be. Turns out, not colder than any of our previous safari locations, we were just more comfortable.

As had been true of the three prior camps, Kashawe Camp provided us with many unique experiences. This camp had been in operation less than a year at the time of our stay and its location high on a bluff overlooking a riverbed and expansive plain beyond provided spectacular viewing right from camp. One afternoon we saw an enormous herd of Cape Buffalo trekking to the river for a drink. It was quite a sight, and they were a noisy crowd grunting among themselves.

Cape buffalo from Kashawe Camp in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
We wandered out for coffee early each morning and enjoyed our first cup of the day standing around the camp fire. Our guides jokingly called the fire their “African TV.” The warmth of the fire felt so good in the chilly mornings and I found myself alternating between absorbing the warmth of the fire and watching the changing colors on the horizon.

At night the stars just lit-up the sky, in spite of a very bright moon. We all found the night sky in the southern hemisphere unfamiliar and a bit disorienting, but awesome.

Every evening we were escorted to our tents by Mafuka who carried a loaded hunting rifle. By law, at least one guide must carry such a loaded hunting rifle while accompanying guests in Hwange National Park. He carried it with him in the safari vehicle and when in camp it rested in a gun rack.

Nights were very chilly and the warmth of the hot water bottles placed in our beds for us every evening was most welcome. It was during the nights in Kashawe Camp that I first heard lions calling. I heard them calling almost every night, though they eluded us every day on the game drives. This was the only camp where I heard them, and it’s a sound I will never forget.

The scenery in Hwange National Park was mostly golden with tall dry grass and mopani trees with green, gold and rusty-colored leaves. Some areas of the park had many more green trees, so the vegetation was varied as we drove. I didn’t notice as many palm trees as in the Okavango Delta.

Dirt track through Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
In addition there were rolling hills and bluffs along with varied and interesting rock formations. There are many soil types according to our guides including basalt, sandstone and granite.

My recollection was that game was not as numerous as in previous camps, but when I look back at our photos that seems not to be the case. We saw fewer animals during the early mornings of our game drives and the animals did seem more wary of our presence. Many were very well camouflaged. I recall one sighting when we were watching wildebeest without initially noticing the group of giraffes in the background (who were watching us)!

Wildebeest in front, giraffes watching from the brush
We did make many sightings and saw animals that were new to us. We spotted rock hyraxes, (whose closest relative is the elephant), red mongooses and a striped sand snake. We saw both steenbok and klipspringer. Both are small African antelopes with large eyes and ears and small pointed horns. In our slideshow that follows this post, photos of the steenbok show him standing among mopani bushes, and the klipspringer is standing on a large rock. Klipspringer means “rock jumper” in Afrikaans.

We spotted an African hoopoe (a beautifully crested cinnamon-colored bird), a white backed vulture in its nest and enormous hammerkop nest.

We witnessed a very moving display of elephant maternal protection on one of the afternoon game drives. As we were driving along a dirt track Mafuka spotted a group of elephants quite some distance away, across a ravine. He stopped the vehicle so we could watch them and take pictures.

There were several large female elephants and several younger elephants along with a calf in the group. The calf was at the edge of the ravine when its mother sensed our presence and trumpeted an alarm. The calf immediately hightailed it toward her and several aunties along with the mother formed a protective barrier around the youngster.

Group of elephant moms protecting a calf
The calf didn’t hesitate, nor did the aunties, in reacting to the trumpet call of the mother elephant. It all happened in a flash and took some time before the larger elephants let the calf out of their protective “embrace,” all the while their trunks raised trying to catch our scent. I still get goosebumps when recalling the sighting. I managed to catch just the end of the elephant’s reaction in a very shaky video included in the slideshow.

On our second day at Kashawe Camp we went on an all day game drive. We drove out to Masuma Dam, a large man-made watering hole, where we had lunch with a large pod of hippos. We enjoyed the lunch our guides packed for us from the comfort of a large stone and thatch hide. In addition to hippos there were crocodiles and far off in the distance a pair of secretary birds.

There were several families from South Africa in self-drive vehicles camping at the dam. The drive from South Africa takes several days and a stay at the dam requires a reservation well in advance. The viewing at Masuma Dam can be spectacular, with many species using the large water source as the dry season proceeds.

One of the trees at the Masuma Dam campsite was filled with weaver birds and their nests. We have included a brief video of them chattering away at each other in the slideshow.

One final, lasting impression of Hwange National Park involves an enormous, ugly, noisy, dusty open-pit coal mine just adjacent to the park. On our way into and out of the park we drove right by this open sore on the otherwise beautiful landscape. The roads and surrounding buildings and vegetation were covered with coal dust. Large trucks carrying uncovered loads of coal lumbered down the dirt roads spilling coal dust as they went. I worry for the safety of the workers.

Lone baobab tree stands over an open-pit coal mine near Hwange, ZimbabweAs disturbing at this mining operation was to me, I’m glad to have seen it. It is an important part of the total Hwange experience, and a good life experience as well. Up to this time, I had only seen pictures of this kind of mining practice. All of us need to witness first-hand the appalling impact this kind of mining has on the environment, which we share with animals. I will always remember the sights, sounds and smell of the operation.

That said, I wouldn’t trade my experience at Hwange National Park for any other on this trip. The guides and camp staff at Kashawe were particularly engaging, friendly and helpful. Our meals were delicious and the table was always beautifully set, with cloth napkins folded into animal shapes and the table decorated with their artwork.

Kashawe Camp has a gift shop filled with the handicraft of its camp staff. We were very impressed with the carvings, jewelry, wooden bowls and table linens — all made by the camp staff.

As we said good bye to Hwange National Park and our safari experience came to a close I couldn’t help but reflect on our total safari experience. It was amazing. Worth every dollar it cost us. If you have the opportunity and inclination to go on photo safari, do it. The sights, sounds and smells will enrich your life and increase your awareness of the fragility of the wilderness and the importance of preserving it for the animals that inhabit it. With pressure coming from every direction on the decreasing wilderness areas in the world, tourism can be an important means of preservation.

We still had Victoria Falls to look forward to before leaving Zimbabwe. Our stay in Victoria Falls would take us back to the “city” from the wilderness. As it turns out, our stay in Victoria Falls was filled with great memories too…that in our next installment.

In the meantime, please enjoy the slideshow.


Posted in Africa, Vacations and Trips | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Butternut Squash Risotto: White Wine or Rosé for #winePW 5?

The theme for the October Wine Pairing Weekend (#winePW) is Fall Fruits and Wine Pairings. Fall fruits…hmm that title made me think of dessert initially. But, then I got to thinking about what a fall fruit is. I pretty quickly determined that squash is a fruit, and not a vegetable as I had assumed, so that opened-up the possibility of cooking a savory dish instead of a dessert. Since butternut squash is my favorite fall squash, I set about finding a recipe using butternut squash.

The Food

With just a bit of searching online I found a recipe from Ina Garten using roasted butternut squash that sounded very good: Saffron Risotto with Butternut Squash.  I love risotto and enjoy the challenge of cooking it to perfection. And this recipe includes pancetta, which always makes everything taste better.

This recipe took a fair amount of preparation. Peeling and dicing the butternut squash before roasting it was the most time consuming portion. I did that first and got the squash roasting while I diced the pancetta and shallots.

Next I put the stock in a large pot to heat on a back burner of the stove top and then sautéed the pancetta and shallots. With that complete I added the carnaroli rice (which I substituted for arborio rice), then the wine. With most of the wine absorbed by the rice, I began adding the chicken stock two ladles at a time as instructed, then the saffron.

When the stock is absorbed as the rice cooks, I continued to add more stock two ladles at a time. Generally as the risotto cooks I clean the kitchen and keep an ear out for the sound of the risotto cooking in the pot. When the sound changes from a bubble to almost a sizzle, the risotto requires more liquid.

With the risotto cooked through, but still with a bit of texture, I added the cheese and stirred in the roasted butternut squash. It took about 30 minutes to cook the risotto to the desired tenderness.

Saffron Butternut Squash Risotto


The risotto thickens considerably after the cheese is added, so make sure it isn’t too thick when you add the cheese.

We served ourselves, added a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese to our risotto and sat down to enjoy our meal.

The Wine

Since the recipe includes white wine in its preparation, that pairing was a natural. Pete suggested possibly pairing a red wine, maybe something lighter bodied and not too ripe, just to see how that might work.

After rummaging around in the wine cellar we decide on a white wine, but had difficulty selecting a red wine we thought might work. Eventually we decided it might be interesting to try a rosé instead of a red wine, so we chose a white wine and a rosé to pair with the butternut squash risotto.

2013 Punta Crena Pigato Riviera Ligure di Ponente Vigneto Ca da Rena2013 Punta Crena Pigato Riviera Ligure di Ponente Vigneto Ca da Renalight yellow in the glass with delicate melon aromas. Flavors of citrus, melon, stone fruit and a bit of spice finish with a lingering minerality and crisp acidity. ABV 12.5%

This wine is produced by a small, family-owned winery in northern Italy near the village of Varigotti in the Liguria region. The family grows primarily indigenous grape varieties, Pigato being among them. Pigato is the Ligurian name for the white grape called Vermentino elsewhere in Italy.


2013 Chateau les Valentines Le Caprice de Clémentine Les Valentines  Côtes de Provence Rosé2013 Chateau les Valentines Le Caprice de Clémentine Les Valentines Côtes de Provence Rosélight salmon color in the glass with obvious aromas of raspberries and blackberries. Berry flavors combine with lemon zest and crisp acidity for plenty of flavor. ABV 12.5%

The 35-hectare Provence estate of Château les Valentines is located in La-Londe-les-Maures overlooking the Mediterranean. Made from a blend of 50% Grenache and 50% Cinsault, this rosé exhibits the bright, complex, berry flavors I associate and love in a rosé produced from blended grape varieties. We much prefer blended rosé to single variety rosés for this reason.

The Pairing

This Saffron Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash is one of the most flavorful risottos I have tasted. The background flavors from the combination of shallots and pancetta combined nicely with the roasted, caramelized flavors of the butternut squash. The pancetta flavors predominated along with the roasted butternut squash. The parmesan cheese added a creamy saltiness.

Saffron Butternut Squash Risotto and our wine pairing
I’m not convinced the saffron added any identifiable flavors, possibly it’s just part of the background flavors. Next time I prepare this risotto dish I’m going to omit the saffron and see if I can detect a difference in the flavors.

Pete is not a huge fan of butternut squash on its own, but when used to make soup or when it’s combined with other flavors, as is it in this risotto recipe, he enjoys is very much. We found this recipe is a great way for both of us to enjoy roasted butternut squash.

2013 Punta Crena Pigato Riviera Ligure di Ponente Vigneto Ca da Rena

This white wine is so delicious, I’m glad we did not start drinking it while I was cooking, we might not have had much left for our meal. The combination of delicate melon and stone fruit flavors and the interesting minerality proved to be a delicious combination.

Speaking of a delicious combination, that perfectly describes the pairing of this wine with the butternut risotto. The flavors of the wine stood up to the flavors of the risotto, but did not interfere with them. Same of the risotto with regard to the wine. The flavors of both were maintained and they went perfectly together. This was my favorite pairing of the two wines with the risotto.

2013 Chateau les Valentines Le Caprice de Clémentine Les Valentines Côtes de Provence Rosé

This delightfully flavorful rosé is one I just want to sip on a warm afternoon. No food necessary, however it paired very well with this risotto dish. The berry flavors of the wine were accentuated by the caramelized flavors of the risotto. This wine was Pete’s favorite pairing with the risotto because the wine was so flavorful.

If you have the time and patience to prepare risotto, this is a recipe I would recommend. Roasting the butternut squash adds so much flavor as do the sautéed pancetta and shallots. It is a dish that is rich, flavorful and satisfying. It’s worth the time it takes to prepare. As you can see, we both enjoyed this meal very much.

It's all gone!


Wine Pairing Weekend #5 Bloggers: here’s what all of the other bloggers have created for the October Wine Pairing Weekend!

On the Menu…


Pumpkin Lasagna with Halter Ranch’s Côtes de Paso by Culinary Adventures with Camilla

Squash and Sausage Soup with Pumpkin Cornbread and McKinley Springs 2010 Bombing Range Red by Tasting Pour

Linguine with Roasted Carnival Squash and a Garnacha by Cooking Chat

Pinot Vs. Syrah – Pork Tenderloin with Fig & Apple Sauce by Confessions of a Culinary Diva


Caramelized Almond Apple Upside Down Cake with a Late Harvest Riesling by A Day in the Life on the Farm


Wines for a Sweet & Savory Fall Harvest Meal by foodwineclick

Fall Fruit and Wine Pairing by Rockin Red Blog

Autumn Pumpkin Food Flair by Vino Travels — An Italian Wine Blog

Autumn Puff Pastry Tart and La Crema Chardonnay by It’s Okay to Eat the Cupcake

Join the #winePW conversation: Follow the #winePW conversation on Twitter throughout the weekend and beyond. If you’re reading this early enough, you can join us for a live Twitter chat on our theme “Fall Fruits + Wine” on Saturday, October 11, from 11 a.m. to noon Eastern Time. You can also visit our group Pinterest board to pin some great pairing ideas for later!

Stay tuned for the November Wine Pairing Weekend, which will be on Saturday, November 8. Sarah of Curious Cuisiniere (http://www.curiouscuisiniere.com/) will be hosting November’s ‪#‎winePW‬ with the theme of Creative Thanksgiving Pairings. Join the fun!

Posted in #winePW, Tasting Notes, Wine Pairing | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

Oak Farm Vineyards: State of the Art Winemaking on a Historic Property

The Oak Farm Vineyards sign stands along a meticulously whitewashed fence in the shade of an oak tree. How appropriate. This beautiful 70-acre property is located on DeVries Road in Lodi and is dotted with historic buildings dating back to 1864. Many of the oak trees date back even further.

Oak Farm Vineyards sign
The stars of the historic buildings are the impressive two-story home, reminiscent of a stately plantation home, and a beautiful old barn. Both have been lovingly restored. Between the two is the current tasting room and gardens. Behind all of this is a beautiful pond surrounded by well-manicured lawns. The setting is so peaceful. You would hardly guess you were in Lodi.

Oak Farm Vineyard homeOak Farm Vineyards barn

Oak Farm VineyardsOak Farm Vineyards pond











Standing in contrast to the historic buildings and towering oak trees is a beautiful new wine production facility than includes a spacious wine tasting area. We recently attended a media tour of the new production facility hosted by the Panella family. Managing partner, Dan Panella and winemaker Chad Joseph led the tour along with Dorothy Panella, Dan’s mother.

Oak Farm Vineyards winery and tasting room

Oak Farm Vineyards Tasting Room — Grand Opening October 25 & 26, 2014

The new facility sits right among the vines. It has a production capacity of 7000 cases and includes a large crush pad, tank room, barrel room, offices and a laboratory on the east side of the building. This is the the portion of the facility that Chad is most excited about. At 2000 square feet each, there is plenty of room for expansion in both the tank and barrel rooms.

Crush pad equipment at Oak Farm VineyardsTank room at Oak Farm Vineyards

Barrel room at Oak Farm Vineyards
New laboratory at Oak Farm Vineyards












After several years of “cooking out of someone else’s kitchen,” as Dan puts it, he is happy to have winemaking move to the farm. He and Chad will have complete control of the winemaking process in their own facility. Dan lives just beyond the vineyard, so he can pop into the winery at any time.

Adjacent to the “working” portion of the facility is an open area with a double-sided fireplace and seating on both sides. At the other end of the courtyard is a water feature. The building is positioned such that from the courtyard it is possible to look straight beyond the vineyard and see the restored mansion. A lovely contrast between old and new.

