Sondra Bernstein celebrates two decades as a “Culinary Diva”

18a0ef9f144a3676a55df8c1e911db6e.wix_mp_srz_646_971_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_wix_mp_srzBy Kip Davis
(Napa Valley Register – 4/7/15)

Years before she would open her iconic Sonoma Valley bistro the girl & the fig, Sondra Bernstein nearly flunked out of the restaurant industry.

A starving art graduate with little interest in anything but serious photography, Bernstein took a server job at TGI Fridays in Philadelphia to make ends meet.

“It’s not that hard to imagine,” Bernstein said. “Graduating with an art degree and thinking I just want to take beautiful pictures and travel around the world — and then reality kicks in. How am I going to pay for it? How am I going to live?”

The job at the popular chain restaurant, Bernstein thought, seemed like an easy, temporary fix, just a way to earn some cash before moving on. But then the unexpected happened. Read more…

Winemaker David Ramey looks to next generation

David Ramey LRBy Kip Davis
(Napa Valley Register – 1/23/15)

Though his family winery is based in Healdsburg, David Ramey has little regard for county-line pigeonholing when it comes to his acclaimed cabernet and chardonnay wines. The logo on his business card says it all — a family crest flanked by the word “Napa” on the left and “Sonoma” on the right, the three elements neatly balanced above Ramey Wine Cellars, the label he started with his wife Carla in 1996. Ramey’s cabernets come from Rutherford and Oakville and his chardonnay and other wines come mainly from the cooler climate locales of Sonoma County. To its esteemed owner/winemaker, Ramey Wine Cellars is and has always been a dual county label focused exclusively on producing celebrated cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, syrah and, most recently, pinot noir.

But now, looking to expand the family wine business, the Rameys are set to step outside the self-imposed limitations of their namesake brand. In April, they will launch Sidebar Cellars, a new wine label targeting the younger, more adventurous wine consumer. According to Ramey, the “second brand” will feature affordably priced varietals and blends not offered in the more traditional Ramey Wine Cellars lineup. Read more…

From Spain to Sonoma County, Marimar Torres flourishes

Marimar & dogs LRBy Kip Davis
(Napa Valley Register – 1/2/15)

Marimar Torres remembers well the liberating event 40 years ago that helped set her on the path of an exciting, more fulfilling life.

A member of a prominent and historic winemaking family in Spain, Torres had been raised in a country defined by the cultural and political oppression of the Francisco Franco dictatorship. It was a totalitarian regime that, among other things, strictly defined and limited the role of women in Spanish society and everyday life.  In 1973, Torres visited San Francisco and, she remembers, her eyes were opened to a vibrant world of fun, friends and opportunity. It was a far cry from her preordained life as a sedate, upper-class lady in Franco’s Spain.

“When I came here the first time to San Francisco in 1973 I loved it,” Torres said. “I made friends and loved the city. I made more friends and loved the city more.”

Two years later Torres moved to San Francisco and has never looked back. She helped introduce America to her family’s Spanish wines, published two cookbooks on Spanish cuisine and founded Marimar Estate vineyards and winery in Sonoma County. Read more…

Iconic Calistoga spa Indian Springs expands on history

Indian SpringsBy Kip Davis
(Napa Valley Register – 12/12/14)

Before he became a “Silverado squatter” on the flanks of Mt. St. Helena in 1880, Robert Louis Stevenson and his new bride Fanny spent a few days at Calistoga’s Hot Springs Resort. The hotel and baths were built by Sam Brannan in 1862 on a site blessed with natural geothermal geysers and hot springs originally discovered and enjoyed by the Wappo indigenous people some 8,000 years ago.

A century after Stevenson and his bride “took the waters” at Brannan’s rustic resort, John and Pat Merchant began visiting the same location with their three kids. By then the original facility had been rebuilt several times and renamed Pacheteau Baths. Although it had seen better days, the hot springs, open space and unassuming accommodations offered the Merchants a quick and quiet getaway from their home in San Francisco.

Pacheteau Baths became a regular family outing for the Merchants, who gradually fell in love with the property. That love turned into a family business when the Merchants purchased the resort in 1988, renaming it Indian Springs out of respect for the original Wappo inhabitants of the area. Read more…

California Cabernet has its roots in Livermore and the Concannon family

John and James Concannon

John and James Concannon

By Kip Davis
(Napa Valley Register – 8/8/14)

John Concannon felt a tinge of pressure as he began his presentation at an elite gathering of top cabernet sauvignon producers from Napa Valley and other California wine regions. The current face of Livermore’s historic Concannon Vineyards was in St. Helena June 18 to give a viticultural genealogy lesson to the International Cabernet Symposium. As the name implies, the three-day conference was an intense, mostly technical forum on the growing and production of cabernet sauvignon. And while no other varietal has brought more prestige, success and recognition to the Napa Valley, Concannon was here to claim cabernet bragging rights for his family and the Livermore Valley AVA. Read more…