A autobiography to add to your summer wine reading list

my secret life

I prefer a dry red wine rather than Blue Nun while reading “The Secrets of My Life”

The Secrets of My Life: Vintner, Prisoner, Soldier, Spy
Peter M. F. Sichel

How many of you are old enough to remember Blue Nun wine? Blue Nun was wildly popular during years 1950 to 1980. It was a semi-sweet German wine that took the U.S. by storm. It was by many standards the first hugely successful wine promotion in the U.S. This was with the help of Peter Sichel.

I just finished this thoroughly enjoyable book.  “The Secrets of My Life” would certainly be an interesting read for not only wine enthusiasts but anyone who enjoys learning more about life during WWII. We recommend adding this title to your summer wine reading list.  Peter Sichel’s most interesting autobiography begins with his life as a Jewish child growing up in what would soon become Nazi Germany. Born in 1922, he was the 4th generation in a very successful family of wine merchants. He was sent to England for his education and moved to France in 1939. After being imprisoned and then released, he fled Europe and settled in the United States in 1941.

After joining the Army, he became a member of the U. S. Office of Strategic Services. He eventually became a senior official in the Central Intelligence Agency during the 1940s and 1950s. This book highlights Sichel’s incredible resilience in dealing with his family’s dilemmas, his disrupted childhood and his career with the OSS and the CIA.

The last third of the book covers Sichel’s return to Europe in 1959 and his role in his family’s wine business. The business at that time was mainly bottling Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Rhone wines under the Sichel label. He learned the business very quickly and became a wine personality on his own. He wrote “Which Wine,” a consumer guide to wines available in the U.S., and was a guest on “Good Morning America” and “The Today Show.” The family’s success with their Blue Nun wines enabled Sichel to become involved in the International Wine Community.  Sichel looks back on each chapter of his incredible life and thinks fondly of where he has been and the legacy he has left, saying, “I was fortunate to have three unique experiences that shaped my life so dramatically.”

Purchase the book from Amazon or find it at your library.  Maybe you can find some Blue Nun and enjoy a glass while reading this fascinating autobiography.

Other great wine books

“The California Wife” by Kristen Harnisch

California Wife

Kristen Harnisch’s sequel to “The Vintner’s Daughter”

“The California Wife” by Kristen Harnisch

This is a chance to win a signed copy of “The California Wife,” generously donated by the Author.

We’ve anxiously awaited the release of this wonderful sequel to our favorite wine-themed novel, “The Vintner’s Daughter,” by author Kristen Harnisch. “The Vintner’s Daughter” begins in the Loire Valley in 1895 and follows the plight of Sara Thibault as she helps her father work their small vineyard, hoping to become a winemaker herself. After her father dies in an accident, Sara and her sister Lydia are involved in a violent tragedy and forced to leave France for New York. Life in New York is very difficult, another tragedy occurs, and Sara eventually makes her way to California, hoping to fulfill her dream of becoming a winemaker.  Sara ends up working for vineyard owner Philippe Lemieux, also from the Loire Valley. Sara and Philippe work well together and fall in love, but revelations about Sara’s past are more than Philippe can endure. Sara sadly leaves California and returns to her family home in Loire.

“The California Wife” picks up where “The Vintner’s Daughter” ended, with Philippe following Sara to the Loire and professing his love for her.  Following their marriage, they work endlessly trying to tend the small vineyard in Loire and Philippe’s Eagle Run vineyard in the Napa Valley.  Against Philippe’s wishes, headstrong Sara gets involved in the Suffragette movement in California. There are many twists and turns in this delightful book, and we just hope that this ambitious couple will be able to withstand the daily pressures of life and a series of devastating events, including the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

How to win a copy of “The California Wife” by Kristen Harnisch

To enter the contest for the signed copy of “The California Wife,” simply tell us in the comment section below what your favorite California wine region is and why.  We’ll put your name in a hat (yes, we will!) and let you know whose name is chosen.  The contest will run through Friday, May 13, 2016

You can also order “The California Wife“directly from Amazon.

Zinfandel lovers – mark your calendars

Zinfandel lovers – mark your calendars for February 25 to 27

Zinfandel festival

Zinfandel galore at the ZinEX

I know that we have many Zinfandel lovers who come to the Wine Country Getaway’s Website to plan a trip to wineries producing wonderful Zinfandel wines. Here’s an easy way to get to a huge number of Zinfandel producers and taste their fantastic Zinfandel wines. It is ZinEx in San Francisco taking place Thursday, February 25 through Saturday, February 27. This year’s Zinfandel gathering will be even more special. 2016 ZinEx will be the 25th anniversary of this gathering of Zinfandel enthusiasts.

