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.
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.
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.
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.”
Water is a basic necessity for any being to survive. Why then isn’t drinkable water available to everyone?
Money and lack of willpower would be the two easy answers.
Richard Jolly, chairman of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, sponsored by the W.H.O., told the Associated Press it would cost $10 billion a year to bring water and sanitation to the places that don’t have it today. He added, that amount is ”one-tenth of what Europe spends on alcoholic drinks each year, about the same as Europe spends on ice cream and half of what the United States spends each year on pet food.”
Another question: Why when good drinking water is available do people buy bottled water?
Answer: Ignorance, stupidity, laziness. All guesses on my part.
I have lived where the water isn’t drinkable, though purification systems are available in Mexico. In the San Joaquin Valley in the 1990s I had bottled water delivered to my house because the water was so horrid. I understand not being able to or willing to drink what comes out of the tap.
Some of the best water I have ever drank out of a faucet was in Tahoe. Tahoe tap water comes from rain or snowmelt. Some agencies in the Lake Tahoe Basin take water directly from the lake, while others use wells. Each water agency decides how to treat it before it reaches spigots.
I would always be amazed when I would see tourists (sure hope they weren’t locals) loading up on bottled water in the grocery store. I told them they didn’t need to, that what comes out of the faucet is soooo good. They looked at me like I was crazy. I never saw anyone put a case of water back on the shelf.
Where did they come from that bottled water was the norm for them? The people I spoke with all seemed to be from the United States. Is their hometown water really that bad?
The irony about bottled water is that it is less regulated than tap water. The Environmental Protection Agency oversees tap water, and mandates individual agency’s annual reports be made available to the public. The Food and Drug Administration oversees bottled water. The FDA doesn’t require bottlers to reveal water sources.
Besides not knowing what’s in that bottle of water, there is the whole issue of the bottle itself. That’s a whole lot of plastic; and we know it’s not all being recycled.
It’s time to think about the water you are drinking and why.
McEvoy Ranch has been producing high-end olive oil for decades. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Swirl, smell, gargle, swallow. That’s how you truly taste olive oil.
Gargling isn’t the term Sam Dorsey used, but it was essentially the action she told us to take. She may have said slurp. The point was to have the liquid linger in the back of the throat.
Dorsey is president of McEvoy Ranch, having started with the company 20 years ago as a gardener.
What an experience the ranch has created. Most of the tasting, though, was traditional with bread dipped in the oils. I left with a new appreciation for what olive oil should taste like.
In 1990, Nan McEvoy founded the 550-acre ranch located in the Petaluma Gap that divides Marin and Sonoma counties. Only 15 percent of the acreage is planted. More wine grapes used to be grown there, but the current philosophy is to focus more on olives. They are grown, harvested, milled, blended, and bottled on site.
Sam Dorsey, president of McEvoy Ranch, explains the intricacies of making olive oil. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
If it weren’t for the San Francisco Chronicle, there would be no McEvoy Ranch.
This is because the founder of the ranch, McEvoy (née Phyllis Ann Tucker), was the granddaughter of M.H. de Young. He along with his brother founded the Chronicle in 1865. McEvoy in 1981 became chairwoman of the parent company of the Chronicle.
She was living in Georgetown on the East Coast at the time. That was a place she called home for 36 years. In 1989 she returned to the West Coast to better manage the family’s publishing enterprises. At the time she and her son, Nion, owned one-third of the holdings, with nearly two dozen family members controlling the remainder of the enterprise. McEvoy died in 2015 at age 95, 14 years after the newspaper was sold to the paper’s rival Hearst Corporation for $660 million. Prior to that, family discord forced her out as chairwoman by implementing a bylaw stating no one could be on the board over age 72. McEvoy was 75 then.
Today, Nion McEvoy owns the ranch. It is because of him and his management team that the ranch has been turned into a tourist haven and a force in the industry.
Dorsey is involved in the industry as a whole, including backing California legislation that would change labeling practices. She is an advocate of a bill that would mandate labels could only say “California Olive Oil” if 100 percent of the olives are grown in California.
At McEvoy Ranch the organic traditional blend is the most popular. It is a combination of seven Italian varietals. Absolutely delicious. But so were the flavored oils—like garlic, lemon and basil. One that isn’t often seen is jalapeno. Also great.
