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Vineyard 511

From Hollywood to Vine with Vineyard {511}

Adventures in Wine, Food, Film and Travel

Irene Ojdana
September 14, 2016 | Irene Ojdana

Revisiting St. Petersburg, Russia; and Helsinki, Finland

After our long weekend in Iceland, Ed and I headed to St. Petersburg, Russia, where we had been on our honeymoon 18 years ago. Then, we only spent a couple of days there as a shore exursion on a Baltic country cruise. This time we spent 6 days and found an entirely different city. The first time around, no one smiled and remnants of the worst of the Soviet Union were all around. This time we found a vibrant, cosmopolitan city, with lots of people on the street, hurrying to shop or eat at fine restaurants. And there was advertising all around.

After a late arrival at our Four Seasons Lion Palace Hotel, we had dinner at Percoso, its great Italian restaurant. A highlight of the meal was an inventive, delicious and decadent dessert called my grandmother's teacup, with ice cream and chocolate floating out of a teacup. When we at at the Cococo at the W Hotel on our last night in St. Petersburg, we also had a similar, creative dessert called my grandmother's flower pot. Russians (like me) like their desserts!

Then, the next morning, we were off to bed to rest up for a special early entry in the Hermitage museum, one hour before it was open to the public. The visit took us back to another world: a time when Catherine the Great commissioned whole buildings to house an ever-growing collection of the world's finest art. The former Winter Palace now spans just about every artistic period from Greek and Roman collecitons to Matisse. This museum holds the largest collection of art in the world. Among so many wonderful works of art, I loved the only Michaelangelo in the museum -- a sculpture of a crouching man and Naiad -- and a lovely oil on canvas of a long-haired nude woman swimming gracefully in the ocean, by Henri Fantin-Latour (1896).

St. Petersburg, Russia, Hermitage Museum

Outside the Hermitage, we were surprised to see men and women in blue sailors' outfits, waving blue flags and balloons, in honor of Russia's Air Force Day.

That afternoon, after a visit to St. Isaac's Cathedral, with its malachite and lapis lazuli columns, we ended our day with a visit to the brand new Russian Vodka Museum, located in the historical building of the Horse Guard Regiment Headquarters and Stables. There Ed did vodka shots with some of the veterans of the Russian Air Force celebrating Russia's Air Force Day. Ed certainly had to have a careful tasting of many different brands of vodka in order to celebrate the Russian holiday properly!

St. Petersburg, Russia, Vodka Museum

The next day, we drove out to the Russian countryside Catherine Palace, one of the city's most elegant and beautiful palaces. It was originally designed in the 1750s in the Rococo style by the famous architect Rastrelli (also designed many of St. Petersburg's grandest buildings, such as the Winter Palace). Catherine the Great remodeled it in the Neo-Classical style and, after her death. it remained largely unchanged for over a century until the Second World War, when the Nazi army, retreating after the unsuccessful siege of Leningrad (no called St. Petesburg again) destroyed the palace almost completely. After the war , the magnificent palace and its interiors were thorought and painstakingly rebuilt, but renovations at some part still continue.

While at Catherine Palace, we visited the fabulous Amber Room and amber workshops, where craftsmen rebuilt the wonderful amber panels lost in World War 11. The artisan explained how each panel was painstakingly recreated.

On our way back into the city, we took a boat tour of the canals of St. Petersburg, canals which were modeled after the charming canals of Amsterdam, as Peter the Great was a big fan of Amsterdam, as we are.

That evening we met up with our friends from California who were visiting St. Petersburg at the same time as we were. This great coincidence led to a terrific meal with them at Mamaliga, high above the city, with a great view all around, and an open kitchen.

The next day, Ed and I had equal time for the Russian Orthodox religion and the Jewish religion. We visited the Church on Spilled Blood  (named that way as it stands on the spot that Emperor Alexander 11 was assassinated in 1881), and visited St. Petersburg's beautiful and newly restored Grand Choral Synagogue, one of the largest in Europe. The church is the only one in the world covered completely inside and out by mosaices of tiles and precious and semi-precious stones. The synagogue, in the Moorish style, is still the center of Jewish life in the city.

