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Sometime during the Amphora wine dinner at Antonio's in April, it hit me.
We should go to California. We should visit wineries that provide us with fine wine in northern Indiana. We should eat well.
A few days later, I started planning it with Jay Fields, who works at Indiana Wholesale Wine and Liquor Co. He's been to Sonoma and Napa Valley in California 15 or more times. And with his contacts, we created an insider tour to happen Feb. 7-11, 2013.
Dorothy Shirk from Menno Travel Service helped with the travel details. Jay made contacts in the industry to get us special access and tastings at five wineries and a brewery.
And I'm pretty excited. I initially thought it'd be fun to go during harvest season in the fall. But Jay said winemakers are too busy during that time to meet with groups, so we settled on February, when it's likely to be cold, gray and snowy here and very much not that way in northern California.
The itinerary is this:
Thursday, Feb. 7: Fly from Chicago's Midway Airport to Oakland Airport, a bus will take us to Sonoma, where we'll check in at the Doubletree Hotel and have dinner in Sonoma.
Friday, Feb. 8:
Ÿ Ride on the bus to Vinoce/Twenty Rows Winery & Tasting Room in downtown Napa. It's the oldest working winery in Napa, said Jay. It's also the winery Carl Tiedemann works with to bottle some of his excellent wine for sale here in Elkhart County.
Ÿ We'll also go to Louis Martini Winery, one of the six original wineries in Napa Valley and a maker of excellent Cabernet Sauvignon. We'll taste vintages of some great Cabernets and tour the property.
Ÿ That night, we'll gather for a special dinner, beer tasting and tour of Lagunitas Brewing Co. in Petaluma, Calif. It's a great microbrewery and the national sales manager is South Bend native Jeremy Grenert.
Saturday, Feb. 9:
Ÿ We'll go to Mahoney Winery in Sonoma. Owner Francis Mahoney, who has been making wines for about 40 years, will have lunch with us and showcase some of his great Pinot Noir wines.
After that, we'll drive to Bodega Bay for 1 1/2 hours of sightseeing on the coast.
Ÿ Dinner will be at one of Sonoma's restaurants.
Sunday, Feb. 10:
Ÿ The group will ride the bus to two wineries in Healdsburg, Calif. The first is Toad Hollow Vineyards, which is owned by actor Robin Williams' brother Todd, Jay said. It makes a variety of wines from the Russian River Valley.
Ÿ We'll head to Amphora Winery, where owner Rick Hutchison will join us for lunch and a vertical tasting of five vintages and a barrel tasting of wines before bottling. Hutchison visited in April and was at that wine dinner at Antonio's. He's a guy who makes great wines and is a tremendous amount of fun.
Ÿ We'll have dinner again in downtown Sonoma.
Monday, Feb. 11:
Ÿ The group will fly from Oakland at 9:30 a.m. to Chicago's Midway Airport.
The food will feature fresh fish, vegetables and fruits that are central to California cuisine. We'll eat well.
Most of these vineyards are small winemakers, but because of Jay, Carl and their relationships, you can find many of them in Elkhart County.
Most people who visit these wineries don't get the access we'll get to the winemakers and a view of their operations. It's something only people in the food and beverage industry usually get. Jay, myself and my wife, Bethany, will be tour guides for the trip. It'll be a great time and there are only 30 spots. They could fill quickly.
So how much does all this cost? $2,900 a couple or $1,750 for single occupancy. If you don't want to fly with the group from Chicago, it's $2,100 per couple or $1,350 per person.
What that includes: Air transportation, bus transportation from the airport, to all the stops and to the airport, all the tastings and lunches at wineries, and four nights hotel.
What it doesn't include: transportation to or from Midway, most dinners during our stay in California and perhaps some gratuities.
Interested: Call Dorothy Shirk at 574-534-1521 or email@example.com. She'll start taking reservations today.
I'm hungry. Let's eat. And go to California to do it.
Marshall V. King is news/multimedia editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth/eTruth.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 574-296-5805, on Twitter @hungrymarshall or via Facebook. His blog is at www.blogs.etruth.com/diningalaking/.