Saturday, December 31, 2011

Cru Cafe

For more than 20 years, Cru Catering in Charleston has been stirring up crowd-pleasing dishes, the kind Executive Chef and Owner John Zucker calls Eclectic Modern American Cuisine. 

Cru Catering's recipes are creatively delicious, all feature Asian, Carribbean, Italian, Southern and/or Southwestern influences and has has been voted Best Caterer in Charleston consecutively since 2001. 

With a heralded lineage, it came as no surprise to learn Zucker's restaurant, Cru Café, has been receiving accolades routinely since it opened in 2002. 
John Zucker
Zucker was the top graduate in his class at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Then, he trained and created culinary delights under celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck at Spago in Las Vegas. From there, he became sous chef for the opening of Canoe, which was nominated “Best New Restaurant of the Year,” by the James Beard Society. 

Thus, being able to dine at the Cru Café on Pinkney Street while in Charleston this week was a high priority for me and the rest of our family.

We booked a table for the six of us for mid-day, taking the very last reservation available before the restaurant closed to rest and re-group before the New Year's Eve dinner crowd arrived.

I was surprised by the size and intimacy of the restaurant. It was housed on the first floor of a charming old Charleston single house. The main dining room, a former parlor no doubt, provided seating for just nine small groups. There were tables for two, four or a few more people. Additional seating was available closer to the kitchen - a chef's counter looking directly into the workspace, as well as a rectangular high-top table nearby with seating for eight.

Duck Confit Arugula Salad
It was at the high-top table that we sat, and I couldn't have been more delighted. From there we could see all who came and went, watch the goings on in the kitchen and in the main eating area. Additionally, Zucker himself was positioned nearby. Often he would walk over, check out what we had ordered, ask for input on our selections, etc. We liked that!

Because we were on vacation - and not planning to eat another big meal that night - we opted to sample many of the items on the lunch menu, including some of the chef's signature dishes - like the Mesclun Fried Goat Cheese Salad and the Duck Confit Arugula Salad, as well as the Four Cheese Macaroni, Coconut Fried Oyster Wrap, Shrimp BLT and Pepper Jack, etc., etc. In short, we stuffed ourselves!

By the end of the meal, we had struck up a conversation with the affable John Zucker and were in no big hurry to wrap up the dining experience. So, coffees and bread puddings were ordered all around. 

I walked away from the experience well-fed and very satisfied. I couldn't help but comment to the rest of our group, "We just had our last official meal of the year, and I do believe it was one of the best of all."

Visiting Fort Sumter

This morning, the "Spirit of the Lowcountry" took us away from the shores of Charleston and over to historic Fort Sumter, best known as the site where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.

A friend, who had lived in Charleston for many years, once described Fort Sumter as a "big rock" in the middle of Charleston Harbor. Needless to say, I was eager to find out for myself how accurate her description.

On the site, I learned that Fort Sumter  was built after the War of 1812. It was named for General Thomas Sumter, a hero of the Revolutionary War, as one of a series of fortifications along our nation's southern coast. When construction began in 1827, more than 70,000 tons of granite were imported from New England to build up a sand bar at the entrance to Charleston Harbor. 

The fort is a five-sided brick structure. Its walls are five feet thick and stand 50 feet over the low-tide mark. Though it was never filled to capacity, it was built to house 650 men and 135 guns.

When I walked into Fort Sumter, I had planned to spend a lot of time walking around, checking out the fort's museum and studying seriously the artifacts. But, it was not to be. 

My two-year-old grandson, Andrew, became immediately drawn to a couple of cannons situated right inside the entrance. So much so that he refused to wander away and around. 

"OK," I told the rest of my family. "I'll stay here and keep an eye on him. When he gets bored, we'll catch up with you." 

An hour later, I was still sitting there, and Andrew and a dozen other small children from the boat were still running back and forth between the two cannons and touching all parts within reach.

