CUISINEIST Contributor Mixologist Wendy Verdel-Hodges and Infusion 101 ,

Mixologist Wendy Verdel-Hodges

What is an infusion exactly? The way I see it, it is a type of symbiosis. Spirits and fruit, vegetables or herbs working together to create a wonderful byproduct.  There are many “flavored” spirits on the market these days. They are created with synthetic flavors and are great for those who don’t wish to take the time to create. The beauty of infusing flavors into spirits on your own, is that the possibilities are endless AND you don’t have to buy the most expensive/premium spirits to make a wonderful infusion. You can actually use a less superior product and achieve magnificent results.
Also known as macerating, infusing liquor is a great way to achieve fantastic cocktails. All you need is a container big enough to hold a bottle of booze and whatever you want to infuse into it. I personally enjoy mixing many different fruits, veggies, or herbs together to create unique flavor profiles. I will give you an example. I made an apple, bacon, and cinnamon infused bourbon for the Woodford Reserve Competition.
To make the infusion, take a pitcher or jar with a lid and put an 8oz package of dehydrated apples *, 10 slices of cooked bacon, and one cinnamon stick and cover them with the bourbon. Let the concoction to rest at room temperature for 2 days. After a couple of days, use a muddle to mash the mixture down and then let it rest for 2 more days. Next using new and hand washed gloves, squeeze the apples and bacon, expressing the juices and bourbon into a bowl. Discard the apples, bacon, and cinnamon stick. Put the bowl of bourbon into your freezer for an hour to allow the fat to harden on the top of the liquid.
Using a fine mesh strainer, pour the bourbon through to strain off the fat. Now for the hard part… you will need couple bowls or glasses and coffee filters. Wrap the filters around the glassware and slowly pour some of the bourbon into each vessel and wait.
This part is very long and boring. Your best bet is to set up a lot of containers to spread the bourbon out more. The reason I say this is the hard part, is because I’m not the most patient person and I hate getting to the filtering part. I just want to taste my end results! LOL.
After the bourbon is filtered you can pour it back into the bottle. Once you pour the bourbon back in you will notice that it looks like someone has tapped into your liquid gold ahead of time. This is normal. During the infusion process you will be giving an “angel’s share” back. Much like what happens in barrel aging, some of the liquor gets absorbed by the food used to infuse it. If you want a full bottle of infused spirit you will need 1 ½ to 2 bottles to start with. Call it the price you pay for perfection.
Now that your infusion is complete, all that is left is to enjoy. You can sip it straight or on the rocks. Or you can put it in a cocktail. Here is the recipe I used with the infusion:
 Breakfast in Manhattan
 by Wendy Verdel-Hodges
2 ½ oz Apple, Cinnamon, Bacon infused bourbon
1 oz Lillet Blonde
3-4 dashes Barkeep Baked Apple bitters
Put all ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir until well chilled. (Approx. 25 turns of the spoon)
Strain cocktail into a chilled coupe or martini glass.
Garnish as desired.
I used an apple chip infused with cinnamon and maple syrup, painted with gold dust and topped with candied bacon. This is the extreme and not necessary for the taste of the cocktail. You could simply use a cherry or even a lemon twist.
This was one example of infusing. You can use your imagination and get as complex or as simple as you want.  Apricot and mango pisco, peppers and celery infused in vodka for a delicious bloody mary, pineapples  vanilla bean, and Mexican brown sugar in anjeo tequila, lavender and lychee gin…the possibilities are endless. Don’t be afraid to experiment on a small scale (mason jar) to see what flavors go well together.  Then you can go on an infuse the whole bottle.
Some basic pointers are this:
Trial and error are all part of learning to infuse spirits. Don’t be afraid to try.
Infusions are not the same as premixed cocktails…they are still straight spirits with the essence of what you macerated in them.
Dried or dehydrated fruits have a higher concentration of sugars and will produce a sweeter infusion.
*fresh fruits release more juice into the mixture thus softening the end product.
The more porous the ingredient, the faster it releases flavor. (Strawberries and cucumbers are good examples…don’t leave them in the spirit for more than 3 days because they start to decomposed and make filtering a pain in the butt)
Leafy green herbs should not be left in a spirit for more than 8 hours or they start to turn musty. (ex: mint)
Never use raw meat in your infusion…there are some things you just don’t want to drink. (Bacteria, botulism, etc.)
Leave peppers whole to get a nice flavor and light spice in the infusion. If you expose the seeds and membranes, you will need to check the infusion within an hour or two so you don’t make it so hot it’s not drinkable.

