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What’s happening in downtown Martinez?

What’s happening in downtown Martinez?


Sleepy downtown Martinez is slowly coming into its own. Known for generations as the home of the Shell Oil and Tosco refineries, there has been a push for revitalization for a few years which is a welcome sight to many residents. Despite being the hometown of Joe DiMaggio and the birthplace of the martini, Martinez hasn’t been in the news too much. That’s going to be changing.

Photo via http://www.barrelagedbar.combarrelaged

In late 2014, the Barrel Aged restaurant closed due to water damage following a burst pipe. The damages were supposed to be fixed with construction, but the issue may either be tied up with the courts or insurance companies.

The restaurant served fanciful cocktails from a bygone era such as Negroni, Blood and Sand, Bees Knees, Sazerac, and the now hugely popular Manhattan. I only was able to partake in the cool but approachable bar and restaurant a couple of times before they closed down.

Rising from the ashes like a Griffin, Barrel Aged became Barrelista, and moved into a shop across the street from the previous iteration. Barrelista is a small coffee shop with a lot of soul. The restaurant continues to expand into a sidewalk dining area and into a back area for mimosas on Sunday and its signature cocktails. Barrelista brews Four Barrel coffee, which is roasted in San Francisco. The coffee company uses a sustainable approach to gathering beans for roast, and the coffee is always fair trade coffee, which wins the company “Green” awards year after year.


In addition, Barrelista also has just been recognized and awarded through Central Contra Costa Sanitary District for its green efforts in pollution prevention and environment sustainability. So, not only is it a delicious and fun trendy stop when shopping at the Farmers’ Market or antiquing in the many quaint shops downtown, Barrelista is also a company that demonstrates great values.


Reconstruction of an historic building downtown brought forth another new coffee shop, States Coffee & Mercantile. This hip store has been covered in the press by East Bay Times and other media outlets, and is raking in great reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor.

Photos via http://www.statescoffee.comIMG_8512.jpg

Different from your typical neighborhood store, States Coffee & Mercantile broke the mold in coffee shop design. A combination of a cool coffee shop with leather goods, States is a hybrid of the original Peet’s in the 1960’s and Venture Quality Goods in nearby Lafayette.

A purveyor of coffee in addition to American made goods, States has built a loyal following in the community in a short time. Along with the Barrelista and some other downtown shops, States Coffee & Mercantile also embodies the face of the future of Martinez, with its iconic black Ford van included.

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Another exciting development, for me at least, is the “Coming Soon” sign at 718 Main Street (formerly part of Martinez’ first movie theater!). Nate Houston along with Cory Katz will be opening up Bar Cava, a wine bar with eats, in this location once internal construction is completed in October. I’ve met Nate a few times at Residual Sugar in Walnut Creek, and was overwhelmed by his knowledge of wines, particularly Spanish wines. He poured a couple whites for me to taste based on what I told him I look for, and he was spot on with his selections.


Bar Cava won’t be limited to only Spanish or other European wines. Cory’s love for big, juicy Napa reds will be featured also, with new finds available at least once a month.

Not limited to small plates, Bar Cava will also feature domestic and European cheeses and procured charcuterie meats. Sunday brunches will be offered at some point, and Bar Cava will be serving Mountain Grounds Coffee.

Photo: Bar Cavabarcava2

These two have big plans, and I personally can’t wait to experience this new spot as their dreams come to fruition.

Read my blog for more news on Bar Cava and other local East Bay spots. Cheers!


The Sensory Analysis of Wine

After a two-year hiatus, I’m going to begin blogging again – hooray! Despite the fact that I’m no longer taking courses at Las Positas College in Livermore due to freelance work schedules and the ilk, I find I’m still drawn to the school for enology or viticulture coursework.

One course that I have yet to take is the sensory analysis course. I remember fellow students who were taking the course simultaneously coming in with home made kits — boxes full of tiny containers, each with a different food item, such as fresh and dried fruit or dried herbs.  I remember being overwhelmed, and yet intrigued, by these kits designed specifically for wine aroma analysis.


Photo: Wine

There are kits that are available for sale for wine aroma analysis that greatly range in price — Beginning with a few dollars that can be made in your own kitchen and on to full kits with dozens of vials that are over $100 and can exceed $500.