They were too young to understand exactly what they were playing with or the significance of where those cannons were situated. But, nonetheless, our trip to Fort Sumter proved to be a wonderful outing - an important footnote in my family's history.

Spirit of the Lowcountry

I'm always up for a boat ride, so I jumped at the opportunity to climb onboard the Spirt of the Lowcountry early this morning to cruise on over to historic Fort Sumter. 

Tagging along with me (or perhaps it was the other way around) were my son, daughter, her husband and my two small grandchildren.

We were delighted to find the Spirit of the Lowcountry was shipshape, with a friendly crew eager to please and accommodate.

We were sitting on the open-air, upper deck with the boat pulled away from shore, but today's breezes were cool. A bit too cool. So, soon enough we sought the warmth and comfort of the shelter below.

We positioned ourselves near a big window at the front of the craft and watched attentively as we neared our destination. No one spoke much. That's what happens when busy people get away to relax.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Olde Pink House

My family and I opted to spend this beautiful vacation day taking a unplanned day trip — from Charleston, S.C. to Savannah, Georgia. 

Right after a hearty breakfast at our hotel, we headed south on Highway 71 in a rented mini-van. All of us were eager to see a second southern beauty.

We got to Savannah just before noon and decided to go ahead and stop for lunch before we did anything else.

The Olde Pink House, located at 23 Abercom in Reynolds Square, was our pick as the restaurant du jour. We didn't have a reservation, so getting in to this national landmark (on this holiday weekend) was iffy.

But, luck was on our side. We got to the Olde Pink House a bit before the crowd and were taken immediately to a prime spot in the main dining room of the stately Georgian Mansion. The service staff was quick and eager to assist us. Before we knew it, drink orders were taken and menu items were being considered. 

Comfort foods — fried chicken with mashed potatoes and white cream gravy — seemed appropriate and just too tempting to pass up, so I didn't.

While we waited for the food to come out, we did what any iPhone-toting family would do. We "googled" the Olde Pink House to educate ourselves about its history.

We learned the house was built by James Habersham, Jr. on land granted by the crown of England. He lived in the house from 1771 to 1800. And, during that time, the home was the site of "many secret meetings which helped secure the independence of the 13 original colonies from England."

In 1811, the home became the Planter's Bank, the first bank in Georgia, and housed the monies of all the colonists. The original, cast-iron vaults are still there and in use today - as wine cellars.

During lunch, our waiter told us that "ghosts of the past often walk freely among the tables" at the Olde Pink House. 

Fortunately, today, we were not among the diners who saw them!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Charleston Cooks

I was delighted to be able to spend a little time this afternoon strolling up and down some of the streets situated near Charleston's City Market and wandering in and out of shops of special interest. One such place was Charleston Cooks, located at 192 East Bay Street.

The shop is a cook's delight - whether amateur or full-fledged chef. It is jam-packed with only the best in cooking equipment and utensils, Lowcountry cookbooks, brightly colored aprons, gourmet spices and seasonings, etc., etc., etc.

While browsing around, I saw noticed on the other side of wall of glass, a professional kitchen and classroom-style rows of tables and chairs. Obviously, cooking classes were offered there, so I inquired about them.

I learned that a demonstration class was being held on New Year's Day at 2:30 p.m. I learned that the instructor would be preparing a traditional Lowcountry New Year's Day recipes. And, most importantly, I learned there were still a few tickets available for purchase. 

I turned to my daughter, Nicole, who was shopping nearby, and asked if she'd like to take a class on our last day in Charleston. 

Without hesitation, she said, "Of course!"

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Noisy Oyster

My son, Matt, and I landed at the Charleston Airport just after noon, rushed through baggage claim and jumped in a cab.

The plan was to meet my daughter and her family at Hilton's Doubletree Suites on Church Street (our home for the next six days) as quickly as we could. They had flown in from Chicago just two hours earlier and would, undoubtedly, be ready and eager to connect and eat!

