7th Tour Added to Northern Spain 2016

The first six tours are sold out so we are pleased to be able to add a seventh date for this popular European tour.

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INSIDER’S 7-DAY WINE & CULINARY TOUR OF NORTHERN SPAIN

$1,950 per person based on double occupancy ($285 single occupancy upcharge)
Please scroll to the end of this announcement to the DEPOSITS heading for detailed info on how deposits will be charged.

NOTE >>> If the euro to dollar exchange rate exceeds 1.20 at the time of the tour we reserve the right to adjust the price accordingly. (It’s currently trading around 1.10 as of mid July 2015.)

RSVP: (619) 295-3939

YOUR CHOICE OF 6 TOUR DATES:
All tours begin Sunday evening in Madrid and end the following Saturday morning in Zaragoza.
TOUR #1 ~ May 15 – 21, 2016 ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #2 ~ May 22 – 28, 2016 ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #3 ~ May 29 – June 4, 2016 ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #4 ~ June 05 – 11, 2016 ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #5 ~ June 12 – 18, 2016 ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #6 ~ June 19 – 25, 2016 ~ SOLD OUT
TOUR #7 ~ June 26 – July 2, 2016 ~ 40 SEATS STILL AVAILABLE

The bus has 55 seats so that pretty much dictates the maximum that can go on each trip. Hope you can join us for this amazing wine adventure in Spain and, if you’re interested, we very much look forward to hearing from you. So without further ado, here’s the itinerary. It’s a long read so you may want to get comfy and pour yourself a glass of wine … heck, just bring the whole bottle. (I won’t even tell you how many glasses, err, I mean bottles, it took me to write this.) Many thanks.

>>> Please SCROLL DOWN for the hour-by-hour itinerary below, but here’s an overview of the highlights:

The tour starts on Sunday night in Madrid and ends on Saturday morning in Zaragoza. Zaragoza is midway between Barcelona and Madrid, and is served by a blazing fast (300 km/hr) high speed train that will get you back to either city in about an hour and a half. Many of you will want to extend your visit before and/or after our tour, so keep in mind that pretty much all of Europe is easily, quickly and affordably accessible from either city via an ultra-efficient network of high speed trains.

~ Everyone will meet Sunday at Hotel Regina in Madrid. For those of you who want to arrive a day or two early (highly recommended!) to get over jet lag and/or explore this city on your own, we’ve made arrangements for a discounted group rate of 120 euros per night including breakfast. And yes, these same discounted hotel rates will also apply if you decide to extend your stay in Madrid after our tour. The hotel has been completely renovated and is centrally located and within walking distance to many of the attractions and a main Metro subway station. From the airport it’s about a forty euro taxi fare or, better yet, you can take the yellow airport express bus for five euros that will drop you off at Cibeles Plaza which is less than a ten minute walk away. The group will meet at 7:00 Sunday evening in a private room at the hotel for a quick orientation before the festivities begin.

~ Then at 7:30 we’ll take about a ten minute walk down the famous Calle Mayor and through the equally famous Plaza Mayor to Restaurante Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world. Yes, the world! Those of you who went on our New Orleans tours a couple years ago will remember eating at Antoine’s, the oldest restaurant in the United States, but Botin pre-dates Antoine’s by over a century. Opened in 1725, Botin specializes in roast suckling pig cooked in an ancient wood-fired oven. Mary and I ate here in 2014 and I could not wait to get back. I spent three nights in Madrid earlier this year doing recon and ate there three nights in a row. Yep, it’s that good. We’ll be taking over the entire upstairs dining room where we’ll obviously be having this amazingly succulent and tender specialty. First we’ll start with bottles of Rose served with gazpacho, an elaborate salad, some of the huge white asparagus this region is known for and that fortunately will be in season while we’re there, and roasted artichoke hearts with jamon. Then the red wine will start flowing with the pig and some of the best roasted potatoes I’ve ever had. (I’m pretty sure they’re roasted in pig fat.) Finally we’ll enjoy a simple dessert of vanilla ice cream served with an 80-year-old solera of Pedro Ximenez Sherry, similar to how we serve it at Wine Vault & Bistro. The restaurant doesn’t open until 8:00 and normally doesn’t accept groups our size, but I did a little “horse trading” and promised them that we’d be done by 10:00 so they could turn the tables. Owner Antonio graciously made another exception and is opening up fifteen minutes early for us so we’ll have a little more time to enjoy ourselves. (A note about dining times in Spain: Most restaurants don’t even open for dinner until 8:00, and many not until 8:30 or even 9:00. It takes a little getting used to but all of the dinners on this tour will be starting late. It helps that Spain is so much farther north than San Diego, meaning that it’s still daylight until way after 9:00.)

~ Anyway, after that delicious dinner we’ll walk back to the hotel for the night. (A word to the wise: I highly recommend that you resist the temptation to stop for a nightcap at one of the many bars lining the streets on the way back. We’ve got an early start and are covering a lot of ground the next couple of days, and you’ll want to be sharp and well rested for what’s ahead.)

~ Breakfast is included Monday morning at the hotel, after which our bus will arrive. We’ll depart Madrid and head about an hour and a half north through Segovia to the region of Rueda. Our only stop in Rueda will be at Shaya winery. Rueda is known for a white wine called Verdehlo. Shaya has some ancient vineyards of century old Verdehlo vines that I found extremely interesting to see because the trunks are literally only a foot tall. I’ve seen plenty of head-trained old-vine Grenache with their thick gnarly three-foot-high or so trunks, but never anything like this. So we’ll make a very quick (five minutes or so) stop in one of the vineyards just so you can see these vines yourselves before heading to the winery to taste several kinds of Verdehlo. Here again, this will be a very quick stop as this is strictly a working winery out in the middle of nowhere that is not set up for tours, but I thought that since we were so close, it would be a shame not to share this experience with everyone.

~ Next we’ll start heading northeast towards Ribera del Duero. We’ll make a lunch stop at El Riscal on the outskirts of Segovia. And what a lunch it will be! The owners of El Riscal also own a ranch that specializes in a very rare kind of ox. Time permitting, we’ll drive by the ranch on the way so you can see them. They’re basically a gentle, non-aggressive breed of bull used to herd the aggressive bull-fighting bulls to the arena or to do farm work. I actually had the opportunity to walk right up next to them and, while they look quite menacing with their huge horns, they are quite docile. When you see pictures of the famous running of the bulls in Pamplona, contrary to popular belief, it is not the bull-fighting bulls that are chasing the people through the street; it’s this special non-aggressive breed. The owner told me that if the bull-fighting bulls were allowed to chase the people there would be lots of fatalities! So there’s your little known factoid for the day. Anyway, I digress. So once these gentle oxen can no longer perform their “herding” duties, they’re pretty much of no use. Compound that by the fact that the advent of the tractor has all but eliminated the need for farm work animals and you can see why this is a rare and rapidly diminishing breed. That’s where the owners of El Riscal (one of whom is a veterinarian) come in. They buy these “retired” oxen and then raise them on their ranch specifically for their restaurant. (They cannot be bred because they are sterile.) Many of them are around twenty years old, ridiculously older than conventional beef cattle which would be beyond tough at that age, but these special oxen remain amazingly tender and flavorful in spite of their age due to the special way they’re raised on this ranch. I can honestly say that this is the best beef I’ve ever had in my life. Period. And you’re going to love the way it’s served. Basically it’ll come to the table raw and you’ll cook it yourself tableside on a VERY hot ceramic plate. How hot you ask? The restaurant has special, asbestos-lined, laboratory grade ovens that I personally saw digital temperature readings of 320 degrees Celsius. That’s over 600 degrees Fahrenheit. Yikes! Anyway, once your hot plate comes, you grease it with a ball of tallow, toss your meat on, wait about thirty seconds, flip it on the other side, wait another thirty seconds, and then devour. I guarantee that you probably will never have had and probably will never have again meat this good. After last night’s dinner at Botin, this lunch promises to be yet another in a string of meals for the record books that you will experience on this tour!

~ After lunch we’ll head into the town of Penafiel in the region of Ribera del Duero. First stop will be at Protos winery for a private tour. This winery consists of two parts: the new, modern portion (which was designed by the same architect who designed the Madrid airport – you’ll notice the similarities if you fly into Madrid), and the old caves across the street which are dug out of the mountain that the famous Penafiel Castle sits atop. After the new winery was built, they connected the two facilities by building a huge tunnel under the street linking the new winery’s cellar to the old winery’s caves. We’ll start our visit in the old winery walking through the extensive caves before entering the tunnel and arriving to the new winery for a tasting.

~ After the Protos visit we’ll make the five minute drive to the other side of town and check into our hotel, the first of two converted convents that we’ll be staying in on this tour. After unpacking and freshening up, we’ll take a short hike across the bridge and up the cobblestone streets to El Lagar de San Vicente, an old restaurant with a huge wood-fired oven built on top of several levels of now abandoned winery caves that have since been converted into underground dining rooms. We’ll start with a casual wine and appetizer reception in the first lower dining room before descending into the depths of the deepest cave for an amazing seated dinner. Lamb is the specialty of this region and is prepared much the same way as the pig at Botins – basically roasted in a wood-fired oven and served family style in a scalding clay vessel along with roasted potatoes. We’ll enjoy that along with plenty of the Tempranillo-based Ribera del Duero wines that perfectly complement it. Then we’ll finish with a light dessert and a selection of local after-dinner liqueurs before heading down the hill and back to the hotel for the night.

~ After breakfast at the hotel Tuesday morning, we’ll head to Rioja where we’ll spend the entire day. It’s about a two-and-a-half-hour drive so this is a great opportunity to catch up on some sleep if you’re not quite acclimated to the time change yet. First stop will be at Baigorri Winery for a tour and lunch. When we arrive everyone is going to wonder where the winery is because all that’s visible from the road is a small glass building. Once inside though, you’ll see a glass elevator that descends eight stories down into this state-of-the-art, gravity-fed winery that essentially follows the contour of the not-visible-from-the-road hill on the other side. I’ve seen a lot of wineries and am usually not easy to impress, but I was blown away by this one. Unbelievable attention to detail and design. But perhaps the biggest surprise is when you exit the barrel room on the bottom floor only to find a breath taking restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the valley in front of you! Which, of course, is where we’ll enjoy lunch. I can’t tell you what’s on the menu yet because I don’t know myself as it will be different for each tour. I’m just leaving it up to the chef to take full advantage of the best seasonal ingredients available. What I can tell you, though, is that it will be a 5-course wine pairing menu and that it will be awesome.

~ After Biagorri we’ll head to Laguardia, a tiny enchanting hillside village honeycombed with underground caves and cellars. We’ll visit El Fabulista Winery first and enjoy a tasting in their spectacular cave. Then we’ll have a little free time to give everyone a chance to explore the quaint shops and bars along the narrow cobblestone streets before we leave. But before we do, if there are any gin ‘n’ tonic aficionados in the group, I’ll be happy to sneak away for a few minutes with y’all to show off my favorite place where they’ve taken that cocktail to a new level. I’ve never seen such a wide variety of gins in my life, each perfectly complimented with a special different herb, berry or seasoning that exquisitely amplifies its flavor profile. Trust me – if you’re a fan, these will be the best G&T’s you’ve ever had.

~ After leaving Laguardia we’ll visit Marques de Riscal, an ancient Rioja winery with a modern twist. Founded in 1858, the winery has extensive underground cellars tunneling under the hillside vineyards. But the most distinctive feature is the new hotel and Michelin-starred restaurant on site designed by famed architect Frank Gehry in 2006. The colorful steel ribbons wrapping the entire hotel can be seen for miles and provide a unique contrast to the old stone buildings prolific throughout Rioja. We’ll tour both the winery and the cavernous cellars, view the landmark hotel up close, and then end with a tasting before heading to our hotel for the night.

~ Final stop in Rioja will be in the town of Haro at Los Agustinos, another converted convent hotel. Actually it started out as a convent in 1373, then turned into a military garrison in 1809, then a military hospital in 1811, then a jail in 1839, and finally a hotel in 1989. During its time as a prison many of the prisoners etched messages into the rock walls which are still visible to this day. (The manager did point out one particular inscription that had to be “erased” as it included an inappropriate reference to the prisoner’s mother-in-law!) Anyway, this should be a relaxing conclusion to a busy and productive day. After checking in and freshening up, we’ll all meet in the huge center courtyard where we’ll enjoy a delicious 3-course dinner with some local Rioja wines. I’ve purposely designed this dinner to be much simpler than everything we’ll have had to date just so we can pace ourselves and not end up in a “food coma” … which is easy to do in Spain! If you’re up for a quick nightcap after dinner (and I do mean quick as tomorrow is another big day) there’s a short pintxos route called “herradura” (Spanish for horseshoe because the route is in the shape of a horseshoe) that’s less than a five minute walk from the hotel. Even if you don’t want to imbibe, it’s a nice walk and a relaxing way to wind down before hitting the hay. I’ll be happy to lead the way there after dinner for anyone who’s interested.

~ After breakfast at the hotel Wednesday morning, we’ll head north towards San Sebastian, arguably one of the most beautiful cities in all of Spain and home of the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world on a per capita basis. But we’ll break the two-and-a-half hour drive there into two segments with two fascinating stops en route.

