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July / August Visitor Favorites:

  • Mustard's Grill, Napa Valley
  • EOS Estate Winery, Paso Robles
  • Ehler's Estate, Napa Valley
  • Berry Picking, Gold Country, CA
  • Musical Mendocino, CA
  • Rodeo and Wine, Houston, TX
  • September Favorites

    Visitor Favorite: In Napa Valley

    Casual and good, MUSTARD'S GRILL in Yountville, has been defining fine dining for two decades. Evolving from a great place for locals to a must-stop for visitors, Mustard's has achieved the status of wine country icon. The dress is casual, but reservations are recommended (due both to its popularity and its ideal location on Highway 29 just north of Yountville).

    If for some reason you have not yet tired of tasting varied and sundry wines, then you will be delighted by the list of "Way Too Many Wines." On the menu, fresh is operative as much of the produce is cultivated in a small garden beside the restaurant. Meals and appetizers range from the light to the hearty, with a "truck stop deluxe" order of steak and fries for those who have worked up a real hunger. Mustard's Grill, 7399 St. Helena Highway, Yountville, CA 94558
    (707) 944-2424 www.mustardsgrill.com

    Visitor Favorite: In Napa Valley

    Tasting at EHLER'S ESTATE WINERY, is like tasting used to always be in the Napa Valley: friendly, conversational, and non-commercial. I almost hate to tell people about it. Situated north of St. Helena, the 1886 stone winery overlooks 42 acres of vineyards. There is a lovely 100-year-old olive grove on the property that shades the bocce court, and an outstanding elevated picnic deck.

    Tastings are $6 and you won't be disappointed with the choices, especially if the Cabernet Franc has not been sold out. While standing at the bar, take notice of the great glassware they use for their tastings. One of the most interesting aspects of Ehler's Estate is that the proceeds of their wine sales are donated to fund cardiovascular research. So if you buy a glass of wine at Ehler's Estate is might not only be good for your heart, but for someone else's also. Ehlers Estate, 3222 Ehlers Lane, St. Helena, CA 94574 (707) 963-5972. www.ehlersestate.com/

    Visitor Favorite: In Paso Robles

    Midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, you will find the "jewel of the Central Coast," Paso Robles. Wine tasting and exploring here is very down to earth, yet the wines present a sophisticated and evolving style. EOS ESTATE WINERY is recognized for being an award-winning producer of varietal wines, and a destination spot for Central Coast travelers.

    The expansive Romanesque winery, a spectacular 104,000 square feet, sits among rose gardens, picnic grounds, and 700 acres of estate vineyards. Along with all the typical winery amenities, you will find an interesting race car exhibit showcasing highlights of Frank Arciero's long auto racing career. Enjoy the Mediterranean Marketplace, where you can purchase Italian pottery, gifts, gourmet foods, wine accessories and . . . Aciero and EOS wines. Wine tasting is complementary. EOS Estate Winery, 5625 Highway 46 East, Paso Robles, CA 93446 (805) 239-2562 www.eosvintage.com/

    Visitor Favorite: In California Gold Country

    Nearly everyone has had a disappointing experience with supermarket-bought summer berries. You're doing your weekly grocery shopping and are tempted by the blueberry special - only $2.99! - so you buy a package or two and bring them home. The hammer falls, however, when you sprinkle them on your morning cereal the next day only to find that the berries are moldy. Even a meticulous inspection of the bottom of the little plastic container at the store isn't a sure-fire way to find fresh berries. As far as I can tell, the only berry that's guaranteed not to disappoint is one that you pick yourself.

    Luckily, there are numerous opportunities for berry-picking, apple-picking, tomato picking, and more in California's Gold Country. Dotted with ranches, farms, roadside stands, and gourmet markets, the Gold Country is a dreamland of small farm-grown produce. If you're in a hurry, pick up some home-grown goodies from a road-side stand, or, if you have time, truck out to the farm and choose the tastiest morsels yourself. While you're at the farm, you'll likely find additional products for sale, including home-made jams, canned goods, or perhaps honey. Perfect for a city-dweller who longs for a taste of farm life. For your trip to the farm check on the Apple Hill Growers Association.

    Visitor Favorite: In Mendocino, California

    Land of stunning coastlines, artisanal wines, and quaint small towns, Mendocino is also home to a refreshingly cosmopolitan line-up of music festivals every summer. Featuring local favorites as well as national stars (the Mendocino Music Festival is hosting the world-class Kronos Quartet this year), Mendocino's rich musical tradition adds a big-city spin to this favorite weekend getaway.

    The Boonville Folk-Blues Festival, now in its 3rd season, continues to feature cult blues players, living legends, and their sidemen. The Mendocino Music Festival, a venerable tradition now in its 18th year, explores the realms of classical, world, and jazz music, with concerts ranging from chamber music to big band standards. In between your busy schedule of concerts and open rehearsals, visit the sandy beaches, redwood forests, beautiful gardens, and charming shops of Mendocino county and town.

    If you miss the summer festivities, Mendocino's numerous record shops (there are about two per capita in this tiny town) offer a wide range of genres, including hard-to-find rarities. If you're looking for something to strum on, Lark in the Morning, the specialty Mendocino instrument shop that specializes in traditional instruments from around the world, has the bouzouki, concertina, didgeridoo, or acoustic guitar for you (not to mention a nice selection of affordable harmonicas). Visit the Mendocino Music Festival website for more information.

    Visitor Favorite: In Houston, Texas

    Corks and Colts: bucking stereotypes at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo International Wine Competition

    Rodeo, evolved from the day-to-day duties of the working cowboy in the 1800s, has become a high-stakes sport that has made many cowboys into national stars. Of all the rodeo shows in the world, Rodeo Houston is the largest - in 2004 480 contestants competed for a purse totaling almost $750 thousand! Much more than just a rodeo show, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo draws enormous crowds (up to 180,000!) for its barbeque championship cook-off, its star-studded concert series, and its livestock shows.

    In 2004, another crowd pleaser was introduced when the Houston International Wine Competition was unveiled along with Rodeo Uncorked!, a wine and food tasting held in conjunction with the competition. More than 850 wineries submitted entries for the inaugural 2004 competition, and the Grand Champion Best of Show honors were awarded to the Alexander Valley Vineyards for Cyrus Alexander Valley, a vintage 1999 Bordeaux-blend red wine. Bryan-based Messina Hof's Paulo Bordeaux Blend was named Top Texas Wine. Winning wines were sold in auction, with some of the proceeds going towards the funding of numerous scholarships for Texan college students.

    The Wine Festival is already drawing all sorts of people to the livestock show and rodeo. "We haven't really been involved in the livestock show and rodeo before," says Robert Marsh representing Everyone's Internet of Houston, who bought the Cyrus Alexander bottle at auction for $45,000. "And, as a Houston institution, the wine auction was a way for us to get involved." For Houston community members and out-of-state guests, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo International Wine Competition is a great way to get a taste for the traditions of Texas; you certainly won't find wine and rodeo together anywhere else!

    WineCountry.com - Your Complete Guide to Wine Country Wineries

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