USA Today 10Best Wine Readers’ Choice Awards 2021

USA Today 10Best Wine Readers’ Choice Awards 2021

It’s Back! The Readers’ Choice Awards from USA Today 10Best competition in the wine category! Vote from the top twenty in each category – you get the chance to choose your very favorite from a selection of 20 nominees – Best Tasting Room, Best Wine Tour Company, Best Wine Regions, Best Wine Festival, Best Wine Club, Best Winery Restaurant, Best Wine Country Hotel, Best Winery Tour!
I am honored to have been invited again by USA Today 10Best to be one of their Panel of Experts for Wine and Wine Region Categories for their 2021 Wine Readers’ Choice Awards. Visit USA Today to vote for your Favorites! Limit one (1) Vote per person, per category, per day!
Every Year USA Today 10Best offers a variety of contests in a variety of categories. Readers like you share their opinions every day by casting votes for their favorites. Do you have specific vacation spots you like to go to? There’s a contest for that. Are you a foodie chomping at the bit to support your favorite eatery? They’ve got that too. Or perhaps you’d like to peruse the 10Best Readers’ Choice winners to guide your future travels? You can do that right there on the USA Today 10Best site.

USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice Contest Categories

You will find all of your favorite travel categories to choose from:

This USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice contest is all about wine regions, tasting rooms, dining, tours, wine clubs, wine festivals, and wine country hotels. You have until Monday, August 2nd to vote for your favorites in each category. The winners will be announced Friday, August 13th at

Limit one (1) Vote per person, per category, per day!

Read the official Readers’ Choice rules here.
It’s time to start planning your next trip to your favorite wine country destination. It’s been over a year and a half of dreaming about visiting your favorite wine country tour, staying at your favorite wine country hotel, and dining at your favorite winery restaurant. Now get ready to pack your suitcases again and head out on your next wine adventure.
While California undoubtedly produces excellent wine, it’s got stiff competition these days. North America is home to more than 250 grape-growing regions. USAToday has asked a panel of wine industry experts to pick their favorite North American wine regions. Vote for your favorite in each of the Categories out of this pool of 20 nominees once per day until voting ends on Monday, August 2nd at noon ET. Read the official Readers’ Choice rules here.


Vote for Your Favorite Winery or Vineyard Tour 2021


Note from 10Best:  Some of these events have been canceled or postponed in 2021. In the meantime, we’ll keep supporting the events that inspire us. Check each individual event website for the latest. 

There’s a reason Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, is often depicted as a partier. Wine makes a good festival even better. 10Best teamed up with a panel of wine industry experts to find the best wine-centric celebrations in the U.S. Now we’re asking you to choose the winner by voting for your favorite once per day until voting ends on Monday, August 2 at noon ET. The winning festivals will be announced on 10Best on Friday, August 13. Read the official Readers’ Choice rules here.


Note from 10Best: While California undoubtedly produces excellent wine, it’s got stiff competition these days. North America is home to more than 250 grape-growing regions. We asked a panel of wine industry experts to pick their favorite North American wine regions. Vote for your favorite out of this pool of 20 nominees once per day until voting ends on Monday, August 12 at noon ET. Read the official Readers’ Choice rules here.



Vote for Your Favorite Wine Club Tour Operators 2021

Note from 10Best: Whether you’re tasting your way through famed California wine country, sipping wines lakeside in Michigan, or exploring the Finger Lakes, enhance your wine tasting experience by leaving the driving to someone else. These 20 tour operators offer wine-centric tours, complete with transportation, knowledgeable guides, and other extras. Now you have until Monday, August 2 at noon ET to vote daily for your favorite. The winners will be announced on on Friday, August 13. Read the official Readers’ Choice rules here.

To get a feel for live voting and to get up to the minute updates, you can follow USA 10 Best Readers’ Choice on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.


From USA Today 10Best:

About USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards

The 10Best Readers’ Choice Award contest launches new categories every other Monday at noon, revealing each category’s 20 nominees. After 4 weeks of voting, the contest closes on the 28th day at noon. On the Friday after voting ends, winners are revealed. Rules allow the public the right to vote online for one nominee per category, per day.

Nominees for all categories are chosen by a panel of relevant experts which include a combination of editors from USA TODAY; editors from; relevant expert contributors; and sources for both these media and other Gannett properties. The nomination panel for each award category is displayed on its associated contest page. All voting is digital and the 10Best Readers’ Choice Award contest is accessible on the website.

While the 10Best Readers’ Choice Award contest lives on – a standalone travel media site – it is promoted across USA TODAY Travel Media Group’s digital and mobile products, as well as via social media. Nominees are also announced and/or promoted across relevant USA TODAY departments, and through Gannett media outlets. provides users with original, unbiased, and experiential travel content of top attractions, things to see and do, and restaurants for top destinations in the U.S. and around the world. The core of the site’s uniqueness is its team of local travel experts: a well-traveled and well-educated group who are not only experts in their fields – and their cities – but discriminating in their tastes. These local experts live in the city they write about so the content is constantly updated. averages 5 million visitors per month. It was acquired by USA TODAY in January of 2013.

