Argentina’s Explosion onto the International Wine Scene in Picturesque Mendoza
A Visit to Mendoza, Argentina. The Mendoza wine region in Argentina is the fifth largest producer of wine in the world. Mendoza is the most significant wine region in Argentina with over two-thirds of the country’s wines coming from this area. Malbec is the most prominent varietal being produced in Mendoza, though award-winning Cabernets, Tempranillo’s and Chardonnays have quickly followed suit. This magnificent wine region of Mendoza adjoins the panoramic Andean foothills spanning over 75 miles from Mendoza City to the south into Uco Valley.
Winegrowing is not new to the Mendoza region, in fact by 1910 there were over 45,000 vines planted mostly with the French rootstock – Malbec. The vineyards and wineries near Mendoza city are more traditional with some dating back well over 100 years, such as Bodegas Lopez in Maipu, which has been producing wines since 1898.
Heading further south through Maipu, onto the region of Lujan de Cuyo, and then into the newest region of Uco Valley, you will find very modernistic wineries with high-tech production facilities. The terrain throughout the Mendoza region is high-desert like, with some of the vineyards planted in the highest elevations in the world, with average elevations of 2,000 to 3,500 feet. The higher the elevation, the more intense the sunlight.
The diversity of the Mendoza terroir spans over three major wine regions encompassing over almost 100 miles of lush vineyards. The furthest north in the Mendoza region is Maipu which is just southeast of Mendoza city. Another forty miles south is the southern part of the Lujan de Cuyo region.
Uco Valley, the newest and most revered region lays 75 miles south of Mendoza City and has received much acclaim as one of the most picturesque of the areas, producing world-renowned award-winning Malbecs, as well as other popular varietals, are grown in Mendoza.
Mendoza’s three distinct wine regions are much like the designated appellations of Napa Valley’s wine country, giving each of the regions their own unique offerings. The terroir varies from region to region throughout the winegrowing corridor of Mendoza. Though one characteristic that they all share is the lush blankets of emerald vineyards painted up against the scenic backdrop of the majestic snow-capped peaks of Chile’s towering Andes mountains.
In the Uco Valley, a vast selection of international wine investors has influenced the development of this sprawling Malbec producing area. These renowned international investors having had a significant impact on the region’s expansion which includes the Kendall Jackson Group, well-known California vintner Paul Hobbs, a group of Walt Disney Investors, as well as famed French Vintner Michel Roland who created the Clos de Siete group in Uco Valley. Also, other Napa wineries have impacted the expansion of the region, including Revana of Saint Helena, who opened Bodega Corazon Del Sol in 2015 in the Uco Valley.
A few years ago, the Napa Valley Wine Auction presented an Argentine theme to its attending guests. Celebrated Argentine Chef, Francis Mallmann, known for his famed cookbook Seven Fires and his famous collection of restaurants, was brought in to create an exceptional experience for the hungry bidders.
The dining event came with great applause as Mallmann’s dramatic display of his unique wood fire style presented a once in a lifetime experience. The proprietor of Quintessa, Agustin Huneeus, stated, “Our shared love for South America will shine through Francis’s food and innovative presentations.”
There are several other Napa Valley Vintners with distinct Argentine roots. Delia Viader of Viader was born and raised in Argentina, and as a young woman and pioneer in Napa Valley winemaking, against many odds, she created her thriving Howell mountain vineyard and winery. Another well-known Napa Valley vintner of Palmaz Vineyard, born in Buenos Aires, is Julio Palmaz, well known for inventing the Palmaz Coronary Stent.
Getting to the Mendoza wine region offers major two routes that you can fly in from. If you choose to fly into Buenos Aires, it is a 1 hour 55-minute flight into the Aeropuerto Mendoza, their international airport. Another option is to fly into Santiago, Chile, where the flight is just a short 55-minutes.
Or if you have extra time to explore, driving from Santiago to Mendoza is exceptional, as you will experience a breathtaking drive over the monumental Andes Mountains over the border into Argentina, well worth the 226-mile drive along Ruta Nacional 7. Most major airlines offer flights into both Buenos Aires or Santiago.
The various Mendoza wine regions and nearby mountains present many opportunities to explore beyond wine tasting. Though it is most definitely a mecca for wine lovers and foodies, particularly carnivores, there are adventures galore to behold. The area is host to an abundance of hiking trails from novice to advanced, bicycling, river-rafting, horseback riding and fly fishing for those seeking a bit of adventure to pair along with their wines.
Horseback Riding through the Vineyards of the Uco Valley
Before you hop in your car to go tasting, keep in mind that wine-tasting in Argentina is a bit different than you are used to in the Napa Valley. If you don’t utilize a hired service to take you from winery to winery, driving to each winery does take a bit of time as the region and the wineries are very spread out. Don’t try to see all three regions in one day. Split them up over 3 or 4 days, as there is a lot to experience, to taste, and to view. If this is your first time in Mendoza, definitely look into a private wine tour service.
There are many of them, and they will give you wonderful options and suggestions on where to taste, how to taste, and which wineries to eat at. Almost all of the wineries in Uco Valley and in Lujan de Cujo are by appointment only, so just popping into a winery unannounced is not a good suggestion.
If you are used to more of a Napa Valley-style of wine tasting, the northern party of the Lujan de Cuyo region is approximately 20 miles from the town of Mendoza, where you will find larger production wineries and some that you can actually go to without an appointment. One of my favorite parts of wine tasting in all of the regions in Mendoza is the wineries’ specialty luncheons. The majority of the Bodegas (wineries) offer a paired lunch, usually 4-6 courses. And to our surprise and amazement, these delicious culinary presentations average around $40 per person, including wine.
The best way to set your day up is to set up a morning tasting, a paired lunch, and then an afternoon tasting. More than three per day can be a bit much, being that your luncheon experience can last three hours. Also, keep in mind, sometimes contacting the wineries to set up appointments or lunch reservations can be tedious and time-consuming. All the more reason to set up your day with a customized wine touring service or a hired car. Plus you will enjoy it more as they will be your designated driver. Mendoza Wine Camp set us up perfectly. www.mendozawinecamp.com
Most of the luncheons at wineries have highly experienced in-house chefs, some with international training from world-renowned restaurants. Expect a Napa Valley quality dining experience for far less than what it would cost to dine in the Napa Valley. Each of the wineries presents beautifully designed dining areas serving guests in an inviting indoor or outdoor setting, with most overlooking the vineyards or the winery estate.
The daily menus are very diverse, utilizing only the freshest of regional ingredients. Much of the time you will find their own variations of Empanadas, No lunch would be complete without being presented freshly baked traditional Argentine Empanadas. A treat indeed!
Chimichurri Sauces and the highest grades of Argentine beef. Each course delivers a unique artistic presentation on a plate, all creating a memorable gastronomic experience paired with some of Argentina’s finest wines. Get ready for some outrageous Malbecs, after all, that’s what we came here, but then there’s so more in Mendoza to explore!
Ruca Malen in Lujan de Cuyo– Chef Juan Ventureyra, created some of the most innovative and spectacular dishes we experienced during our visit to Mendoza. Not surprising his creativity was off the charts and his dishes were out of this world, as he trained under 2 Michelin Star Chef Jacque Chibois at Las Bastide Sainte Antoine in France for 7 years. The menu of “seven steps” (courses) is paired with “seven tags” (wines) of the winery. All of the produce from his abundant extensive gardens are utilized in his remarkable dishes.
Several of the chef’s highlights included – Beef Carpaccio with mashed beetroot, raspberries, toasted almonds and Salicornia (regional salad herb) paired with Yauquen Bonarda 2015. Egg at 145 Degrees served with pumpkin and carob bread paired with Ruca Malen Malbec 2014 (90 Points James Suckling). Milcao (potato bread) served in the “curanto-style” with gnocchi alla Romana paired with Ruca Malen Petit Verdot 2014. Filet Mignon with chili peppers, bean chimichurri and fresh tomato salad paired with Kinien Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Bronze Medal Decanter).
Other exceptional wine lunch locations we experienced around the Mendoza regions include: Susana Balbo in Lujan de Cujo; Casarena Bodega y Restaurante in Lujan de Cuyo; Gimenez Riili Bodega & Vinedos in Uco Valley; Casa Azul in Uco Valley; Piedra Infinita Cocina at Bodega Zuccardi in Uco Valley; Clos de Los Siete at Bodega Monteviejo in Uco Valley.