Our cab driver was friendly and most hospitable. Matt and I were enjoying a pleasant conversation with him when my cell phone rang. It was my daughter, Nicole, calling to let me know they were at the Noisy Oyster, a popular Charleston eatery just steps from our hotel. 

At my suggestion, the cabbie dropped us off at the restaurant, and within minutes (with luggage in tow), we were sitting at a high-top table diving into an oversized order of fresh, raw oysters! YUM!

When I visited Charleston for the first time - last year - I learned that a trip to Charleston can easily become "all about the food." I told the others they should be careful not to eat too much at any one meal, not to be tempted by the extensive menus that the restaurants here all seem to have. 

No one seemed to hear me. Before long, a tall stack of fried onion rings appeared on the table, followed by another order of oysters, then a huge platter of coconut shrimp, french fries and cole slaw, etc., etc., etc.

After a very lengthy lunch, we walked outside and through the city market and then on over to our hotel. Along the way, I heard complaints about the amount of food consumed and the discomforts the overeating had caused. 

I could only say, "I told you so!"

But, repeatedly, one or the other responded, "Mother, nobody goes to the Noisy Oyster to listen."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Lights Festival Parade

My daughter, Nicole, and I decided to drive into Chicago 
this afternoon to take my grandchildren - Alexandra (4) and Andrew (2) to see the 20th Annual Magnificent Mile Lights Festival Parade.

We got into town early enough to peek at a few store windows, sip on a couple of mocha lattes, do a little Christmas shopping and, finally, stop at a charming little restaurant that prized itself on its quick service and good food. Just what we needed.

The parade started at sundown and marked the official start of the holiday season. It attracted over 500,000 parade watchers - locals and visitors alike. 

Parade floats featured more than one million twinkling lights and dozens and dozens of huge helium balloons - in shapes that delighted young and old alike.

Alexandra's favorite float carried a giant, red Elmo balloon. Andrew liked the float carrying a bright green toy locomotive. Staring at it, he kept saying, "I think I can. I think I can!"

Being a collector of German, hand-carved nutcrackers, I loved seeing the float that carried a giant toy soldier. Watching it go by, I couldn't help but think about the music from The Nutcracker Ballet. Before long, the tune was in my head and refusing to leave.

Then, there were other floats that were all lit up and simply beautiful. Some featured Christmas trees in all colors and sizes; others were decorated with brilliant holiday packages. All were amazing! 

As these glorious floats passed by, the delighted adults in the crowd went crazy. All seemed to be clapping their hands, blowing horns, activating noisemakers and screaming wildly. All were happy expressions of love and approval. 

Then came the final float - carrying dear old Saint Nick. It was the one we all had been waiting for! 

Monday, August 15, 2011

New Office Space

Houston Woman Magazine has been in need of new office spaces for some time. Finding the right place has been my job, and it's been difficult.  There have been just so many things to consider.

Most important, of course, is location, location, location. The office needs to be close to downtown, close to restaurants, close to the post office and our bank and, of course, close to my home. 

I had just about given up on finding the perfect spot when a small office in a funky old building on West Gray - in the River Oaks Shopping Center - opened up. As soon as I heard about it, I called Weingarten Realty (the property owner) and asked to see it.

A nice young man met me outside the door of the vacant suite just a couple of hours later. Stepping in, I took a quick look around. First thing I noticed was all the natural light pouring in from the back wall of windows. Next, I spotted a whole wall of floor-to-ceiling, built-in shelves (discretely hidden behind two sets of double doors). 

"Ah," I thought. "An entire wall of natural light. Another wall of storage! Who knew this little bit of heaven was right over here?"

The next day, I called up that nice young man, asked him to meet with me again. I asked him to bring along a rental agreement. 

He did and, within minutes, I signed the lease and handed over the required deposit check. 

Then, I walked directly across the street - to one of my favorite restaurants -  to celebrate Houston Woman Magazine's new office AND the simple pleasures of making a really good move!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Supporting the USO

My schedule today called for an early lunch at Masraff's on Post Oak to learn more about the USO, the USO Auxiliary, local volunteers and their upcoming plans.

