The Sarah Jane English Newsletter: 15th Edition
July 19, 1998
 
This edition's highlights...
Mount Veeder
celebrates its 25th year of wine production
Rough Creek Lodge
Executive Retreat and Resort
Texas Visitors:
Flora Springs
The search for the perfect Caesar salad continues...
wine.gif (1421 bytes) NEWS
HARRY PARDUCCI Sr., a Sonoma County vintner for 40 years, died following a long battle with cancer. He was 68 years old.

HAPPY HOURS: An assortment of breaking news from the beer, food and spirits industries from the last 24 hours, at  www.happyhours.com.

WILD HORSE VINEYARD is known as the "Rock ‘n’ Roll Winery" with cellar crew musicians and wine tanks named for deceased rock stars. Owner Ken Volk hopes to entertain wine drinkers throughout the country with Wild About Wine. He spent years negotiating trademarks to produce the CD. As Volk says, "It may be easier to ship small arms and plutonium across many state lines than it is to ship a bottle of wine, but you can’t stop rock ‘n’ roll!" Being of the antediluvian generation, I’ve never heard any of these songs, but they’ll probably have great appeal to many: "Wild Thing" by Sister Carol; "Born To Be Wild" by Steppenwolf; "Wild in the Streets" by Circle Jerks; "Wine Do Yer Stuff " by Commander Cody; "Wild One" by Jerry Lee Lewis; "Wine, Wine, Wine" by Bobby Fuller Four; "Wine-O-Wine by Willis Jackson, among others. Ken says this CD sounds better with a glass of Wild Horse wine. Best you make it a magnum! Ken is full of fun, and this is just the sort of thing he’d trouble himself to do for the pleasure of his customers.

WINE SPECTATOR’S WINE COUNTRY GUIDE TO CALIFORNIA, 1998 Edition has been released. There are over 500 winery listings including addresses, telephone and fax numbers, details on hours open, tours and tastings, wines available and facilities such as gift shops and picnic areas. There are listings of lodgings, a complete directory of restaurants, easy-to-read maps of all the major wine regions and a calendar of wine related regional events. $6.96 soft cover, 176 pages, available at newsstands, wine shops or 800/761-4099.

EL DORADO WINERY ASSOCIATION (EDWA) is pleased to announce its new brochure and map . For copies, please call 800/306-3956.

MARQUÉ de MURRIETA, the longest established winery of Rioja, has launched its most innovative style of wine--"Coleccion 2100." From the outset, the object was to make a younger style of wine with quality fruit from the Ygay estate: very ripe fruit, whole-grape fermentation, six months in new American oak barrels for red and white wines, temperature controlled stainless fermentation, three-months aging in new American oak barrels--all to give fresh and fruity wines. Winemaker Paco Moreno says, "we are convinced that these two wines will prove benchmarks of quality in the evolution of a new era of modern style wines from Rioja."

CHAMPAGNE LOUIS ROEDERER has two new posters, one of "Labels" and another of the "Cellars." They may be ordered directly from the Export Department, 8.00 FRF each, or call Michelle Armor, 510/286-2000.

ARROWOOD Vineyards and Winery has opened a new 6,300 square foot Hospitality House at the winery’s Sonoma Valley estate. To make an appointment for a tour, contact the winery at 707/938-5170.

IRONSTONE Vineyards has appointed Craig Rous director of operations at Ironstone’s second production facility, Bear Creek Winery in Lodi, and Andrea Blair was named assistant manager in charge of winemaking at Bear Creek. LEE HODO, national public relations director, was the featured speaker at one of my tasting groups in July. She presented the IRONSTONE Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Symphony wines. These are good value, fresh and fruity wines, well worth discovering for under $10, (exception: Shiraz is $12). The Chardonnay is a crisp and light style with only nuances of oak for touches of flavor. The three red wines were all fruit forward with a medley of ripe red berries, the Cabernet Franc emphasis on boysenberry, Shiraz a delicious expression of American oak coconut flavors and Cabernet Sauvignon offered a medley of berries. Symphony, $7, is a cross-breed which resembles rose petals and floral hints and reminds me of gewürztraminer.