~ First will be in the remote village of Gesaltza Añana to visit the Valle Salado, or Salt Valley. An utterly fascinating stop dating back 6,500 years, Valle Salado is a huge, ancient salt producing facility. When a natural salt spring (salt content in the water is thirty times the salinity of ocean salt water) was discovered here millennia ago, the locals diverted the water from the spring into shallow pens using hollowed out pine trunks as channels. Once in the pens, the sun evaporates the water and leaves behind high quality fleur de sel. The salt here is so highly sought after that many of the Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain actually have their own salt pens here. Unfortunately the facility was virtually abandoned about twenty years ago and fell into a massive state of disrepair. Fortunately a non-profit organization funded by the local village came to the rescue and started an ambitious restoration project. It’s still very much of a work in progress but parts of the original facility are now producing salt again and it recently achieved coveted world UNESCO site status. Anyway, we’ll stop here for about an hour to tour this throwback to a bygone era and, of course, try the salt. And, yes, the salt is available to purchase if you want to take some home.

~ After Valle Salado we’ll head up into the mountains just outside of San Sebastian to the village of Getaria to visit Txomin Etxaniz, a Txakoli winery. Txakoli is a unique white wine of the region made from the indigenous Hondarrabi Zuri and Hondarrabi Beltza grape varietals. The vines are grown on incredibly steep hillsides overlooking the Bay of Biscay. Because it rains so much here, causing the ground to remain damp year round in spite of the steep slopes, the grapes are prone to mildew and rot. The vintners successfully combat this by trellising the vines with a unique system of tall poles so that the vines first grow straight up about seven feet in the air before following a wire mesh between the rows that basically trains the vines to create a tunnel that the pickers can actually walk under and that also allows the sea breezes to funnel through. We’ll enjoy a quick tour here and admire the breathtaking views before finishing with a tasting paired with some local pintxos.

~ After our light lunch here we’ll make the final descent into San Sebastian while taking in some of the most spectacular scenery in northern Spain. Once in San Sebastian we’ll check into our hotel (which we’ll stay at for two nights) and then enjoy some free time before dinner. The hotel is located right next to the main river going through town and is about a 10-15 minute walk to the famous La Concha Beach and the pintxos bars in the old part of town. We’ll have about four hours before dinner so you’re free to just relax and unwind at the hotel, or hit the ground running and explore this beautiful city.

~ Dinner is going to be a very special treat! We’re taking over most of Zelai Txiki, one of the most amazing restaurants in the city. The restaurant is perched high up on a hill and is not accessible by bus. I agonized on how to get everyone there as it’s too far to walk and public transportation is too complicated, and almost gave up on including them. Then I finally decided that this was just too important of a culinary destination to miss because of transportation issues, so this will be the only stop on the tour where you’ll be required to take a taxi on your own. Plan on about fifteen euros per taxi each way divided by three-to-four people per taxi. Once you arrive I’m confident that you won’t mind this small extra charge. Dinner will start at 8:30 but the restaurant will open at 8:00 for us if you want to arrive early and enjoy an adult beverage before dinner. Dinner will be five courses each paired with a local wine. We’ll start with appetizers with Txakoli, chorizo and slow poached egg with Rose, and then fish with Verdejo. The main course will be a spectacular Txuleta, the local specialty of a ridiculously thick cut of T-bone steak cooked on a huge wood-fired outdoor grill. That will be paired with red wine from Baigorri that we will have just visited the day before. To end we’ll have a leisurely dessert that you can enjoy by itself or with an optional after dinner libation. After what will surely be another dinner for the record books we’ll taxi back to the hotel for the night.

~ After breakfast at the hotel Thursday morning we’ll take the bus for a short fifteen minute ride to the outskirts of San Sebastian where we’ll be dropped off at the harbor. From here we’ll take a five minute ferry boat ride across the harbor to the ancient village of Ciboure. The fare is less than a euro each way so here’s your chance to use up some of that pesky lose change that’s weighing you down. Once across the harbor, we’ll walk directly to Ziaboga, a quaint restaurant specializing in some of the freshest (usually caught just hours before) seafood that you’ll ever taste. But this time we’re going to be doing the cooking! Chef/owner Alex will greet us and then divide everyone into three-to-four rotating groups so that he and his staff can guide everyone in preparing the local cuisine. You will actually be working hands-on in a real restaurant kitchen … no closed circuit TV monitors or overhead mirrors here. (If you prefer to skip this experience you can hang out at the harbor or explore this fascinating village and then just come back for lunch.) After the prep is done you’ll have about an hour or so to explore the village or relax with a glass of wine while Alex’s staff makes final preparations for lunch. Weather permitting, we’ll eat outside on the patio next to the harbor. I can’t tell you what will be on the menu because it hasn’t been caught yet, but it will be amazing!

~ After lunch we’ll take the ferry back across the harbor where the bus will meet us and take everyone back to the hotel. The rest of the day and evening is free time to do whatever you want. I definitely recommend the “hop-on-hop-off” bus if you’ve never been to San Sebastian before as that will give you a great overview of the city in about an hour. You can also explore the city by foot, visit the beach, check out the many shops or just recharge back at the hotel. Dinner will be on your own tonight as no visit to San Sebastian would be complete without bar hopping though the pintxos bars in the old part of town. Pintxos are diverse as can be so it’s a lot of fun to just go from one bar to the next sampling one food item with one glass of wine. For the most part, wine is served in what we would consider to be half portion glasses so it’s easy to sample lots of different wines without getting trashed. The price is right, too, with each half glass usually costing 1.50-2.50 euros. You can easily visit a half dozen pintxos bars, enjoying a different pintxo and a different glass of wine in each for less than forty euros total for the entire evening. Think of it as creating your own progressive dinner! >>> And for anyone wanting to eat in a Michelin-starred restaurant (and willing to pay the 250+ euros for dinner before wine!), I do have an “in” at Akellare, a spectacular three-star restaurant high on a hill on the outskirts of town overlooking the ocean. I can’t guarantee this, but chances are extremely good that I can also set up a tour of their state-of-the-art kitchen if that sort of thing interests you. Just make sure to let me know well in advance if you want to eat there so I can facilitate your reservation. After your pintxos crawl (or dinner) it’s back to the hotel for the final night in San Sebastian.

~ After breakfast at the hotel Friday morning we say good bye to San Sebastian and start heading south towards Zaragoza. First stop is about two-and-a-half hours away so this will be a good opportunity to catch up on some sleep if you over-enjoyed yourself the night before. First stop will be pretty much out in the middle of nowhere in the tiny village of Tabuenca. Here we’ll do a short vineyard trek to see some of the gnarly 100+ year old vines that produce some of the 100 point wines of Alto Moncayo. The vineyard manager will also show us a new, cutting-edge, insecticide-free, pest riddance technique they’ve pioneered. It effectively reduces the destructive insect population by tying a small plastic strip resembling a twist tie to each vine. This strip emits female insect pheromones, thus attracting the male insects only to have them all die off naturally because they can’t reproduce. Very cool!

~ After the vineyard trek we’ll head into Campo Borja to Alto Moncayo winery. Alto Moncayo is making amazing Grenache and, under winemaker Chris Ringland’s (who many of you know as the winemaker for Clio) direction, has several perfect 100-point ratings. We’ll have a quick visit here with a tasting of their current releases and maybe a few barrel samples before heading ten minutes down the road to Bodegas Borsao.

~ Many of you are already familiar with Bodegas Borsao as the producer of Tres Picos, one of the best under $20 bottles of Grenache out there. We’ll have a quick tour of the winery and then sit down for a delicious lunch featuring local produce and cured meats paired with the Borsao wines.

~ After lunch we’ll head south about 45 minutes to Zaragoza, our final destination. After checking into Hotel Palafox you’ll have at least three hours to relax or explore the town before dinner. (And yes, we have made arrangements with Hotel Palafox for a discounted rate of 110 euros including breakfast if you want to extend your stay in Zaragoza.)

~ Dinner will be at Restaurante Aragonia, a gorgeous restaurant located on the hotel’s lower level. In collaboration with their somm we were able to create an extravagant, not-on-the-regular-menu, 7-course pairing dinner for the finale. The menu is subject to change, of course, but here’s the direction it’s leaning: 1. Cava paired with ahi tuna; 2. Sherry paired with foie gras; 3. Rose paired with a salad of lettuces, balsamic ice cream and warmed goat cheese; 4. Albarino paired with bacalao; 5. Mourvedre paired with slow-roasted lamb; 6. Aged Moscadelle Sherry paired with pecan brownies and rum ice cream; 7. Pacharan (a local spirit) paired with nuts. It should be an amazing way to end the tour and yet another dinner for the record books!

~ After dinner you’re free to go upstairs and call it a night or, for anyone wanting to extend the night a bit longer, I’ll lead the way for no-host Mojitos at La Lobera de Martin, a sidewalk café about five minutes away. Even though it will be close to midnight, it should still be shirt sleeve weather and the place will be hopping.

~ After breakfast at the hotel Saturday morning the tour is officially over. You can spend an extra day in Zaragoza exploring the ancient town or you can taxi to the train station where you can take a high speed train to either Madrid or Barcelona in about an hour-and-a-half. Options are unlimited at this point as you can pretty much take a train anywhere in Europe from either of these two cities. Whatever you do though, have fun! If commitments back home allow, I definitely recommend taking advantage of this opportunity to do some additional exploring.

COST:
$1,950 per person based on double occupancy. The single occupancy upcharge is $285. If you’re a single traveling with another single there are also rooms with two beds at nominal or no additional charge.

EXCHANGE RATE:
If the Euro to Dollar exchange rate exceeds 1.20 at the time of the tour we reserve the right to adjust the price accordingly. As of early July 2015 the exchange rate was around 1.10. Of course it’s impossible to predict what it will be next May/June but we’re optimistic that it won’t exceed 1.20.

DEPOSITS:
Reservations will not be guaranteed until a NON-REFUNDABLE deposit of $250.00 per person is received. Another non-refundable deposit of $700 will be charged 75 days prior to the trip and the final payment of $1,000 (plus the single occupancy upcharge if applicable) will be charged 45 days prior to the trip and also becomes non-refundable at that point.

TRIP CANCELLATION INSURANCE
Please, please, please understand that we cannot issue refunds for any reason whatsoever. (This includes but is not limited to illness or injury, an unexpected pregnancy, a death in the family, loss of income or anything else.) If you want to get trip cancellation insurance in the event something comes up on your end that prevents you from going on the trip at the last minute, there are several on-line sites that can provide that service for as low as $75. Here’s a link to one site if you’re interested: http://www.insuremytrip.com/plans/index.html and here’s a link to a local San Diego travel insurance provider: http://www.csatravelprotection.com/. I cannot stress how strongly I recommend that you at least look into coverage as it seems like every trip we do there’s always at least one person who can’t make it at the last minute for one reason or another, and, while we always feel horrible about the circumstances surrounding it, at that point we are totally on the hook for your expenses whether or not you show up. We strive to make these tours as affordable as possible and simply are not in a position to absorb the costs of cancellations. Thanks for understanding.

INCLUDED IN COST:
1. All breakfasts
2. All lunches (including wine)
3. All dinners (including wine) except the pintxos crawl in San Sebastian on Thursday
4. All hotels
5. Motorcoach transportation within Spain
6. All winery tours and tastings

NOT INCLUDED IN COST:
1. Air fare to and from Europe
2. Taxi or shuttle fares to and from airport, train stations and hotels
3. Free time activities
4. Ferry boat fare to and from Ziaboga (less than two euros)
5. Taxi to and from hotel and Zelai Txiki
6. Optional extra cocktails or extra wine

9th Tour Added: Valle de Guadalupe

The first eight tours are sold out so we are pleased to be able to add a ninth date for this popular south-of-the-border tour. If you want to be on the advance notice list for our tours, please visit our tours website at http://winevaulttours.com/ and sign up for our email newsletter there.

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INSIDER’S 3-DAY VALLE DE GUADALUPE WINE & CULINARY TOURS
$680 per person based on double occupancy ($115 single occupancy upcharge)
$85 upcharge for upgrading to a deluxe suite (per person based on double occupancy)

RSVP: (619) 295-3939

Your choice of 9 tour dates (all Sunday through Tuesday).
TOUR #1 ~ Sep 13-15 (SOLD OUT)
TOUR #2 ~ Sep 20-22 (SOLD OUT)
TOUR #3 ~ Sep 27-29 (SOLD OUT)
TOUR #4 ~ Oct 04-06 (SOLD OUT)
TOUR #5 ~ Oct 11-13 (SOLD OUT)
TOUR #6 ~ Oct 18-20 (SOLD OUT)
TOUR #7 ~ Oct 25-27 (SOLD OUT)
TOUR #8 ~ Nov 01-03 (SOLD OUT)
TOUR #9 ~ Nov 08-10 (40 SEATS STILL AVAILABLE)

All tours max out at 53 guests as that’s how many seats are on the bus.

COST
$680 per person based on double occupancy.
Single occupancy upcharge is $115.
Deluxe suite upgrade (see below) is $85 per person based on double occupancy.

BEFORE YOU CALL IN YOUR RESERVATION
Please make sure to read the deluxe suite option info below so that when you do make your reservation you’re prepared to tell us if you want a regular suite or a deluxe suite. This is VERY IMPORTANT as there are a limited number of deluxe suites available and they will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis!!!!!!!!!!!!!