A small fraction of the 550-ranch is planted with olive trees and wine grapes. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Dorsey said new blends are always in the works. The latest to be bottled is ginger turmeric. It would be best as a finishing oil. I’ve used it on a roasted vegetable green salad. Loved it.
The setting is completely serene. It’s a perfect place for tasting oils and wines. It’s off the beaten trail, doesn’t feel like you are in the Wine Country, and seems so civilized. They aren’t into high pressure sales of product or joining their clubs—though there is plenty of product to buy and more than one club to join if you choose.
This is a destination I highly recommend. Fantastic experience. We left with wine and olive oil.
Some grapes, left, did not make the cut; while the ones on the right will become wine. (Images: Kathryn Reed)
Neither day laborer nor farm worker will be added to my resume any time soon.
After a couple hours of grape picking I know I have the ability to do the job, but I’m just not sure how many hours and days my body would last. Nor am I sure my speed would pass muster with a boss.
I’d do it again, though. Oddly, it was fun. Being outside, a little physical labor, and grapes. That’s a good combination for enjoyment; at least when the work is limited.
I certainly have a new appreciation for this part of the winemaking process.
This adventure was an excursion arranged through a local hiking group. (I did log almost three-quarters of a mile.)
For two hours on Monday morning we picked grapes on land owned by Jim and Nell Bremner at the intersection of Dayton Road, Durham-Dayton Highway, Aguas Frias Road and Ord Ferry Road in Durham. Although they bought the property in 2012, progress has been slow to transform the shuttered Mother’s 4 Corners. The plan is still to make it a coffee shop and event venue.
Kae Reed spends a couple hours Aug. 9 picking wine grapes near Chico.
Behind the building are a couple acres of land, with one being planted with Pinot Grigio grapes. It was the job of the half dozen or so volunteers to pick the ripe grapes, put them in a bin, then dump them into larger containers that would be hauled off to be crushed into wine.
About 6,000 bottles were made last year using these grapes and others of the same varietal. Tony, who works for the Bremners, expects the yield to be about 20 percent less this year because of the lack of pruning done to the vines.
Some of the grapes already looked like raisins, so we left them on the vine or dropped them to the ground. We used our own pruning shears. First, we cleaned them in a bleach solution to ensure we didn’t contaminate the vineyard with something bad from our own gardens.
After our job was done the grapes were trucked to Almendra Winery in Durham to be crushed. They will be bottled under the Bertagna Son Kissed Vineyards label.
My payment for a couple hours’ work was two bottles of the 2019 Pinot Grigio. Maybe I’ll save a bottle to see how it compares to “my” 2021 vintage.
Stainless steel equipment for making beer at Mulberry Station. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Breweries tend to do one thing well—make beer. Pizza places tend to specialize in making pies. Mulberry Station Brewing Company in Chico does both well.
The beer is made on site and the pizzas are cooked to perfection in a wood fire oven.
Beer and pizza is always a combination. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Owners have embraced the history of the site with train-themed artwork as well as a mini-train that keeps kids’ attention.
The brewery’s website says, “The city of Chico was both the beginning and the end of Sacramento Northern’s Electric Streetcar operations in more ways than one. Chico was the location of the first of the electric lines that would become the SN. It was also the scene of the line’s last regular service. Our location was one of the last stops in Chico. The original main track traveled through downtown and stopped at Mulberry Street before going on to the district known as Chapmantown.”
Now it’s all about beer and pizza. Because the brewmasters like to experiment the selection is always changing.
Kids enjoy the miniature train. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Roland Allen has been in the Chico beer scene forever. He was the assistant brewmaster at Sierra Nevada before joining Butte Creek Brewing when it opened in 1995. (Butte Creek Brewing Company became part of Ukiah’s Mendocino Brewing Company in 2010, with operations in Chico ceasing.)
This is relevant because Allen is at Mulberry Station making its beers. An email sent July 9 by the brewery says, “Just tapped! The original recipe Roland’s Red. Throwback to the Butte Creek days with this full flavored, hoppy rendition of a traditional English ale. A sure delight for the most hop-headed of specialty beer connoisseurs. Imported roasted malts from Europe are used to add to its deep red color. This ale is dry-hopped to add to its rich aroma.”
Of the five beers my mom and I tried at Mulberry it was Roland’s Red that was our favorite.
A worker said the original recipe had been revamped and renamed Roland’s Redder Ale. Supposedly people are relishing the original coming back into the tap rotation.