When traveling in Mendoza, there are a variety of options for accommodations ranging from a 4 room B&B style inn to significant hotels within Mendoza City, luxury wine lodges offering 5-star amenities and everything else in between. If you are staying in Mendoza City, particularly during their annual renowned wine festival, “Vendimia,” which is usually held the first weekend in March, you will want to stay close to town and close to the square for the festivities.
Most of the parade and festival activities are right in front of the Park Hyatt Mendoza, which presents the optimum place to be a participant and a spectator. They have a variety of Vendimia events at the hotel or very near the hotel.
I would recommend staying in Mendoza City for at least one night as the town offers many great restaurants, places to see and things to do. Then it will be time to head a bit off of the beaten path into wine country where you will discover places you never dreamed existed.
Park Hyatt Mendoza in Mendoza City: Is set in a beautifully restored 19-century Spanish colonial castle-like building on the main square, Plaza Indepencia in the heart of Mendoza. This 5-star luxury hotel offers all of the amenities to pamper you during your stay, including a state of the art spa and a variety of dining options. You are walking distance to wine tasting bars and many amazing regional cuisine inspired restaurants.
Pod on Stilts presented By Glamping Hub – Lujan de Cuyo – A unique one-of-a-kind individual getaway amidst the vineyards is a pod built on stilts. Glampers can experience a stay like no other at this stilted pod near Mendoza. It floats in the air above the vines of the on-site winery producing exquisite Argentine Malbecs, offering a cocoon nestling guests between land and sky. There is a bathtub on the terrace with views of the Andes, and a window in the roof promising guests stargazing in the clear skies of Argentina’s west. There is also a private jacuzzi hot tub.
Auberge du Vin – A Tribute Portfolio Hotel in Tupungato: Part of the Marriott Bonvoy Hotel Group – You can even use your loyalty points to stay here. This stunning Mendoza getaway is a bit off the beaten path from Mendoza City hustle and bustle. When you arrive at Auberge du Vin, you will find yourself in a sophisticated rustic oasis in Tupungato and close to many of the most famous Bodegas in the Uco Valley.
The beautifully appointed guest rooms offer views overlooking the sprawling vineyards and the snow-capped Andes. Many rooms have kitchenettes, and there is an onsite fitness center as well as a tranquil outdoor pool and lounging area. Their signature restaurant and lounge presents regional cuisine and innovative libations along with an extensive wine list.
The Vines Resort and Spa in Uco Valley: If you are planning on heading down to Uco Valley and you seek a 5-star pamper yourself experience, then look no further than The Vines Resort & Spa. The Vine’s cuisine and Restaurant, Siete Fuegos (Seven Fires – also the name of Mallmann’s award-winning cookbook) was inspired by legendary Argentine Chef, Francis Mallmann. The property was developed across 650 acres of land in 2005 by Pablo Gimenez Riili and Michael Evans, who had a vision and a dream to create and luxury oasis at the base of the Andes Mountains.
This expansive wine destination resort offers rustic elegance and with the utmost of amenities. The Vines is beyond extraordinary, it immerses you in the sheer indulgence of the senses, of beauty, tastes, sights, and sounds. The sophisticated private villas that surround the hotel property allow guests to escape while providing the ultimate retreat for food and wine lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. It is no surprise that Conde Nast’s and Travel and Leisure have named it one of the top hotels in the world.
Gimenez Rilli – Los Sauces – The winery was founded in 1945, by Pablo Rilli – Co-founder of The Vines Resort and is located adjacent to the Vines Resort in Winemakers Village. The Casa de Huespedes is on the grounds of the Bodega Gimenez Riili and vineyards. It is a charming, intimate posada amid the vineyards with spectacular views of the Andes. This 4-room boutique inn also offers spacious rooms with luxury amenities and a cook to order breakfasts.
Dining at Gimenez Riili
Federico, the owner, and charming host provides an onsite restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating along with wine paired lunches and dinners. Our 5-course dining experience was absolutely divine. You can dine on their Argentine Asado specialties and other regional specialties while enjoying a selection of their wines. A great value too. Be sure and try the Gran Reserva Malbec. Rent horses or bicycles and watch the sunrise in the vineyards. You can reserve directly through them or book through one of the booking sites like Booking.com or TripAdvisor.
During your visit to Mendoza, Argentina – Here are a few suggested Bodegas for your Mendoza wine tasting adventures:
Romance is in the Air Year ‘Round in the Napa Valley!
Valentines Day in Napa Valley is celebrated year around. Traditionally February is known as the month for romance with couples eager to celebrate their love and affections at an intimate romantic inn or hotel nestled in the backdrop of rolling vineyards and settling into chilly evenings by the fireside. No better romantic setting to celebrate love than the picturesque Napa Valley.
In Napa Valley, your romantic mini-vacation to the wine county is waiting for you every month and every day of the year. If February has passed you by, not to fret, you haven’t missed out on creating your own special weekend or weekday escape for cherishing your love. Why not celebrate with your Valentine in May or September?
Farm Restaurant at Carneros Resort & Spa
Most hotels and inns offer special “Love Packages” during Valentines, though they tend to be a bit pricier than other times of the year or difficult to book due to limited availability. You will find that romance getaway packages are offered all year around here in the Napa Valley with a variety of romantic options to choose from or even customize your own.
Love is always in the air in wine country and each season presents its own unique portrait for your perfect romantic rendezvous with your special someone. You may want to:
Come in early spring when the new budding vines are blanketing the valley and its time for a rejuvenating spa day.
Seek out the sun in the summertime when it is warmer to mix in some outdoor activities like golf, cycling, hiking or hot-air ballooning.
Head to the Napa Valley in the Fall for the perfume of crush during harvest and the brilliantly changing colors of the vineyards.
Get festive with the lighting of the Christmas Trees and Holiday Parades.
You may just keep coming back because you have a passion for the amazing cuisine offered in the Napa Valley, which is deliciously hard to resist.
These spectacular romantic resorts and inns offer a variety of dine/stay/spa packages, however, they are all very unique in their own way, with diverse amenities, design, decor, and location. Whatever your personals tastes, lovers are presented with a variety of romantic get-a-way options from small intimate inns to mega-luxurious resorts, all in an intoxicating setting. Dip in the pool, shower under the stars, bathe in the full moon, whatever your hearts desire, it’s all waiting for you. One thing’s for sure, pampering is always on the menu.
Whatever your passion, your ultimate date night or lovers retreat, Napa Valley welcomes you with a big heart!
Auberge du Soleil
Auberge Bar Terrace
“The Inn of the Sun” one of Napa Valley’s most iconic luxury properties is nestled on a hillside perch in Rutherford painted with breathtaking panoramic views of rolling vineyards. Dining at Auberge du Soleil’s Michelin Star Restaurant is a must experience to indulge in the signature cuisine along with the beauty of the valley views offered from their decks.
Auberge du Soleil is a long-standing member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux, the international association of outstanding boutique properties known for their excellence in hospitality and culinary arts. This Adults-Only resort is the only Forbes Five-Star Rated hotel in Napa Valley. Auberge’s guest accommodations offer 5 amazing room variations from king view rooms to private maisons. Romantic packages are always available and in addition, they also offer spa packages at their award-winning spa. There are seasonal culinary, wine and music events. Auberge maintains a commitment to sustainable practices and native landscapes.
180 Rutherford Hill Road, Saint Helena www.aubergedusoleil.com
During the month of February, Bardessono offers romantics the opportunity to rediscover the pleasure of giving and receiving with their “Crush on You” package. You will indulge in an hour-long massage topped off with bubbles in a champagne bath. After unparalleled pampering, pop open a Sommelier selected wine with a decadent dessert, prepared by Bardessono’s Michelin Pastry Chef Mindy relaxing in your stunning guest room. What a more perfect way to start off your weekend of romance. This luxurious eco-friendly “Deep Green” Inn in the heart of Yountville in the midst of its own vineyard offers privacy and graciousness. The 62 guestrooms serve as a personal sanctuary also offering in-room spa treatments.
For the truly romantic get-a-way any time of year, Bardessono has created a unique selection of Romance Packages that will create memories to last forever. For adventurous couples, take in the best views Napa Valley has to offer aloft your majestic balloon ride and breakfast for two.
