Adventures in the Villa


July 2018

2018-07-10 – WBCCI 2018 Wine Tasting Caravan – Day 9 – Santa Ynez

An exciting day for the caravan today – a rare opportunity to do a wine tasting at the home of the owner of the winery!  Definitely, not your ordinary tasting room!


Just outside the town of Los Olivos, we approached the gates and pressed the call button. The gates opened and we proceeded down the driveway:


As fun as this is, the main event was on the backyard patio:


The view was lovely:


This is Tantara.  The owner, Carlos Coelho, bought Tantara from Bill Cates a few years ago.  Carlos is an Argentine, married to a Hungarian, with a large winery in Hungary.  He was not at home here today, but he does spend time here in the Santa Ynez valley from time to time…

Our tasting was lovely, with great wines accompanied by several very nice cheeses.

Each year Tantara selects the best barrel of wine from their best vineyards and calls the wine “Evelyn”.  We’ve enjoyed several bottles of Evelyn over the past few years and it always has been spectacular.  Given our Blessed Event this past March, we could not resist stocking up on several bottles of Evelyn, and when the 2018 vintage is released we will need to buy many more…

After our leisurely tasting here at Tantara we once again headed out, this time up to the top of the San Marcos Pass, to an ancient Stage Coach Stop and Tavern, on Cold Springs Road…


This was the stage coach stop between Santa Barbara and Los Olivos, where Mattei’s Tavern is also still operating.  An enjoyable lunch was had in the rustic dining room:


After lunch we walked down the road a bit to see the underside of the Cold Springs Bridge.  Today drivers on Hwy 154 pass over the bridge without even noticing that it was the longest steel arch bridge in the world when it was built…


After seeing the bridge, we had to walk up the hill again; we returned to the Airstreams for an afternoon rest…


We enjoyed a quiet dinner around the corner at Rudy’s Mexican Restaurant in Buellton, and turned in for the night;  The caravan is over and we head for home tomorrow…

I  believe an enjoyable time was had by all the folks on the Wine Tasting Caravan… One Caravanner said it best:  “It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be!”  That seems to sum it up…













2018-07-09 – WBCCI 2018 Wine Tasting Caravan – Day 8 – Santa Maria and Ballard Canyon

We had a leisurely morning parked in the vineyard… At about 10:00 am we headed north to Santa Maria for a different type of wine tasting experience:


This is a tiny warehouse space in a nondescript industrial area of Santa Maria.  There are three wineries in this one building, each with about 1,100 sq. ft.  They all share spaces and equipment, as is common in the wine-making business.  Each of these three wineries makes between 2,000 and 4,000 cases per year.


The first place we visited, where we had our tasting, was Challen Winery.  Challen does not own any vineyards – she buys her grapes each year on long term contracts.  Challen is the daughter of the late Bill Cates, founder of Tantara Winery, also in this complex.  A few years ago, Bill Cates sold Tantara to Carlos Coelho.  After the sale, Challen missed having a connection to the wine industry, so she started her own label.  Also in this building is Cotiere Winery, owned by Kevin Law.  Kevin has been winemaker for Tantara in the past, and is now winemaker for Challen… Small world!


We started to learn about Challen from Julie, Challen’s assistant.  After a few wines were tasted, Kevin Law came in and we mixed in Cotiere wines.  Finally, Rick Hill, current winemaker for Tantara, came in and shared his wine under his own label: Labyrinth.  We had a lovely, exuberant, and somewhat confusing hour and a half, tasting wines from three different wineries.  (We tasted no Tantara wines here – that will be tomorrow…)

After order forms were filled out and our farewells were said, we returned south again for a tasting at Rusack Vineyards, in Ballard Canyon, between Los Olivos and Solvang.  We first visited here in 1989, when it was called Ballard Canyon Winery.  It was a ramshackle winery, and we sat at an old picnic table under the oak trees; we remarked on the fabulous views.  Today the winery is in beautiful condition, having been rebuilt over the years by the Rusack family.  The views from the deck are still beautiful!


