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Vineyard 511

From Hollywood to Vine with Vineyard {511}

Adventures in Wine, Food, Film and Travel

Irene Ojdana
May 20, 2019 | Irene Ojdana

Spain and Portugal Douro River Wine Cruise

In April, Ed and I took an AmaWaterways wine cruise on the Douro River, in Portugal's stunning Douro Valley. In order to get to the cruise, we flew into Spain's capital, Madrid, and stayed there for three nights to enjoy the city.

On our first night there, we at Restaurante Botin (founded in 1725). It's the oldest consecutively open restaurant in the world, according to The Guiness Book of World Records. We ordered the suckling pig (so popular in Madrid), which was roasted in the restaurant's original ovens to a golden crispness on the outside and milky tenderness on the inside.


After dinner, we toured Botin's ancient wine cellar.


The next day, we visited Madrid's famous Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, where its famous bull ring is situated and which dates back to 1929. The outdoor sculpture there depicts the bravura of the bullfighter.


On our last night in Madrid, we and our friends were lucky to score the chef's kitchen table at the Michelin-starred A'Barra Restaurante for a 21st Century meal paired with both Spanish and French Wines, including Rioja and Bordeaux.




After our too-short, 3-day stay in Madrid, we boarded the ship on the Douro River on the Spanish border. The cruise was hosted by the Dry Creek Winegrowers Association of Sonoma. Some of our friends had signed up, so we said "all aboard!"

Ed and I had visited the Douro Valley before, but wanted to see its magnificant scenery again. Deep gorges alternate with tranquil valleys (mostly unpopulated, which we loved). Terraces on both sides of the river run down to rocky hillsides planted with vines.



The Douro River rises in Northeastern Spain and flows in a westerly direction for 360 miles. For the next 70 miles it forms its border with Spain and then, for its only navigable stretch--the part which formed our cruise-- cuts across Portugal for 130 miles to reach the Atlantic at Porto.                                                              

The first morning of our cruise landed us in Pinhao, in the heart of the prime port-producing region. There we discovered the Pinhao railway station, with its series of 24 fine blue and white tile murals, illustrating the history of winemaking and the culture of the area.



The train station, built in 1879, replaced the flat-bottomed boats that were previously used to carry wine in casks from quintas (wine-growing estates) downstream to Porto.


Now the wine is transported by tanker trucks.

During our cruise, we visited quintas for wine tasting, such as Quinta da Avessada, in the village of Favaios. There the "winegrower," with the nickname 'Mr. Bean" because of his resemblance to the actor, told us about the emphasis on preserving the unspoiled landscape of the Douro wine region.


During another tasting, this time in Guimares, we sampled a very nice wine, new to us, called Vinho Verde. Although the name translates as green wine, it's usually drunk as a white wine. It's young, being released 3-6 months after harvest. It has a slight effervescence from the added carbonation.


When Ed and I were much younger, we drank very inexpensive Mateus Rose wine out of round, squat bottles from Portugal. Who knew that the Mateus family owned an enchanting palace surrounded by extensive gardens, just outside of Vila Real, Portugal?                                                              


On our last day of cruising the Douro, we toured the city of Porto, the second largest city in Portugal, behind Lisbon. We took a cable car up a hill to Pont-Dom Luis, a bridge designed by a colleague of Gustav Eiffel in 1886. The bridge connects Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia, where port wine tasting rooms and storage facilities are located. From up there, we had dizzying views of the city below.


We are now ready for our next wine cruise of the Bordeaux wine region. 'Till then.............


























Time Posted: May 20, 2019 at 5:30 PM
Irene Ojdana
May 12, 2019 | Irene Ojdana

NVFF Screens "Wine Country" The Movie

The Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF) recently held a pre-release screening of the film "Wine Country," at Napa Valley's Cameo Theater, in Saint Helena, for the Patrons of the NVFF. The Festival invited its Patrons to a reception held just prior to the screening at the very nearby Martin art gallery. Among the contemporary art work there, including the remains of a gargantuan dinasaur (having recently sold for $3 million), patrons nibbled on non-dinasaur treats.