California's El Pomar District Comes of Age

Additional acreage deepens Pomar Junction’s commitment to wines from the 
El Pomar District sub-region in Paso Robles
 We have been watching this area for years and it is finally getting the recognition it deserves .The Merrill family, owners of Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery, recently announced that they have expanded their resources with the purchase of 278 acres in the El Pomar District of the Paso Robles AVA. The expansive property, formerly the Weyrich estate, combines a unique location with specific grape growing conditions, making it a natural fit for maintaining the quality associated with Pomar Junction and this unique region. In addition to becoming home for Dana and Marsha Merrill, it also has existing specialized infrastructure to support their Mesa Vineyard Management operations as well as private wine-related functions.
The El Pomar District is home to vineyards that produce notable wines for brands such as Justin Vineyards & Winery, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, E. & J. Gallo Winery, and Still Waters Vineyards. Recent expansion of vineyards in this area is directly aligned with the growth of its recognition for producing sought-after flavor profiles. Located on Creston Ridge Road, near the intersection of South El Pomar Road and Creston Road, the vines on this property are influenced by the same calcareous soils, steep south-facing slopes and Templeton Gap breezes that the Merrill family has long appreciated about the El Pomar District. The dedicated work of wine industry pioneers, Dana Merrill among them, has led to a growing appreciation of this sub-region for its one-of-a-kind reflection of terroir resulting in distinctive wines.
“Finding another vineyard that fits so naturally with our current winemaking standards of excellence through reflection of the El Pomar District has brought forth many exciting opportunities and ideas,” said Matt Merrill, Dana’s son and General Manager of Pomar Junction. He continued, “We look forward to increased ability to support our winery offerings.”
Currently, 93 acres are planted with Rhône,  Bordeaux and Italian varietals that thrive in these growing conditions and complement both the winery offerings of Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery and the needs of Mesa Vineyard Management customers. The maturity of the existing vines will allow immediate production of wines from this property and plans are underway to certify this vineyard Sustainable in Practice, continuing the responsible farming methods found throughout Merrill properties. Also, as future opportunities allow for growth, an estimated 60 acres have been identified as suitable for additional planting.
This district continues to gain recognition through the growth of winery presence, accolades for resulting wines and praise from consumers. Incorporation of this property allows Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery a spectacular new resource to encourage the continued development of their quality wine profile, memorable wine country experience and expanded exposure of the El Pomar District as a distinguished wine growing region.
Owned and operated by the Merrill Family in the Paso Robles AVA, Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery showcases eight generations of Central Coast farming through deeply characterful estate wines.  With a rich heritage of sustainable practices in the vineyard and minimal intervention in the cellar, Pomar Junction guides estate fruit from vine to glass with a narrow focus on purity of flavor and varietal integrity.  The winery name refers to the Merrill Family’s concurrent lineage of railroad engineers as well as to bygone days when the Southern Pacific Railroad was responsible for the development of the picturesque Central Coast.  For more information about Pomar Junction Vineyard & Winery, call (805) 238-9940, or visit  The Pomar Junction vineyard and tasting room are located at 5036 S. El Pomar Road in Templeton, CA 93465
The next time your wine trail takes you near Paso Robes , this area and its wineries are well worth a detour off  the beaten path.


