Emma Krasov

Emma Krasov is a professional travel journalist based in San Francisco, California. She is a travel columnist for several print newspapers and online publications nationwide, and a publisher of Real Travel Adventures and travel blog Art and Entertain Me www.artandentertainme.blogspot.com.

0 715

Photography by Yuri Krasov

A five-hour trip from the City by the Bay grants mostly spectacular views of the emerald hills, patched with purple lupines and studded with orange poppies, and pastoral scenes with grazing sheep and cows. Even a speeding ticket by the northernmost border of the state, which someone told us (a tad too late) is a regular occurrence here, cannot really spoil the mood.

Then Mt. Shasta appears on the horizon and grows on you like a giant sugar head, all covered with snow and white clouds. The air gets colder, the terrain humbler. One man’s Northern California is another man’s Southern Oregon. What’s happening here now makes experts believe that it is a new Napa Valley we are talking about.

Ashland, Oregon, at the foot of the valley, is an unbelievably clean university town – home to natives, who own large chunks of land and small businesses in the area: artists and retirees – formerly known as hippies from Berkeley. (Birkenstock does some swell business here).
A wild creek that runs through the town, old trees with spring blossoms on every hilly street, and a blue mountain ridge framing the area populated by some 20 thousand all add the necessary nature part to the booming culture of Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland Independent Film Festival, and abundant showrooms of the Ashland Gallery Association.

Film Fest Car

On our four-day retreat, we stayed at the historic yet comfortably modernized Ashland Springs Hotel, built in 1925, lavishly decorated with naturalist collections of birds’ nests, seashells, and herbariums from the bygone era. Larks Restaurant at the hotel serves local Rogue and Applegate Valley chars, cabs and pinots, fresh Oregon oysters, and creates unusual combinations of tastes and textures with locally produced ingredients. Even microgreens come from a local enthusiast who allegedly grows them in his domestic hothouse.

Ashland Creek Inn, whose private balconies literally hang over its namesake, offers ten unique suites furnished with art and antiques from Normandy, Morocco, or Japan. No wonder reservations are said to be made three years in advance…

The Winchester Inn, a boutique stay in one of the town’s exquisite Victorians, boasts an award-winning dining room, where Dickens’ characters come alive every December and upscale dinners are served year round.

For a tiny town Ashland has a record number of good restaurants. During our visit, EdenVale Enoteca hosted an exquisite six-course lunch presenting its own wine labels along with those from Pebblestone, Agate Ridge, and Seufert wineries and food from Hana Sushi, Seasons Catering, BZ’s Last Stand and Hacienda, Cucina Biazzi, and Helena Darling Catering.

Ashland Hotel

A recently opened Liquid Assets is a wine bar that serves rare libations from around the globe and dinners far above your usual bar food and displays the works of local artists. From visual to performing arts – we caught a glimpse of the world-famous Shakespeare Fest (a clever comedy by Sarah Ruhl, Dead Man’s Cell Phone) and of the International Independent Film Fest (Automorphosis – a doc about car owners who turn their vehicles into artworks.
Several of those cars were driving around town, honking away and disrupting not so heavy traffic).
Another form of art is provided by the skillful masseuses of The Phoenix day spa and salon, but that has to be experienced first-hand.

The best way to go around and look at a broader area is to join a ride with Main Street Tours, operated by a native Oregonian Kim Lewis. We visited the historic Gold Rush town of Jacksonville with him, known for its intact period architecture; Museum of Southern Oregon History; wild woodland trails, and annual jazz and Peter Britt music festivals, not to mention Fritillaria Festival named after a local flower and many other events and points of interest.
On our way back from Jacksonville to Ashland, we stopped at Paschal Winery, an unpretentious family establishment that manages to create a number of great varietals. After that, being ever so slightly buzzed up and glad we had Mr. Lewis at the stirring wheel, we took a ride around town, getting to know its toy-box districts, lovingly restored Victorian houses, and generous people.

Ashland dwellers are mostly pleasant, kind to strangers, and all know each other.
Spend a long weekend here, and you might get recognized on the street as well.

0 1335

Photography by Yuri Krasov


The very name Los Gatos [the cats] already holds its magnetic pool for your regular feline lover. Stretching like a cat’s gracious spine along the curve of Santa Cruz foothills, the town is warm and well groomed like a pedigreed animal, although it’s named after the bobcats and mountain lions of the surrounding woods rather than Tiggers and Gingers.
For a cat town, Los Gatos boasts a surprising amount of dogs. Small, big, and huge, they leisurely walk their owners along the shady sidewalks, manicured lawns, and blossoming rose bushes, or sit under chairs in outside cafes, or drink from water bowls, considerately left by the local business owners outside their doors.