We did some tasting.  Rusack is unique in that they grow some of their grapes on Catalina Island!  (Mrs. Rusack is a Wrigley…)

After our tastings, we bought several bottles of wine and sat on the deck enjoying our lunch of sandwiches, bought from Panino in Los Olivos…


Once our lunches were finished and our naps complete, we packed up and headed back to the Airstreams…


We moved the Airstreams 15 minutes down the road to Flying Flags RV Resort, and parked in some much-appreciated shade…


Happy hours ensued…


And an enjoyable time was had by all…






















2018-07-08 – WBCCI 2018 Wine Tasting Caravan – Day 7 – Los Olivos

We bid farewell to Wine Country RV Resort this morning and once again pointed the Airstreams south.  Today we park at El Camino Real Vineyard, owned by Saarloos and Sons, just outside of Los Olivos…


After a quick set up, we went into Los Olivos and visited the two Saarloos family tasting rooms:  Saarloos and Sons, and Waylan:



Some of the group went in search of (and found) cold beer, and others had lunch at Sides Hardware… Los Olivos is a delightful little town consisting of two restaurants, one sandwich shop, one market, one coffee house, 2 beer places and 54 wine tasting rooms…


We returned to the Airstreams and Happy Hours ensued…


And an enjoyable time was had by all…






















2018-07-07 – WBCCI 2018 Wine Tasting Caravan – Day 6 – Paso Robles

We have two special appointments today… we even managed to shoehorn in a 3rd stop…

Our first is an excursion through the vineyards of Halter Ranch Winery, with wine tastings amongst the oak trees and vineyards… Our vehicle was a 1984 Land Cruiser, imported from South Africa, and converted to left hand drive…

We set out from their beautiful tasting room, heading down to their events center.  They hold wedding, parties, and corporate events of all types and sizes.  These may look look simple farm buildings, but they all have been rebuilt using steel structures and restored siding, windows, and fixtures…


Then we headed deep into their property, winding through their vineyards and climbing the hills.  We were given tastings of their wines at various points along the way…


We moved on to another picturesque spot, and we tasted more wine:


And again, each time with different vistas and different wines… our last stop was the Ancestor tree – a 500 year old oak tree, with a trunk about 15′ in diameter…


We returned to the tasting room and finished our visit by buying wine and signing up for their wine club…

We had a little time before our next appointment, so we drove to the top of the mountain and did a food and wine pairing at Calcareous Winery, with food by Thomas Hill Organics:


Our final visit today is at Jack Creek Cellars.  They are not open to the public; they are only open to Wine Club members on the 2nd Saturday of each month… It’s always fun to find a sign like this, push the button, and see the gates open:


This is a huge piece of property, with only a small portion used to grow grapes and make wine.  We have just learned that the Kruse family has sold the property to close friends in the dairy industry from the Central Valley, but that the Kruses will stay on as vineyard managers and wine makers…


We had another great time tasting these great wines.

This evening we went out to dinner in Downtown Paso Robles at Thomas Hill Organics.  It was a little warm in their courtyard, but the food was very interesting and unique…

And an enjoyable time was had by all…




























2018-07-06 – WBCCI 2018 Wine Tasting Caravan – Day 5 – Paso Robles

Today was a relatively free day.  We moved the Airstreams from the Record Family Vineyards to Wine Country RV Resort.

Then we had the day free to do sight seeing, wine tasting, or nothing…

Some of us hit the pool.  Others went to tasting rooms that friends had recommended.  We set out first to Kro-Bar and Barton’s Kitchen Window…



We had a few quick bites for lunch, enjoying the views:


Next, we visited Kro-Bar, a distillery.  They make small batch, artisanal whiskeys, including a very nice Bourbon.  One bottle found its way home with us…

Then we headed out to Turley;  Turley makes some of the finest Zinfandels around.  All their wines are made from old vines, which yield a small, but intense, crop of grapes.  The wines are fabulous.


Very old vines.  Very intense grapes.  Very good wine…

We returned to the RV Park and popped into the pool.  As the temperatures again cooled off, we relaxed in our Happy Hours together, discussing tomorrow’s planned activities…

And an enjoyable time was had by all…









2018-07-05 – WBCCI 2018 Wine Tasting Caravan – Day 4 – Sebastopol and Paso Robles

Thursday morning we had to pack up, hitch up, and be ready to roll quite early… about 9:00 am.  We pulled the Airstreams south about 15 miles to the little city of Sebastopol.  We had an appointment at Kosta Browne Winery:


As mentioned earlier, we all found parking spaces for our Airstreams.  We gathered in front of closed gates – Kosta Browne is not open to the public.  We pushed the “call” button, and announced ourselves; the gates opened and we entered into the courtyard between the winery’s three buildings:


We entered the first warehouse-looking building and found ourselves in what appeared to be a beautiful contemporary house – Entry with steel stair, Living Room with fireplace. Dining Room across the entry, with matching fireplace, and kitchen/tasting room.