Fireplace in the courtyard Oak Farm VineyardsFireplace Oak Farm Vineyards

Fireplace and tasting room Oak Farm VineyardsMansion at Oak Farm Vineyards













This courtyard area connects the production side of the facility with the beautiful tasting room. The rectangular tasting bar is covered in natural stone. An imposing fireplace stands at one end of the tasting room and is surrounded by large, comfortable leather chairs. Behind the fireplace is an area that can be used for a conference room or for private tastings.

Oak Farm Vineyards tasting roomFireside seating at Oak Farm Vineyards







Yet another outdoor seating area is located along the front of the facility. This eastern exposure will be enjoyable in the early morning and even on a warm afternoon when it will be shaded by the building.

The building has been designed to create a grand entrance with a long walk to the building, the water feature, outdoor seating and fireplace. The tasting room is certainly grand on its own. In addition, the design has created a series of “vignettes,” or intimate seating areas for small groups throughout the tasting areas of the facility. At about 3400 square feet, the tasting and conference room areas will provide plenty of space and a variety of settings to enjoy Oak Farm Vineyards’ wine.

So what about their wine? We had the opportunity to sit down with Dan and Chad to talk and taste Oak Farm Vineyards’ wine during a prior visit along with our friend and blogger Peter Nowack (thank you Peter.)

As a winemaker, Chad’s goal is to gain an understanding of the wine vision of his client, then implement that vision. Together, Chad and Dan have produced a selection of white wines that is as diverse as any in Lodi and a range of interesting red wines. These wines reflect Dan’s interest is in making small lot wines with a very hands-on approach.

White wines from Oak Farm Vineyards
2012 Oak Farm Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc — produced in the New Zealand style according to Chad. That means active vineyard management with leaf thinning and harvesting relatively early with particular attention to pH and ºBrix. In the cellar, the choice of yeast for fermentation in stainless steel produces the desired flavor profile. This Sauvignon Blanc is fresh, citrusy and crisp. Herbaceous flavors are well in the background.

2013 Oak Farm Vineyards Verdelho — sourced from Ron Silva’s Silvaspoons Vineyard in the Alta Mesa AVA, a sub-appellation of the Lodi AVA, has a bit more body, with floral flavors and great acidity. This Verdelho would be especially enjoyable on a warm afternoon.

2012 Oak Farm Vineyards Chardonnay — is made in both an oaked and unoaked style, because Dan finds a demand for both. The unoaked Chardonnay is bright and lively with citrus flavors and a touch of minerality. This production is picked at a lower ºBrix to preserve the natural acidity of the Chardonnay grape. Just a bit of Viognier is added to the blend as well.

The oaked Chardonnay is a nice combination of riper citrus flavors with oak spice in the background. This wine has more body, due to malolactic fermentation and about 7 months of aging in 25% new French oak.

The oak does not trample the flavor of the Chardonnay fruit and the style of this Chardonnay is distinct from the unoaked version. Both are delicious. The unoaked Chardonnay is easily enjoyed on its own and the oaked Chardonnay will pair nicely with a variety of food.
Red wines from Oak Farm Vineyards
Tievoli — this non-vintage red blend is intended to be an easy-drinking wine to enjoy with a variety of food. This blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah is medium bodied with generous, ripe fruit flavors and a bit of spice.

This first release of Tievoli was aged about 9 months in oak. Future releases will be identified by Lot numbers with blends and oak aging varying for each lot.

The story behind the name of this wine is fun. Tievoli is “I love it” spelled backward. Also, according to Dan, Tievoli is a slang word meaning essentially “you want this.” That works too.

2012 Oak Farm Vineyards Barbera — ripe dark fruit flavors, very dry, not too much oak influence. It’s medium bodied and has nice acidity.

2011 Oak Farm Vineyards Zinfandel — very dark in the glass with ripe dark fruit flavors, peppery spice, nice tannin structure and a medium body. The Zinfandel for this wine was grown on the west side of Lodi.

Oak Farm Vineyards will release two Zinfandels from the 2012 vintage. One will be a vineyard-designate.

To achieve Dan’s goal of becoming an Estate winery the vineyards are being re-planted. Vines that have not produced fruit to Dan and Chad’s liking have been removed. The remaining Primitivo and recently acquired Zinfandel vineyards are being actively managed to produce the best quality fruit possible.

Three acres of Verdelho have been planted as have 3 acres of Sauvignon Blanc. Dan chose Clone 1 Sauvignon Blanc because he and Chad believe that clone will produce the flavors they prefer for their Sauvignon Blanc. About 5 acres of Chardonnay have been planted.

Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Sangiovese and Malbec round out the red variety plantings.

While Dan and Chad continue to produce wine from established vineyards in Lodi and possibly beyond, the foundation for Dan’s goal of becoming an Estate winery has clearly been laid. As Chad puts it, “It will be interesting to see where we will be in 10 years.” Indeed.

Oak Farm Vineyards logo


Wine production in the new facility began with the 2014 vintage. Oak Farm Vineyards will celebrate their new facility with a Grand Opening on October 25 & 26 when the tasting room opens to the public. Fall is a perfect time to enjoy wine tasting among the vines. The new wine tasting areas will provide you with many areas to relax and enjoy the view and the wines from Oak Farm Vineyards. A feast for your eyes as well as your palate.


From the Oak Farm Vineyards website:

Wine Tasting
Open 5 days a week, Thursday-Monday 11am-5pm (Closed Tues, Wed)

*For groups of 8 or more, please call in advance to pre-arrange an appointment.  A $5 tasting fee per person will be charged to a single credit card upon arrival.
For more information: tastingroom@oakfarmvineyards.com  or call our Tasting Room at (209) 365-6565

23627 DeVries Road
Lodi, CA 95242


Posted in Lodi Wine, Winery Profiles | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Bechthold Vineyard: Ancient Vine Cinsault in Lodi

The Bechthold Vineyard is 25 acres of Cinsault planted on the west side of Lodi — in the Mokelumne River sub-appellation of the Lodi AVA. This own-rooted vineyard was planted in 1886 by Joseph Spenker. Fortunately the soil on the west side of Lodi is particularly sandy (sandy loam to be exact), and too well drained to allow phylloxera a toehold. That good fortune, along with the family’s desire to preserve this part of their farming history has allowed this gem of a vineyard to remain productive at 128 years of age.

Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault

Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault – Photo Provided by Michael David Winery

For most of its life, the Bechthold Vineyard was thought to be Black Malvoisie, and of very little interest to California winemakers. Mostly the crop was sold to home winemakers elsewhere at a price that barely made farming the vineyard worthwhile. In about 2004 the vineyard was identified by UC Davis as Cinsault and that changed everything. The line of winemakers seeking Cinsault from Bechthold Vineyard formed almost immediately. Today as many as 17 wineries share the crop from this grand old vineyard.

Since 2008 Kevin Phillips of Michael David Winery has been responsible for farming Bechthold Vineyard. Recently, Kevin joined Camron King of LoCA (Lodi Winegrape Commission) and Adam Mettler, also from Michael David Winery, for an online discussion and tasting of wine from Bechthold Vineyard. We were invited to join the conversation and provided with the four wines for this special tasting.

Kevin was full of information about the farming practices and harvest preferences of the wineries whose wine we tasted. Bechthold Vineyard is dry-farmed following sustainable and organic practices. He takes very good care of these old vines and always with an eye to keeping the vineyard healthy.

Bechthold Vineyard Buyers Map Acreage Courtesy Michael-David Winery

Bechthold Vineyard Buyers Map – Provided by Michael David Winery

A portion of the vineyard, which lies in close proximity to an irrigation canal, is used for rosé production by a number of wineries. The roots of this ancient vineyard are able to tap into water seepage from the canal which produces fruit distinct from the rest of the vineyard.

You can see this area identified on the lower portion of the vineyard map, as well as the vineyard blocks designated to the lucky few who are making wine from this lovely old Cinsault vineyard. The character of the fruit does vary within the vineyard, and winemakers have staked-out their rows accordingly.

As long as we are on the topic of irrigation, Kevin did admit to flood irrigating Bechthold Vineyard after harvest every year, just once, to make sure the old vines are maintained in the best possible health. Other than that one soaking, no water is applied to the vineyard.

On to the four wines we enjoyed during this tasting.

2013 Michael David Winery Ancient Vine Cinsault2013 Michael David Winery Ancient Vine Cinsaultbright ruby in the glass with generous bright red fruit aromas. Flavors of tart cherries and ripe raspberries combine with smooth tannins and nice acidity. Lovely bright fruit, not too much oak influence. ABV 14.5%, SRP $25.

This wine is a departure from some of the more lusciously ripe and wood-influenced wines made by Michael David, but this Cinsault is juicy and flavorful. It spends 12 months aging in neutral French oak. Pair it with charcuterie or grilled pork chops.

2013 Turley Wine Cellars Bechtoldt Vineyard Cinsault2013 Turley Wine Cellars Bechtoldt Vineyard Cinsaultlight ruby in the glass with aromas of tart raspberries. Flavors follow the aromas with tart raspberries plus some minerality and a lingering spiciness. The body is so light and the tannins very delicate.  ABV 13%, SRP $17. Turley Wine Cellars uses the above spelling for the vineyard on their label and their winery web site.

Winemaker Tegan Passalacqua prefers to harvest Cinsault from this vineyard early, on August 19 for this 2013 vintage. He uses 100% whole cluster fermentation and only native yeast for primary and malolactic fermentation. What you taste in the glass is just what the vineyard provided.

This wine is delicately elegant and would pair nicely with salads, roasted chicken or even just chilled by itself on a warm afternoon. And in case you were wondering about the $17 price, it is not a typo. It could be magic though.

2012 Estate Crush Bechthold Cinsault2012 Estate Crush Bechthold Cinsaultlight to medium ruby in the glass with aromas of dark berries. Raspberry and blackberry flavors with hints of earth combine with smooth tannins. Fruit flavors linger along with tannins. ABV 13.8%, SRP $26.

Darker berry flavors characterize this wine, but it still has a relatively light body and smooth tannins. Very nice. Estate Crush is a custom crush facility located in downtown Lodi. Only 100 cases of this 2012 Bechthold Cinsault were produced.


2011 Onesta Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault2011 Onesta Bechthold Vineyard Cinsaultdarker ruby in the glass with cedar spice and black tea aromas. Flavors of black raspberries along with an amazing pop of cedar combine with smooth tannins and juicy acidity. ABV 14.5%, SRP $29.

370 cases were produced by winemaker Jillian Johnson who chooses to harvest her Cinsault relatively late. This vintage spent only 9 months aging in neutral oak and has spent the most time in the bottle of any in this group of wines. Flavors are developed and nicely integrated. This wine would be delicious with grilled meat.

Cinsault is most often used as a blending grape, to add layers of berry fruit flavors and smooth tannins. It is used for that purpose in the southern Rhone and Languedoc regions in France and by others producing Rhone style wines. In addition to its use in red wine production, Cinsault is a part of many blended rosé wines as well. It plays well with others.

But Cinsault from Bechthold Vineyard does nicely on its own too, as these four wines demonstrate. Produced by four winemakers with distinct styles, over three vintages, these wines gave us a good sense of the berry fruit and spice flavors Cinsault from Bechthold Vineyard is capable of producing. Happily, flavors from wood aging are well in the background of the flavors produced by the fruit.

The Bechthold Vineyard has so many special qualities. 128 years old. Own-rooted. Dry farmed. Farmed organically and sustainably. All of these things make for an interesting and unique story, but in the end its all about the flavor. Cinsault from Bechthold Vineyard delivers on that note as well, no doubt a result of all of those qualities that make its story so interesting.

So, if you are looking for a wine for fall, or for Thanksgiving, or you want to challenge your perception of the kind of wine produced in Lodi, consider Cinsault from Bechthold Vineyard. You will likely not be disappointed.

Great tasting, so instructive to taste these wines together. Thank you to LoCA and Charles Communications Associates. Thanks also to Camron, Kevin and Adam. You guys possess a wealth of knowledge about Lodi wine production. Thanks for sharing it with us.


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Rinascimento Wine Company: Building Relationships, Selling Italian Wine

Relationships are a big part of wine appreciation. Just think about how you have found some of your favorite wines. It’s likely been through your local wine merchant with whom you have developed a relationship, learning how your tastes compare to his or her tastes and recommendations. Or maybe a friend recommended a wine or winery to you. Maybe the relationship is a bit less personal, maybe you read a review in a wine magazine or an online publication.

However your appreciation for wine has developed, at some point we all rely on the knowledge and experience of others. With really good wines being made all over the world, it’s not possible to visit everywhere or become an expert on everything — well at least that’s the case for most of us.

Through our Twitter community of friends we have become acquainted with Guy and Tina at Protocol Wine Studio and their #WineStudio Twitter-based wine education program where they encourage us to “engage our brains and palates.” They choose the topic and the guests who provide the wine*. Then we all meet via Twitter on Tuesday evenings to taste and Tweet. It’s fun and informative.

We have spent Tuesday evenings during September learning about Rinascimento Wine Company and its founder Justin Gallen. Justin has combined his love of wine and Italian literature into an Italian wine import and distribution business in California. He is busy building relationships with producers and clients alike.

Justin sat down with Guy from Protocol Wine Studio for a conversation about how he got into the wine import business and what drives him. You can head over to SoundCloud and give a listen if you like.

Justin imports Italian wine produced primarily by small, family-owned wineries making wine using organic, biodynamic or sustainable farming practices. All of these farming practices are really good for for the environment, and presumably what’s good for the environment is reflected in the quality of grapes. These things are important to me, however for most consumers of wine they are not so important. Taste, according to Justin is the bottom line. That of course makes perfect sense, but if you can have both, why not?

Justin sent us samples of four wines from three producers. We tasted them during two tastings that followed the initial evening of conversation. The first tasting included two wines from southern Italian regions of Abruzzo and Basilicata. For the second tasting we moved North to Piedmont.

2013 Francesco Cirelli Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo2013 Francesco Cirelli Cerasuolo d’Abruzzolight, translucent ruby color in the glass. Aromas of strawberries and cherries are followed by lime zest and tart cherry flavors. The wine finishes with clean acidity, a hint of tannin and lingering cherry flavors. ABV 12.5%

This lovely wine is so flavorful with a nice weight in the mouth thanks to the hint of tannin it possesses. We sipped this wine with a creamy pasta and it was just delicious. We served it chilled as we would a rosé and it released even more aromas and flavors as it warmed in the glass. We will certainly be looking for more examples of Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo in the future.

This wine challenged me in several respects. First, the color and shape of the bottle (dead leaf green Burgundy style) lead me to expect a red wine, not a rosé. But, when I held the bottle up to the light the wine was not opaque, but translucent.

We learned during the Twitter chat that Francesco Cirelli could not afford different bottles for the Cerasuolo when he first began wine production, so used the same green bottles he had for his red wine production. I guess the bottle choice just became a matter of routine after that.

Second, the color of this wine is lovely, but much darker than many rosés and lighter than a red wine. Its color is achieved by relatively short juice contact with the darkly pigmented skins of the Montepulciano grapes as fermentation begins, only 10 to 12 hours. Cerasuolo in the name refers to both a cherry-like color of the wine and the fact that the wine has aromas and flavors of cherries.

Then finally, there is the grape variety Montepulciano, which by regulation must comprise at least 85% of DOC classified Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo.