“To see Los Gatos is to love the town,” wrote Sunset Magazine back in 1915. While visiting some time ago, the first thing we saw upon entering was a very legible sign: Free Unlimited Parking. For us, used to San Francisco parking hardships and enormous prices, that was a decisive moment of falling in love with the town.

We took a comfortable mini-coach of Royal Coach Tours to the mountainous wineries of higher elevations. Loma Prieta Winery was named after of the infamous fault line that caused a devastating earthquake back in 1989 as an appeasement offering to the gods of quakes. The winery is located at 2,300 feet above the sea level and boasts 360 degrees of spectacular views. There is a plan in the making to introduce sunset tastings here.

A team of husband and wife produces a number of award-winning reds, and only reds (“I just don’t like white wine,” explained Amy Kemp, the wife). It was hard to decide which red was the best. My personal judgment got impaired between garnet-red 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon and red-ink-dark 2006 Saveria Pinot Noir, both of pleasant complexity, with lasting aftertaste. I finally leaned toward the Cab, maybe, because for a moment the taste of wine, the sound of water in the fountain and the view of the Bay far below all came together in a brief sensation of perfection.

Other great small wineries are located nearby. Silver Mountain Vineyards yields limited crops of organically grown fruit for its gold-medal estate chardonnays. Burrell School Vineyards, located in a historic 1890 school building names its product Teacher’s Pet chardonnay (definitely a winner!) and Valedictorian…
266058cb0A visit to Fleming Jenkins tasting room in downtown Los Gatos revealed an exhibit of Peggy Fleming’s skating champion costume; her husband, Greg Jenkins in person, and an array of great boutique wines, with a special Victories Rose, dedicated to breast cancer research by a charity-oriented couple. After several hours of Santa Cruz appellation immersion, the night was still young, and a popular wine bar Cin-Cin greeted us with more local wines and Asian, Spanish and California fusion appetizers.

Forbes Mill Steakhouse, where we happened to dine that night, served a four-course pre-fix, paired with Savannah-Chanelle and Poetic Cellars wines. Dean Devincenzi, one of the owners, explained that the restaurant serves only prime certified Angus beef among just nine other restaurants across the nation. Other things on the menu sure to satisfy the most demanding taste were Dungeness crab stuffed calamari, braised short ribs in ginger-soy glaze, and warm apple and almond tart for dessert. A short walk to Tall House Hotel in brisk night air was a good sleep-inducer and a great way to finish the eventful day.



Day Two

Staying in Toll House Hotel, named after the first historical tollbooth between Santa Cruz and San Jose is like living a pretend-believe life of a local resident. Our suite was cozy and quiet-all about creature comfort-and a soft bed with crisp linens after a hot bath with aromatic salts granted this weary traveler a rare night of undisturbed sleep.

In the morning, I stepped out to the balcony and marveled at the sheer blue mountain outlines wrapped in gentle fog, with redwood tops spearing the gauze. No matter how hot the sun is in the middle of the day, early mornings carry inland chilly messages from the ocean. After a short drive to the locally beloved Southern Kitchen, we parked our small car between a Bentley and a Rolls-Royce (there are several of those dealerships in town, not to count Lamborghini) and indulged in a hearty breakfast of blueberry banana pancakes, bursting with fresh berry juice and sweet banana flesh, well worth packing in some unnecessary calories.

Our day adventure started with a walking tour of Los Gatos, put together by a team of volunteers, who man every historic building in town dressed in period costumes for their annual historic presentation. The prominent citizens of the years past, like James Alexander Forbes who built the founding mill on the land of the future town, and Louise Van Meter, a teacher who introduced a concept of kindergarten at the turn of the last century, come alive and tell their stories intertwined with the history of their cherished town.

A scandalous adventure of a stationmaster Eugene Ford who built an opera house to please his wife, and then ran away with a chorus girl, is humorously presented during the tour in the former Opera building, now serving as a banquet hall.

There are Forbes Mill History Museum and The Art Museum of Los Gatos here to visit, and a Julia Morgan 1914 house among other architectural gems of the well-kept residential area. A lunch at Campo di Bocce is a must for any visitor. Fried calamari, grilled shrimp, and pizza are not the only treats here. How about a game of bocce, a delightful and entertaining experience, even if you’ve never tried it before!

After some shopping in the neat and clean Old Town, we stopped at California Café to try some exquisite wines from Cinnabar and Testarossa wineries, the latter being the San Francisco Bay Area’s oldest continuously operating one. Young executive chef Taylor Boudreaux serves California cuisine here made with the freshest local ingredients.

