It seems appropriate to toast the New Year with a post about our recent visit to California Wine Country, in which friend and fellow blogger Susan Cooper arranged chocolate and wine pairings for us in selected wineries of Napa, Sonoma, and Lodi. What could be better than five women travelling the scenic hills of California in a comfortable van with our fun-filled designated driver (Elizabeth Scott), tasting wine, fine chocolate, and exotic cheeses? That’s what Chocolatouring is all about!
pure indulgence: chocolate and wine pairings in California wine country
From our comfortable base in Elk Grove, California (located in Sacramento County, and just south of the city of Sacramento) we visited a variety of wineries beginning with Beringer, the first winery in the Napa Valley to offer public tours. It is a large and well-established company, originally founded in 1876. Beringer is actually located in the community of St. Helena, and has a historic estate where you can taste, shop, meander, and participate in a variety of special events. Check out their website if you plan to be in the area. We enjoyed the Beringer wine pairings with Scharffen Berger Chocolate– which is made in San Francisco, and now owned by the Hershey Company.
For $20 each, we were able to taste four wines and four chocolates. I particularly enjoyed the Beringer Merlot and the Scharffen Berger 42% milk chocolate. If money is no object, go to the tasting room in the Beringer mansion and taste the reserve wines. The award-winning Reserve sells for $80/bottle, but has a rating of 97.
Our next stop took us down the road to the more laid-back community of Sonoma, where we had a delicious tasting of Meadowcroft Wines paired with a variety of delicious cheeses. Meadowcroft is a small winery that produces excellent quality wines and has won several awards. I loved the 2011 Chardonnay, which paired nicely with the blue cheese and nuts on our tasting slabs.
We completed the tasting with a wine-infused chocolate truffle courtesy of Anette’s Chocolates by Brent located in the Napa Valley. I wish I’d had time to visit with Brent and learn about his chocolate operation. Maybe next time, but on this trip, we opted instead for a tour of the Meadowcroft vineyard, complete with a personal serenade from our handsome guide. Meadowcroft also has a gorgeous events venue for weddings and special events. We enjoyed a picnic lunch on their grounds.
I think the most fun tasting was the following day in Lodi, when we visited Fields Family Vineyard and Winery. This is a small boutique winery making some excellent red wines. I was enamoured with the 2011 Old Vine Zin. The full-bodied Zinfandel is a deep red colour and appealed to me as it is much “meatier” than many other California reds. We had fun with Michael Perry, the “direct to consumer” manager of the winery who worked hard to create purposeful pairings of his wines with various different chocolates.
Exploring Lodi was fun. It is an unassuming community of just over 60,000 inhabitants that claims to be the “Zinfandel Capital of the World.” Based on the wines I tried, I could go along with that.
Cheers and thanks to author, blogger, illustrator, wine enthusiast, good friend and host extraordinaire, Susan Cooper, for making our visit to the Sacramento Valley and Wine Country a fabulous diversion. Please join us back here the week of January 13th, when we’ll take you to the International Chocolate Show in Pasadena, California.
We enjoyed such a variety of taste sensations during our recent Chocolatour to San Francisco and area, but there were definitely a few highlights.
We stayed at the W Hotel San Francisco in the SoMA district — a great part of town for art enthusiasts. Our room was small, but tastefully decorated, and it had a terrific view of the Bay Bridge. The W is home to the Trace Restaurant, and for me, the highlight was the amazing French Toast made with roasted banana, toasted pecans, and caramel sauce. It was absolutely delightful, and not too sweet at all. And we were thrilled to receive a platter of handcrafted chocolates delivered to our room. Chocolate always makes every stay that much sweeter.
The chocolates of Recchiuti are by far the most exquisite chocolates in San Francisco. As mentioned in previous posts, I love the handcrafted chocolate bars of Dandelion and TCHO Chocolate, but Recchiuti is known for its velvety truffles and ganaches. No surprise: I loved the Madagascan squares and the Fleur de Sel sea salt caramels. Recchiuti Confections does both of these extremely well and is just one more reason to visit this fabulous chocolate-loving city.
As much as we enjoyed our time in San Francisco and Oakland, it was time to move on to wine country. Please join us back here the week of December 30th, when we’ll toast in the new year with some remarkable finds in the California wine regions of Napa, Sonoma, and Lodi.