This grape variety is indigenous to the Abruzzo region, but the name may be most familiar as part of the Tuscan DOCG named Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which is made primarily from Sangiovese and not Montepulciano. Perhaps the memory of this delicious Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo will help me remember the distinction.

If you would like to hear the proper pronunciation of Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, you can hear Francesco Cirelli himself pronounce it in a post on the excellent Do Bianchi blog site.

Francesco Cirelli label

This wine is part of a portfolio of organic products produced by Francesco Cirelli. Visit their website for an overview of their wines and to get “the lay of the land.” You will know what I mean by that when you visit their site. They even have bed & breakfast accommodations.



Musto Carmelitano 2010 Serra del Prete Aglianico del Vulture2010 Musto Carmelitano Serra del Prete Aglianico del Vulturemedium ruby in the glass. Spice and dark fruit aromas are followed by dark fruit, black tea and spicy flavors. Tannins are ample and grippy. The body is light to medium with excellent acidity. ABV 14%

When we received these samples from Justin I was very exited that an Aglianico del Vulture was among them. I have tried only one other, and enjoyed it very much. This Aglianico did not disappoint. The combination of fruit, spice, ample tannins and a lighter body is just what I enjoy in a red wine.

Monte Vulture is an extinct volcano and gives the Aglianico del Vulture DOC within the Basilicata region its name.

One of the things I find so interesting about this wine is that it is fermented and aged in only stainless steel and cement vats, no wood aging at all. This wine has so much flavor, spice and depth and it is wonderful to taste all of the complex flavors of this 100% Aglianico without the influence of wood aging. Once again, this wine is produced from organically grown grapes. It is not fined or filtered. What’s not to love about this wine?

If you are uncertain as to the correct pronunciation of Aglianico del Vulture refer once again to Do Bianchi. Thank you @truewinecultur for the link.

Our second Tuesday of wine tasting took us to Piedmont in northern Italy and the wines of G.D. Vajra.

G.D. Vajra wine estate was founded in 1972 on family property located in the village of Vergne in Barolo. The vineyards, at about 400 meters elevation, have a variety of soil types and sun exposures. They are farmed organically, sustainably and without irrigation.

2011 G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Alba2011 G.D. Vajra Barbera d’Albainky dark ruby-violet color in the glass. Generous dark, ripe fruit aromas combine with similar dark fruit flavors, leather and earth. This medium-bodied wine has ample tannins and is lushly ripe but maintains great acidity. ABV 14.5%

This 100% Barbera is all about the flavor of the fruit. It is produced from six distinct vineyard terrors within Barolo, Novello and Sinio communes. Aging is in a combination of stainless steel and oak, but with little new oak. It would pair nicely with grilled steak.


2009 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe2009 G.D. Vajra Barolo Albetranslucent garnet-tinged ruby color in the glass with aromas of celery and dark fruit. Dark fruit flavors, spicy cedar and tobacco blend with significant, drying tannins for a mouthful of flavor. Love the lighter body and great acidity of this wine. ABV 14.5%

The translucent color of this wine belies the abundance of flavor and tannins it delivers, but hints at its lighter body. I love a lighter hued wine that packs a powerful punch of flavor and tannins. That is just what this wine delivers. Delicious.

Nebbiolo for this wine is grown in three vineyards in Barolo with distinct soil types located at altitudes between 400 and 440 meters. The wine is aged in used Slovenian oak barrels for 36 months.

When G.D. Vajra was established in the 1970s by Aldo Vaira, a professor turned winemaker, it was named for his father Giuseppe Domenico, who owned the vineyards. At that time they took back the traditional spelling of their family name for the wine estate. The family name had been changed to Vaira in the 1930s, upon order of Benito Mussolini according to Justin, which is how you will see the surnames of the family spelled. There is always a connection to the people behind the wine for Justin.

Rinascimento Wine Company import label

Next time you purchase a bottle of Italian wine be sure to look at the back of the bottle for an import label. Maybe you will find the beautiful Rinascimento Wine Company label and you will know it is a bottle carefully chosen by Justin.


Hats off to Protocol Wine Studio for another great #WineStudio event. Thanks to Justin Gallen for sharing not only your passion for Italian wine, but your delicious wine with us. It was an enjoyable and illuminating experience.

*Wine is most often the topic of conversation on #WineStudio, but during October it will be all about Virginia hard cider.



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Lafupa Camp in Kafue National Park, Zambia: A Beautiful River Camp

It was a long travel day to Lafupa Camp from the Okavango Delta in Botswana, but the folks at Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) took care of every detail. We rose early, had a quick breakfast before driving to the landing strip where we flew back to the Kasane airport, then drove to the Kazungula Ferry crossing which took us across the Zambezi River into Zambia. From the ferry crossing we drove to Livingstone and then flew from Harry Mwanga Nkumbula International Airport, in small single-engine airplanes, to a dirt landing strip not far from Lafupa Camp which we reached by safari vehicle. Whew!

Not only were we greeted at Lafupa Camp by the beautiful singing of the camp staff (and damp washcloths to wipe the dust from our faces) but by warmer weather as well. And our schedule felt a bit more relaxed at Lafupa, which was a welcome change after what seemed like a very hectic, fast-paced few days in the Okavango Delta.

Lafupa Camp, Zambia

The camp is located at the confluence of the Lafupa River with the Kafue River and has a lovely deck at the river’s edge. There were no raised walkways at Lafupa camp and our tented cabins were built on low platforms just at the edge of the Kafue River.

Lafupa River Camp, Zambia
Our days and nights in camp were dominated by the grunting and squabbling of hippos and with the beautiful calls of the many kingfisher species that live along the river. Once again, elephants were a regular part of camp life. We often heard elephants just outside our tent at night and I watched one come down to the river for a drink just next to our tent one afternoon. Fascinating and frightening at the same time.

The first day we enjoyed morning and afternoon game drives through Kafue National Park, but at a more leisurely pace. We were able to sleep in a bit later in the morning and with warmer weather the drives were very enjoyable.

Elephant dung which deters tsetse flies when lit
We had the usual “tea and pee” stops during the game drives to enjoy a cup of bush tea and a biscuit or two. We noticed cans filled with elephant dung attached to the corners of the game vehicles. It didn’t take long for someone to ask why.  Tsetse flies are a potential problem in Kafue National Park, their bite is very painful, and burning elephant dung acts as a repellant. So, whenever a tsetse flies were around, the elephant dung was lit. The smell of burning elephant dung reminded me of incense.

Unique to this park is the seasonal burning of grasslands within the park. Sections of the park are intentionally burned to prevent a large wildfire from taking hold and moving across wide portions of the park. Thankfully the burning had taken place before our arrival, as visibility is poor during the burns. We noticed much of the burned grasses had already begun to sprout again, bringing game back into the burned areas.

Animal sightings during daytime game drives were not as numerous as in Botswana, but nighttime game drives were unique for us to Kafue National Park. We enjoyed two nighttime drives during which our driver used a large spotlight to sight game. Both drivers were careful not to keep the light on the animals for too long, so as to minimize stress to the animals. Needless to say photography at night was a challenge. We spotted a blue duiker, black civet, spotted genet (absolutely gorgeous), scrub hare, hyenas, hippos and bush babies (well, actually I only saw their eyes shining back at me.) With warmer evenings and slower driving speeds at night, these nighttime drives were really enjoyable.

Gin and Tonic and a beer on safari in ZambiaI enjoyed my first gin and tonic of the trip one afternoon on the deck at Lafupa Camp. Having a gin and tonic a must for any visit to Africa, in my book. It tasted delicious and made me think of the safari stories of the past I have read.

On our second day at Lafupa Camp we toured via the rivers. We enjoyed morning and afternoon “floats” on both rivers. In the morning we ladies boarded one boat for game viewing and the guys boarded a fishing boat and tried their luck fishing along the Lafupa River.

We had great luck sighting many birds from the comfort of our “party boat”.  It was a flat boat with rows of seats and railings all around. Our guide, Milos, captained the boat from the rear of the vessel. It was so relaxing to float along the slow moving Lafupa River taking pictures and watching the scenery.

Pete with a fish on the Lafupa River, ZambiaIn the meantime the guys were fishing for anything that would bite under the guidance of Boyd, who knew all of the good fishing holes. They caught silver barbel and African pike. Everyone caught fish and they all had a merry old time. Pete was so happy to have the opportunity to fish in Africa. It was something he was hoping to have the opportunity to do. He even caught fish with large teeth which pleased him even more!

In the afternoon we headed up the Kafue River to sightsee, and the guys motored back to the Lafupa River for more fishing. Milos guided our boat near the shore so that we could see and take pictures of the many birds, plants and animals along the the riverbank.

Elephant in the Kafue River, ZambiaAs we were floating along Milos spotted something very exciting off in the distance. He directed our attention up river to what through our inexperienced eyes we thought was a large rock in the river. Turned out it was moving — it was an elephant crossing the river. Even Milos was excited to discover the elephant and took out his own camera to take pictures.

While keeping a safe and non-threatening distance between us and the elephant, we slowly circled as he proceeded to cross the river. We all just wanted to keep watching, not wanting to return to camp. Needless to say the sighting really made our afternoon.

Soon after, Milos broke open the drinks cooler and poured wine or beer all around. We had the most relaxing float back to camp and to top off our elephant sighting we came upon a baby hippo along the riverbank. What a perfect afternoon.

One more memory of Lafupa Camp that will forever remain with me is the nursery rhyme I learned from Jeanne, one of our fellow travelers. We ladies practiced singing the rhyme as we returned to camp and offered our rendition, complete with acting from Kathy and Leslie, to the “cultural exchange” that evening. Let’s just say we received mix reviews. Here are the lyrics, maybe it is familiar to you.

I went to the animal fair
The birds and the beasts were there
The big baboon by the light of the moon was combing his auburn hair
The monkey he got drunk and fell on the elephant’s trunk
The elephant sneezed and fell to his knees
And that was the end of the monk
The monk, the monk, the monk.

Learning from your fellow travelers is one of the fun aspects of group travel. Thanks Jeanne.

Here are a few of the highlights from our time spent at Lafupa River Camp in Kafue National Park, Zambia. The slideshow begins with our travel to the park from the Okavango Delta. You will be able to see the colorfully painted houses along the road, and even a car wash. Also included are several videos. Watch carefully, and you will see one picture of two kingfishers later in the slideshow. One of the kingfishers has a fish in its mouth, the other is thinking about taking the fish away. Please enjoy.


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#winePW 4: Sicily

When David posted the theme for the September #winePW (wine pairing weekend) both Pete and I knew right away we wanted to participate. This month’s theme, Regional Food and Wine Pairings, leaves a whole world full of regions to consider. We pretty quickly narrowed our choice to Sicily.

We are planning to visit Sicily next year and have already started collecting information and started thinking about what we want to do and see. Our desire to visit the island was prompted by a tasting of wines from Sicily at our local wine shop, Fine Wines of Stockton. We fell in love with the indigenous varieties we tasted and have continued to look for Sicilian wines since then.

As luck would have it we had a Sicilian white wine in our cellar, one we had purchased when we were last at Les Marchands in Santa Barbara.

The Wine

2012 Graci Etna Bianco 2012 Graci Etna Biancomedium yellow in the glass. Interesting aromas of melon and spice combine with melon, tart pineapple and hints of cedar flavors. The finish is clean. This wine has more weight in the mouth than I expected and has an interesting combination of fruit and spice flavors. 13% ABV.

Online prices for Etna Bianco range from $21 to $27. We did not note how much we paid.

The Etna Bianco is a blend of indigenous varieties, 70% Carricante and 30% Cataratto, organically grown on the northeast slope of Mt. Etna. The sandy dark soil is volcanic in origin and high in iron. Only natural yeast is used to facilitate fermentation and the wine goes through partial (20%) malolactic fermentation. No wood is used during fermentation or aging.

The Food

So, what is Sicilian food exactly? We had no idea, so we did some research online. We found many seafood recipes, egg plant (aubergine) is commonly used, arancini, dishes with capers and lemons. Then there are the desserts; cannoli, Sicilian marzipan, pistachio gelato.

Ultimately we decided on pistachio pesto. Pesto has been on my mind, as our basil is looking very healthy. We found several pistachio recipes, some of which included basil and or mint. In the end we chose a very simple pistachio pesto recipe prepared with just onion, ground pistachios, cream, crushed red pepper and Parmigiano Reggiano.

We prepared Farfalle with Pistachio Cream Sauce from Pinch My Salt. This recipe is simple and challenged my idea of what pesto is. Pistachios are the star of this dish.

Obviously, we did not have Sicilian pistachios so we did the next best thing and went to our Farmers’ Market and purchased locally grown pistachios. They were in the shell and salted. Shelling the pistachios was the most difficult part of the preparation.

Ground pistachios


For the first time in a long time, I followed the recipe without modification – kinda sorta. I ground the pistachios in a small food processor. A purist would require that they be ground in a mortar and pestle, but I cheated. My bad.



I chopped and sautéd half a yellow onion and added the ground pistachios, a pinch of crushed red pepper and enough olive oil to make a thick paste.

Sautéd onion and ground pistachiosPistachios, sautéd onion and olive oil








To the pistachio onion mixture I added the heavy cream, a bit of finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano and a bit of freshly ground pepper.  After stirring all of the ingredients together, I added the cooked farfalle (bow tie pasta to me) and tossed it all together.

Cream and pistachio pestoPasta and creamy pistachio pesto









I served a generous portion into a bowl for both of us and topped each with a sprinkle of ground pistachios. We dug in.

Farfalle with Pistachio Cream Sauce

The Pairing

The pasta was creamy and rich with a contrasting crunch from the ground pistachios. There was a bit of heat in the background from the crushed red pepper. The dish was comforting without being too heavy. I didn’t add any salt, because the pistachios were salted and the Parmigiano add saltiness.

Farfalle with Pistachio Cream Sauce and Graci Etna Bianco
The Graci Etna Bianco had enough acid to cut through the creamy, cheesy pasta and plenty of flavor to compliment the pistachio flavors. A lovely pairing, even for a summer evening. I admit to serving myself seconds of both.

Thanks to David for inspiring this delicious meal. It is very unlikely we would have discovered this delicious recipe without your inspiration. I will absolutely make this recipe again and encourage you to give it a try as well.


Be sure to check out these great pairings from my fellow #winePW 4 bloggers!

Culinary Adventures with Camilla posted “Chuletas de Cordero + Tempranillo

Vino Travels — An Italian Wine Blog shared “Piedmont Pleasures

Grape Experiences is pairing “Avantis Estate Malagousia 2013 and Greek Shrimp

Curious Cuisiniere shared “Cheddar Cranberry Grilled Cheese with Door Peninsula Winery’s Peninsula Red

foodwineclick is sharing “Minnesota Wine at the Midwestern Table

Pull That Cork posted “winePW 4: Sicily

Confessions of a Culinary Diva blogged about “New Mexico: Burgers, Bubbles and Beer

Rockin Red Blog shared about “A Rustic Meal in Valpolicella

Cooking Chat blogged about “A Paso Pairing: Grilled Tuna with Halter Ranch Syrah

Join the #winePW conversation: Follow the #winePW conversation on Twitter throughout the weekend and beyond. If you’re reading this early enough, you can join us for a live Twitter chat on our theme “Regional Food & Wine Pairings” on Saturday, September 13, from 11 a.m. to noon Eastern Time. Questions for the chat are posted here on the #winePW site. You can also visit our group Pinterest board to pin some great pairing ideas for later! Stay tuned for the October Wine Pairing Weekend, which will focus on “Fall Fruits and Wine Pairings” on Saturday, October 11.


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Okavango Delta, Botswana: Palm Trees, Water and Elephants in the Neighborhood!