We had a sampler of four: Light Rail (American wheat ale, 4 percent ABV), Rollerbrau (pilsner, 4.6 percent ABV), Amberfest (lager, 5 percent ABV), and Golden Spike Ale (session IPA, 4.9 percent ABV). All were fine, but none wowed us. (Mom likes light beers, I prefer darker; so there is that. I’ll have to try the brown ale and stout another day.)
However, not a drop was left of the half pint of Original Roland’s Red (red ale, 5.9 percent ABV) that we shared.
Pizzas are made with fresh ingredients. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The Italian garden pizza was fresh and hot. The price was right—$17, which included leftovers. It wasn’t loaded with vegetables, but the sauce was tasty and the dusting of oregano on top was perfect.
We arrived just before 5pm on a Sunday and had the place to ourselves, even remarking they were probably glad to see us. Soon, though, the restaurant filled up and we were the ones saying we were glad we arrived when we did—no waiting.
While the room is spacious, and tables still mostly 6 feet apart, the noise level was not obnoxious considering so many kids had arrived with their parents. The acoustics are such that even is such an open setting you can still easily hear the person sitting across from you.
St. Francis Winery in Santa Rosa offers a tranquil setting for tastings. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Sipping the Chardonnay in the shade on the patio we were a long stone’s throw from where those grapes had been harvested.
It was serene to imbibe in such a setting—looking at the vineyard that seemed to extend to the base of Hood Mountain. St. Francis Winery & Vineyards (as well as many others) are lucky to be standing. The September 2020 Glass Fire in Sonoma and Napa counties destroyed some prime vineyards, as well actual wineries. The scar on the mountain is a constant reminder of what could have happened to St. Francis.
This year St. Francis is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
St. Francis uses eco-conscious farming practices. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Joe Martin founded the winery in 1971 with 22 acres of Chardonnay and 60 acres of Merlot. These were the first Merlot vines in the Sonoma Valley. The 2015 Merlot harvest was the last from those original vines. Lucky for us, that is what they were pouring on our visit in early July. What came out of the bottle belied the fact that these vines were apparently past their prime.
An advantage to tasting at the winery is that what is poured there is not available in stores, according to the woman filling our glasses.
Today, according to St. Francis’ website, “We farm more than 380 acres of certified sustainable estate vineyards in Sonoma Valley and Russian River Valley, each with varying compositions of loam, clay and volcanic soils. We also nurture long-term relationships with top Sonoma County grape growers, giving the winery access to some of the region’s most coveted old vines Zinfandel and other varietals from acclaimed vineyards.”
The grapes in the 2016 Old Vine Zin from the Giovanetti Vineyard come from a 130-year-old vine. I swear I could taste the earthiness in it. With years spent in El Dorado County, I still believe the Zins from there are superior to what even Sonoma County can produce. This bottle was $48. I was willing to pay that price for the Merlot, but not the Zin. I know I can get better and less expensive Zins on my next trip to Tahoe.
Plus, days later I found a St. Francis 2018 Old Vine Zin (no vineyard named) at Costco for $13.99. It’s in the house to be had later. Maybe I’ll remember what the two we tasted at the winery were like to be able to compare; though I doubt my memory is that good.
Dogs are welcome at St. Francis. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
As Sue and I were leaving the winery a bell chimed. It chimes every hour and apparently can be heard throughout the Sonoma Valley. On Sept. 27, 2000, the bell was blessed in the Piazza Della Basilica of St. Francis Assisi, Italy. The 1,000-pound iron bell was cast by the Martinelli Foundry, the oldest foundry in Italy. This is the same foundry that since the 12th century has been making bells for the Vatican.
At the entrance is a statue of St. Francis with a dog. After all, he is the patron saint of animals and ecology. This makes sense then that AJ was allowed to join us for the tasting. She even got her own water bowl with a side of treats.
It was a great experience to not be cramped in an indoor tasting room. St. Francis offers a variety of tastings, including a special one focusing on its golden anniversary. Reservations, of course, are necessary.
The SLTPD has been notified there may be a power outage tonight, beginning sometime between 6-8pm and lasting the remainder of the weekend. Please call 911 for emergencies only! We aren’t able to turn the power on. Stop IN ALL DIRECTIONS at uncontrolled intersections. Thank you!