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 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,

        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:

        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


            The Hitching Post in Santa Barbara wine country

            Hitching post in Buelton

            To culminate our wonderful weekend in the Santa Barbara wine country following the recent Wine Bloggers Conference, we didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to have dinner at the Hitching Post in Buellton. We’d last eaten there shortly before the restaurant was featured in the 2004 movie, “Sideways.” As in the movie, when Miles and Jack meet Maya and Stephanie, it’s obvious that the Hitching Post is a popular spot for locals and tourists.

            Reading the information on the menu, we found that Frank and Natalie Ostini opened the restaurant in 1986 to bring Santa Maria style Barbecue to Buellton. Today their children continue the tradition of combining old and new, and boast of serving the best French Fries in Southern California. The staff is very courteous and friendly, which is always a plus.

            When we visited on this Sunday night, the restaurant was packed with families, couples and a few singles. The menu features a good assortment of appetizers, BBQ meats, fresh salads and yummy desserts. Most of the wines, by the glass or bottle, are from the many great wineries in the Santa Barbara wine country. The restaurant also serves wines from their own winery that focuses on Pinot Noir.


            If you want to explore the Santa Barbara wine country and the “Sideways” wine trail, be sure you stop by the Hitching Post. You won’t be disappointed.


              Wine Bottle Art

              Diane Selmi – Wine Bottle Art

              If you’re looking for a special gift for one of your wine lover friends, an original wine bottle art painting by Diane Selmi might just be the perfect choice.

              Diane started painting unique wine bottles 10 years ago when she retired after a long career as a travel agent. She saw a picture of bottles in a magazine and was taken by the explosion of colors and reflection. She had just added a small studio to her house and was starting to paint other subjects, when she put everything aside and began composing wine bottles. She enthusiastically experimented with shapes, placement, light and color.

              wine bottles as art


              Each label is chosen very carefully and is a painting in itself. Diane began giving her paintings as gifts, and as they were seen by others, she started to get requests for commissions. The idea of personalizing the labels came to her very early on. Diane has included the names of family members, pets, boats, favorite places, as well as favorite wine bottles in the compositions.

              It’s hard to believe that Diane has had no formal training in painting, but she says she recognizes a future painting when she sees a subject that has the light and color she loves. She has sold many of her paintings and has made notecards to sell or give as gifts.

              wine bottle art


              Diane paints with acrylic and has painted on canvasses 24X24 to 48X60. The paintings are unframed and prices range from $500 to $2500. She does not currently have a website but can be reached on Facebook or by emailing:


                Kosher Wines – Celler de Capcanes

                Of all the wonderful wineries we visited in October on our European Wine Bloggers Pre-Conference trip to the Priorat and Montsant wine regions in Spain, one of the most interesting to me was Celler de Capcanes. What is unique about this winery is that they produce 3 Kosher wines: Peraj Ha’abib, Flor del Flor de Primavera and Peraj petita. Even though Kosher wines account for only 2% of Capcanes’ production, these wines are highly sought after.

                image of kosher wine

                One of three kosher wines produced at Capcanes

                Kosher wine production inside the gate

                Kosher wine production inside the gate

                Not being Jewish, I knew almost nothing about Kosher wines. I was fascinated to learn of the many restrictions placed on the making and handling of wine to comply with Jewish Law. All aspects of the production and handling of Kosher wine before and after the bottle has been opened must be done by Jewish hands. Even by just looking at a wine, a non Jew can contaminate it. For that reason, the Kosher cellars at Capcanes are closed to visitors.

                Capcanes has a long history dating back to the Middle Ages. Over the years, many people left the area for bigger cities following the devastation to vineyards from Phyloxera and the advent of industrialization. In 1933, five families from the village established a co-operative so they’d be able to survive as farmers and be able to efficiently sell their grapes. A big change came in 1995 when the Jewish community of Barcelona, 100 miles away, asked Capcanes to produce a Kosher wine. That required new equipment to be installed. From the popularity of these Kosher wines, Capcanes attracted investors and much of the winery was remodeled and modernized. The other 98% of Capcanes’ wines now enjoy a distinctive reputation around the world.

                Our tour and tasting was led by Jurgen Wagner. He is the co-winemaker and the director of operations at Capcanes. In the photo below he is pictured with an assistant currently interning at Capcanes in production of Kosher wines.

                Jurgen Wagner with intern

                Jurgen Wagner with intern

                On a side note, one of the wines produced at Capcanes is a wine that we have purchased locally at K&L Wines. It is produced specifically for the U.S. market and imported by Eric Solomon. The wine is Mas Donis Barrica and the current vintage is 2009. It is a highly acclaimed wine and value priced at $11.99. It is delicious and is a great choice for your Thanksgiving dinner. You can read Joe’s review of the Mas Donis at Wine Values and Bargains.

                For more information on the wines of Capcanes, visit their website at:


                  Trends in Wine Tourism

                  We were delighted to attend the Wine Tourism Conference last month held at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa. We met a lot of new people in the wine industry, as well as some new winery owners, winemakers and wine bloggers. We especially appreciated the intimate settings of the winery dinners offered as pre-conference visitations.

                  The Wine Industry Panel discussed the increased interest in visiting wineries in Southern Oregon, the state of Virginia and the Paso Robles wine region of Central California.

                  We learned that New York’s Finger Lakes is one of the fastest growing wine regions in the country. After having met author Evan Dawson at the European Wine Bloggers’ Conference in 2011, we read his book “Summer in a Glass,” which is a very personal look at winery owners and winemakers in this upstate wine region. We definitely have added that area to our “wish list” of future wine travel.

                  Wine Tourism in the Finger Lakes wine country

                  A great read on the Finger Lakes wine country

                  Read More »


                    “The Spirit of the Man” Sculpture Exhibit at Paradise Ridge Winery

                    Sculpture Exhibit – Spirit of the Man

                    While attending the Wine Tourism Conference last week in Santa Rosa, we were led by Che Voigt on a guided tour of “The Spirit of the Man” Sculpture Exhibit at Paradise Ridge Winery. The exhibit honors Che’s father, artist Al Voigt, who passed away in 2011.
                    Al and Judy Voigt founded the Voigt Family Sculpture Foundation in 2005. Their passion was to find outdoor venues in which to display large sculptures strategically placed, to allow visitors enough space to walk around each sculpture and enjoy the changes in lighting throughout the day.

                    This exhibit includes 34 sculptures from local artists as well as artists from other parts of the US. The pieces vary in size, color and style and are primarily abstract in nature.

                    The Voigts’ idea was to combine “food, wine and art,” and what better location to do that than at Paradise Ridge Winery? This exhibit is perfect for families, as kids would have a great time walking from sculpture to sculpture some of which they can actually play with. The year-long exhibit is scheduled to close in May 2013, but there’s talk of extending it for another year.

                    Read our previous post to learn more about the Paradise Ridge winery.