After two full days of game drives in Chobe National Park we moved on to the Okavango Delta. We were awakened at 5 am by the usual drumbeat and sleepily hauled out of bed. Having packed the night before, we headed to breakfast by 5:30 am and departed Baobab Safari Lodge an hour later.

After the ride to Kasane International Airport we flew into a dirt airstrip not far from our private Wilderness Safari tented camp located adjacent to the Moremi Game Reserve. The tented camp is located on the Sankoyo Concession, a wildlife management area adjacent to the Moremi Game Reserve.


Wildlife management areas adjacent to Reserves and National Parks attempt to protect wildlife, which of course range outside of protected areas, and habitat in these areas by engaging local communities in conservation and tourism activities. Members of local villages develop or allow private safari companies to develop lodging in their area.

We were greeted at the airstrip by Sixteen and Julius the game drivers for our stay in the Okavango Delta. Also greeting us was a stiff, chilly wind which caused us to quickly grab the ponchos left for us in the game vehicles.

We enjoyed our morning ‘tea and pee’ at the edge of the landing strip and watched as the Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) group ahead of us left for their next destination, just as we would in four days’ time.

While the terrain in the Okavango Delta region seemed familiar to us, it was distinctly different as well. The first thing we noticed was the very strong scent of sage. Five of us in our game vehicle were Californians and are familiar with the aroma of sage that grows along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It was just like that.

Sage bush in the Okavango Delta
The next thing I noticed were the many very tall palm trees and many small palm ‘bushes.’ Sixteen explained to us that the palms were first planted in the Delta in the 1890s by Arab traders. At the time there were no elephants in the area, so the trees grew tall and strong. When elephants came to the area they began feeding on the smaller palms and developed a taste for hearts of palm, just like us. They were unable to feed on the very tall trees, so they remain undamaged, but the elephants continue to feed on the smaller palms. For this reason there are no intermediate-sized palms in the area.

Palms large and small in the Okavango Delta

Sixteen also warned us to watch for thorn trees as we drove through the wooded areas. He cautioned, “They will drag you out of the vehicle.” I believe they would. The thorns were indeed very sharp.

We were in for yet another surprise when we reached our tented camp. The camp is built on platforms, perhaps 6 feet off the ground with elevated walkways between the dining area and all of the tents. The camp is built on the edge of a watery, reed-covered area and many species of animals must move through the area. Raising the camp allows the smaller animals to move freely, and I suppose allows for the level of the water to rise as well.

Our tent on the Okavango Delta
Part of our safety orientation cautioned us that at intervals the walkways lower to ground level so that larger animals may pass. We were instructed to look both ways before crossing such areas, and to step back on the raised walkway if we saw animals in the area.

Animal crossing in camp on the Okavango Delta
On the first morning we were sleepily walking to the dining room, we approached one of these crosswalks for the animals. As I looked to my left I spotted a very tall elephant. It seemed as surprised to see me as I was to see him and he immediately let us know he was not very happy with our presence. He shook his head, flared his ears and gave a snort, clearly warning us to step back onto the raised walkway. We did so immediately and he ambled on his way. Wow, what an experience!

I had a similar experience the prior afternoon after lunch. We usually had a couple of hours of free time after lunch when we downloaded pictures, took showers and relaxed. I  showered, gathered my journal, camera and phone and headed for the chair in front of our tent.

My focus was in my lap, writing in my journal. Suddenly I heard this big exhale and looked up. An elephant was standing just on the other side of the walkway to our tent, not 5 feet away. He had not made a sound walking up to the railing, and if not for the exhale, he might have walked right by without my noticing.

Elephant near our tent in the Okavango Delta

As I looked up, the elephant spotted me as well. We both froze. Then I reached for my phone to take his picture and he moved away, startled by my movement.  I will never forget looking that elephant in the eye, both of us startled by the other, but locking our gaze for just a few moments. The cost of the trip was instantly worth every dollar we paid.

Morning game drives were colder than chilly. We all bundled up, it was still very cold. Animal sightings in the mornings were scant, they must have been tucked away in hidden, warmer, sunny locations.

We did see some new animals and many new birds in two days of game drives. New sightings included tsessebe antelope, red lechwe, blue wildebeest, ostriches, white-browed sparrow-weaver, hamerkop, African sacred ibis, Verreaux’s eagle-owl (giant eagle-owl) and jacana (also called Jesus birds or lily-trotters).

Once again we saw sausage trees which in the Okavango Delta region are used to make the dugout canoe called a mokoro. These narrow, shallow boats glide through the Delta waterways by standing at the back of the boat and pushing with a very long pole. It’s a great balancing act.

We took a short ride thorough a waterway in a mokoro and it was so peaceful to silently glide among the reeds and water lilies. Because trees large enough to make a mokoro are endangered in the area, they are mostly made from fiberglass today.

A mokoro on the Okavango Delta
In the Okavango Delta the grasses were dry in areas and the mopani trees are changing color. Along with the distinctive smells of sage, the soil is very sandy. The drivers and the vehicles had to work very hard in some areas to prevent our getting stuck in the deep sand.

Our final game drive in the Okavango Delta was a blast. Pete and I and our friends Leslie and Kathy were the only four in our safari vehicle. After our sundowners enjoying the setting sun, we headed back to camp. We had a wild ride, through very sandy soil and it was a hoot.

I felt as if I was riding a rodeo bronc. I was alternately laughing out loud and taking pictures. We watched the brilliant sunset that included beautiful clouds.

My memories of time we spent in the Okavango Delta will always revolve around my elephant encounters, the smell of the sage, our mokoro ride and that spectacular sunset rodeo! Not that I won’t also recall the full moon and the enormous large termite mounds.

A slideshow of our time in the Okavango Delta follows. We hope you enjoy it.


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Markus Niggli’s White Wine Vision: Markus Wine Co.

It began 15 years ago with a white wine Markus Niggli tasted when visiting his native Switzerland. It was a Kerner blend that had been aged in oak and it was unlike anything he had ever tasted. Markus made a mental note at the time that if Kerner was ever available to him he wanted to make a similar style wine.

Markus NiggliIn 2006 Markus joined Borra Vineyards in Lodi and he continues as winemaker today. In addition to Zinfandel, Barbera, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Chardonnay and red blends, Markus makes a range of crisp white wines from German varieties.

As luck would have it, Mokelumne Glen Vineyards in Lodi grows over 40 varieties of German and Austrian grapes. Markus makes his crisp white wines from Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Bacchus and Kerner grown there. It’s doubly lucky that Kerner is among the grapes grown by the Koth family in their vineyard. What are the odds — right? Not only that Markus would land in Lodi, but that Kerner would be grown in this unlikely location.

Borra Vineyards IntuitionIn 2011 Markus made his first Kerner blend fermented and aged in oak under the Borra Vineyards label and called it Intuition. He started small, only 146 cases were produced. It was an exciting project, Markus liked what he tasted and so did others. The entire production sold out.

The 2011 vintage was a blend of 60% Kerner, 20% Gewürztraminer, 20% Riesling/Rieslaner. It was aged for 9 months in 50% French and 50% American oak. That first vintage Markus used 85% new oak.

Markus knew he was making a wine most people would find unusual. He purposely omitted the blend from the back of the label. He wanted tasters to ask him about his wine, he wanted to get the conversation started about the German varieties and wood aging.

In 2012 Markus made 200 cases of Intuition, which now is sold out as well. The blend was much the same, 60% Kerner, 20% Gewürztraminer, 20% Riesling. Oak aging in the same proportion of French and American oak took place for nine months, in 75% new oak.

2013 marks the third vintage for Markus’ oak-aged white blend. Once again, the blend varied just a bit, 69% Kerner, 11% Gewürztraminer, 10% Riesling and 10% Bacchus. Oak aging for nine months in French and American oak remained the same, but in only 60% new oak for the 200 case production.

With every vintage Markus has learned about the vineyard, the varieties and the winemaking. Every year he makes adjustments. His preferred white wine style is crisp and clean with high acid and to that end he harvests relatively early. It’s always a balancing act between acid and flavor development, and Markus is expert at that balancing act.

He ferments the Riesling and Bacchus together, the other varieties are fermented separately. All fermentation takes place in oak and once fermentation is well under way Markus blends the varieties and ferments to dry. Aging takes place in wood after that.

One more note on fermentation. All fermentation is completed using native yeast and the wine does not go through malolactic fermentation.

2013 Nimmo2013 is a special vintage. It debuts the Nimmo label, produced by Markus Wine Co., ‘a subventure of Borra Vineyards.’ The Markus Wine Co. label allows Markus to make and market wine in his preferred style, from German varieties, separate from the Borra Vineyards wines which highlight Steve Borra’s Italian heritage.

The Nimmo label is the first in what will be a series of label designs. This label design begins with Place. Perth, AU a very important place in Markus’ life. He attended viticulture school there and his life as a winemaker was greatly influenced in Perth.

Nimmo is an important name from Markus’ time spent in Perth; and no, it has nothing to do with the fish, in case you were wondering. Markus was living in Perth, in a city unfamiliar to him, and finding his way around was a challenge. He created the acronym Nimmo, indicating the name of important streets where he needed to turn to find his way home from the winery. He attached the acronym to the dash of his car as his GPS.

The 2013 Nimmo was released in mid-August. It is an interesting wine with great acidity, significant oak influence at this stage in its life and interesting flavors. It is unlike other oak-aged white wines I have tasted. Don’t even think of comparing it to an oaked Chardonnay. This wine will challenge your notion of what you think an oaked white wine tastes like.

We were invited to attended a pre-release tasting of the 2013 Nimmo at Borra Vineyards in August. At that time we had the opportunity to taste the 2011 and 2012 Intuition as well. As the oak begins to fall away with time in the bottle, other interesting flavors develop. That’s the idea. These wines are made to be held and enjoyed over the years so you can appreciate the evolution of flavor.

Borra Vineyards
You can taste 2013 Nimmo at Borra Vineyards’ tasting room. While you are there be sure to sample the other German varietal wines produced by Markus, and don’t forget the rest of the Borra Vineyards wines, they are delicious as well.

From the Borra Vineyards’ website:

Winery and Tasting Room Address:
Borra Vineyards
1301 East Armstrong Road
Lodi, CA 95242

Phone: 209-368-2446
Info@BorraVineyards.com for general information
SJB@BorraVineyards.com for winegrape sales

Tasting Room
Open Friday-Monday
 Noon to 5:00 p.m.
And by Appointment

Tasting Fee is $5 per person and includes a souvenir wine glass. For groups of 8 or more please call ahead for reservations.


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Chobe National Park, Botswana: A Bit Dusty But Beautiful in the Dry Season

Chobe National Park is enormous, about 11,000 sq kilometers in area. It, along with the Chobe Forest Reserve occupy the northeastern corner of Botswana. We explored but a tiny portion of the National Park, mostly along the banks of the Chobe River between Ngoma and Serondela, but also traveled through areas of the park distant from the river.

The Chobe River originates in Angola where it is called the Kwando River. Its name changes to Linyanti as it enters Botswana and then changes to Chobe at Ngoma.


This permanent water source is an animal magnet. As smaller, temporary water sources throughout the park begin to evaporate during the dry season, animals must make the trek to the Chobe River for water. This concentrates a large number and variety of animals in the area along the river as the dry season proceeds, between May and November.

As expected, the area near the Chobe River is the greenest. This flood plain is covered with grasses and very few trees, though there were many woolly caper bushes along the river. The open area was great for game viewing and it was here that we saw a very large herd of elephants out in the distance moving toward the river. We also saw large numbers of hippo, zebra, antelope, lion and and giraffe.

Large elephant herd along the Chobe RiverGiraffe along the Chobe River

Everywhere else we visited was dusty and dry. The single track, unpaved roads took us through mostly sandy soil, mostly light brown in color but in some areas it was a beautiful rusty red.

Sandy single track through Chobe National ParkRed dirt single track through Chobe National Park




The areas surrounding the roads to and from the river were covered with shrubs and trees. Though the grass was dry the trees and shrubs were mostly still green.  Here the animals were frustratingly difficult to see and even more difficult to photograph. With a bit of patience and careful placement of the safari vehicle by our driver, we managed to photograph many, but often it was best to just put down my camera and watch the animals. I can only guess how many animals we drove right by, never seeing them.

There is a relatively large number of elephants in Chobe National Park. Evidence of their numbers and their fondness for striping the bark off the mopani trees was reflected in the large number of very tall, dead trees. They stood in bare, stark contrast to the smaller mopani trees that look more like shrubs than trees. Everywhere we drove in the wooded areas we saw large dead trees and trees that had been knocked over by elephants.

Elephants in Chobe National Park
Mixed in among the mopani trees were African teak, raintree, and the occasional sausage tree, more correctly called Kigelia, but so named for the shape of its large seed pod. Some forested areas were still very green and others had taken on a golden-rusty color that made me think of fall.

On more than one occasion we were able to stop and watch as family of elephants fed in one of these shrubby areas. Once as we sat very still, with our camera shutters clicking away, we watched as the family moved around our vehicle and continued feeding on the other side of the road. It was so amazing.

Another highlight of our Chobe safari was observing a pack of African wild dogs (also called spotted dog, painted dog or painted wolf.) These pack animals are endangered in Africa, but we were fortunate to come upon a group shortly after (thankfully) they had killed a warthog. We were able to watch them finish finish their meal and laze around for a bit before moving on. Pete was thrilled with the sighting, as they were one of the animals he most hoped to see.

Wild dogs in Chobe National Park

Birds are most numerous in Chobe National Park during the rainy season, when they are nesting and breeding, but we saw many birds during the two days we toured Chobe in July (and we didn’t have to endure the mosquitoes.)

Marabou stork in Chobe National ParkLilac-breasted roller in Chobe National Park









On the first day of game drives we went out for a morning game drive and returned at lunchtime to Baobab Safari Lodge. After lunch we headed out again and returned to Baobab after enjoying sundowners along the Chobe River.

This more western end of the park along the Chobe River was not too heavily traveled, and we saw only a few other safari vehicles during the day. I felt as if we had the park all to ourselves.

On the second day we left early in the morning for an all day game drive. Our drive was punctuated morning and afternoon by the usual ‘tea and pee’ which allowed us time to stretch our legs, catch up with what others in the other vehicle had seen and snack on the savory cookies prepared or us by the kitchen staff. We enjoyed a delicious lunch at Serondela Picnic Site which the kitchen staff had also packed for us.

We returned to Baobab Lodge just in time for a very special sundowners along the Chobe River near the lodge. The next morning we would leave for the next safari camp in the Okavango Delta. The staff at the lodge were stellar and provided us with one spectacular day after another.

It was a long day in the park, and though we were unsuccessful in achieving our main goal of spotting leopards, it was great to be able to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the park all day. The terrain was varied throughout the day and all of it was beautiful.

Chobe National Park is more heavily used near Serondela, and eastward, where we saw many African families camping, picnicking and enjoying ‘self-drive’ tours of the park. It was so nice to see that Africans are enjoying their National Parks just as we do in the US. I can’t help but think this is the only thing that will protect remaining African wildlife.

Slideshows of our two days of safari in Chobe National Park are at the end of this post. Within the Day 1 slide show are two videos. The first is of two young male giraffes ‘necking’, where they swing their heads and hit each other in the side with their horns. This sparring is common among males (and female giraffes) to establish dominance. Just watching them makes my neck ache.

The second video is a short clip of several wild dogs playing as we watched them. They all had full bellies and looked pretty relaxed.

Please enjoy.