The happenings at this year’s ZinEX

Thursday, February 25 from 1:30 – 4 PM: A pre-event Trade and Media tasting* at the Bently Reserve in San Francisco. Joe and I will be attending this event and I will certainly report back to our readers on the highlights of this event. This tasting gives us the opportunity to meet and talk with winemakers about their latest Zinfandel releases.

*Please note that this Trade and Media tasting is not open to the public.

Thursday, February 25 from 5 to 7 PM: A 25-Year-Tribute Party held at the Bently Reserve celebrates ZAP’s 25th anniversary in resplendent style with a tasting featuring 60 winemakers. ZAP’s founders will be pouring cult collections, rare bottlings and vineyard designates. It’s a toast to legacy, inspiration and Zinfandel. There will be a special performance by Margaret Belton, the critically-acclaimed star of “Always…Patsy Cline.”

Friday, February 26 from 10:30 AM – 1 PM: Flights! “Forums of Flavor” takes place at the Bently Reserve.  This will feature a professional tasting seminar focused on highly allocated, limited production Zinfandels, tailored to wine aficionados. This year, ZAP is partnering with the Historic Vineyard Society to present wines from exceptional old vine Zinfandels.

Friday, February 26 from 5:30 to 10 PM: Join ZAP for an evening of dazzling indulgence during the Winemakers Dinner, Silver Anniversary Spectacular, in Bently Reserve’s Banking Hall. The intimate evening features celebrities of the wine world as 28 winemakers “pour it big” with magnums and reserve offerings. This is a chance to meet and talk with winemakers, who will host each dinner table.  The dinner will include a customized farm-to-table menu crafted with meticulous care. Live and silent auctions offer one-of-a-kind lots, rare bottles, and winery experiences with proceeds benefitting ZAP’s programming, education and Heritage Projects. There are two ticket levels available for this event: Reception & Silent Auction for $95/person; Reception, Silent Auction, Dinner & Live Auction for $295/person. To purchase, visit www.zinfandelexperience.com

Saturday, February 27 from 11 AM – 5 PM: Zinfandel enthusiasts will enjoy the opportunity to “Meet the Makers” during the Grand Tasting at Pier 27 in San Francisco. Located on the Embarcadero, with a spacious open floor plan and panoramic views of the bay, doors open at 11 AM for the exclusive Past, Present and Future Tasting for VIPs and all-day ticket holders. At this event, more than 150 winemakers and principals will pour samples and provide a “sneak peek” of upcoming vintages and special ‘Reserve’ Zinfandels. ZAP members will also be admitted at 1PM and non-members at 2PM, in time for the New Releases Tasting. Over 400 different wines will be poured by 150 leading Zinfandel producers. ZAP Heritage Club members will enjoy exclusive access to the Heritage Lounge on Saturday.

Complete ticket information go to: http://www.zinfandelexperience.com/

Gnarly old vine Zinfandel

Gnarly old vine Zinfandel



In Corning, it’s the Gaffer District

Gaffer District in Corning

Corning Gaffer District

Clock Tower in the Gaffer District – a city landmark

We just came back from the Wine Bloggers Conference held in Corning, NY.  We were very impressed by this small, quaint town and would love to return some day. It’s the perfect place to stay if you want to explore the beautiful Finger Lakes.  As part of the conference, we were driven to wineries on 3 lakes: Keuka, Seneca and Cayuga. All were about an hour’s drive from Corning. More about the Finger Lake Wine Country.

We stayed at the Radisson Hotel in Corning, which is ideally located if you want to walk to the main shops, restaurants and museums in the town. The main street in Corning is Market Street and is about 6 blocks long. The area is called the Gaffer District in honor of the highly-skilled glass-blowing artisans who create unique glass pieces in all sizes, shapes and colors.

Corning has a very small-town feel to it.  Almost every shop on Market Street is independently owned and operated. The shop owners and staff are very friendly and helpful.  In fact, most people we passed on the street stopped to say “Hello” and ask how we were doing.  Many of the locals congregate around the clock tower in the plaza.  We saw many families sitting and having a meal or ice cream and taking the opportunity to enjoy one another.  Kids were taking turns jumping up on to a stage and giving impromptu performances.  One night a guitarist was playing for an attentive crowd.

