Thursday, October 29, 2009


We're on the last leg of Nancy and Barb's Apple Hill tour but I hear that there will be a follow up story to this. Here is Nancy's report. "We met Lisa Scott who told us that Jodar Winery's ( tasting room is very personable
and educational at the same time. They want their customers to
understand what type of foods pair well with the wine they will

Their grapes are grown near the El Dorado National Forest at 2,400 feet.
The American River provides a nice cool mist for their grapes. Annually
they produce around 5,500 cases.

They sell a wine that had won double gold. Compared to Napa Valley this
specific double gold medal wine sells for $22.00! Wow!

During the year they have wine club events, picnics, weekly featured
wine, and sometimes a four-piece band playing on the grassy area
adjacent to the building. I got a kick out of the glassy gem t-shirts they sold at the gift shop. For each shirt there was a particular saying about wine.

Photos by Nancy Kozicki. Tech by Barbara Coletta

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Nancy continues. "I want to highly recommend to those who live within a days trip to Apple Hill to please not wait until another year to visit. Don't be like me who took four passing Fall seasons to come here.

There is an Apple Hill Growers Association and those who are associated with this organization are listed on the Scenic Drive map. Remember, these are small family owned businesses who really do appreciate you! This season marked the associations 45th year.

Our trip coincided with one of the busiest weekends for Apple Hill. I was told the last two weekends in October is by far the busiest. However, go anytime of the year you wish to enjoy the beauty and bountifulness of the fruits and trees of this land. Now would be a good time to prepare keeping a day free open on your calendar to make a trip for the Holiday Season. Before your departure please obtain or go online to to print out the official guide prior to your arrival of Apple Hill. This will assist you to locate the orchards and farms you want to visit and determine which exits you should take off of HIghway 50.

To wrap-up our days trip I told Barb at Jodar's we had to go back to Rainbow Orchards for more apple cider donuts. On our drive back home we discussed about coming back here by the end of the year to visit the orchards we could not go to on this particular trip. Bailey put her input in how enthused she wants to visit Willow Pond Organic Farm #34. Dogs are allowed to be themselves here! Most of the places here at Apple HIll are dog friendly anyways.

Barb, Bailey, and I started our 1st annual family tradition at Apple Hill this year and we are all ready looking forward to our next trip! However, since Bailey is 14 years old Barb & I thought it would be a good idea to surprise Bailey soon and make frequent trips every so often for her to enjoy the outdoors."

Nancy and Barb also want to share their video of a delicious apples process.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Well, I guess it's time for Nancy and Barb to toss down some vino. "We left Honey Bear Ranch and drove to Crystal Basin Cellars ( This winery and tasting room will not be found on the Apple Hill Scenic Drive map, but is located on Carson Road. Directions? You may also take this exit off of Highway 50. remember our dog...was greeted by Dakota another friendly four-legged creature.

Crystal Basin does not grow their own grapes, but they have the connections to obtain great local grapes. They have been awarded Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals since 2001. The owners are a group of friends. Mike Owen is one owner who gave us a tour of the wine cellar and a demonstration of the Crusher and De-Stemmer machine.

I was pleasantly surprised that the wine cellar has 18 inch thick walls and they are filled with a natural insulation: sawdust from a local lumber. Great place to go during the heat of the summer, don't you think? Outside we were able to see grapes raked into a hopper. In this funnel-shaped chamber the grape stems were piling high on one side and on the other side the grapes came out crushed. What an amazing process! Certainly easier than stomping on grapes!

At the end of our tour Mike mentioned that when he was younger he remembered there being a farm house. On the current property of Crystal Basin the remains of the structures of the old stone pump house and a wood carving area.

There's one more place to visit before we end our Apple Hill tour."

Photos by Nancy Kozicki. Tech by Barbara Coletta


We arrived at Honey Bear Ranch #24 for lunch. Jody treated me to homemade chicken strudel and Barb had the pulled pork sandwich. Each plate came with a side of Waldorf salad...apples, walnuts, celery and mayo..and a slice of apple pie. Mmmmm...more apples. The chicken strudel was amazing and very delicious with its thin pastry-like dough.