Shop, dine, and wine taste – all within walking distance in this charming eco- friendly inn nestled in the hamlet of Yountville.
Nestled in a hidden canyon on 157 acres of lush foliage, ancient oaks, and majestic hills are the eco-luxury resort of Calistoga Ranch. Their freestanding wood cedar shingled luxury lodges are perfect for those desirous of dreaming in unspoiled nature. This 50-room luxury retreat in the hills of Napa Valley captures the rich culture of food, wine, and nature. Calistoga Ranch is part of the Auberge Resorts Collection and true to Auberge tradition; the Ranch offers culinary experiences inspired by culture. With their “Rekindle the Romance” package you will indulge in two memorable nights in a one-bedroom lodge, two intimate 60-minute in-lodge spa treatments, daily breakfast and a romantic candlelight dinner for two. There are also acres of scenic hiking trails and an on-site vineyard with a private wine label. You will also find sustainable practices throughout the resort.
Carneros Resort and Spa is a luxury romantic escape nestled in the Carneros vineyards on 28 lush acres. The resort offers 86 cottages, 10 suites, and private homes in this country setting. These charming cottages offer many wonderful amenities such as fireplaces, indoor-outdoor showers, private hot tubs, and landscaped garden patios. This wine country retreat also presents FARM, their signature restaurant with elegant wine country dining. Spend a day relaxing at the Spa at Carneros with treatments to mend the mind and spirit.
Sample Love is in the Air Package – Contact Resort for the latest packages!
One night stay in the cottage accommodation of your choice
Complimentary breakfast in bed
Welcome bottle of sparkling wine
$100 Spa Credit towards a couple’s massage
Carneros Resort Outdoor Shower
Carneros Resort has recently premiered their specialty-dining event at Farm Restaurant, the Carneros Supper Club. Guests will join in at a welcome reception on the hilltop patio along with Sparkling wine and a raw bar of fresh from the sea tastes. Chef Aaron Meneghelli will partner with local winemakers and breweries in the region to create an evening of indulgent family style dining in an intimately elegant setting.
4048 Sonoma Hwy. Napa www.thecarnerosinn.com
Harvest Inn by Charlie Palmer
You can celebrate romance in the wine country in one of Harvest Inn’s intimate and luxurious guests rooms where you will experience an unforgettable vacation of the heart in beautiful St. Helena. Sip a glass of Napa Valley sparking on your picturesque terrace overlooking the lush grounds. Indulge in a couples massage with a sensual blend of botanical essences that will surely rejuvenate the mind, body, and spirit. Dine at Charlie Palmer’s wine country kitchen, the Harvest Table highlighting dishes created from a delicious array of locally sourced ingredients and the best of Napa Valley.
1 Main Street, Saint Helena www.harvestinn.com
A new Luxury Collection Hotel in the Napa Valley located next to world famous Beringer Vineyards and Estate. The Hotel offers spacious accommodations with ultra-chic décor. In addition to the 68 guest rooms overlooking vineyards and or the winery, Las Alcobas offers a state of the art 3500sf spa, The Atrio, and wellness center, onsite restaurant and event barn. It is the perfect setting for couples seeking a romantic escape. Chef Chris Cosentino’s signature restaurant, the Acacia House, offers the perfect setting for romance. They will even prepare a gourmet lunch basket for your picnic in the vineyards. The resort’s vineyard view pool and cabanas and adjacent Grandview Bar have a tranquil vineyard setting.
1915 Main Street, Saint Helena www.lasalcobasnapavalley.com
Meritage Resort and Spa
When planning your romantic get-a-way to Napa, why not change it up a bit. In addition to your romantic escape, where you will stay two nights in one their Premier Tuscan inspired luxury hotel rooms with a unique private balcony overlooking the pool, Estate Cave, and vineyards why not join in on one of their Master Winemaker Dinners. These exquisite dinners in the Estate Cave offer dinner guests and guests of the resort and unforgettable evening of food and wine. Each dinner begins with a reception featuring wine and appetizers overlooking the estate vineyards then follows a multi-course dinner with featured wines from the guest winemaker. Each event is a little different, and all will delight in this remarkable dining experience. Topping the off the evening with a splash, is the “wow factor” dessert, an unforgettable interactive presentation. The 2017 Masters Winemaker Dinner Series lineup includes Napa Valley’s Top Wineries and Cult Favorites!
875 Bordeaux Way, Napa www.meritagecollection.com
Milliken Creek Inn and Spa
Milliken Creek Inn
This charming inn on 3 secluded acres just off of Silverado Trail in Napa is rich in history and dates back to the mid-1850s when it served as a stagecoach stop for tired travelers during the Gold Rush in California. Now part of the prestigious Fours Sisters Inns luxury collection, Milliken Creek presents an intimate hideaway along the banks of the Napa Valley River. After spending a quiet, romantic evening by the fire in one of their 12-luxury spa guest rooms with plush king beds, you will wake up to delicious made-to-order breakfast brought to your room to enjoy in your room on, on your patio or deck or anywhere you would like on the beautiful grounds of this charming inn. You won’t want to miss enjoying a body treatment at their boutique spa on the property with a couples massage. Or indulge in the ultimately delicious pamper with the “wrap yourself in chocolate decadence” – a tasty treatment designed to detoxify the body and leave your skin kissably soft, after being wrapped in a cocoon of chocolate and mud and chocolate massage oil treatment. Oh so decadent!
For the perfect hole in one, Silverado Resort is a golfers paradise with two 18-hole Championship Courses, a variety of fine dining options and a state of the art spa facility. For the “Golf Lover” this is the place to T-off to for an active romantic get-a-way of Dining, Spa Treatments, and Golf. The “Couples Escape” package offers a round of golf per night stay, 1 spa treatment per night stay and $50 food credit at any of the resorts food venues. Silverado is also located close to many renowned wineries to visit during your active stay in Napa, so you won’t have to miss out tasting some of your favorite vintages.
An Auberge Resort Collection Property located in Calistoga just off the Silverado Trail offers modern thoroughly appointed accommodations which all come with two complimentary cruiser bikes to explore. The Solage award-winning spa and mineral pool has been artfully designed and is ecologically conscious giving you the ultimate of a spa-get-away sprinkled with romance. Their distinguished renowned restaurant, the Solbar, offers an intimate dining experience and delivers new twists on California soul food recipes. They offer romantic retreats to active get-a-ways that will immerse you and your love and enhance your Napa Valley experience. Check out their Sugar and Spice package for a sultry two-night escape, which includes a massage and an intimacy kit. Along with that, you will partake in the Sol Spa’s most intimate treatment, the Couples Mudslide where you will paint your partner with mineral-enriched mud, then soak side-by-side in healing geothermal mineral waters.
This exquisite hotel is perfectly located along the Napa River within walking distance of Oxbow, the Culinary Institute and historic eclectic downtown Napa. The Westin Verasa is part of the SPG group of hotels where not only will you make brownie points with the love of your life you will also build points towards future stays.
After a long day of wine tasting around the valley, the courtyard pool by the river presents the perfect place to chill with a refreshing beverage.
For the ultimate romantic evening, dining in the intimate Michelin Star restaurant, La Toque, named one of the “Best Restaurants In America” by Wine Spectator, is a glorious treat. Acclaimed Chef Ken Frank has created a menu of contemporary French-style cuisine with a cutting edge. An absolute must when in Napa Valley!
Our Quintessential Warm Winter Getaway to Mexico’s Magical Sea of Cortes
When it’s snowing and cold during the long winter months, it’s the perfect time to plan a mid-winter escape. It was our mission to find a lesser-known paradise where you can endlessly cruise through inviting turquoise seas from cove to cove from island to island from port to port.
We were in search of authentic native culture, kayaking in glassy coves, and hiking the uninhabited brass colored desert mountains. Seeking out white sandy beaches, snorkeling with sea lions, and experience wildlife from both sea, land, and sky. The whales and a plethora of birdlife will be awaiting our arrival.
It was time to plan our warm-weather excursion down to Baja California Sur. We wanted to do a small ship adventure eco-cruise somewhere south of the border. We were looking for a winter escape to parts of the world lesser known.
Here is the video created by UnCruise on the Sea of Cortes Exploration on the Safari Endeavor!