Filling me in on all of this were Lavonne Cox, president of the Houston Auxiliary, and Amanda Malloy, a staffer with the national organization. Amanda had flown in from her home base in Destin, FL. Her husband — on active duty in the Air Force — is stationed there.

The USO is a non-profit, private organization, chartered by Congress. It relies on the generosity of individuals and corporations to support its activities. The USO is not part of the U.S. government, but it is recognized by the Department of Defense, Congress and the President of the United States, who serves as the honorary chairman.

This afternoon, I learned the Houston Auxiliary is moving full steam ahead. Several activities are being planned for the fall and winter, including a big fund-raising dinner set for Presidents Day, 2012. I also learned the Houston Auxiliary has a Facebook page (The Houston Chapter of the USO Auxiliary) and is soliciting both friends and supporters.

I told Lavonne and Amanda they could count on me to join the Auxiliary and to help local efforts in any way I can. I promised to feature the USO in the September/October issue of Houston Woman Magazine.

Like most patriotic Americans, I strongly believe in the work of the USO and appreciate its mission — to lift the spirits of American troops and their families.

I grew up in a military family, so I am very familiar with the USO. Often, my dad has told me about how important the organization is to the men in uniform and cited examples of good deeds done all around the world —  including Bob Hope's wonderful USO Shows. (Needless to say, watching those USO shows on television when they aired at Christmastime was always must-see TV for my family.)

My dad's favorite story, though, took place at the USO Center in Washington D.C., shortly after World War II. It was there, while attending a USO dance, that he met my pretty mother!

Needless to say, that USO story is my favorite too. 


I got up early this morning to attend the summer meeting of the Houston Woman Business Book Club, a group I formed two-and-a-half years ago for purely selfish reasons.

At the time, I had been reading (and enjoying) business books for many years. But, unfortunately, I never had a lot of friends who shared my keen interest in "biz-ed."

Often I would read a great book on leadership or entrepreneurism, get inspired by the wisdom I found among its pages and, then, have no similarly inspired buddies to discuss my findings. It was always a letdown.

Finally, in January 2009, I decided to solve this problem. I organized a group of women who would meet regularly and read only business books! I figured the best of these books wouldn't be bestsellers if there weren't plenty of others out there just like me! I also figured those who would be interested in joining such a group would be the kind of people I would truly enjoy meeting and getting to know!

Needless to say, I was right on all counts.

This morning, our group met for the 24th time to discuss the 24th book on our list. (Can't you just imagine how smart we all are now?)

We met at Ouisie's Table on San Felipe for breakfast and discussion of Tina Fey's new book, Bossypants.

Members arrived early, eager to re-connect with each other and to offer their comments on the funny lady's book. All said they laughed out loud as they read Bossypants and could literally hear Fey's voice as she told her stories.

Time did not permit us to discuss everything in the book, but much was said about Fey's chapters on 1) her father Don Fey, 2) her Poseidon Adventure honeymoon, 3) Photoshop, 4) Breastfeeding for 72 hours, and 5) what she's learned about being a boss.

Most importantly, she said, "My advice to women in the workplace is this: When faced with sexism or ageism or lookism...ask yourself the following question: 'Is this person in between me and what I want to do?' If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you're in charge, don't hire the people who were jerky to you.

"If the answer is yes, you have a more difficult road ahead of you. I suggest you model your strategy after the old Sesame Street film piece 'Over! Under! Through!' ... Opinions will change when you're the boss!"

Fey also reminded us not to fret when someone calls you "bossy."

She said, "You're no one until someone calls you bossy."

That Tina Fey, she is so funny — and oh so very wise! Who knew?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lazy Sales Reps

Some days in the office of a magazine editor and publisher are more challenging than others, and I'm not talking about the work of writing or editing or generating enough revenue to keep it all going. No, the real challenge is keeping my cool when dealing with lazy, uninformed sales reps who solicit my business.