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Bushman Rock Estate — Why Yes, I Will Have Some Zimbabwean Wine With My Botswana Safari

Travel is great fun and so is wine. Combining the two can be twice the fun. As we planned our trip to Africa, we knew we would be tasting many wines from South Africa. In fact we extended our stay to do just that. But, we also wanted to try and find wine from at least one of the other countries we would be visiting.

We did a bit of research online and found Bushman Rock Estate in Zimbabwe. As far as we know, it is the only remaining winery operating in Zimbabwe. You can read the history of the winery on this blog post by Wine Explorers, which is where we first read about the winery. Their wine is produced from estate fruit and is truly Zimbabwean. Just what we wanted.

We contacted Sanction, our Overseas Adventure Travel trip leader, and asked him if it was possible to check the availability of Bushman Rock Estate wine. Though not available in local markets, it was possible to purchase a 6-bottle case directly from the winery. That worked for us and Sanction made it happen.

Bushman Rock Estate wines
A few days later Sanction emailed us to let us know the wine had been delivered to him in Victoria Falls from Harare. It was possible for us to take the wine with us to our first safari camp, Baobab Safari Lodge. We were so excited.

Because of weight restrictions, and our subsequent flight through Kasane airport on our way to the Okavango Delta, we would not be able to take the wine with us to our next destination. We would need to consume it during our three day stay at Baobab Lodge…no problem! As I recall, we and our fellow travelers finished the wine by the second evening.

Over the two evenings we drank the Bushman Rock Estate wine with a variety of food. Typically our dinner began with soup and was followed by a buffet dinner and dessert. The buffet always included several vegetable dishes, pasta or polenta, chicken, fish or beef prepared with a variety of spices, often curries. The combinations were unusual and delicious.

So, what did we think of the wine? Following is a summary of comments by our fellow travelers combined with our own notes. It was a fun exercise and everyone seemed to enjoy tasting these unique wines from Zimbabwe.


2009 Bushman Rock Estate Dry Whitecitrus aromas and flavors with hints of almond extract in the background gives this light white blend a unique and pleasing flavor. The finish is clean, quick and it is easy to sip by itself or to enjoy with lighter fare.

This is the perfect wine to enjoy after a day spent bouncing around in a safari vehicle taking pictures. It’s light, refreshing and interesting. Just the thing to revive you after a hard day on safari.

AFR_79732010 Charlevalecomplex nose with herbaceous back notes. Citrus and mineral flavors with great acidity and a clean, quick finish. It’s light in the mouth with a hint of smoke for complexity. Very good food wine.

The Charlevale is a blend of Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle that was fermented in 3rd and 4th use French oak barriques. This wine demonstrates just how interesting blended wines can be, with each grape variety lending its own flavors to the mix.

2008 Alicante Bouschet2008 Alicante Bouschetbeautiful light ruby in the glass with distinctive herbal and red fruit aromas. Tart red berry and pomegranate flavors combine with minerality and herbal flavors which echo the aromas in the glass. The finish is tart with very smooth tannins. This is a nice warm weather red wine, light in the mouth with plenty of flavor. Very unique.

We were pleased to be able to taste this unusual varietal wine for the first time. Alicante Bouschet is unusual because its flesh is red along with its skin. Most red grapes are white-fleshed. Known as teinturier, these red-fleshed grapes are generally used as blending grapes to add color and tannins.

This Alicante Bouschet was lighter in color than we expected, more like a Pinot Noir, and also less tannic than some we’ve read about. Never mind though, it was interesting to taste and very enjoyable. Now we must look for more to try so we can compare the flavors.

2010 Merlot2010 Merlotruby red in the glass with familiar aromas of plums and blueberries. Ripe red fruit and blackberry flavors combine with smooth tannins, nice acidity and a medium body to produce a very pleasing glass of wine. Not too tannic, very easy to like. Characteristic of the variety.

This wine offered pleasant and familiar flavors. It offers up all of the dark fruit flavor I expect in a Merlot, but with a lighter body and smooth tannins. A delightful summer red wine.

We paid $36 for the 6-bottle case of wine, definitely a bargain. This group of wines offered extremely good value and were all really delicious. As a group they were lighter bodied, not over-oaked and not too ripe. They all had plenty of flavor and were well-balanced wines. What a find!

At this point we were just on happiness overload. We were in Botswana enjoying spectacular game drives every day and then were able to come back to the lodge and enjoy these delightful wines. Really, it does not get any better than that.

Of course, our little wine tasting would not have been possible without Sanction. Thank you to Sanction for making contact with Bushman Rock Estate and arranging for the wine to be shipped. This is but one example of the many things you did to make our African safari the trip of a lifetime. You rock!


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Baobab Safari Lodge, Botswana: Our Safari Begins

Baobab Safari Lodge is situated above the Chobe River in Botswana along a broad open forest that slopes toward the river. It isn’t far from the Ngoma Bridge which reaches between Botswana and Namibia. By July the river forms a series of narrow channels in the area due to decreasing water levels. High water is generally in April and May after which it begins receding until January when water levels again begin to rise.

Baobab Safari Lodge Botswana, Africa
June, July and August are the driest months of the year and remaining grasses had turned golden in color by the beginning of July. Because water sources become more concentrated and because grasses have died down and woodlands are less leafed-out, game viewing is best this time of year. No rain and less water also means almost no mosquitoes. These are the reasons we chose to travel in July.

The days were generally warm, short sleeves were comfortable, but as the sun went down it got very chilly. Layered clothing was essential to keep us comfortable at 40º in the morning but which we could peel off as the day warmed.

Our flight into Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe from Johannesburg South Africa took just less than two hours. The quick flight, with an excellent in-flight meal complete with South African wines (at no additional charge for either, thank you British Airways), got us into Victoria Falls in the early afternoon. We were met there by Sanction, our Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) Trip Leader.

Sanction, our OAT Trip Leader in Africa
Sanction’s broad smile is my first memory associated with our safari. His smile would be a constant throughout our trip. For the next three weeks he kept us organized, on time and informed. At times he must have felt like he was herding cats, but he never let on. Sanction set the tone for our fun-filled safari from the very beginning.

Our drive to Baobab Lodge took us through the town of Victoria Falls to the border crossing at Kazungula and into Botswana. Most of the drive was on ‘tarred road’. These two-lane roads are used by autos, buses, large trucks, pedestrians, donkey carts and assorted animals (domestic and otherwise). I can only imagine how dangerous, for both driver and animal, driving at night must be.

We made our first official animal sightings along this stretch of road. My first animal photo was just by chance that of an elephant, my favorite African animal. It is giving me what is amusingly called the ‘African salute’, rear end facing me. How appropriate.

Elephant in Botswana 'African Salute'
Before reaching the lodge we saw baboons, ground hornbills, more elephants, cape buffalo, and once we turned off the paved road onto the dirt track leading to Baobab Lodge, giraffe. We were all so excited with these initial sightings. They were the first of so many to come.

It was late afternoon by the time we reached Baobab Lodge. We were greeted by the lodge staff with a welcoming song complete with ululation! This would be the routine followed by the wonderful staff at each camp. Whenever we returned from game drives we were greeted with singing and cool wash cloths to wipe the dust from our faces (unless it was a chilly day, then they were warm). A wonderful welcome that never got old.

As we walked into camp and into the open-air dining area we were able to take in the view of the Chobe River for the first time. Just breathtaking. We sipped cool fruit juice, nibbled on snacks and tried to listen to the camp orientation. The scenery was so distracting!

Welcome to Baobab Safari Lodge
We were in tented cabin #8, the next to last cabin. As I mentioned in our first post, we wanted to experience a safari in the wilds of Africa, but did not want to sleep in a tent in sleeping bags. This was so much better. We loved it. Our cabin was built on a stone foundation with a wooden deck, solid roof and walls. Both ends of the tented cabin were screened like a tent, so it was almost open air. We had a front door that locked, so there was no issue with security, from either human or baboon intruders.

#8 Baobab Safari Lodge
We had a spacious area for our bed, a couple of chairs, space for our luggage, indoor bathroom, shower and vanity area. Everything we needed, including electricity and even a blow dryer! Our bed was surrounded by mosquito netting, just what I was hoping for. It was such a lovely room that looked out over the open forest leading to the Chobe River. The sunsets were stunning.

Because both ends of the cabin were screened, we were able to enjoy the sounds of the night. That first night we heard baboons screaming as if they were being killed. I thought they were being eaten by lions. Turns out they were just squabbling among themselves while jockeying for the best sleeping areas in the trees. I had so much to learn.

Camp staff were very serious about safety. We were not allowed to be outside our tented cabin after dark — no exceptions. The rules were the same at all four of tented camps at which we stayed. We were informed of their emergency procedure should we need assistance overnight for a medical condition or something serious (which did not include spiders in the bathroom). After dinner we were escorted as a group by camp staff to our cabins. In the morning a staff member came to each cabin to wake us to the sound of a drum or calling out to us. We were allowed to walk to breakfast unescorted and to walk around the camp by ourselves during the day.

All of the tented camps were unfenced. Animals regularly move around the cabins and this is the reason guests are not allowed to be outside at night. You never know when you might walk smack into a cape buffalo or elephant. We had just such an experience on the way to breakfast one morning at one of the subsequent camps. It was memorable.

Our days fell into a fairly regular pattern. Early to rise, generally at 6 am, with half-an-hour to get dressed and walk down to breakfast. We were instructed to bring everything we needed for the day with us to breakfast, as we departed immediately after breakfast for the morning game drive. By 7 am or so we were in the game drive vehicles and ready to go.

Mornings were chilly and each camp provided us with hooded and flannel-lined ponchos. That extra layer of warmth felt so good over my multiple layers along with ear warmers and gloves. Some morning were so cold I needed to tie a handkerchief over my nose and mouth to protect my face from the cold.

The vehicles have three rows of seats behind the driver, with each row elevated above the one in front of it, and are open air with covers for shade. Every morning two vehicles left camp but took separate tracks once we went through the Chobe National Park entrance. We were fortunate to have only 12 people on our safari, so everyone had a ‘window seat’.

Safari vehicle
We typically met up again about 10:30 for ‘tea and pee’. A cup of hot bush tea or coffee was so warming, and the biscuits (cookies to us) were delicious. Mostly they were shortbread cookies, sometimes with the savory addition of rosemary. It was during these breaks that each group would compare what they had seen. Every group had a unique experience.

Animal sightings in Chobe National Park were outstanding. We saw very large numbers of elephant, cape buffalo, antelope and giraffe. And lots of birds. Our drivers, Nic and Richard were excellent at spotting wildlife and then positioning the vehicle so we could take pictures. We were not allowed to get out of the vehicles or to stand up. At times it was difficult to stay in my seat, I have to admit.

Generally we were back at the lodge by 11:30 or so. We had a little time to go back to our tented cabin, drop off our things and get phones and camera batteries on the chargers before lunch. After lunch typically we had a couple of hours to relax, shower, upload picture etc., before ‘high tea’ at about 3 pm.

Lunch at Baobab Safari Lodge
High tea always included something savory and something sweet along with fruit juice and cold tea. The food was delicious and the quantities very generous. These daily afternoon snacks were provided before the afternoon game drive which were structured much like the morning drive. Two vehicles headed out, usually each group changed drivers in the afternoon, we entered the park at a checkpoint and headed out on separate tracks. We met up for our afternoon tea and pee, then continued our game drive until late in the day.

Vehicles must be checked out of the park by 6:30 pm, so we were always heading home by that time. Sometimes we cut it close, but we were generally back to the lodge by 7 pm. Once again we dashed for our tented cabin to put batteries on their chargers.

Dinners were always preceded by happy hour including beer, wine, liquor, soda and snacks. The snacks were always different and always delicious. We had our meals in the large open air dining room with an adjoining bar and lounge area. It was so restful to sit with a drink and enjoy the setting sun over the Chobe River in the evenings. We spent this time before dinner talking about the day’s events, our sightings and the things we learned. It was so much fun.

Sunset on the Chobe River

Dinners were always several courses. Most often we were served soup as a starter, a buffet dinner and then dessert. Enormous amounts of delicious food once again. Flavors were interesting, sometimes curries, sometimes pasta or polenta, chicken, vegetables, pork and fish were in the mix. Honestly, I enjoyed everything I tried and I didn’t pass on anything.

After such a satisfying dinner we were ready for bed and our nightly escort to our tents. Although I didn’t check my watch, because I wasn’t wearing one, I’m sure we were headed for bed by 8:30. When we reached our tented cabin, our beds had been turned down for us, the mosquito netting had been dropped and hot water bottles had been placed in our beds. The hot water bottles were a wonderful surprise and felt so good during the very chilly nights.

The days were long and filled with something new every day. The landscape, color of the soil and vegetation were so variable. The first day we went on morning and afternoon game drives. On the second day we were gone on an all-day game drive. We drove more than 63 miles that day. Our lunch was packed for us by the kitchen staff and we enjoyed it at the Sarondela picnic site along the Chobe River over 20 miles from Baobab Lodge. It was great fun being on the road all day.

A slide show of our travel to Baobab Safari Lodge and an introduction to the Lodge follows. We spent two full days at Baobab Lodge. Besides the game drives we also celebrated a 50th wedding anniversary, tasted wine from Zimbabwe and had an opportunity to watch local women making baskets. More about all of these in our next installment along with a slideshow of our game drives. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy this introduction to Baobab Safari Lodge.


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Our Africa Adventure Begins: A Quick Intro And Then On to Johannesburg

The flying time between California and South Africa was a grueling 22 hours in length for us (not counting a 4-hour layover). We tried hard not to think how long a time that really is. To that end, we officially began our trip with a toast made with Graham Beck Brut NV, what else? We have had this delicious South African sparkling wine made in the Method Cap Classic style (South Africa’s Méthode Traditionnelle) several times. It is always delicious and just what we wanted to celebrate the beginning of what we expected to be an exciting vacation.

Our toast with Graham Becks NV

Pete, Craig, Denise and Leslie. I’m behind the camera!

Off on vacation

Us and our pile of luggage!


The five of us traveling together from California gathered at our home for the toast before our airport transportation arrived. We all enjoy wine tasting together on a regular basis. That weekly nexus is what brought the five of us together for this trip.




In all, twelve of us booked the Ultimate Africa trip through Overseas Adventure Travel. It is our second trip with OAT, as everyone calls the travel company. Others were first-time OAT travelers and one member of our group had been on twenty OAT trips! Along with its small size, one of the very nice things about this booking is we knew most of our fellow travelers before this vacation.

We left the West Coast late on a Wednesday evening and arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa on Saturday morning. The rest our group not traveling from California had arrived the day before and were enjoying breakfast when we dragged in. We all introduced ourselves and grabbed some coffee and a quick breakfast.

We all stayed at the Protea Hotel OR Tambo at the Johannesburg airport. OAT usually schedules flights to arrive late in the day with departures for Victoria Falls the next morning, but everyone in the group decided to arrive early to have a bit of rest time before departing for our safari the next morning. Our group was the last to arrive.

Protea OR Tambo Hotel, JohannesburgHotel in Johannesburg

Arriving early also gave us the opportunity to see a bit of Johannesburg. At our request, OAT scheduled a afternoon driving tour of Joburg (apparently only tourist call it Johannesburg) that included a drive around the city and visits to the Apartheid Museum and Mandela House in Soweto. Our time in Joburg was short and this tour gave us only a snapshot of the city. I cannot offer more than our very superficial impressions of Johannesburg.

It is a city of great contrast. A very modern airport, many multi-lane highways, numerous sky scrapers, at least one enormous soccer stadium, suburbs, gated communities, open space within the city. The city and its surrounding communities are spread over an enormous area and have a population of over 10 million.