Off we went in search of a journey that offered unique destinations harboring us in someplace warm and sunny, that is a bit away from the winter snowbird crowds. We were referred to Un-Cruise Adventures by several friends who happened to be repeat passengers and raved about it with huge accolades. We were intrigued and excited about their enthusiasm from their memorable experiences with Un-Cruise. We realized we had found the perfect choice as it offered just what we were in search of – “Small ships and BIG Adventures.”
Un-Cruise Adventures offers many select destinations around the world at different times of the year for their guests to discover a variety of untouched locales with off the beaten path explorations. They provide their adventurous passengers a journey over oceans, seas, bays, and rivers as a way to change the way you see the world.
In the winter months, Un-Cruise offers four different warm-weather destinations. The Hawaiian Islands, Central America – Costa Rica & Panama, the Galapagos and Mexico’s Sea of Cortes, which was our number one choice taking us to Mexico’s inland sea, also known as the Gulf of California in Baja California Sur.
With every Un-Cruise experience, one can expect to receive unparalleled service and impeccable attention to details. Each cruise offers relaxed and cozy accommodations, adventure and shore excursions, and an abundance of amazing food and beverages along the way.
Map of the Route of the Safari Endeavor through the Sea of Cortez
Once we made our decision to book in this adventure to Mexico’s Sea of Cortes with Un-Cruise, the rest of the planning was plug-and-play! Their team of travel experts was on top of everything from the moment we arrived at Los Cabos International Airport to the day we flew back home.
When we left the chilly snow-capped mountains and arrived in warm Baja California Sur, we peeled off our winter layers of clothes into sunny warm weather attire. Our first “Ah-Ha” moment. Upon arriving, we were graciously escorted to one of their partner hotels in San Jose del Cabo, the Barcelo Grand Faro Los Cabos.
That evening we dined on local seafood, fresh salsa, and guacamole and toasted to margaritas overlooking the sunset from the hotel’s outdoor restaurant. We also had the opportunity to meet many of our future shipmates who were just as thrilled as we were to embark on our upcoming small ship adventure cruise.
Welcome Introduction to our weeklong adventure by Ellie
The next day our 8-Day/7-Night sojourn with the Un-Cruise Sea of Cortes Exploration began. In the afternoon, we boarded a bus to the docks in La Paz, where we boarded the 42-Cabin, 232-foot Safari Endeavor with our binoculars, cameras, and journals in tow. Upon stepping aboard, the week’s guests were shown to our cabins and given a tour around the different decks, the lounge salon, and the dining room. Early that evening over cocktails, and after introductions and an informative orientation by their experienced crew, our expedition set sail with the glowing sunset on our tail.
The Admiral Cabin – One of Five Different Types of Staterooms
View off of the Deck the First Evening
Just before dinner, we embarked from the port, as we gently cruised out of the harbor onto the sparkling moonlit Sea of Cortes for our week-long Island-hopping Un-Cruise Adventure. The numerous bays and islands along Mexico’s Eastern shores was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005 and also a Biosphere Reserve. We will be following the great John Steinbeck’s path into the protected waters of Cousteau’s “world aquarium.” At this moment, we knew for sure we were in store for a memorable experience and an adventure for the books!
Every day you can watch the sunrise as you begin your adventure-packed day with wellness and Yoga on the 400 Sundeck at 6:45 where all levels of flexibility and experience are welcome.
The sumptuous breakfasts are always the perfect way to start your day at 7:30 am in the ship’s spacious dining room.
9:45 am after the daily activity orientations; you can sign up for your “Fun Day” of choice from the ship, whether it be a snorkel, a ride on the skiff’s, a hike, a guided paddle on the kayaks. There are two days with off-ship excursions, whether you are visiting the historic town of Loreto or off to Magdalena Bay in search of Gray Whales.
Lunch on the ship is in Endeavor’s Dining room at 12:30, unless ashore on an adventure excursion.
Happy Hour is Daily in the Salon at 5:30, where the guests mingle and share stories about their day’s adventures at sea or on land.
Dinner is at 6:30 every evening in the ship’s dining room. Each evening presents delicious, specially crafted dishes created with locally sourced produce, seafood, and meats by the onboard chef. There are selections to delight in for every palate, and they can also cater to your dietary needs and food restrictions too.
Safari Endeavor Dining Room
One of our Evening Meals Aboard the Safari Endeavor
Our Daily Itinerary for the Week at Sea
Snorkeling Adventure UnCruise Baja California Sur
Sunday – Day 2 Adventures
Daily Activity Presentations – Route Talk with Mark
Cruising and Los Islotes
“Cruising for Critters,” as they call it on board, through the rolling seas such as blue whales and pods of dolphins
Sea Lions Galore
Skiff Tours to the Surrounding Islands
Skiff Tours of the Islas
Snorkeling with the California Sea Lions, with a focus on interactions with juveniles, graceful, agile, playful, or known as “puppies of the sea.” All snorkel gear, wetsuits, and fins are provided onboard by Un-Cruise. Select your set-up for the week and get ready to explore a variety of marine life below the surface. There were many different schools of fish and plentiful underwater creatures.
Snorkeling with the Sea Lions
The birding is sensational – We set our eyes on Blue-footed boobies, Brown Pelicans, Frigate birds, shorebirds, and Cormorants.
After our snorkeling expedition, upon return to the ship, we warmed up on the deck in one of the inviting hot tubs with a hot beverage.
Time to Relax
In the late afternoon, we went up to the bridge with Captain Bernadette to search for marine life in the waters ahead.
Monday – Day 3 Adventures
Coming Ashore for our Burro Ride on the Arroyo
Daily Activity Presentation – Treasure with Ellie
We met on deck three at 8:30 am for the shore excursion to Agua Verde – we experienced the real Baja on burro rides with the Romero family from San Cosme. This family is one of the last remaining strongholds of the Vaquero/Ranchero culture of Baja. They are horse-mounted livestock herders of tradition that originated on the Iberian Peninsula. They are traditional horseman cowboy ranchers.
Saddling up the Burros for our Ride
We cruised to shore across the brilliant blue-green waters of this Bahia Agua Verde on the skiffs from the ship to the sprawling shores of the Romero property. We were saddled up with our own burro and then headed up the trails where we experienced a gentle meandering ride up and down the rolling hills and untouched shoreline.
At the Shore from the Endeavor for our Burro Adventure
Along the Trails on the Burro Ride
One of the picturesque views from the burro trail ride
Our friendly burros had minds of their own when it came to which order they wanted to follow in along the uninhabited trails. Though when the guide stopped, we stopped, and when the guide started moving along the path again, our burros followed suit, keeping an even pace with their leader. Along the top of the ridge, we overlooked breathtaking views of the bay and learned much about the Romero family’s deep history ranching in this stunning remote desert terrain.
We rode our mules through the arroyos of native cactus and an oasis of palms through the sand dunes and occasional streams. Sixteen of us from the ship went on the first round of trail rides. It was a good thing I had my waterproof windbreaker as we ran into an unexpected but short shower.
After lunch, we took another cruise to other islands on the skiffs. We ran into a bit of unexpected wind as the seas pick up a bit. One of the other skiffs came out to the deserted island we had landed on to escort us back to the ship.
Cruising the Islas in the Skiffs
Tuesday – Day 4 Adventures
Daily Activity Presentation – Creatures of Culture with Lindsey
Isla Danzante Snorkel and Honeymoon Cove. A stroll through Steinbeck Canyon and then off to the charming historic town of Loretto for lunch.
The Snorkel at Isla Danzante
Danzante means dancer because the high mountain peaks from the peninsula look like women dancing. This part of Isla Danzante is part of the Bahia de Loreto de Parque Nacional and is home to dolphins, whales, and pelicans. The city of Loreto is backed by the Sierra de la Giganta mountain range, where trails lead to prehistoric cave paintings.
Our Walking Tour Around Loreto
What a great afternoon, we had to explore the town of Loreto on our walking tour. We toured the colonial buildings and the Mision de Nuestra Senora de Loreto, a 17th-century church in the heart of town.
Mision de Nuestra Señora de Loreto
Before heading back to the Safari Endeavor, we stopped for a tasty bite of regional cuisine and few yummy margaritas at one of Loreto’s favorite dining spots – Orlando’s Restaurante.