It’s the Holiday season once again and  The Venetian and The Palazzo Las Vegas are home to Winter in Venice™, the second-annual celebration of the winter holiday season on the Las Vegas Strip.

Dubbed “A Gift of The Venetian,” Winter in Venice features 50 days of holiday festivities throughout both resorts Nov. 18 to Jan. 6.

Guests can  take a spin on the outdoor skating rink adjacent to the outdoor gondola attraction with skating sessions. Made of recyclable polymer, the synthetic ice rink requires no refrigeration or electricity, making for environmentally friendly holiday revelries complementing The Venetian and The Palazzo’s green initiatives. Skating sessions cost  $14.95  per person ($9.95 for locals and Grazie members) and includes skate rental.
     -          Open daily from 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
 -          30 minute skating sessions – must make reservations at the outdoor ticket booth only
 -          Tickets are available on a same day reservation basis only
 -          Located in front of The Venetian, adjacent to the outdoor gondola attraction
 -          $14.95 per skater, includes ice skate rental ($9.95 for locals and Grazie members). Children ages 7-12 skate complimentary when accompanied by a Grazie member or an adult with Nevada ID.  Limit three children.  Identification must be presented at time of purchase.
    Guests must be at least seven years old to enter skating area and all guests are required to sign a liability waiver prior to entering the skate rental area only

  As a marquee addition to Winter in Venice, Grammy Award®-winning composer/musician Chip Davis will bring his award-winning holiday production, “Mannheim Steamroller Christmas Las Vegas by Chip Davis,” to The Palazzo Theater. The six-week, exclusive run beginning Nov. 20 will feature Mannheim Steamroller’s renowned program of signature Christmas classics and state-of-the- art multimedia effects. This classic holiday tradition has been expanded for its first-ever Las Vegas residency with added choreography, aerial displays and other new elements, to create an unforgettable experience.
-              Nov. 20 – December 30, all show times beginning at 7 p.m.
 -              Located at The Palazzo Theatre
 -              Tickets are available by calling The Palazzo Box Office at (866) 641-7469 or   (702) 414-9000, or online at

A new parade will wind through The Venetian’s Doge’s Palace, featuring characters from the Winter in Venice celebration.   The whimsical and elaborate designs will set the stage for the evening’s entertainment, and offer the perfect photo opportunity for a post to Facebook or Twitter. Preceding the parade, seasonal storylines will be projected in another way – in glorious 3D – in the technical marvel “Light of Venice.”  This spectacular 3D projection show that transforms the architecture of the iconic clock tower using state-of-the-art digital technology. The show will conclude with a live finale that will illuminate the iconic plaza, including the 65-foot Christmas tree.  Guests will also enjoy strolling musicians and special entertainment performances scheduled throughout the 50-day celebration.
-          Show times nightly 6pm and 8pm
-          Located at The Venetian’s Doge’s Palace plaza

  As part of Winter in Venice, guests can witness the rise of a culinary legend, as one resort chef is crowned the winner of the first The Venetian Culinary Clash master chef competition. The competition provides head-to-head competition between the sous chefs and chefs de cuisine from dozens of restaurants located inside The Venetian and The Palazzo. Chefs will be challenged to create recipes using ingredients provided in a “mystery basket,” to be prepared in mobile “food truck” kitchens, located at The Venetian’s Doge’s Palace plaza.  Each chef’s creation will then be available for sampling.  Expect plenty of surprises, including guest appearances by The Venetian and The Palazzo’s celebrity chefs Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and Sammy DeMarco, who are judges of the competition.
     Nov. 29, Dec. 7, Dec. 14 and Dec. 21 (10pm – 2am)
Once again, The Venetian and The Palazzo Resorts will be the place to be on the strip during the holiday season.  Join us at this year’s Winter in Venice Celebration we anticipate that is will be bigger and better than last years .

Geyser Peak Winery - A Great American Value, Geyser Peak Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc recognized in Wine Spectator’s Great American Values.