We didn’t have much free time but stopped for a drink at Tony R’s Restaurant and then had dinner at The Cellar, a wine and martini bar with delicious tapas on their menu. We had breakfast at Sorge’s Restaurant, a family-owned Italian Restaurant operating since 1951.

We took a quick walk along Corning’s Market Street and these are the shops that caught our attention:

  • Bottles and Corks –  a great selection of local wines
  • Donna’s – small diner that takes only cash
  • Gaffer Grill and Tap Room – an American Steakhouse
  • Market Street Brewing Company and Restaurant – Corning’s only Brew Pub
  • Old World Café & Ice Cream – also serves homemade soups and sandwiches
  • Poppleton’s – homemade desserts, breakfast and lunch
  • Stained Glass Works – stained glass lamps and window.  Classes are taught there
  • Steuben Design Company  – an interior design studio offering workshops
  • The Glass Menagerie – a glass retail shop featuring local and regional artists
  • The Source – homemade chocolates and gift baskets
  • Three Birds Restaurant – progressive American fare with a Martini Bar
  • Vitrix Hot Glass Studio – distinctive contemporary gifts
  • Wegmans – large market with café and bakery.  Also has a pharmacy
  • Wine and Design – an art workshop with lessons that include a glass of local wines

You can find a Gaffer Tour of the historic buildings on Corning’s Gaffer District Website.

There are two Corning museums not to be missed

The Rockwell Museum includes American Bronzes, Landscapes and Pottery. The Corning Museum of Glass has 35 centuries of glass art, history and technology as well as glass blowing demonstrations.  You can even make your own glass souvenir in a 40-minute class. The summer weather during our stay was very comfortable. I imagine the winter months can be very harsh.  Corning is truly a town that has something for everyone!

The Gaffer District Movie

Wine Country Art by Elizabeth Bollwitt

We thought Elizabeth’s paintings were so beautiful and interesting that we asked her to write a guest blog.  What initially caught our attention were her wine-related works. Be sure to check out her website for these and other paintings. We hope to see more of them in wine country art galleries.  www.artbybollwitt.com


Hello, my name is Elizabeth Bollwitt. I am a self-taught artist who paints with a very organized brush stroke giving my work a flowing almost liquid effect. The viewer can then step back and abstract from the work a bit and yet the scene is intact. The paintings are completely done with colored dots. Some know this as pointillism, which is consider a science of sorts that deals with the theory of color and exact placement of that color. Respectfully, when compared to this science . . . I just blob it on there.

By layering the primary and secondary colored dots, the scenes make for some of the most vibrant colors visible to the human eye. Loving the challenge of making something out of nothing is what makes hours seem like minutes.  I like to hustle to the chair, sit down and do the work.  Inspiration, I would never get anything done if I had to wait for or romance Inspiration first. When someone says, you know what, I think that, how about this, have you ever tried, when will you… I write it all down and diligently work through a long list of words and ideas that I have compiled. That is the foot print for all my artwork.

I was raised and currently reside in eastern Iowa near the Mississippi River. I have a BA in computer graphics with a background in publishing and marketing. My life centers around my kids, family, business and painting. I also enjoy carving, photography, canoeing, tennis, target practicing, traveling and taking the Harley out for a ride.

The painting shown above is PROST (German for Cheers). The painting PROST, can be viewed at V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena, CA., a family-owned winery established in 1885. The two paintings below are Sunset Flower and Shutters. To view, more please visit: www.artbybollwitt.com.



Freemark Abbey Napa Valley

freemark abbey

About Freemark Abbey

Freemark Abbey is one of the most stunning wineries in California wine country. The historic stone buildings date back to the late 1800′s. As we recently drove into the parking lot of the winery, we were shocked to see a construction crew appearing to begin demolishing one of the buildings. Thankfully, once in the tasting room, we found out that the buildings were being retrofitted and added on to as part of a huge 5-year remodeling and expansion. The beautiful stone facade will remain on the existing structures. The hand-hewn stone had originally been transported from nearby Glass Mountain by horse and oxen.

The ambitious expansion will include 2 restaurants, a remodeled kitchen to prepare appetizers for wine pairings, and a boutique hotel to house visitors and guests for potential weddings on the property.

Freemark Abbey has a very interesting history. According to the information we were given at the winery, Josephine and John Tychson purchased the property in 1881 to pursue their dream of making wine. Following John’s untimely death, Josephine became the first woman to own and operate a winery in the Valley. In 1886, Josephine began constructing a small redwood winery and hired Nils Larsen as her foreman. Together they produced wine for 8 years, and in 1894 Josephine sold the winery to Larsen. Larsen leased the winery to Antonio Forni who began construction on a new stone building.