USA TODAY is a multi-platform news and information media company. Founded in 1982, USA TODAY’s mission is to serve as a forum for better understanding and unity to help make the USA truly one nation. Through its unique visual storytelling, USA TODAY delivers high-quality and engaging content across print, digital, social and video platforms. An innovator of news and information, USA TODAY reflects the pulse of the nation and serves as the host of the American conversation — today, tomorrow and for decades to follow. USA TODAY, the nation’s number one newspaper in print circulation with an average of more than 1.6 million daily, and, an award-winning newspaper website launched in 1995, reach a combined 6.6 million readers daily. USA TODAY is a leader in mobile applications with more than 16 million downloads on mobile devices. USA TODAY is owned by Gannett Co., Inc. (NYSE: GCI).

Rafting and Hiking Adventures in the Grand Canyon and Moab Utah

Rafting and Hiking Adventures in the Grand Canyon and Moab Utah

Desolation Canyon – by Western River Expeditions 

Rafting and Hiking Adventures in the Grand Canyon and Moab Utah

Western River Expeditions – Summer has arrived and it is hiking season. Time to get out the hiking poles, the binoculars, the camera, and a yummy selection of day trip hiking munchies and set out to explore some of the most beautiful terrain in the west. The whitewaters are just waiting for adventure seekers to explore the rapids around the Grand Canyon and Moab, Utah. What a great combination to take off river rafting and then explore some of the most remote hiking trails in Arizona and Utah.

“Some of the most magical places in the West can only be accessed via a river,” Says Western River Expeditions

Western River Expeditions

Western River Expeditions is an adventure travel company headquartered in Salt Lake City, and escorts more people down rivers on professionally guided rafting trips in Utah, Idaho and Arizona than any other company of it’s kind. It is the largest licensed outfitter in the Grand Canyon and the largest single tour provider in Moab, UT, through its division Moab Adventure Center (

Come for the Whitewater Thrills, Be Amazed by the Off-River Hikes

Photo by Western River Expeditions

Western River Expeditions, over its 60 years of commercial river running, has mastered the art of combining the elements – water, land, air, and sky– into some of the world’s most sought-after adventure vacations.

This company’s particular alchemy mixes up whitewater thrills and opportunities for some exceptional hiking in the fresh air. “Folks love to run the rapids with us, but truth is, some people come rafting just to go hiking and see sites that are only accessible by river,” explains Brandon Lake, co-owner of Western River Expeditions.

Following are four whitewater destinations that provide unique access to hiking trails so remote they are generally only reached via the river through the conveyance of a raft.

Here are some of the adventure raft and hike expeditions they offer!

Cataract Canyon Utah by Western River Expeditions

Cataract Canyon – Colorado River, Utah

Indian Creek Falls

River Mile 31
3.5-miles roundtrip Vertical gain of 100 feet

This is the hike to take to view a spectacular seasonal waterfall, towering 2,000-foot canyon walls, and Native American ruins. After an easy streamside walk, guests are treated to The Falls – a thundering 20-foot cascade that’s best in the spring when runoff and seasonal rains create an impressive streamflow. Ancestral Puebloan rock art and well-preserved granaries along the way speak to past lives. Modern adventurers can soak under the falls, dip in the natural pool, or partake in a round of butt slides.

Loop Hike

River Mile 36.5 1.3-mile Length
Vertical gain of 400 feet

Another must-do hike is the Loop Hike offering an up-and-over adventure through a saddle in the canyon wall that crosses a horseshoe bend in the river which eliminates four miles of river travel. Hikers gain impressive views as they scramble over a large ridge at the base of a massive curve in the river.

Family Fun on Green River – by Western River Expeditions

Desolation Canyon – Green River, Utah

Rock Creek Ranch Trail

River Mile 41 Short hike

An easy trail from the river leads to Rock Creek Ranch, the site of a former hideaway on the Outlaw Trail where Butch Cassidy and his gang of desperados were known to have holed up. Built in 1914 by the Seamont family, this ranch in the deepest part of Desolation Canyon served as a homestead, orchard, and outpost. Unrestored buildings display century-old homemaking and farming equipment. Although abandoned in the 1920s, ancient orchards still bear fruit come August. Be sure to visit the outstanding petroglyphs and ancient granaries nearby.

Three Canyon Hikes

River Mile 54
Various options for length and elevation gain

Here, three secluded canyons come together creating an abundance of exploring opportunities. The Three Canyon Loop hike follows a route around a large butte just behind camp. From camp, a 20-minute walk from the river leads to a natural bridge. Following the trail for an hour hike from camp leads to the Three Canyon Overlook, which offers one of the most spectacular views in the canyon. From the overlook, you can see two miles upriver. Only for the avid, this is a fairly strenuous hike.

Upper Grand Canyon Hike by Western River Expeditions

Grand Canyon (Upper Section), Colorado River

Nankoweap Canyon and Granaries

River Mile 53
Two-mile roundtrip hike Elevation gain of 700 feet

A trail from the camp below the mouth of Nankoweap Canyon leads hikers up a steep slope to one of the most sought-after views the canyon has to offer. Above this viewpoint in the limestone walls under an overhang sit four granaries, or storage units built and utilized by Native Americans. These canyon dwellers practiced hunting and gathering in the canyon and grew crops roughly 1,000 years ago on the delta below. At 700 feet above the river, a flat overlook provides a breathtaking vista downriver encompassing a world of towering red canyon walls, sparkling whitewater, and blue sky.