On our last full day in St. Petersburg, we headed out to Peter the Great's summer palace, Peterof, to see the palaces' countless fountains and gardens. Peterhof Palace is often called the Russian Versailles due to the prominence of the fountains and gardens. The baroque palace, which overlooks them, is ornate, and we couldn't help think that all the over-the-top gold decorated rooms of Peterof, Catherine Palace and the Hermitage, was why there was a Russian Revolution. In addition to a very interesting visit underneath the fountains to learn of their remarkable engineering and history, we had a lovely lunch in the gardens.

St. Petersburg, Russia, Peterof Palace

We finished off this terrific day at Cococo, the restaurant at the W Hotel, where the fun looking room was decorated with chandeliers topped off with -- get this--chicken feathers, instead of candles. How about that?

On the way to the airport on our last day, we visited the War Memorial dedicated to the Russian soldiers who died in World War 11 and the struggles endured by the people of the city during the war--a somewhat sad way to end our visit. However, we did get to visit a boutique food shop, which featured colorful chocolate shoes. Wear them or eat them?

St. Petersburg, Russia, Chocolate Shoes

On our way home, we had a one-day stop over in Helsinki, Finland--a short, but sweet visit. Some of the highlights of our visit included a visit to a temple dedicated to meditation, a church in a cave, a restaurant with a wonderful sunset view of the Helsinki harbor, and a visit to the farmer's market for a snack of homemade waffles. Yum. We took a pass on the reindeer hot dog!

Helsinki, Finland, Hot Dogs

Time Posted: Sep 14, 2016 at 10:26 PM
Irene Ojdana
August 30, 2016 | Irene Ojdana

Sun Valley Wine Auction

For the first time, Ed and I recently participated in the 35th Annual Sun Valley Wine Auction weekend, held in the mountains of beautiful Sun Valley, Idaho. The event, a fundraiser for the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, brought in almost $1.4 million.

Sun Valley Wine Auction 2016

Checking into our hotel, the Knob Hill Inn, we asked for a quiet room. When we looked out of the window in the room, we saw what we wished for: we were facing a very quiet cemetery. Who knew that Ernest Hemingway was buried there? We visited the grave and saw people had left liquor  bottles, hats, and other mementos. Our room and the service at this hotel were terrific, and we'd recommend the hotel to anyone visiting Sun Valley.

Hemingway's Grave in Sun Valley, Idaho

To kick off a much-less-quiet weekend, we attended at a magnum pig roast at the gorgeous Flaherty residence (hosted by Tim Flaherty and Rob McGowan), for vineyard owners and winemakers, as well as for major supporters of the Festival. We had a chance to schmooze with both new and old friends, including our Calistoga neighbor Suzanne Phifer Pavitt, proprietor of Phifer Pavitt Wine. We all brought a magnum of our wine, so there was no shortage of great wine to pair with the delicious roasted pig. We were also entertained by Hawaiian hula dancers.

Sun Valley Wine Auction 2016 Pig Roast

The next evening, we had dinner at the home of our good friend and Ed's Notre Dame University classmate Peter Hendricks, Mayor of Sun Valley. Peter is married to Lisa-Marie Allen, who is a four-time U.S. national figure skating medalist and competed in the 1984 Winter Olympics. She now coaches and judges skating competitions, and whom we finally got to meet. Peter cooked up some great steaks that night.

The Wine Auction Gala finally arrived Friday evening under a tent at Dollar Mountain Lodge, where the bidding for fabulous auction lots proceeded fast and furiously. We had a great dinner and our wine at a table Vineyard {511} sponsored. Lively entertainment was provided by country band Silverado Pick-ups, straight out of Napa Valley, with musicians/winery proprietors like David Duncan of Silver Oak Cellars and Jeff Gargiulo of Gargiulo Vineyards.

The next two days Ed and I poured our wine at tastings for both the trade and attendees, picniced with tapas provided by local restaurants, and ended our stay at a great brunch before heading back to California. We are looking forward to participating in this fun charitable event next summer!

Time Posted: Aug 30, 2016 at 2:00 PM
Irene Ojdana
August 30, 2016 | Irene Ojdana

A Long Weekend in Iceland

For the last 18 years, Ed and I have travelled to a new destination for a long weekend with 2 other couples. We take turns planning the trip each year. This year, Ed and I put the trip together, and it turned out great. The litmus test for this is that we are still friends with the two other couples.