ZAGAT Survey research has found huge price differences among the top New York City wine lists. In a study which charts the pricing of over 11,400 wines on wine lists at 64 top-rated restaurants, the differentials were as much as 400% in prices charged for the same wines. By way of example, Le Cirque 2000 charges $2600 for a bottle of 1982 Chateau Cheval Blanc while Harry’s at Hanover Square prices the same bottle $795; La Grenouille lists the 1985 Chateau La Mission Haut Brion for $440 versus $105 at Sparks Steak House; the 1982 Chateau Margaux ranges from $1795 at Daniel to $450 at the Grand Central Oyster Bar, and the most dramatic differential involved the 1982 Petrus which Lespinasse lists at $5000 as against $1000 at Michael’s a few steps down the block. When is enough, enough?  These prices smack of the stuff of revolutions. Does it strike anyone else as just a little bit excessive to be paying $700, $1000 and more for a bottle of wine? I’d love some feedback. See the Zagat website for the study.

The NATIONAL STEINBECK CENTER has opened in the heart of historic Old Town Salinas, Monterey County, California, birthplace of the author. The 37,000-square-foot Center is designed to promote the life and work of John Steinbeck, and the exhibit hall has features that guide guests through the author’s books, life and places he lived and wrote. By the way, Monterey County is noted for the many exceptional Chardonnays that are produced there: Bernardus, Calera, Chalone, Jekel, Lockwood, Mirassou, Morgan and many others. Visit the museum while you’re there sampling the wines.

MT. VEEDER ESTATE
celebrates its 25th year of wine production this year.

Wine production has occurred on the slopes of this mountain since the 1860s. One-hundred years later, Michael and Arlene Bernstein feel in love with the area while they were courting at Mayacamas Vineyards, a property close to Mt. Veeder. As small shareholders, the Bernsteins bought Mayacamas wines at a discount and picnicked on the premises.

In 1964, the newlyweds read a Wall Street Journal advertisement offering a prune farm for sale near Mayacamas. They bought the property. Michael took a leave of absence from his job in San Francisco as an attorney for the Federal Trade Commission and the Bernsteins took up residence in a rustic cottage on the mountain.

A serendipitous gift of sticks brought by a farmhand of the Bernsteins started Mount Veeder Winery. He lived in a Civil war cabin on the property and also worked down in the valley. One day he brought home a bundle of discarded cuttings, and Michael and Arlene decided to plant them in the cow pasture. They stuck the unrooted cuttings into the ground on Memorial Day, 1965. Of the 58 cuttings planted, 56 lived.

By 1968 the Bernsteins were actively taking out the prune orchards and planting grape vines. Eventually, they were the first vintners in Napa Valley to plant all five Bordeaux varietals in one vineyard and to make a blended Bordeaux style wine with them--the 1977 Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. The tradition continues today with the Mt. Veeder Reserve.

FRANCISCAN ESTATE SELECTIONS bought Mt. Veeder Vineyard in the late 1980s as a place that helps fulfill Agustin Huneeus’ strong belief in the primacy of terroir. "We are committed to strengthening this tie of wine to its soil, to its ‘somewhereness,’ so that each of our wines is the stylistic expression of its vineyard," Agustin Huneeus says.

MOUNT VEEDER is a unique estate, a different sort of place from other FRANCISCAN properties. The steep, crusty slopes and thin, rocky soils produce markedly lower crop levels and are much more expensive to cultivate. Thin shale, volcanic ash and limited water, however, mean lower grape yields which result in concentrated flavor, color, tannin and character. But their altitude is an advantage. At 1000 to 1600 feet above sea level, fog embraces the vines during the early morning, but burns off early, giving the vines long days of sunshine.

"The wines are creations unto themselves," Huneeus says.

Darice Spinelli made Mt. Veeder wines during the 1990s and became known as "the woman who tamed Mount Veeder," referring to the monster tannins that characterized these mountain wines during the ‘70s and early ‘80s. Today Darice coordinates with Janet Pagano, the new president and winemaker. Janet is full of enthusiasm and talent and all the many qualifications needed to continue the production of these stunning wines. Her current project is directing the installation of a small crushpad and fermentation tanks to make Mt. Veeder wines on the site.

HEALTH
The WINE ISSUES MONITOR, a publication of the Wine Institute’s Research & Education Department, reported in the "Wine and Moderation" article that "The vast majority of wine drinkers are responsible social drinkers who associate wine with food and moderation. Wine Institute supports the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which emphasize moderate alcohol consumption for those who choose to drink and define moderation as no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two drinks a day for men (SJE addendum: a single serving of 4 ½ ounces)."