Deer Creek Falls

River Mile 136
Trail Options from 200 yards to four-miles roundtrip

Just 200 yards from where the rafts are tied-off, Deer Creek Falls thunders into the Colorado River. The 180-foot falls land into a pool perfect for a swim. Adventurous hikers can journey further down a trail to The Patio with sensational Kaibab Plateau views along the way. Reaching The Patio requires careful footwork and cool-headedness to navigate a short narrow ledge with a precarious drop.

Grand Canyon Lower Section, Colorado River

Travertine Falls and Grotto

River Mile 229 Two-mile roundtrip hike

Just a few miles below Diamond Creek, is one of the most special places in the Grand Canyon’s lower Granite Gorge. Mineral-rich water drops down a waterfall through a narrow canyon and then cascades over a second falls in a setting often described as an oasis. The clear and refreshing waters of Travertine are always a welcome experience in the heat of the Lower Canyon. Then comes a scramble with a little help from ropes and ladders into a magical grotto sprinkled with spring water and a waterfall.

Pumpkin Springs

River Mile 213
Adjacent to the river (scrambling, no hiking)

A popular stop for all Lower Canyon river trips, Pumpkin Springs can only be accessed by boat. The Springs, because of mineral-laden water and constant evaporation, has created a travertine dome or bowl resembling a gigantic pumpkin. Water pours into the top of the pumpkin, turns a murky green, and then runs over the sides and into the river below. This is a fantastic spot for cliff jumping into the river.

Cat Indian Creek by Willie Holdman


About Western River Expeditions

Western River Expeditions, providing Grand Canyon rafting, Utah and Idaho rafting, and international multi-sport trips, was founded in 1961 by Colorado River rafting pioneer Jack Currey. It has been named one of the “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth” by the editors of National Geographic Adventure magazine. The company is the proud recipient of the “Best of State” award through Utah’s Premier Recognition and Awards Program for the past seventeen consecutive years (2004-2020).

For a copy of Western River Expeditions’ 2021 catalog, questions, availability, and reservations call toll-free: 866.904.1160 (Local: 801.942.6669) or visit the recently enhanced website at:

Follow Western River Expeditions: On Facebook: On Twitter: On YouTube: On Pinterest:




What’s New In Sonoma Valley This Summer

What’s New In Sonoma Valley This Summer

What’s New in Sonoma Valley This Summer

Summer is here; California is opening up and the Sonoma Valley is the best place to tiptoe back into travel. The 17-mile-long valley encompasses the city of Sonoma and the villages of Carneros, The Springs, Glen Ellen, and Kenwood. Sonoma Wine Country is buzzing with fresh wine and food experiences, hotel news, and the return of live theater. Plus, NASCAR is back in Sonoma!

Now that wine country is opening back up again, it is time to make that trip you have been planning to the Sonoma Valley. Whether it is a day trip up from around the Bay Area or a multi-day destination trip, there is lots to do and discover in the Valley of the Moon – Sonoma Valley.

It’s easier than ever to get to Sonoma Valley from Southern California. Avelo Airlines launched a new service from Burbank to the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport (STS) last month. Avelo, the first new airline in the U.S. in 15 years, is starting flights at $39 each way.


Sosie Tasting Room

Sosie Wines’ brand-new tasting room brings French-inspired wine to the Sonoma Plaza. Sosie’s organically and sustainably farmed grapes evoke California Sun and French Soul. The winery makes fewer than 1000 cases of wines including Pinot Noir, GSM, and Roussanne as well as some exciting blends. The new tasting room is open seven days a week.

If you prefer your tasting with a side of activity, Anaba Wines pairs their tasting flight with wood-fired pizza at their Sonoma estate and a round of bocce ball. Wine club members can reserve the new paddle tennis court with the purchase of a bottle of wine. St. Francis Winery – which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year – now features the Tour de St. Francis. Climb aboard the fully sustainable, pedal-powered, tasting trolley and embark on this fun and informative roving wine tasting adventure while sipping wines among the vines.

Cline Family Cellars

Kick back in a cabana while sipping at Cline Family Cellars. The cabanas overlook the Great Lawn creating a relaxing escape for up to six friends. The cabana program includes a two-hour rental, a bottle of Nancy’s Sparkling Cuvee, and a basket of delicious snacks. This experience is $60+ per person ($50+ for club members). Cabana season is also picnic season! Muscardini Cellars invites wine lovers and their furry friends to enjoy afternoon wine tasting in their serene backyard garden. Pack a picnic and Muscardini will supply the handcrafted Italian-style wines. Reservations are required.

Another new tasting experience will invigorate the senses! Landmark Vineyard’s lush gardens at the Kenwood Estate are the backdrop for an educational journey of the senses, using fresh herbs and flowers to explore sound, sight, smell, touch, and taste and learn how to identify them in your glass. Take away the visuals and notice how your sense of taste changes at one of Three Sticks Wines’ blind tasting experiences. The new tasting kit includes four top-rated white wines, a wine aroma kit, and a how-to guide that can be enjoyed at the Adobe or at home. Three Sticks is also partnering with MacArthur Place to offer hotel guests a one-of-a-kind experience: the Durell Vineyard Excursion. Guests will tour the 610-acre vineyard on a Kubota and enjoy a private luncheon with five Durell Vineyard wines.