Our main base of operations was Iceland's most populated ciy, Reykjavic (population 120,000), from which we took day trips to glaciers and volcanos, as well as to sculpture gardens. Reykjavic is an extremely lively town, and, in what is their summer (mid 60's F), sunbathers and picnickers fill Austurvollur, the green square across from our Hotel Borg, and sit in outdoor cafes drinking their great, strong coffee and beer. We checked out the town, did some great shopping and scarfed down the famous Icelandic hot dogs. Yum.

Eating hotdogs in Iceland!

We also toured the gorgeous, futuristic-looking Harpa Concert Hall. Designed in 2011, its facade is multifaceted glass panels, which reflect the outside light off the harbor. It is home to the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and Icelandic Opera.

Harpa Concert Hall in Iceland

For our out-of-city exursions, we were met at our hotel by an Icelandic guide with a Santa Claus beard, Bermuda shorts and Eagles' t-shirt. In this outfit, he drove us in a super jeep with wheels almost as tall as I am to the Langjokull Glacier. It was windy and cold, but walking on the glacier was amazing! This was the most ice we saw.

Glacier in Iceland

Glacier Landscape in Iceland

We also saw amazing waterfalls and volcanos in the Thorsmork Valley.

Volcano in Iceland

We also had to eat, and Reykjavic is also known for its gourmet restaurants; we tried a new one every night. We ate lots of local fish and lamb at Fishmarket, Grillmarket and Fish Company, but the most dramatic and unusual was Perlan, which sits on a rotating platform, as well as sits on the city's hot water storage tanks. It has an expansive dome on top, which can be seen for miles. As we ate a delicious dinner there, we saw changing panoramic views of Reykjavic as the platform revolved. A great experience to end our long, but not-so-icy weekend.

Perlan Restaurant in Iceland

Time Posted: Aug 30, 2016 at 10:21 AM
Irene Ojdana
July 28, 2016 | Irene Ojdana

Diana Ross at the Hollywood Bowl

A week ago, Ed and I were fortunate to see Diana Ross in concert at the Hollywood Bowl. And, boy was she fantastic. To start, after being introduced by her daughter Tracee, she made a dramatic entrance on a swing from the top rear of the stage down to the front-center of the stage, singing "I'm Coming Out." During the evening, she sang many of her hits, including "Baby Love," "You Can't Hurry Love," and "Stop in the Name of Love." She dedicated "Good Morning Heartache" to Gordy Berry, her former love and Motown boss and, when she sang "Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand," the audience linked hands, swaying to the inspiring, soft sounds. Ross, the glamour queen, graced the stage with at least four incredible, flowing outfits--red, turquoise, gold, and black--that, along with her final song--"I Will Survive," helped us remember that her songs will last forever.

Diana Ross at the Hollywood Bowl

Time Posted: Jul 28, 2016 at 9:00 AM
Irene Ojdana
July 7, 2016 | Irene Ojdana

American Fine Wine Awards Presentation

On June 30, Ed and I attended one of the best wine receptions of the year: The American Fine Wine Invitational Gold and Double-Gold Medal presentation. (The competition was held earlier this year in Florida.) At the reception, Ed and I were presented with our double-gold medal by American Fine Wine Competition Chief Judge Monty Preiser. (See photo of Ed and me holding the gold piece.) We mingled with some of the best wine folks in Napa Valley and schmoozed with other double-gold winners Ron and Sue-Marie Haber, of Haber Family Vineyards, and JoAnn Truchard of Truchard Vineyards.

American Fine Wine Gold Medal Presentation

The event was held at the beautiful Eleven Eleven Winery, in Napa, where we snacked on some great chicken sliders and mac n cheese fritters, created by Marks The Spot Fine Food Catering; the hors d'oeuvres were paired with all the gold- and double-gold medal winning wines. So much wine, so little time.

American Fine Wine Gold Medal Presentation Party

Time Posted: Jul 7, 2016 at 5:38 PM
Ed Ojdana
June 27, 2016 | Ed Ojdana

Notre Dame Family Wine Academy

On May 19, my daughter Kelly Ojdana, our new VP of Marketing, and I, both Notre Dame University alumni, attended the launch of the Notre Dame Family Wine Academy in Napa, at the Westin Hotel. We poured our Vineyard {511} 2012 Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon at the tasting reception preceding dinner. The wines across the board were fantastic and showed a wide range of varietals and regions, but also showed the quality and pride that Notre Dame alumni put into their businesses and products. Paul Hobbs Winery, Trinitas and Brutocao also poured their wines. A delicious dinner was prepared by celebrity Chef Ken Frank, of La Toque in Napa. The Manila mango and lobster salad was delicious.