Honey Bear Ranch ( known for its roasted pig that's slowly turning on the rotisserie outside on the grounds near a Koi pond and water wheel. Pretty fishies. I met Chips whose job is to stay outside during the entire roasting process and make sure it cooks evenly. Today's pig is for tomorrows pulled pork sandwich. One pig can roughly feed 125 people.

I was appreciative of Christopher who showed me an operating late 1800s apple peeler/core remover. Since Honey Bear Ranch bakes around 600 pies a day they surely need a fast way to get those apples prepared for the pies! Besides this antique machine in the backyard they also have an apple polisher and sorter on display.

I noticed a lot of children activities that included a crafting table, wagon and pony rides, pumpkin patch, Zippy The Clown and her balloon animals, along with Barkley the Honey Bear.

For my second dessert of the day we stopped at the Fudge Kitchen and that is where I met one of the owners Dorothy Franklin. I tried two samples of fudge pumpkin spice and maple walnut. This tasting led me to purchasing slices of those mentioned plus a caramel apple. With a wonderful food tasting experience we were off to visit two wine destinations.

Photos by Nancy Kozicki. Tech by Barbara Coletta

Nancy and Barb Visit Lava Cap

Nancy and Barb seem to be off to their next destination in El Dorado County. "Our next destination brought us to Lava Cap Winery on Fruitridge Road number 26 on the Apple Hill Scenic Drive map. I do want to point out that from Rainbow Orchards #10 to the winery there was another great Fall scent. The smell of wet autumn leaves! How I miss that from growing up on the East Coast in Massachusetts.

Upon our arrival to Lava Cap I first noticed the rolling hills and the golden sun at 11 am. Yay sun! We met one owner from this family owned business, Beth Jones. She told us the whole story behind the winery. There is certainly a lot more to learn than just grapes!

The land of Lava Cap is rich in history. The land was bought by Beth's Father-In-Law David Jones and his wife Jeanne in 1980. He was a well-known geologist and his two sons started this venture from an old small pear orchard they purchased. David Jones (vs. Davey Jones)and family wanted to preserve the fields and maintain the space and beauty by preserving this rural landscape. The grapes are grown in Volcanic soil along with the sloping terrain. Gold was found under the Lava Caps making it a famous area for gold miners because of the deposits (vs. withdrawals. Later, this region was recognized and known for its pears.

In 1981 the plan to convert the orchard to vineyard was developed by the family. Beth explained that there is a lot of sun exposure and for the grapes to obtain more sun they pull off the leaves from the grapevine. Their grapes are harvested after the Sonoma and Napa Valley grapes. These grapes at Lava Cap are at a higher elevation than the previous areas mentioned providing cooler evenings and prolonging the harvesting of the grapes. This allows the grapes to mature to their best potential.

As for wines, Lava Cap is known mostly for their Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and Petite Sirah. It was a proven fact when I walked by their display case full of award winning medals. Lava Cap produces on average 20,000 cases of wine every season.

I like to budget my money and how can you go wrong with no tasting room fees, a smaller production area, and supporting a family run business? I have heard Napa Valley wineries charge tasting fees! For more information to their website visit

At this point in our travels Barbara, Jody, Bailey, and I were ready for lunch...on to our next stop. Photos by Nancy Kozicki. Tech by Barbara Coletta

Monday, October 26, 2009

California Apples With Nancy and Barb

Since I can't be in NY and California, I have sent my crew, Nancy and Barb to explore further areas in the Gold Country. "It has been almost five years since I moved to the Sacramento area and I have always heard of many people talking about taking a trip up to Apple Hill during this time of year. Barb and I planned to find out for ourselves what the positive talk was all about on Sunday, October 25th. Our itinerary had us meeting Jody from the El Dorado tourism bureau at 10 a.m. Rainbow of many Apple Orchards in the Apple Hill area.

We drove East towards Lake Tahoe on Highway 50. Apple Hill is just East of Placerville, CA which is on Highway 49, part of Gold Country. There are several exits you can take depending upon what part of Apple Hill you want to visit first as the roads mainly intertwine at some point. To make more of a direct route to our destination we took the Cedar Grove, exit 54. I had picked up an official guide to Apple Hill and thought that was the best route and it was, Rainbow Orchards being about 5 minutes from our exit. The guide is also available online at

On our way to the Orchard we got a little taste of the picturesque view of Apple Hill: the rolling hills of grape vines, apple trees, and rows of pine trees for the Christmas Season.'s it almost Christmas?