Valley of the Moon

Valley of the Moon Winery’s new Happy Hour Boxes let you bring wine country home. The bundle, which can be shipped around the country, includes a bottle of 2017 Chardonnay, a reusable glass, and a happy hour recipe.

Jacuzzi Family Vineyards

Tradition and change combine at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards. The winery is now hosting Italian Aperitivo tastings in the Grand Piazza – an homage to their family history. The flight is light in style and the flavor profile is enhanced by salty snacks. The winery has also redesigned its wine labels to match their new experiences. The new art takes its inspiration from old Italian wine labels and from 1970s rural California when Fred Cline spent time with his Italian grandparents on their farm in Oakley and gained his love of wine, agriculture, and farming.

Aperitivo Tasting at Jacuzzi


Mayo Orange Wine

Orange wine is made from white grapes but fermented on the skins creating a beautiful summery color. Mayo Family Winery is releasing their first orange vintage, the 2019 Chardonnay, Laurel Hill Vineyard, Sonoma Valley, “Orange Cuvée,” with aromas of orange peel, butterscotch, and candied lemons. The tasting room is open daily. Bartholomew Estate’s new release, 2019 “Bart’s Calling” Cabernet Sauvignon, offers classic aromas of plum, cedar, and tea leaf – and the winery will donate $5 for each bottle sold to the Sonoma Community Center’s scholarship programs.

As you begin to gather with friends, consider Hanson of Sonoma as your event venue. The pond-side seating area and bar are ideal for birthday parties, baby or bridal showers, and other celebrations. While there, enjoy their new summer cocktail menu featuring Strawberry Blush, made with Hanson’s Habanero Organic Vodka and fresh berries, and sample pizza from their new wood-fired oven.


Dining in Sonoma Valley

The Sonoma Plaza will soon be home to the Sausage Emporium. Husband and wife team David Cummings and Miranda Ives started the Hare & Hatter Sausage Emporium a few years ago, specializing in high-quality sausage sandwiches to-go. This month they are reopening in a new location on East Napa Street and will serve dine-in breakfast, brunch, and lunch along with local beer, wine, and coffee.

El Dorado Hotel

In addition to their new pop-up El Dorado Cantina, the El Dorado Hotel + Kitchen is now offering Taco Tuesday rates at the hotel. Guests who book on a Tuesday/Wednesday stay through August will receive a special rate and a credit to indulge in the Cantina’s Mexican street-style fare. The special rates are available online. For a taste of Oaxaca, Sonoma Eats’menu offers authentic cuisine, showcased best in its signature mole oaxaqueño. This neighborhood favorite- now with a lively new patio- is where those who are in the know go.

Sonoma Eats

The girl & the fig is getting into the summer mood with a new cocktail menu that includes Sorbet Sippers. The frozen drinks, which include frosé (strawberry sorbet + rosé), bitter bruto (lemon-lime sorbet, bruto americano, orange peel), and black cherry Manhattan (black cherry sorbet, bourbon, sweet vermouth, bitters, brandied cherries). The restaurant is also bringing back $15 wine flights and its popular Plats du Jour, a three-course meal that changes weekly for $45.

The girl and the fig cocktails


The Lodge at Sonoma New Lobby

This summer, The Lodge at Sonoma is unveiling a multi-year, multi-million-dollar renovation as part of its rebrand as an Autograph Collection property. The new brand celebrates the “salt of the earth” spirit of Sonoma with location-focused design and major enhancements. When guests arrive, they’ll be greeted with new landscaping and water feature before entering the redesigned lobby. The Lodge’s rooms are all getting a refresh. Hotel rooms will have new soft goods, bathroom amenities, and artwork; the cottages will see new landscaping, artwork and some will have outdoor fireplaces; the suites will have outdoor soaking tubs, outdoor fireplaces, and fully redesigned interiors. In addition to the popular new Wit & Wisdom restaurant, the Lodge is adding the High Horse Bar and Benicia’s Kitchen Restaurant. A new pool deck and firepit will follow later this summer.

The JAK W Casitas is a modern, eco-friendly retreat located in the heart of Boyes Hot Springs, just minutes from the Plaza. Built in 1920 and completely renovated in 2017, these gorgeous rental properties are outfitted with organic bedding, designer finishes, and tailored to give you an unforgettable Sonoma holiday. Love the sustainable design – visit the JAK W store at the Plaza before you head home.

Opening this summer, Bungalows 313’s newest luxury rentals are inside a fully remodeled and seismically retrofitted historic 1907 stone building. The units – known as Cielo and Terra – blend effortlessly into the nostalgic look and feel of old Sonoma. Each unit is distinctly different in design, but the two-bedroom, two-bath units stay true to the building’s history.

