#TWpics: TravelPlusWine Launches Travel Photo Thursdays

Wanted: Beautiful TravelPlusWine Photos!

Featuring Real Travelers, Real Experiences

Each Thursday, TravelPlusWine will be hosting a Travel & Wine Photo blog post featuring your creative travel and wine photos.

Upcoming Event — March 10

Snowy Mountains & Ski Vacations

How it works:

If you’d like to be featured, send us your:

  • Photo (just one!)
  • A title & brief description (3-4 sentences max.) including where… but be creative with the rest.
  • Twitter name
  • Link to your website or blog

Send submissions to: katie [at] travelpluswine [dot] com

***Weekly submissions are due by Wednesday at noon***

The Themes:

Each week we will be featuring a theme… pertaining to travel and/or wine.  Here’s a look at what’s coming up…

March 10: Snowy Mountains & Ski Vacations

March 17: Travels to Wine Country

March 24: Interesting Landmarks

March 31: Gadgets & Gear On the Road

April 7: Spring Break!

Search for Twitter Hashtag: #TWpics

(TravelPlusWine Pictures)

The Rules:

By sending us a photo, you are verifying..

  • The photo is yours (you properly deserve credit)
  • You give us permission to post the photo on TravelPlusWine

TravelPlusWine reserves final editorial decision, including the right to:

  • Not post a photo
  • Edit the photo title and description

TravelPlusWine will post a handful of the best pictures received.


Do you have a theme idea for travel or wine photos? Send it our way… katie [at] travelpluswine [dot] comN

Livermore Valley Wine Country, A San Francisco Retreat

historic livermore travelpluswineThere’s nothing new about the wines of Livermore Valley. The region has a fascinating, wine-producing history since the 1760s, when Spanish missionaries planted the first grapes.

Then, in 1889 at the Paris Exposition, Livermore Valley put California on the world wine map when it won America’s first international gold medal for wine.

Today, the wine region is set apart from freeway traffic and commerce. For San Francisco locals and visitors alike, it’s an easy and welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Development dissipates as the scenic hills gradually give way to the Livermore Valley vines and, of course, tasting rooms.

Getting There

If you’re staying in San Francisco, Livermore Valley Wine Country is an easy day trip. Within an hour of the city center or several area airports, you can be sipping tasty wine and walking the vines.

Of course, we do recommend spending the night in Livermore to take full advantage of this San Francisco wine retreat and all it has to offer.

The Experience

concannon vineyard livermore travelpluswine

With over 40 wineries ranging from boutique to sizeable, there’s a place for nearly every taste, experience, and budget. Whether you’d like to sip with the winemakers among the barrels or prefer a swanky tasting space with an entertaining wine educator, Livermore Valley Wine Country provides.

If the day is gorgeous and you feel like spending time in the great outdoors, we’d highly recommend packing a picnic lunch or snack. Many of the wineries we visited have quiet picnic areas.

Keep in mind the majority of wineries in Livermore Valley are open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from around 11am-5pm. As always, it’s a good idea to confirm opening hours before you visit.

Wineries to Visit:

When taking on wine country for the day, you can either play it by ear or plan ahead. Either way, we’d suggest visiting the Livermore Valley Wine Country website and picking up an area winery map.

Here’s an overview of what we did:

Fenestra Winery

fenestra winery livermore travelpluswineYou won’t regret stopping by this rustic, friendly barn-like tasting room. At Fenestra Winery, you’ll encounter an astounding number of wines (around 20) poured by the owners who take joy in their creations and interacting with guests.

Whether you’re looking for a Verdelho to pair with curry, a Malbec for roasted duck breast, or a Port to pair with your late night chocolate habit, Fenestra makes a wide variety of wines that are likely to please a range of palates. As a bonus, their wines are reasonably priced at $10 to $32 a bottle.

Keep your palate clear for:

  • True Red, Lot 25: This blend is a sophisticated and amazingly beautiful medium-bodied wine. Blackberry aromas play on the nose while plum and black cherry linger on the tongue long after you’ve sipped. It’s Fenestra’s most popular wine.

Bent Creek

bent creek zinfandel port livermore travelpluswineThis winery is all about location, location, location. The vineyards, combined with a hiker-friendly ridge and tall oak trees make for a picturesque afternoon in wine country. After you’re done tasting, buy your favorite Bent Creek bottle and hike past the vines to the gazebo and unwind while you enjoy a picnic lunch.

