Mesa Del Sol reveals a lot of soul, quick bites chomp hard.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
As Ann Hougham approaches the pond ringed by marshy reeds, observant oaks and seven acres of Syrah, Zinfandel and Sangiovese, a mallard with a brilliantly green head flaps off with theatrical flourish. Not to be outdone, she dips a hand in a nearby container and flings a fistful of fish food to the eager trout below.
As their hungry swirl finds satisfaction – and plays golden games with the Arroyo Seco sun on the surface – she stands on the idyllic little dock and talks turtles.
“It’s living water,” she says. “I pump water into it and then into the grapes. The trout and the bullfrogs and the turtles all add fertilizer and nitrogen to it. It makes sense to me – it’s why my grapes taste so good.”
As talk tips toward the blue heron who once took advantage of the fact that the "No Fishing" sign is aimed exclusively at humans (“It’s too easy,” Hougham says), she admits the flora and fauna also serve another sort of purpose.
“They make me smile,” she says.
It’s a contagious feeling, and one that accompanies the rest of our drift through the graceful grounds: Through the vineyard where honey bees buzz and sweet grape juice dribbles down chins. Along an edge that looks over the Big Sur Land Trust’s 2,000 acres beneath towering Pinyon Peak. Into the colonial-feeling kitchen and main quarters. Past the curious chickens and a selection of Blenheim apricot, heirloom apple, Santa Rosa plum, mission fig, Asian pear, persimmons and pomegranate trees.
The smiles widen with an impromptu pasta-on-the-patio lunch punctuated by tastes of MDSV's current retail vintages. They are all estate-grown and fermented by guys like Dave Conventry and Chris Weidman (before) and Tim Olsen (now): the tricky, tobacco-laced 2008 Prima Rossa blend of Zin (40 percent), Syrah (35) and Sangiovese (25); a curvy and sensual '06 Syrah; and a juicy-memorable '07 SGV. (Reps of the 600-cases-a-year crop appear at Carmel Valley Market, The Cheese Shop, Zeph’s, Star Market, Bountiful Basket and Whole Foods for $36ish; right now there's a run on a deal: three for $65, six for $120 or a case at $210.)
The appreciation for place, meanwhile, deepens with the stories of the state senator who owned it, the ghosts who (understandably) can’t bring themselves to leave it, and, most vividly, the inspiring way Carmel-based Hougham has continued to transform the land into a sanctuary after the loss of her pioneering ag-businessman husband, Jake, with shockingly limited assistance beyond that of longtime do-everything King City hero Eduardo Camacho.
Some places seem straight from a storybook. Others could fill books with stories. This place does both. Hougham recently started sharing it in weeklong chunks. This Sunday, Oct. 16, for the first time ever, MDSV swings open its gates for a 1-5pm public afternoon featuring tours, light apps, singer-songwriter stuff from Carmel Valley's Rose Merrill, lavender sachet tutorials, yoga-on-the-lawn, grape tasting and wine sipping (for $5). RSVP now to email@example.com.
If you go, I'm guessing you'll see why guests like to alight upon the word “spiritual” when attempting to describe it.
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Surprise: Fog’s End Distillery of Gonzales (809-5941) makes clear, unaged whiskey that’s pretty damn smooth.
Drinking Made Easy host Zane Lamprey discovered what some of us already knew during an episode that airs on HDNet (www.hd.net) 8pm Wednesday, Oct. 19.
His crew also rolled over to Lallapalooza Restaurant (645-9036) for a "Treesmacker" cocktail, and by Restaurant 1833 (643-1833) to dip into some fiery absinthe with GM Tobias Peach. Lamprey also hit Cannery Row Brewing Company (643-2722) for a Tipsy Seagull pint and took a tour of Pisoni Vineyard (675-7500) that was as wild and hairy as it was tasty.
No surprise there.
~ ~ Paging Prunedale. You’ve got Diggitty’s Hot Dogs & Ice Cream (663-6100) celebrating its existence – with Nathan’s dogs and sausages, LeBoulanger buns, a big condiment bar and soft-serve ice cream by way of an open house 11am-1pm Saturday, Oct. 15, at the PruneTree Shopping Center.
~ ~ This week, though, has been a troubling week for hot dogs. First some dude throws a PGA-priced frank (!) at Tiger Woods. Then Salinas City Councilman Steve McShane calls me “hot dog” twice in conversations about Salinas Valley Food & Wine Festival, noon-5pm Saturday, Oct. 22, in Oldtown. www.salinasvalleyfoodandwine.com.
~ ~ More dogs: Maybe the most entertaining place to eat 'n' drink a la pooch, Cypress Inn (624-3871), now has a new cocktail menu inspired by Hollywood legends in Terry’s Lounge starting Friday, Oct. 14. Think classics like the Manhattan and Sidecar and “lesser known starlets” like the Widow’s Kiss and Clover Club.
• Johnny Rockets opens beneath Blue Fin Billiards on Cannery Row Thursday, Oct. 20. Ribbon-cutting, minishakes, sliders and music from the Archies’ Ron Dante 5-7pm.
• Hard to see Pebble's Club XIX go dodo Saturday, Oct. 15, given its lore and all the talents it shepherded (and shepherded it), from Jeffrey Jake to Pierre Bain. RIP XIX.
• While we're here, Chapala is ciao in Oldtown Salinas. The good news: An authorative source says it's being completely remodeled as a spot called Casa del Sazon.
• Monterey Bay Restaurant Week is almost upon us (Oct. 20-27). Tap into www.montereybayrestaurantweek.com for a list of places participating with prix fixe meals.
• If you like adventurous eating, you are gonna love the buffet of ghost peppers, homemade hooch and inverse food-and-wine pairing coming in next week's Wine and Food issue. Best of Monterey Bay Wine & Dine, with a mouthwatering list of the entire area's signature dishes, comes with it.
• "Adventure," Aesop said, "is worthwhile."