The Bar at MacArthur Place

It’s lavender season and MacArthur Place is celebrating this earthy, floral herb with special cocktails at The Bar. The Spa at MacArthur steeps the guest in the soothing aromas of lavender (sourced locally from Matanzas Creek Winery) during the Soothing Sonoma Lavender Massage. If you want to take some Sonoma lavender home with you, the hotel is hosting a Lavender Floral Workshop on Thursday, June 17. More information is online.

Built in 1910, the Maysonnave House, a beautiful historic setting for an intimate outdoor wedding or event, is now accepting reservations online. Less than a block away from the Sonoma Plaza, the beautiful Victorian home is one of Sonoma’s most treasured historic properties


Platypus Tours

After a year-long hiatus, Platypus Wine Tours is back with fun, day-long tours of Sonoma. The tour includes a picnic lunch, stops at three wineries, and engaging tour guides with deep experience in California’s wine country. Group and private tours are available. Active Wine Adventures has launched a new lineup of private Wine Adventures Tours for couples or small groups. The owner/guide has curated itineraries featuring highly recommended, small-production, family-owned wineries. Guests can choose from the Carneros/Pinot Noir Lovers’ Tour, Eco-Friendly Winery Tour, Moon Mountain Tour, or Historic Winery Tour.

Happy Travelers Tours has been providing educational cannabis tours since 2018 and their 2021 Weed & Wine Tour season is underway. The tour takes visitors through the Sonoma Valley to their grow site atop the Mayacamas Mountains. The experience includes a “Sip-and-Sniff” experience to taste wine and compare cannabis flowers, followed by a catered lunch and time at “Cannabis Camp” where guests learn to manicure a bud, process it for rolling, and then try to roll a joint.

Happy Travelers

Arts & Culture

Art is everywhere in Sonoma Valley. Several murals are coming to the towns of Sonoma and Glen Ellen. The Sonoma Valley Museum of Art (SVMA) has announced that artist Maria de Los Angeles will create two murals on area buildings starting this summer. SVMA, in collaboration with the City of Sonoma, is also presenting the public art installation, A Delicate Balance. The eight large-scale sculptures, by four artists from diverse backgrounds, are installed in the Sonoma Plaza and can be viewed through October 19, 2021.

Bartholomew Estate Winery has reopened its art gallery featuring Sonoma Plein Air artists. Private viewing sessions are available in the property’s historic winery building. In turn, Sonoma Plein Air donates 25-percent of the proceeds from art sales to support art education in local schools and community organizations.

Live theater is back! Transcendence Theatre Company announced the 2021 anniversary season
of Broadway Under the Stars, which will run from June 4 through September 19, 2021. This season marks the company’s 10th anniversary, and its annual celebration of Broadway will cap the celebrate community heroes and the return of live theatre at Jack London State Historic Park.

Trinity Episcopal Church is hosting a Celebration of Silent Movies on Saturday, June 19. The family-friendly event will include “Plane Crazy” (the last Mickey Mouse cartoon to be made without sound), “Tarzan the Tiger” (a cliff-hanger featuring Sonoma’s own Natalie Kingston as “Jane”) and “A Dog’s Life” (a Charlie Chaplin masterpiece).

And More…

Get your motor running! The Sonoma Raceway welcomes the Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Weekend & Trans Am series on June 5 and 6. NASCAR weekend in wine country features the 90-lap Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday and the ARCA Menards Series West General Tire 200 50-lap race on Saturday. Additionally, a field of historic muscle cars – real race cars, not reproductions – will hit the track for a competition 50 years after the series’ heyday in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.

Chateau Sonoma is reviving its monthly Le Petit French Flea beginning in June. The series begins with a pop-up with Eurolinens and Patine and Atelier de Campagne on June 5, followed by a special collaboration with Uber Chic in July. The full event calendar is online.

Socks on the Square, Sonoma’s premier sock shop is stocked up with brand new, limited edition Sonoma socks so visitors can wear their favorite destination after they head home. Check out their collection of Pride Socks as part of the celebration of Pride Month in June!

About Sonoma Valley, California

Located in the heart of Northern California wine country, Sonoma Valley is a 17-mile-long area
within Sonoma County, and which encompasses the city of Sonoma and the villages of Carneros, The Springs, Glen Ellen, and Kenwood. The birthplace of the state of California, as well as the state’s
wine industry, the year-round destination is home to more than 100 premium wineries, 85 percent of which are family-owned. For more information, visit, or follow them on Instagram at @sonoma_valley, and on Facebook at @ExperienceSonomaValley.


Visit Willamette Valley – The Majestic Oregon Wine Trail

Visit Willamette Valley – The Majestic Oregon Wine Trail

Penner-Ash Wine Cellars

Planning a Visit to Willamette Valley Wine Region

Sip, Explore and Stay In Oregon Wine Country

Visit Willamette Valley – If you are planning to visit the Oregon Wine Country, the Willamette Valley Wine Region is one to surely put on your list. The Willamette Valley has over two-thirds of Oregon’s Vineyards and is now home to over 700 wineries and vineyards. Oregon Wines have made a significant mark in the wine industry and as a popular travel wine destination.  The Oregon Pinot Noirs are awarding-winning wines and their winemakers produce some of the best in the world.

Up until 1979, which is not so long ago, the Willamette Valley Wineries 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.