The streets of the city’s business district were filled with people, and the skyline is punctuated by many skyscrapers. In portions of downtown many large buildings are empty, the result of the exodus of white-owned business after the end of Apartheid, we were told. Other buildings have been or are in the process of being renovated.

Johannesburg skylineJohannesburg city

We heard from several South Africans that Joburg is the cultural heart of South Africa. They visit regularly to enjoy that culture and soak up the vibrant atmosphere. Everywhere we drove there were lots of vehicles and lots of people walking everywhere (even on the highways, yikes!) The city does appear to be very busy.

Our first stop was at the Apartheid Museum. The modern building includes exhibits both inside and outside. It is one of the most interesting museums I’ve toured.

Apartheid MuseumEntrance to the Apartheid Museum

'Europeans Only' bench at the Apartheid Museum

‘Europeans Only’ bench at the Apartheid Museum

Every ticket purchased for entry into the museum arbitrarily classifies the the holder as either ‘white’ or ‘non-white’. You are instructed to use the appropriately labeled, and separate, entrance into the museum. It was a very tangible way to emphasize race classification, which was the basis for apartheid laws.

Apartheid Museum ticketSeparate entrances to the Apartheid Museum

The museum exhibits begin by summarizing how Johannesburg came to be a racially mixed community, how segregation developed into apartheid and what life was like for ‘non-whites’ under apartheid.

Outdoor exhibit at the Apartheid MuseumDSC_8305
Exhibits continue with the individuals who fought to impose and those who fought against apartheid. Of course the familiar name of Nelson Mandela is there, but there were many others who fought the system. The exhibits are very detailed and do an excellent job of explaining this very dark part of South Africa’s history.

The exhibits bring you out of this awful darkness to Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, the fall of apartheid, a new South African constitution and the 1994 presidential election which saw Nelson Mandela elected president. With the detailing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission another familiar name was present, Archbishop Desmond Tutu who was chair of the commission.

As I said, a moving and thought-provoking experience. I am very glad we took the tour.

Soweto was our next stop. Soweto appears to be a busy and crowded area with a definite sense of community. The former township includes very nice homes, some located behind gates, as well as very simple homes, and tiny box-like homes opening directly onto the busy streets.

Welcome to SowetoFruit vendor in Soweto

Driving in Soweto
We drove only briefly through Soweto to Vilakazi Street. The street is famous because two Nobel Peace Prize recipients lived on this street, just blocks from each other. Mandela House, the former home of Nelson Mandela is located here and just a few blocks away Archbishop Desmond Tutu also has a home.

Mandela House in Soweto

Mandela House
8115 Vilakazi Street Orlando West

Mandela's house is SowetoTour guide at Mandela House
We toured Mandela House which was built in 1945.  It has been restored and preserved, complete with bullet holes and burn marks from the molotov cocktails which were thrown at the house.

Touring Mandela HouseMandela House in Soweto









This was the first home Nelson Mandel owned and his second wife Winnie lived here during his imprisonment.

“It was the opposite of grand, but it was my first true home of my own and I was mightily proud. A man is not a man until he has a house of his own.”

Nelson Mandela, The Long Walk to Freedom

Along Vilakazi Street, Soweto

Along Vilakazi Street, Soweto

We walked along several blocks of Vilakazi Street and once again the street was full of people. There were busy restaurants, homes and many roadside stands selling everything from clothing to wooden carvings. It is a ‘touristy’ few blocks, but there is a definite sense of community among the residents. Everyone seemed to know everyone else.

The home of Archbishop Desmond TutuTutu House placard








Bally, the owner of the tour company that provided our driving tour was also our driver. He had come to Johannesburg from another part of South Africa because he believes there are better opportunities for advancement in Johannesburg. Over his lifetime he has had a variety of occupations and speaks something like seven languages. We were astounded. He said it was easy, because many of the 11 officially recognized languages of South Africa are similar. Still, seven languages. That’s just amazing.

As the sun began to set the warm afternoon turned chilly. We piled back into our mini-van and returned to our hotel at OR Tambo International Airport. That was our very brief introduction to the city of Johannesburg. Too brief, but just enough of an introduction to leave us with the desire to return for further exploration.

The following morning we departed for Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe where we were met by our trip leader and then transferred to Baobab Lodge in Botswana along the Chobe River. That is where our safari begins!


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#winePW 3: Wine for Summer’s Bounty. Will Garnacha Do the Trick?

Wine for Summer’s Bounty is the theme of this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend  where we, along with other food and wine bloggers, put  a meal together around the theme, select a wine to pair with the meal then write about it. It’s great fun to plan the meal and wine pairing and then to read about the pairings other bloggers planned.

In preparation for this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend theme, I took a quick tour through our local Farmers’ Market just to see what jumped out at me. There is so much to choose from at the Farmers’ Market this time of year that it can be a bit difficult for me to focus. Everything looks good and I want to bring all of it home with me. Same goes for the choices from our wine cellar. Decisions, decisions.

I made one quick pass through the market without making any purchases, just looking, smelling and deciding. Then I decided on melons. Yep, that’s right, melons. Specifically, watermelon. I couldn’t resist one display of bright red, cut melons that looked and smelled like summer. So with that decision made and with the purchase of a round, heavy, seedless watermelon I began the planning process.

Salad, I decided, would be how I put the melon to use. Before leaving for the Farmers’ Market, I had taken a walk through our herb garden, just to see what I had to work with. Basil, mint, rosemary, marjoram, sage and oregano were all possibilities. Again, too many choices — but with the watermelon tucked under my arm, I decided mint.

Green beans were plentiful in the Farmers’ Market as well. That sounded good to me, so I also came away with tiny green beans, some fresh garlic and cherry tomatoes. I love tomatoes and green beans together and they’re even better with a bit of butter and garlic. That was decided.

Now, what to serve as the main course? Mint always makes me think of lamb. Mint jelly was so often served with leg of lamb when I was growing up, I suppose that is the reason for the association. Leg of lamb is much too large a piece of meat for the two of us, so I thought about ground lamb. I headed to our local market hoping they would still have some in the counter. I was in luck. Oh happy day.

We decided to make this wine and food pairing a real challenge by choosing a red wine to pair with the meal. Most often when the weather is hot, the mercury has been at or near 100-degrees lately, we drink white or rosé wines. It’s simply more refreshing to sip a chilled, lighter bodied, low alcohol wine in the heat. But surely we must have a lighter red wine in our cellar.

This was Pete’s part of the assignment. He did some searching and decided on a bottle of Garnacha we received from our Les Marchands Wine Bar and Merchant wine club. Les Marchands has become our favorite destination when in Santa Barbara for its extensive by the glass wine list and delicious food (which comes from the kitchen of The Lark.) As a result, we joined their Daily Drinkers wine club.

The wines we have enjoyed from Les Marchand are made in an old world in style, that is with less ripe fruit with judicious use of oak aging, just what we would enjoy drinking on a warm summer evening.

The Food

Watermelon salad prepBalsamic Watermelon Salad with Mint: this recipe is inspired by a recipe for Balsamic Watermelon Chicken Salad from Pinch of Yum. I added the mint and used red leaf lettuce as the greens, left out the chicken and since I had aged balsamic vinegar did not make the balsamic vinegar reduction as called for in the recipe.

I added heirloom tomatoes to the mix as well, because they just looked so juicy and delicious in the Farmers’ Market.  (Yes, I know, I don’t follow instructions very well.)

Green beans and tomatoesSteamed Green Beans with Cherry Tomatoes and Garlic: I quickly steamed the green beans, leaving them a bit firm. In the mean time I lightly sautéed chopped garlic and a pinch of crushed red pepper in a combination of butter and olive oil. Just add the cherry tomatoes long enough to heat them through, season with salt and pepper then serve the mixture over the steamed green beans.

Adding blue cheese to ground lambGrilled Lamb Burgers: generally I like to keep it simple, just seasoning with salt and pepper and a bit of marjoram. But in keeping with the theme of bounty, and at Pete’s suggestion, I added a bit of crumbled blue cheese to several of the burgers. I surrounded the blue cheese with the meat like a meatball, then flattened the meatball to a burger and added salt and pepper.

Grilled lamb burgers


Oh, yum! Although the flavorful lamb did not need the creamy, salty deliciousness the blue cheese added, it was a delicious addition. The cheese became soft and warm with grilling. It really was too good for words.


The Wine

2011 Maldivinas Garnacha ‘La Movida Granito’ Castilla y Leon2011 Maldivinas Garnacha ‘La Movida Granito’ Castilla y Leonruby-violet color in the glass with aromas of strawberries and blueberries. Spicy, savory flavors combine with blackberry and ripe plum flavors, smooth tannins and a medium body. The finish is medium in length with nice acidity. Obvious flavors from wood aging are not present. Overall a flavorful wine, but not heavy on the palate, perfect for a summer meal. ABV 14.5%.

This wine is produced in the Castilla y Leon region of Spain, not far from Madrid. The 60 year old Garnacha vines are farmed organically, no pesticides or herbicides are used in the vineyard. The vineyards are planted on granite and slate soils.

Following a cold soak for three days, fermentation proceeded with only natural yeast. The wine was not fined or filtered. Notes from the importer indicate oak aging, but not the type of oak or length of aging.

The savory flavors of the wine paired perfectly with the flavors of the grilled lamb. The salty deliciousness of the blue cheese in both the lamb burgers and the watermelon salad accentuated the savoriness of the wine. The buttery richness of the green beans contrasted nicely with the clean finish of the wine. And most importantly, this Garnacha was not too ripe, too heavy bodied or too alcoholic for a summer meal.

The Take Aways

Overall, a great pairing. Both the food and wine were juicy and savory. Blue cheese makes almost anything better, the salty, creamy goodness contributes so much flavor. It certainly was not necessary in the lamb burgers, but it was delicious. The key to using blue cheese is to add just enough to accent flavors, but not overwhelm the dish. We found this true for both the watermelon salad and the lamb burgers. A little bit goes a long way.

It always surprises me when I hear someone say they don’t like lamb. If this describes you or someone for whom you cook, consider grilling ground lamb. Season liberally with salt and pepper and marjoram and grill the burgers. If you add a bit of blue cheese as we did with this preparation, I’m confident you will enjoy them.

The meal
Fresh mint added a pop of flavor to the watermelon salad. I must remember to use it more often. Mint too is best added just as an accent flavor, so that its flavors are in the background lending complexity and freshness but not dominating the flavors of a dish.

More and more we are appreciating wines made with minimal intervention in the cellar. Natural yeast fermentation and neutral oak aging allow the flavors of the grape and the region to shine through. We appreciate that in a red wine, especially during the summer months, because these wines often have a lighter body and fresher flavors.

So to answer the question as to whether Garnacha would do the trick, we have to say that yes this one absolutely did. Enjoy, and we hope you are inspired to make you own delicious food and wine pairing.

Thanks to David for another great theme for Wine Pairing Weekend #3.

Be sure to check out what my fellow bloggers have come up with for the August Wine Pairing Weekend!

Pull That Cork shared “Wine for Summer’s Bounty. Will Garnacha Do the Trick?
Meal Diva paired “Summer Vegetable Red Sauce with Amarone
Culinary Adventures with Camilla posted “Pan-Seared Padròns with DeRose Vineyards’ Négrette
Vino Travels — An Italian Wine Blog shared “Tomato, toe-mah-toe: Summer’s bounty with Sicilian wine Donnafugata
Grape Experiences paired “Cecchi Chianti Classico 2010 and Vegetable Lasagna
Curious Cuisiniere shared “Chipotle Garden Salsa with Wild Hare Petite Sirah
ENOFYLZ Wine Blog posted “Grilled Paiche with a White Greek Blend
Take a Bite Out of Boca shared “Quinoa-Crusted Eggplant and Heirloom Tomato Stacks paired with Monrosso Chianti
foodwineclick shared “Summers’ Bounty or Attack of the Killer Turnips?
Confessions of a Culinary Diva blogged about “Lobster Paella and Albarino
Tasting Pour shared “Summertime and the Cooking is Easy
Cooking Chat paired “Linguine with Pesto, Fresh Tomatoes and a Sauvignon Blanc”

Join the #winePW conversation: Follow the #winePW conversation on Twitter throughout the weekend and beyond. If you’re reading this early enough, you can join us for a live Twitter chat on our theme “Wine for Summer’s Bounty” on Saturday, August 9, from 11 a.m. to noon Eastern Time. You can also visit our group Pinterest board to pin some great pairing ideas for later! Stay tuned for the September Wine Pairing Weekend, which will focus on “Regional Food and Wine Pairings” on Saturday, September 13.


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Domaine de Bila-Haut: Roussillon Wines from Michel Chapoutier

Maison M. Chapoutier is a family-owned winery (and négotiant business) located in Tain-l’Hermitage in the northern Rhone. The family’s winemaking history dates back to 1808 and is closely linked with Hermitage. Though the family’s winemaking roots are in the northern Rhone, current winemaking interests also include vineyards in Alsace, Portugal, Australia and the Languedoc-Roussillon region in southern France.

We recently received three wines produced by Domaine de Bila-Haut, the Chapoutier property in Roussillon, as tasting samples. This gave us the opportunity to learn a bit about the wine region as well as the wines.

Domaine de Bila-Haut
Domaine de Bila-Haut was purchased by Chapoutier in 1999 at least in part for its complex soil composition. The 190-acre estate includes a combination of schist, gneiss and clay soils. Nothing excites a winemaker like soil. The hilly location at the edge of the Agly Valley enjoys very warm, dry summers and cold winters.

Weather throughout the Roussillon is similar, dry and warm in summer and cold in winter. Vineyards are planted with the varieties you would expect in a warmer climate: Grenache, Cinsault, Carignan, Syrah and Mourvèdre. White varieties include Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris and Rolle.

A large portion of mid-level French wine (classified IGP) is produced in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. This very large region stretches from the French border with Spain along the Mediterranean coast almost to Nîmes in the East, with Roussillon located adjacent to Spain.

The IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) designation is placed above entry-level Vin de Table wines (with few restrictions on production) and below the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) level with strict regulations on vineyard location, grape variety and viticultural practices.

2013 Domaine de Bila-Haut Cotes du Roussillon2013 Domaine de Bila-Haut Côtes du Roussillonpale yellow in the glass with lemony aromas and hints of kiwi fruit. Crisp citrus flavors along with those of delicate white flowers combine with brilliant acidity. The finish is crisp and clean and medium in length. ABV 13.5% $13

This refreshing white blend of Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc, Macabeo and Vermentino (Rolle) provides surprising complexity for the price. It is just the kind of wine I like to sip on a warm afternoon. It will take you all the way to dinner as well, holding up well with food.

Each grape variety was vinified separately. A cool fermentation with extended maceration was followed by aging is stainless steel. Multiple racking from tank to tank naturally clarified the wine before blending and bottling.

The Cotes du Roussillon AOC designation encompasses the southern portion of the larger Roussillon region. This very warm region borders Spain and produces mostly rosé and red wines. Only a small fraction of production is white wine.

2013 Domaine de Bila-Haut Pays d'Oc2013 Domaine de Bila-Haut Pays d’Oclight salmon color in the glass with generous aromas of raspberries, blackberries and peaches. The aromas constantly change in the glass. Blackberry and strawberry flavors combine with citrusy acidity and just a hint of tannins to produce a very pleasing rosé. ABV 13.5%. $13

This rosé is produced from a blend of Cinsault harvested from the Gard district (at the western end of the Languedoc) and Grenache. With only a short time spent on the skins to obtain the desired delicate color, a cool fermentation followed. Aging in stainless steel tanks occurred prior to blending and bottling.