DELUXE SUITE OPTION
The differences between the regular suites and the deluxe suites are that the deluxe suites have been remodeled, are on the top floors with sweeping ocean views, have huge walk-in showers, have upgraded bedding, and the bedroom and living room layout is flip-flopped so that the bedroom faces the ocean instead of the living room. While both suites are nice, the deluxe suites are worth the extra eighty-five bucks if you want to indulge yourself with a few more creature comforts … and want to wake up with the ocean in your face!

DEPOSITS
$130 non-refundable initial deposit due immediately
$200 non-refundable second deposit due 75 days before the tour start date
$350 non-refundable final payment (+ any single occupancy upcharges or deluxe suite upgrades if applicable) due 45 days before the tour start date

RSVP
Please call 619-295-3939 to RSVP.

INCLUDED IN COST:
1. Pre-boarding Bloody Mediterraneans and Mexican Coffees at WV&B
2. Transportation to Mexico and back via luxury motorcoach with on-board restroom
3. All transportation within Mexico via luxury motorcoach
4. Two nights oceanfront lodging at Hotel Coral y Marina
5. Sunday morning brunch with unlimited Bloody Marys, Margaritas and Mexican Coffees
6. All breakfasts
7. All lunches
8. All dinners
9. All winery tours and tastings

NOT INCLUDED IN COST:
1. One bottle of Valle de Guadalupe wine that you can purchase (plan on $15-20) at any winery we visit on Monday that you’ll share with the group at Monday night’s dinner at Deckman’s.
2. Bus driver tips (plan on $15 per person). We’ll collect this Sunday morning and give to the driver when we board.
3. Optional extra cocktails
4. Optional side trip to Ensenada Sunday afternoon (about $5 for cab fare)
5. Tips at Hotel Coral and Belio (plan on $15-20 total per person)

>>> Please SCROLL DOWN for the hour-by-hour itinerary below, but here’s an overview of the highlights:

~ Everyone will meet at Wine Vault & Bistro Sunday morning for our legendary Bloody Mediterraneans and Mexican Coffees. After checking in and socializing a bit with your soon-to-become new best friends, we’ll board the bus out front with to-go drinks in hand. Depending upon the border wait (usually about 15 minutes), we should arrive at Hotel Coral y Marina in just under two hours. The drive south on Hwy 1 is one of the most scenic in Mexico, with picturesque, Big Sur-like views from atop the rugged cliffs hugging the ocean’s edge. Hotel Coral y Marina is the best hotel in the Ensenada area. It’s located right in the marina halfway between the last toll booth and the entrance to the city. 100% of the rooms are suites, 100% of the rooms have balconies, and 100% of the rooms have in-your-face ocean views. It has two outdoor pools, one indoor pool, two Jacuzzis, an exercise room, a spa, and beautiful grounds. You’re not going to want to leave!

~ Once at the hotel we’ll start with an amazing Sunday brunch on the outdoor patio overlooking the ocean with bottomless Bloody Marys, Mexican Coffees and Margaritas included (yikes). After that the afternoon is free for you to:

1) check into your ocean view room and just hang out on your balcony, and/or
2) have a massage or spa treatment, and/or
3) walk around the marina, and/or
4) hang out at the pool bar and enjoy an adult beverage(s), and/or
5) rent a paddle boat or kayak and sail around the harbor, and/or
6) take a shuttle into Ensenada to do some shopping, etc. I’ll take anyone who’s interested into town (about a $5 cab ride) to see the famous fish market (home of the original fish taco), to Hussong’s (oldest bar in Baja and supposedly where the Margarita was invented), to an upscale Tequila shop (that gives out free samples!) and if we have time and you’re not too stuffed from brunch, to a seafood stand to sample some aguas calientes (a spicy ceviche-like preparation of sushi-grade, super-fresh raw seafood) with maybe a cold cerveza or two.

~ After an afternoon of relaxation, dinner will be at Belio’s, one of my favorite restaurants right on the ocean about five minutes north of our hotel. The bus will leave the hotel at 6:00 to take everyone there who would like to indulge in a pre-dinner libation(s) while cozying up at one of the firepits on their rustic stone patio on the ocean’s edge. For those of you who would prefer to maximize your time at the hotel, the bus will return an hour later to pick up everyone who stayed behind. Once the entire group is together at the restaurant, we’ll enjoy a delicious 5-course menu (including Crepes Suzette prepared tableside for dessert!) along with some Valle de Guadalupe wines. After dinner it’s back to the hotel and the evening is free for you to hang out in the lobby bar for a final nightcap with your new friends or to just call it an early night and relax on your private balcony overlooking the ocean.

~ Breakfast (included) Monday morning will be in the hotel’s restaurant with your choice of indoor or outdoor seating. It’s a first-class, all-you-can-eat buffet with many of the items made to order (omelets, eggs any style, smoothies to your specifications and even hand-pressed tortillas made right in front of you). In addition to many traditional Mexican specialties, you’ll also find plenty of typical American fare plus a delicious fresh tropical fruit station if you want to do something on the lighter/healthier side. (That’s where you’ll find me because I know what’s coming up for lunch and dinner and definitely want to save my appetite … hint, hint.)

~ And (because it takes a lot of beer to make good wine … how many times have you heard that line from winemakers?!), after breakfast we’ll hop on the bus for a five minute jaunt up the road to Agua Mala, an artisanal micro-brewery right on the ocean (but completely invisible from the highway because it’s hidden by a purposely non-descript wall with absolutely zero signage) owned by my friends Ashley and Nathaniel. This husband-wife team is rocking the Baja cerveza world with some amazing brews. (As a side note, our restaurant is one of the very, very few places in the USA that carries their super limited production beers on tap.) Even though we went here on the 2013 tours, so much has changed over the past two years that even if you’ve been here before, you’ll definitely enjoy this repeat visit just to see all the progress they’ve made. You’ll have an opportunity to taste different malts roasted at different levels and to smell the various strains of hops used to make their beers before actually sampling them so that once you actually do taste them, you’ll be able to recognize and have a much greater appreciation for the specific malts and hops used to make the different styles. After visiting the production facility we’ll hang out on the lawn in front of their house just behind the brewery on a cliff overlooking the ocean (yeah I know, tough life) to enjoy the final beer(s) of the morning.

~ Now is when the wine part of the tour officially starts. On Monday we’ll concentrate on the west side of the Valle; on Tuesday it’ll be the east side. Totally random side note but if you’ve not been to the Valle before, it’s laid out very similar to Napa Valley. There is a main north-south road on the west side of the Valle simply called the “New Road” (because for many years it was an unnamed dirt road and when it finally got paved the locals just referred to it as the new road). Then there’s another main north-south road paralleling the New Road about a mile or so to the east. That road is Mexico Hwy 3 which runs from Ensenada to Tecate. Both roads converge at the northern tip of the Valle in a town called Francisco Zarco. If you were in Napa Valley, the New Road would be Hwy 29, Mexico Hwy 3 would be the Silverado Trail, and Francisco Zarco would be Calistoga. That’s a vast over-simplification but hopefully makes a wee bit of sense … and gives you a better sense of place … or not!

~ Anyway, sorry for the digression. First stop on Hwy 29, err I mean the New Road, will be at La Carrodilla. This winery, in addition to being a drop-dead gorgeous facility (I so want their planted roof deck!) with wonderful wines, also has huge, meticulously manicured organic gardens. After our tour and tasting we’ll have an opportunity to wander through these gardens and watch as the kitchen staff from our next stop harvests the vegetables for our lunch. Farm to table at its absolute best and freshest.

~ Next stop will be at La Lomita for a tour and tasting … and for that lunch you just witnessed being harvested. La Lomita is a spectacular castle-like winery out in the middle of nowhere at the end of a long dirt road. Owned by a Mexico City actor, the facility was used as the set of a Mexican soap opera for several years. Everything is state-of-the-art and pretty much the last thing you’d expect to see at the end of this long dirt road. But what’s even more of a shock to the senses is the secret oasis behind the winery where we’ll enjoy an amazing lunch cooked over mesquite charcoal in their outdoor restaurant located right in the middle of waterfalls, ponds, meandering paths and seating areas. It’s an idyllic setting you’ll not soon forget.

~ After we pry everyone out of their seats (or off the lawn) at La Lomita we’ll head over to La Escuelita (literally translated little school). La Escuelita is a fascinating co-op “winery school” started by Guadalupe Valley wine pioneer Hugo D’Acosta that enables small mom-and-pop producers to produce their own wine, grappa and olive oil using shared equipment and facilities. The majority of the facility is made from recycled materials, ranging from barrel staves, to vine posts, to bedsprings, to irrigation lines, to wine bottles. Depending upon harvest dates this year, many of the tours will be able to see the open-top concrete fermenters in full action with a flurry of punch down activity and, of course, that intoxicating smell of the best perfume in the world – fermenting grapes. Hopefully the still will be operating and we’ll be able to see (and taste) the condensing grappa made from the leftover grape must trickling into buckets. The olive mill probably won’t be in operation while we’re there but we’ll still be able to see the giant 2-ton mill. My fellow Swiss national and friend Tomas will be our behind-the-scenes guide here to give us a truly insider’s tour of this not-open-to-the-public, non-glamourous, strictly functional facility that takes all the mysticism out of making wine and reduces it down to the basics. (If you’re an aspiring winemaker, please ask Tomas about the classes he and Hugo teach here periodically.) We’ll sample a few wines paired with a few local artisanal cheeses here before Tomas leads us on to our next winery stop, Paralelo.

~ I’m especially excited about Paralelo as this is the first time they’ve allowed groups our size to visit. It took us six years of groveling and begging, err, I mean persistence, before they granted our request to bring groups here. Paralelo is another one of those “how-did-that-get-here” wineries out in the middle of nowhere off a side dirt road off the main dirt road to L. A. Cetto. Hugo D’Acosta is the winemaker here and his architect brother Alejandro designed this futuristic facility built in the shape of a cross on the site of a former rubbish dump. Should be another truly insider’s stop of a very much off-the-beaten-path winery producing stellar wines in the middle of some pretty spectacular countryside. You’re welcome!

~ Hungry? I hope so … lunch at La Lomita was four hours ago and we’ve all been drinking heavily, err, I mean professionally tasting and spitting wine, at a break neck pace ever since and are probably ready to chillax. And I’ve got just the ticket … we’ll meet up with my good friend and Michelin-starred chef Drew Deckman at his under-the-stars, hay-bale restaurant (also designed by Alejandro D’Acosta) at Mogor Badan Winery. We’ll have about a half hour or so before dinner starts to wander the grounds (home of the largest garden in the Valle) and enjoy an optional no-host happy hour with specialty cocktails, Agua Mala cervezas, and artisanal Mezcals. Just before dinner we’ll open everyone’s wine bottles and distribute them to each table. (Remember, this is the day that you will have purchased a bottle at one of the vineyards we visited earlier to share with the group at dinner tonight. This is a fun tradition we started on our very first tour but what is extra special about doing it in Mexico is that, due to the restrictive limits on how much wine you can bring back across the border, many of the wineries suffer in sales and this is just a small way we can help share the love.) Then Drew has an amazing four-course dinner designed for us that will blow your mind. Great food, great wine, great company, the warm smell of charcoal grilled quail rising up through the air, stars you can actually see above … does it get any better?!

~ After a dinner you’ll wish would never end, we’ll make the half hour drive back to the hotel for the night where, here again, you’re welcome to hang out in the lobby bar for a final, final nightcap with your new friends or to just call it a day and relax on your private balcony before peacefully (comatosely?) drifting off.

~ Breakfast is included at the hotel again Tuesday morning. After breakfast we’ll pack up and hit the road again, but this time we’ll concentrate on the eastern, or Mexico Hwy 3 side of the valley (AKA Silverado Trail).

~ First stop will be at Cava Maciel where owner/winemaker Jorge Maciel will give us a tour of his small winery and then a wine tasting paired with some of the local cheeses made right here in the Valle. He also has a large vacation home right on the winery property that he rents out through airbnb so if anyone is interested in coming back with a bunch of friends and wants to rent a party house right in the middle of the Valle, he’ll be happy to show you around.

~ Next stop will be five minutes up the road at Clos de Tres Cantos. This is a brand new winery that is currently still under construction but should be completed just in time for our tours. It’s a stunning architectural work carved out of indigenous huge boulders with cast-in-place concrete and rock walls, recycled wine bottles for windows, and a chapel-like barrel room with a suspended tasting table supported by steel rods anchored into the “steeple” ceiling thirty feet above. It’s such a creative architectural work that really must be experienced first hand as it’s impossible to describe with words. All I can say is that you will love this place, its sweeping views and, of course, their wines.

~ Finally, just like the tours in 2009, 2011 and 2013, we’ll end at our friends Ray and Patty Magnussen’s Lechuza (Spanish for burrowing ground owl which is prevalent there) Vineyard. They are hosting a sumptuous, one-for-the-record-books outdoor feast prepared by the chefs next door at Laja – also known as the “French Laundry” of Mexico. Ray’s being pretty tight lipped about the menu but I did hear him mumble something about an oyster station, whole grilled fish, something whole roasted on a spit and some sort of special margarita. Needless to say, there aren’t enough adjectives to describe how-off-the charts this final lunch will be. After lunch Ray will take everyone into the cellar for barrel tasting and then for a tour of the vineyards. In addition to their Lechuza wines which will be paired with lunch, there will also be plenty of cold cervezas and other libations, and maybe even a cigar or two.