I was planning to do a wrap-up post of my visit to San Francisco this week, but something bigger and potentially more exciting has taken precedence. I’ll be hosting the first-ever group Chocolatour to Switzerland March 29-April 8th, 2014, and wanted to be sure to reach as many of my contacts as possible about this, because the travel agent needs your deposit by January 20th if you’d like to join us.
UPDATE: UNFORTUNATELY, WE HAVE HAD TO POSTPONE THIS TRIP UNTIL A LATER DATE. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN PARTICIPATING IN A CHOCOLATOUR WITH DOREEN, SEND HER AN E-MAIL AND WE’LL PLAN SOMETHING IN THE FUTURE.
Many people have said to me that they’d like to join me on a chocolate excursion. This is your chance! The travel agent in Switzerland has worked closely with Journey’s Travel in Winnipeg to put together a tremendous itinerary with these highlights:
March 30 – April 2 – Lucerne – Hotel Waldstätterhof
April 2 – 4 – Lausanne – Hotel Agora Swiss Night
April 4 – 8 – Zurich – Hotel Helmhaus
Included in our Chocolatour:
- Accommodation as mentioned above including breakfast, service charge & taxes
- Mar 29 – Travel to Switzerland
- Mar 30 – Private transfer from Zurich airport to Lucerne via scenic Albis pass
- Mar 31 – Private guide for walking tour of Lucerne
- Mar 31 – Private chocolate tasting at Max Chocolatier
- April 1 – Private guide for full day
- April 1 – First class train from Lucerne to Engelberg and return
- April 1 – Tickets to Mount Titlis
- April 1 – Private visit to cheese dairy in Engelberg
- April 1 – Tasting at cheese dairy incl. cheese, bread and 1 glass of white wine
- April 2 – Private transfer from Lucerne to Lausanne
- April 3 – Private guide for full day
- April 3 – Private motor coach for excursion to Montreux and Lavaux vineyards
- April 3 – Private castle guide at Chillon castle
- April 3 – Entrance fees to Chillon castle
- April 3 – Private wine tasting with snacks at Domaine du Daley
- April 4 – Private transfer from Lausanne to Zurich via Gruyères
- April 4 – Entrance fees to Cailler chocolate factory in Broc
- April 4 – Creation of own chocolate at Cailler chocolate factory
- April 5 – Private motor coach for excursion to Basel
- April 5 – Private visit at Beschle with tour, tasting and creation of of own chocolate
- April 6 – Visit to the International Chocolate Salon in Zurich
- April 7 – Free day in Zurich and optional chocolate touring with Doreen
- April 8 – Private transfer from hotel to Zurich airport
Sorry, guys. This is a ladies-only tour. In the future, we may do Chocolatours for both men and women. Let me know if you’re interested.
And ladies: Please visit this site to see the detailed itinerary and to contact Sheila Rempel to register for the tour. Deadline to place your deposit is January 20th, so please don’t wait. It is likely to sell out soon as we are deliberately making this a small group.
Join us back here the week of December 16th for our next new post.
I hope you’re up for some fun today! We’re visiting TCHO New American Chocolate as part of our continuing Chocolatour through San Francisco.
I first tasted TCHO chocolate about a year ago, and was equally impressed by the presentation (the look and feel of the packaging and the information provided on it) as I was by the intoxicating flavour of the chocolate itself. Whether you’re a purist, and just want to taste pure, unadulterated dark chocolate or you’re feeling playful and want to have some fun with your chocolate, TCHO has something for you.
I love TCHO’s Peruvian and Madagascar varietals, as you know from reading this blog that I am partial to the bright and fruity notes of chocolate that is on the acidic end of the taste spectrum. Both these TCHO flavours absolutely wake up all your chocolate-loving taste buds in a very vibrant fashion. TCHO’s Ecuadorian and Ghana chocolate are delicious as well, but in a smoother, more subtle way.
TCHO (pronounced CHO and a play of the first syllable of ‘chocolate’) also makes a nice milk chocolate for those of you who are not fans of dark chocolate. And I love their Mokaccino bar — a delightful marriage of locally roasted Blue Bottle coffee and TCHO’s Classic milk chocolate. But new for 2013 is the addition of three wild and crazy flavours that we had the opportunity to taste with chief chocolate maker, Brad Kintzer on September 30th during our Chocolatour of San Fran.
visiting TCHO is a fun experience
TCHO offers short and snappy public tours of its chocolate factory located at Pier 17 on the city’s waterfront. The tour begins with a slideshow and explanation of the cacao-growing process and how cocoa becomes chocolate. TCHO sources its beans directly from cocoa farmers in Madagascar, Peru, Ecuador, and Ghana, and Kintzer actually goes to each location and roasts the beans at the origin where they were grown. The roasted beans are processed into pure chocolate liquor, and in a period of between three weeks and three months (depending on where the beans are coming from ) that arrives in San Francisco by ship and is then made into chocolate for consumers and couverture for commercial chefs.
