MUSINGLY By Karen D'Or

Writing Portfolio, Travel Stories & Other Diversions

Tag: wine country

Tourism indicators up in New Orleans and Sonoma County

 

New Orleans Home in Mardi Gras Colors

New Orleans Home in Mardi Gras Colors

As an informal ambassador for both New Orleans and Sonoma County, I’m happy to pass along positive tourism news for both sweet spots.

According to Don Ames at Gulf Coast radio station WWL, Fall convention business is booming in New Orleans:

“We’re 60 percent up, compared to the fourth quarter of 2012. For the next three month, … just in CVB-booked conventions, about 130,000 people coming from all over the world for major medical conventions and this is going to bring about 153 million dollars into the City of New Orleans,” says Convention and Visitors Bureau spokeswoman Kelly Schulz.

(Although not a convention attendee, I am happy to report that I’m a generous hospitality industry consumer during my regular visits to the Crescent City.)

For more on New Orleans’ healthy tourism business, check out http://bit.ly/GJFKx1

In news closer to my home, Sonoma County tourism is also hopping. Writing in the North Bay Business Journal, Eric Gneckow reports that Horizon Air — the sole commercial carrier at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County airport, has hit a significant milestone with the number of flight operations returning to levels not seen since before the financial downturn.For more, click here http://bit.ly/GPAHLO

Sonoma County vineyards

Inside Redd, Yountville California

Redd Meet

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series North Bay Everyday

“Oh they won’t mind, they’re pretty laid back,” said the half-naked lady about Redd, one of the throng of Yountville restaurants that have turned northern Napa valley into a food mecca.

During our annual day-spa trip, Bobbi (my best friend from college) and I tend to include post-treatment eating, drinking and shopping — often reversing spa-induced relaxation. We are both high energy; thirty years ago a man called us an “assault to the senses.” Each year we meet in Napa, get pampered, share travel stories, and express gratitude that we made it through the 80s intact.

Bobbi’s calling Redd to let them know we may arrive late, so the nice half-naked spa lady — a local — is sharing her impression. We are concerned Redd might be one of those stuffy gourmet places; it has a Michelin star and 28 Zagat points. Spa lady is right and the hostess seems surprised we would even call.

Inside Redd, Yountville California

Inside Redd, Yountville California

Luckily, our experience at Redd (named after chef Richard Reddington) is unhurried in spite of our late-lunch tardiness and concerns about a soon-to-close kitchen. We miss the last outdoor table since Redd is pleasantly crowded for a Saturday afternoon, but the interior is open, light, gleaming with shiny wood floors and pewter accents, and smiles light up our exfoliated faces as mellow hostess leads us to a corner booth.

We meet our server, Ryan, who offers top-notch hospitality, knowledge, and not-too-intrusive congeniality. I share with Ryan (and Bobbi) my annoying new habit of ignoring the food menu until after I’ve ordered a cocktail. Because this habit emanates from my favorite new destination, New Orleans, I’ve adopted it wholeheartedly. Ryan promptly brings my Prohibition Tea cocktail and Bobbi’s glass of Baker Lane Vineyards rosé. We begin to relax, finally. I’ve convinced Bobbi to go to New Orleans with me someday.

2011217_Redd_0124Ryan tells us the only addition to the menu is an appetizer of squash blossom tempura. We ask for his menu recommendations. He confidently shares that his favorites are divers scallops and steamed pork belly buns. We start with the tempura, and a refreshing greens, citrus, goat cheese, mint, and walnut salad in citrus vinaigrette. Plenty of flavors creating a balanced blend of tart, crunch and creamy. The squash blossoms are battered and fried perfectly, but with very little flavor or spice, they are our least favorite dish.

Roadside Llama

Vertical Shift

Wearing tight jerseys announcing their most recent cycling event conquest, six petite women straddle their shiny carbon-framed bikes and cluster together inside a meager circle of sunlight in front of the Pink Box bakery in Santa Rosa.  They are the Hilly Jillies cycling club gathering on a chilly Saturday morning for their monthly beginning level bike tour through Sonoma County’s pot-holed wine roads. But the women’s pricy equipment and tight-lipped welcome leave me skeptical that this is the route for a novice athlete. Having started late in life, leisure cycling is a weekend sport I’ve grappled with for years, trying to find the right balance between leisure and cycling.

But the Hilly Jillies are serious, lean, and driven, and I am about to discover how they got their name.

vineyards With little ceremony or chitchat, the Jillies and I embark on a 37-mile trip east to Sonoma Valley. I quickly fall to the back of the queue, huffing and puffing just to keep up with the group that is easily flying up the first grade. Our terrain is renowned: Sonoma County is one of the top five bicycling destinations in the world, and cycling is the number two tourist draw. To me this morning the landscapes are indistinct. I’m so focused on keeping up that I barely see the new growth on the vines, and so intent on taking deep breaths that I don’t hear the robust grunts of the wild turkeys flushed out of oak groves. Already, before we even get to the steep grades that will summit this route, I’m getting discouraged as I see the entire pack of Jillies disappear around the bend.

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Olivet Road Vineyard

The Olivet Wine Road

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series North Bay Everyday

Olivet Road VineyardI drive past Santa Rosa’s Olivet Road too fast, too often. The road is easy to miss bookmarked between two high-speed Sonoma County routes. Now this rural connector street has become my chance to slow down and enjoy a destination neighborhood: not long ago local vintners formed The Olivet Wine Road; hotshot Sonoma County cyclists use the street as a picturesque route to exit town, and nearby is one of Santa Rosa’s juiciest restaurants, Zazu Restaurant and Farm, is on the corner.

It’s Sunday and I am hungry, of course. Thankfully, Zazu Restaurant and Farm, just west of Olivet Road, opens at 9 am. Although Zazu’s fried donuts or Dutch baby pancakes are great excuses for carbo-loading, at this “playful Americana and rustic Northern Italian inspired” converted railroad car, and nationally famous sustainable farm, local meat is revered. In fact, Zazu’s owners (Duskie Estes and John Stewart) were crowned king and queen of pork at the 2011 Aspen Food Festival. I add a side order of black pig bacon to experience Sonoma County homegrown pork.

Unlike other more upscale wine districts, no long ornate driveways, wine-country spas, or billboard-size signs point out the Olivet wineries; the wineries and tasting rooms are interspersed with weathered ranch-style homes – keeping Olivet a hidden niche of the Russian River appellation. Olivet’s curb appeal has not changed much in 25 years: a mixed-used zone close to greater Santa Rosa where apparently the wine growers and their neighbors have figured out how to balance commercial and residential needs.  Turning onto Olivet off Guerneville Road, the first stop is De Loach Vineyards, now owned by the Boisset family of France, who purchased De Loach in November 2003. Next up is Inman Family Wines, organically farmed and a pioneer sustainable practices, Inman is famous for small-lot Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and upscale rose. Hook and Ladder is across the way, staffed by three generations of the De Loach family, which has been making wines in the region for over four decades. As a last stop, try Harvest Moon, renowned for sweet wines: late Harvest Gewürztraminer and ice wines are a lovely dessert to end the Olivet adventure.

Olivet Road is best considered a detour, not a bypass. Located just west of bustling Santa Rosa it is easy to miss on the way to the bigger name wine destinations, or quaint towns. Here the crunch of gravel beneath the tires makes me slow down, the pungent old-grapey smell makes me inhale longer, and the sight of small working ranches reminds me of traditional Sonoma County country life. Long-time landowners and new entrepreneurs are joining to re-energize this often-ignored side road into a fine detour for dawdlers.


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