For me, one of the highlights of the event was meeting Brian Kelly, Head Coach of the Notre Dame football team, who spoke at the event. He talked about developing football players, not just as athletes, but as people--the essence of a good education.


Time Posted: Jun 27, 2016 at 9:15 AM
Irene Ojdana
June 17, 2016 | Irene Ojdana

Manhattan Wine Auction

Ed and I poured our 2012 Vineyard {511} Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon at the 22nd Annual Manhattan Wine Auction at the Manhattan Beach Country Club, June 11. The event, the largest charity wine auction in Southern California, was held on the Club's tennis courts. Luckily it was an overcast June-gloom day, so we didn't even need the umbrellas on hand. Food and wine tasting was provided from 40 local restaurants and over 50 wineries, breweries and distilleries to benefit children's education programs in Manhattan Beach. Over 1600 people attended (not counting the vendors), and over $1.6 million was raised.

Manhattan Wine Auction 2016

Manhattan Beach is close to our Redondo Beach home, so it was an easy commute for us. I'd actually played tennis at the Club several times in the past as part of the Marine League. We'd also gone to tennis tournaments in years past at the Club--fun and fond memories.

With the tennis nets and posts removed, guests were able to stroll around from court to court sampling food and wine. During the event, a silent auction ensued, where bidding was done exclusively by mobile phone. We donated a vertical of our Cabernet Sauvignon in a wooden box to the silent auction. And then, after the food and wine tasting, a live auction was held on center court for the guests at family and corporate tables, followed by music and dancing.

Manhattan Wine Auction 2106

Time Posted: Jun 17, 2016 at 10:59 AM
Irene Ojdana
June 13, 2016 | Irene Ojdana

Auction Napa Valley 2016

Auction Napa Valley 2016

Ed and I spent much of last week partying at the Napa Valley Vintners Auction Napa Valley to help raise $14.3 million for Napa charities, so there's no guilt attached for having such a good time.

Starting Wednesday, we attended the Auction Kick-off Party at Gott's Roadside for "burgers, bottles and beneficiaries," with fellow vintners, a much more casual event than those we've attended in the past; last year's luncheon at Meadowood was a little more formal (although terrific, nonetheless). This year, the burgers, sweet-potato fries, tacos and shakes (mine chocolate) were finger-licking good. And did I say wine? There, we had the opportunity to meet the leaders of the local non-profit youth and health organizations benefiting from the Auction. We sat with the CEO of the Big Brothers and Sisters Organization and learned how boys and girls were paired with their big brothers and big sisters according to their experiences and about the success stories that followed from these relationships--how many of these troubled boys and girls were now attending college. This dialog made it very clear that all the partying was really for a much-needed cause.

And--after a much-needed nap--that evening Ed and I headed off to the tent-raising party that Meadowood puts on annually for its members to compensate them for the golf and tennis facilities that are closed during Auction. We participated in a lovely outdoor reception and enjoyed schmoozing with fellow members. We got a sneak peak at the tents that were already set up for Saturday's Auction. And did I say wine?

Thursday, while others were enjoying dinners at vintners' homes and wineries, Ed and I again rested up for Friday's and Saturday's festivities. Friday, we, along with 2000 other guests, attended the Napa Vintners Barrel Auction, at the Robert Mondavi Winery. Outside, where it was a pretty toasty 105 degrees F, we munched on delicious tidbits, such as smoked salmon on creme fraiche and pork sliders from Napa chefs paired with wine from Napa wineries. Then we ducked into the barrel room to cool off, where Napa vintners provided not-yet-released barrel samples from their 2013, 2014, and 2015 vintages, upon which guests could bid for future cases. My favorite was Paul Hobbs Winery 2014 Nathan Coombs Estate 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, from Coombsville, an up-and-coming AVA. Paul's barrel lot scored a whopping $36,700. (The very top barrel lot was for Melka Wines at $62,100.) And then there were also yummy chocolates to pair with all those red wine barrel samples.

Saturday, the day of the big Auction on Meadowood's fairway, Ed and I did some more schmoozing and chatted up David Duncan, President of Silver Oak Winery, who introduced us to the talented actress Courtney Cox and her cute boyfriend. David and his wife Kary donated an auction item featuring a trip to their winery for dinner with Courtney and her "Friends."