Founded in 1880 by Augustus Quitzow, one of Sonoma County’s pioneer winemakers, Geyser Peak Winery for years has boasted a legendary history of ultra-premium wines. Today, under the direction of Winemaker Ondine Chattan, it continues to be one of California’s most lauded wineries, consistently recognized through awards and praise for its quality wines.
Wine Spectator magazine always  draws attention to American wines representing quality and value in its article, Great American Values. Geyser Peak Winery was recognized in lists of both top 100 American white and red wines in the October 15, 2012 edition.
To qualify, wines had to be priced at $20 or less per bottle, grown and produced in America and have previously earned a score of 85 points or higher, on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale. Having previously earned very good Wine Spectator scores, the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, California, $12 per bottle, and the 2007 Merlot, Alexander Valley, $18 per bottle and the only wine from the Alexander Valley, were selected.
Winemaker Ondine Chattan
“We are thrilled to be recognized for these value-driven wines,” noted Head Winemaker Ondine Chattan. “Our winemaking philosophy has always been influenced by our goal to offer fruit-forward, food-friendly wines for everyday enjoyment. Recognition such as this validates our efforts,” continued Chattan.

The Tasting Panel has reviewed these wines and could not agree more with Wine Spectator on these lovely affordable wines.

Looking for a High Tech Approach to Wine ? Uncork the Best with Wine Spectator’s New WineRatings+ App That Takes Oenophiles to A Whole New Level.

 All the Oenophiles around the world have been waiting for this one.  You can get more than 270,000 reviews accessible on your iPhone wherever and wherever you choose.

Wine Spectator just announced the release of its flagship wine ratings app, WineRatings+, which provides access to all 270,000-plus of its expert wine reviews. It is  designed for casual wine drinkers as well as connoisseurs.  WineRatings+ is a comprehensive app for iPhone and iPod touch that helps wine lovers make better choices, discover great values, learn about wine in general and stay updated on what’s new in wine. All for less than the cost of a glass of wine per month.
“Wine Spectator’s highly anticipated ratings app brings trust, world-class expertise and clarity to an otherwise confusing wine marketplace,” said Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Wine Spectator. “Whether consumers want definitive ratings or authoritative editorial content, WineRatings+ is the most credible, comprehensive wine app available.”
It is available now on the iPhone App Store.  The WineRatings+ App  is a mix of free and premium content. At no charge, users can browse Wine Spectator’s comprehensive vintage charts, watch entertaining video and scan the app’s daily news feed. For $2.99 per month, users receive access to the entire database of wine ratings, which is automatically updated with more than 1,000 new reviews each month.
Some of the highlights of WineRatings+ include:
•          Quick access to more than 270,000 Wine Spectator wine reviews with definitive ratings, detailed tasting notes, release prices and current auction prices. Our database represents the most comprehensive and authoritative library of professional wine reviews in the world.
•          Automatic updates of more than 1,000 new Wine Spectator reviews each month, totaling more than 15,000 per year.
•          An easy and efficient wine ratings search that provides instant results as you type. Use the filtering options including price, score, producer, name and region—to help you narrow results to your perfect choice.
•          Updated values for more than 10,000 collectible wines. Current auction prices are displayed automatically each quarter, based on the latest sales.
•          Easy sharing of your favorite wines and articles. Using the Facebook and Twitter single sign-on features in iOS, subscribers can post Wine Spectator ratings for wines they enjoy, as well as links to news and feature stories, to friends and family. Or send them via email.
•          A “Picks” section that delivers frequently updated editors’ selections of top wines and values; use our lists to discover new producers and browse by category.
•          Seamless save features that log all recently viewed wines to the app’s home screen and let users “favorite” wines for future reference.
•          Vintage Charts covering 55 of the world’s principal wine regions and grape varieties. More than 975 Wine Spectator vintage reports help you assess the quality and character of each region’s wines.
•          Rich articles and entertaining videos that educate on the fundamentals of wine.
•          A real-time news feed offering a lively view into current wine culture, with the latest reports and insights from
The Wine Spectator WineRatings+ App is available for free from the App Store on iPhone and iPod touch or at Existing users of the Wine Spectator VintageChart+ app can update to the new app for free. Access to the premium features requires a $2.99 monthly subscription, available via In-App Purchase.
Wine Spectator has done it again with this new and exciting application that you can take with you anywhere.  It is very user friendly and guides its user through the pages effortlessly. Get this application now!  it is well worth the money.