  • Most wine, beer and spirits consumers are moderate and responsible. * According to data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), almost 93 percent of the population has no risk of developing alcohol-related problems or alcoholism.
  • Wine drinkers have been found to be especially moderate consumers. Most wine is consumed in a home setting as an accompaniment to meals. * Approximately 75% of wine consumed in the U.S. takes place in a home setting, predominantly with meals. Wine consumers drink on average 1.5 glasses of wine at a sitting and approximately 4.5 glasses of wine during any given week. Journal of Substance Abuse, 1990, Klein and Pittman.
  • Wine is minimally involved in drunk driving incidents. * Of those arrested for driving under the influence, "less than 2% reported drinking only wine." U.S. Department of Justice, 1992.
  • Moderate wine and alcohol consumption can be part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. * Dozens of studies have found that moderate wine and alcohol consumption lowers risks of coronary heat disease and overall mortality.

TEXAS VISITORS
FLORA SPRINGS National Sales Representative Joe Appenzeller and Regional Manager Arnold Gilberg showcased the line of wines with lunch at Mama Mia’s restaurant. It’s always a pleasure to compare differences among varietals at an array tasting like this one and also to pair the nuances of the wines with food.

Flora Springs is a family affair. Jerry and Flora Komes wanted a country place where they could relax and retire, swinging on the front porch to the rhythm of their vineyards growing perfect grapes. That was over twenty years ago. Now they produce 35,000 cases of wine on 550 of their acres—those that are planted of the 1000 they own. Their son John (winery operations), daughter Julie (communication director) and her husband Pat Garvey (vineyard operations) work in the daily operations. Ken Deis became winemaker in 1980 and he is still there doing the same excellent job. The wines regularly earn high points and award medals to add to their collection.

  • FLORA SPRINGS 1997 Pinot Grigio $12, floral character, California style, smooth texture, soft acidity.
  • FLORA SPRINGS 1997 Rosata $12, 100% free run, fruity, fragrant, dry, distinctive nose, nice wine.
  • FLORA SPRINGS 1996 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc $13, grapefruit and citrus tones, mellow, good acidity.
  • FLORA SPRINGS 1996 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay $18, fruity, buttery, rich, mellow texture, toasty almond, perfumed, butterscotch, gardenia, complex, lovely wine.
  • FLORA SPRINGS 1996 Lavender Hill Pinot Noir $30, tea, cola, spicy black pepper, celery, medium body.
  • FLORA SPRINGS 1996 Sangiovese $16, vinous, cranberry, nicely tart and crisp, dusty, good structure.
  • FLORA SPRINGS 1996 Estate Merlot $18, yeasty, dough-like, subdued fruit, pithy texture.
  • FLORA SPRINGS 1995 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon $22, smoky, dusty, bell pepper, licorice, rounded texture, some plum, long finish, lovely wine.
  • FLORA SPRINGS 1995 Trilogy $42, rich, complex, beautifully integrated wine, velvety, supple, floral notes, blackberry, well-balanced, a special treat.

NEW RELEASES
(quotes are winemaker’s notes)

FALL CREEK Vineyards has introduced the first release of a super premium red wine called MERITUS (from the Latin meritum, praiseworthy). The handsome label, designed by Chad Auler, is simple and classic and features three gold leaves against a black background framed by gray. The leaves represent the grapes that contributed to the blend: 54% Merlot, 40% cabernet sauvignon and 6% malbec—carefully selected from the best lots in the Fall Creek vineyards in the Texas Hill Country. "Dark berry flavors with a touch of spice" comprise the flavor profile with "the wine’s graceful texture and long finish giving it a remarkable elegance." Only 892 six-bottle cases and 100 signed and numbered magnums are available of the 1996 MERITUS, $30.

"We think that this is our best effort to date at FALL CREEK," says Ed Auler, president and winemaker. "We think this is truly a world-class wine, and it will validate what we have been saying about the potential for fine wine in Texas." http://www.fcv.com.