~ Then it’s back to reality. All good things must come to an end sometime … but not before one last, scenic drive up the Big Sur-like coast line … and if the past is prologue, with plenty of leftover libations to drink along the way. Another random side note: I’ve personally seen the “green flash” only three times in my life. Once from our balcony at home and twice on these tours coming back from Ensenada! Fingers crossed!

~ Oops, well almost back to reality … we’ll prolong the magic for one more hour to sneak in a final sunset cocktail(s) at La Fonda. La Fonda is an aging oceanfront hotel/resort/spa perched on the cliffs of La Mision overlooking the Pacific Ocean between Rosarito Beach and Ensenada. I’ve been going there for over thirty years, and have some fond memories and more than just a few great stories! The views from their oceanfront bar patio are simply magical. When we stopped here on the 2013 tours we got a rare treat with spectacular views of Venus on the horizon just after the sun went down. I checked an astronomy chart and it looks like Mercury, Saturn and/or Neptune may be visible to the naked eye on some of the 2015 tours. Fingers crossed again!

~ From La Fonda it’s about 45 minutes to the border, and then roughly 15-30 minutes to go through customs (remember your passport or Sentri card!), and then about 20 minutes back to WV&B.

HOUR-BY-HOUR ITINERARY
SUNDAY
08:45 AM ~ Meet at Wine Vault & Bistro for pre-boarding Bloody Mediterraneans and Mexican Coffees
09:30 AM ~ Luxury motor coach (with on-board restroom) picks everyone up at WV&B
11:30 AM ~ Arrive Hotel Coral y Marina where we’ll spend the entire day relaxing at this high rise oceanfront hotel/resort/spa. We’ll start with an amazing brunch (Including cocktails) in their restaurant overlooking the ocean. After that the afternoon is free for you to check into your ocean view room, and/or have a massage or spa treatment, and/or take a walk along the ocean, and/or rent a kayak or pedal boat, and/or take a shuttle into Ensenada five minutes away to explore the shops, restaurants, bars, tequila shops or the famous fish market (home of the original fish taco).
02:00 PM ~ Afternoon on your own
06:00 PM ~ No host pre-dinner cocktails at Belio overlooking the ocean
07:00 PM ~ 5-course dinner at Belio
09:45 PM ~ Depart Belio
10:00 PM ~ Arrive hotel for the night

MONDAY
07:30 AM ~ Breakfast included at Hotel Coral y Marina
09:00 AM ~ Depart hotel
09:15 AM ~ Agua Mala brewery tour and tasting
10:45 AM ~ Depart Agua Mala
11:15 AM ~ La Carrodilla tour + tasting
12:30 PM ~ Depart La Carrodilla
12:45 PM ~ La Lomita lunch, tour + tasting
03:00 PM ~ Depart La Lomita
03:15 PM ~ La Escuelita (little winemaking school) tour, tasting + cheese
04:45 PM ~ Depart La Escuelita
05:00 PM ~ Paralelo tour and tasting
06:15 PM ~ Depart Paralelo
06:30 PM ~ No host cocktails at Deckman’s at Mogor Baden
07:00 PM ~ Dinner at Deckman’s at Mogor Baden
09:30 PM ~ Bus back to the hotel for the night
10:00 PM ~ Arrive hotel for the night

TUESDAY
07:30 AM ~ Breakfast included at Hotel Coral y Marina
09:15 AM ~ Depart hotel
09:45 AM ~ Cava Maciel for tour + tasting
10:45 AM ~ Depart Cava Maciel
11:00 AM ~ Clos de Tres Cantos
12:15 PM ~ Depart Clos de Tres Cantos
12:30 PM ~ Arrive Lechuza
04:30 PM ~ Depart Lechuza
05:45 PM ~ Arrive La Fonda for sunset cocktails over the ocean
07:15 PM ~ Depart La Fonda
09:00 PM ~ Arrive San Diego (plus or minus depending upon border wait)

MISCELLANEOUS NOTES
1. You MUST have a current passport or Sentri pass to get back into the US!

2. If you are a California resident, you can bring ONE bottle of wine per person back into the US. If you are a non-California resident (or have an out-of-state driver’s license) you can bring back up to 5 cases of wine per person. (NOTE: In the past we’ve usually had several guests with out-of-state licenses. If you’re a California resident and want to bring back more than one bottle, my recommendation is that you make friends with these people … if you get my drift.)

3. If you’re unfamiliar with Valle de Guadalupe wines, or have only experienced the “supermarket quality” wines from some of the larger producers, you’re in for a very pleasant surprise. Most of the wineries we’ll be visiting are small, super-premium producers that will give you a whole new perspective on south of the border wines. Be prepared to be wowed!

4. Please note that this is a physical tour that involves lots of walking. Day time to night time temperature swings can vary as much as 30-40 degrees, so in addition to a pair of comfortable walking shoes, make sure to dress in layers.

5. If you’re looking ahead for future tours we’re planning a northern Spain wine and culinary tour in May / June 2016. It will be a week-long tour beginning in Madrid and going through Rueda, Ribera del Duero, Rioja, San Sebastian, Navarra, Campo Borja and ending in Zaragoza. We also may be putting together a Bourbon tour of Kentucky. Not sure about dates on that one yet … more on that later if it materializes. If you think you might be interested in any of these please reply to this email with the trip(s) you’re likely to go on in the subject line so I can start judging response.

Hope you can make it!

Chris

2nd Night Added: 95-97 Point Turley Zins & Cassoulet Special this Thursday

95-97 POINT TURLEY ZINS & CASSOULET SPECIAL
Thursday, June 11, 2015 anytime from 5:30 on
RSVP: (619) 295-3939

3-Course Cassoulet Special: $25
(lots of other dinner choices available including vegetarian options)

Turley Zinfandel Wine Flight (2 wines): $16

>>> PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR MENU AND WINES

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
UPCOMING EVENTS:
http://www.winevaultbistro.com (Click on Calendar)

ONGOING
Every Thursday ~ 3-Course $25 Menu + Wine Pairing Special TBA (changes weekly)
Every Friday ~ 3-Course $25 Menu with Paired Wines
Every Saturday ~ Chef’s $35 5-Course Tasting Menu with Paired Wines

THIS WEEK
06/11 (Thur) ~ 95-97 Point Turley Zins & Cassoulet Special (see below)
06/12 (Fri) ~ 3-Course $25 Menu with Paired Wines (this and every Friday ~ see calendar)
06/13 (Sat) ~ Chef’s $35 5-Course Tasting Menu with Paired Wines (this and every Saturday ~ see calendar)
06/14/15 (Sun) ~ Swanson Winemaker Dinner with Chris Phelps (SOLD OUT)
06/14/15 – 06/17/15 (Sun – Wed) ~ Insider’s 4-Day Cocktail, Culinary & Jazz Tour of New Orleans #4 ~ SOLD OUT

UPCOMING
07/12/15 (Sun) ~ Cass Winemaker Dinner #1 with Ted Plemons (SOLD OUT)
07/13/15 (Mon) ~ Cass Winemaker Dinner #2 with Ted Plemons (see calendar)
09/13/15 – 09/15/15 (Sun – Tues) ~ Insider’s 3-Day Wine & Culinary Tour of Valle de Guadalupe #1 ~ SOLD OUT
09/20/15 – 09/22/15 (Sun – Tues) ~ Insider’s 3-Day Wine & Culinary Tour of Valle de Guadalupe #2 ~ SOLD OUT
09/27/15 – 09/29/15 (Sun – Tues) ~ Insider’s 3-Day Wine & Culinary Tour of Valle de Guadalupe #3 ~ SOLD OUT
10/04/15 – 10/06/15 (Sun – Tues) ~ Insider’s 3-Day Wine & Culinary Tour of Valle de Guadalupe #4 ~ SOLD OUT
10/11/15 – 10/13/15 (Sun – Tues) ~ Insider’s 3-Day Wine & Culinary Tour of Valle de Guadalupe #5 ~ SOLD OUT
10/18/15 – 10/20/15 (Sun – Tues) ~ Insider’s 3-Day Wine & Culinary Tour of Valle de Guadalupe #6 ~ SOLD OUT
10/25/15 – 10/27/15 (Sun – Tues) ~ Insider’s 3-Day Wine & Culinary Tour of Valle de Guadalupe #7 ~ SOLD OUT
11/01/15 – 11/03/15 (Sun – Tues) ~ Insider’s 3-Day Wine & Culinary Tour of Valle de Guadalupe #8 ~ SOLD OUT
11/08/15 – 11/10/15 (Sun – Tues) ~ Insider’s 3-Day Wine & Culinary Tour of Valle de Guadalupe #9 ~ just added

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Please join us (21 and up only, please) this Thursday anytime from 5:30 on for an extremely rare opportunity to taste a couple of Turley’s cult status Zins. As you probably know, Turley’s mailing list has been closed for years with a waiting list a mile long, so this is truly an extraordinary opportunity to sample some amazing wines that very, very few people are ever able to taste. We’re featuring two of their 2013’s: the “Estate Vineyard” Zin from Napa Valley to pair with the first course and the “Dragon Vineyard” Zin from Howell Mountain to pair with the main. The flight of both wines is a ridiculously low sixteen bucks. (Yes, only sixteen bucks … not a misprint.) Wine notes and bottle prices are at the end of this announcement if you’re interested. (Due to the scarcity of these wines, please note that we reserve the right to limit bottle purchases at our discretion and that we will likely have to have a lottery for bottle purchases to-go.)

In addition to the regular twenty-five buck 3-course prix fixe bistro menu (which includes vegetarian options), we’re also featuring a cassoulet special (also twenty-five bucks) that pairs with the wines. Here’s the menu special line-up:

Thai Chile + Roasted Garlic Glazed Pork Spareribs | Peanut + Cilantro Gremolata
(to enjoy with the “Estate Vineyard” Zinfandel)

Deconstructed South of France Cassoulet | Crispy Duck Confit | Bacon Stewed Peas | Smoked Toulouse Sausage
(to enjoy with the “Dragon Vineyard” Zinfandel)

Chocolate Sponge Cake | Trail Side Strawberries | White Chocolate + Peppercorn Ice Cream
(to enjoy by itself or with a serving of our “5150” Port-like blend)

And here’s the wine line-up:

TURLEY ZINFANDEL FLIGHT: $16 (3 oz. pours)
2013 Turley “Estate Vineyard” Zinfandel
2013 Turley “Dragon Vineyard” Zinfandel

RSVP ~ (619) 295-3939
Reservations are highly recommended.

SO YOU DON’T LIKE THESE WINES, EH?
In addition to the featured wine flight, we’ll also have these and other wines available by the glass or bottle, as well as the usual pairing flight. We also have a full bar with lots of premium libations and attitude adjusters.

SO YOU DON’T LIKE THE DINNER SPECIAL, EH?
In addition to the special mentioned above, we’ll also have several other 3-course menus (including vegetarian options) available. The bistro menu changes every week but you can get an example of a typical one by visiting our website, clicking on the calendar link and then clicking on a recent Friday.

LOCATION & PHONE
Wine Vault & Bistro is located in the heart of San Diego between Little Italy and Old Town at 3731-A India Street on the upstairs terrace. Follow the black handrail up the stairs from the sidewalk to our front door. Our phone number is (619) 295-3939.

PARKING ~ FREE & PAID
Valet parking is available for $7.00. The drop-off point is two doors south of our entrance in front of Shakespeare Pub at the corner of India and Winder. On-street parking is also usually available within a 3-block radius. Remember that it’s OK to park in yellow commercial zones after 6:00 and that meters are also free after 6:00. You can also park in the lot behind Shakespeare Pub two doors down, but do not park in El Indio’s lot unless you want your car towed! If you can’t find parking next to the restaurant, there’s always LOTS OF PARKING on San Diego Avenue and the adjacent side streets just past the Chevron station across Washington Street. So please don’t drive yourself crazy endlessly going around in circles waiting to pounce on that perfect spot when there’s TONS OF PARKING less than three blocks away!

FREE TAXI SERVICE
Bye, bye DUI worries! If you’re not already signed up with UBER, you should be! It’s less than half the price of a taxi, is waaaay more dependable, has much quicker pick-up times (usually 4-7 minutes to your door), no tipping is accepted, your fare gets automatically billed to your credit card with a receipt emailed instantly, and a courteous, English-speaking driver always shows up in a spotlessly clean, late-model vehicle. Oh, and did I mention it’s less than half the price of a taxi?! Anyway, if you open this link on your smart phone (https://get.uber.com/r/share/emc/ec21/chrisg773/21/?lang=en) and fill out the pertinent info, your first UBER ride (up to $30) will be absolutely free. Alternatively, go to the App Store on your smart phone, find UBER, use chrisg773 as your promotion code, and you’ll get the same free ride. Once you’ve used UBER, you will NEVER use a regular taxi again!