NADIA, the sister label to Laetitia Estate Vineyard & Winery Impresses Tasting Panel

We are very familiar with Laetitia Estates Vineyard and Winery having the pleasure of visiting their picturesque vineyards on many occasions.
Recently we decided to explore NADIA, the sister label to Laetitia Estate Vineyard & Winery that has recently undergone a revamp.  These lovely wines feature fruit from the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard in eastern Santa Barbara County. The Vineyard is located outside the more populated wine regions of the Central Coast and its influence on high-end wines has not gone unnoticed with producers from Sans Liege to Grace Wine Company sourcing Highlands’ fruit.  It is unique in that fact it is located 3,200 feet above sea level, with warm days, afternoon breezes, and cold nights.  The vineyards temperature can vary by as much as 50 degrees in one day.
“The Highlands Vineyard, which has ideal weather conditions, is phenomenal for Bordeaux and Rhône wines,” said NADIA Winemaker, Eric Hickey.  “And with first pick of the best fruit, it makes sense for us to showcase those varieties with the NADIA label.”
NADIA has just released the 2011 Santa Barbara Highlands Sauvignon Blanc and the 2010 Santa Barbara Highlands Cabernet Sauvignon and a very good reason for the Tasting Panel to get to work.
NADIA 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Barbara County, Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard.
 The 2011 Vintage was a cool one producing a lighter than usual crop. Because of this we expected a good concentration of fruit in the finished wine. This Sauvignon Blanc was pressed, chilled and settled for 24 hours. It was then placed in Stainless Steel for 6 weeks and aged in French Oak.
In the glass, this lovely wine was straw-colored and light-medium bodied. On the nose, apricot aromas jumped out of the class teasing our senses with additional aromas of mango and light citrus. On the palate, signature notes of grass were followed by the citrus flavors of lime and light wet rock for minerality and a soft finish with very balanced acidity.  We were pleasantly surprised by this Sauvignon Blanc that showed classic notes of the varietal but had a sense of place that we won’t forget. The Nadia 2011 Sauvignon Blanc is very food friendly and a nice addition to any cellar.  Buy now and enjoy.
Cuisineist Tasting Panel Sep 2012  91points

NADIA 2010   Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Barbara County, Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard

The 2010 Vintage was slightly cooler than normal and harvest was delayed three weeks to allow for more hang time resulting in higher fruit concentration. After crush, the wine was racked and then aged in Medium Radoux barrels for 20 months.
In the glass the wine showed purple hues moving into a dark garnet near the rim and Medium bodied. The classic notes of black currant on the nose move into aromas of clove, red berries, smoke and earth. On the palate, intense red fruit pleases the palate with smoke and cassis that marries into a long finish with medium tannins and very nice structure to the very end.
The NADIA 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon was a pleasure to enjoy. Its big, bold red fruit is not overwhelming and allows this very balanced Cabernet show off its lighter side on the finish. The 14.2 % Alcohol is spot on with the intense yet supple flavors all at the same time. Every cellar needs a nice Cabernet and the NADIA 2010 Cabernet would feel right at home on your table. Buy Now, Drink Now or hold it for the cellar. No matter when you drink it will be pleasing to your palate.
Cuisineist Tasting Panel Sep 2012  90points 

Wine and Fire in The Sta Rita Hills , Impresses Many as the Alliance Shows off its best