If I had closed my eyes I would have still known we had arrived at Rainbow Orchards. The smell of freshly baked goods mixed with the smell of Apple Cider donuts waft through my nostrils. Our dog Bailey was excited to stretch her legs while Barb took her to the grassy area. PHOTO OP!

The three of us walked into the barn and again the smell of freshly baked goods captured both our nose and eyes. A long row of apples, jams, gourds and pumpkins stood there is all it's fall glory! What a wonderful idea! There's a table with sliced apples each listing the variety of apples available at the Orchard. A feeling of the holidays arose in me when I spotted the hanging white miniature lights from the ceiling. Jody, our tour guide of Apple Hill for the day, treated us to a taste of warm Apple Cider and Apple Cider Donuts. Will this keep the doctors away? We met Christa, the owner of Rainbow Orchard and her dog Sasha greeted our Bailey. Christa explained how apple cider is processes.

I guess that working for a journalist gave us privy to a tour of the kitchen and today was the final day of their making Peach Cobbler. mmmmm....then we saw the process of the Apple Cider donuts being made as well as a lady mixing the topping for the cobblers. I noticed the line starting to stretch out towards the door with families eager to purchase the goodies of Rainbow Orchards.

Outside of Rainbow Orchards there are artists were selling their arts and crafts, as well as a quaint wooden stage with hay stacks for sitting...if there was a performance to be held there.

Since this was our first stop along the Apple Hill Scenic Route I already knew this would be a great and enjoyable day with tasty samples along the way. Hey, that rhymes! Off to the next stop!" Photos by Nancy Kozicki
Tech by Barbara Coletta

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

At Least the Mice Love Junior's Cheesecake

At least the mice love Junior's Cheesecake. I had a situation with Junior's sending out their catalog with a guarantee that read, "If this isn't the best cheesecake you ever sank your teeth into, we'll refund your money. No questions asked". I ordered these $25 cheesecakes because I thought that they might even be better than my favorite. I was not satisfied and I called for a refund. First question was why I wanted a refund. They actually had the owner, Rosen, call me. He asked. I told him that perhaps it is the best cheesecake that HE ever sunk his teeth into, but that if he wanted to check out the best that I've tasted go to La Cheesecake in College Point. He asked me what I was going to do with the cheesecakes and even insisted on coming to my home to pick them up. I had not told him that I was a journalist. If it weren't for using my credit care and submitting the guarantee, I would have been out the $75 cost plus big amount for shipping. I did publish an article called, "Are Guarantees Guaranteed."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Becker Farms Continued

Here are some other photos of Becker Farms including the Alpacas. Mindy and Amanda Vizcarra run Becker Farms. I got a sample of their fabulous apples and two wines: apple with cranberry and spiced apple wine. I totally forgot about that they had the best pies ever! I don't usually like apple pie but with the fresh apples and perfect crust, it can't be beat!

Farming, Wine and Beer

Out next stop is to Becker Farms. They make wines, beer and grow the greatest apples. We tasted the beer, then had a "soup" in a bread bowl lunch. Another building had us tasting the wines. Lots of fruit wines. We went on a hay ride and checked out the various apples. Favorite was the Empire apple. Esther was appalled when she noticed what I was eating.

Day 3 in Niagara County

I had to indulge in the same great continental breakfast at the Barton Hill Hotel. Oh yes...there is always an egg dish as well. Eggs, chocolate milk, and pastries. Now, we're off to Old Fort Niagara to learn about the history of our war with the French. Looks like Judy and Wayne Bayliff are having a tough time lifting the barrels.

Wine and Dinner

Now that we've eaten it's time to check out Shultze Vineyards & Winery for some wine tasting. Let them eat grapes. We were able to do a grape tasting as well. My two favorite wines were a plum wine and a slightly carbonated blush called Mon Cheri. Stop at the hotel to get ready for dinner. I did have time to do a half hour radio show. Dinner was at Western Door at the Seneca Casino. Esther joined me for a tasting.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Day 2 Continued

It was time for lunch. We went to Murphy's Orchard to check out the fruits and have lunch. I had squash soup and a sandwich. Owner Carol Murphy cans various fruit jellies and jams. There's history here too as this was a location for the Underground Railroad. Great display in the barn. Check out the heads carved in the trees.