  • TAFT STREET 1996 Chardonnay, Sonoma $9, "nicely balanced among peach, melon and vanilla notes, rich and smooth."
  • TAFT STREET 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon, California $12, a blend of cabernets from North Coast with a touch of Merlot from Dry Creek Valley, "soft tannins, berry and spice" won gold at California State Fair.
  • TAFT STREET 1996 Zinfandel Sonoma $12, this is the first offering. "Combined plum, berry and spice flavors with long, smooth finish."
  • TAFT STREET 1997 Sauvignon Blanc $9, "medium-bodied, balanced acidity, spicy and zesty aromas, crisp with focused varietal characteristics."
  • LUIS FELIPE EDWARDS 1996 Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon, Colcha gua Valley, Chile $13, from 30-year-old vines, "medium bodied with good ripeness, curranty fruit and a clean finish."
  • LUIS FELIPE EDWARDS 1997 Chardonnay, Colchagua Valley, Chile $8, " a light and fruity, no oak aging, intense tropical fruits."
  • LUIS FELIPE EDWARDS 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon Cochagua Valley, Chile $9, "fruity with hints of cassis and plums, full and velvety."
  • CASTELLO di VOLPAIA 1994 RESERVA Chianti Classico $21, "medium-bodied, rounded, hint of ripe wild berries, elegant and refined."
  • 1996 CHATEAU LES MOISELLE $10 and 1996 CHATEAU DE LA TOUR $9 are both from less well-known estates, value priced and Bordeaux worth discovering.
  • BARON HERZOG 1997 Sauvignon Blanc $7, "aromas of figs, light notes of lychee, under ripe tones of melon."
  • BARON HERZOG 1997 White Zinfandel $6. 75, "cotton candy, berry and light cranberry aromas, soft and dry."
  • BARON HERZOG 1997 Late Harvest Johannisberg Riesling $15.50, "full and concentrated aromas of dried apricot, pineapple and ripe apple with sufficient acidity for proper balance." I recently tasted the 1994 and 1995 examples of this wine and found them to be very good indeed.
  • HERON 1997 North Coast Chardonnay $10.50, "elegant flavors of lush peach, ripe fig, melon and tropical fruits, soft and buttery with vanilla and spice tones on a long, smooth finish."
  • BERINGER 1996 Chardonnay Sbragia-Limited Release, Napa $35.  Ed explains his winemaking for this unique wine:
    "I used brand-new French Nevers oak barrels to ferment this wine and age it on the lees for more than nine months, stirring the spent yeast cells back into the wine once a week for three months to integrate the creamy, nutty character of the yeast into the wine. A flat-edged tool selects only the lighter lees which gives optimal flavor. Stirring is tremendously labor-intensive," Ed says, "and the guys take my name in vain while they stir all day. But the effect on the flavor and texture of the wine is unbeatable. I also used 100% malolactic fermentation, a technique that heightens the fruit’s inherent butter aromas and contributes to a dense, creamy mouthfeel. From the combination of rich fruit and selected woods, the wine has aromas and flavors of citrus, butterscotch, spice and vanilla.

PACIFIC ECHO is the new proprietary name for SCHARFFENBERGER CELLARS, one of California’s leading sparkling wine producers. The new packaging and promotional efforts were spurred by continual growth and the Anderson Valley’s rise as a premier growing region for sparkling wines. Scharffenberger’s new identity reflects the winery’s desire to better communicate its Pacific Coast roots to customers. The name PACIFIC ECHO captures the philosophy for the wine: draw from classic, old-world winemaking techniques, but, focus on the unique characteristics of Anderson Valley fruit.

"This has been an exciting development," says Tex, at Scharffenberger for nearly a decade. "Our wines are showing better than ever, and as we increase our vineyard holdings and continue to focus on quality, this project signals a commitment to our future."

  • PACIFIC ECHO Brut $19, "a classically-styled méthode champenoise sparkling wine, exemplifies the signature style—firm body and a crisp, refreshing finish with toasty aromas and Anderson Valley’s characteristic lemon and pear flavors—a blend of 2/3 pinot noir and 1/3 Chardonnay."
  • PACIFIC ECHO Brut Rosé $24, "abounds with ripe berry flavors, and although a blend of pinot noir and Chardonnay, the pinot noir dominates with a robust red wine structure and long, lively finish."

FERRARI-CARANO has released four wines and Winemaker George Bursick (winemaker since the first vintage in 1985) says all four illustrate how fine estate vineyards and experienced winemaking techniques blend together in a distinctive style.

"We responded to the 1997 El Niño forecasts by meticulously grooming our vineyards, including careful leaf removal and cutting off grape bunches to ensure steady and rapid ripening," George says. "This was crucial for the fruit in our Fumé Blanc program, and when the rains did come, our fruit was already ripened. Now I can relax and say confidently that our 1997 Fumé Blanc is another great vintage.