The Pays d’Oc IGP classification allows winemakers a bit more latitude in terms of choice of grape varieties, farming practices and the geographical location of the vineyards. Regulations allow a large number of grape varieties to be sourced from within the very large Languedoc-Roussillon region.

2012 Domaine de Bila-Haut Cotes du Roussillon Villages2012 Domaine de Bila-Haut Côtes du Roussillon Villagesruby with a bit of violet at the edges of the glass along with ripe raspberry and blueberry aromas. The flavors are a mixture of ripe plums, blueberries and earth. Moderate tannins are a bit drying. ABV 14.5% $13

Syrah, Grenache and Carignan are fermented in concrete vats with maceration lasting two to three weeks. The wine ages further in concrete before being racked multiple times to clarify the wine, then bottled.

Côtes du Roussillon Villages AOC designation, which allows only red wine production, requires lower yields in the vineyards. The geographic boundaries include only the northern portion of Roussillon north of the Têt River. Lower yield in the vineyard often produces bolder red wines.

It was a warm summer evening when we tasted the three Domaine de Bila-Haut wines. Our evening meal of grilled, marinated chicken and watermelon salad made an interesting pairing for the wines. We found the Côtes du Roussillon and the Pays d’Oc were the best partners to the light meal. The flavors of both wines matched well with the flavors of the grilled chicken, and neither wine overwhelmed the watermelon salad.

The Côtes du Roussillon Villages was a fine partner to the grilled chicken. The grilling process lent plenty of flavor to the chicken and the rich flavors of the wine did not overwhelm the flavors of the chicken. The watermelon salad was too light a partner for the red wine however. Had we prepared roasted potatoes or a potato salad, we would have had a better match. I can also imagine a delicious pairing for the Côtes du Roussillon Villages would be grilled pork chops or grilled pork tenderloin.

What a fun evening of wine tasting along with our meal. Many thanks to Creative Palate Communications for the tasting samples. We enjoyed this collection of flavorful, well made and affordable wines. All would be good choices for a summer meal, any day of the week.


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Africa — Our Dream Vacation Come True

Pete and I have wanted to visit Africa for a long time. It’s something we have talked about over the years, often in the afternoon with a glass of wine in hand, in our back yard. Vacation day dreaming. But finally our plans turned from wistful thinking to planning – over a year of planning actually. There were lots of things to consider. Where exactly in Africa did we want to go? What did we most want to see? What kind of experience did we want?

Wildlife was our first consideration, naturally. It’s all about the animals and viewing them in their natural habitat. We recognized that meant going out in the middle of nowhere, actually that’s exactly where we wanted to be. That said, we also wanted a certain level of comfort, no dry camping. A warm bed, running water and inside toilets were high on our list.

Okavango Delta Elephants
Had we planned this trip ten years ago, viewing wildlife and scenery may have been our major considerations in planning a trip to Africa. That was before wine. In the past ten years our interest in wine has moved from casual to obsessed. Neither of us would consider making this trip to Africa without spending some time tasting wine in South Africa. We have tasted many wonderful South African wines, many of which we have written about, and we both were absolutely set on visiting the region. So, those were our priorities, the animals, the landscape and the wine.

It was a tall order, but we managed to pull it off! We were on African soil a total of 22 days. The days flew by. Over the next several weeks we will be sharing the details of our trip with you. For us it was the trip of a lifetime, filled with memories of the places we visited, the people we met, and the animals we saw – the wildlife viewing was spectacular. And then there was the wine, the wine was out of this world. There is so much we want to share with you.

At this point we are organizing photos, no small task, we took over 13,000 between the two of us. As we organize our photos and our thought we will begin posting. In the mean time, here is a brief outline of what’s in store.

Johannesburg, South Africa – we visited on July 4 and spent our Independence Day touring the Apartheid Museum and Mandela House, Nelson Mandela’s home in Soweto.

Baobab Lodge welcome
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and overland to our first tented camp, Baobab Lodge, along the Chobe River in Botswana. Here we visited Chobe National Park on morning and afternoon game drives.

We also managed to put our hands on 6 bottles of wine made by the only remaining winery in Zimbabwe (This was only made possible with the assistance of our Trip Leader, Sanction). You know we will write about that.

Our next camp in Botswana was in the Okavango Delta, near the Moremi Game Reserve. This camp was unique for its elevated walkways and tented cabins. Morning and afternoon game drives awaited us along with elephants and Cape buffalo in the neighborhood.

Zambia was our next stop at Lafupa Camp along the Kafue River. We awoke in the mornings to the boisterous grunts of hippos and the beautiful songs of countless species of Kingfishers. Fishing and river tours made this stop unique. One such river tour provided a unexpected discovery that caused even our guide to reach for his camera.

Lafupa Camp
Kashawe Tented Camp in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe was our final camp destination. This stop was one of contrast with beautiful golden landscapes, lions that sang to us during the night and the ugliness of open pit mining adjacent to the park.

Our return to civilization came when we transferred to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Here we stayed in a hotel with all of the amenities, toured Victoria Falls (which are spectacular), shopped the open markets and even zip-lined across the Zambezi River.

Protea cynaroides South Africa's national flower
Cape Town, South Africa was our final destination. Five days filled with the gardens, the Cape of Good Hope, shopping, eating and not least…wine tasting. We enjoyed three days of wonderful wines and beautiful wine country. Our final wine experience was the most unique of our “wine career”. You will have to wait to read about it, it exceed all expectation.

Vineyard in South Africa
As good as it is to travel outside the US, it is always good to return home. When the US Customs Officer, after questioning us in detail about our travels, said, “Welcome home,” I had to quickly turn away to prevent him from seeing the tears in my eyes. In my experience not every Customs Officer says those two simple words to returning US residents, but when they do it is very emotional for me. Only the familiar sound of crickets outside our bedroom window during the first night we returned made me feel more at home.

We will of course continue to write about what is going on in our wine world as we share our Africa experiences with you. It will be a busy, but I hope enjoyable few months!


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Sauternes and Cherries — A Special Summer Pairing

Those of us who are regular tasters at the Thursday night wine tasting at Fine Wines of Stockton know one of George’s great loves is Sauternes and cherries. Not just any cherries mind you. They must be cherries that are not overly sweet, just a touch of tartness is what’s desired to counter the sweetness of the Sauternes.

Rainier or Queen (Royal) Anne are the cherries to look for. They are yellow and red in color with light colored flesh. They have soft skins with fairly firm flesh. I usually find them in the Farmes Market as Rainier here. I have purchased them in the grocery store as well but always find the cherries from Farmer’s Market are always much more flavorful.
Rainier cherries
We have tried both Rainier and Bing cherries with Sauternes at prior tastings and have agreed with George that the Bing cherries are too sweet to make a good match for Sauternes. So, if you love Bing cherries, as I do, just go by some and eat them on their own. If you are lucky enough to find Rainier cherries, save them to try with a bottle of Sauternes. You will find the combination surprisingly good.

In our area, Rainier cherries are not the first to ripen. I usually see several types of red cherries in the Farmer’s Market before the Rainier cherries appear. We also have the good fortune to have regular Thursday night tasters that have access to a Rainier cherry orchard, so when the cherries are ready George schedules the tasting. Generally it is early to mid-June.

For the tasting this year George very generously pulled three bottles of Sauternes from his cellar. The shelves at Fine Wines of Stockton are bare of Sauternes at the moment, as their shipment is somewhere between France and Stockton. George and Gail usually stock a few Sauternes in the shop and they always sell quickly.

“Great wines made in the cellar”, that’s how George describes Sauternes. Some magic must happen in the vineyard too for the greatness of Sauternes to express itself. Really, quite a lot must happen before Sauternes can be made in the cellar. Semillion is the main grape variety used to produce Sauternes along with smaller amounts of Sauvignon Blanc. Muscadelle and a bit of Sauvignon Gris in some areas used as blending grapes as well .

All varieties are susceptible to the fungus Botrytis cinerea, aka botrytis. Botrytis is the key to Sauturnes along with the perfect weather conditions to work its magic. When the mornings are foggy and damp followed by warm, sunny and dry afternoons botrytis extract water from the grapes causing desiccation. The grapes almost become raisins on the vine.

If mornings are not foggy enough for botrytis to develop, it cannot work its magic. If morning are cool and foggy but so are the afternoons, it is likely grapes just develop grey rot and spoil. When Botrytis works its magic to product just the perfect amount of desiccation, it is referred to as noble rot. Doesn’t sound very appetizing, but the wine certainly is delicious.

Not every year is not a good one for Sauternes production. About 5 years in 7 are good and only 2 years out of 10 are perfect. One of the reasons Sauternes are so expensive.

As you can imagine the yield in the vineyard of botrysized grapes is very small. The grapes are no longer large, plump and heavy with water and juice. The raisined grapes are little bundles of concentrated sugar and acid with very concentrated flavors. Not only that, grapes are harvested by making multiple passes through the vineyard, selecting just the grapes at the right stage for Sauternes production.

It is no simple task to manage the fermentation of Sauternes. The botrytis fungus can interfere with the yeast responsible for the fermentation process, so it is the job of the winemaker to make sure all of the organisms play well together to produce a wine with an adequate level of alcohol.

Finally, Sauternes are wood aged, generally from 18 to 36 months. It’s a long, expensive process that is not possible every vintage. Sauternes producer must be some of the most tenacious winemakers in the world.

Sauternes lineup
The three Sauternes George presented were from the 2003, 1999 and 1977 vintages. Even before we began tasting, it was so interesting to see the difference in color of the wine in this group. With age Sauternes changes from medium golden to amber in color.

2003 Château Filhot Sauternes2003 Château Filhot Sauternesvery dark yellow in the glass with aromas of pineapple and delicate minty hints in the background. Pineapple and apricot flavors combine with significant sweetness and a very round feeling in the mouth. Along with sweetness there was tongue-tingling acidity.

This combination of sweetness with great acidity is what makes Sauternes so wonderful. Without that clean, crisp acidity the sweetness would be overwhelming.

1999 Château Coutet Sauternes-Barsac1999 Château Coutet Sauternes-Barsac — light amber in the glass with hints of pineapple and a bit of spice. Sweet pineapple flavors combine with spices and earth. This wine is not as round in the mouth as the Château Filhot. It has good weight, but less roundness and great acidity. Somehow it is more angular and muscular.

The flavors in this wine still taste youthful. It is closer in flavor profile to the Château Filhot than the Château Rieussec.

1997 Château Rieussec Sauternes1997 Château Rieussec Sauternes light amber in the glass with aromas of very ripe melon flesh and seeds. Complex flavors of spice, apricots and ripe melon combine with with great acidity for a clean finish.

The aromas and flavors in this wine taste aged, that is the melon flavors are closer to over ripe melon than barely ripe melon, aromas and flavors I associate with those flavors that develop over time in the bottle. These are flavors I love in an aged white wine.

If you prefer brighter pineapple, apricot flavors consume Sauternes when they are young. They are delicious, I love those flavors. But, I love the complex older flavors Sauternes develop with time in the bottle even more. Whenever I drink a bottle of Sauternes young, I can’t help but wonder what it might have become, then I just sit back and lose myself in the fresh sweet flavors.

If you haven’t already done so, be certain to try Sauternes. You will quickly discover their charm. Wonderfully round in the mouth with rich pineapple and apricot flavors, Sauternes are not just any other sweet wine. All of those complex flavors and sweetness is balance with tong-tingling acidity for a clean finish. This is what makes Sauternes so special to me.

They are a special occasion wine (one to drink for a special occasion or one that makes any occasion special!), and admittedly very expensive, but worth the cost to further your wine education. Get together with some friends and split the cost of a bottle among you. Try Sauternes when they’re young and then see if you can put your hands on some older vintages. You will be amazed at the change in flavors.

Thank you George (and Gail) for sharing your liquid gold with us!


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Rosé Rocks!

Rosé is one of the things I like the most about summer. Every year we look forward to seeking out new, and familiar, rosés to enjoy as outdoor temperatures rise. I love rosé for many reasons. Flavors: strawberries, citrus, raspberries in a lighter bodied wine. Lower alcohol: 12.5% – 13.5% is the general range. Color: salmon, pale salmon, blush, pink. Versatility: rosé accompanies everything from salads, to roasted chicken, to fish tacos.

We recently tasted a group of rosés at a Thursday night wine tasting at Fine Wines of Stockton. They were an interesting collection of rosé made from a variety of grapes produced around the globe. Here’s what we tasted and a bit about each wine.

2013 Listel Sable de Camargue Grain de Gris Rosé2013 Listel Sable de Camargue Grain de Gris Rosélight salmon in color with delicate floral and strawberry aromas. Light flavors of berries combine with lime zest, a kiss of sweetness and crisp, clean finish. Subtle but flavorful. ABV 12.5%

This rose is a blend of Cinsault, Grenache and Carignan produced using a very short period of skin contact to impart color and flavor into the wine.  The Sable de Camargue Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP) applies to vineyards planted in sandy soils along the ocean (just south of Picpoul de Pinet) in the eastern portion of the Languedoc. This region’s sandy soils largely protected the vines here from the phylloxera epidemic in the 1880s.

2013 Jean-Luc Colombio Cape Bleue Rosé2013 Jean-Luc Colombio Cape Bleue Rosévery light pink in the glass with blackberry aromas. Citrus pith dominates the flavors along with blackberries, minerality and good acidity. This wine feels a bit rounder in the mouth. ABV 12.5%.

A blend of 67% Syrah and 33% Mourvèdre is produced near Marseille in the Languedoc. It’s Méditérranée IGP classification means winemakers have more latitude in selecting grape varieties for their wine and less restrictive winemaking regulations than Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) classifications.

2012 Cline Cellars Mourvèdre Rosé2012 Cline Cellars Mourvèdre Rosédarker salmon in the glass with aromas of raspberries and blackberries. Flavors are reflective of the aromas with a combination of sweet and tart red berries. This wine has lots of flavor and perhaps a bit of fizz. I noticed some tiny bubbles clinging to the inside of my glass. It has plenty of flavor and texture. ABV 13%.

Produced from Mourvèdre harvested from Cline’s 100 year old vineyard in Contra Costa County. These red grapes are pressed prior to fermentation so that a bit of color and tannins are extracted from the grape skins. Cool fermentation aims to preserve the bright flavor and it is not quite fermented to dry. There is just a touch of residual sugar.

2013 CrossBarn Rosé of Pinot Noir2013 CrossBarn Rosé of Pinot Noirvery light salmon in the glass with minerals on the nose. A burst of citrus flavor is followed by minerals and berry fruit and juicy acidity. This wine is weightless in the mouth. I like that. ABV 12.5%.

This wine is fermented to dryness in stainless steel without going through malolactic fermentation. Paul Hobbs, who in addition to producing California wine at CrossBarn, produces wine under the Paul Hobbs label in Napa and Vina Cobos in Argentina. He is also beginning a wine project in the Fingerlakes region of New York State. Busy man.

2013 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé2013 Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosébright rose color in the glass with complex aromas of minerals, ripe berries and vegetal notes in the background. Flavors are mostly berries to me with a touch of sweetness and adequate acidity for a clean finish. It gains complexity in the glass over time (maybe as it warmed a bit). ABV 12.5%.

While I did not think this wine was lacking in flavor, it did not have a great depth of flavor, especially after those complex aromas. There was a lot of discussion about this wine among the group. Everyone seemed to taste something different in it.

