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From Hollywood to Vine with Vineyard {511}
Adventures in Wine, Food, Film and Travel


Irene Ojdana
October 15, 2016 | Irene Ojdana

Vineyard {511} 2016 Harvest Party

As the leaves were slowly changing from green to orange in Napa Valley, our good friends gathered in our outdoor entertainment area Sunday to celebrate our 2016 Harvest and to toast the release of our new and delicious Vineyard {511} 2015 Carneros Chardonnay. It was such a hit, we couldn't pour enough of it! It will be available to our wine club members and at wine dinners.

Vineyard {511} Harvest Party 2016

In addition to the newly-released Chardonnay and our award-winning 2012 Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon, we also poured a pre-release of our 2013. We were lucky to have our winemaker Rob Lloyd and his wife Bonnie in attendance. Rob remarked how great the 2013 was tasting, which he hadn't sampled for awhile. Unfortunately, he had to leave early to get back Jessup Cellars to press our grapes, but which is also very fortunate for us as he uses a truly unique process for it.

The Chardonnay paired nicely with our appetizers, which included deviled eggs with crispy prosciutto and asparagus wrapped with fra mani ham, and the Cabernet Sauvignon paired wonderfully with the whole roasted pig, slow roasted marinated chicken thighs and yummy desserts of Chocolate It's It ice cream bars and strawberries and cream.

For entertainment, Tim Ryan, national sportscaster for CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox, talked baseball and football, as well as his new book, On Someone Else's Nickel: A Life in Television, Sports, and Travel. And to top it all off, we raffled off two magnums of our Vineyard {511} 2013 Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon. The lucky winners were our designer Christian McDaniel and good tennis buddy Martha Bothwell.

We are looking forward to another year and another great vintage.

Time Posted: Oct 15, 2016 at 1:32 PM Permalink to Vineyard {511} 2016 Harvest Party Permalink
Irene Ojdana
October 3, 2016 | Irene Ojdana

Calistoga's Third Annual Harvest Table

What do you feed 800 dinner guests? Luckily, 13 of Calistoga's restaurants shared the burden during Calistoga's 3rd Annual Harvest Table. This unique event saw white-linen-tablecloth-covered tables, decorated with lovely sunflowers, stretch all the way down Lincoln Avenue, which was closed to traffic. Some of the restaurants that participated were the Calistoga Inn, Brannan's, Johnny's, Checkers and the Culinary Institute of America. Volunteers manned wine stations selling wine provided by wineries from the Calistoga AVA.

Patrons had signed up in advance in a mad rush for each restaurant reservation, which sold out almost immediately. Ed and I scored tickets for Checkers for a delicious Italian meal, featuring lasagna and New York cheesecake. (I remember that from my Brooklyn days.) For every ticket sold, the Calistoga Chamber set aside a portion of the proceeds to benefit Calistoga Cares Food Pantry. This year the donation was about $4000.

Last year, the diners had to eat inside the restaurants, as the entire stretch of Lincoln Avenue had to be open to allow fire trucks to drive through to fight the devasting Lake County fires. This year, we had the boulevard all to ourselves, all 800 of us.

Calistoga Annual Harvest Table 2016

Time Posted: Oct 3, 2016 at 5:56 PM Permalink to Calistoga's Third Annual Harvest Table Permalink
Irene Ojdana
October 3, 2016 | Irene Ojdana

Vineyard {511} 2016 Harvest

Our Vineyard {511} Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain District vineyard was harvested on the early morning of September 26--two weeks earlier in the year than it was last year, when we thought we had had an early harvest. Both summers were warm, and we ended up harvesting at a 26 brix. Our vineyard management company, John Deer Farms, arrived at the vineyard at 5 am and worked away feverishly, but carefully, until around 9:30 am. Then we went back to the house and had a nap. They went on to another vineyard--no nap for them. They work tirelessly, and we really depend on them to do the great job that they do.

Vineyard {511} Harvest 2016

Time Posted: Oct 3, 2016 at 5:39 PM Permalink to Vineyard {511} 2016 Harvest Permalink
Irene Ojdana
September 30, 2016 | Irene Ojdana

Labor Day Wine Tasting and Croquet

What to do with nine visiting relatives over Labor Day? Besides cooling off in our swimming pool, two of the best activities Ed and I planned for them was a tour, tasting and lunch at Robert Sinskey Vineyards, in Napa, and croquet and dinner on the croquet lawn at Meadowood Resort, in St. Helena.

Robert Sinskey provided a wonderful experience, which included touring its vegetable garden, cave (where we viewed its fermenting tanks and oak aging barrels), and where we had a fabulous lunch, named "A Perfect Circle," paired with Sinskey wines. My favorites of the "Perfect Circle" were: in the"Beginning," the everything lavash, smoked salmon, garden cucumbers, and creme fraiche, paired with a 2013 Carneros/Sonoma Pinot Blanc; in the "Middle," Gnocchi, Duck Confit Chanterelles, Romano Beans, and Parmesan, paired with a 2013 Carneros/Napa Valley Pinot Noir; and in the "End," a Hudson Ranch pork, with early girl tomatoes and Huckleberries, paired with a 2010 Marcien, Proprietary Red from Carneros/Napa Valley. We finished the lunch off with a  great late harvest wine and sweets.

Robert Sinskey - The Perfect Circle

Croquet at Meadowood was a totally different experience--outdoors (no cave!)-- that included a friendly family competition. We started out with tips on how to play the game from croquet pro Mike McDonnell and some of Vineyard {511} soon-to-be-released 2015 Carneros Chardonnay. We broke up into teams and soon we were all playing like pros, helped along by our Chardonnay. Not bragging, of course, but have to say, my team, consisting of Ed and me and our Chardonnay, were the champs of both our games.

Croquet at Meadowood

Our dinner that followed on the croquet glen overlooking the croquet lawn included delicious grilled veggies, salmon and roast beef, paired so nicely with our Vineyard {511} Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon. Chocolate cookies too.

Oh boy, now how will we follow that up next year???

Time Posted: Sep 30, 2016 at 9:29 AM Permalink to Labor Day Wine Tasting and Croquet Permalink
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 Permalink to Revisiting St. Petersburg, Russia; and Helsinki, Finland Permalink
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 Permalink to Sun Valley Wine Auction Permalink
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 Permalink to A Long Weekend in Iceland Permalink
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 Permalink to Diana Ross at the Hollywood Bowl Permalink
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 Permalink to American Fine Wine Awards Presentation Permalink
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 Permalink to Manhattan Wine Auction Permalink