Case in point: Today, I received a call from a young woman who works for a printing company. First, she calls me up, talks so fast that I never catch her name or the name of her company. Then, she asks if her (still-a-mystery) company could print Houston Woman Magazine.

She paused to take a breath, so I was able to squeeze in this question: "Have you ever seen our magazine?"

She responds, "Well, ah, no. But, I've seen your website."

Needless to say, I was annoyed.

Without ever seeing Houston Woman Magazine how would she even know if her (still-a-mystery) company had the capabilities to print our type of magazine or handle the size of our press run?

I didn't scream at her, but I did give her unsolicited advice about the importance of "doing the homework" when one is in sales. If I embarrassed her, so be it. Somebody (maybe her boss) should be mentoring her!

Sadly, that young woman was not the first sales rep for a printing company who has called and annoyed me in the same way.

Just a few weeks ago I had a sales rep from another local printing company (this one a big, well-known one) call me up and ask if I would mail her some back issues so she "could figure out if they could do the printing."

I told her, "No, but you can order a single copy of the current issue online. The cost is $7.

Instead of saying, "Great. I'll do that and get back to you," she responded in a weak and timid voice, "I'll see if my boss will approve the expense."

I've never heard from that sales rep again, and I thank God. Dealing with clueless sales reps really tests my patience.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Afternoon Tea at the St. Regis

Members of the River Oaks Women's Breakfast Club gathered this afternoon for Afternoon Tea at the St. Regis Hotel on Briar Oaks Lane. Being part of the group - and a big fan of events of this sort - I was eager to attend and join in the fun. 

Well, which woman wouldn't be?

Afternoon Tea at the St. Regis is always a treat! The environment is lovely; the service is impeccable, and the three traditional courses - finger sandwiches, scones and desserts - are always delicious and eloquently presented. 

Our gathering was coordinated by Candace Baggett, our social chair extraordinaire. Candace picked the date, booked the tea room and worked out the details. She put the invitations together and got them out. Then, she followed up by he talking up this special event at many of our weekly meetings. As expected, many responded in the affirmative, and we filled the tea room.

Candace suggested we all show up in hats, and some of our group did just that, including one of our newest ROWBC members, Interior Designer Peggy Hull. 

Seeing Peggy and so many of our other friends (all businesswomen) dressed in printed summer dresses and wide-brimmed bonnets made such a lovely picture. If only I had thought to bring a camera!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Reality Check

Earlier today, I created a survey for Houston Woman Magazine and solicited responses (via Constant Contact) from its readers. In short, it was time for a reality check!

I wanted to give readers an opportunity to tell me how they viewed the publication I have, for seven years now, devoted so much of my time and energy. Specifically, I wanted to know if the demographic it served is as obvious to them as it should be.

I wanted to know how they first became aware of Houston Woman Magazine and how long they had been reading it. I wanted to know what immediately came to mind when they hear the name of the magazine and what they viewed as its specialty and uniqueness. I also wanted to know what I could be doing more or less to better serve them.

I had no idea how many readers would offer their opinions, but it didn't really matter. Any amount of feedback is, as Martha Stewart says, a good thing.

I was pleasantly surprised when, within a few hours, dozens of responses to my survey came in and gave me the information I sought.

I am happy to report that the readers "get it." They see Houston Woman Magazine is designed to inform, inspire and connect women, that it focuses on business and career issues, primarily, and that it is designed to be fun without fluff.

Many of the readers gave me some great ideas for future issues, and I can't wait to move forward on their suggestions.

I love working on Houston Woman Magazine. I love too that so many amazing women are paying attention — and contributing!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Gaylord Texan

My son, Matthew, and I drove from Houston to Grapevine, TX today to attend a long-awaited family reunion at the fabulous Gaylord Texan Resort.

We will be staying three nights and connecting with my 16 immediate family members who are coming from four states to celebrate the 89th birthday of my dad.