TCHO has put an emphasis on teaching the farmers how to grow the cacao, and how to properly ferment the beans in order to optimize the chocolate flavour they produce. But Kintzer doesn’t trust the roasting process to anyone else at this point in time. This man really loves chocolate and takes great pride in producing the purest and most perfect chocolate possible.
But that doesn’t mean he’s always serious about it! On October 1, 2013, TCHO released three new flavours that Kintzer dreamed up to appeal to the playful child in us for times when you just want to have some fun. Galactic Gelato combines 62% organic, fair trade chocolate with a mint gelato made by local favourite Gelateria Naia. Strawberry Rhubard Pie really does taste like its namesake, but is made from South American cocoa mixed with organic strawberries and chunks of organic pie crust. Sounds strange, but it really is good! And the TCHunky TCHOtella blends South American cocoa with organic roasted hazelnuts from Piedmont, Italy, and a touch of sea salt to create TCHO’s tribute to gianduja (called gianduiotto in Italy and profiled on this post.
Presently, TCHO only ships within the USA, but maybe if we non-US residents put the pressure on, they’ll begin sharing the delicious line of TCHO products with those of us north of the 49th parallel. And if you get the chance to visit San Francisco, do make yourself a reservation for the chocolate tour, and plan to purchase some of the great chocolate you’ll have the opportunity to taste.
Please join us back here the week of December 2nd for our next new post.
As much as I enjoyed touring around San Francisco and Oakland, I had to stay focused, as the primary reason for my recent trip was to meet some of the chocolate makers whose fabulous chocolate creations had impressed me to the point that they became winners of several awards in the first volume of Chocolatour. On the top of my list were TCHO New American Chocolate and Dandelion Chocolate, two bean-to-bar operations in the heart of San Francisco.
I’ll begin with Dandelion Chocolate, a small company that only one year ago, opened the doors to its funky cafe and chocolate factory on Valencia Street in the Mission Street Neighbourhood of San Francisco. I gave Dandelion a Chocolatour Award for “Best presentation” in the chocolate bars category to acknowledge the beauty and attention to detail that goes into wrapping its exquisite chocolate bars. Everything at Dandelion is done by hand (with the assistance of simple machinery) and the result is a level of freshness and excellence in the pure and simple chocolate bars it produces.
We met with co-owner Todd Masonis and tasted the Dandelion line-up of beans, including the 70% Ambanja Madagascar bar — my favourite as well as Todd’s, who tells is that the fruity flavour of the Madagascan beans will vary from year-to-year, sometimes highlighting strawberry notes, sometimes cherry, but always highly acidic due to the aggressive drying process that occurs in the hot Madagascan sun.
The cocoa beans are hand sorted so that the imperfect ones can re rejected as Todd says they’ve experimented and made chocolate with some imperfect and cracked beans included and you could tell the difference. So only the very best beans and pure cane sugar are used to make Dandelion Chocolate. I hope you’ll get a chance to visit Dandelion soon and try some!
The other bean-to-bar chocolate maker that really impressed me is TCHO New American Chocolate, located on Pier 17 very near Fisherman’s Wharf. I’ll profile them in the next post.
It had been many years since my last trip to San Francisco, so I was glad that there are enough terrific chocolate makers in this remarkable city to warrant a return trip. It was as beautiful as I’d remembered.
I loved taking the ferry from Oakland to San Fran, as the views as you approach the city are stunning. Lots of interesting architecture, boats and ferries coming and going. A real hub of activity.
When we got off the ferry, we headed straight for the old Ferry Building that is now occupied as the Marketplace, with all sorts of businesses, including the Wild West Fungi fresh mushroom shop, which I found to really unique! I’ve never seen so many varieties of wild and cultivated mushrooms available in an urban market before.
Yes, there was good chocolate in the Marketplace as well, but I’ll save that for the next post!
We also enjoyed strolling around Fisherman’s Wharf. The city is celebrating 150 years as a port during 2013 and there was plenty of action happening on the piers and along the wharf.