Orlando’s Restaurante in Loreto
Wednesday – Day 5 Adventures
Magdalena Bay Gray Whale Excursion
Daily Activity Presentation – Gray Whales with Mark
Magdalena Bay Day – Our Gray Whale Adventure – After an early breakfast, we boarded the waiting Lopez Mateos vans for our ride across the peninsula to the Pacific side to Puerto Adolfo Lopez Mateos, a municipality of Comondu in Baja California Sur. It is a small fishing town located on the Magdalena Bay coast, mainly known for its whale watching operations. We boarded several waiting white panga boats and headed out to the nearby lagoon, which has calm, warm waters perfect for Gray Whale calving. The bay is protected from the Pacific Ocean by the sandy barrier islands of Isla Magdalena and Isla Santa Margarita.
Mother and Baby Gray Whale
The Gray Whales are sometimes known as the “friendlies” due to their tolerance and curiosity of the cruising small panga boats with people such as us. As it was our own friendly mission to get up close and personal with these charming and docile migrating creatures of the sea.
Baby Gray Whale coming to Say Hello
We had only 5 or 6 passengers and a guide in our 20-person panga for our 2-hour whale watching adventure. It was absolutely exhilarating getting so close to these fascinating and grand gray whales. We had a mother and her calf spend almost an hour flirting with all of us between the surrounding pangas. They seemed to love the attention as they came close to our boats to say hello. We all kept in observance the guidelines of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The Gray Whales Love to Visit
Our lunch after the whale watch adventure was quite fantastic. We noshed on regional langoustine, prawns, fresh-caught fish with tortillas beans and rice at one of the local outdoor restaurants, and of course, a fresh cold Cerveza.
Thursday – Day 6 Adventures
Kayak Launch off of the Safari Endeavor
Daily Activity Presentation – Trivia with Marika
Searching for Underwater Marine Life
Today’s excursion took us to San Evaristo and Isla California, where it is protected from the Northerlies. The water seemed a bit colder that day, so I went for extra warm with a shorty wetsuit over my long one. We had excellent fish sightings of Needlefish, Sea Cucumber, Puffer Fish, King Angelfish, colorful coral, and seastars. The visibility was excellent, around 50 feet, so we see could see an abundance of underwater marine activity.
The Onboard Wetsuits and Underwater Gear
We also did a hill hike referred to as our “Bushwhack Hike,” 4.6 miles up into the arroyo through the chaparral and coastal hills. We had a fantastic view of the old salt flats, and the Safari Endeavor moored in the distance out in the bay. We passed through a tiny village of a few homes where only about 40 families still. Many of the area’s buildings appeared to be abandoned and falling down due to the hurricane damage from several years before.
Hiking Isla California
Hiking Isla California
Our Expedition Guide for the Day
Friday – Day 6 Adventures
Arriving on Shore for the Beach Party
Daily Activity Presentation
It was Beach Party day in the protective cove of Ensenada Grande, which is part of Espirito Santo National Park. At 9 am, we boarded the skiffs on a short ride from the ship where we landed on a secluded, pristine white sand beach and where the staff had set up absolutely everything for us.
Kayaks along the Beach at Espirto Santo National Park
Food and Beverages – The Picnic
They had brought food and beverages, and they even set up a beach picnic and beach bar for us. Also waiting for us was the fleet of yellow kayaks to take out with one of the expedition guides or on our own at our leisure in the calm waters of the aquamarine bay. We paddled about the rim of the island and the dynamic shoreline amidst sheltering rocky walls, volcanic ridges, and abundant birdlife.
Kayaking around the Protective Cove of Ensenada Grande
The Beach Party Farwell
As a wrap up for the week, we all assembled in the ship’s dining room for our exquisitely prepared farewell dinner with our many new-found friends.
After dinner, they followed with a fantastic slideshow of memorable photos taken by the expedition team during our weeklong journey cruising Baja California Sur.
As our finale, we did some post-dinner stargazing on the top deck as we bid a melancholy farewell to the glimmering luminescence of the waters surrounding the Safari Endeavor. At the end of the evening, we all settled in with our journey’s home beginning the next morning, leaving with great experiences and memories.
The cuisine on board was an absolute delight. All of the meals presented to us were handcrafted and prepared by their experienced executive chefs. These innovative dishes are all created with local fresh, sustainable products. Their culinary program thrives upon the relationships they have built with the local farmers, local fishermen, and regional vendors. You can always expect field-to-table produce and ocean-friendly seafood direct from the waters where the Un-Cruise ships go.
Produce from Local Farmer
Un-Cruise Adventures is committed to sustainability, and they are proud to be the first cruise partner of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch
Other than the days where there is a unique excursion away from the ship or a picnic on the beach, all three meals are prepared and served in the ships stunning dining room. And you don’t even have to dress up for dining as it is always a casual and relaxed dining experience.
What to expect with your Dining Experience
The Dining Experience of Un-Cruises
Early-riser breakfasts of fresh fruit and baked-on-board pastries
Full breakfasts with hot and cold options
Lunches featuring salads, sandwiches, homemade soups, and regionally influenced dishes
Varied hors d’oeuvres during cocktail hour
Dinners come with a choice of entrees including fresh, local seafood, meats, and vegetarian dishes
Made from scratch desserts like tiramisu and lavender panna cotta
Chef selected wine pairings that complement your meal
Field Greens with fresh raspberries, caramelized chevre & champagne roasted shallot vinaigrette
Fresh -baked rosemary focaccia finished with apricot and sweet onion glaze
Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Beef Demi-Glace
Baja Lobster with Lemon Butter
Squash Napoleon layered with crumbled Boursin & pomegranate balsamic
Cinnamon poached pear with buttery puff pastry and salted caramel
Happy Crew Eager to Serve the Passengers at Happy Hour
The bar in the salon area is open for your enjoyment. There is always one of the ship’s friendly staff members waiting to pour you a glass of wine, beer, or create your favorite libation from scratch. Whatever your fancy, you will find premium and small-batch craft spirits. Their cocktails are mixed with seasonal local ingredients like a house-infused cucumber vodka. The infamous Un-Cruise Bloody Mary is a must-try and when cruising through Mexico’s Sea of Cortes, don’t miss their Margaritas, they are sensational. We can vouch for that.
Cocktails at the Bar Every Evening Aboard the Safari Endeavor
I forgot to mention that one of the other perks is that every passenger guest received a complimentary massage! That was a special unexpected treat especially after the long hike in the arroyo.
Weather in Baja California Sur
What’s the weather like in November through March when the Safari Endeavor takes to the waters of the Sea of Cortes?
Air temperatures are moderate and can vary from 74F to 83F degrees. Evenings can get slightly chilly with the off-shore winds.
Water temperatures vary from 66F to 77F.
What to Bring for your Adventure Cruise on the Safari Endeavor
Don’t forget your passport
Reef-safe Bio-degradable sunscreen and hats for shade
Mobile phones or iPad for photos and photo sharing, though there is limited or no Internet onboard
Cameras, Binoculars, chargers/power cords, memory card, extra batteries
Collapsible Suitcase to fit under your bed
Dress in layers throughout the day – sun protective fabric is suggested
Bardessono and The Estate In Yountville – Two Brilliant Gems
Vintage House Lobby
Once upon a time, in the heart of Napa Valley, there once was a small unknown village slightly off the beaten path called Yountville, long before Michelin Star restaurants, luxury hotels, charming little shops, and boutique winery tasting rooms. The town actually began when a small 11,887-acre parcel owned by the Mexican government awarded a land grant to George C. Yount in 1836. Yount was the first Euro-American to settle in these parts and was a true pioneer in planting vineyards in the Napa Valley. In the early days, part of Yountville was actually named Sebastopol, though after George Yount’s death in 1867, Sebastopol united with Yountville in honor of Yount’s life and the two communities became one in Napa County.
The influence of the railroad coming in in 1886 brought new growth, and shortly thereafter newcomer Gottlieb Groezinger bought 20 acres and built one of the first wineries in the area with a barrel room & distillery in 1870, now known in the center of town as V Marketplace. Next, came the building of Yountville’s veterans home bringing more added life to this sleepy hamlet. In 1965, the Town of Yountville became the 4th incorporated community in the Napa Valley.