Keep your palate clear for:

  • 2007 Zinfandel Port: A truly memorable dessert wine. I have never tried a Port-style wine that tastes like grapefruit. It allows you, on a more philosophical note, to marvel at how Mother Nature works. Grapefruit with caramelized pecans? It’s a pleasant combination.

Murrieta’s Well

murrietas well zarzuela travelpluswineIn the 1850’s Joaquin Murrieta discovered an artesian well bubbling from the floor of the Livermore Valley. A well-traveled adventurer, he declared this water the best in the West and today it’s home to a nice winery owned by Wente.

While our last couple of wineries featured ‘mom-n-pop’ style tasting rooms, Murrieta’s Well boasts classy elegance and wine educators.

Keep your palate clear for:

  • 2008 Zarzuela: With so many flavors going on here, like lavender, it’s an intellectual wine that makes you contemplate. Vanilla, leather, and spice transport you back in time. Perhaps even Joaquin Murrieta would have approved.


underdog wine bar at concannon travelpluswineConcannon Vineyard is an ideal last-stop on your Livermore Valley wine tasting itinerary. You can enjoy a final tasting and grab a bite to eat at the swanky Underdog Wine Bar before heading back to your hotel (I recommend the Campton Place Taj San Francisco if you’re staying in the city) or local accommodations (the Double Tree Hotel in Livermore is comfortable and quiet).

In 1883, James Concannon planted his first vineyard and built the winery. Today, the original structure is still in place, but the winery has expanded significantly and the tasting room is chic, spacious, and inviting.

wine flight at underdog wine barNext door, in the same building, is the urban-themed Underdog Wine Bar featuring wines from Livermore and around the world as well as delectable tapas-style dishes. Whether you go for the tasty soup and salad, an Ahi Tuna Tartar Tower, a Farmstead Cheese Board, or decide to sample several items, the menu is diverse, presentation lovely, and flavors mouth-watering.

We were impressed by the knowledgeable restaurant staff, all eager to make our food and wine experience memorable. If you can’t decide which wine you’d like to sip with your meal, ask your server to recommend a wine flight.

Keep your palate clear for:

  • 2007 Reserve Syrah: Our personal favorite at Concannon. This full-bodied, 100 percent Syrah has traces of mocha and chocolate to arouse the palate along with aromas of blackberry and dark cherry. We found it to be a tasty, memorable wine to sip as we sat back and reflected upon our day in Livermore.

Mark your calendar

Livermore Valley’s 3rd Annual Barrel Tasting Weekend is happening Saturday, March 19 and Sunday, March 20 from 12pm- 4:30pm. This is a great opportunity to meet winemakers while tasting their wine right out of the barrel. Each participating winery offers a unique experience, so be sure to grab your tickets soon.

Bienvenidos! Feel like family at Ceja Vineyards in Napa


Ricardo and Katie with Amelia Ceja

Thanks to the power of social media we got in touch with Amelia Ceja, a very fun and energetic woman entrepreneur and one of the founders and President of Ceja Vineyards, a boutique winery in Napa.

It didn’t take more than a couple of tweets to quickly connect with Amelia and schedule a visit to their tasting room located right in beautiful downtown Napa.

The colorful story of Ceja Vineyards, a Mexican-American winery, goes back several decades and its successful growth is due to their true love for the land and the great values of family bonding they share.

And I must say that when Amelia welcomed Katie and me to their tasting room, it felt as if we had known each other for years making us feel like we were part of the family.

Their tasting room is beautifully decorated and welcoming. There is a colorful mural that shares some of the history of Ceja Vineyards. Above the bar, you will see the iconic bell logo with the Latin phrase Vinum, Cantus, Amor meaning Wine, Song, and Love. The only thing I would add to the list is Travel (wink, wink).

CejaVineyards3When it comes to the wines, Ceja Vineyards feature 13 varieties all of superior quality. I was really impressed because typically, when I visit wineries, I identify one or two bottles that stand out from the rest, but in this case all the wines from Ceja Vineyards were of exceptional value.

And before I move on to talk about some of the wines, I want to acknowledge Amelia’s love of cooking Mexican food and how this is directly related to their winemaking. As she says, they make wine to compliment food their own way.

We started with the two Sparkling wines they produce: the 2009 Ceja Brut and the 2009 Blanc de Noir. Both are from Carneros in Napa Valley and made using the traditional methods from Champagne, France.