The terms Wine and Fire can  evoke many thoughts , however when you use those terms in California’s Sta Rita Hills it has only one meaning , a weekend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, a  BBQ in a renown vineyard ,  and a grand tasting under the stars at an historic mission .
Every summer the Sta Rita Hills winegrower’s alliance has their Wine and Fire event that offers guests 3 days of tasting some of the best wines in the world amongst the beautiful Sta Rita Hills. The Alliance was created in 1997 with the focus of unifying the growers and winemakers in the area and  to gather information to create a new AVA.  Renowned winemakers Richard Sanford, Bryan Babcock , Rick Longoria and others spearheaded the effort that eventually created the Sta Rita Hills AVA.  Today there are over 48 members that source grapes from this very special area.
Having traveled the back roads of the Sta Rita Hills for many years we arrived with great anticipation to travel those familiar roads once again to taste wines from old friends and find those hidden gems that are always waiting to be brought to the forefront.
The first stop on our list was to spend some quality time in the Lompoc wine Ghetto.  Zotovich cellars was our first stop and were impressed as always with the young winemaker Ryan Zotovich’s  palate pleasing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay .  The Ampelos Cellars tasting room is always a mandatory stop whenever we are in the area.  Sampling Peter and Rebecca Works incredible line up from Rose, Pinot Noir , Syrah and other sustainable , biodynamic wines show how versatile the AVA is.
One could spend literally an entire day in the Wine Ghetto  and we did our best  with visits to Kathy Joseph’s Fiddle Head Cellars , Flying Goat Cellars, Palmina and Moretti  just to name a few. It was time to head down highway 246 to visit nearby Buellton and Solvang for a stop in at a few tasting rooms to sample their best.  With the sun setting behind the Sta Rita Hills and  fog settling over the vineyards  we made a stop at the legendary Hitching Post Restaurant in Buellton for some very famous culinary creations from Chef , Winemaker Frank Ostini and then a welcome reception at D’vine  wine bar in Lompoc .
The sun, breaking through the early morning fog began to shine through our window signaling the “Big Day” for this Wine and Fire weekend has started.  Back on Highway 246 , turning onto Hwy 101 we headed to Santa Rosa Road winding our way down into the valley to our destination , Fiddlestix   Vineyards  for a day of education and lunch amongst the vines.

The Sta Rita hills has long been known to produce world class Pinot Noir.  Many in the industry have stated they are probably one of the top three Pinot producing AVAs in the United States.  Recently , much to the wine makers delight , Chardonnays from the Sta Rita Hills are climbing their way to the forefront to join their Pinot Noir “cousins “ as some of the best being produced .

It was only fitting that the Wine and Fire event bring together a prestigious panel to taste and discuss the AVA’s Chardonnay’s.  Guests filed into   the Barn at  the Fiddlestix vineyard  to sip and learn from the experts.  The renowned Chardonnay panel of experts brought Nikki Nelson, Karen Steinwachs , Steve Fennell, Wes Hagan  and Dan Kessler together to blind taste several  Chardonnays and discuss their impressions , the varietal and its place in the  Sta Rita Hills.
The impressive lineup of Chardonnays consisted of 2010 Liquid Farm, White Hill Seagrape cellars 2010,  Zotovich, Sanford Winery Rinconada Vineyard , 2010 Clos Pepe  Homage to Chablis and  2010 Kessler-Haak Vineyard Estate were submitted blind to the amazing panel  for their insight .
You could hear and see the passion with every sip as they spoke on each wine and agreed that Chardonnay gets the worst soil in the AVA but is making big gains. “If we could only plant one varietal now, without question it would be Chardonnay” was echoed up and down the panel of legendary winemakers and growers.
The Chardonnay panel had completed their work but that did not mean the educational experience was over. A Pinot Noir panel was being assembled, but first who could resist and walk through the Fiddlestix vineyard with renowned AVA expert, winemaker and Clos Pepe Vineyard Manager Wes Hagan.
With a hand full of diatomaceous earth ageing 12 to 13 million years in his hand , Wes shared is vast knowledge of the AVA with the very attentive guests under a cloudless day in the vineyard.
Pinot Noir from the Sta Rita Hills needs no introduction nor does the members of the Panel that came together to discuss in detail what makes Pinot Noir from this region special and a blind tasting of the AVAs best.
Winemakers Ken Brown, Frank Ostini, Peter Cargasacchi , Adam Lee  and Deborah Hall took their seats and began the interactive discussion.