Relatives to show up soon will include my daughter, Nicole, my son-in-law, John, and my beautiful grandchildren, Alexandra and Andrew. Also coming are my two sisters, Gayle and Paula, my brother-in-law, Cy, and their children and grandchildren. It will be the first time all of us will be together (at one time and in one place) since my mother's passing three years ago. It will be a fun reunion — but also bittersweet.

Under the big glass dome of the Gaylord Texan are images familiar to those who have been to San Antonio — an Alamo facade on one of the buildings, a Mexican cafe siyuated alongside a winding river.

Our family lived in San Antonio when I was a young girl, so the reminders of that chapter of our lives are wonderful to see. Each brings back special memories for me. No doubt, the others will say the same thing when they get here!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hanging out at LAX

Though my Continental flight to Houston wasn't leaving Los Angeles until nearly 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the airport shuttle was set to pick me up at the Simpson House Inn at 9:40 a.m.

It was late enough to be able to enjoy a nice big breakfast but, alas, too early to do anything else before leaving Santa Barbara.

Instead of dwelling on how much I didn't like this schedule, I decided to focus on the opportunity to spend some time at LAX, look around and see what all was there. I was hoping, of course, to come away thinking of LAX as a really great airport — the kind that's fun to hang out in. Well...!

To me a really great airport is designed to entertain passengers and distinguished by a few key things: Directional signs are easy to find and follow. Security  lines are short. The bathrooms are clean. The restaurants are trendy and feature good, regional fare. Retail shops are plentiful and sell both national brands and local specialities.

I was flying out of Terminal 6, so it is my point of reference. What I found there is the reason I do not, at this moment, consider LAX a great airport.

The terminal was old and tired-looking. Fortunately, it was undergoing a much-needed, major renovation, But, getting around the construction was difficult. Finding the which-way-to-go signs was too. The bathrooms were unkept, as if abandoned. There were no stores to shop in.

The options for dining were limited. I had hoped to find a good locally owned restaurant and dine leisurely on something that included fresh fruits and vegetables. Instead, I had to settle for an Italian BMT on whole wheat from Subway. The sandwich was good, and it satisfied my need for nourishment. But, what a missed opportunity!

I can only hope things change soon at Terminal 6. Right now, the place is depressing — and just not any fun to hang out in.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Santa Barbara Sites

Santa Barbara Courthouse
Several years ago, a copy of a beautiful coffee table book on Santa Barbara showed up on my desk. The writing was done by Barnaby Conrad; the photo-graphy was the art of Marc Muench. I knew neither of the men, but their collaborative effort sparked a desire in me to travel to Santa Barbara and take in all the beautiful sites I could.

State Street in Old Town
Santa Barbara Mission
Naturally, I was eager to see Santa Barbara's Pacific coastline and its heralded harbor — home of hundreds of large boats and yachts. I looked forward to walking down historic State Street and strolling in and out of the small boutiques and restaurants. I couldn't wait to see the red tile roofs of the homes and public buildings, especially the really old ones — built two and three centuries ago.

I had seen pictures of the Santa Barbara Mission, for example, and knew it dated back to 1786. Seeing it (inside and out) was high on my list of priority stops. So too was the Santa Barbara Courthouse — considered by many to be the most beautiful courthouse in America. I could imagine the interiors of both — original Spanish tile work! I could imagine praying in the mission and showing up for jury duty at the courthouse.

Today's agenda was perfect. It permitted me to see all these sites and more. It permitted me to enjoy a most beautiful and memorable city! It gave me lots of great experiences to share with the readers of Houston Woman Magazine later on, when it's time to pen the story I came here to write.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Dinner at the Wine Cask

Doug and Mitchell
I connected with other travel writers and our hosts from Santa Barbara about 7 o'clock at the Wine Cask restaurant for what turned out to be a delightful evening of great food and wine.