Napa Valley’s first sparkling wine producer, Domaine Chandon opened their visitor center in 1977 along with the winery and the restaurant bringing notoriety to the region and proved to be instrumental in the continued wave of growth in Yountville. The expansion and popularity eventually put this famed “Miracle Mile” on the map as one of the most sought-after destinations to visit in wine country. The metamorphosis over the last several decades has transformed George Yount’s vision into an international tourist mecca.
Often referred to as the “Culinary Heart” of the Napa Valley, Yountville is host to many renowned restaurants including Thomas Keller’s famed French Laundry. A few fun facts provided by the town of Yountville:
2,933 – Yountville Population
19 – Number of Tasting Rooms
1,600 – Number of Restaurant Seats
1 – Gas Station with great wine and hot dogs
451 – Number of Hotel Rooms
$466 – Average Room Rate
$589 – Average Room Rate in October
Along the main drag in Yountville, you will find many charming get-a-ways – inns, B&B’s, Hotels and resorts to indulge and pamper you for your stay while on your visit to this magical little town. Two of the grandest luxury properties in Yountville are the Bardessono Hotel and Spa, and The Estate, which includes both the Hotel Villagio and the Vintage House.
The Bardessono comes with its own bit of history as it was built on the original home site of Yountville’s Bardessono family who relocated to the Napa Valley with their six children from the Piedmont region in Italy in 1926. John and Lucy bought the 20-acre parcel for a mere $14,000. Their extended family maintained the family compound until 1989 when part of it was sold off for residential development. There were five remaining acres in the Bardessono Brothers partnership, which is where the location of Bardessono Hotel and Spa stands today.
This “Deep Green” property situated in the core of Yountville in its own private enclave is the LEED Platinum Certified Bardessono Hotel. There are 28 LEED-certified properties in the United States, all dedicated to building a smarter more sustainable future. “Bardessono makes a commitment to provide a luxurious experience for guests within a sustainable environment.”
The developers of the hotel utilized over 10,000 square feet of salvaged wood, which they incorporated into the doors, flooring, walls of the guestrooms, spa, restaurant, and event space. Of the unique guestrooms and suites on the property, each offers its own individual space and personal sanctuary. They are described as a space for timeless indulgence, from the organic cotton bed linens to the hand-crafted bath products. Guest rooms are also equipped with leading technology including a virtual surround speaker system and media hub. Taking the pampering and first-class indulgence to new heights is their suite collection, which includes Spa-Suites, Steam-Spa Suites, Tufa Suites as well as customized ADA Suites.
Upon your arrival at the Bardessono, the essence of tranquility and beauty is immediate, as you experience a welcome peacefulness from the Zen-like surroundings transcending throughout the property. There are numerous gardens, sculptures and water features adorned throughout every enclave around this stunning hotel’s grounds. It feels so private that your experience often makes you feel like you are the only guest there. Yet there are so many wonderful amenities to offer from this unique property.
Lucy Restaurant at Bardessono
The Restaurant Lucy, named after the original proprietress of the property, Lucy Bardessono presents garden-style award-winning cuisine created by Executive Chef Nate Lindsay. Whether you are a guest at the hotel or visiting the Yountville for an evening, a stop at this stunning restaurant is a must on a to-do list. Lucy had a gift for farming and cultivated the grounds into a working farm in the 1920’s on the historic Bardessono grounds. Her passion for working the land with fresh farm produce inspired the ingredients utilized in Chef Lindsay’s stylized dishes. All the ingredients on The Lucy menus are from locally sourced purveyors and from the onsite certified organic gardens just steps from the restaurant.
Bardessono Bloody Mary’s
One of the many stand-out features of Lucy Restaurant is the specialty Bloody Mary Cart where the bar’s talented mixologist creates a customized Bloody Mary to suit your tastes. The demonstration is a visual experience and worth the journey to the cart, where the “Liquid Artists” craft this specialty beverage from Platinum 7X Vodka, fresh tomatoes and garden garnishes and a few other delicious additions.
Outdoor Bathtub and Shower at Bardessono
After your Bloody Mary, you may want to retreat back to your room for a dip in the Beer Bath Spa Treatment explicitly designed to enjoy in the privacy of your Bardessono guest room. A perfect treat for dad after a long day of sightseeing, wine tasting or golf. And of course, there is also an extensive Spa Menu for Mom as well. Their full-service spa was named top wellness spa in the US in 2017 by Organic Spa Magazine.
Centered in the middle of Yountville along a significant stretch of Washington Street is what is now known as The Estate in Yountville also known at Villagio. The expansive property extends just south of the French Laundry Gardens to the entry gateway to the south of town. Showcased along The Estate’s 22-acre compound is everything you can ask for in creating the perfect visitor experience. Nestled at each end of the expansive grounds are their two luxurious hotels, the Vintage House and the Hotel Villagio. You can also indulge in their newly renovated Spa or visit the neighboring winery tasting rooms – Silver Trident and JCB Tasting Salon. If it’s a bit of shopping that’s up your alley, a leisurely stroll through V Marketplace offers plenty of options for your Napa Valley treasures.
Open for lunch and dinner is, renowned chef and TV Host, Michael Chiarello’sBottega Restaurant. His inspired Italian / California cuisine has earned him many culinary accolades including Zagat, Top 10 by Forbes, Top 20 by Esquire, and Top 100 Bay Area by Michael Bauer. Also throughout The Estate’s property are numerous meeting, indoor and outdoor venues and pavilions for everything from weddings, corporate retreats as well as small and large convention facilities. With the new addition of their gathering retreats and intimate garden areas, they can transition from 2700-square feet of indoor meetings to 11,000-square feet of outdoor entertaining space.
Vintage House Pool
The rebranding of the Estate began with the transformation and renovation of the Vintage House formerly the Vintage Inn where they began welcoming guests in October 2017. Bringing further luxurious updates is the welcoming of their newest additions with the Vineyard and the Pavilion, as well as a full-service bar with onsite entertainment in the newly built lounge and lobby at Hotel Villagio.
Hotel Villagio Guest Room
The spacious guest rooms at both hotels offer luxurious adornments throughout including fireplaces, outdoor balconies, complimentary daily breakfast all welcoming visiting guests in a sophisticated, inviting retreat atmosphere. The Hotel’s Winery Partner Program offers guests special perks to many of the most sought-after wineries in the Napa Valley.
Renovations to The Estate have been extensive, and no detail has been overlooked from the complete remodel including of all of the guest accommodations, the grounds, the spa, poolside cabanas, and much, much more. Everything you can imagine to make your visit to the Napa Valley memorable is at your beck and call, as The Estate has created a luxury playground along this Napa Valley promenade.
A few of the unique guest experiences offered a The Estate are:
Once Upon a Vine: A Guided vineyard tour and wine tasting at the Estate, sharing a sense of the heritage, culture and the history of Yountville
Love is in the Air: A private helicopter tour over the Napa Valley
The Art of Sabering: A lesson on the secrets of sabering a sparkling wine bottle from the masters at V Wine Cellars
That’s Amore: Indulge in a culinary experience led by Yountville’s own Celebrity Chef Michael Chiarello
Vintage House In Room Bar
This fabulous transformation of The Estate Yountville is slated as one of the most ambitious and grand renovations projects in the area. Their recent redevelopment efforts have contributed to an even more significant presence of this beautiful Napa Valley village along Yountville’s impressive Miracle Mile.
Vintners Rich with Napa Valley Roots Stake their Acclaim in the Willamette Valley
Sip, Explore and Stay
Up until 1979, which is not so long ago, the Willamette Valley and the presence of vineyards and winemaking in Oregon were somewhat of a fledgling undertaking. The tides turned shortly after Oregon vintner David Lett returned from a blind tasting in France where he was invited to submit a red wine to go up against the haughty, aristocratic French, German and Italian vintages, including the illustrious French Burgundies and similar European varietals.
This came only three short years after the California wine industry put their name on the map at a similar competition in France creating the “French Paradox” with an award-winning Chardonnay. Lett stunned the judges in the Gault-Millau French Wine Olympiades in 1979 finishing among the top 10 out of over 330 entrants. It was a mere year later that renowned French Burgundian winemaker, Robert Drouhin, stepped up and instigated a re-match. To even greater acclaim, Lett’s Pinot finished second to Drouhin’s Chambolle-Mussigny, by only two-tenths. Not a surprise that Drouhin, then himself crossed the pond to the open his Oregon Domaine Drouhin in the stunning town of Dayton in the Willamette Valley.