But any kind of kit is important for wine drinkers who wish capture tasting notes. When we smell certain things, we’re relying on memory, an imprint of what the characteristic aroma “should” be, but we  can’t always distinguish the aromas unless we have an exemplar on hand for comparison. I always think of peppermint and spearmint. While they are extremely similar, spearmint is more subtle due to the lack of menthol that exists within peppermint. Years ago while visiting a chiropractic doctor for an examination, he gave me a blind smell test to test my senses. I thought I was smelling peppermint or something “minty” when the aroma turned out to be cinnamon sticks.

Whether a wine writer is starting out or is an experienced taster, I feel having a sensory kit on hand on occasion would be beneficial so as to be able to zero in more closely on the aromas, and to reduce any bias or prior scent imprints on the tasting.

What do you think? Do you think a person should be able to learn to distinguish tastes and aromas without a sensory kit? Is it cheating to use one? Or are sensory kits a tool that anyone can utilize to realize the full scope of a wine’s fragrant aromas and tastes?



Wine Blogging and Social Media

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When I first came onto the wine social media scene back in late 2008/early 2009, I knew I wanted to move my writing in the direction of this tasty niche. I immersed myself into the wine bloggers’ culture on Twitter and Facebook and spent years getting to know other people in the industry.

Simultaneously, I began writing more for non-writing publications. After a short stint with a local East Bay food magazine, I took a journalism class to continue honing my craft. I learned what my “voice” read like, and pursued other freelance opportunities.

I was also finishing my B.A. and continued learning both online and offline about social media and businesses’ uses for social media.


I am fortunate to have been able to attend the Wine Bloggers Conference held 2012 in Portland, and felt a small momentum building. Again, during this time, I was working full time, going to school part time, and moving into a new home with a retired parent with medical issues, so my momentum was on a metaphysical level with myself only.

With that said, my writing again took a backseat to life in general until I attended the Wine Tourism Conference in November 2013. This conference was held in Portland also at the same host hotel as the Wine Bloggers Conference of 2012, so it was nice to be in familiar territory. I learned a great deal at the conference, and appreciated the professionalism of everyone.

Portland, Oregon

Shortly before the Wine Tourism Conference, I found a writing gig on for feature article writing for a small lifestyle magazine in the East Bay. I started cranking out some articles for the magazine and again felt a force moving me away from my current vocation towards something that allowed more creative writing.

It was only by happenstance that I saw a job listing for a freelance social media coordinator on a Facebook group in late December. I recognized the company listing the job as I’d been following the owner Janet and vice versa on Twitter since late 2008.


What a thrill! The gig was to create content and post on social media for the country’s largest trade and consumer wine event, the Boston Wine Expo, held every year in Boston. I dived right into the gig while attempting to juggle the rest of my life in addition to the freelance article writing I’d been doing.

I created Tumblr blog posts, created and scheduled content on Facebook and Twitter and engaged with anyone and everyone who wanted to discuss the event on any social media platform. Towards the end, I also created an Instagram account for the media agency owner’s use at the actual event.

The event was held in February and by the beginning of April all social media began to wind down. It was a bittersweet moment when I emailed my final invoice. I’d been vigorously looking for other social media freelance work and had confirmed Janet would give me a good recommendation.  Nothing panned out, but Janet confirmed that I’d be able to head the social media in the fall for the Boston Wine Expo. Needless to say, I was thrilled.

Which us brings us pretty much to the present. I’m doing a small freelance job for Janet right now, summer’s here, and I’m leaving this week for Buellton and the Wine Bloggers Conference.

So, my question is this: If I’m not blogging consistently, but am doing other writing, including creating social media content for wine industry purposes, can I consider myself a wine blogger? Or am I guilty of not fulfilling an unspoken belief that I must maintain a somewhat consistent presence both on my blog and in the community?  My conviction is that writing is writing and blogging is social media. Despite the fact that I’m not keeping my personal blog current doesn’t translate to I’m not active in the blogosphere or in the social media world.

And yes, I wrote this post because I’m going to the Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara County this week, and want there to be a more recent post on my blog than my last one of August 2013!

In any event, I’m caring and sharing about wine as much as my life allows and that’s all we can ask from ourselves, right?



Taste Our Terroir, Livermore Valley 2013

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IMG_2438(Photos by H. Kremer)

I was grateful to attend the Livermore Valley’s kickoff event for Taste Our Terroir 2013 at the Casa Real in Pleasanton on Thursday July 18.  The event was the first of a four-day weekend showcasing the food and wine of the Livermore Valley.  For the remaining days, many wineries were hosting tours, with others offering wine-paired dinners with cooking demonstrations, and much more wine-related events.