TASTING NOTES & BOTTLE PRICES
2013 Turley “Estate Vineyard” Zinfandel ~ $56
(Napa Valley) Review by Robert Parker ~ 95 points: Anyone who has visited Turley Cellars knows that the winery is right off Route 29, just north of St. Helena, seven miles south of Calistoga. The vineyard in their backyard produced the 2013 Zinfandel Turley Estate (15.7%). A young-vine, dry-farmed Zinfandel from head-pruned, organic vines planted in 2006, this is another Châteauneuf du Pape look-alike. Peppery, roasted meat, blackcurrant, black cherry and garrigue smells dominate this wine, which has a distinctive Mediterranean personality even though the closest body of water is Lake Hennessy, and the Pacific Ocean is a drive two to three hours west. Rich, full-bodied, and clearly one of the great Estate Zinfandels Larry Turley has made to date, this is beauty to drink now or to cellar and drink over the following decade. It’s a stunner – multi- dimensional, complex and – do I dare use the word? – delicious.

2013 Turley “Dragon Vineyard” Zinfandel ~ $66
(Howell Mountain) Review by Robert Parker ~ 97 points: Larry Turley has produced three 2013 Zinfandels from the Howell Mountain AVA, which he was one of the first to exploit in terms of Zinfandel. Nearly 25 years later, he continues making some of the finest wines this ancient grape can produce. The 2013 Zinfandel Dragon Vineyard from Howell Mountain originates from one of the highest elevation sites in the Turley portfolio. Estate-owned, this vineyard (at 2400 feet, well above the fog line and east-facing as well) is planted in volcanic and rocky soils. It has always produced one of the killer Zinfandels, and the 2013 (15.3% alcohol) is no exception. It has a saturated dense ruby/purple color, a seamless integration of acidity, tannin and alcohol.

France & Spain Travelers

For all of you who went on our south of France tours last year, and for all of you who are planning to go on our Spain tours next year, we have a very special wine pairing that you’ll not want to miss.

Anyway next Thursday we’re going to do a repeat of yesterday’s amazing Grenache showdown. We’re featuring Pertuisane’s “Le Nain Violet” (which was everyone’s favorite on the south of France tour … remember this was the state-of-the-art winery in the tiny village of Maury that was our first stop on Tuesday morning when we left Perpignan) along side Atlo Moncayo’s “Veraton” (which we’ll we visiting on next year’s Spain tours). And we’ll start out with the Bodegas Borsao “Tres Picos” as a little palate-warmer-upper (which is next door to Alto Moncayo and will also be one of the Spain stops next year.)

And advance apologies to everyone who is also on our restaurant list as you will get a repeat of this email next Monday when it goes out to that list … but I just wanted to give y’all an advance notice heads up. These wines are off-the-charts amazing and you do not want to miss this rare opportunity to taste them side-by-side!

Nuff said. Anyway, below is the email that will go out to the restaurant list on Monday will all the details. We expect this to attract a lot of folks so please RSVP early if you’re interested!

CULT STATUS GRENACHE (SPAIN VS. FRANCE) PLUS QUAIL & SHORT RIBS SPECIAL
Thursday, April 9, 2015 anytime from 5:30 on
RSVP: (619) 295-3939

3-Course Quail & Short Ribs Special: $25
(lots of other dinner choices available including vegetarian options)

Cult Status Grenache (Spain vs. France) Wine Flight (3 wines): $12

Please join us this Thursday anytime from 5:30 on (21 and up only, please) for a rare opportunity to taste two of my absolute favorite, verging-on-cult-status Grenaches. We’re pouring Domaine Pertuisane’s “Le Nain Violet” from France vs. Alto Moncayo’s “Veraton” from Spain.

Those of you who went on our south of France tours last year will have fond memories of visiting Pertuisane’s state-of-the-art winery in the ancient village of Maury where we met up with winemaker Richard Case and his wife Sarah. The facility was actually built by David Phinney of Orin Swift and “Prisoner” fame, and is also where he makes his D66 wines. Le Nain Violet is French for the “Purple Dwarf” and refers to the short, stubby, gnarly 65+ year old Grenache vines so prevalent there.

And those of you who will be going on our Northern Spain tours next year will have an opportunity to visit Alto Moncayo. I was fortunate enough to taste the Veraton from the barrel when I visited last year. It was amazing then but even better now that it’s had another year of age. It’s made by Chris Ringland, the winemaker who has the most perfect 100 point scores of any winemaker in the world, and also the winemaker for the Clio wines we featured here last week. The winery is located pretty much out in the middle of no where in the town of Campo Borja about 45 minutes north of Zaragoza. Like Maury in France, this area is also known for its very old, gnarly, short, stubby Grenache vines that produce some of the most amazing juice in the world.

This promises to be a wonderful opportunity to compare two exquisite old vine Grenaches made by two rock star winemakers from grapes grown in similar terroirs but in different countries. And, to prime your taste buds, we’re going to start the flight with a bonus pour of an “entry level” Grenache, Tres Picos, also from Campo Borja and literally less than ten minutes away from Alto Moncayo. Hope you can make it! Wine notes and bottle prices are at the end of this announcement if you’re interested.

In addition to the regular twenty-five buck 3-course prix fixe bistro menu (which includes vegetarian options), we’re also featuring a quail and short ribs special that should pair exceptionally well with these wines. Here’s the line-up:

Roasted Quail | Sage + Thyme Sausage | Shelling Purée
(to enjoy with the Tres Picos)

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs | Roasted Spring Vegetables | Truffled Potato Mousse
(to enjoy with the Le Nain Violet and the Veraton)

Milk Chocolate Mousse | Chilled Berry Soup | Hazelnut Tuiles
(to enjoy by itself or with a serving of our Framboise Liqueur)

Here’s the wine line-up:

GRENACHE WINE FLIGHT (3 wines ~ 3 oz. pours): $12
2012 Bodegas Borsao “Tres Picos” Garnacha
2012 Pertuisane “Le Nain Violet” Grenache
2012 Alto Moncayo “Veraton” Garnacha

RSVP ~ (619) 295-3939
Reservations are highly recommended.

SO YOU DON’T LIKE THESE WINES, EH?
In addition to the featured wine flight, we’ll also have these and other wines available by the glass or bottle, as well as the usual pairing flight. We also have a full bar with lots of premium libations and attitude adjusters.

SO YOU DON’T LIKE THE DINNER SPECIAL, EH?
In addition to the special mentioned above, we’ll also have several other 3-course menus (including vegetarian options) available. The bistro menu changes every week but you can get an example of a typical one by visiting our website, clicking on the calendar link and then clicking on a recent Friday.

LOCATION & PHONE
Wine Vault & Bistro is located in the heart of San Diego between Little Italy and Old Town at 3731-A India Street on the upstairs terrace. Follow the black handrail up the stairs from the sidewalk to our front door. Our phone number is (619) 295-3939.

WINE NOTES & BOTTLE PRICES
2012 Bodegas Borsao “Tres Picos” Garnacha ~ $17
(Spain) Review by Robert Parker ~ 92 points: One of the finest inexpensive, Grenache-based wines made in the world. This full-bodied beauty boasts a deep ruby color as well as loads of strawberry and black cherry fruit, hints of lavender and crushed rocks, sweet tannin, and a broad, savory mouthfeel. It should be consumed over the next 3-4 years.

2012 Pertuisane “Le Nain Violet” Grenache ~ $26
(France) Winemaker’s Notes: Le Nain Violet (The Purple Dwarf) is low-yielding, old vine Grenache, 90% of which is sourced from vineyards planted pre-1950. This is an inky black wine with vivid blackberry, wild berry, pepper and spice. It is strikingly deep and concentrated with a long persistent finish and a delicate minerality drawn from the broken schist soils.

2012 Alto Moncayo “Veraton” Garnacha ~ $28
(Spain) Review by Robert Parker ~ 93 points: Bodegas Alto Moncayo started in 2001 as a collaboration between importer Jorge Ordoñez, American importer Dan Phillips, Australian winemaker Chris Ringland and others. Located near the town of Borja, the 210 acres of vineyards are head-pruned, old Grenache vines planted at 3,000 feet above sea level in poorly nourished soils of slate, clay, chalk and quartzite. The 2012 Veraton is 100% Grenache aged in 60% new French and 40% American oak for 17 months before being bottled without filtration. It is a powerful, full-throttle, pedal-to-the-metal red boasting a dense purple color, and a sweet blackcurrant and black cherry fruit, lavender, licorice and earth notes intermixed with a touch of new oak. Stylistically, this is a modern, massively intense, rich wine that over-delivers in many ways. However, it is not for consumers looking for shy, restrained and delicate wines. It should drink well for a decade.

Northern Spain 2016 Wine Tours Heads Up

Just wanted to give anyone interested in these tours a heads up on the dates. I’ve got almost half of the itinerary finalized and will be going back to Spain next month for three weeks to finalize the rest. I had originally planned for this tour to start in Oporto (Portugal) but it became painfully obvious that that’s just too much ground to cover in too short of time. So I elected to just concentrate on northern Spain and design a leisurely one-week itinerary instead.

While I don’t have all the details yet, here is a rough outline of what to expect. The tour will start in Madrid and end in Zaragoza. Zaragoza is halfway between Barcelona and Madrid. The new high speed (300 km/hr!) train will get you from Zaragoza to either city in two hours. Zaragoza is one of my favorite cities in Spain … think miniature version of Barcelona. Anyway, we’ll meet at Hotel Regina in Madrid (there’s a shuttle from the airport that will get you within blocks of the hotel) on Sunday evening for a quick orientation and then go out for a group dinner. The bus will pick everyone up at the hotel the next morning and we’ll visit wineries in Rueda and Ribera del Duero and then head straight to Rioja where we’ll spend the next two nights in Logrono. We’ll visit several wineries in Rioja including Muga and the wine caves in the ancient walled city of Laguardia before heading to San Sebastian. On the way out of town I’m trying to squeeze in a stop at the famous salt mines in Valle Salado de Anana. We’ll spend two nights in San Sebastian in the Basque Country where we’ll visit an ancient fishing village, take a pintxos class, eat at amazing restaurants including a Michelin starred one in the middle of a vineyard, go on a pintxos pub crawl, and just generally have a great time in what many consider to be the most beautiful city in Spain … and home of the most Michelin starred restaurants per capita of any city in the world! On Friday we’ll head south through Navarra visiting a winery along the way and then end up in Campo de Borja for vineyard/winery tours at Bodegas Borsao (Tres Picos) and Alto Moncayo (a winery that has earned several 100 point wines made by winemaker extraordinaire Chris Ringland). Then it’s down to Zaragoza where we’ll check into Hotel Palafox, freshen up, and then go out for a final night on the town. The tour is officially over when you wake up Saturday morning but I suspect many of you will want to extend your stay in this enchanting city for at least another day. Those of you who need to head back to Madrid can either take the high speed train at your convenience or return with the bus driver at no extra charge on Saturday afternoon.

There’s still obviously a lot to be finalized but hopefully this gives you a general idea of what’s in store. I’m hoping to have everything finalized by the end of May when I return from Spain at which time I’ll send out a detailed email with a complete itinerary and all of the particulars. I obviously don’t have final cost figures yet but will do my best to keep it around $2,100 if at all possible. The dollar is gaining on the Euro every day so there’s even the possibility that we’ll be able to do it for slightly less. Stay tuned.

In the meantime I know a lot of you would like to have a heads up on the dates so you can coordinate with your friends, work schedules, babysitters, etc.

The first tour will be on May 22-28, 2016 (Sunday-Saturday) with subsequent trips basically happening every Sunday-Saturday after that until the tours sell out. The bus has 54 seats so that pretty much dictates how many people we can take on each tour. It’s hard to predict exactly how many tours we’ll actually be able to host but we did four to south of France in 2014 … so I’m hoping that we’ll be able to do at least that many in 2016. So tentative dates are as follows:

TOUR #1 ~ May 22-28, 2016
TOUR #2 ~ May 29-June 4, 2016
TOUR #3 ~ June 5-11, 2016
TOUR #4 ~ June 12-18, 2016

Anyway, if you’re interested in going on one of these tours, please reply to this email with the tour date(s) that work best for you. Then I’ll be sure to personally email you back with the finalized info at least a week before we send it out to the mass list so that you’ll be assured of getting first priority on the date(s) that work best for you. Please note that just because you email me that does NOT guarantee that you’re automatically on the trip!!! This is just meant to be a “save the date” so you can plan accordingly. You will still need to contact us to finalize your reservation once you receive the final details in late May but, rest assured, letting us know your date preference(s) now puts you right at the top of the list and GREATLY increases your chances of getting the of date(s) of you choice!!!

Thanks, and very much looking forward to sharing another amazing overseas wine adventure with you all!

Chris

7th Tour Added to 3-Day Valle de Guadalupe Trips

The first five tours are sold out and the sixth is half sold out, so we are pleased to be able to add a seventh date for this popular south-of-the-border tour! Advance apologies if you also subscribe to our restaurant email newsletter, as you’ll receive a duplicate of this email when we send it out to that list later.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

INSIDER’S 3-DAY VALLE DE GUADALUPE WINE & CULINARY TOURS
$680 per person based on double occupancy ($115 single occupancy upcharge)
$85 upcharge for upgrading to a deluxe suite (per person based on double occupancy)

RSVP: (619) 295-3939

Your choice of 7 tour dates (all Sunday through Tuesday).
TOUR #1 ~ Sep 13-15 (SOLD OUT)
TOUR #2 ~ Sep 20-22 (SOLD OUT)
TOUR #3 ~ Sep 27-29 (SOLD OUT)
TOUR #4 ~ Oct 04-06 (SOLD OUT)
TOUR #5 ~ Oct 11-13 (2 SEATS STILL AVAILABLE)
TOUR #6 ~ Oct 18-20 (23 SEATS STILL AVAILABLE)
TOUR #7 ~ Oct 25-27 (45 SEATS STILL AVAILABLE)

All tours max out at 53 guests as that’s how many seats are on the bus.