"Wine Country," a Netflix comedy, was written, produced and directed by Amy Poehler (SNL). It's about five women (including Poehler and other former SNL cast members Maya Rudolf, Rachael Dratch and Ana Gasteyer), who take a trip to Napa Valley to celebrate one of the five's fiftieth birthday. The film was shot at Napa wineries, including Artesia, in Carneros, and Quintessa, in Calistoga, and in and around the Valley, especially in my town of Calistoga.


The film was sweet, raunchy and entertaining, ala SNL.                                                       




Time Posted: May 12, 2019 at 6:00 PM
Irene Ojdana
May 12, 2019 | Irene Ojdana

San Francisco Food & Wine Society Luncheon

Ed and I recently attended a San Francisco Food and Wine Society luncheon at the wonderful restaurant of Auberge, in Napa Valley's Rutherford. After a delightful reception on the terrace overlooking the beautiful Napa Valley, we went inside for very special food and wine paired luncheon.


My favorite wine was the full-bodied 2012 DuMol, Ryan, Pinot Noir, and my favorite dishes were the Kurobuta pork chop


for the main course, and the ultra light yuzu posset angel food cake with mandarins and mandarin sorbet for dessert.


Of course, the best part of any event is sharing it with good friends.


                                                      Belinda Irons, Irene Ojdana, Peter Rossler, Ed Ojdana









Time Posted: May 12, 2019 at 4:30 PM
Irene Ojdana
May 12, 2019 | Irene Ojdana

Jonathan Club Tasting

Ed and I poured our wines recently at the two locations of the Jonathan Club, a private social club with Santa Monica Beach and Downtown Los Angeles locations.

The downtown location is in a lovely old building, which dates back to 1894. The beach location, less formal,  was added more recently. The club was originally a male-only organization, but voted to add women in 1987 and now has 650 female members.  Prior to admitting women, in a position I held to place graduates of the Job Corps Training Program in jobs, I visited the downtown location for that purpose. Unfortunately, I had to ride up to the club office in the freight elevator because only men could use the regular elevators. This time around, I finally made it to the main elevator!

                                                                    Ed Pouring 2014 Vineyard {511}

                                                                Napa Valley Diamond Mountain District

                                                                            Cabernet Sauvignon

                                                                      Jonathan Club Santa Monica Beach


Time Posted: May 12, 2019 at 10:00 AM
Irene Ojdana
May 11, 2019 | Irene Ojdana

Tasting at Charles Krug

Ed and I were able to have a reunion with friends we had met while on safari in East Africa. As I mentioned in my previous blog, "Out of Africa," we were in a group of five people (including ourselves) in Africa, and we were surprised to learn that two of the five--Katherine Gard and Tom Furlong--were from the neighboring Napa Valley town of Yountville.

So the four of us caught up at a wine tasting I arranged for us at the Charles Krug winery with other friends of ours, owners Katie and Peter Mondavi.


                                                          Tom, Elizabeth, Ed, Katie, Irene and Peter

The Mondavis put on a wonderful tasting, tour, and pizza lunch for us at the beautiful Charles Krug, the oldest winery in Napa Valley. The winery dates back to 1882, when Charles Krug opened it for public tastings. There we tasted some wonderful wines that included a 2016 Merlot, 2014 X Clones, 2015 Voltz, and 2015 Cold Springs.

Our tour included one of their huge barrel rooms, where we saw their "Big Red" immense, old oak barrel, which dates back to 1944.


Now that's a barrel!




Time Posted: May 11, 2019 at 5:00 PM
Irene Ojdana
May 1, 2019 | Irene Ojdana

Notre Dame University Symposium on National and Global Affairs

Every other year, Ed and I attend a symposium on National and Global Affairs put on by Notre Dame University (of which Ed is an alumnus), in Washington D.C. We look forward to this event because we get to hear from the leaders of our country about the state of the union and the world in such interesting venues. We heard from speakers from both sides of the aisle. In the past, we've heard from Hilary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, Paul Ryan and John McCain.

