Kunde redefines wine tasting with a view

Kunde redefines wine tasting with a view

Kunde’s mountaintop tasting is worthy of a special occasion. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Climbing mountains and drinking wine are two of my favorite activities. It’s not often I enjoy them at the same time. But birthdays can have a way of making the unexpected come true.

As an early gift to myself I splurged ($80 plus tax) on the mountain top tasting at Kunde Family Winery earlier this month. What views, what good wines. I have to admit, though, the climbing part of the outing was not human powered.

A van shuttled eight of us to 1,400 feet above the Sonoma Valley floor where we were greeted with panoramic views of the surrounding area. With Kunde comprising 1,850 acres, the immediate landscape was owned by the winery. Even with a tinge of smoke on the far corners of the sky, it was still a sight to behold.

Louis Kunde bought the first 600 acres in 1904 for $40,000. When the fourth generation came along in the 1980s they said it was time to make their own wine instead of selling all of the grapes to others; grapes that were being turned into award winning wines. The first vintage with a Kunde label was in 1990.

Today, Kunde uses 30 percent of the grapes grown on the land for its wine. This equates to 65,000 cases. The rest is sold to wineries like Duckhorn, Sebastiani and others.

While 19 varietals grow on the Kunde estate, Pinot Noir is not one of them. This grape is too fragile for the climate in Kenwood. Those are the only grapes the winery buys.

The caves at Kunde (entrance on left) are below the vineyards. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

What makes an outing like this special is the intimacy and exclusivity. At check in we were handed a glass of rosé bubbly—a great way to start any occasion. This is the first vintage of sparkling wine from Kunde.

The three parties (a group of four, and two groups of two) first assembled in a private room where Mara poured us the 2019 Chardonnay-Wildwood. It paled in comparison to the 2018 Reserve Chardonnay that we sipped on the mountaintop. She said the 2018 is the staff’s favorite; calling it not buttery, but silky on the palate. (All wines we tasted are only available at the winery, thus adding to the uniqueness.)

With only eight in our group, we were able to ask as many questions as we wanted, and linger seemingly forever. The experience lasts two hours, which was plenty of time to not feel hurried along.

Before taking a van up to the mountain we had a quick tour of one of Kunde’s wine caves. The one we were in was finished in 1990, is one-half mile long, 30 feet underground and can hold 6,000 barrels.

Our tour was brief, but tastings can be booked in the caves as well.

Row upon row of wine barrels in the Kunde caves wait to be bottled. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Throughout the tour Mara dispensed interesting facts and tidbits. For instance, 60 percent of the 2008 movie “Bottle Shock” was filmed at Kunde. The boxing ring is still there, but will be removed soon. The TV show “Falcon’s Crest” was also shot at the winery.

The 2017 fires in the Wine Country saw flames on the ridges at Kunde, but most of the harvest was finished. Last year, though, was a different story. Because of the smoke taint, Mara said, there won’t be any Viogner from Kunde for a few years.

Our tasting continued with the 2018 Pinot Noir, Russian River. Then it was onto my favorite, the 2018 Reserve Century Vines Zinfandel.

On our ride to the top we passed some of the Zin grapes that were planted in 1883. Their roots can be 30 feet below the soil where they tap into the aquifer, thus not needing any irrigation. The vines are not manicured in any way, which means they produce 1 to 1½ tons of grapes per acre.

Guests enjoy tasting wines at the top of the Kunde estate in Kenwood. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

This compares to the grapes on the other side of the road that are neat and kept tidy along a trellis. Those vineyards can produce 5 to 9 tons. This is because they are getting more consistent sun, moisture and humidity.

A cheese plate was shared by two people at a table, which helped absorb some of the alcohol, but also complemented the wines.

We finished our mountaintop tasting with the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon-Drummond and Red Dirt Red. One last pour back in our private room was the Moon Mountain Blend.

It was a great experience. And while I didn’t leave with any bottles, I will keep buying Kunde in the grocery store—where I can afford it.

Book Review: ‘Emerald Mile’ a jewel full of adventure, river history

Book Review: ‘Emerald Mile’ a jewel full of adventure, river history

At times I felt like I was on the raft, wanting to hold on, to jump to the high side to balance it. It had been a long time since I was so engrossed by a book.

Author Kevin Fedarko easily transported me to the Grand Canyon River. And while many years ago I took a multi-day rafting on this majestic river, this story wasn’t about an ordinary paddle. “The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon” (Scribner, 2013) at times had my adrenaline rushing in the confines of my home.