COST
$680 per person based on double occupancy.
Single occupancy upcharge is $115.
Deluxe suite upgrade (see below) is $85 per person based on double occupancy.

BEFORE YOU CALL IN YOUR RESERVATION
Please make sure to read the deluxe suite option info below so that when you do make your reservation you’re prepared to tell us if you want a regular suite or a deluxe suite. This is VERY IMPORTANT as there are a limited number of deluxe suites available and they will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis!!!!!!!!!!!!!

DELUXE SUITE OPTION
The differences between the regular suites and the deluxe suites are that the deluxe suites have been remodeled, are on the top floors with sweeping ocean views, have huge walk-in showers, have upgraded bedding, and the bedroom and living room layout is flip-flopped so that the bedroom faces the ocean instead of the living room. While both suites are nice, the deluxe suites are worth the extra eighty-five bucks if you want to indulge yourself with a few more creature comforts … and want to wake up with the ocean in your face!

DEPOSITS
$130 non-refundable initial deposit due immediately
$200 non-refundable second deposit due 75 days before the tour start date
$350 non-refundable final payment (+ any single occupancy upcharges or deluxe suite upgrades if applicable) due 45 days before the tour start date

RSVP
Please call 619-295-3939 to RSVP.

INCLUDED IN COST:
1. Pre-boarding Bloody Mediterraneans and Mexican Coffees at WV&B
2. Transportation to Mexico and back via luxury motorcoach with on-board restroom
3. All transportation within Mexico via luxury motorcoach
4. Two nights oceanfront lodging at Hotel Coral y Marina
5. Sunday morning brunch with unlimited Bloody Marys, Margaritas and Mexican Coffees
6. All breakfasts
7. All lunches
8. All dinners
9. All winery tours and tastings

NOT INCLUDED IN COST:
1. One bottle of Valle de Guadalupe wine that you can purchase (plan on $15-20) at any winery we visit on Monday that you’ll share with the group at Monday night’s dinner at Deckman’s.
2. Bus driver tips (plan on $15 per person). We’ll collect this Sunday morning and give to the driver when we board.
3. Optional extra cocktails
4. Optional side trip to Ensenada Sunday afternoon (about $5 for cab fare)
5. Tips at Hotel Coral and Belio (plan on $15-20 total per person)

>>> Please SCROLL DOWN for the hour-by-hour itinerary below, but here’s an overview of the highlights:

~ Everyone will meet at Wine Vault & Bistro Sunday morning for our legendary Bloody Mediterraneans and Mexican Coffees. After checking in and socializing a bit with your soon-to-become new best friends, we’ll board the bus out front with to-go drinks in hand. Depending upon the border wait (usually about 15 minutes), we should arrive at Hotel Coral y Marina in just under two hours. The drive south on Hwy 1 is one of the most scenic in Mexico, with picturesque, Big Sur-like views from atop the rugged cliffs hugging the ocean’s edge. Hotel Coral y Marina is the best hotel in the Ensenada area. It’s located right in the marina halfway between the last toll booth and the entrance to the city. 100% of the rooms are suites, 100% of the rooms have balconies, and 100% of the rooms have in-your-face ocean views. It has two outdoor pools, one indoor pool, two Jacuzzis, an exercise room, a spa, and beautiful grounds. You’re not going to want to leave!

~ Once at the hotel we’ll start with an amazing Sunday brunch on the outdoor patio overlooking the ocean with bottomless Bloody Marys, Mexican Coffees and Margaritas included (yikes). After that the afternoon is free for you to:

1) check into your ocean view room and just hang out on your balcony, and/or
2) have a massage or spa treatment, and/or
3) walk around the marina, and/or
4) hang out at the pool bar and enjoy an adult beverage(s), and/or
5) rent a paddle boat or kayak and tool around the harbor, and/or
6) take a shuttle into Ensenada to do some shopping, etc. I’ll take anyone who’s interested into town (about a $5 cab ride) to see the famous fish market (home of the original fish taco), to Hussong’s (oldest bar in Baja and supposedly where the Margarita was invented), to an upscale Tequila shop (that gives out free samples!) and if we have time and you’re not too stuffed from brunch, to a seafood stand to sample some aguas calientes (a spicy ceviche-like preparation of sushi-grade, super-fresh raw seafood) with maybe a cold cerveza or two.

~ After an afternoon of relaxation, dinner will be at Belio’s, one of my favorite restaurants right on the ocean and only about five minutes from the hotel. The bus will leave the hotel at 6:00 to take anyone there who wants to enjoy a pre-dinner libation(s) while cozying up to one of the firepits on their beautiful stone patio right on the ocean’s edge. Then the bus will return to the hotel an hour later to pick up anyone who stayed behind for dinner. Once the entire group is together at the restaurant, we’ll enjoy a delicious 5-course menu (including Crepes Suzette prepared tableside for dessert!) along with some Valle de Guadalupe wines. After dinner it’s back to the hotel and the evening is free for you to hang out in the lobby bar for a final nightcap with your new friends or to just call it an early night and relax on your private balcony overlooking the ocean.

~ Breakfast (included) Monday morning will be in the hotel’s restaurant with your choice of indoor or outdoor seating. It’s a first-class, all-you-can-eat buffet with many of the items made to order (omelets, eggs any style, smoothies to your specifications and even hand-pressed tortillas made right in front of you). In addition to many traditional Mexican specialties, you’ll also find plenty of typical American fare plus a delicious fresh tropical fruit station if you want to do something on the lighter/healthier side. (That’s where you’ll find me because I know what’s coming up for lunch and dinner and definitely want to save my appetite … hint, hint.)

~ And (because it takes a lot of beer to make good wine … how many times have you heard that line from winemakers?!), after breakfast we’ll hop on the bus for a five minute jaunt up the road to Agua Mala, an artisanal micro-brewery right on the ocean (but completely invisible from the highway because it’s hidden by a purposely non-descript wall with absolutely zero signage) owned by my friends Ashley and Nathaniel. This husband-wife team is rocking the Baja cerveza world with some amazing brews. (As a side note, our restaurant is one of the very, very few places in the United States that carries their super limited production beers on tap.) Even though we went here on the 2013 tours, so much has changed over the past two years that even if you’ve been here before, you’ll definitely enjoy this repeat visit just to see all the progress they’ve made. You’ll have an opportunity to taste different malts roasted at different levels and to smell the various strains of hops used to make their beers before actually sampling them so that once you actually do taste them, you’ll be able to recognize and have a much greater appreciation for the specific malts and hops used to make the different styles. After the brewery tour, we’ll hang out on the lawn in front of their house that’s just behind the brewery on the cliff overlooking the ocean (yeah I know, tough life) to enjoy the final beer of the morning … but hey, it’ll only be 10:30 so there’s plenty of more time for wine.

~ Now is when the wine part of the tour officially starts. On Monday we’ll concentrate on the west side of the Valle; on Tuesday it’ll be the east side. Totally random side note but if you’ve not been to the Valle before, it’s laid out very similar to Napa Valley. There is a main north-south road on the west side of the Valle simply called the “New Road” (because for many years it was an unnamed dirt road and when it finally got paved the locals just referred to it as the new road). Then there’s another main north-south road paralleling the New Road about a mile or so to the east. That road is Mexico Hwy 2 which runs from Ensenada to Tecate. Both roads converge at the northern tip of the Valle in a town called Francisco Zarco. If you were in Napa Valley, the New Road would be Hwy 29, Mexico Hwy 2 would be the Silverado Trail, and Francisco Zarco would be Calistoga. That’s a vast over-simplification but hopefully makes a wee bit of sense and will give you a better sense of place … or not!

~ Anyway, sorry for the digression. First stop on Hwy 29, err I mean the New Road, will be at La Carrodilla. This winery, in addition to being a beautiful facility with wonderful wines, also boasts huge organic gardens. After our tour and tasting we’ll have an opportunity to wander through these gardens and watch as the kitchen staff from our next stop harvests the vegetables for our lunch. Farm to table at its absolute best and freshest.

~ Next stop will be at La Lomita for a tour and tasting … and for that lunch you just witnessed being harvested. La Lomita is a gorgeous castle-like winery out in the middle of nowhere at the end of a long dirt road. Owned by a Mexico City actor, the facility was used as the set of a Mexican soap opera for several years. Everything is state-of-the-art and pretty much the last thing you’d expect to see at the end of this long dirt road. But what’s even more of a shock to the senses is the secret oasis behind the winery where we’ll enjoy an amazing lunch cooked over charcoal in their outdoor restaurant located in the midst of waterfalls, meandering paths and ponds. It’s an idyllic setting you’ll not soon forget.

~ After we pry everyone out of their seats (or off the lawn) at La Lomita (hey, we’re on a tight schedule!) we’ll head over to La Escuelita (literally translated little school). La Escuelita is a fascinating co-op “winery school” started by Guadalupe Valley wine pioneer Hugo D’Acosta that enables small mom-and-pop producers to produce their own wine, grappa and olive oil using shared equipment and facilities. The majority of the facility is made from recycled materials, ranging from barrel staves, to vine posts, to bedsprings, to irrigation lines, to wine bottles. Depending upon harvest dates this year, many of the tours will be able to see the open-top concrete fermenters in full action with a flurry of punch down activity and, of course, that intoxicating smell of the best perfume in the world – fermenting grapes. Hopefully the still will be operating and we’ll be able to see (and taste) the condensing grappa made from the leftover grape must trickling into buckets. The olive mill probably won’t be in operation while we’re there but we’ll still be able to see the giant 2-ton mill. My fellow Swiss national and friend Tomas will be our behind-the-scenes guide here to give us a truly insider’s tour of this not-open-to-the-public, non-glamourous, strictly functional facility that takes all the mysticism out of making wine and reduces it down to the basics. (If you’re an aspiring winemaker, please ask Tomas about the classes he teaches here periodically.) We’ll sample a few wines paired with a few local artisanal cheeses here before Tomas leads us on to our next winery stop, Paralelo.

~ I’m especially excited about Paralelo as this is the first time they’ve allowed groups our size to visit. It took us six years of groveling and begging, err, I mean persistence, before they granted our request to bring groups here. Paralelo is another one of those “how-did-that-get-here” wineries out in the middle of nowhere off a side dirt road off the main dirt road to L. A. Cetto. Hugo D’Acosta is the winemaker here and his architect brother Alejandro designed this futuristic facility built in the shape of a cross on the site of a former rubbish dump. Should be another truly insider’s stop of a very much off-the-beaten-path winery producing stellar wines in the middle of some pretty spectacular countryside. You’re welcome!

~ Hungry? I hope so … lunch at La Lomita was four hours ago and we’ve all been drinking heavily, err, I mean professionally tasting and spitting wine, at a break neck pace ever since and are probably ready to chillax. And I’ve got just the ticket … we’ll meet up with my good friend and Michelin-starred chef Drew Deckman at his under-the-stars, hay-bale restaurant (also designed by Alejandro D’Acosta) at Mogor Badan (yet another Swiss ex-pat winery). We’ll have about a half hour or so before dinner starts to wander the grounds (home of the largest garden in the Valle) and enjoy an optional no-host happy hour with specialty cocktails, Agua Mala cervezas, and artisanal Mezcals. Just before dinner we’ll open everyone’s wine bottles and distribute them to each table. (Remember, this is the day that you will have purchased a bottle at one of the vineyards we visited earlier to share with the group at dinner tonight. This is a fun tradition we started on our very first tour but what is extra special about doing it in Mexico is that, due to the restrictive limits on how much wine you can bring back across the border, many of the wineries suffer in sales and this is just a small way we can help share the love.) Then Drew has an amazing four-course dinner designed for us that will blow your mind. Great food, great wine, great company, the smell of charcoal grilled quail wafting through the night air, stars you can actually see above … does it get any better?!

~ After a dinner you’ll wish would never end, we’ll make the half hour drive back to the hotel for the night where, here again, you’re welcome to hang out in the lobby bar for a final, final nightcap with your new friends or to just call it a day and relax on your private balcony before peacefully (comatosely?) drifting off.

~ Breakfast is included at the hotel again Tuesday morning. After breakfast we’ll pack up and hit the road again, but this time we’ll concentrate on the eastern, or Mexico Hwy 2 side of the valley (AKA Silverado Trail).

~ First stop will be at Cava Maciel where owner/winemaker Jorge Maciel will give us a tour of his small winery and then a wine tasting paired with some of the local cheeses made right here in the Valle. He also has a large vacation home right on the winery property that he rents out through airbnb so if anyone is interested in coming back with a bunch of friends and wants to rent a party house right in the middle of the Valle, he’ll be happy to show you around.