Among the many great restaurants of Los Gatos, Nick’s on Main, an American Bistro stands out with its classy pairings of Black Ridge Vineyards wines and chef/owner Nick Difu’s masterpieces, like rare ahi tuna on warm white beans, or wild mushroom risotto fragrant with truffle oil. And at the end of the day, there is always a great walk to your hotel, just because the town is so compact and safe, so lovely, so walkable…



Day Three

Start your morning at Los Gatos Coffee Roasting Company to awake to the fact that life is great. Busy and bustling-this is a gathering point for the locals and tourists alike. People come accompanied by their friends, by their significant others, by their dogs, or just with their laptops, and all find a place here, at a high table by the mirrored wall or outside, on a sunny sidewalk.
During our breakfast (buckwheat waffles with whipped cream are highly recommended!) we even saw a nursing mother [nursing] by a corner table, probably unaware that breast milk transports the energizer beverage right into her baby’s tiny brain. Oh well, he’ll probably grow up a coffee addict anyway. With this dense aroma of fresh-roasted beans in the air, who wouldn’t? Teri Hope, the owner, receives her hand-harvested and sun-dried coffee directly from her family farm in Kona, Hawaii, and roasts it daily in-house.

Not far from the beloved coffee place, there is The Spa Los Gatos, whose owner Patti Rice sponsored her employees’ additional training to provide massages for cancer patients-a rarity in the industry. Upon entering the spa, it is easy to notice that every detail has been thought through here. Smiling receptionists, quiet passageways, and overstuffed cozy furniture immediately create a welcoming atmosphere. The level of comfort is significantly enhanced by comfortable waiting rooms, couple and group facilities, and individual steam showers with eucalyptus, lavender, or orange oil against the backdrop of warm dim lights and soothing music.

A lunch at Dio Deka, that serves Hellenic cuisine, is yet another extraordinary culinary experience in this little town of big wonders. The poetically sounding name of the restaurant reflects just a prosaic street number from the restaurant address-210 E. Main Street-but such is the power of an ancient language. The food, though, is pure poetry. Chef Salvatore Calisi, who grew up in a Greek neighborhood in New York, modestly referred to “quality ingredients” when asked how did he make his appetizers so wonderfully fresh and bursting with flavor. I would definitely go back for those bite-size pieces of grilled octopus-plump and tender, slightly blackened from the open mesquite fire, flavored with oregano and citrus olive oil… Grass-fed lamb chops and a bass, served with traditional potatoes sprinkled with lemon juice are also among the favorites.
For a sweet farewell, on our way out of Los Gatos, we stopped for an exclusive tour of a unique estate winery, La Rusticana d’Orsa, where the owners, Frank and Marilyn Dorsa, created little Italy on hills and terraces of their sun-drenched property.
In small yards, gardens and shady paths, overlooking the Bay, Italian cypresses guard heavy rose blossoms, lotus ponds, and statues of angels and graces, and mountain goats pasture peacefully on a green hillside.
The gates of the estate, as well as fountains, sitting corners, and other structures, were designed by Marilyn Dorsa, who also designs original bracelets from Venetian glass beads and metalwork, sold in boutiques locally and as far as Moscow. The couple’s son, Bart Dorsa, is a filmmaker and a photography artist, currently working there.
La Rusticana d’Orsa offers a club membership with direct purchase benefits, cooking and art classes, and new release parties.



One More Day at the Newly Opened Regale Winery

I took a sip of aromatic citrus-toned chardonnay; a bite of warm crostini topped with baked ricotta and orange zest; sat back, and closed my eyes. Bright afternoon sun peeked just enough under the terrace roof to gently warm my face. A cooling sea breeze was streaming from the Monterey Bay far below, intertwined with a faint smell of roses. Bella Chiao was playing in the background. It felt royally good. Italy at your doorstep, said my wine-tasting companion, echoing my thoughts…
We were sitting in the open-air tasting bar of Regale Winery – the newest addition to the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation in the hills of Los Gatos. When Larry Schaadt, the proprietor, bought an idle piece of land at the top of the hill, he envisioned a Tuscan-style building with the ambience he came to appreciate while traveling in Europe. Now, thick walls and marble floors keep inner facilities of his winery cool on hot days, and a hand-painted mural replicating Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese, adds to the atmosphere of celebration, be it for a small wedding, a birthday, or just a visit with friends and family.
True to its name, which means “to entertain lavishly with food and drink,” Regale offers food and wine pairings – a tried and true concept in Napa, but unique to the Santa Cruz Mountains wine-producing region. Uniformed in burnt orange to look their best in the open air bar colored in rich terracotta hues, chef extraordinaire Faun Skyles and the tasting staff serve delectable combinations of best varietals from every region of California Wine Country and gourmet small plates. Happy to have a grand wood fire oven to her disposal, Faun uses it for nearly every dish on the menu. The 2006 Central Coast Chardonnay, harvested in Hollister, was paired with oven-roasted Marcona almonds, and a glass of velvety 2007 Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley with a serving of duck prosciutto and apple cider gastrique, followed by a flat bread topped with piave vecchi (cheese from Parma), hot olives, rosemary, olive oil, and fleur de sel.
Individual pizzas are made to order, with thin crackling crust and house-made marinara. Besides bringing in fruit from the best-known areas that produce particular grapes, like Alexander Valley cab and Dry Creek zin, Regale produces its own estate-grown pinot since 2005. Other crops here – olives and olive oil; heirloom tomatoes (70 plants of those already planted for late summer consumption); zucchini, eggplant, sweet peppers, corn, beans, strawberries, melons – all organic, all grown in the well-kept hillside garden, steps from the kitchen, all merely minutes old when brought to the table – can’t get any fresher than that. On the estate of 10.5 acres, 3.5 are occupied by the vineyard, and the rest by an olive grove, a spiral herb garden, lavender fields, bocce ball court, outdoor fire pit, fruit orchards, and quaint sitting areas for smaller groups. In the building, a formal kitchen is equipped to feed up to a hundred persons a six-course dinner. An upstairs bar has a fireplace for rainy winter days, and dining rooms for indoor and outdoor events. Regale uses green technology – solar panels and water treatment system, and produces 38 hundred cases a year, all of which are sold on premises through the word of mouth. The winery is located at 24040 Summit Road in Los Gatos.