The Ceja Brut, made with 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir grapes, is fresh with dominant flavors of citrus and apple. I love how Amelia describes the surface of the wine when you hold the glass up almost like contemplating liquid stars.

If you are having a “quesadillas & bubbles” night, this is your wine!

CejaVineyards2The Blanc de Noir (see photo) has a gorgeous copper color and it’s made out of 88% Pinot Noir and 12% Chardonnay grapes. With hints of fruity berries, it has a very elegant dry lingering finish, perfect to celebrate any special occasion.

Moving on to the whites, Ceja’s single-vineyard Sonoma Coast 2007 Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp and dry gem of a wine. Fermented in stainless steel and aged in French oak (but not malolactic), it has intense citrus aromas and delicious tropical fruit flavors with hints of guava and peaches.

It can pair tremendously well with Mexican dishes containing green tomatillo salsa. Shall I suggest chicken enchiladas?

Their 2007 Napa Carneros Chardonnay is simply one of the best Chardonnays I have tried. With a radiant color, rich aromas of pear and marzipan, and a clean zesty palate (no malolactic fermentation), this wine has a perfect harmonious balance that will make people Chardonnay lovers again.

CejaVineyards4The next jewel to bow in respect is the 2008 Bella Flor Rosé (see photo). Katie has been on a serious mission to bring Rosé back and she was definitely blown away by this wine.

With a shiny ruby color and pleasant aromas of berries and vanilla, this 100% Rosé of Syrah is enjoyably tart and refreshing on the palate.

It is very well balanced across the board and in Katie’s words: “this is what a Rosé is supposed to be.”

The 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was presented together with the Ceja Vineyards Cabernet Chocolate Sauce. Have a sip of the Cabernet followed by a sip of the chocolate sauce and your quality of life immediately increases by 1,000 points; what an incredible combination!

You can actually have the Cabernet by itself, but it also makes a great food wine. With smoky aromas and rich fruit on the palate, it has a silky smooth finish. Overall a superb Cab!

CejaVineyards5Next comes my absolute favorite wine from Ceja: the 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir (see photo). Katie actually liked the 2006 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir better.

In my opinion, both are excellent full-bodied wines, very similar in complexity, structure, and balance. However I felt the Carneros floral aromas and bright fruit brought a greater elegance to the composition of the wine compared to the Sonoma Coast which was a bit more earthy and mineral.

Last but not least, there’s dessert magic with the 2006 Napa Valley Dulce Beso. The name Dulce Beso translates into Sweet Kiss and it is a late-harvest wine made from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc which Amelia accurately describes as liquid gold.

CejaVineyards6The opulent and fresh flavors of apricot, vanilla, honey and citrus will awaken your palate for a big fiesta. The right viscosity and sweetness of this wine perfectly matches creamy cheeses or desserts with vanilla ice-cream.

Other great wines in the Ceja repertoire include a Syrah, a Merlot, a white blend, and a red blend.

The best thing about Ceja Vineyards is that Amelia and everyone else at Ceja love talking to people and they do an amazing job in making you feel at home. There’s no need to feel intimidated if you do not know a lot about wine; they will make sure you leave with a memorable experience.

I definitely recommend giving yourself plenty of time when visiting Ceja Vineyards. And don’t forget to follow them on facebook, twitter, and check their YouTube channel.

I know I can’t wait to visit Ceja Vineyards again!

BistroSaborBistro Sabor

If you are looking for the best Ceja wine and food pairing experience, then head over to Bistro Sabor, just one block down from their tasting room.

Bistro Sabor is operated by Ariel Ceja (Amelia’s son) and it offers gourmet Mexican street food.

As paradoxical as it may sound, Bistro Sabor will impress you with their contemporary concept and eclectic cuisine.

You can view their menu here, but I strongly recommend the Dungeness crab quesadilla, the shitake mushroom & braised green onion quesadilla with Oaxaca cheese, the Cornish game hen, or the fire-roasted poblano chile relleno.

BistroSaborDungenessCrabQuesadillaThere’s something for everyone including great options for vegetarians, colorful salads, traditional pozole with the Ceja touch, and fantastic desserts.

And if you are wondering which of the Ceja wines pairs best with your selection, just ask Ariel; he’s very friendly and helpful.

But wait! The party is not over until you first head to Bistro Sabor on Saturday nights for a fun evening of Salsa Dancing!

Due to their fantastic wines and great atmosphere, Ceja Vineyards is a top TravelPlusWine.com wine destination!