Willamette Valley History

David Lett

Willamette Valley History. 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.

The Oregon Story – David Lett

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.

Domaine Drouhin

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.

Soter Vineyards

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:

Soter Vineyards

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.

Tony Soter

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.

Soter Vineyards

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 that 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

Monks Gate

Monks Gate

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 Moores 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.

Monks Gate

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

Alexana Winery

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.

Dr. Revana

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.

: Newberg: Reservations Preferred and a must for parties of 6 or more: www.alexanawinery.com503-537-3100

Penner-Ash Wine Cellars

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

Gran Moraine

Gran Moraine

Eugenia Keegan, Estate Manager and Winemaker at Gran Moraine, part of the Jackson Family Wines, continued her wine career in the eighties 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.

Eugenia Keegan

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.

: Yamhill: Open Daily: 11am to 5pm: www.granmoraine.com855-831-6631

Archery Summit

Archery Summit

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:

Domaine Drouhin

Domaine Drouhin

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.

Domaine 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: 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.

Brunch on the deck at The Allison Inn and Spa

: 2525 Allison Lane, Newberg, OR: 877-294-2525

Black Walnut Inn and Vineyards

Black Walnut Inn

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.

Guest Suite at the Black Walnut Inn

: 9600 NE Worden Hill Road, Dundee, OR:  503-538-8663










Exploring Baja California Sur with UnCruise Adventures

Exploring Baja California Sur with UnCruise Adventures

Safari Endeavor In Baja California Sur

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.

Video of the Sea of Cortes Cruise provided by UnCruise Adventures

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.

The Map of the Cruise Route in Baja California with UnCruise Adventures

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.

Barcelo Grand Faro – First Night in Cabo Before the Cruise

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

Day one of our Adventure – Arriving at the Port in La Paz

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!

Searching for Marine Life

Let the adventures begin!

View off the top deck of the Safari Endeavor

Daily Activities aboard the Endeavor

  • 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.

    Happy Hour

  • 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

Happy Snorkeler

Sunday – Day 2 Adventures – Los Islotes

  • 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 – Bahia Agua Verde

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.

    Burro Ride

  • 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.

    My Burro

  • 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 – Isla Danzante & Loreto

  • 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

    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.

    The Small Coastal Town of Loreto

    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 – Whales

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 – Isla California & San Evaristo

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 – Beach Party – Ensenada Grande

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 Espirito 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

Sample Menus

  • Breakfast
    • Smoked Marlin Frittata, portabella mushrooms, spinach, dried tomatoes
    • Omelet of the Day – Mushroom Cheese Omelet
    • Berry Pancakes with Maple Syrup
    • Breakfast Potatoes Choice of Bacon or Sausage
  • Dinner
    • 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
  • Hiking attire – hiking poles, hiking shoes, daypack
  • Dry Bag for camera, binoculars, or anything that you don’t want to get wet.
  • Comfortable clothes, casual attire, beach clothes
  • Windbreaker, fleece or light jacket
  • Any medications you may need during the week

 Un-Cruise Adventures tagline “Unrushed. Uncrowded and Unbelievable”.  And you can count on that!

Goodbye for now! I can’t wait until the next time! Cheers Un-Cruise! You are the Best!

Visit their website for more details on this cruise and their other destinations.

Photo credits: Dynie Sanderson; the expedition crew aboard the Safari Endeavor; Uncruise Adventures; Jean Cusick.











National Margarita Day – Ten Recipe Twists for Margaritas

National Margarita Day – Ten Recipe Twists for Margaritas

Whether it is Cinco de Mayo, National Margarita Day, National Tequila Day, National Cocktail Day, Your Birthday, or Someone else’s Birthday, just about any day is a good day for a Margarita. Here are a few Margarita Recipes to get your spirit moving!

History of the Margarita

Where did the Margarita originate? Over the years many have taken claim to the creation of the infamous tequila drink – “The Margarita.” The cocktail the “Daisy” was a similar drink made with brandy instead of Tequila. Though during prohibition people traveled over the border and picked up tequila which was substituted for the brandy. Daisy in Spanish is Margarita.

In 1937, there was a recipe for a “Picador” using the same mix of tequila, triple sec, and lime juice in a cocktail book. There are others that claim that Dallas socialite Margarita Sames created the drink for her guests at her Acapulco vacation home in 1948. The first known published recipe was in the December 1953 issue of Esquire. Though in 1945, the first importer of Jose Cuervo promoted the slogan – “Margarita: it’s more than a girl’s name.”

Nowadays, there are so many creators and mixologists of tequila drinks with different versions and flavors of the Margarita with so many variations of Margarita recipes. In essence, all of us who have concocted our own Margarita recipes can take our own five minutes of claim to fame too. Here are a few of some of my favorite twists on the colorful Margarita, some with my own input and diversions to the recipe. It’s your turn to take it and run with it!

It’s Margarita-Thirty!! Cheers and Happy Cinco Mayo!

The Traditional Margarita

The Traditional Margarita

Makes 2 Margaritas – increase ingredients as needed depending on the number of Margaritas you are preparing.