Photography by Yuri Krasov

A “French room” in Napa Inn was furnished with a bed of royal height; antique armchairs with silk upholstery; a small tapestry, china and statuettes. On an aged dainty bureau, fit for writing letters by hand, there was a guest book with a Thomas Kinkade cover, filled with notes like “Our best anniversary ever… Happy birthday to me… Thank you for the wonderful getaway, we’ll be back… This is our Christmas gift, and what a great gift it is…”

On the weekend we turned in here The Napa Inn hosted a 50th wedding anniversary couple that planned their celebration dinner on the Wine Train, expectant parents who wisely decided to have “the last romantic retreat before the baby arrives,” and a pair of bicycling girlfriends. All congregated in a parlor around the fireplace, pouring sherry and port from crystal decanters. Next to the wine glasses, there were trays with locally produced artisanal cheese, crackers, and freshly baked cookies. A library of old tomes, a rocking chair, and charming trinkets from a bygone era scattered around the sunlit room were creating an atmosphere of a Victorian retreat. Bouquets of fresh California blooms stood on every windowsill in front of lace curtains and on every surface that was unoccupied by period photo albums. Some friendly ghosts from the old photographs on the wall next to a piano were watching the ever changing carnival of strangers, now inhabiting their formerly family rooms…
The current owners of the Napa Inn, Brooke and Jim Boyer, carefully preserved the mementos of the past while renovating the lavender-walled Queen Ann mansion to its contemporary state of comfort and luxury.

The Johnston’s home, now the main building of Napa Inn, was conceived as a wedding present to Madaline (Minnie) Migliavacca and Harry Johnston in 1899. A gift of remarkable generosity came from the groom’s parents, who finished construction just in time for the newlyweds’ return from their honeymoon. Judging from the spacious parlor, multiple bedrooms, and comfortable staircases, the expectations were high for a large family. However, the young spouses, who went on to live together for 50 years, were childless, and the house, which became a city property after their passing, underwent a series of reincarnations as a public building. Once, it even moved to make space for a city parking lot. Then, in 1977 the170-ton structure was transported four blocks away from its original location, for which move some of the city’s light poles and parking meters were temporarily removed.

The wandering home ended up next to the Buford House, then an apartment building, now also a part of Napa Inn, and on the National Register of Historic Places. The Buford House was built in 1877 by a well-off rancher from Berryessa, Simeon Buford, as a town dwelling for his family.
The farmer spent most of his time in the field with his son, Kirtley, while his wife Angelina and daughter Maud made their residence in the house on Clay Street in Napa, to escape the boredom of the farm life. The arrangement didn’t last long. First, the rancher’s wife died, then his daughter, and then his son. Once again, after the original owner of the house died, his former family home became a city property and was used for various public purposes. At one time, it housed a shelter for young delinquents, supervised by a staff of pedagogues. After it closed, people who bought the house from the city found a letter from one of the boys to another. In it, he wrote that if the “old lady” would transfer his buddy to the first floor, it would be really easy for both of them to escape from the house… At another time, the city police station was located here.