Fedarko does more than merely write about an event that occurred in 1983 after an epic winter runoff. That alone would have been interesting and worth of my time—especially since I knew nothing about the Grand Canyon speed record.

“The Emerald Mile” has a ton of depth to it. It’s about the history of the river, about how dams started plugging her up, and the people who were involved in all of this. This book is part adventure-outdoor thriller and part history-political retrospect.

The buildup is necessary to understand the significance of the Glen Canyon Dam nearly coming apart because of the torrent of water rushing from the melting snow in Colorado. Fedarko creates a reverence for the river itself.

Just when I thought Fedarko was going off on some irrelevant tangent he wove it all together in a suspenseful, interesting manner. His adeptness to paint a picture with words  brought the story to life in colorful detail.

This book came recommended to me from Cliff Taylor, who I met when I had an extended stay at his place in Mulegé in Baja California Sur last November. He told me he had a bit part in it, then laughed. His bit part is funny; well, the description of him is.

This book was the perfect escape from life’s stressors.

Refreshing tennis inspired drink

Refreshing tennis inspired drink

While Champagne is always a good go-to for special occasions, sometimes it’s fun to drink something more creative. A cocktail can be so much more festive than bubbly or a glass of wine.

The Honey Deuce was the ideal beverage for enjoying some great tennis. Mom and I indulged in a glass for the each of the U.S. Open tennis finals this past weekend.

We were going to be happy no matter which teenager won the women’s final. The stories of both of these young women are wonderful. Both deserved to win. The men’s final turned out better than I could have expected with it ending in straight sets.

The Honey Deuce is the U.S. Open tennis tournament’s official drink. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

There was plenty to toast.

I’m not sure where I’ve been for the last 15 years because that’s how long the Honey Deuce has been the tournament’s official drink. I only found out about it near the end of this year’s tournament.

The blend of tart lemonade with sweet raspberry Chambord is perfect with a shot or more of vodka. It was so refreshing. It went down a little too easily; but we only had one each day.

I’m notorious for making cocktails that are super strong, so I usually have someone else make them. I think I figured this one out right away. The first day I put in 1½ shots of vodka in my drink, which is what was called for in one of the recipes I had found. The second match I used 1 ounce. It was better with less vodka. But vodka also isn’t my favorite liquor.

I know this will be a drink I’ll be making more often than just when tennis is on the tube.

Definitely have a chilled glass and chill the melon balls. The melon balls, if you use three, are equal to the number of tennis balls in a can. They certainly are optional, but they add to the festiveness even if tennis has nothing to do with why you are serving the drink.

Honey Deuce

1 to 1½ ounces vodka

3 ounces lemonade

½ ounce Chambord

Honeydew melon ball skewer

Chill glass in freezer.

Fill glass with ice. Pour in vodka, lemonade, then Chambord. Garnish with three honeydew melon balls on skewer.

(Best to freeze melon balls before serving.)

Trees from around the world line nature trail

Trees from around the world line nature trail

While I have plenty of familiarity with pulling a cork out of a wine bottle, until this summer I had never seen a cork tree.

A cork oak grove is part of Bidwell Park in Chico; more precisely in the World of Trees Nature Trail off East Eighth Street. The cork trees were planted in 1904.

A grove of oak cork trees in Bidwell Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Knocking on a tree it almost seems hollow. It’s soft to the touch. I didn’t try to see how easy it would be to take a piece off because that seemed like it would be destructive, selfish, and truly pointless.

Others, though, have harvested cork from the trees in the past. The stripping occurred in the 1940s and at other times; the scars are visible.

Trees from around the world thrive in Bidwell Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Cork works so well for keeping wine from seeping out of bottles because it contains suber. In fact, the official name of the tree is Quercus suber. Suber is the exterior of the bark of the tree, which is waxy. It is also waterproof, which makes it ideal for sealing in wine.

A plethora of trees are part of this half-mile or so nature trail. It makes a loop, though there are off-shoots that can make the experience longer. Interpretive signs point out some of the species of trees.

Italian Cypress trees tower over many species. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

In addition to the cork, the trees AJ and I saw that were named included:

  • Austrian pine
  • Bay tree
  • Coulter pine
  • Valley Oak
  • Zelkova
  • Madrone
  • Coast redwood
  • American persimmon
  • Aleppo pine
  • Western Catalpa
  • English Oak
  • Black Walnut
  • Italian Cypress
  • Incense Cedar.

Cork trees in Chico used to be harvested. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The grove once had 122 sequoias. The nonprofit Friends of Bidwell Park said a week of 10-degree temps in 1932 wiped them out.