~ Next stop will be five minutes up the road at Clos de Tres Cantos. This is a brand new winery that is currently still under construction but should be completed just in time for our tours. It’s a stunning architectural work carved out of the indigenous huge boulders with cast-in-place concrete and rock walls, recycled wine bottles for windows, and a chapel-like barrel room with a suspended tasting table supported by steel rods anchored into the “steeple” ceiling thirty feet above. It’s such a creative architectural work and really must be experienced first hand as it’s almost impossible to describe with words. All I can say is that you will love this place, its sweeping views and, of course, their wines.

~ Finally, just like the tours in 2009, 2011 and 2013, we’ll end at our friends Ray and Patty Magnussen’s Lechuza (Spanish for burrowing ground owl which is prevalent there) Vineyard. They are hosting a sumptuous, one-for-the-record-books outdoor feast prepared by the chefs next door at Laja – also known as the “French Laundry” of Mexico. Ray’s being pretty tight lipped about the menu but I did hear him mumble something about an oyster station, whole grilled fish, something whole roasted on a spit and some sort of special margaritas. Needless to say, there aren’t enough adjectives to describe how-off-the charts this final lunch will be. After lunch Ray will take everyone into the cellar for barrel tasting and then for a tour of the vineyards. In addition to their Lechuza wines which will be paired with lunch, there will also be plenty of cold cervezas and other libations, and maybe even a cigar or two.

~ Then it’s back to reality. All good things must come to an end sometime … but not before one last, scenic drive up the Big Sur-like coast line … and if the past is prologue, with plenty of leftover libations to drink along the way. Another random side note: I’ve personally seen the “green flash” only three times in my life. Once from our balcony at home and twice on these tours coming back from Ensenada! Fingers crossed!

~ Oops, well almost back to reality … we’ll prolong the magic for one more hour to sneak in a final sunset cocktail(s) at La Fonda. La Fonda is an aging oceanfront hotel/resort/spa perched on the cliffs of La Mision overlooking the Pacific Ocean between Rosarito Beach and Ensenada. I’ve been going there for over thirty years, and have some fond memories and more than just a few great stories! The views from their oceanfront bar patio are simply magical. When we stopped here on the 2013 tours we got a rare treat with spectacular views of Venus on the horizon just after the sun went down. I checked an astronomy chart and it looks like Mercury, Saturn and/or Neptune may be visible to the naked eye on some of the 2015 tours. Fingers crossed again!

~ From La Fonda it’s about 45 minutes to the border, and then roughly 15-30 minutes to go through customs (remember your passport or Sentri card!), and then about 20 minutes back to the Wine Vault.

HOUR-BY-HOUR ITINERARY
SUNDAY
08:45 AM ~ Meet at Wine Vault & Bistro for pre-boarding Bloody Mediterraneans and Mexican Coffees
09:30 AM ~ Luxury motor coach (with on-board restroom) picks everyone up at WV&B
11:30 AM ~ Arrive Hotel Coral y Marina where we’ll spend the entire day relaxing at this high rise oceanfront hotel/resort/spa. We’ll start with an amazing brunch (Including cocktails) in their restaurant overlooking the ocean. After that the afternoon is free for you to check into your ocean view room, and/or have a massage or spa treatment, and/or take a walk along the ocean, and/or rent a kayak or pedal boat, and/or take a shuttle into Ensenada five minutes away to explore the shops, restaurants, bars, tequila shops or the famous fish market (home of the original fish taco).
02:00 PM ~ Afternoon on your own
06:00 PM ~ No host pre-dinner cocktails at Belio overlooking the ocean
07:00 PM ~ 5-course dinner at Belio
09:45 PM ~ Depart Belio
10:00 PM ~ Arrive hotel for the night

MONDAY
07:30 AM ~ Breakfast included at Hotel Coral y Marina
09:00 AM ~ Depart hotel
09:15 AM ~ Agua Mala brewery tour and tasting
10:45 AM ~ Depart Agua Mala
11:15 AM ~ La Carrodilla tour + tasting
12:30 PM ~ Depart La Carrodilla
12:45 PM ~ La Lomita lunch, tour + tasting
03:00 PM ~ Depart La Lomita
03:15 PM ~ La Escuelita (little winemaking school) tour, tasting + cheese
04:45 PM ~ Depart La Escuelita
05:00 PM ~ Paralelo tour and tasting
06:15 PM ~ Depart Paralelo
06:30 PM ~ No host cocktails at Deckman’s at Mogor Baden
07:00 PM ~ Dinner at Deckman’s at Mogor Baden
09:30 PM ~ Bus back to the hotel for the night
10:00 PM ~ Arrive hotel for the night

TUESDAY
07:30 AM ~ Breakfast included at Hotel Coral y Marina
09:15 AM ~ Depart hotel
09:45 AM ~ Cava Maciel for tour + tasting
10:45 AM ~ Depart Cava Maciel
11:00 AM ~ Clos de Tres Cantos
12:15 PM ~ Depart Clos de Tres Cantos
12:30 PM ~ Arrive Lechuza
04:30 PM ~ Depart Lechuza
05:45 PM ~ Arrive La Fonda for sunset cocktails over the ocean
07:15 PM ~ Depart La Fonda
09:00 PM ~ Arrive San Diego (plus or minus depending upon border wait)

MISCELLANEOUS NOTES
1. You MUST have a current passport or Sentri pass to get back into the US!

2. If you are a California resident, you can bring ONE bottle of wine per person back into the US. If you are a non-California resident (or have an out-of-state driver’s license) you can bring back up to 5 cases of wine per person. (NOTE: In the past we’ve usually had several guests with out-of-state licenses. If you’re a California resident and want to bring back more than one bottle, my recommendation is that you make friends with these people … if you get my drift.)

3. If you’re unfamiliar with Valle de Guadalupe wines, or have only experienced the “supermarket quality” wines from some of the larger producers, you’re in for a very pleasant surprise. Most of the wineries we’ll be visiting are small, super-premium producers that will give you a whole new perspective on south of the border wines. Be prepared to be wowed!

4. Please note that this is a physical tour that involves lots of walking. Day time to night time temperature swings can vary as much as 30-40 degrees, so in addition to a pair of comfortable walking shoes, make sure to dress in layers.

5. If you’re looking ahead for future tours we’re tentatively planning a northern Spain wine and culinary tour in May / June 2016. Don’t have exact dates yet but it will probably be a week-long tour beginning in Madrid and going through Ribera del Duero, Rioja, San Sebastian, Navarra, Campo Borja and ending in Zaragoza. We also may be putting together a Bourbon tour of Kentucky. Not sure about dates on that one yet … more on that later if it materializes. If you think you might be interested in any of these please reply to this email with the trip(s) you’re likely to go on in the subject line so I can start judging response.

Hope you can make it!

Chris

4th Tour Added for New Orleans Culinary & Jazz Trips

The first three New Orleans tours are completely sold out with waiting lists so we are delighted to be able to add a fourth trip the following week (June 14-17, 2015). The original email announcement with all the particulars is copied below. Hope ya’ll can join us in the Big Easy!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

INSIDER’S 4-DAY COCKTAIL, CULINARY & JAZZ TOUR OF NEW ORLEANS

RSVP: (619) 295-3939

WHEN:
Your choice of four dates in 2015:

May 24th – May 27th, 2015 (Sun through Wed) ~ SOLD OUT
~ or ~
May 31st – June 3rd, 2015 (Sun through Wed) ~ SOLD OUT
~ or ~
June 7th – June 10th, 2015 (Sun through Wed) ~ SOLD OUT
~ or ~
June 14th – June 17th, 2015 (Sun through Wed) ~ JUST ADDED

RSVP:
619-295-3939

COST:
$1,325 per person based on double occupancy
$285 single occupancy up-charge

Please scroll to the end of this announcement to the DEPOSITS heading for detailed info on how deposits will be charged.

>>> Please SCROLL DOWN for the full itinerary below, but here’s the blow-by-blow. Please note that there may be a few minor changes (like cocktail or venue substitutions) but, for the most part, this is what to expect! Put on your seatbelts and grab a drink … it’s a long read!

~ We’ve reserved a block of interior courtyard rooms at the beautiful Royal Sonesta Hotel right in the heart of the French Quarter on Bourbon Street. This is hands down our favorite hotel in the Quarter and the interior courtyard rooms are quiet even though the hotel is right on Bourbon Street.

~ Leave San Diego any time you want just so long as you’re in the French Quarter by late afternoon Sunday as the first event begins at 4:30. If you want to arrive a day or two early, or stay a day or two longer, we’ve made arrangements with Royal Sonesta for a discounted room rate of $239 for any additional days for our customers. New Orleans is two hours ahead of us so we’ve purposely scheduled all of the events to start late and end late local time so you won’t be jet lagged and should return back to San Diego relatively unscathed. You’re on your own for the flight but can usually get one for less than $400 round trip. Southwest, Continental, United and Delta all have flights so if you have air miles on one of those airlines the flights may even be free. The taxi from the airport to the hotel is a flat fee of $33.

~ First stop will be a block away from the hotel at Pier 424 Restaurant. We’ll meet in the upstairs private balcony room overlooking Bourbon Street where we’ll have a private cocktail seminar and tasting with Chris McMillian, probably the most famous of all New Orleans bartenders. Chris is a fascinating historian and story-teller and has been featured by the Smithsonian for his extensive knowledge of New Orleans cocktail lore. Upon entering the private room, you’ll be greeted with a legendary Commander’s Palace Brandy Milk Punch, the first of over twenty (yikes!) specialty New Orleans cocktails that you’ll experience on this trip. Chris will then explain and prepare three more cocktails for us to sample: Ramos Gin Fizz, Mint Julep and the Sazerac. (These will be half-sized portions!) If you want to get a preview of what’s in store here go to youtube and search Chris McMillian for a sampling of his videos. (Make sure to watch his poetic ode to the Mint Julep.) The guy’s legendary; a real class act that brings New Orleans’ bygone racy history to life.

~ After the “seminar” we’ll walk outside where there will be a caravan of horse-drawn carriages waiting for us. Soon after boarding we’ll make a stop at Chartres House, an old locals’ bar for an equally old-school Tom Collins cocktail. Actually, we won’t be getting out of the carriages at this stop as the Chartres House crew will be delivering the cocktails to our carriages. Adds a whole new dimension to “curbside service” dontcha think?! (In case you were wondering, in New Orleans it’s legal to drink on the streets as long as it’s from a disposable cup.) From here we’ll slowly meander our way through the French Quarter for almost an hour until we make our way to Tujague’s (pronounced “two jacks”) right next to the famous Jackson Square.

~ Tujague’s was founded in 1856 and is the second oldest restaurant in New Orleans. (Antoine’s, which we featured in the 2012 tours, was founded in 1840 and is the oldest. Sadly, it has steadily gone downhill over the last ten years. As much as it tears me up to say this about what was once a great institution, and what continues to be the oldest continually operated restaurant not only in New Orleans but in the entire United States, do not waste your hard-earned money there … you will leave disappointed and ripped off.) Anyway, back to something more positive. You will love Tujague’s! Obviously very old school. How old school? They don’t even have bar stools at the bar … it’s one of the original stand up bars. They make an authentic Pimm’s Cup (which we will be greeted with upon entering) and are the birthplace of the Grasshopper. (When was the last time you had a Grasshopper? Well, you’ll have one here tonight with a decadent, don’t-tell-your-cardiologist-about-this housemade cheesecake for dessert.) Tujague’s went through a close call with extinction recently. Evidentially one of the senior partners was ready to call it quits a while back and jeopardized the entire future of the restaurant by threatening to sell off their key piece of corner real estate in the Monopoly Game puzzle to a strip center developer. (Arrgghh.) People were literally flying in from all over the world for the last several months to enjoy what they thought was going to be their last dinner at Tujague’s. The entire city was up in arms. Fortunately, cooler minds prevailed and now Tujague’s is back with a vengeance. And, boy are we relieved! We’ll enjoy a decadent 5-course pre-fixe dinner here complete with their trademark brisket with horseradish sauce “appetizer” providing a reprieve between courses two and four that folks in the know have been enjoying here for a century-and-a-half. You’re on your own for wine here if you want, but we’ve got the bookend cocktails covered.

~ After dinner at Tujague’s we’ll walk across the street and down a couple blocks to Palm Court, one of the original jazz clubs and recording studios on the outskirts of the Quarter. You’ll be greeted with a Manhattan as you enter (or other cocktail of your choice if you prefer) and then sit down for almost an hour of some of the best old-school live jazz you’ll ever experience. (On our last tour here, we had the privilege of listening to the music of Lionel Ferbos, who had just turned one hundred years old. Sadly, Lionel … who was the spitting image of my own father … passed away last year at the ripe old age of 102.) Anyway, sorry to be so melancholy, but we’ve just had so many great memories here. And if you feel like dancing and need a partner, Nina, the proprietor for the last almost half century, will be only too happy to oblige! 😉

~ What an epic way to end our first night in New Orleans. You will have experienced (and tasted) an amazing overview of classic New Orleans cocktails, will have experienced the French Quarter via horse-drawn carriage cocktail in hand, will have dined in one of the most classic of classic New Orleans restaurants in a private balcony room, and will have enjoyed some of the finest live jazz the city has to offer. Can it get any better? Yup! Put on your seatbelts and get ready for tomorrow. And in the meantime, party on at your own risk … but my recommendation is to walk (or pedi-cab or taxi) the half mile back to the hotel, get a good night’s sleep, and wake up raring to go … because you won’t want to miss a second of the filled-to-the-brim day we’ve got planned for the next day. Just keep hydrated and drink lots of coconut water!