Now, Brooke and Jim keep the Bufords’ memory alive by naming the inn’s guest rooms after the farmer’s family members. On our stay, we settled in the Simeon’s Quarters in Napa Inn, named after the head of the original family, a.k.a. the French room. Today, the Napa Inn enjoys a reputation of one of the most romantic bed and breakfast places in the area. The original woodwork, including hard wood floors, is preserved and restored throughout the property. In luxurious bathrooms, hand-made tiles were colored to Brooke’s request to match the period-appropriate wallpaper.
The rooms are equipped with gas fireplaces, air conditioners and Jacuzzis. Comfortable beds, the highest quality bed linens and midnight-blue plush robes for the guests surely create the overall sensation of being pampered. Massage services can be reserved for the new spa room, wallpapered with photographic images of sunny green groves. Old books, lithographs and period antiques found throughout the property, are supplemented with the original paintings and murals by Brooke, who used to teach art, as well as family photographs of the historic owners.
A tiny garden gazebo at the front of the main building, rose bushes and flower beds, bursting with seasonal colors in-between the two houses, and a little fountain in the backyard add to the charm of this sought after romantic retreat. Besides the wine and cheese in the parlor, always served by the check-in time and through the evening, various organic teas are available 24/7; there is a coffeemaker in every room, and a hearty breakfast is served in two shifts in a formal dining room with white tablecloth, candles, and flower centerpieces. On the morning of our stay, we were offered a choice of some healthy cereal with skim milk or spinach frittata with homemade fries, fresh fruit salad and delectable peach bread pudding with Amaretto sauce. It seemed the healthy choice was unanimously blackballed by the luxuriating guests…

The Napa Inn is within walking distance or a short drive away from the famous wineries, shops, restaurants, and art galleries of its namesake community. Both buildings are beautiful, historic, and lovingly kept by the Boyers. The service is efficient, and always available. The inn is located at 1137 Warren Street, Napa, California. For information, call 800-435-1144, 707-257-1444, or visit: www.napainn.com

0 760

Photography by Yuri Krasov

Travelers to California Wine Country often start and end their adventure at the foot of Napa Valley. It happens for obvious reasons. The city of Napa, big-name wineries, and the abundance of destination restaurants in the area make a journey complete for the majority of tourists.

However, if you can resist the temptation of overtasting in Napa, take that Route 29 a little farther north, heading to the town of Calistoga for a change. Bennett Lane Winery is located at the northernmost edge of the valley. Its off-the-beaten track location grants a serene environment and an intimate setting for some leisurely wine sipping in its cozy tasting room.

A miniature “petting” vineyard in front of the Mediterranean villa-style building showcases different grapes for close comparison. Clearly marked rows of Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Syrah and Chardonnay provide Fruit 101 at a glance, with their glossy or matt, smooth or warped leaves, and smaller or larger, darker or lighter grapes. During our visit, Rob Hunter, a consulting winemaker of Bennett Lane, offered detailed descriptions of local varieties, and let us try and compare each fruit from the vine.
He also orchestrated the Custom Blend Experience, well worth the trip…
Our group of six was invited into a cellar room, where first we approached a table with different aromatics placed in empty wine glasses. Smells of fresh raspberry, blueberry preserves, or a candid pineapple were supposed to help us define the aroma of a cab or a char. Then, we sat down around another table, where Bennett Lane’s own Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah were lined up for the winery’s Maximus blend, characterized as “red feasting wine.”

In Custom Blend Experience classes, participants create their own versions of Maximus, mixing the three wines in any proportion according to their individual tastes. Then they bottle, cork, label, and take home their creations.

Handling a pipette and a beaker as well as pouring and mixing my own blend immediately made me think of infinite possibilities: of a winemaker’s talent probably buried deep inside my journalist’s soul. What if… And yes, tasting your own creation surely proves that the best wine for you is the one you like. The class also provides a great opportunity to see how tastes really differ in the people you thought you knew…

Bennett Lane is owned by Randy and Lisa Lynch, who purchased the winery some five years ago. Randy is a former NASCAR racer, who became the first team owner to put wine logo on a stock car shortly after acquiring the winery.

Bennett Lane produces five wines: Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Primus Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Los Carneros Reserve Chardonnay, Maximus, and white Maximus. Bennett Lane is open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Custom Blend Experience sessions are offered for groups of six or more and require an advance reservation. There is a free picnic area behind the testing room, overlooking Mount St. Helena and the Palisades. No appointment necessary for the picnic area. Located at 3340 Highway 128, Calistoga. Call for reservations and more information: 707-942-6684, or visit: www.bennettlane.com.

Frank Family Vineyards occupies the historic Larkmead winery in Calistoga, the third oldest one in Napa. Built in 1884, it was clad with native sandstone in 1906. Today, the building is noted in the National Register of Historical Places and is named a Point of Historical Interest in the state of California.
A prominent Disney executive Rich Frank and his wife Connie own the winery. Last year, they opened a new tasting room in the original owners’ residence, a classic Craftsman bungalow. Actually, there are several rooms. The front one is for sparkling wines, which traditionally constitute a larger part of the whole production here. It has a spacious bar area and is generously decorated with Mr. Frank’s pictures in the company of one or another showbiz celeb, including Oprah among the most recent visitors. Other rooms are for still wines, for VIP receptions, and for private tastings, decorated like a 1950s club with pictures of Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich on the walls.