The Wine Cask, located in downtown Santa Barbara in the El Paseo complex, is a popular gathering spot, well-known for its style and atmosphere, excellent service and creative, farm-to-table menus.
Chef Brandon Hughes
We gathered first in the tasting room and met owners Doug Margerum and Mitchell Sjerven. Both were friendly and engaging. They educated us about the history of the place and inroduced us, via a series of tastings, to Doug's namesake Margerum wines. My favorite was his M5 (a Rhône-styled red blend). I was delighted to learn that the M5 is available at Spec's in Houston.

We also met and chatted with Chef Brandon Hughes prior to experiencing one of the highly praised Chef's Table Dinners in the main dining room.

By talking to the chef, I learned that some of his training had taken place in Houston — at Tony's. I couldn't help but think, "small world."

Apparently, the thought stayed with me. For the rest of the evening the song, "Small World," was singing in my head.

Demetria Estate

Demetria Estate
The last stop on the Sustain-able Vine Wine Tour today was at the lovely Demetria Estate, a family-owned winery founded in 2005.

Getting to the winery was inter-esting. It called for a long drive to a hilltop and  maneuvering delicately up and around a narrow winding road. At its end, we found ourselves perched high above the beautiful vine-filled valley below.

The building on the property was as lovely as it could be. It featured sun-colored stucco walls, arched doorways and rich touches of stained wood throughout. To its left was an outside terrace for simply sitting and sipping wine.

While there, we met both John Zahoudanis, the owner of Demetria Estate; and Michael Roth, the winemaker.

From John, we learned a lot about his long-time interest in owning a vineyard and making wine. We also learned Demetria Estate was named for his daughter.

John and Michael
Michael led us on a tour of the winery and told us a lot about the Demetria Estate wines and himself, including how he came to be the accomplished winemaker he is today.

He told us that Demetria Estate produces two "separate portfolios" of wine, including Burgundian varietals and Rhone-style blends. He explained that "the Burgundian offerings comprise of manifestations of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc."

He told us about the Rhone blends too. These are farmed biodynamically on the estate vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley.

The red Rhone blends are styled after the famous Chateauneuf du Pape in the Southern Rhone region of France. They are made from varieties of Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache. The white Rhone wines are blends of Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc.

To enjoy all of these Demetria Estate wines, we sat at a long rectangular table on the terrace. There we were able to fully appreciate the beauty of the scene and share our thoughts on a whole lot of very good wine!

Ampelos Cellars & Vineyards

The second stop on our Sustainable Vine Wine Tour today was at the Ampelos Cellars & Vineyards, situated on one of the loveliest rolling hills in the area.

Important to note: Ampelos was the first vineyard in Santa Barbara County and one of the first in the United States to receive all three certifications — sustainability in practice, organic and biodynamic.

Ampelos, which translates to "vine" in Greek, is owned and operated by Peter and Rebecca Work, former corporate types who gave up one life to pursue one that was "a dream come true."

The Works planted the initial 15-acre vineyard in 2001, with10 acres of Pinot Noir (clone 115 and Pommard) and five acres of Syrah (Estrella and 99) and about one-fifth acre of Viognier in a classic Rhône  tradition.

In 2004, the couple expanded the vineyards and selected eight separate, small areas on the property to plant 10 additional acres, lovingly called "baby blocks." The Works continued their focus on Pinot Noir and Syrah but added a small block of Grenache. In 2008, another adjustment was made. The Works grafted the one acre of Syrah clone 99 over to Grenache.

This morning, Peter led us around the vineyards, stopping often to tell us about some of the technicalities of growing grapes in harmony with nature. We learned about why rows and vines are spaced as they are, how the planting area is kept clear of weeds, how the vines are carefully pruned by hand, etc. Fascinating!

Mid-day we all sat around a long table under a big shade tree and enjoyed a gourmet picnic lunch, all the while tasting more and more of the Ampelos wines.

I couldn't help but pause and reflect as I sat there: "I can't think of anything in the world more delightful to be doing on such a bright and beautiful spring day! Gosh, I love my job!"