~ You’re on your own for breakfast Monday morning but I suspect a cup of green tea or coffee and a banana (and some of that life-saving coconut water … we’ll show you where to buy it right by the hotel) will suffice for most after the previous night’s indulgences. Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

~ At 11:00 we’ll walk over to a local cooking school a couple of blocks down the street where we’ll have a private demonstration on preparing a classic New Orleans feast along with a specialty cocktail which, of course, we’ll enjoy afterwards for lunch. First we’ll make Andouille gumbo and shrimp Creole which we’ll enjoy with a “real” Hurricane, and then Bananas Foster and made-from-scratch pecan pralines for dessert.

~ After that there will be about two hours of free time for you to explore the Quarter on your own or just go back to the hotel and lounge around the pool. Everything in the Quarter is within walking distance so this is a great opportunity to burn off some calories because you’re going to need it for what comes next!

~ Holy moley … are you ready for a seven-and-a-half-hour progressive dinner through the Quarter starting at 2:45 in the afternoon?! We’ll meet in the private upstairs dining room (with private balconies overlooking Bourbon Street) at Le Bayou, a restaurant about a block away from the hotel. Here we’ll start with 300 freshly shucked oysters on the half shell paired with an old school Gin-based French 75 Champagne cocktail. Oysters and champagne … does it get any better?! A civilized way to start dinner I think. As we leave for the next stop, we’ll not leave empty handed. The bartenders at Le Bayou will prepare Moscow Mules to-go which we’ll take with us as we depart the Quarter on board a caravan of pedi-cabs heading to the Warehouse District. A short ten minute ride later, we’ll arrive at Root, a cutting edge restaurant specializing in housemade charcuterie. Here we’ll enjoy one of the best salads I’ve ever had: pig’s ear and Brussels sprouts (trust me on this) paired with their “Stranger” cocktail … a smoky Mescal-based cocktail that even non-Mescal lovers will enjoy. (Mary went nuts for both the drink and the salad in case you were raising your eyebrows on this pairing!) After that we’ll walk eight blocks (or pedi-cab on your own) to Herbsainte, a famous new classic restaurant where James Beard award winning chef Donald Link holds court. Here we’ll enjoy a classic Andouille and chicken gumbo perfectly paired with their “Cat-5” (named after category 5 hurricanes) Bourbon-based cocktail. So after appetizers, salad and soup, it’s now time for the main course. Next stop is 12 blocks away (about 15 minutes on foot). If you’re not up to hoofing it, grab a pedi-cab; otherwise join us for a leisurely, calorie-burning walk to Royal House where we’ll once again take over a private upstairs dining room with balconies overlooking the Quarter. Here we’ll enjoy another New Orleans classic – Blackened Redfish paired with a Cajun Bloody Mary made with house-infused pepper Vodka. By now everyone will need a reprieve from food I’m guessing, so after dinner we’ll head to Fritzel’s, my favorite jazz club on Bourbon Street. We’ll have a private one-hour jazz set here accompanied by any cocktail of your choice. The music is rocking here – high-energy, old school classics played by some of the most talented musicians in the Quarter, many of whom we’re fortunate enough to be on a first name basis with after all our “research” trips! So how do you end the perfect evening in New Orleans? Well, let’s set something on fire! Actually two things: Banana’s Foster and Café Brulot. And what better setting than the courtyard of Broussard’s (a short 4 block walk down Bourbon Street) next to their 100-year-old wisteria vine that’s practically engulfed the entire patio? Here we’ll enjoy the aforementioned flambés lighting up the night with their high octane flames as we finally settle down for the last stop of the evening. Afterwards relax and enjoy another nightcap here on your own if your wish or walk (waddle?) back to the hotel as we’ve now come full circle on the progressive dinner and are only a block away from the hotel.

~ As in the previous day, you’re on your own for breakfast Tuesday morning but I suspect a cup of green tea or coffee and a banana (and some more of that life-saving coconut water) will again suffice for most after the previous night’s big dinner.

~ Then at 11:00 we’ll meet at the Mississippi River about six blocks away to board the steamboat Natchez where we’ll take a leisurely cruise for a couple of hours while enjoying some live jazz on the water. We’ll have our own private dining room with its own private bar and outside balcony. We’ll enjoy a spicy Cajun Bloody Mary upon embarking and then take a break from the rich foods to enjoy a “simple” lunch of jambalaya, shrimp Creole, and southern fried chicken with bread pudding for dessert … but make sure to save some room for the finale dinner later coming up in five short hours!

~ After the cruise there will be about five hours of free time for you to do whatever you want. There are tons of quaint shops and bars to explore in the Quarter, or if you want a break from the hustle and bustle, the Garden district with its beautiful architecture and famous above-ground cemeteries is only a short streetcar ride away. History buffs can also check out the national World War II Museum on the way to the Garden district.

~ The finale dinner will be at The Pelican Club three blocks from the hotel. And what an amazing dinner we’ve got planned. Pelican Club is a cavernous 23,000 square foot restaurant with rooms (some haunted) that go on forever. We’ll meet in their bar at 7:15 sharp (please be on time!) for a special “cocktail” reception we have planned for you that should set the tone for the evening. After that we’ll enjoy an incredible, one-for-the-record-books, six-course dinner that pairs a specialty cocktail alternating with a different wine for each course. Mary and I stumbled upon this restaurant quite by accident while doing recon for this tour, and entered somewhat warily without high expectations. We sat at the bar, ordered only one menu item to be on the safe side in case it was a bust, were completely blown away by it, ordered another, were blown away again, and then pretty much proceeded to order the entire menu. The chef/owner finally came out to see who these two crazy people were that were ordering mass quantities of food, and we struck up an instant friendship. We then proceeded to go back for the next three nights (yes, it was that good) and then put together this pairing menu that is guaranteed to blow your mind.

~ Dinner should be over by 10:30ish (8:30 San Diego time) at which time you are free to walk back to the hotel to call it an early night or, if you want to relax and enjoy some more jazz there are tons of great venues close by. You’ll probably find me back at Fritzel’s!

~ Whew! Wednesday will be a travel day back to San Diego for most. There are many flight options so if you have pressing business back home you can schedule an early flight, or if you want to linger one final day on your own, then schedule a late flight. Return flights back to San Diego leave pretty much continuously from 5:30AM to 5:30PM.

DEPOSITS & PAYMENTS
Reservations will not be guaranteed until a non-refundable deposit of $225 per person is received. A second non-refundable deposit of $400 is due 75 days before the tour starting date and the final non-refundable payment of $700 (plus the single occupancy up charge if applicable) is due 45 days before the tour starting date.

TRIP CANCELLATION INSURANCE
Please, please, please understand that we cannot issue refunds for any reason whatsoever. (This includes but is not limited to illness, a death in the family, loss of income or anything else.) If you want to get trip cancellation insurance in the event something comes up on your end that prevents you from going on the trip at the last minute, there are several on-line sites that can provide that service for as low as $60. Here’s a link to one site if you’re interested: http://www.insuremytrip.com/plans/index.html and here’s a link to a local San Diego travel insurance provider: http://www.csatravelprotection.com/. I cannot stress how strongly I recommend that you at least look into coverage, as it seems that every trip we do there’s always at least one person who can’t make it at the last minute for one reason or another, and while we always feel horrible about the circumstances surrounding it, at that point we are totally on the hook for your expenses whether or not you show up. We strive to make these tours as affordable as possible, and simply are not in a position to absorb the costs of cancellations. Thanks for understanding.

ATTIRE
Casual and comfortable! (I personally will be in shorts and flip-flops the entire four days … big surprise there.) Please also note that this is a physical tour that involves lots of walking, and that New Orleans sidewalks are notorious for large cracks and loose tiles. High heels are absolutely, positively, for sure, highly NOT recommended for your own safety! Expect daytime highs of 85 to 89 and nighttime lows of 68 to 74. Some rain is always a possibility so be prepared with an umbrella and a light raincoat which hopefully you won’t need. Also bring a light jacket for the evenings and a bathing suit if you want to go swimming at the hotel and you should be pretty much set.

Here’s the hour by hour (subject to modification) itinerary. Thank you and we look forward to sharing another special adventure with you!

ITINERARY (4 DAYS AND 3 NIGHTS):

SUNDAY: May 24 and May 31 and June 7 and June 14, 2015
04:30-04:45 Walk to Pier 424 (1 block from hotel)
04:45-06:30 Cocktail seminar with Chris McMillian including 4 cocktails in the private balcony room at Pier 424
06:30-06:45 Walk to horse-drawn carriage caravan (1 block)
06:45-07:45 Horse-drawn carriage ride through the Quarter with to-go cocktails delivered curbside at Chartres House
07:45-10:00 5-course dinner in the private balcony room at Tujague’s including Pimm’s Cup welcome and Grasshopper dessert cocktails
10:00-10:15 Walk to Palm Court Jazz Club (4 blocks)
10:15-11:00 Jazz set including a cocktail of your choice at Palm Court Jazz Club
11:00 Walk (or pedicab/taxi) back to hotel (14 blocks) or visit more jazz clubs on your own

MONDAY: May 25 and June 1 and June 8 and June 15, 2015
09:45-10:00 Walk to cooking school (5 blocks)
10:00-12:30 Cooking class and cocktail demonstration including lunch and a cocktail
12:30-02:45 Free time
02:45-10:15 7.5 hour progressive dinner through the Quarter and Warehouse District
02:45-03:00 Walk to Le Bayou (1 block from hotel)
03:00-04:00 1st Stop: Le Bayou (1 block from hotel) for oysters on the half shell + French 75 cocktail in a private balcony room
04:00-04:15 Pedicab to Warehouse District with to-go Moscow Mule cocktails
04:15-05:15 2nd Stop: Root Restaurant for pig’s ear salad + specialty “Stranger” Mescal cocktail
05:15-05:30 Walk to Herbsainte (8 blocks)
05:30-06:30 3rd Stop: Herbsainte for gumbo + specialty “Cat-5” Bourbon cocktail
06:30-06:45 Walk (or pedicab/taxi on your own) back to the French Quarter (12 blocks)
06:45-07:45 4th Stop: Royal House for blackened redfish + Cajun Bloody Mary cocktail in a private balcony room
07:45-08:00 Walk to Fritzel’s (4 blocks)
08:00-09:00 5th Stop: Fritzel’s for a private jazz set including a cocktail of your choice
09:00-09:15 Walk to Broussard’s (4 blocks)
09:15-10:15 6th Stop: Broussard’s for bananas Foster + flaming Cafe Brulot cocktail in the courtyard
10:15 Walk back to hotel (1 block) or visit more jazz clubs on your own

TUESDAY: May 26 and June 2, 2015 and June 9 and June 16, 2015
10:45-11:00 Walk (or pedicab/taxi) to the Mississippi River (6 blocks) to board the Natchez riverboat
11:00-01:30 Riverboat jazz cruise including a welcome Cajun Bloody Mary and lunch in our private stateroom on the Natchez
01:30-07:00 Free time
07:00-07:15 Walk to The Pelican Club (3 blocks)
07:15-07:30 Hosted reception in Pelican Club bar (don’t be late!!!)
07:30-10:00 6-course finale extravaganza dinner paired with 4 cocktails and 3 wines at Pelican Club
10:00 Walk back to hotel (3 blocks) or visit more jazz clubs on your own

WEDNESDAY: May 27 and June 3, 2015 and June 10 and June 17, 2015
08:00-??? Free time until your departure

INCLUDED IN COST:
1. Three nights lodging at Royal Sonesta Hotel
2. Cocktail seminar and drinks with Chris McMillian
3. Horse-drawn carriage ride with cocktail along the way
4. Dinner and two cocktails at Tujague’s
5. Jazz set and a cocktail at Palm Court Jazz Club
6. Cajun cooking class and lunch with a cocktail
7. Oysters and a French 75 cocktail at Le Bayou (progressive dinner stop #1)
8. Pedi-cab ride with a specialty cocktail from Le Bayou to Root
9. Salad and a specialty cocktail at Root (progressive dinner stop #2)
10. Gumbo and a specialty cocktail at Herbsainte (progressive dinner stop #3)
11. Blackened redfish and a specialty cocktail at Royal House (progressive dinner stop #4)
12. Private jazz set and a cocktail at Fritzel’s (progressive dinner stop #5)
13. Bananas Foster and a Cafe Brulet cocktail at Broussard’s (progressive dinner stop #6)
14. Riverboat jazz cruise including lunch and a cocktail
15. 6-course finale dinner paired with 4 cocktails and 3 wines at The Pelican Club

NOT INCLUDED IN COST:
1. Airfare to and from New Orleans (about $390 round trip from San Diego)
2. Cab fare to and from the airport (about $33 per couple each way)
3. Carriage driver tips (plan on $10-15 per person)
4. Pedi-cab tips (plan on $5 per person)
5. Musician’s tips at Fritzel’s (plan on $5 per person)
6. All breakfasts (but I doubt you’ll be hungry)
7. Cab or pedi-cab fares if you don’t want to walk

Hope to see you on one of the trips!

Chris