                                                                                  NOTRE DAME INSIGHT & OUTLOOK

                                                                                 ON NATIONAL AND GLOBAL AFFAIRS


This year, some of the distinguished speakers were Vice President Mike Pence (heard in the Ronald Regan Building and International Trade Center); Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (heard in the Smithsonian National African American Museum of History and Culture); Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-MN (heard in the United States Institute of Peace); Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, IN.; Lindsay Graham, Senator R-SC; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; and United States Attorney General William Barr, (all heard in the Andrew Mellon Auditorium).

                                                                                               NANCY PELOSI



                                                                                             MITCHELL MCCONNELL



                                                                                           PETE BUTTIGIEG (ON RIGHT)


At this writing, and at very contentious political times, Senator Amy Klobuchar and Mayor Pete Buttigieg have both thrown in their hats to run in the Democratic primary for President of the United States. Only time will tell.

While in Washington D.C., Ed and I got in some time for culture at the Hirshhorn Museum, on the National Mall, where we viewed a hilarious sculpture by Jimmie Durham, an American artist from Arkansas, made out of a car and volcanic stone and acrylic paint, dated 2007. Perhaps the sculpture depicted the contentious political times.


However, we even were lucky enough to catch the cherry blossoms!


They always lighten the political mood!










Time Posted: May 1, 2019 at 5:07 PM
Irene Ojdana
May 1, 2019 | Irene Ojdana

Out of Africa

Although our February trip to East Africa had nothing to do with wine, we experienced the most magnificant animals, up close and personal. We took a zillion photos while in Kenya and Tanzania, but just want to share a few that recall some of the wonderful encounters and spectacular sights we experienced.

                                                                       WELCOME TO KENYA


On our first game drive out we came upon this amazing creature just sittin' in a tree!


                                                                                              LEOPARD IN CENTRAL MERU



     Later that night we came upon two lions.

                                                                                      LIONS SPOONING IN THE MOONLIGHT


The next day, we spotted several baby lions curled up in a tree. Who knew that lions climbed up into trees? I didn't.




We visited a Maasai village in the Serengeti National Park.  Originating from Kenya, the Maasai are among the more well-known African tribes, like the Zulu and the Bantu, due to their more distinguishing customs and homes near popular game reserves in East Africa. A Maasai warrior invited us into his mud hut, called a boma, to meet his wife and child.


                                                                                                     MAASAI WARRIOR



                                                                                           MAASAI MOTHER AND CHILD



One of the places in which we stayed was Richard Branson's beautiful tented camp in Narok in the Rift Valley.


                                                                                     RICHARD BRANSON'S TENTED CAMP



Did you know that giraffes are the tallest land animals in the world? And so graceful! Unfortunately, they are beginning to become scarce and may soon be designated an endangered species.


                                                                                                 GIRAFFES IN NAROK



                                                                               HIPPOS IN THE SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK



Oh boy, did this surprise us!


                                                                                        CHEETAH ON SAFARI VEHICLE




Instead of zip lining, we swayed over nine suspension bridges in the Nanyara National Park.




                                                                                THE RIM OF THE NGORONGORO CRATER



                                                                 MAASAI VILLAGE IN THE NGORONGORO CONSERVATION AREA






                                                            FAREWELL LUNCH IN THE BUSH PRESENTED BY THE FOUR SEASONS HOTEL

                                                                                 NGORONGORO CONSERVATION AREA


The other couple in our small group of 5 we discovered was from another Napa Valley town-- Yountville-- of all places. Now we can easily continue the friendships we formed in Africa.











Time Posted: May 1, 2019 at 3:30 PM
Irene Ojdana
December 9, 2018 | Irene Ojdana

Napa Valley Vintners 2018 Vintage Celebration

Earlier this week, Ed and I attended a Napa Valley Vintners Association Celebration of the 2018 Vintage. Held at the To Kalon Cellar at Robert Mondavi Winery, the event was held in lieu of a holiday party to celebrate Napa Valley's excellence in winemaking. When we arrived, we saw a large sign over a long table that said Juice Bar, which we thought was highly unusual for a Winemakers Tasting. However, what we found there were sample wines from 2018 straight from the barrel.