  • 4 OZ Blanco tequila
  • 2 OZ Cointreau or triple sec
  • 4 OZ fresh lime juice
  • Ice
  • Slices of lime or lime wedges

Fill a Cocktail shaker with ice along with the tequila, Cointreau, and fresh lime juice. Shake well, then strain into a chilled glass or serve on the rocks.

Another Spin on the Traditional Rita – The San Antonio Margarita

San Antonio Margarita

Recipe Inspired by well-known Texan Josie Davidson whose father received this recipe from Mario Cantu, owner of Mario’s, an old-line Mexican Restaurant in San Antonio. This famed Margarita recipe was passed on to the New York Times in 2015. It’s a five-star winner with 818 five star ratings!

  • 1 cup plus a splash of tequila
  • 1 cup plus a splash of orange liquor
  • 1 cup plus a splash of freshly squeezed lime juice

Combine all of the liquids in a pitcher with 6 ounces of water and stir to combine. Place in the refrigerator to chill. Then serve over ice in glasses with salted rims. Garnish with a wedge of lime.

24 Karat Gold Margarita by Loews Miami Beach Hotel

24 Karat Margarita

It seems like ages ago, but just like yesterday that we traveled across the country to Loews Miami Beach Hotel. It was only a few months ago in February that we were invited to participate in the exquisite festivities held at the hotel for the South Beach Wine and Food Festival in South Beach. During our visit, we had the distinct pleasure of joining Steve Turk – Food and Beverage Director for Loews, Linda Villafane – Director of Public Relations for Loews Miami Beach and Contributing Food Writer for Forbes in the hotel’s spectacular lounge, Bar Collins, for a pre-celebration toast. We were all dressed to the nines, looking like royalty for the evening’s formal festivities celebrating SOBEWFF. This set the perfect stage and the perfect opportunity to toast with the bar’s famous in-house Margarita, the “24 Karat Rita.”

These brilliantly decorated tumblers arrived at our table glowing of effervescent sparkles adorning the glass rims and the floating lime wheels. Almost to pretty to drink, but feeling decadent and adventurous, we all cheered and jumped right into these jeweled libations.

Their specific recipe remains a bit of a secret. We do know it includes a generous pour of Roca Patron Silver over crushed ice, with fresh lime juice, a bit of Cointreau, adorned with edible 24k gold leaf and lime zest! Bravo Bar Collins – you definitely knocked it out of the park!

Black Grape and Chili Margarita – Courtesy Food and Wine

Black Grape and Chili Margarita

Serves – 2

  • 1 tsp Chili powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 oz fresh lime juice
  • Lime wedges for garnish
  • Ice
  • 4 oz Concord grape juice
  • 3 oz Reposado Tequila
  • 5 ox triple sec
  • Serrano chili pepper with seeds thinly sliced
  • Black Grapes for garnish

Mix the chili powder with the salt and sugar. Moisten the rim of the two glasses with a lime wedge and dip the glasses into the coast around the rim.

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the grape juice, tequila, lime juice, triple sec, and 4 slices of serrano Chilies and then strain into the two glasses. Garnish with sliced serranos, lime wedges, and grapes to serve.

Blue Margarita

If you are dreaming of the Azur waters of Mexico or the Caribbean and can’t get there right now, this refreshing Blue Margarita will definitely take you there. Take a sip, close your eyes, and just imagine being there! I do it every time, and if it’s a little too chilly outside, I just turn on my favorite travel video of the beaches of Mexico and it takes me right back!

Serves 4-6

  • 1 cup of tequila, preferably Reposado
  • 1/3 cup of Curacao (Blue)
  • 1/3 Cup of Cointreau or Triple Sec (orange-flavored liquor)
  • 2/3 cup fresh lime juice (about 8 limes)
  • Limes wedges for garnish

Combine the tequila, Curacao, triple sec, and lime juice in a large pitcher with crushed ice or you can pour it on the rocks into tumbler glasses or decorative glasses for a straight-up Margarita.

According to master mixologist Dale DeGroff, a drink called the Tequila Daisy was served at Tijuana’s Agua Caliente racetrack in the 1920s. It was made with lemon juice, tequila, and a sweet ingredient—the template for a Margarita.

The Jalapeno Basil Lime Frozen Margarita

This recipe is inspired by the recipe created by the Vancouver duo – The Food Gays. I just love the Jalapeno kick and the twist with the basil added.

  • ¼ cup basil
  • ½ cup jalapeno with seeds
  • 6 oz of barrel-aged tequila – or a good Reposado
  • 3 oz triple sec
  • Juice from 4 limes
  • 2 Tablespoons of honey or agave syrup
  • 2-3 cups ice
  • Salt for the rim
  • Lime wedges for the garnish

Muddle the basil and jalapeno together, then add the tequila. Let it infuse for 24 hours in the refrigerator. The next day strain and just keep the liquid, discard the basil, and jalapeno. In a blender add the tequila mix the triple sec, the lime juice, the honey, and ice, then blend until smooth. Pour into your salt-rimmed glasses and garnish with lime wedges.

Spicy Margarita Punch

Serves 10

Spicy Margarita Punch

It’s the combination of the cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro, and mint that takes the flavors of this Margarita off the charts. This is a perfect libation to pre-make ahead of time for your Cinco de Mayo celebration.