Thus the “Oregon Story” was created which put an impressive stake on the map for the Oregon-made French-Style Pinot Noirs. Lett had left the Napa Valley only 10 years prior, shortly after studying at UC Davis. Despite the advice against it from his viticulture colleagues, Lett left his native California to put his own stake in the terroirs of the Pacific Northwest. His hunches proved him right.
Lett’s success from the competition fueled his notoriety stemming from the accolades he gained as a result of the infamous competition with his Eyrie Vineyards South Block Pinot Noir. A short 15 years down the road from the renowned competition in France; Oregon exploded on the wine scene bringing some of his doubtful colleagues from the UC Davis and other eager winemaking pioneers, many from the Napa Valley, to jump on the bandwagon to lay their roots in the rich Oregon soils.
The richness of the valley’s soils can be attributed to the Missoula Floods from the Glacial Lake Missoula which impacted the region more than 40 times at the end of the ice age over 13,000 years ago. Floodwaters swept into the region bringing rich volcanic and glacier soil. You will find that a good majority of the wineries in the area are perched on knolls or hillside vineyards where the most optimum soils for grape growing are found.
The Willamette Valley has over two-thirds of Oregon’s Vineyards and is now home to over 700 wineries and vineyards, with many vintners who found their way there from the Napa Valley. The region known initially for their outstanding Pinot Noir production has brought in many notable varietals to great success, such as Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc and in addition, further expanding is the burgeoning sparkling wine production with the méthode champenoise. Some of the lesser produced varietals in the region are Syrah, Cabernet, and Merlot. There are 6 sub-appellations in the Willamette Valley – Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, and Yamhill-Carlton.
Where to Sip:
Well-known Napa Valley Vintner creator of Etude Wines, Tony Soter, who was a 30 plus year veteran in winemaking in the Napa Valley, left the Valley in 2007. Much to the surprise of his colleagues, he took off for Oregon to go full time at the winery he owned since the mid-1990s with his wife Michelle, Soter Vineyards. He was an applauded consulting winemaker for Napa Valley well-known wineries, such as Stags Leap Wine Cellars, Shafer, Sequoia Grove, Viader, Robert Pepi, Etude, Chappellet, Spottswoode, Dalle Valle, Spring Mountain, Niebaum Coppola, and Stonegate.
Michelle and Tony working together formed a dynamic team to follow in their own philosophy to consistently produce the highest caliber of wines that treads softly on the earth utilizing his over 4-decades of expertise and dedication to allow the character of the land to resonate in wines.
Their stunning winery is in an architecturally re-crafted 1943 barn where open spaces abound, and views of the surrounding hills resonate with every turn. They also have a state-of-the-art kitchen for wine events on the property. They are located in the Yamhill-Carton AVA on a 240-acre bio-dynamic farm planted to 32 acres of vines including 30 acres of Pinot and 2 acres of Chardonnay which they use for their award-winning Brut Rose. In addition to their Mineral Springs location, they also have a second property which showcases their North Valley Vineyards Label and their Planet Oregon wines where $1 from the proceeds of every bottle sold is donated to the Oregon Environmental Council.
: Tastings by Reservation: Mineral Springs Ranch 10880 NE Mineral Springs Road, Carlton 97111 www.sotervineyards.com503-662-5600
The Moore family originally from the Napa Valley also migrated to the Yamhill Carlton AVA several decades ago. Ronald Moore was a cargo pilot and his wife, Linda was a software consultant. They were in search of a retirement venture with the mission of getting back to the land. The Willamette Valley drew them in with Its rolling hills and cool climates and the region’s notoriety for growing outstanding Pinots. Their 50-acre family farm is adjacent to the land owned by Trappist Abbey who helped the Moore’s clear their land for planting in 2000. The creation for the winery name was inspired by the actual gate entering to the Trappist Abbey estate, which was actually built to allow the monks to access the land over the years. Today sits a statue near the gateway of Saint Francis of Assisi commemorating their frequent passages across the lands.
The vineyard is dry-farmed and also sustainably farmed to ensure that it will be environmentally and economically viable for generations to come. It is a two-generation operation, as their daughter Rebecca Moore also transplanted to the family compound from the Bay area and is the overall hands-on chief for every aspect for the winery from driving the tractor to pouring in the tasting room. Of the 50 acres, twenty are planted to Pinot Noir and Riesling.
: Carlton: Tastings by appointment: Open Thursday to Monday 12-5: www.monksgate.com503-852-6521
Dr. Madaiah Revana who is the proprietor of Napa Valley’s Revana Family Vineyards in Saint Helena had a love of the great wines of Burgundy and in 2005 began a search for the ideal location for his winery in Oregon. In addition to seeking out the perfect parcel of land for his winery and vineyards, he was also in search for a premier winemaker of Burgundian-style wines in the Willamette Valley. His quest led him to Lynn Penner-Ash, who had transplanted years before to this Pinot Noir abundant region from the Napa Valley.
Both Lynn and Dr. Revana were of the same philosophy with a commitment to producing world-class wines. Lynn’s vivid descriptions of the soils, the micro-climates, and elevations that would create the ultimate growing environment, presented them with a specific focus. They came upon the perfect location in the Dundee Hills, which offered 80-acres of which coincidentally sixteen acres had already been meticulously planted to Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris and the next year the launched Alexana Winery with their first estate 2006 vintages of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. Today in addition to their stunning Pinot Noir Collection, they also offer Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay, a Bordeaux Blend, and a Rhone Blend. Keep an eye out for the touring helicopters which frequently bring in guests for a wine tasting experience at Alexana.
After getting her kick-start in the wine business at Domaine Chandon and Stags Leap in Napa, Lynn Penner-Ash decided to leave for Oregon in 1988 to work at Rex Hill Winery as one of Oregon’s first female winemakers. Thirty years later as a renowned veteran winemaker, she and her husband Ron Penner-Ash celebrate the success of their mutually collaborated Penner-Ash brand which they founded in 1998.
Lynn and Ron Penner-Ash
In 2005, they designed and built their sustainable, gravity-flow estate winery in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, though their portfolio of wines also includes varietals from 7 major AVA’s of the Willamette Valley. Their winery, tasting room, and perfectly landscaped grounds offer majestic 360-degree views from their hillside perch overlooking the stunning vineyards of surrounding Newberg area.
In addition to their award-winning Pinot Noirs, they also produce Viognier, Roseo, Riesling, and Syrah.
: Newberg: Open 7 Days 11am to 5pm: Reservations Preferred and a must for parties of 6 or more: www.pennerash.com503-554-5545
Eugenia Keegan, Estate Manager and Winemaker at Gran Moraine, part of the Jackson Family Wines, continued her wine career in the 80’s in Napa Valley after working in Burgundy for several years honing her skills in Burgundian style wines. Upon arriving back in Napa, she took on the post as Bouchaine’s business manager at their Carneros location during their start-up days, and then later being promoted to President and CEO. In the late 90’s she moved over to Vine Cliff Winery in Oakville as president. In 2003, she took the plunge and moved on to the Henry Wine Group in Oregon until 2009. Prior to taking over at Gran Moraine in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, Eugenia managed her own wine brand on two different continents, Keegan Cellars in Russian River and Roussillon, France.
Gran Moraine, founded in 2014, is located in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA on 220 acres planted to the classic Burgundian varietals of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on the hillsides behind the winery. Teaming up with Shane Moore – Winemaker and Ken Kupperman – Vineyard Director, they have certainly created the trifecta for success at Gran Moraine. She is indeed a grand dame of Pinot Noir the Willamette Valley and continues to be committed to sustainable practices and creating elegance and finesse in a glass.
Gary and Nancy Andrus founders of Napa Valley’s Pine Ridge Winery expanded their wine world and opened Archery Summit in 1993. Now owned by the Crimson Wine Group, Archery Summit now lays claim to an expanding vineyard portfolio which includes 6 vineyards across 120 estate acres in Dayton in the Dundee Hills. They are known for producing some of the most luxurious New World Pinot Noirs.
They celebrate over two decades of crafting their estate-grown pinots and have just introduced their newest estate vineyard, Archer’s Edge. Winemaker, Ian Burch, has worked harvests across Sonoma County, Barossa Valley, New Zealand, and South Africa before settling in the Willamette Valley in 2008. Many of their Pinots have received outstanding marks from both Wine Spectator and Robert Parker.