The cork grove was part of the 29 acres John Bidwell in 1888 donated to the just created State Board of Forestry. Within five years the funding for the new agency was cutoff. The Legislature gave the property to the University of California Department of Agriculture at Berkeley. In 1921, the state took possession from the university. The city of Chico became the landowner through locals each contributing $100 to buy the acreage from the state. All of this is according to Friends of Bidwell Park.

It’s a wonderful path that is bound to change seasonally. It’s flat, dirt, and isn’t open to bikes or horses. It was delightful to see so many different species of trees, including ones I had never seen before, in less than a mile of walking.

Oldest orange tree in California hails from Mexico

Oldest orange tree in California hails from Mexico

While Spanish missionaries planted the first orange trees in California in 1769, the oldest orange tree in the state resides in Oroville. She arrived in the state as a sapling from Mazatlan, Mexico, in the 1850s.

Known as Mother Orange Tree, she is a California Historical Landmark.

The oldest orange tree in California is in Oroville. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

She has been moved a few times, has survived floods and freezes, and been nursed back to health. A nearby sign says, “Today, with the help of a greenhouse, warming lamps and water mister, the Mother Orange Tree continues to thrive and remains a beloved symbol of the Golden State.”

Those accessories were not visible on a recent visit. Nonetheless, Mother Orange Tree looks healthy, with lush green leaves covering her multitude of branches. Today her fruit is not for picking, but oranges that fall to the ground are fair game.

Information at the site says, “Imported from Mazatlan, Mexico, the Mother Orange Tree was purchased on the streets of Sacramento when it was only a 2 to 3-year-old seedling in a tub. She was planted in 1856 and quickly grew into a California legend. Early-day miners traveled from far and wide to eat her sweet oranges, gather the seeds, and plant them in the yards of their homes.”

Her “children” are scattered about the North State.

A sign on Glen Drive in Oroville points to Mother Orange Tree’s location. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It was Judge Joseph Lewis who brought the tree from Sacramento to Butte County. He planted the tree near the toll bridge at Bidwell’s Bar in 1856. Mother Orange was relocated in 1964 so she wouldn’t be drowned with the building of Oroville Dam.

Today, she resides at the entrance to the California State Parks office in Oroville. A fence around her keeps people ample distance away, but doesn’t distract from taking a good look at this specimen of citrus lore.

From such humble beginnings, oranges are now big business in California. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2021 will be the first time the state has surpassed Florida in orange production.

Oranges also continue to thrive in Mexico. It’s the No. 1 citrus crop in terms of acreage planted. About 50 percent of the trees can be found in the state of Veracruz on the mainland.

The USDA reports, “Mexico imports oranges from only the United States. These are mostly for consumption in the border regions. Mexico has a price-sensitive fruit market. Prices of imported American oranges are high compared to domestic prices. Most of the imported oranges are sold along the border or in high-end supermarkets.”

Lessons still being taught 20 years after Sept. 11 tragedy

Lessons still being taught 20 years after Sept. 11 tragedy

Chico’s Sept. 11 memorial is at fire station No. 5. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The world was forever changed 20 years ago this month when terrorists took down the Twin Towers in New York City, ploughed a plane into the Pentagon, and were thwarted by Flight 93 passengers who were able to steer the plane into a Pennsylvania field, thus saving who knows how many lives.

It angers me that people are still dying in events that stem from Sept. 11, 2001. I call it the Afghanistan cluster. I doubt anyone will ever be able to convince me there were valid reasons for our continued presence there.

There will never be adequate justice for what occurred 20 years ago. There never can be when there is loss of life. You can’t write a check to make it all better.

But our actions also have consequences and we, the United States, need to take a good, hard look in the mirror and take accountability for the wrongs we have unleashed related to Sept. 11 and at other times.

It is easy to point the finger to say “they” did this to us, therefore we have a right to X, Y and Z to “them.” That logic didn’t work on my elementary school playground, so it certainly should not be how we write our foreign policy.

Remembrances of Sept. 11, 2001, inside the building at Chico fire station No. 5 (Image: Kathryn Reed)

But we also need to remember the human component of all of our decisions. On this Sept. 11, let’s reflect on what we have lost. Because personally, I’m at loss as to what we gained from Sept. 11. I’d like to think we could gain perspective, compassion and understanding about why people could hate us so much to do what they did. If we don’t understand the “whys” of any action, then we will forever be ignorant and on the defensive, and thus susceptible to future turmoil.