In the course of our visit, Todd Graff, the winemaker, took us on a tour of the original building, where he introduced the whole process of winemaking with the help of some out-of-barrel tasting. That was a rare chance to follow the journey of Frank Family’s nationally distributed Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from a cloudy mush to a finished product, delightful with the depth of flavor and the clarity of color.
It obviously takes an experienced winemaker to imagine how a yeasty liquid with a smell of laundry detergent would eventually evolve into crisp, cool, silky nectar. Five sparkling wines are handcrafted today in the old stone building, adorned with floor to ceiling antique barrels and modernized with technologically advanced refrigerated cellars. Signature Brut, Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs, Rouge, and a vintage Reserve are all made in the traditional French methode champenoise style. Among the still wines Frank Family produces Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and three Cabernet Sauvignons in small quantities, plus even more limited Reserve Chardonnay, Reserve Zinfandel, Reserve Sangiovese, Reserve Pinot Noir, and Port.

Frank Family Vineyards is open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The tasting is free, as well as tours of the premises, and the use of picnic grounds. Located at 1091 Larkmead Lane, Calistoga. For more information, call 800-574-9463, or visit: www.frankfamilyvineyards.com.

0 763

Photography by Yuri Krasov

Case Ranch Inn is a dollhouse retreat in a relatively remote part of Napa Valley. A short drive away from the hustle and bustle of excessive wine tasting, it’s nestled in one of the tiny towns along Russian River, where the nights are still and the days are lazy and quiet, and where Mother Nature showers all her children with her many gifts of seashore-meets-redwoods flora and fauna.

Spending a night at Case Ranch is like turning into a fruit worm imbedded into a sweet summer plum. You rest in luxury and softness, hugged by sun-drenched walls, made of pure sugar. You feast on a tree-ripe fruit, and feel safe and happy… A renovated Victorian farmhouse built around 1894 and now painted turquoise blue is furnished with period pieces and knick-knacks, gathered from family and friends’ attics and local estate sales. Imagine coming back to a family home [a century ago], all primped and ready for dear guests. If it weren’t for a free Wi-Fi-offering laptop on a desk, the parlor would have looked like your next stop in time travel.

Lovingly and painstakingly restored by Allan Tilton, a traffic engineer, and Diana Van Ry, a judicial assistant for Sonoma County Superior Court during their full-time working years, the house has three bedrooms, named after the owners’ daughters—Kathleen, Korinna, and Elizabeth.

After a relaxing night’s sleep on a pillow-top mattress, I woke up and looked out the window. In an unbelievably quiet country morning, flaming-red leaves of an ash tree were seen through the fog, two black dogs were circling a distant neighbor’s yard, and a flock of California quails were crossing the road to the house. I went downstairs—a wide terrace with wicker armchairs invited me to sit down, forget the world, and watch squirrels play on a green lawn.
For breakfast, our gracious hostess treated us to her orchard’s fresh figs, Belgian waffles with her own raspberry sauce, apple sausages, and strong coffee. Diana cooks her guests’ breakfasts every day, using organic ingredients whenever possible, and providing sustainable and healthy meals. Allan is an avid beer maker, treating the guests to free tasting of his own sophisticated brews.

Each Case Ranch bedroom emits a bonboniere feel with its floral wallpaper, original windowpanes with thick wavy glass, and cozy dollhouse layout, but is equipped with all the modern conveniences, plush robes, and a luxury bed with all-cotton linens.

A private cottage in a garden has a kitchenette for additional privacy. The two-acre garden with rose bushes, a gazebo, a spa, a fountain, a fruit orchard, a kitchen garden, and a small vineyard surround the house. The land has been designated a registered National Wildlife Federation Backyard Wildlife Habitat. In 2003 and 2006 solar power systems were added to Case Ranch Inn, which was recently certified eco-green.
The inn is located in close proximity to the Russian River Valley famous wineries, like Korbel and Rodney Strong; Steelhead Beach Regional Park, with fishing, boating, kayaking, and picnic grounds all year round; Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve, and Sonoma Coast State Park, where Russian River meets the ocean…What an itinerary for a weekend visit!
A feast for all senses awaits a weary traveler in Applewood Inn. After driving up the river valley, tasting Moscato Frizzante at Korbel, and wandering the rusty, dusty trails of Armstrong Redwoods we entered the inn grounds. With its foursome of apple-blossom-painted houses around a toy courtyard and its own fruit orchard, vegetable garden, herb flowerbeds and rosebushes, Applewood is a special place, far removed from the troubles of the world. It’s a fairy-tale town—compact and self-contained, surrounded by serene redwoods under the vast blue sky of Sonoma.
A large bear-faced dog warned me not to come close to the open swimming pool, but then rolled over and begged to play. After walking among the fig trees and fragrant roses in their last passionate bloom, and watching full moon bathing in the pool, I felt like asking for a political asylum here. And that was even before we settled into our room with a luxurious bed and a Jacuzzi with a view, and sat to dinner at the famous Applewood restaurant.