Peter Cargasacchi
It was a Pinot parade featuring Ken Brown Rancho La Vina 2009, Hitching Post Fiddlestix Vineyard, Cargasacchi Vineyard estate, Siduri Clos pepe 2010 and Gypsy Canyon Pinot Noir Estate to the delight of the guests being very interactive with panel.

Ken Brown , Frank Ostini
In short, the panel of Pinot Noir All-stars honed in on one particular but important theme, “Make the best wine from what the vineyard shows you”.  With that theme ruminating in our heads , guests enjoyed an outdoor  luncheon prepared by Frank Ostini of Hitching Post fame accented by  many of the area’s best wines  while overlooking the Fiddlestix vineyard and the Sta Rita Hills.
Frank Ostini

Leaving Fiddlestix vineyard and climbing out of the valley on Santa Rosa road, there was still one more, but very big official event yet to attend during this intimate weekend of Wine and Fire.  The featured event was a grand tasting showing off the best the AVA has to offer. For those who have attended Wine and Food events in the past, Grand Tastings are pretty much the same.

Like everything else the Sta Rita Hills the event  took it to the next level with a tasting under the stars at the historic   Las Purisima Mission Founded in 1787.  The La Purisma Mission  once covered nearly 470 square miles and was as home to the Chumash people and Spanish settlers. On this starlight night an intimate group of 250 settled in as well and enjoyed some tasty treats from local restaurants and of course those lovely wines from the Sta Rita Hills.

Sipping wines under the Oak Trees at the mission was a perfect way to end the day.  Walking amongst the wines guests mingled with legends like Richard Sanford, Ken Brown and Peter Cargasacchi all standing side by side with newcomers speaking with the guests and pouring their wines to the delight of all.

The AVA came together on this cool, clear night with the wines of Seasmoke , Babcock , Cargasacchi , Dragonette, Ampleos , Hilliard Bruce , Wedell , Zotovich and others to spotlight the versatility and quality of wines  produced in the AVA.

One of the best aspects of the Wine and Fire weekend is its open houses where attendees can go to the vineyard or tasting room to enjoy the entire lines from many of the areas producers.

We took full advantage attending an invite only library and current release party in the Clos Pepe Vineyard with Wes Hagan then traveling down hwy 246 to Solvang and a visit with Ken Brown at his tasting room.
Wes Hagan

With plenty of time left, we paid a visit to the legendary wine making pair of Bruno D’Alfonso and Kris Curran in their winery on Santa Rosa Road.  Since we were already visiting the AVAs legends, we headed straight for Lompoc for a visit with Peter Cargasacchi in his winery as well.

Our last stop on this weekend of Pinot bliss was the beautiful Hilliard Bruce Estate on Hwy 246. The Sun began to set once again and the fog settled on the vineyard  as we enjoyed some highly pointed Pinot Noir from Hilliard Bruce with John and Christine over looking their pristine pastures , which are home to their beautiful Arabian Horses . Is there a better way to end the weekend?  We think not.

Elaine Harris , Editor-In-Chief
The Sta Rita Hills has been overlooked for years by wine writers and oenophiles alike. Over the last 8 years this very special appellation has begun to shine like a lighthouse beckoning all to come , enjoy and see why the Sta Rita Hills has taken its place amongst the best in the United States.

Food , Wine a Luxury Travel Report : IL Borro in Tuscany cant be beat !