When we wandered beyond the Juice Bar, we found a winetasting of the vintners' most inspiring vintages.


Following the winetasting, we broke bread at a delicious family style lunch, where we shared harvest stories and raised glasses (more winetasting!) to celebrate the 2018 wines now in the cellar. And what a terrific and plentiful vintage it was.


We'll all be taking a short and well-earned breather, enjoying the holidays, before getting ready for 2019. Happy holidays!




Time Posted: Dec 9, 2018 at 4:15 PM
Irene Ojdana
December 5, 2018 | Irene Ojdana

Wine Cruising

At the end of October, Ed and I took the first of three wine cruises we have planned. The first  was on the Sea Dream Yacht Club in Spain, and the next two will be in Portugal, in April, and Bordeaux, in August, about which I promise to blog.

We picked up the first in wonderful Barcelona, where we got to check out the famous and fanciful Gaudi Cathedral--Sagrada Familia--to see its progress in completion. It's still under construction after 137 years-only 70% finished.

                                                                                              On our one evening in Barcelona before picking up the cruise the next day, we got to drink some lovely Priorat wine from a mountainous area southwest of Barcelona, which Ed and I had previously visited. Since our last visit, the wines of Priorat have become more well-known and more expensive. Priorat is a Catalan wine-producing region, that was totally abandoned until the early 1900's. It has gone through a renaissance, producing wines with a nose of red and black plum, black cherry and cassis, and with accents of bold fruit flavors.





The next day, from the port in Barcelona, we boarded the Sea Dream Yacht Club--a small ship of under 100 guests.


There were only 81 guests for this sailing--an intimate setting--where we all could get to know one another.  In fact, can you believe we discovered there were two other Napa Valley vintner couples on the ship from Calistoga: Saddleback's winemaker Nils Venge, there on his honeymoon, and Seth Gersch and Alisa Gean, MD., proprietors of Hindsight Vineyards! We got to know them all and shared a fun wine dinner, where we all contributed our wines.


On the ship we experienced tastings of Torello Cava. Torellos have an impressive history dating back to the 1300's and, today, they are famous for producing some of the best Spanish "champagnes." We also had a tasting on board of Bodegas Rey Fernando De Castiilla sherry. The varietal is often misunderstood, something that is thought of as sweet and only drunk by old ladies. In the tasting we learned how sherry can be paired with most food.

The winery we most enjoyed on land was in Ronda--Descalzos Viejos (the aged barefoot monks),--which was founded in 2000 and specially restored for winemaking. It is situated in the chapel of a sixteenth-century monestary.



Perched on the higher slopes of the Tajo of Ronda gorge, they make wine from about 2.5 acres of vineyards on the property. Its wines were very enjoyable, and we brought some back to Diamond Mountain to enjoy again.

At the end of the cruise, which disembarked in Malaga on the Costa del Sol, Spain's west coast, Ed and I decided to extend our stay and fly on to Marrakech, Morocco, which is considered to be a happening place. It is in the spotlight now, thanks to the new Musee Yves Saint Laurent and Marjorelle Garden, owned by Saint Laurent's estate. Purchased from the painter Jacques Marjorelle, the garden is adorned with Majorelle blue, the color named for him.


Marrakech is an exotic place to explore, especially its medina and souks, a labyrinth of markets with an incredible profusion of local crafts, foods, spices, and snake charmers. I didn't get too close to the snakes, but enjoyed watching craftsmen creating their wares and men selling delicious dried fruits.                                                                                        



We also discovered some of the best wines of Morroco during a wine tasting at our hotel La Mamounia. (Who knew that Morocco even made wine?) The tasting took place in an exotic, animal-skinned-decorated bar called Churchill's, which hasn't been changed or renovated since Churchill drank there in the mid-20th Century. The wines were displayed on an old maroon-colored piano.


Some of the wines we enjoyed were the grand cru Les Coteaux de L'Atlas; d'Argan from Perle Grise de Mogador, from Domaine du Val d'Argan; and the 2016 Icone from Cuvee la Mamounia (our hotel's own). 