Darryl Notter and Jim Caron bought the property back in 1985, when it just turned from a 1922 family home into a contemporary B&B. Both owners left San Francisco behind in order to live and work on premises, and it becomes immediately obvious for any visitor that to run this kind of business with this level of success requires a wholehearted investment of self, and something else—that thing called love…

In the years following their purchase, Notter and Caron added the Piccola Casa and the Gate House to the old Belden [the original owner’s name] building, and a French barn-style restaurant to seat up to 75 for fine dining and all kinds of receptions. The owners, who know their food and wine, made it a point to hire only exceptionally talented young chefs. We were lucky to indulge in a feast created by Bruce Frieseke—a philosopher chef, who takes an existential approach to each individual ingredient, bringing out “its inherent essence in a way that harmonizes with a dish as a whole.”

Jokes aside, Frieseke must be one of the best-educated chefs around, with studies in philosophy, math, and French language, literature and history under his belt. He used to work with Loretta Keller at Bizou, and as an executive chef of The French Garden and Manzanita Restaurant before taking the lead at Applewood. Frieseke’s two-year experience as a Parisian pastry chef allows him to come up with creative desserts, undeniably and exquisitely harmonized with a dinner menu as a whole…
The Chef’s tasting menu at Applewood is perfectly balanced and nuanced to the level of poetry. The restaurant supplements great food with an array of carefully selected wines, mostly from highly esteemed local winemakers, many from Russian River area.
After dinner, we walked a little in a moonlit garden, and our sleep in a comfy Gate House room was undisturbed in the stillness of the night.

In the morning, it was time to drive back to the world and to work, but not before we were treated to a caramelized grapefruit and Belgian waffle breakfast with fresh strawberries, bananas, and bacon, and a cup of Red Rooster’s French Roast to start the day right. Goodbye, Applewood, we shall return!

0 729

Photography by Yuri Krasov

Traveling to Chicago in winter, however silly it sounds from a Californian point of view, has its perks. It’s a real snow wonderland out there, not glittered cotton puffs in a surfboard store window. The most ambitious downtown in the nation, where the greatest architects’ competition, started in 1885, still continues, looks especially majestic on a starry night, all clad in white (rhymes unintended) with a City Hall Christmas tree, shimmering like a colorful childhood dream.
A cup of latte after skating in Millennium Park tastes like an elixir of life and restores the body exposed to icy rain, snowstorm, and freezing drizzle—all in 15 minutes time. As they say there, You don’t like Chicago weather? Wait 15 minutes, it’ll change. Comparing to the tanned children of eternal spring, Chicagoans are naturally pasty, but they get those rosy cheeks and that special Midwestern warmth from negative temps combined with layers of The North Face wear.

For a Bay Area softy, racing from Macy’s (formerly Marshall Field’s—still traditionally decorated) to Water Tower Place for some after-holiday shopping in a blizzard is like climbing Everest. Public buildings lure a weary traveler to jump inside and hug the closest radiator.

Of those public buildings, Chicago Cultural Center (1897) is a place to start your journey. The first free municipal cultural center in the nation, it’s a living museum of decorative arts with the world’s largest stained glass Tiffany dome, gilded staircase, and marble mosaic atrium. It houses Chicago Office of Tourism, which provides current city brochures, trip-planning advice, hotel reservations, and a free visitor service, Chicago Greeter, with over 40 special interest areas and 25 neighborhoods to explore.

Winter Wonderland Awaits in Downtown Chicago
©2009 Emma Krasov, Photos by Yuri Krasov
Traveling to Chicago in winter, however silly it sounds from a Californian point of view, has its perks. It’s a real snow wonderland out there, not glittered cotton puffs in a surfboard store window. The most ambitious downtown in the nation, where the greatest architects’ competition, started in 1885, still continues, looks especially majestic on a starry night, all clad in white (rhymes unintended) with a City Hall Christmas tree, shimmering like a colorful childhood dream.

A cup of latte after skating in Millennium Park tastes like an elixir of life and restores the body exposed to icy rain, snowstorm, and freezing drizzle—all in 15 minutes time. As they say there, You don’t like Chicago weather? Wait 15 minutes, it’ll change. Comparing to the tanned children of eternal spring, Chicagoans are naturally pasty, but they get those rosy cheeks and that special Midwestern warmth from negative temps combined with layers of The North Face wear.

For a Bay Area softy, racing from Macy’s (formerly Marshall Field’s—still traditionally decorated) to Water Tower Place for some after-holiday shopping in a blizzard is like climbing Everest. Public buildings lure a weary traveler to jump inside and hug the closest radiator.