"I had a great time working with all the vineyard sites on the blend for the 1996 Alexander Valley Chardonnay. It’s wonderful to see it come together with that luscious tropical fruit," George says. "Our 1995 Reserve Chardonnay is another wine I’m proud of. Our Bay-cooled Carneros vineyards add the leanness and elegance that set our Reserve style apart. I think if a winemaker is going to put the word ‘Reserve’ on the label, it should represent the best you can do. Our ‘Reserve’ is special from start to finish—the fruit, the free-run juice, the barrel selection, fermentation and aging, the extra time in bottle before it’s released. That’s why you’re just now seeing the 1995 Reserve.

"I’m equally happy about our reds," George says. "Our 1994 Cabernet Sauvignon is made predominantly from grapes grown on our mountain properties in Alexander Valley. This property is a winemaker’s dream for red Bordeaux varieties—it’s dry farmed with perfect sun exposure and just the right combination of afternoon heat and cool evening air. We get a small crop loaded with small berries, and that gives the fruit fantastic concentration."

  • FERRARI-CARANO 1997 Sonoma County Fumé Blanc $11.50, "well-balanced and crisp, lush melon, fig, honeysuckle flavors, hints of lemon-citrus, rich and lingering finish.
  • FERRARI-CARANO 1996 Alexander Valley Chardonnay $21, "seven budwood clones in eight vineyards created over 60 individually vinified wines to produce this elegant Chardonnay—well-balanced and complex, lovely spice, pear and toasty aroma, tropical fruits with hints of vanilla."
  • FERRARI-CARANO 1995 Reserve Chardonnay $34, "rich, layers of honey and spice with hints of oak, apricot and honeysuckle with appealing toasty oak."
  • FERRARI-CARANO 1994 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, "a subtle blend of the five classic Bordeaux varietals, blackberry, plum, hints of cedar, sweet toasty French oak, earthy mint and cassis complements with dark cherry."


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food.gif (1390 bytes) As my readers know, I love Caesar Salads and enjoy eating them as a comparative measure for many restaurants I discover during my travels. Mendocino County is loaded with excellent Caesar Salads. Read on, my friends.

CHANDON (707/944-1123, One California Dr., Yountville, CA 94599, the Restaurant at Domaine Chandon Winery in Napa Valley has consistently fulfilled demanding appetites over the years and continues to do so. Executive Chef Robert Curry has taken the reins since Chef Jeanty left to open his own restaurant. The service was excellent—courteous wait staff do not interrupt conversations to ask if everything is all right but wait inconspicuously until they’re noticed). Winemaker David Stevens and I enjoyed the "Tasting Menu",: Sautéed Foie Gras with Late Disgorged Brut Cuvée; Roasted Langoustines with Chandon Brut; Local Lamb Loin with "étoile Rosé and Pinot Meunier—a special wine at Chandon; Roquefort Cheese with Roasted Pear and Porto Reduction and Bittersweet Chocolate Tart with Blanc de Noir. It was a lovely evening. I highly recommend CHANDON for a lovely dining experience.

MAMA MIA’s (451-0177), 8015 Shoal Creek Blvd., Austin , offers an expansive menu of interesting selections in an extremely pleasant and attractive restaurant. Located between Steck and Anderson Lane, it has the appeal of a neighborhood restaurant. All our appetizers were crisp and fresh: Fried Mozzarella, Ravioli and Calamari. The basket of breads seemed right out of the oven and garnished with various tasty herbs and sauces. I had the fresh fish of the day—Poached Halibut on a bed of angel -hair pasta in lemon-capers sauce topped with shrimp. I shall return.

MENDOCINO BREWING COMPANY, also HOPLAND BREWPUB AND BEER GARDEN (707/744-1361), 13351 Hwy. 101 S, Hopland, CA 95449. Here’s another place for the perfect Caesar Salad $6, and a number of simple but tasty dishes: Brewery Black Bean Nachos $6, Grilled Chicken Quesadilla $6.50, Red Tail Chili $4, Soft Pretzel $1.75, Garden Burger $6.25 and Fetzer Merlot, Chardonnay or White Zinfandel, $3.50 a full glass. The Hopland Brewery opened its doors in 1983 and is housed in a 100-year-old brick building once called the Hop Vine Saloon. The inside walls are covered with the original turn of the century ornamental stamped tin. It’s homey and a good place for comfortable travelers. Hopland folks love it.