We ended our trip to Morocco with a stay at Kasbah Tamadot, Richard Branson's retreat in the High Atlas Mountains. Kasbah Tamadot employs local Berber staff from the surrounding villages, giving guests a sense of staying in a Moroccan home rather than a hotel. We had a terrific hike through Berber villages with a Berber guide, where we stopped for mint tea, not wine.


However, we will be reporting back to you about our next two wine cruises in Portugal's Douro Valley and France's Bordeaux region. Until then...........












Time Posted: Dec 5, 2018 at 2:00 PM
Irene Ojdana
November 30, 2018 | Irene Ojdana

Napa Valley Film Festival 2018

After our cruise to Spain and our exploration of Marrakech, we raced back home for the 8th Annual Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF). As founding patrons of the Festival, Ed and I had even participated in its first teaser year (so there were actually nine NVFFs). Its mission is to support the cinematic arts and enrich the community by presenting an annual world-class festival and year-round education and outreach programs. And this year, what a world class jobit did, with more than 100 screenings of new independent films in 5 days!

We saw fabulous films such as The Front Runner, which followed the rise and fall of Senator Gary Hart. Hart was played by Hugh Jackman, who did a great job in portraying Hart's fall from grace from a publicized extra-marital affair. And from it his subsequent loss of the 1988 Democratic nomination for President (for which he was considered the front runner).

Another favorite was funny Green Book, starring Viggo Mortensen, who played a garrulous Italian-American bouncer hired to drive African-American world-class jazz pianist Don Shirley on a concert tour from Manhattan throughout the Deep South. Don Shirley could only stay in hotels listed in a green book that allowed black guests. Mortensen must have gained 30 pounds to portray the over-eating driver stuffing his mouth with large pizza slices while bonding with the more circumspect musician. The screenplay was written by the driver's son, who in a Q&A following the screening of the film, recounted how he remembered every word his garrulous father told him about the trip.

A documentary, Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, looked at what drove the incredible Williams to give voice to the countless characters in his mind. And another documentary, Hesburgh, provided a glimpse at more that 50 years of history through the eyes of the Catholic priest/President of Notre Dame University/Head of the Civil Rights Commission, who defied President Richard Nixon with his stands on civil rights. Ed is a Notre Dame alum and was at the University during Hesburgh's tenure there, so really appreciated the film.

Ed and I enjoy talking with the actors and directors who are either in the films we see at the Festival or who are provided tributes. We chatted with Lawrence Fishburne III ("Fish")


and with Billy Bob Thornton about his guitar playing.



Forgive me for stating the obvious, but you can’t have a festival in Wine Country without copious amounts of wine, and it flowed throughout the NVFF, with 150 participating wineries. Wine was available for purchase at selected screenings, but one of the best opportunities to get a total taste of Napa was to take a wine tasting break at either the Downtown Napa Intermission at the “Down Valley Hub” or the St. Helena Wine Pavilion at the “Upvalley Hub” at Farmstead/ Long Meadow Ranch. And did I mention wine dinners through the Vintner Circle? Members of the Patron Circle were able to enjoy dinners pairing world-class wines with foods prepared by award-winning chefs at 20 wineries throughout the valley. Filmmakers were also at these dinners to share conversation about their films.

Ed and I chatted with Geena Davis about movie distribution at cocktails and while we sat across the table from her at the Movie Mogul dinner at Meadowood. The dinner followed her new documentary, This Changes Everything, about gender inequality in Hollywood, and following a Visionary tribute to her about the issue.


At the dinner, I sat next to Taissa Farmiga (kid sister of Vera). Taissa can currently be seen in The Nun and in What They Had. When I started talking to her, I thought I was sitting next to Vera Farmiga, who looks just like her.


Taissa was part of the Festival's Rising Star Showcase.

Ed sat next to Alice Eve (Star Wars) who, along with Billy Bob Thornton and Laurence Fishburne III, received Celebrity Tributes.


Alice also came to our place the next day for a wine tasting with her boyfriend Ollie and joined our wine club.


Now, we are looking forward to the 2019 Festival!































Time Posted: Nov 30, 2018 at 11:46 AM