Because of Prohibition, the winery was closed for 20 years. Despite its name, the winery has never been used as an Abbey. It was purchased by 3 men from Southern California in 1939 and the name is a combination of their names.

Freemark Abbey is now owned by the Jackson Family and the winemaker is award-winning Ted Edwards. The winery has one of the most extensive library collections in the Valley and guests can enjoy a memorable tasting of these called “Decades.”

Other tastings offered are:

  • Classic Tasting $20
  • Cabernet Comparative Tasting $30
  • Wine and Cheese Pairing $25
  • Chocolate Truffle Pairing $30

The winery is located north of the town of St. Helena at 3022 St. Helena Highway (Hwy. 29). To schedule a tasting, call 800-963-9698. You won’t be disappointed!

Murder in the Willamette Valley

Unholy Alliance by Judy Nedry


I was sent a copy of Judy Nedry’s “An Unholy Alliance” and got hooked on it after only a few pages. It’s a fast-paced mystery set in the beautiful wine country of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Joe and I had a great tour of this wine country when we attended the Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland a couple of years ago. On a pre-conference tour, and then again as part of the Conference, we were driven to many of the wineries in the area and were able to taste their delicious Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris wines. We were impressed with the countryside, the wineries, the winemakers and the owners who we met. Reading this book brought me back to those visits and reminded me why I’d like to return.

In “An Unholy Alliance,” Emma Golden, divorced and in her mid-fifties, lives in Portland and is hired to write a book about the Oregon wineries. Emma, a recovering alcoholic, once lived in the wine country with her then-husband, Dwight McCourt.

Emma’s friend Melody calls her and asks her to look after their wine country BnB, the Westerly Inn, while Melody and her husband go on a much-needed vacation. Emma is reluctant to return to the area, but finally agrees to do so.

Once at the Inn, Emma begins her part-time duties as Innkeeper, while taking the opportunity to visit with as many winery owners and winemakers as possible to get material for her book. One of the first people she runs into is her ex-husband, Dwight McCourt. Dwight has expanded the winery that he and Emma had started together. They begin talking about the “ruthless and dishonest” Ted Maxell, an outsider who brought in big money to establish his winery, Cougar Crossing. No one seems to like Maxell, but it’s a shock when he’s murdered at his own dinner party. Emma was a guest at the party and together with another guest, Rob the reporter, she begins her quest to figure out who murdered Maxell. Emma has a very curious nature and also compares notes with Angel, a member of the staff at the Westerly, whose daughter is engaged to Maxell’s son.

Judy Nedry’s second book in this mystery series, “The Difficult Sister,” is set in a town near the Coast in Southern Oregon. This book isn’t about the wine country, but the town isn’t too far from the many Southern Oregon wineries we visited on our drive up to the Wine Bloggers Conference.

To learn more about this mystery series and read an excerpt from “An Unholy Alliance,” visit www.judynedry.com. You can also read the author’s blogs and purchase a book if you like. There is a third book in the works, and I look forward to reading it and seeing what other danger Emma can get herself into.

Garré wins at Taste Our Terroir

Garre winery

Garré’s Charlie Smith and Mona Canen with blogger Janelle at Taste Our Terroir

About Garré Vineyards & Winery

At Friday night’s “Taste our Terroir” at Casa Real in Livermore, we were able to taste many of Livermore’s best wines paired with appetizers from local restaurants. The wines we tasted were all delicious and the food excellent. Among the 700 people attending the event, my cousin Mona was pouring the 2010 Profound Secret from Garré Vineyards. We thought the wine was very good and went by the winery the next day to taste more of their wines. Profound Secret is the name of one of the owner’s thoroughbred race horses, and the colorful label on this bottle is a painting of a racehorse by Robert A. Anderson.

We were delighted that the award for Judges’ Best Pairing went to Garré Vineyard & Winery and Garré Cafe. The appetizer they served was a tomato and olive braised beef short rib with whipped potatoes and panko crust, prepared by chef Robert Sapirman.