We began by tasting a fabulous Chardonnay, as we heard the story of Kosta-Browne.  It all began with two friends, Dan Kosta and Michael Browne.  The year was 1997 and the buddies both were working at John Ash & Co., a popular restaurant in Santa Rosa, California.  Dan was the general manager; Michael was the sommelier.  But their real passion was something bigger, bolder, and more brazen than anything either ever had done: They wanted to create Pinot Noir.  The catch: Neither gentleman had experience making wine.  What ensued was a tale of perseverance, dedication, and hard work.

Dan and Michael managed to scrape together $1,400; they bought a half-ton of pinot noir grapes from Everett Ridge, in the Russian River appellation.  They estimate they spent about $400 of their cash on equipment and about $1,000 on grapes. Once the wine was in the barrel, they made enough labels for 24 cases.

Dan and Michael poured most of that first barrel for VIP customers at the restaurant.  The following year—2000 — Dan and Michael set out to make more pinot noir.  After weeks of networking, Michael convinced John Ferrington, the former assistant winemaker at Williams Selyem, to connect him with the owners at Cohn Vineyard, a source for one of Williams Selyem’s single-vineyard designate wines.  Always the charmer, Michael convinced the Cohns to sell him grapes.  They also convinced some customers and friends to invest in their new company.

In 2005, Wine Spectator Magazine gave their 2003 wines 95 point scores. They were unprecedented scores for a winery as small and as new as Kosta Browne. The scores changed everything.  From there, the name of the game at Kosta Browne was growth. With growing numbers of collectors and connoisseurs becoming interested in Kosta Browne, demand skyrocketed, and the brand set off on the path toward becoming the fan-favorite it is today. Vintages sold out.  The list to be on the list grew.  Michael and Dan found themselves in the difficult-but-not-shabby position of telling friends and customers that they’d have to wait for the opportunity to purchase wine.  It all added to the mystique. They were able to move into their own dedicated winery facility.  Almost overnight, Kosta Browne became a cult sensation.  It was an overnight success that took eight years to happen. The rest, as they say, is history.

I was part of that early fan base. Although it took me 4 years to be allowed to buy wine, it was well worth the wait.  Today was my first visit to the winery!

After a little tasting we toured more of the facility:


After the tour we returned to the tasting room for more samples.  Since they have no wine to see, we bid a fond farewell to Kosta Browne.


We pointed the Airstreams south.  Destination:  Paso Robles… We arrived in north-east Paso Robles at about 5:00 pm.  It was hot.  Very hot.  But a cloud cover was starting to form.  We pulled into the vineyards of Record Family Wines.  We parked the Airstreams next to some oak trees and tried to find some shade.


At about 6:00, Randy and Anne Record, the vineyard owners, met us under the oak trees; they were shortly joined by their daughter, Mindy.  Mindy is the vineyard manager.  Record Family Wines sells about 90% of their grapes, leaving about 10% to make wine.  Randy lined up the bottles on the bed of a flat bed truck, and we began to taste as the sun dropped low into the western sky.


About 10:00 we finally turned in.  The temperatures had dropped and we had a lovely night’s sleep.  And an enjoyable time was had by all…





























2018-07-04 – WBCCI 2018 Wine Tasting Caravan – Day 3 – Russian River Valley

Today is Independence Day!  We celebrated being free of leading the Wine Tasting Caravan!

We had a leisurely morning, then we set out for the coast.  It is about 17 miles along a winding road to the town of Jenner.  There isn’t much to Jenner, but we could see across the river to Sonoma Coast State Park, along the ocean front.



We drove around to the park, found the closest parking lot to the coast, and walked.  And walked…


We walked along the beach, back to the mouth of the river.  There were kayakers and canoers  in the river, and a few hearty souls on the beach.


Then we spotted what looked like rocks arranged along the shore. Upon closer investigation we found that they were Harbor Seals and their pups!


We walked many more delightful areas of this beach, then headed further south…


We headed south to Bodega Bay.  We found a nice restaurant for lunch – Bluepoint Cafe – that had a lovely view over the bay and the harbor.