Taking a Bay Cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz Island was a highlight. The US Federal Government had shut down all non-essential services during our visit, so Alcatraz was closed to the public, but we did sail past really close and the old former federal prison appeared eerie, and almost haunted even in the light of day.
The city of San Francisco is serviced by two magnificent bridges. The Bay Bridge crosses San Francisco Bay over to Oakland, and is probably best known for being one of the most illuminated bridges in the world with 25,000 white LED bulbs illuminating the bridge at night in a light sculpture designed by Leo Villareal. The Golden Gate Bridge painted bright orange is one of the most photographed bridges on the planet and has the longest suspension bridge main span in the world at 4,200 feet. It really is a sight to behold.
There were many more highlights of our trip to San Francisco, but we’ll leave it at that for now, and leave you waiting for that taste of chocolate in our next post. Be sure to visit the week of November 4th or you might miss it!
As I mention in my book, Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate, I love discovering great chocolate in places that are somewhat off the beaten path. So I jumped at the opportunity to discover Oakland, California when planning a visit to San Francisco last month. Oakland is San Francisco’s sister city, located just across the Bay Bridge from the more photogenic and better known Northern California port city made infinitely popular by Tony Bennet’s hit song, “I Left my Heart in San Francisco.” Well, I have to tell you. We left a little piece of our hearts in Oakland, where we had a massive patio room at the Best Western Plus Bayside Hotel overlooking the Oakland Estuary, which runs into San Francisco Bay.
After a full day of travelling, we were thrilled to be able to put our feet up and sit on the patio, watching boats of all sizes go by. But the next day was filled with excitement, as we happily took in the Eat Real Food Fest adjacent to Jack London Square, my favourite part of Oakland, where you can dine on fresh seafood and local vintages, shop till you drop, or just enjoy the fabulous sculptures and waterfront scenery.
my picks for the best chocolate in Oakland
But, yes. I was there for the chocolate. And I wasn’t disappointed. I discovered two Oakland chocolate companies that I can wholeheartedly recommend. If you’re looking for some fun in your chocolate, try the Ramona Bar made by Double Dutch Sweets. This was probably my most fun chocolate discovery of the trip. The 1.9 oz (54-gram) Ramona bar is handcrafted with dark chocolate, peanuts, salted caramel and nougat. All certified organic ingredients with no additives or preservatives. It was absolutely delicious, and let me tell you … I didn’t share much more than a small bite of one bar with my traveling companion, Mary Ann. There’s just some of my chocolate stash that I won’t share.
Another excellent chocolate company that is based in Oakland is Barlovento Chocolates. They had a very busy booth at the Eat Real Food Fest. The sea salt caramels were good, but the Chipotle Almonds covered in 64% Venezuelan Dark Chocolate were awesome! Just a little kick (from the peppers) blended with some of the most delicious chocolate I’ve ever tasted.
And that’s just the beginning of our taste-tempting visit to California! Please join me back here the week of October 21st for our next new post.
I recently had the pleasure of attending the Grand Opening of the new premises of Constance Popp Chocolatier of Winnipeg who is now located at 180 Provencher. A great time was had by all, but let me tell you … I won’t be taking these cute chocolate pumps with me to California this week!
I’ll be putting on a lot of miles, all in the sake of chocolate. We’ll be starting in Oakland, California, where we’ll attend the Eat Well Fest and meet some of the local chocolatiers.
We’re then off to San Francisco to meet with Dandelion and Tcho Chocolate, two of the finest in the Bay Area. Each received an award in Chocolatour for their excellence in chocolate bar making.
Then it’s off to wine country, where Susan Cooper has arranged some chocolate and wine pairing events for us.
And we’ll finish the Chocolatour to California with a visit to the Los Angeles International Chocolate Show in Pasadena On October 6th.
Stay tuned for details!
If you’re interested in chocolate travel that focuses on where the cocoa is grown and an exploration of the culture and cuisine of the local farmers who grow the cocoa, Peru is a perfect destination for you. Peru is growing an increasing quantity of fine aromatic cocoa, and as a result, some of the most taste-tempting chocolate can be found in this South American country of breath-taking beauty.
Peruvian chocolate remains a personal favourite
I prefer chocolate with fruity notes in its flavour palate, so Peruvian chocolate remains one of my favourites. In previous posts, I’ve introduced you to the beautiful hand-painted chocolates of Roselen, and the tropical flavour offerings from other Peruvian chocolatiers such as Giovanna Maggiolo. In this post, I’d like to introduce you to a Peruvian coffee and chocolate cooperative that focuses on the purity of pure chocolate flavour.