: Dayton: Open Daily except Holidays: 10am to 4pm: Please call Tasting Room for Appointments or Availability: 503-714-2030: www.archerysummit.com
A visit to Domaine Drouhin is also a must to put on your list when visiting the Willamette Valley as its roots take you back to wine country in Burgundy where it all started 130 years ago when Maison Joseph Drouhin introduced their outstanding Pinot Noirs to the world. Run now by fourth-generation Drouhin’s at the helm, Veronique Boss-Drouhin, and Philippe Drouhin. Domaine Drouhin Oregon was built in 1988 for $10,000,000 in the Dundee Hills by then patriarch Robert Drouhin.
Their Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays continue the family legacy and tradition of fine winemaking in France and now in Oregon with finesse and elegance. As the saying goes, “French Soul, Oregon Soil.”
: Dayton: Open Daily 11am to 4pm: For larger groups, please call Tasting Room for Appointments and Tours: www.domainedrouhin.com: 503-864-2700
(Please note that when visiting many of the Wineries in Willamette Valley, picnicking and outside food may not be permitted)
Where to Stay
The Allison Inn and Spa
Allison Inn and Spa
Celebrating their 10thAnniversary, The Allison Inn and Spa offers guests a casually elegant and luxurious experience in the heart of the Willamette Valley. No attention to detail has been overlooked at this stunning spa resort hosting 77 luxury guest rooms and 8 suites all with gas fireplaces, a terrace or balcony, and spa-like bathrooms with outstanding views of the luscious landscape of the surrounding rolling hills and vineyards. No other place in the Willamette Valley offers this kind of unique guest experience. Whether you are taking off right from the property on a helicopter tour, a luxury private car, a hot air balloon, or even by horseback, the Allison can personalize your visit and choose from more than 200 area wineries. They will also prepare a customized picnic basket to take along with you.
Allison Inn and Spa
Upon your return from tasting some of the best Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in the world, take time to chill a little in their award-winning spa offering an extensive spa menu utilizing the energies, and ecological elements stemmed from the fertile soils of the Willamette Valley.
Dining at the Jory Restaurant at the Allison provides yet another memorable sensory experience. This one is offering a journey that accentuates the native flavors of the region sourcing seasonal and farm to table products in every dish specially prepared to create your culinary memory of the Willamette Valley.
If it is a luxury bed and breakfast you are in search of, then look no further than the exquisite Black Walnut Inn and Vineyards in the Dundee Hills. This majestic Inn is nestled on a knoll surrounded by rolling vineyards on their 42 acres. Each of the nine guest rooms all with private baths are uniquely adorned with their individual designer décor, many with balconies or private patios. These inviting rooms offer guests a relaxing retreat where you will enjoy spectacular evening sunsets and vistas on your patio with an afternoon glass of wine from their expansive wine cellar along with a Charcuterie and Cheeseboard.
Black Walnut Inn
You can expect your stay to be absolutely memorable as this dynamic property sets the stage for the perfect romantic getaway. Before rushing out to a full day of visiting the region’s wineries, you will indulge in Black Walnuts Inn’s signature breakfast where each dish is made to order with the freshest of local ingredients. What a perfect way to start your perfect day! Owners Rick and Erika Miller are hands-on hosts who look after your every need.
Welcome to the heart of polar bear country at Churchill Wild where they specialize in ground-level walking tours through the polar bear inhabited regions of Arctic Canada. Churchill Wild owns and operates the only remote lodges on Canada’s Hudson Bay coast, which is home to the largest and most accessible polar bear population on the planet.
It is just a few weeks away before I embark on an adventure of a lifetime through Arctic Canada exploring white polar bears and Nordic wildlife, glistening Northern Lights and the spectacular painted autumn landscape of the Churchill Wild wilderness and tundra.
I will be heading off to the Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge via a scenic flight from Churchill to this remote, spectacular lodge along Canada’s Hudson Bay coast. There is a good chance I will be spotting roaming polar bears, black bears, wolves, along with many species of shorebirds and possibly a moose or two along the way. They have even spotted caribou on their daily hikes and ATV excursions. The Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge is one of four unique specialty lodges offered through Churchill Wild. They are recognized as a proud member of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World.
The “Hudson Bay Odyssey” will take me and a handful of other eager Arctic adventurists (max 16 explorers) to the remote Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge deep in the heart of polar bear denning territory, where the boreal forest ends and the Subarctic begins. It is quite ironic that my journey takes me to the Nanuk Lodge as in college, I was nicknamed “Nanuk of the North.” It seems I was destined to explore this vast and impressive landscape in the Canadian Arctic tundra.
I can expect to see and experience much of what I would have ever imagined seeing ever in my lifetime. “Touch the Arctic. Change your life.” I will be taking a walk on the wild side where I will have the chance to meet polar bears up close and personal, along with world-class service, accommodations and cuisine at the only fly-in Polar Bear Eco-Lodges on the planet – Churchill Wild.
These unique lodges and polar bear safaris are offered July through November. The emphasis of their daily treks is on their walking safari’s, viewing a diverse array of wildlife and birds, open-air cruising on one their custom-made large ATV’s perfect for cruising the vast tundras nourished by the Hudson Bay coastal waters and indulging in impressive tundra-inspired cuisine.
Being the foodie that I am, I will be in for a real treat after my mesmerizing day out exploring the breathtaking boreal bounty of the wilderness. The bounty of Churchill Wild’s cuisine sets them apart as their culinary history takes them back over 50 years where it all started with Helen Webber (mother to Jeanne Reimer, co-founder of Churchill Wild and her friend Marie Woolsey.) Their legendary series of best-selling cookbooks offer up innovative regional tundra cuisine filled with wild game and delicious dessert recipes. Blueberries and Polar Bears cookbooks – www.BlueBerriesAndPolarBears.com
In fact, Jeanne has developed a signature style of her own, which coined as “tundra-inspired gourmet food.” Twenty-five years ago, they took their vision and created this destination adventure. Churchill Wild has transformed to become so much more than a polar bear safari at their elegantly rustic remote lodges in the tundra. They have melded in the element of rustically sophisticated savory creations on your plate into the perfect destination Canadian Arctic Safari.
Crusted Caribou Tenderloin Photo Courtesy of Churchill Wild
After visiting the recipes and photos on their cookbook website – Blueberries and Polar Bears, and the Churchill Wild website, my mouth is watering already. Their bountiful breakfasts are fit for a king and will surely set us right for our day exploring along this Hudson Bay retreat. Always included is their own inspired version of Red River Cereal. Lunch is often enjoyed in the wild outdoors with gourmet sandwiches and homemade cookies. Yum. It doesn’t look like I am going to go hungry one bit. Crusted Caribou Tenderloin and Cranberry Cake with Butter Sauce are two of their popular creations for the evening’s fare.
Upon our return from the day’s exhilarating journey, a little chill time by the fire and visiting with newfound friends will be in order before we embark on our evening journey of culinary treats. Another unique, memorable evening treat will be the possible viewing of the Aurora Borealis. I am keeping my fingers crossed for that one!!
As they say at the lodge, “Your sustenance is our mission.”
Packing for my upcoming adventure – Remember Dynie, you won’t be in warm Napa, Dress for the Canadian Arctic!
A must! Cameras and Chargers, Binoculars. Don’t forget the extra memory cards
Dress in layers – also a warm spring and fall jacket
Thin mitts, warm sweater or heavy fleece, warm parka, hiking socks, winter hat, long underwear
Notebook for jotting down memories of each day
Day pack, dry bag, sunscreen and rubber boot insoles, sunglasses, slippers and comfortable shoes for the relaxing evenings
What to expect!
Meet and Share Many Experiences with new Friends
Lots of photo opportunities and there are even professional photos leaders to guide us
Get up close and personal with polar bears and wildlife beyond my imagination
Greetings and Welcome to NapaFoodGalTravels! My name is Dynie and I am merely a “Wanderous” gal who just loves to travel and happens to live amongst the breathtaking rolling vineyards of the lush Napa Valley. The rest of the time I am in constant search of new sights, new sounds, and new flavors in this amazing world we live in. I welcome you to join me on my journey as I venture to the next spot on my list of Dynie’s Delicious Destinations.
Thanks for stopping by! See you again soon!
Cheers and Happy Travels!
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