Mulderbosch is a South African producer widely distributed in the US. They do not produce this Cabernet Sauvignon rosé by bleeding off juice from their red wine production, but harvest the Cabernet Sauvignon early to preserve flavor and natural acidity. Hint: this is the way rosé should be made. The wine is cold fermented using aromatic yeasts.

2013 Caves D’Esclans Whispering Angel2013 Caves D’Esclans Whispering Angelthe palest of pinks in the glass, ballet slipper pink to me, with aromas of berries and roses. Berry and floral flavors repeat from the aromas and combine with minerals and good acidity. This wine is subtle but interesting and satisfying. ABV 13%

Produced from a blend of Grenache, Vermentino, Cinsault, Syrah and Tibouren sourced from around the village of Le Motte in Provence. After destemming and light crushing, both free-run and pressed juice is fermented in stainless steel.

You may be unfamiliar with Tibouren, I was. It is a variety not widely planted elsewhere, but it is commonly used in the rosés of Provence. It’s a bit difficult in the vineyard, producing wildly variable yields from year to year, and for that reason it is used mostly as a blender. It is credited with producing distinctive earthy aromas characteristic of Procençal wines. I missed it in the Whispering Angel, but look for more wine containing the variety. Now I’m curious.

With the price of many of these wines very close to $10 and the alcohol levels around 12.5% rosè is a winner in my book. Most are so versatile, pairing well with lighter fare but even charcuterie, or pork.

My take-aways for the evening: complex flavors in a lighter bodied, very dry, rosè is what I’m looking for. I’m not a fan of sweeter rosè. The best way to figure that out is to get out there and taste some rosè.

Also, don’t judge a rosè by its color, or lack thereof. Sometimes very light rosès can be very flavorful. That’s the goal in Provence, to create the most flavorful rosè possible with a very light color.

The Whispering Angel was my favorite and the CrossBarn my second favorite. The group voted the same way.


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#LodiLive Summer White Wine Tasting

If you’re like many people, you think of Lodi as red wine country and Zinfandel country in particular. The self-proclaimed Zinfandel Capital of the World does produce 32% of California’s premium Zinfandel with some of Lodi’s old vine Zinfandel plantings date back to 1888. But Lodi is home to any number of white grape varieties as well. It is a leading producer in California of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. In addition, you will find Viognier, Verdelho, Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Garnacha Blanca. So, really Lodi is all about diversity in wine grape growing.

Lodi lineup
We recently participated in an online tasting with LoCA (the Lodi Winegrape Commission) that features 5 white wines from Lodi producers. The discussion was moderated by Camron King, Executive Director of the Lodi Winegrape Commission and winemaker Susan Tipton. Susan is the winemaker at Acquiesce Winery & Vineyard and with the single exception of a Rosé, Susan’s entire wine production is white wine. LoCA sent us the wine and we all joined in the conversation via Twitter and Brandlive®.

2013 Borra Vineyards Nuvola2013 Borra Vineyards Artist Series Nuvola Gewürztraminervery light yellow in the glass with delicate floral and spice aromas. Melon and apple flavors combine with pleasing minerality and crisp acidity. ABV 13.6%. $19.

This crisp white wine is fermented to dryness. That’s winemaker Markus Niggli’s style. It is delicious, refreshing and food-friendly.

The story of this wine and Borra Vineyards combines many cultures. Steve Borra’s family came to Lodi from the Piedmont region of Italy three generations ago. Steve Borra founded Borra Vineyards (it was one of the first bonded wineries in Lodi) after beginning as a home winemaker. Borra Vineyards’ winemaker Markus Niggli is Swiss-born and brings a European style of winemaking to Borra.

Markus’ natural affinity for European varieties made his collaboration with the Koth family of Mokelumne Glen Vineyards in Lodi a natural. In addition to Gewürztraminer, Markus also sources Riesling, Kerner and Bacchus from the Koths. If you read our prior post about the Koths and Mokelumne Glen Vineyards, then you know about the diversity of grapes being grown on their property.

2013 Bokisch Garnacha Blanca2013 Bokisch Vineyards Garnacha Blanca Vista Luna Vineyardalmost colorless in the glass with delicate floral and tropical fruit aromas. Rich flavors of pears, tropical fruit and white flowers. A touch of sweetness combines with nice texture and crisp acidity for a long flavorful finish. ABV 13.2% $18.

Markus and Liz Bokisch brought their love of Spanish varieties with them to Lodi. In addition to Garnacha Blanca they also produce other Iberian whites: Albariño, Verdejo and Verdelho. Red varieties include Tempranillo, Graciano, Monastrell and Garnacha.

The Bokischs are committed to the land and community as well. Bokisch Vineyards is part of Certified Green Lodi Rules, farming 2500 acres of grapes sustainably. Lodi Rules is the only third party certified sustainable grape growning program in the country. Wine made in accordance with Lodi Rules will carry the Green Certification label on the bottle.

2013 Acquiesce Viognier2013 Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards Viognierthis very aromatic wine is light yellow in the glass with honeyed melon, floral and apple aromas. Flavors are dominated by ripe Meyer lemon flavors with hints of orange blossom and citrus pith. Bright acidity provides a crisp finish and this wine has a bit of weight in the mouth. Just delicious. ABV 14.1% $23.

Acquiesce Winery is relatively new to the Lodi area. 14 years ago Susan moved to Acampo, began tending the vineyards surrounding her home and learned to make wine. Her passions are white wine and Rhone varieties in particular. It was a delicious bottle of white Châteauneuf-du-Pape that started her on the journey to planting Rhone varieties on her Acampo property.

Sue obtained the cuttings for her white varieties from Château de Beaucastel through Tablas Creek Winery. Her style of winemaking is to produce a wine that tastes like the grape itself. She does not use oak aging and thanks to the unique soil and climate in Lodi her wines have a nice roundness in the mouth without going through malolactic fermentation.

2013 Heritage Oak Sauv Blanc2013 Heritage Oak Winery Sauvignon Blancvery light yellow in the glass with aromas of dried hay and tropical fruit. Flavors follow the aromas with added melon and lime. The finish is fairly long. ABV 13.48% $18.

This is the most popular wine in the Heritage Oak Winery tasting room and winemaker Tom Hoffman, like Sue, uses no oak on his white wines. Tom’s family has farmed in the Lodi area for five generations.

The winery is located along the Mokelumne River on property that has been in Tom’s family since 1892. It’s a beautiful location with a scenic trail through the vineyards and along the river. Not to be missed when you visit Lodi.

2012 Uvaggio Moscato Secco2012 Uvaggio Moscato Seccolight yellow in the glass with interesting herbal notes of marjoram along with orange blossoms. Similar floral flavors of orange blossoms combine with citrus pith. Nice acidity. ABV 12.9% $14

Although the flavors in this wine are very floral, it is not sweet (secco means dry in Italian). This dry Moscato would be nice before a meal or just to sip on a warm afternoon.

The Uvaggio winery is located in Napa but the moscato for this wine is grown in Lodi. Moscato Giallo (Yellow Muscat) is the cultivar and there are only 40 acres planted in all of California. Just a fraction of that total acreage is planted in Lodi.

So while it is true that Lodi is the Zinfandel Capital of the World, any number of white grape varieties are grown in the region as well. This tasting included just a sampling of the variety produced in Lodi. Any of the wines in this group would be a good choice on a warm afternoon or to pair with a summertime meal. All are delicious and have relatively low alcohol levels which is essential in the warm weather. It is just one more reminder of the great quality of wine coming from Lodi.

There are 65 tasting room in the Lodi area now. Think about visiting the Lodi area to do some wine tasting. You will be pleasantly surprised.

Thanks to LoCA (the Lodi Winegrape Commission) for providing the wines in this tasting and to Charles Communications Associates who organized the tasting. Thanks to Camron and Susan as well, you hosted and fun and interesting tasting.


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Fields Family Wine — Marching to the Sound of Their Own Drummer

Fields Family WinesRyan Sherman loves to talk wine, but he loves making wine even more. He grew up in Lodi which means an exposure to vineyards and winemaking was inescapable. He grew up with kids whose parents were farmers and winemakers, though his parents were not. Ryan’s family was in real estate and he pursued a career in commercial real estate himself. He eventually circled around to winemaking, establishing Fields Family Wines with partner Russ Fields in 2008.

On a recent Friday afternoon we, along with fellow wine enthusiast and blogger Peter Nowack, visited with Ryan at the Fields Family winery and tasted through Ryan’s wine. We learned about Ryan’s style of winemaking, what inspires him and what’s in store at Fields Family Wine.

Ryan Sherman winemaker Fields Family wines

Ryan Sherman – Winemaker Fields Family Wine

Ryan describes himself as a self-taught winemaker. He has read the writings of old-time producers in Cornas and Côte-Rôtie. He has learned from the writings of Paul Draper and Randall Grahm. His research has lead him to understand the importance of getting to know vineyard sites and learning what is possible in Lodi.

He has informed his palate by drinking wine from Crozes-Hermitage, the Barossa Valley and Côte-Rôtie. Ryan describes himself as more of an adventuresome wine drinker than his business partner Russ who prefers Cabernet and Pinot Noir. But they tasted Tempranillo from Rioja and Ribera del Duero, wines from Oregon as well as through out California wine. Through tasting and paying attention to what happens in the cellar Ryan now makes the style of wine they both enjoy. This evolution started as a home winemaker and continues in the cellar at Fields Family Wine.

Ryan’s first commercial vintage was 2008. That first vintage they released their Big Red Blend, Oak Knoll Merlot and Oak Knoll Cabernet Sauvignon. Syrah did not make the cut as a varietal wine. In 2009 Ryan released Zinfandel, Syrah, Oak Knoll Merlot and Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon, in addition to the Big Red Blend. He feels he began to hit his stride with the 2009 vintage, learning what each vineyard site had to give.

He began experiments with wood aging and fermentation yeasts in 2009 and 2010. Ryan fermented as many as 13 micro lots using various yeast strains. He is always learning, always reading, always stretching as a winemaker.

Gradually production has increased as demand has increased. The current 1650 case production is at the upper limit of what winery space and time will allow. Russ has a busy law practice in Sacramento and Ryan has maintained his real estate business in addition to winemaking and family. Neither expects to quit their “day job” any time soon, so for now, Fields Family Wine is making about as much wine as is possible.

The 2009 vintage has brought recognition for the Fields Family Estate Syrah. It was recently named Best In Show Red at the San Diego International Wine Competition which has increased demand for Fields Family wines. With steady sales at the winery, and the new tasting room in downtown Lodi, regional placement in a few restaurants and wine shops Fields Family Wine is just where Ryan would like to be.

Fields Family Winery

Fields Family Winery

Ryan’s winemaking style is generally low intervention. Fruit is harvested by hand early in the morning and comes to the winery for destemming. Mostly whole berries cold soak for 3-5 days. Ryan uses native yeast fermentation whenever possible, only rescuing a fermentation if it doesn’t move forward. Similarly with malolactic fermentation, he does not inoculate. Over time he has learned that fermentations proceed at different rates depending on the variety and the barrel. Some barrels of Syrah or Zinfandel may complete malolactic fermentation in as quickly as 15 days. Each barrel has its own unique chemistry.

Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon is always his problem child though. It can come into the winery with high Brix, high acid and high pH. It’s always the most challenging wine he makes. The 2013 vintage poked along not finishing malolactic fermentation until March. Experience has taught him to just monitor the wine and wait. Those barrels that don’t finish by November or December will stand still for a month or so then suddenly take off. Ryan doesn’t know if it’s the lunar cycle or what, but this has consistently been his experience.

As we talked wine, inspiration and fermentation, we sipped through a series of Fields Family wine.
Fields Family Lineup of wine
2011 Fields Family Wines Estate Syrahlots of dark fruit aromas and flavors. Nice tannins. Its big and full of texture, but not over done. Delicious and will get more interesting with time in the bottle. $22

2011 Fields Family Wines Il LadroLodi Sangiovese, harvested early for the red fruit flavors and bright acidity Ryan prefers in Sangiovese. Just a touch of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot round out the flavor and body a bit. It’s Ryan’s take on a Super Tuscan wine. $25

2012 Fields Family Wines Century Block Zinfandeldark fruit, a bit of smoke, lots of texture. Juicy acidity. Dark and delicious. This bottling is essentially the same as Ryan’s Lodi Native Century Block Zinfandel with the exception that it is aged in about 25% new oak. The Lodi Native bottling sees no new oak. This wine is a darker version of the Lodi Native wine to my palate.

2009 Fields Family Wines Oak Knoll Merlotdark fruit with great depth of flavor and significant, grippy tannins. This is a Merlot with personality. It is not a generic red wine. $28

2010 Fields Family Wines Oak Knoll Merlotlots of bright fruit flavors, great depth of flavor, juicy acidity and once again beautiful, grippy tannins. Just delicious. This wine is not yet released (look for it in the fall) and Ryan is very pleased with the flavors and tannins in this wine. It’s a bit younger tasting, but delicious.

2009 Fields Family Wines Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignona combination of bright and dark fruit, earth and spice. Grippy tannins and juicy acidity in a medium body round out the package. Just a small amount of Malbec adds additional complexity to the flavor profile. $59

Making Napa Valley may not be the norm in Lodi, but it’s what Ryan enjoys the challenge Mt. Veeder fruit brings. In general Ryan’s Napa Valley wine is aged two years in barrel and two years in bottle prior to release. He likes to give the wine time to pull itself together.

Last year Ryan purchased only one new barrel, a 500L Ermitage barrel. One more barrel will be added in 2014. Ryan prefers the flavor profiles French oak adds to Syrah and prefers mostly multiple-use oak barrels for aging with just a fraction aged in new French oak.

2014 will bring two additional Syrahs to the Fields Family line-up. Ryan will be making Shiraz from a small vineyard planted in Lodi in the 1970s from cuttings brought from the Barossa Valley. Because the vineyard is so tiny, the bottling will be called Postage Stamp Shiraz. In addition, Ryan will make a Côte-Rôtie inspired Syrah. These two bottlings of Syrah will join the Estate Syrah.

Fields Family Wines Estate Vineyard SyrahThe Estate Syrah vineyard, planted about 25 years ago, surrounds the winery on Woodbridge Road. Ryan believes it was the first Certified Organic vineyard in Lodi until this year, when a persistent problem with voles required leaving the Organic program. Fields Family use a portion of the grapes from the Syrah and the balance is sold to others. Tempranillo will be grafted onto a portion of the Syrah vineyard so Fields Family will eventually have Estate Tempranillo as well.

If you enjoy wine that expresses the variety and site with minimal wood influence, you will enjoy Fields Family Wines. The selection we tasted was flavorful and complex with great acidity and nice tannin structure. We love significant tannins in red wine and we liked what we tasted.

Fields Family Wines is a great example of the diversity of wine being made in the Lodi AVA. Lodi is of course the self-proclaimed Zinfandel Capital of the World, but there is a lot going on in the Lodi wine world besides Zinfandel. Ryan has not ignored Zinfandel, he makes several and is a participant in the Lodi Native Project. He just has lots of other interests as well. And that’s great news for wine lovers!

You can taste Fields Family wine at the winery or the tasting room in downtown Lodi. We have tasted at both locations and they offer different ambiance. Going to the winery and talking with the winemaker is as good as it gets.

Winery and Tasting Room
3803 E. Woodbridge Rd
Acampo, CA Lodi, CA
Thurs – Mon 11am- 5pm
209 896-6012
Google Maps

Downtown Lodi Tasting Room
20 N. School St
Weds & Sun 1 – 6 pm
Thurs – Sat 1 – 8 pm
209 368-3435
Google Maps

Thanks to Ryan for taking time to talk and taste wine with us. It was a very enjoyable afternoon for us.


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