Tuscan luxury resort and spa features authentic Italian accommodations, world-class vineyards, sophisticated fine dining, and much more
  The  romantic region  located less than 40 miles southeast of Florence in the historic town of San Giustino Valdarno lies the estate,  Il Borro , a luxurious oasis found in the heart of the Tuscan countryside. In  the rolling foothills of the Pratomagno Mountains. The compound, which boasts more than 30 luxury accommodations as well as a private vineyard, state-of-the-art spa, equestrian center, varied sporting facilities, and  an acclaimed culinary program, offers U.S. travelers the chance to experience the old and new wonders of Italy.
“Il Borro is an ancient, charming, and alluring place,” says Salvatore Ferragamo, CEO of the property since 1993. “We continually work to maintain the beauty of these historic buildings while leaving them as similar as possible to the originals to communicate that magnetism to our guests—a perfect blend of past and present.”
The resort  unites  traditional and modern comforts offering apartments, suites, villas, and farmhouses comprising 30 accommodations that feature stone terraces, shapely gardens, and inviting swimming pool. For an additional touch  the 12 apartments and suites, which can hold up to eight guests and are located  along the cobblestone paths of the medieval hamlet  that  feature updated amenities with an Italian flair.
The Villa Il Borro is a  landmark in and of itself. It had been left in a state of deterioration following World War II but today the Ferragamo’s have restored the building to its original beauty, preserving the romantic architecture typical of residences dating from the 1800s. This nearly 24,000-square-foot guest house is equipped with first-class comforts, including a heated pool, fitness room, Turkish bath, sauna, and billiards table.
Guests  can also enjoy the secluded Villa Chiocci Alto a  4,800-square-foot farmhouse mansion overlooks Il Borro and affords some of the most stunning views of the estate, perfect for those who want to immerse themselves in nature without forgoing modern comforts and hospitality.  In addition ,the  Casetta,the most recently renovated and very exclusive offers up a  3,800-square-foot manor farmhouse amid the Merlot vineyards, offers a deluxe atmosphere of serenity.
Of course , Tuscany is well known for its wines.  In 1993, Co-Owner Ferruccio Ferragamo began producing wine on more than 111 acres of vineyards, all of which are situated between 984 and 1,640 feet above sea level. The Ferragamo family has identified the ideal Tuscan terrain for each varietal it grows: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Sangiovese, and Syrah. From the fruits of these superior vines, Il Borro produces world-class wines, prized by sommeliers and wine enthusiasts alike.
The estate also shows off their  La Corte Wellness Spa which is an  oasis of tranquility, immersed in the green hills of Tuscany, far away from the hectic buzz of city life. Guests can start at the Fitness Zone, a gym in which design meets the latest workout technology, and continue on to the Turkish bath and soothing Jacuzzi. Regenerating beauty treatments and therapeutic massages are performed to the backdrop of soft music with sweet scents, essential oils, and exclusive La Corte products by Kanebo Sensai. VinCafè, which opened in 2010 features a traditional Tuscan menu with sophisticated health-conscious foods adapted to be in line with the physical well-being of spa guests by Executive Chef Gabriele Senesi.
Tuscany is also all about the cuisine .  Combining attention to detail, first-class hospitality, and new frontiers of taste, Osteria del Borro is the signature restaurant at the resort and serves dishes rich with  Tuscan flavors throughout the day, from lunch and dinner and even  savory snacks and leisurely coffee service. The restaurant also offers elegant aperitifs, top wines by the glass, and locally made charcuterie. Dinner is served nightly on two beautifully appointed floors, the upper of the two overlooking the open kitchen that is managed by Executive Chef Gianluca Danese.
Completing the Il Borro experience are the diverse sport offerings at the property. A full-service equestrian center offers private and group riding lessons for horse lovers, and those looking for a bit more physicality will enjoy Il Borro’s hunting grounds, tennis and golf programs, mountain biking and hiking, soccer and basketball.
It is a great time of year to visit Italy and travelers who wish to have a more low-key experience can turn to the high-end shopping in town and private cooking lessons with Il Borro’s esteemed chefs. To make a reservation please call  or visit

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