We returned to River Bend RV Park in time for dinner – BBQ hot dogs, potatoes salad, potato chips… And an enjoyable time was had by all…




2018-07-03 – WBCCI 2018 Wine Tasting Caravan – Day 2 – Russian River Valley

Today is our first day of tasting, and what a day it is!  If you know anything about wine, you know that the Russian River Valley and the Sonoma Coast are synonymous with great Pinot Noir!  Today we visited three great wineries and then had dinner in the “capitol” of Russian River Valley, Healdsburg.

Our first stop was at Williams Selyem Winery.  Burt Williams and Ed Selyem started their winery in very simple circumstances in the 1980s and quickly amassed a cult following by producing outstanding wines that were in a style that goes great with, and enhances, food.  When I first read about them, I tried to buy their wines, only to be told that they are sold exclusively to members of the wine allocation list; I was welcome to sign up on the waiting list to get on the allocation list!.  Five years later, around 1995, I was “allocated” (allowed to buy) two bottles.  Over the years my allocation has been increased, and now I cannot afford to buy all the wine they will let me.  Burt and Ed retired many years ago, but their wines still retain their quality.

We began our tasting at their Tasting Salon:


They had a table set for us and a full line-up of wines to taste:


After a few wines were tasted, there was a brief tour of the facilities:


Then we moved outside to learn about the vineyards:


We returned inside the building, bought  a few bottles, and moved on…

Next stop is MacRostie;  someone told us this was a nice place and we agree;  there was a beautiful building, a greeter with sparking wine to share, and a table set for us:


Wine was really good, service was great and leisurely, and the views are hard to top!

Finally we moved on to our final tasting for the day:  Rochioli… the Rochioli family has been farming this land, growing grapes, and making great wine for over 80 years…

Again we were greeted, shown to a table under a bright orange umbrella, overlooking the vineyards below.  Wines were presented, comments exchanged, and questions asked…


It was a grueling day.  Now, all we needed was some dinner; we drove to the town of Healdsburg – dripping with wine country charm. We had some time to kill before dinner; some of our group looked for a place to have a beer, others shopped.  I took a nap on a park bench…

Our dinner was at Bravas, a Spanish tapas/small plates place.  We had a lovely table on the patio in the “back yard”.  We shared many courses: toast with olive oil, garlic, and sea salt; Duck meatballs; Long cooked pork cheeks; Croquetas with creamy chicken, ham, and Gruyere cheese; Chicken thighs with candied garlic; Octopus with smoked paprika and olives… All this was accompanied by bottles of William Selyem and Rochioli wines…


And that concludes the first day of wine tasting.  An enjoyable time was had by all…


































2018-07-02 – WBCCI 2018 Wine Tasting Caravan – Day 1 – Russian River Valley

After a good night’s sleep in The Villa, in a pasture of a winery, we were ready to go!  We stopped at Starbucks for morning coffee, and we headed west on Hwy 12. We went through the Sacramento Delta, through the towns of Rio Vista, Fairfield, and Suisun City.  Then through the city of Napa, the Carneros region, and then into Sonoma County.


Yes, it is gorgeous!

As we approached the River Bend RV park we called to see if our campsite was open – we were very early again.  We were told that it was not, so we did a little reconnoitering… On Thursday, we will be pulling our Airstreams from the RV park about 15 miles south to Sebastopol, for a tasting at Kosta Browne; then we are heading south to Paso Robles.  Since we needed space to park four Airstream rigs, I wanted to see for myself.  It was an easy drive, and we arrived in downtown Sebastopol in about 15 minutes.  We found the winery (it is not open to the public, and it is located in an industrial zone).  Happily, we found several streets that appeared to have plenty of space to park our rigs!

We headed back to the RV park, checked in, and met our first caravan participants: Don and Marian Hetzler, from Troy, Ohio.  We found that their Airstream is a twin to ours!


Airstream only made 20-25 of this model between 2000 and 2005: 34′ Classic, with slide-out lounge.  And here we were with two of them!

After settling in we walked abround the park.  We had been here just two weeks ago, so there was not too much new.  The Russian River was still there:


Soon our other caravanners arrived: Nora Stapleton from Costa Mesa, CA, and Diane and Tim Sommerville, from Laguna Niguel, CA.

As is our tradition, we held a GAM, or Get Acquainted Meeting.  This consisted of happy hours, with food and wine, and lots of conversations, getting to know each other.  We also discussed our itinerary while in this location, logistics of driving to the various wineries, and other technical issues.

And an enjoyable time was had by all!


















Blog at

Up ↑