  • 1 large or 2 medium cucumbers
  • 2 jalapenos thinly sliced – one for the mixture and one for the garnish
  • ¼ up of de-stemmed cilantro
  • ¼ cup of mint
  • One bottle of Silver Tequila – 750 mills
  • 2 cups fresh lime juice
  • 1 cup of agave nectar
  • ½ cup fresh orange juice
  • Ice, lime wedges, and salt for serving

In a large bowl or punch bowl if you intend to use one, muddle (mash) the cucumber with the jalapeno, cilantro, and mint. Add the tequila, lime juice, agave, orange juice and stir well. Refrigerate for at least an hour or you can keep if overnight if you are making it ahead of time.

Strain the liquids from the mixture and discard the solids. Keep it in the punch bowl or put the mixture into a large service pitcher along with some ice. Serve into salted rimmed glasses and garnish with thinly sliced cucumber, jalapeno slices, and limes wedges.

The Mayan Mule

The Mayan Mule Margarita

Well, what can I say about this one except you just have to try it!

Serving Size per glass 1

A South of the Border twist on the Moscow Mule

  • 5 ounces of aged gold tequila preferably a Reposado
  • ½ ounce lime juice
  • 3-4 ounces of ginger beer
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Sliced lime into a wheel to garnish
  • Mint sprig to garnish

Combine the tequila and lime juice in a tall glass.

Add Ice.

Add the ginger beer and Angostura bitters and stir.

Garnish with the lime wheel and sprig of mint.

The “DanaRita”


A recipe created and made for many years by my husband Dana which is a Margarita that has become legendary amongst our family and friends. It is one of the most requested and popular libations when we all congregate. “Dana, can you make me one of your DanaRitas?”

Dana’s Inspiration – Simplicity – Make people smile, feel smart and witty, and dance in public.

Key observations to making a really stellar margarita – A quality margarita is not green or slushy. Look for a golden color and pour over ice cubes.

Preferences – Salt on the rim (optional but traditional for sure); any size glass but tall one is preferable. And for the tequila – Reposado is preferred which is more flavorful and has that rich golden color from the toast of the barrel aging.

  • 50/50 ratio of tequila to everything else
  • Everything Else – Orange flavor liquor (Cointreau, Grand Marnier or just fresh-squeezed oranges)
  • Fresh Squeezed Lime – Lots of it
  • Splash of Sparkling water to give it a little zest
  • Ice

Using an 8-ounce glass, salted rim or not, squeeze a whole lime into the glass, squeeze a half orange (about 2 oz juice)

Add 2 ounces tequila, then add about 1 ounce of sparkling water. Add ice then a splash of Cointreau or Grand Marnier on the top.

Mango Coconut Chili Margarita

Mango Coconut Chili Margarita

If you are lucky enough to be spending the Cinco de Mayo celebration someplace tropical you may want to make this spin on the traditional margarita. I am sure you will find plenty of fresh mangos and coconuts in abundance. Just the thought of it makes we want to beam up someplace tropical right now, sit under a palm tree listening to waves crashing, and the warm ocean breezes blowing across my body while relaxing to the soft sounds in the distance to a steel drum band. Can I go now, please?

Almost the next best thing to being in the tropics right now is indulging in this delightful tropical tequila libation.

2 -3 servings

  • 1 ripe mango (1 cup cubed or if you can’t find it fresh, a bag of frozen mango, or mango sorbet as a last resort)
  • 1 cup of Orange juice – fresh squeezed preferred
  • 1 cup of Fresh Coconut Water or Store-bought Coconut water
  • A few Chunks of Fresh Coconut or a small scoop coconut sorbet or coconut flavor rum – your preference
  • Several Medium-Sized Limes
  • 3 ounces of Silver Tequila or Reposado
  • 5 ounces of Cointreau or Triple Sec Orange Liqueur
  • A dash of hot sauce – your preference or not, some like it hot!
  • 1-3 Tablespoons of Agave Nectar (depending on how sweet you like it)
  • ¼ Cup Lime Juice
  • Lime Wedges for Garnish
  • Chili Powder and Sea Salt mixed for rimming the glass. I also like to use Tajin Clasico con Limon

Put all of the ingredients into a blender and mix until creamy. Be sure to taste it so that you can adjust it whether you want to add more Tequila, Orange Liqueur or Agave Nectar. If you like the spice of it, add in a bit more chili powder or hot sauce.

The Brave Bull

The Brave Bull

After a long day of Cinco de Mayo festivities or any fiesta activities, it’s time to relax before siesta in the evening with a Brave Bull. It is sometimes referred to as a Mexican Black Russian. It is a cocktail that was introduced in a 1960’s action movie and it truly lives up to its name. This is a unique and quirky combination of Kahlua and Tequila Blanco, but you can use your tequila of preference. This is my husband’s go-to late-night libation and his preference on which tequila is to use one of his favorite Reposado tequilas we usually have on hand. Sometimes we add in a little milk or cream, somewhat like a White Russian or you could call it a Brave White Bull! Buenos Noches!

The recipe is easy – it is one part Kahlua and 2 parts tequila over ice. Though you can also do 50/50 on the mixture too!


Please post your comments and photos of your own versions of the famed Margarita!