More of Niagara State Park

Here is a video of the Cave of the Winds and a few shots taken at various places at Niagara State Park.

Niagara Falls, the Falls

We're off to Niagara Falls State Park, where we first explore the Cave of the Winds. Here you can get a birds eye view of the American Falls and Bridal Veil falls as see the Horseshoe Falls at a distance. You have to wear protective gear.

Day 2 in Niagara County

Breakfast at the hotel is continental. Best part, other than the chocolate milk, are the pastries made on the premises. Best chocolate croissants. Much lighter and flakier than the usual. We were off for a helicopter ride via Rainbow Air Helicopter Tours. On the way we stopped at a hotel being completed and got a photo of a view from the 17th floor. I also kept seeing this particular sign. If I was unable to read it, I'd think that there were places that you can walk on water.

Time To Dine in Lewiston

The first evening's dinner was in Lewiston at Waterstreet Landing. Just down the block from the Barton Hill Hotel. Esther wants to make sure that the food is good before I indulge.

Barton Hill Hotel

Just thought I'd throw in a few photos taken inside the Barton Hill Hotel. One is of some kids playing in the lobby. The other is of our wonderful tourism host, Kate Scaglione with me and "Jeeves".

Niagara Falls Goes On

Now that you've seen a photo view from my window I want to show a photo of the statues seen near the water's edge as well as an explanation. The artist who did this is the same artist that constructed "Jeeves" in the lobby.

Checking into the Hotel

It's time to check into the Barton Hill Hotel located in Lewiston. Rooms are quite large with a bathroom that has a whole bunch of cubby holes for your toiletries as well as clothing, if you want. There is an armoire and night stands with drawers but no closets. I think they are looking to appeal to the gay community as the hotel with no closets. Entrance to room had a triple hook to hang you outer wear. Great idea. Only down side was the armoire not long enough for pants or dresses to hang properly. Oh, yeah...most interesting is the air conditioning system above the television. Not the usual kind. You use a remote to control temperature, heat, fan, etc. They hotel has a spa located in a building across the street. Too busy to get to the spa, thought. First shot is of owner Diane Finkbeiner and John Haily of Vino Amore! We did a wine tasting. However, I was introduced to this most fabulous chocolate milk from a farm called Hoover...I think. Passed up much of the wine for the milk. Creamy and almost pudding-like. Next photo is of our greeter with Esther. The last is a view of from my room.

Niagara Falls Continued

Our next stop was to the Herschell Carrousel Factory Museum. Here you get to see the process of how the carousel animals (mostly horses) are carved, painted, etc. No one is actually doing it, though. There is another mighty Wurlizter. A piano that you place the music roll into. You can view how the music rolls are created. There's another room that houses various carousel creations as well as both a children and adult carousel.

Slowly I Turn...Step By Step

Yes, we're talking about Niagara Falls. This trip was about the county on the USA side. We first began with lunch at the Hideaway Grille just outside of Buffalo. It's one of those "down home" restaurants. There signature dishes are the Buffalo wings and ribs. Historic (vs. hysteric) Riviera Theatre was our first attraction. This old theatre has one of those Mighty Wurizter organs. That's some big organ that I got my hands on. Esther wants to touch it as well. She does get to learn how to operate the projector. Oh, look, there's my name up in lights! We later came back to watch a Beatlemania event.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Esther, the Rubber Chicken

Here is a preview of Esther, the Rubber Chicken as she lurks in Niagara Falls USA. Now, you wouldn't expect her to be eating chicken wings, would you? Apparently, she does love shrimp and about to indulge in chomping on Peter, one of the other writers on the trip.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Rubber Chicken

This begins my rubber chicken experience that will follow me to Niagara Falls USA. I was poured a glass of wine, but it appears that the chicken has sipped it all. Upon leaving the area we witnessed the famous California Happy Cows.

Harvest Dinner at Irish Vineyards

We attended a Harvest Dinner at Irish Vineyards hosted by Russ and Joanie Irish. It was about the harvesting of some of the wines. A winning number was attached to the bottom of my seat and won a few bottles of wine. Here are some of the photos of the event when we finally met Lisa Mayo from Calaveres County Visitors Bureau. Photos by Nancy Kozicki