Celebrating the Holidays with Napa Valley’s Flora Springs and Jon Nathaniel

aren’t these the CUTEST reindeer ever?

“When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!'”
from a “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement C. Moore
(complete poem at end of post)

I always thought the line was dash away “home.” I’ve been thinking about home a lot recently because this is the time of year when people head home. However,  this has been quite the holiday season in Ventura County. Not long after Thanksgiving, the Thomas Fire ignited in two places near Thomas Aquinas College between Santa Paula and upper Ojai, and on that first night, consuming at times a football field a second, and an acre a minute. Overnight the hills behind my home burned, and then the fire continued in three directions: toward Ojai, Santa Barbara, and Fillmore.

The bad news is that, at almost 275k acres, the Thomas Fire is now the largest ever in California history. The bad news is that every day I find out about more people I know who not only had to evacuate, but many who returned home to find it gone, one of the over 1000 structures that were totally destroyed.

A simple question– how did you do in the fire? — leads to a story in every case from evacuations to illnesses to poison gases to the loss of everything except an old ice cream truck parked on the street, with the keys destroyed by the fire.

“We’re okay,” everyone says because the good news is that as catastrophic as this fire has been, there have only been two deaths associated with it. The other good news is that the fire is at 65% containment and the toxic smoke is not as bad as it was.


After two weeks of uncertainty, finally, people are out and about completing holiday shopping. Continue reading

Festive Sparklers From Around the World: Ferrari, Jaume, Bruno, Gran

Sparkling wines from around the world: Italy, Spain, France and the US

Welcome winter!

Today is the shortest day, the longest night, and the first day of winter!

How else to welcome the return of the light and the holiday season but with sparkling wine?

Solstice = Sparklers

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Affordable France: 4 Crus Bourgeois Bordeaux Red plus a Dessert Wine #Winophiles

Bordeaux in general and Sauternes in particular are NOT wines that people think of as affordable. In fact, a quick search on 1000 Corks shows Sauternes for sale with the sky seemingly as a limit with a number of wines listed as going for five figures.

Along with Champagne, Bordeaux captures the imagination as “THE French red wine” of note and prestige.

But you might be surprised by the high quality Bordeaux wine you can find for around $25.  For that reason, consider bringing one of these bottles of Bordeaux as a hostess gift or to share at a holiday meal.

This month the French Winophiles group is looking at “sweet wines of France.” But what’s dessert without dinner? That’s how we ended up with opening four bottles of Bordeaux red wines before we opened our Bordeaux dessert wine!!

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3 Napa Valley Cabernet Vineyards, 3 Cabs, 2 Wineries: Celebrating with Ehlers and Silverado

“Let us celebrate
the occasion
with wine
and sweet words.”


When the Thomas Fire broke out, our plans to taste and write about giving the gift of wine from fire stung Napa Valley were set aside. After all, Sue’s house was at risk and she was in a voluntary evacuation zone… so our dinner plans at her house were definitely cancelled!  Continue reading

Grateful for Good Gifts, Good Stories with Wineries from Napa #WinePW

Joy to the World– Grateful for the Gift of Good Wine and Good Stories: From one fire to another

If you ask me, it’s stories that make us humans, stories that help us make meaning, stories that help us connect and care for each other. And so if you are looking for a wine for a gift this holiday season, I would choose one with a good story. Here’s one of mine.

When I was a little girl, there was a fire in Ondulando, a neighborhood above ours on the east end of Ventura. I’m not too sure how big it was but that fire had a huge impact on me. We all stood in the street in awe watching it burn.  Seeing the orange glow on the hillsides seemed more threatening to me and my home and my family than it actually was.

Following the fire, at certain times of the year when the light would hit windows on the hillsides just right, they would glow red and it would strike terror in my heart — I was sure there was another fire and I was surprised that no one was alarmed.

wearing my N95 Particulate Respirator on Day 2 of the #ThomasFire

A few days ago, that fire I feared as a child hit for real.

The Thomas Fire started at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula and fueled forward by fierce winds, flames raced toward Ventura at times gobbling an acre a second until it reached Ondulando and beyond.  I heard the dispatch call out addresses and I pictured the streets where my friends grew up– and where friends live today.

I could imagine only too well what it looked like from my childhood home because I could see that fire as it spread to the hillside where my grandfather built his house– and his wine cellar not far from where I live today, a block away from the mandatory evacuation zone which was just lifted and two blocks from where it still is.,

The wind was and continues to be terrible, with hurricane force winds of 80 to 100 miles an hour driving the fire to consume almost 50k acres that first night, and now, while less intense, the winds are erratic, less predictable, ever dangerous. Until the wind dies down, it will be impossible for them to contain this fire. With no rain in sight, they are saying it may burn until Christmas or even the New Year.

Screen shot from an ArcGIS map showing the Thomas Fire burn area Dec. 7 2017

As of this writing, nearly 150k acres have burned with 500 structures destroyed including homes belonging to a dozen or more friends as well as former students who met in my creative writing class over 15 years ago.

the house of a childhood friend of mine, Suzanne Henthorn; here’s her GoFundMe page if you can help: https://www.gofundme.com/suzannes-fire-relief-fund

In my county, over 100k people have been evacuated from their homes in the previous few days. I know more people who have been evacuated than I know who have not been evacuated.

And this fire as well as a spate of fires in Southern California will be part of a Federal Disaster area. Already the resources are driving and flying in.

We are the lucky ones, able to stay in our homes, power flickering, non-potable water flowing, our VW van ready for us to escape into, a comfortable home away from home. We are safe save from the smoky air… and cabin fever. Minor inconveniences really in the big picture.

Sue also was lucky: she lives in a voluntary evacuation zone so she was also able to stay home even though at times all of the roads around us were closed due to fire. Above are a few of the photos Sue’s partner John Walsh shared; these were taken from their house in Meiners Oaks which is in the Ojai Valley — the inlet of green in the sea of browned lands in the map above.

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4 Cabernet Franc from France, CA and Idaho for #CabFrancDay

Cabernet Franc? You’re not likely to find this wine on its own shelf at the neighborhood grocery store– even though it deserves one! Better known as a blending grape found in Bordeaux wines, Cabernet Franc can also stand alone, as has been well-proven in Chinon in the Loire Valley of France for many years.

In fact Cabernet Franc Day founder Lori Budd of  Dracaena Wines  chose December 4 for the annual celebration of Cabernet Franc because it is the anniversary of the death of Cardinal Richelieu who is credited with transporting the grape to the Abbey of Bourgueil in the Loire Valley in the 17th Century. (Also of note: Alexandre Dumas features the Cardinal in his novel The Three Musketeers!) 

As one of Sue’s favorite varietals, we’ve been eyeing today’s Cabernet Franc Day for a year and collecting wines that we want to share. Last year, for the first Cabernet Franc Day, we featured one from Lodi’s Cantara, Idaho’s Hat Ranch, and Four Brix’s which uses fruit from Paso Robles which we paired with osso bucco.

This year, we decided it would be fun to taste a “classic” version of Cabernet Franc — a Chinon from France that people can find easily at Whole Foods plus three from less common wine growing regions: El Dorado County CA, Lake County CA, and Idaho: Continue reading