Of those public buildings, Chicago Cultural Center (1897) is a place to start your journey. The first free municipal cultural center in the nation, it’s a living museum of decorative arts with the world’s largest stained glass Tiffany dome, gilded staircase, and marble mosaic atrium. It houses Chicago Office of Tourism, which provides current city brochures, trip-planning advice, hotel reservations, and a free visitor service, Chicago Greeter, with over 40 special interest areas and 25 neighborhoods to explore.

“Our greeters are all volunteers,” said Kristin Unger, who works for the Office of Tourism. “Tours are offered in 20 languages, and are based on particular visitors’ interests. It can be architecture, food or shopping tour, or a tour of Downtown or Ukrainian Village… a greeter is matched with visitors, so it’s like meeting with an old friend.”

There is also a unique InstaGreeter program that does not require an advance reservation. In a friendly city of Chicago, among the things not to be missed there are three of the world’s tallest buildings—Sears Tower, AON Center, and John Hancock Center; world-famous blues and jazz nightclubs; Charlie Trotter and a host of five-diamond restaurant chefs in addition to hundreds of ethnic mom and pop cozy joints [Italian beef sandwich and deep-dish pizza—a must]; the Art Institute of Chicago with the largest collection of Impressionist art outside Musee d’Orsay; Sue—the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex specimen—in the Field Museum, and so much more. Oh yes, do you know that they dye Chicago River green every St. Patrick’s Day?

Let’s not digress from our winter theme, though. On a recent visit, we were lucky to stay in a couple of outstanding hotels in Downtown Chicago—each with its own unique features, class, and charm.
You enter Chicago Sofitel, designed by Jean-Paul Viguier, proceed to the bar of Café des Architectes, and… shed your American identity. Now, voyager, you are a French film heroine on a date with a mysterious stranger (so what if you two have been married for ages). A glass of Bordeaux and a board of briede meaux, longres, and crottin maitre seguin will round up the impression of being transported elsewhere while feeling completely at home. Such is the power of this crystalline polished space with flickering lights, reflective surfaces, and winter décor for the nobly restrained holiday season.
“Some say, Sofitel is like a white bride to John Hancock Center in black, and they are kissing in the air,” said Lisa Adelman, who works for Sofitel Chicago Water Tower.
Built “around an invisible cone” by Adelman’s description, a 32-story hotel extends 52 feet over the street level, creating a fashion-forward look with its simple clean lines.
Ample atrium with a grand staircase and a grand ballroom on the third floor provide plenty of room for events big and small.

An interior decorator comes in every week to update the tasteful look of the lobby. No wonder bridal parties, weddings, and glamorous holiday outings are crowding the event schedule at the hotel, named after the only historical landmark that survived the great Chicago fire, and built in 2002 on a patch of prime downtown land next to its namesake.
“We took chances with colors,” said Adelman. “They are muted, but red, purple, and black—no beige. The presidential suite is in royal blue, black, and cream, with a rotating entertainment center, bathtub with a view, and a suitcase space big enough for Louis Vuitton luggage… Hallways are designed the way that rooms are not straight across from each other,” so if you open your door to pick up a morning paper, there is no danger of giving your neighbor an unintended eyeful. In other words, attention to detail and sincere appreciation for life’s little luxuries makes Sofitel a place to stay with plaisir.

On another snowy and windy night, Amalfi Hotel greeted us with a wine reception complete with antipasti and a special to the house Amalfitini cocktail. Next morning, after a relaxing sleep in a cozy bed with 315-thread linens, we were treated to a continental breakfast (served on every floor) that attracted disheveled guests in terry cloth robes and slippers, adding to the home away from home feel.

Named after the sunny coast of Italy, a family-owned Amalfi is in River North District—a walking distance from the Magnificent Mile, great theaters and fabulous restaurants of Chicago Downtown. Opened in 2004, this luxury boutique hotel caters to business (70%) and leisure travelers with its many amenities and conveniences. “Distinctively pet friendly,” it offers a fitness center, free Internet and iPod station in every room, Wi-Fi in all public areas, and a number of meeting spaces. Small enough to feel cozy, yet large enough to maintain the anonymity of its guests, a six-story Amalfi has 215 rooms with large-screen television sets, DVD players, minibars, and coffee makers.

“We don’t nickel and dime you,” said Jose Angulo, Director of Business Development. “Our business and fitness centers are complimentary, opened 24 hours. We have four computers, four printers for the guests’ use; local calls are free. On average, people stay with us 2.7 nights, and we have many repeat customers.” Looking at happy faces during the daily wine reception and watching people make fast friends and chatting merrily over their amalfitinis, it was easy to believe that. To remember this hospitable place better, I asked for a recipe to try it at home, and here it is: Amalfitini. 1 ¼ oz Skyy Vodka, ¾ oz Carevella Limoncello, ½ oz Peachtree Schnapps, ¾ oz Triple Sec, 1 ½ oz White Cranberry Juice. Shaken and served in a chilled martini glass garnished with a fresh peach in season or lemon wedge.