Established in 1849, the Livermore Valley has long been a forgotten wine destination.  Within the last two decades, a groundswell has been building to remind us that the Livermore Valley has a great deal to offer.  This movement has come from a variety of different groups, including wine growers associations and the wineries themselves.  Two of the wineries, Concannon and Wente, have deep historical roots in Livermore and have made many contributions to the changing landscape and strive to continue to draw attention to the Livermore region.

Thursday’s event had about 20 wineries each stationed with a local caterer.  The pairings were exquisite, and I had the opportunity to talk with many winery representatives and caterers alike.


A couple standout pairings were:

  • Eagle Ridge 2010 Zinfandel paired with small gnocchi (green potato dumplings) served with a lamb ragu sauce
  •  Garre Vineyard 2009 sauvignon blanc paired with smoked salmon on bruschetta with capers and goat cheese


  •  Concannon’s Righteously Rosé with a Gulf shrimp, Coho salmon, Pacific true cod, sea scallop sausage with Olivina EVOO, chives, rosé cream sauce with chervil [a delicate fennel-like herb]


  •  Occassio Vineyard 2010 Zinfandel paired with American Kobe beef Carpaccio lollipops

My favorite was the watermelon gazpacho with a skewer of miscellany presented by Tender Greens Catering of Walnut Creek paired with the Retzlaff Vineyards’ 2011 Isabelle Blush, a merlot rosé.


I was fortunate to speak with one of the pairing judges, David Glancy, after the competition.  David is the founder and CEO of the San Francisco Wine School and has a culinary background, so he was well suited for judging the pairing competition.


I asked him what standards he was looking for in the pairings.  He told me he was looking for pairings that were “right on” for the particular varietals, but he also said that the judging was not about wine or food, but that he was looking for the best pairing.

He alluded that the wine and the food together needed to equal more than their individual parts.  He and another judge mentioned, “1 + 1 = 3.”

All in all, it was a great event to attend, and I’d love to attend it again to see what different pairings the caterers and wineries concoct for the evening.

How about you, did you attend?  Which pairing did you feel was the best, and why?


What wine goes with Gehacktes (a traditional German dish)?

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We know the dish here in the United States as Steak Tartare.  In the Middle East, it’s known as Kibbe, and in Ethiopia a heavily spiced version of the dish is known as kitfo.  In German, the dish is known as Gehacktes if using beef, Mett if using pork.

My father has asked me to make Gehacktes for him for his birthday and Father’s Day this year.  I’ve never made it before, but I am not concerned with the preparation of the dish.  My concern is that the dish that my mother made for me growing up is uncooked beef.  Yep, raw beef.  I’ve had beef twice this calendar year as I’ve tried to change my eating habits (read: I went on a strict nearly-vegan diet).  The thought of preparing this dish is a non-issue.  The thought of eating this dish is something else.

Here’s a photo care of (c) Verena N. / from the website.  This photo shows the gehacktes spread on sourdough or French break and topped with pickles and herbs.


My father’s version doesn’t include the gehacktes spread onto bread, but served in a loaf.  Here’s the recipe as he remembers it:

  • One pound (or more) of ground top sirloin ground twice
  • At least 3-4 bunches of green onions sliced finely
  • 1-2 raw egg (not sure if white included or just yolk)
  • salt and pepper to taste


Mix the meat with some of the green onions, the egg (yolk?) and salt and pepper, preferably by hand.  Form loaf on platter and cover with remaining sliced green onions.  Chill and serve with hot buttered sourdough bread.

When I thought to myself, “How am I going to eat this??”  and “I’m not letting my *son* eat this!”  I began to see something different.  First of all, I told my father that yes, I would be happy to make it but I had conditions.  “First,” I said, “all the food is going to be purchased at either Whole Foods Market or Diablo Foods — I’m not making the dish with beef from Joe’s Market.”  He happily agreed.

wi-8greatrose-608Photo courtesy of

Then it hit me:  What could I drink with it?  The meat will be very lean so while I know I would need a good acid wine, it didn’t have to be sauvignon blanc acid.  The onions on and throughout the dish are making me consider something with high acid and sweetness.   Grenache rosé?  I’m stumped, and wine/food pairing was not my forte before I told my dad I would take on this endeavor.

Truth be told, I’m happy to make the dish for him.  He’s about to turn 77 and probably doesn’t remember the last time he had the dish, so I want to make it as memorable as possible (for all the right and good reasons!).

So, what do you think??  What wine would pair best with gehacktes?