Cooperativa Agragaria Naranjillo is located in the small city of Tingo Maria and is the largest producer of cocoa in all of Peru. We visited the factory and reception centre and learned that in addition to coffee and cocoa, farmers of the Naranjillo cooperative also produce honey and mead. We tasted the Mead Amazónic, called the “drink of love” as it is said to increase fertility and the likelihood of producing a male child.
I really enjoyed the Naranjillo milk chocolate with cocoa nibs. It was deliciously creamy, with crunchy bits of cocoa nibs to provide an interesting texture and taste. Everything Naranjillo makes is totally pure, with no added soy lecithin or vanilla added to the chocolate, and just a touch of organic cane sugar from Paraguay to take the bitter edge off the pure 100 percent organic chocolate.
Now in its 48th year of operations, there are 3,500 member farmers in the Naranjillo cooperative; 2,000 of those grow cocoa. Many also grow coffee, and I was fortunate to have been first introduced to Naranjillo chocolate a couple of years ago, when friend and coffee roaster extraordinaire Derryl Reid of Green Bean Coffee Imports returned to Manitoba from Peru with Naranjillo coffee and chocolate in hand. I still remember the intensity of tasting the pure 100% chocolate.
Naranjillo has just replaced their equipment with new pieces from around the world and continues to expand and improve their product line. They are also ready to welcome groups interested in experiential travel, so you can be sure that a return visit to Tingo Maria is high on my visit for a future group Chocolatour. We only had one night to spend at the amazing Madera Verde Tourist Hotel. How I wish we’d been there for a week!
Please join us back here the week of September 23rd for our next new post.
I make it a habit on this blog to devote at least one post per year to my own backyard — Manitoba’s Interlake region. And there is no better time to salute the Interlake than during the semi-annual WAVE Interlake Artists’ Studio Tour.
If you live in Winnipeg or near the Interlake and haven’t yet been to the self-guided WAVE Interlake Art Tour, you’re really missing out. Each year, during the second weekend of June and the September long weekend, painters, sculptors, potters, metalworkers, jewellery and clothing makers, photographers, and creatives of many disciplines open their homes and studios to the public so that we can see where they work, how they work, and what inspires them.
I am fortunate to know many of these amazing people personally, but had only been to the studios of a couple of them. I found it really insightful to be able to see their work displayed in the space in which it was created. Now I know why people I know get a kick out of seeing my office and the place where I write my books and articles.
I started at the northern end of the WAVE tour with a visit to Loch Wood Estates and the Blue Door Studio of Marlene Van Helden, a writer, painter, and stained glass artist. I love Marlene’s new offerings this year: her stained glass fish made of bubbled and tempered glass and adorned with metal fins.
I also visited the home of Sandy Hook photographer Linda Dorian, who goes by the professional name of Raven. Linda is one of the most incredible photographers I’ve ever met. And why shouldn’t she be? The world is her canvas, so to speak. Linda lives on the shores of Lake Winnipeg in Sandy Hook and spends hours just watching wildlife and nature from her beautiful beach-front home. No one else captures local wildlife, flora, and fauna better than Raven. If you are a pelican fan as I am, look for Linda’s pelican prints and cards. They are delightful!
I was also impressed with Studio 410 in Winnipeg Beach featuring the work of artist Gayle Halliwell. I know Gayle as a fellow member of the Toastmasters in the Arts club which meets Wednesday mornings in Gimli. Gayle is a delightful speaker, but she is also a very talented artist. I like the way Gayle explains her motivation and technique for each piece of art. It gives visitors the opportunity to get inside the head of this highly-creative individual.
That’s just a snapshot of the 46 stops you can visit during the 12th annual WAVE Interlake Artists’ Studio Tour. The WAVE will run Sunday, September 1st from 10 until 6 pm. Do yourself a favour and spend Sunday riding the WAVE. If you can’t make it, spend some time perusing the WAVE website. It profiles the various artists. You can make future appointments to visit them in their studios, and you can order custom artwork from any of them.
Join us back here the week of September 9th for our next new post. And if you have a moment, do check out the list of Top 100 Canadian Travel Bloggers posted by Flight Network. You’ll find this blog (Diversions with Doreen) listed in the D’s.