The other awards for the evening included:

*Best Classic Pairing: Vasco Urbano Wine Company and Zephyr Grill & Bar
*Most Innovative Pairing: Cuda Ridge Wines and Posada
*Best White Wine Pairing: Longevity Wines and 1300 on Fillmore
*Best Red Wine Pairing: Wood Family Vineyards and First Street Alehouse

Casa Real event center is at Ruby Hill Winery and is a lovely setting for weddings and other such events. We look forward to returning to Taste Our Terroir next year.

profound secret

Profound Secret – Bordeaux Blend

Santa Barbara Fisherwoman Stephanie Mutz

At the recent Wine Bloggers Conference in the Santa Barbara Wine Country, a small group of bloggers enjoyed a wonderful visit to the Bridlewood Estate Winery in the Santa Ynez AVA.  The entrance to the winery is impressive, with its Spanish Mission style of architecture.  Our Apple Basket lunch of local sandwiches and salads was served overlooking Bridlewood Lake and was complemented by delicious Bridlewood wines.

Bridlewood winery

Bell Tower at Bridlewood Estate Winery in Santa Barbara wine country

Following the lunch, we had a very informative seminar in the Bridlewood cellar.  Rather than the usual panel of winery owners and winemakers, this panel included:

  • Richard Martin (Moderator), editorial director of Food Republic
  • Mark Williams, Winemaker for Bridlewood Estate Winery
  • Jeff Olsson, chef and proprietor of New West Catering and Industrial Eats Restaurant
  • Jake O’Francis, Pig farmer
  • Christopher and Johanna Finley, farmers for Finley Organic Farms
  • Stephanie Mutz, Santa Barbara Fisherwoman
fisher woman stpehanie

Photo of Stephanie Mutz by Fran Collin, francollin.com

Most interesting to me was the inclusion of Stephanie, a sea urchin fisherwoman. As Stephanie’s website states, she’s been fishing in the Santa Barbara area for 7 years and strives to make fresh, sustainable seafood available to the local population.

Stephanie got her undergraduate degree at UC Santa Barbara and then went on to Graduate School in Australia.  Her goal at the time was to become a Community College professor in her field of Marine Biology. While she was writing her Graduate School dissertation, she worked on urchin boats.  After a part-time teaching job ended, she decided to concentrate on fishing full time.

Being that most of the people Stephanie fishes with are male, she feels fortunate that they are accepting of her and very helpful when necessary. She usually goes out on her boat alone, unless the weather is bad or she needs extra help getting what she needs for the market.  In some cases, she joins other fishermen on their boats for fishing or diving.  Stephanie fishes for sea urchins and snails and regularly delivers her catch to local chefs when the weather and the catch are good. There seems to be a fad for sea urchin delicacies in Southern California and that demand is keeping Stephanie very busy these days. She also works closely with Jeff Olsson and his Industrial Eats Restaurant.  Stephanie does not always know what her daily catch will be and often she will bring Jeff in something different than he asked for.  She praises Jeff for being adaptable and creative in making the best of Stephanie’s haul.

After a day at sea, Stephanie unwinds by sitting in her meadow at home with a glass of wine to recap the day with her boyfriend, also a fisherman.  They discuss ways to become more efficient and productive at doing what they love to do.  She does her best to promote what the industry is all about to the entire community. She thinks its important to encourage people to have a balanced lifestyle, which includes eating local foods.

For recipes and information on how to find Stephanie’s catch, consult her website:  seastephaniefish.com

sea urchin delicacies

Appetizers prepared by Chef Jeff Olsson. On the right is sea urchin on avocado

Daou Vineyards in Paso Robles

Daou vineyards

The view from Daou Vineyards and Winery in Paso Robles

About Daou Vineyards in Paso Robles

This is one of the latest wineries in Paso Robles (2007) and perhaps the winery with the most breathtaking views. Imagine yourself sitting on these chairs with a glass of wine pondering life. This is about as gorgeous as it gets in any wine country. The winery is situated on the west side of Highway 101 in Paso Robles. It sits at an elevation of 2000 feet. It may be hot in Paso Robles during the growing season, but this hilltop site is cooled by the breezes coming from the Pacific Ocean through the Templeton Gap. The soil here is all calcareous, and the Daou folks believe this is the ideal terroir for producing Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals. Although the emphasis is on Bordeaux style wines they also produce some lovely Rhone style white wines, namely Viognier and Grenache Blanc. The winery is owned by Georges and Daniel Daou, two brothers who were successful business entrepeneurs in the medical industry. Daniel Daou is also the winemaker. The vineyards are Sip Certified, meaning sustainable farming is in practice throughout the estate. The tasting room is beautiful, and visitors are welcome to Daou Vineayrds in Paso Robles daily from 11am-5pm. The current tasting fee is $20, but waived with a purchase of wine. There are also food pairings available. Check the Daou Vineyards website for complete visiting details and other details about the winery.

More about the Paso Robles wine country