THATCHER INN (707/744-1890), Hwy 101 S, Hopland CA 95449, is the source of hostelry comfort and elegant dining in Hopland. The restored Victorian-era Inn is furnished in late 19th-century decor. The 20 guest rooms are individually decorated with fine original and reproduced antique furnishings and fabrics. The library has a nice selection of books and an inviting fireplace with comfortable chairs for interested readers. A couple owns Thatcher Inn and oversees everything from mixing and serving cocktails at the large mahogany bar to preparing a tasty meal. I enjoyed Pasta with Fresh Vegetables, a request they filled pleasantly which was not listed on the menu. Bob Swain and his wife selected the steak and the salmon and declared both very good. A lovely dining experience awaits you at Thatcher Inn’s Grand Dining Room or on the patio beside the garden pool during the warm months. All double rooms are $115 to $180, include a full country breakfast and the Inn has been rated "excellent" by Mobil Travel and AAA.

BOONVILLE HOTEL (707/895-2210), Hwy. 128, Boonville, CA 95415 has eight rooms with maple floors, pale-ash wood and wicker furniture, down quilts and fresh cotton sheets in bright and airy rooms $75 to $200. Here’s another perfect Caesar Salad $5. The Boonville Restaurant is a major gathering place for travelers and locals. It’s attractive and the food is excellent: Fresh White Corn Cakes $5; Pork Dumplings with Spicy Ginger sauce $6; Salmon Rolls with capers $8; Grilled Chicken Breast with Tomato and Corn Salsa $13; Pork Carnitas with Salsa Fresca, Rice and Beans $14; Rib Eye Steak, fresh Horseradish Cream and Garlic Mashed Potatoes $16.

GRAPEVINE CAFÉ (707/485-7340), downtown Redwood Valley off Hwy 101, Mendocino County 95470 specializes in vegetarian, ethnic and traditional fare. It is a small, casual, country café and the chicken pesto sandwich was hearty and good. The café features local seasonal and organic food whenever possible. Owner Tamara Frey studied at the CIA and belongs to a winemaker family, Frey Vineyards.

THE LEDFORD HOUSE RESTAURANT (707/937-0282), 3000 North Highway One, Albion, CA 95460, offers ocean view dining. Owned by Tony and Lisa Geer, it offers delicious California/Mediterranean cuisine accompanied by an incomparable duo of musicians, John Gilmore and Nina Mira, who create some of the best jazz imaginable from a piano and a bass. The tone and style of their music gave tremendous enhancement to an already lovely evening. All this while sipping HANDLEY Brut Rosé and watching the permutations of the land as the ocean worked against the rugged shoreline.

Chef Lisa prepared a host of seafood hors d’oeuvres and a huge pod of baked garlic to garnish the delicious bread. My baked sea bass was perfection and with the medley of fresh vegetables and portobello mashed potatoes it made a very delightful meal. There was salmon and steak and a pasta dish enjoyed at our table as well. Entrees range from $13 to $24. You’ll enjoy the drive, the scenery and very well-prepared food.


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Travel ROUGH CREEK LODGE
near Glen Rose, Texas
http://www.roughcreek.com/

Texans love to brag and Rough Creek Lodge (RCL) is the perfect excuse. Claims are not exaggerated. It’s definitely a superior property, but there’s no effrontery.

RCL Executive Retreat and Resort justifies the extravagant comments Texans are prone to make. No expense has been spared in building this get-away retreat. It’s for group meetings, hunters, vacationers, or anyone who wants to celebrate any occasion—like having a mighty fine day.

The owners envisioned a unique resort in the country to satisfy several purposes.

"We visited a place in Hamilton, Texas, that was used as a hunting retreat for executives, " says owner John Q. Adams. "The hunting was nice, but the rest of the year it was a financial disaster. We met with meeting planners to discuss ideas for a year-round property and discovered that there weren’t any five-star retreats in Texas for meeting planners. Then we talked to the heads of corporations and they told us they’d support such a place if there were one," Adams explains. "We bought 11,000 acres in 1991 with mostly deer and turkey on it. We wanted a one-of-a-kind resort. There weren’t any models. We are the model."

It’s unique all right, and what a model! Every bolt, hinge, pipe, or material of any sort is simply the finest that money can buy. University of Texas Professor of Architecture Larry Speck designed the building.

From the entrance gate, the building appears in the distance gradually, as if a land ship had settled among the vast, waving prairie grasses and nascent Hill Country chalk hills. An arched roof structure resembling an inverted Viking vessel shades the contiguous porch that runs the length of the building. There are 32 deluxe guest rooms and six suites.