Thank you…

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It’s said that a couple has up to one year after a wedding to send out all the ‘Thank You’ notes for wedding gifts.  It hasn’t been quite a year, but I wanted to write my thank you to the Wine Bloggers Conference Scholarship donors before the one-year mark.

In a perfect world, I would have finished writing all my posts and this thank-you post a long time ago, but we all know that we don’t live in a perfect world.

It was always in my mind to write a specific post thanking the donors for their contributions but I received an email last night from the Zephyr Adventures that made me feel it’s necessary to write this now. 

This coming November, in Portland, Oregon, Zephyr Adventures is holding the Wine Tourism Conference, which is where the 2012 Wine Bloggers Conference was held.  I’d considered attending this event after seeing Thea Dwelle’s updates and tweets during last’s years Wine Tourism Conference in Santa Rosa, but the email I received last night nearly sealed the deal.

In addition to Thea, other bloggers attended last year’s Wine Tourism Conference and felt the program was very beneficial.  See here for story.

I think what struck me the most was the statement on networking opportunities available at the Wine Tourism Conference.  I welcome the thought of finding a position outside the legal industry and would be grateful for the opportunity to build meaningful business contacts.

Coming full circle, had it not been for the donors for the Wine Bloggers Scholarship that so graciously donated funds, I would not have been able to attend last year’s Wine Bloggers Conference, nor would I have seen the importance of attending future events geared towards wine blogging development.




The Tales of the Traveling Tiara (part 2)

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(this is a second installment of my experience at the Wine Bloggers Conference this past August 2012 in Portland, Oregon.  You can read my first post here.)

Thursday night was an early night to bed.  On Friday, the Wine Bloggers in Portland woke up to a clear, hot sunny day similar to the day before.

After breakfast, I went downstairs to mingle.  On Thursday, sometime during check-in, I had seen Nannette wearing a tiara.  I knew instinctively it was her birthday, and heartily wished her a happy day.  When I saw her Friday morning, I informed her that that day was my birthday, and asked if I may wear the tiara that day?


As I set the tiara on my head, and began touring the registration and tradeshow area, the day began to look much more interesting.

wbc 2 pic

(Pardon the blurred photo, I was a new iPhone user!)

The Argentine Food & Wine pairing was for the most part done well.  Some of the pairings weren’t spot on, but most of the food was delicious, and the hosts and hostesses of the event were wonderful.  A couple performing Latin tango during the lunch added visual and aural elements to the already sensory-filled brunch.


Things happened quickly on Friday, and Randall Grahms’ keynote began and ended in a whirl.

The whites and roses Live Wine Blogging was my first experience at rapid tasting (and spitting!), and since I only had my iPhone, I tweeted my impressions:

  • A memorable wine was the Alexana Pinot Gris from Dundee Hills.  The wine was bright, clean, lemony.  The winery is higher end and only available to a few states.
  • The Johan Chardonnay (Willamette) was aged for 18 months in French oak, and bottled unfiltered.  High acid and delicious, I noted it would pair well with certain cheeses and fruit.
  • Benton Lane came to Table 13 and served a Pinot Gris.  Benton Lane is known for it’s pinot noir.  The pinot gris would stand up well to salads, pear fruit, and salmon.
  • Merryhill Winery, a family owned and operated winery, poured a Rose of Sangiovese that had Best of Show in Sonoma County.  This rose screamed picnic as I envisioned cured meats and cheese on a red-and-white checked tablecloth on sunny Mt. Tamalpais.
  • An Argentine Recuerdo Torrontes had great acid.  I was thrilled to learn it was available in California.

In summary, I loved the sauvignon blancs, Pepi (origin?) and Decibel (NZ, Hawks Bay) that were crisp, not too cold, and acid bouncing off the tongue.

The tasting ended with a Gloria Ferrer Va De Vi which would be a stellar picnic wine in case rose´ wasn’t desired.

Within a half hour after the whites and roses live wine blogging, the buses in front of the hotel began to fill with passengers going to mysterious destinations.  I vacillated between going and not going, and finally jumped on Bus 8 where there were only two remaining seats left in the entire caravan.  I think I made the best decision.


We sat in heavy traffic for a short time, and then got off the freeway onto a little country highway.  We traveled for about an hour, maybe a little more, when we were stopped by a police break in the road.  What was going on?


Lo and behold, it was a planned stop by the Carlton Police.  Welcome to Carlton, Oregon!  First stop, Carlos & Julian!

(…. to be continued….)

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