As publisher of Lake Tahoe News at the time of the 10-year anniversary of Sept. 11, we put together a multi-day package of stories that to this day I am proud of.

In my current hometown of Chico, I was emotionally moved by the Sept. 11 memorial built by the Chico Firefighters Association and local businesses at Station 5 at the corner of East and Manzanita avenues. There is much more to it than the building that looks like an enclosed bus stop.

In that structure people can write notes and hang them for all to see. Some said:

  • To Captain Joey Durah … We miss u and love you so much. R.I.P. Your bro.
  • May we each all remember we are one and not to be divided less we fall into madness.
  • To all our fallen brothers, miss all of you.

Pictures from that fateful day are on the wall. One shows a Chico firefighter shirt hanging in New York, as well as a sign that reads Paradise California (heart) New York.

Adjacent to the structure at the fire station is a pentagon shaped slab of concrete with the words Never Forget stenciled in red. On the other four sides are the flight numbers of the planes that went down.

In the center are two concrete posts symbolizing the World Trade Center towers with a piece of steel suspended between them that came from one of the towers. One pillar says FDNY, the other 343. That number reflects how many New York City firefighters died that day.

A flag flies at half-staff. Benches are available to sit, to ponder, to reflect, to take it all in. Even 20 years later there is plenty to still try to grasp, to understand, to mourn.

Tahoe Rim Trail celebrating 40 years of wonder

Tahoe Rim Trail celebrating 40 years of wonder

Incredible views await those who hike the Tahoe Rim Trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Looking up at the mountains that surround Lake Tahoe it can be hard imagining circumnavigating this magnificent body of water on foot.

Fortunately, people with more vision than I have figured out a way to build a single-track path around this alpine lake. While there are 72 miles of shoreline, the Tahoe Rim Trail started as a 150-mile loop and expanded into 165 miles, which now has several off-shoots. It keeps growing and keeps being improved upon.

The nonprofit Tahoe Rim Trail Association had planned a 40th anniversary celebration for Sept. 18 in Stateline, Nev. The Caldor Fire is throwing everyone’s plans into standby or cancellation mode. Even the trail itself is closed.

Despite the temporary closure of the Tahoe Rim Trail, it is still worth celebrating.

While hiking 165 miles would seem daunting to most people, the beauty about the Rim Trail is that is can be done in sections or even fractions of actual TRTA designated routes. Access points are throughout the basin and just outside of it. Often times hikers will find themselves on the TRT without having set out to hike a part of it.

The nonprofit association, which is essentially the caretaker of the trail, says this on its website: “The Tahoe Rim Trail is one of the most iconic and beautiful long-distance recreation trails in the world.”

This is not hyperbole.

Wildlife shares the trail system with humans. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Views from the Rim Trail are stunning. It’s not just Lake Tahoe that is captivating. Plenty of small alpine lakes dot the trail. Then there is all of the granite, the pines and other flora.

The trail covers two states and three wilderness areas (Desolation, Mount Rose, Granite Chief). The entire route is designated a National Recreation Trail, with part of it being along the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.

While the trail is recognized nationally, and even internationally, it is volunteers and donations that keep it going. Yes, the association has paid staff, but so many people associated with the trail are working for free.

This trail system is truly magical. Even if fire changes how the terrain looks, the Tahoe Rim Trail will remain a destination and worthy cause to donate to.

Time line:

  • 1981: Tahoe Rim Trail founder Glen Hampton, a U.S. Forest Service recreation officer, envisioned a 150-mile loop following the ridge tops of Lake Tahoe
  • 1982: Tahoe Rim Trail Fund formed and was granted nonprofit 501(c)3 status.
  • 1984: Construction began at Luther Pass.
  • 1990: First trailhead completed at Big Meadow in California.
  • 1991: First interpretive trail at Tahoe Meadows complete
  • 2001: After 17 years and more than 200,000 volunteer hours, the 150-mile loop was complete at the California/Nevada state line on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe; the Tahoe Rim Trail is officially declared open.
  • 2001: Ed Laine completes a photo project to document each of the 150 miles within the new trail system to correspond with the official opening of the trail.
  • 2003: 96 miles of the Tahoe Rim Trail are dedicated as a National Recreational Trail.
  • 2006: TRTA celebrates 25 years, 165 miles completed.
  • 2008: Tahoe City reroute project is completed.
  • 2009: Trail crews kick off summer breaking ground on the Daggett Summit reroute project.
  • 2009: Ultra runner Killian Jornet sets fastest supported through hike record at 38 hours, and 36 minutes.
  • 2011: Rim to Reno trail project breaks ground after epic Tahoe winter.
  • 2011: Van Sickle Bi-State Park which straddles California and Nevada is open to the public.
  • 2014: Rim to Reno trail project is completed to Mt. Houghton.