After the reception featuring Hog Island oyster stations, we headed into the big tent, where 900 people bid on fabulous trips, wines and other experiences for fabulous price tags. It was amazing to watch the bids rise into the stratosphere. The top auction item was "Into Africa, Incomparably," donated by Staglin Family, which went for $170,000, and then doubled to extend to another couple. The Fund-A-Need bought in $2.1 million alone from 100 paddles.

Auction Napa Valley 2016 - Francis Mallmann Dinner

We served our 2012 Vineyard {511} Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon at our table during the auction, as well as at the table for the dinner under the stars which followed. The dinner was prepared by Argentina's celebrity chef Francis Mallmann. We had eaten dinner at Mallmann's restaurant both times we were in Mendoza, so were really looking forward to this dinner and weren't disappointed. It was truly amazing to see the beef we would eat hanging over live fires as it cooked. And it was so delicious. A Texan in the beef business at our table instructed me to choose the cap of the ribeye and, wow, was it delicious! Dinner was "capped" off by dancing to a lively 30-piece Cuban band.

For the E-Auction, Ed and I donated a double vertical of our 2010, 2011 and 2012 (both 750's and magnums) Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon and a lunch for two couples overlooking our vineyard. The lucky bidder was a gentleman from Bakersfield, and we hope to meet him soon when he claims his prize.

Time Posted: Jun 13, 2016 at 10:13 PM
Irene Ojdana
May 24, 2016 | Irene Ojdana

UC Davis Winkler Dinner

Ed and I attended the 16th annual Winkler Dinner last Saturday, at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Food and Wine, at UC Davis. It was put on by DEVO, the student-run organization of the UC Davis Viticulture and Enology Department, as a fundraiser to award scholarships for international internships and to sponsor group exursions to study wine regions throughout the world. Last year's recipients went to New Zealand and South Africa, and this year's chose to go to Alscase and France.

The delicious dinner, held in a lovely olive grove, was prepared by individual chefs paired with wines donated by alumni of the UC Davis Viticulture and Enology Program. It was inspirational to see the graduates of the program talk about how it led to their current success as winemakers.The dinner was preceded by a silent auction, mostly of donated wines, and followed by a live auction of exciting trips. Through the silent auction, Ed and I scored a magnum of Williams Selyem 2014 Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley and a tour and tasting for four at the WS estate, with immediate membership on the WS list with an allocation for the next release. Will put that bottle down and then look forward to having a dinner party to break open that good bottle.

Time Posted: May 24, 2016 at 5:21 PM
Irene Ojdana
May 11, 2016 | Irene Ojdana

Kitchens in the Vineyards

On Saturday afternoon, April 30, my good friend Rita Burris and I toured 5 homes, which were part of Kitchens in the Vineyards, a benefit to support the 22nd annual Music in the Vineyards, a chamber music festival in Napa Valley. For 4 weeks from July 29-August 21, 17 concerts will be held at various picturesque wineries throughout the Valley, such as Domaine Carneros and Beringer Vineyards. And through Kitchens in the Vineyards, Rita and I got to tour picturesque homes in Napa, Yountville and St. Helena. Spotlighted were the kitchens and gardens; however, we were able to tour the rest of these homes, which were cleverly and uniquely designed.

Kitchens in the Vineyards - Ackerman Heritage House

Probably the most unique home was the Ackerman Heritage House, an 1888 Queen Anne Victorian in downtown Napa, which was authentically restored to reflect its past grandeur. From its 14 original stained glass windows, elaborate woodwork and antique lighting and furniture throughout, every inch of the home amazed the visitor for its attention to detail and authenticity. Inside, there was also a library and outside an English garden replete with a 19th Century fountain and urns. 

Restorations are very complicated, but adding to the efforts to restore the structure to its original opulent state, was the 2014 earthquake in  South Napa, which caused considerable damage to the structure. However, Lauren Ackerman, the current homeowner, was not to be stopped in her mission to bring this home back to its original perfection.

Renouned Napa Valley chefs provided small bites at each home. Among my favorites were the cucumber gazpacho, courtesy of Rogello Garcia of Angele, Napa; the cheese puffs, courtesy of Ken Frank, La Toque, Napa; and strawberry shortcake, courtesy of Bob Hurley, Hurley's, Yountville. Yummy.

Time Posted: May 11, 2016 at 9:41 PM