One steps inside the main building to The Great Room--an expansive, two-storied, combination living room, dining room and bar area separated by a 40-foot limestone fireplace. The Great Room is both tall and broad, widened even more by the glass wall of windows that looks out across the fields and Mallard Lake. The lake, incidentally, is stocked with bass, bluegill and catfish for a catch-and-release fishing experience. You can fish from the dock or in a boat.

Next to the main building there’s a separate Fitness Center and massage facility located beside the swimming pool. Tennis courts are on the backside of the Lodge.

The Executive Conference Center in the main building integrates state-of-the-art technology with comfort, including ergonomically designed chairs and the latest in audio/visual equipment—it’s really something. There are four meeting rooms, each set to clients specifications and accommodating up to 48 persons.

I’m not a hunter, but Rough Creek Lodge might encourage me to become one. Everything has been considered for the convenience of the guest who likes to hunt. Briefly stated, the Three Day Executive Hunting Package (package price available with minimum of two persons) has: 1) no bag limits on quail, mallard duck, ringneck pheasant, chukar and Hungarian partridge; 2) meals include Day One—lunch, hors d’oeuvres, dinner, Day Two—breakfast, lunch, hors d’oeuvres, dinner, Day Three—breakfast and lunch; 3) deluxe accommodations for two nights, double occupancy; 4) practice round of Wobble Trap; 5) game processing and packaging; 6) fishing on Mallard Lake with or without a boat; 7) full use of fitness center and recreational activities (boat rental and massage have additional charges); 8) sporting clays. Additionally, there is a 24-hour hunting package or a half-day hunt.

All kinds of fishing and hunting equipment are available on the property and there’s a bevy of wildlife personnel--including the Wildlife manager and assistant manager who live on the property. The 29 hunting dogs—English pointers, Labrador retrievers, English setters, and German short-hairs—have their own caretaker and the several members of the wildlife department help train the dogs.

Of course the guest rooms are well-appointed—decorated with pewter lamps, leather chairs, solid oak doors, hickory floors, Texas wildlife prints and historic Texas maps, woven wheat-colored carpet and appropriately patterned and designed fabrics in earth tones that are indicative of a fine Texas country resort. The bathrooms are marble with separate bathtub, large shower stall and WC—how civilized! And the amenities are Texas-sized too. None of those puny little bars of soap that disappear while you use them, but rather a massive bar with an appealing fresh-spicy fragrance created for Rough Creek Lodge. And the lotion and shampoo are in Texas-sized bottles too. Actually, everything seems king-sized, including the two armoires--one for each guest per room.

My main interest, however, always concerns the quality of the food, and the dining here is excellent—as is the service. General Manager Paul Boccafogli shows the enthusiasm of a coach about his team of staff members. They deserve his praise. Young, courteous, eager, wholesome and hardworking, they assure guests a pleasant visit.

Back to the food. Chef Gerard Thompson, formerly at San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara, does a fine job. I tasted many of his dishes and found all of them to my liking. Some of the selections I enjoyed are listed below. The menu changes often according to what is freshly available.

APPETIZERS

  • Pan Roasted Sonoma Foie Gras with Peach Ginger Chutney and 100 Year Old Balsamic $17.50
  • Crispy Maine Lobster with Black Truffle Mashed Potatoes and Frisee $15.50
  • Grilled Quail with Parmesan Grits and Sherry Maple Glaze $10
  • Duck Taco Roll with Orange Jicama Salsa $9.50

SALADS

  • Mixed Lettuces with Blue Cheese, Apples and Pecans $6.50
  • Grilled Portabella with Parmesan, Arugula and Balsamic $6.50

ENTREES

  • Pan Roasted Halibut with Peekytoe Crab and Fennel Springroll $29
  • Roasted Pheasant with Sweet Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Grilled Asparagus $33
  • Grilled Fillet of Beef with Toasted Cumin Johnny Cake and Red Chili Sauce $34
  • Fettuccine with Tomato Confit, Fava Beans and Grilled Portabella Mushrooms $19

I’ve suggested some changes for the wine list which are under consideration so I’ll hold my wine comments until later.

There’s an exceptional summer package for the special rate of $179 which includes a full breakfast for two. You really shouldn’t miss this opportunity to become familiar with this extraordinary property. Please telephone 800/864-4705, or visit their Web site, for more information.


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