Source: Tahoe Rim Trail Association

Journalists delinquent in quality of coverage of Caldor Fire

Journalists delinquent in quality of coverage of Caldor Fire

Three times I nearly lost it this week. All because of people in my profession. Damn journalists.

I understand covering the Caldor Fire could be a once in a lifetime event, but that is no reason to throw ethics out the window.

CalFire at times has provided the media with firefighter quality jackets. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I also understand that it’s fun and exciting covering big stories like this.

Let me tell you, I’ve almost driven to Tahoe every day since the basin has been threatened. Not for the adrenaline rush, but to help in the only way I know how—which is to provide accurate, timely information to people.

But this isn’t my fire to cover, at least not on the ground.

I am shocked and saddened CalFire had to send an email to journalists the night of Aug. 31 that in part said, “It has come to our attention that a few members of the media have been impeding the progress of the firefighting efforts and going on to private property without permission of the property owner. This activity cannot and will not be tolerated. Action will be taken if it persists.”

I’ve been thwarted plenty of times by “officials” who don’t understand the media’s rights. But this wasn’t about keeping journalists away from the news, or impeding their coverage. This was about journalists breaking the law.

CalFire, all firefighters, U.S. Forest Service, and law enforcement personnel should not be babysitting journalists. Their attention needs to be focused on the fire, not people wanting a “better” story.

It is beyond shameful for someone to pick up debris on someone’s property, to hold it up for their viewers to see. It’s fine to film from the street, the sidewalk. That’s all legal and ethical.

Maybe I’m hypersensitive because my mom lost everything in the Camp Fire in Paradise nearly three years ago. To think of strangers going through the remains of her home makes me want to scream. This was a task she and my sisters went through, and more than once. She knew where things were in the house so then it was more easy to identify what that charred object was.

It’s simple, if the house were standing, would you walk in and pick something up? No. At least you better not. So dammit, don’t do it just because it’s in a pile of ash. That object may be the only thing that person will be able to salvage.

These are TV news people, never a favorite of print/online journalists to begin with.

The limited TV coverage I’ve seen has been questionable at best because there seems to be a twinge of sensationalism in all of it. I tend to scream at the TV when I watch the news because of inaccuracies. Before the fire reached the basin a national news source used exaggerated language about how close it was to the lake. Then there was the regional embedded team. I know they were embedded with the firefighters because they said so every fourth phrase. I had to turn it off it was so bad and bizarre. Bad by the guy on the ground and the anchor in the studio; it was like they were in it for themselves instead of providing information to their viewers. It was crap; hard to even call it journalism.

Print isn’t perfect by any means. I made some choice comments this week on a San Francisco Chronicle story about Caldor. Commenting on stories is a rare endeavor for me.

And sites that only publish press releases, well, that’s not being a journalist on any day.

When is there going to be a story about why no one is talking about the cause of this fire? I have so many story ideas … sigh.

But what incensed me the most was when I heard from two people that the Tahoe (non) Daily Tribune (still an odd name when you publish one day a week) was not going to publish on Sept. 3. What the hell? How was this even possible? How could anyone think this was a good idea? How do you abdicate your responsibility? How do you not have a print edition of what is potentially the biggest story of the year, the decade, the century, or ever in South Lake Tahoe?

The presses are in Carson City. Even if they were still in South Lake Tahoe, the paper probably could have still printed there. It is common for publications to share presses in times of need, and many news sources don’t own presses, but instead contract out that work.

The Tribune is the newspaper of record in South Lake Tahoe. I’m not even sure it would be legal to not publish.

Sure, there are not a lot of people in town, but deliver to the shelters, throughout the lake, drop it off at the Carson City post office where all South Shore California mail is being delivered.

Fortunately, as of this moment, a more reasonable decision has been made and the Trib is going to have its regular Friday print edition.

I know it’s difficult to do a job when you are in crisis mode. But as journalists it is our obligation to provide the news no matter what is happening in our own lives.

The Tribune did well during the Angora Fire. The sports editor at the time lost his home, but was at work every day. Now that’s a true journalist.

To not publish once, well, then how do readers know you will be there in the future? To have even contemplated not publishing is such an egregious breach of trust between publication and the public. Shame on you Tribune.

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