St. Helena cinema needs your help

With so many historic small-town cinemas closing their doors, it's time for action. Help Cameo Cinema in St. Helena raise funds to stay in business by purchasing a gift card for yourself and for others. Super gift idea for the holidays, and cheap entertainment in a beautiful and comfortable setting! Planning a visit to Napa Valley? Purchase a movie card from the Cameo and catch a flick, or another special event, during your stay.

Visit the theater's website to learn how you can help keep the doors open at this small-town treasure: https://www.cameocinema.com/giftcards.php

You can read more about the Cameo's plight at http://goo.gl/MMMGBt

The owner of the Cameo, Cathy Buck, is profiled in my article in North Bay Biz magazine: http://goo.gl/wc2sQl


Wine-and-food affairs attract crowds

People flock to Wine Country to partake of the many wine-and-food events that seem to multiply with each passing year. There are so many events –– some quite exclusive and others within the means of the budget-minded –– that it's sometimes hard to choose which to attend. But all guarantee a fun time and an education in food-and-wine pairing. And nobody goes home hungry. Read about some of the popular events that have been around for years, and a few newbies, in my latest article for North Bay biz magazine: http://goo.gl/q07a8T


A tower of squash in Santa Rosa

This may be the definitive photograph taken by everyone with a camera at the 2013 National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa: a gigantic still life of squash and other veggies heaped up center stage. The three-day Expo, having just completed its third annual run at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, is truly a cornucopia of inspiration for anyone with a garden, large or small –– or anyone who longs for one.

Thousands of attendees strolled through several buildings chockfull of interesting vendors, heirloom seeds, about 3,000 varieties of heirloom produce from across the nation, cooking and tasting demos, poultry and rabbits, and a who’s who of knowledgeable speakers on a wide variety of subjects related to gardening, the politics of corporate farming, fermentation, biodynamic medicinals –– you name it.

One of the more arresting products for sale by a vendor were the old-timey kitchen aprons pictured here. I literally did a double-take when I spotted these, because I can remember aunts and grandmothers wearing a version of this design, sometimes for hours, whether they were in the kitchen or not. Talk about history repeating itself. A new generation of cooks is embracing this simple concept that’s apparently timeless, and available in fun and colorful vintage fabrics. This vendor was Oh Sew Penny (check out the selection at ohsewpenny.com).

Where the food products were being tasted, I became a devotee of the dried wild seaweed harvested off the coast of our neighbor to the north, Mendocino County, by Ocean Harvest Sea Vegetables. Wow, were they good. Buy some at seaweedmermaid.com. You won't regret it. 

The Shed in Healdsburg

The SHED in Healdsburg is intriguing, one of the newer attractions that’s just off the town Plaza. The building was built specifically for this purpose, and it's a beauty. The business is hard to categorize. You can buy fresh locally grown produce, kitchen essentials (and some not-so essential), bottled food products of many types, and order something to eat, too. The Fermentation Bar is named not just for its selection of white and red wines on tap or by the bottle (some beers, too), but quirkier offerings like kombucha (their own concoction and one other) and SHED Shrubs, as they are known –– house-made fruit cordials that are a combination of fruit, vinegar and sugar. Locally produced bottles of mead are also available. A half-hearted sidewalk sale was going on the last time I was there, with a few odds and ends to sort through. Check out the SHED on North Street, just a block from Healdsburg Avenue, the main drag through town.

Why it's cool to live here

You can't beat the location. Taste of Sonoma takes place in a quiet corner of Sonoma County that’s nearly perfect for its beauty and solitude. For 364 days a year the historic MacMurray Ranch along Westside Road is peaceful and serene, then during one Saturday in late summer it’s transformed into the premiere food-and-wine tasting event in the nation, as about 3,000 hungry people meander around the roomy ranch in search of great cuisine and delectable reds and whites.
They come from across the country to savor tastes of wine from approximately 200 of Sonoma County’s best wineries, paired with morsels of tantalizing food from 60-odd chefs and restaurants.

One of my favorite bites was the meatball (pictured) from Rustic, the restaurant at Francis Ford Coppola’s winery. And possibly the best fried chicken I’ve had in years, courtesy of the new mobile restaurant known as Drums & Crumbs. Other gustatory highlights included ice cream by Nimble & Finn’s, Hopmonk Tavern’s stout-braised short ribs over garlic mashed potatoes, and pork tenderloin with red rice and cranberry beans whipped up by Olive & Vine.

Four enormous tents showcase the food and wine, and numerous other tents and cozy spots on the ranch provide entertainment and educational opportunities. This included chefs competitions and cooking demos, with foodie radio hosts and masters of ceremonies Clark Wolf and Marcy Smothers (wife of Tommy), shown here coaxing comments from the judges in a race-against-time cookoff between chefs Thomas Schmidt of John Ash & Co. and Steve Rose of Vineyards Inn, one of my favorite places to eat.

Hollywood royalty Fred MacMurray raised his family here when he wasn't making movies and TV shows in Tinseltown. He also raised cattle and opened his ranch to other big movie stars who came to visit (Clark Gable, for instance). The old house is still there, adding to the warmth of the historic property.

Taste of Sonoma is the largest gathering of the annual Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, which culminates in a wine auction for charity.


Game Changers: Ownership of local newspapers back in Sonoma County

The hometown newspaper may not have big corporate muscle behind it any longer, but it has something much, much better: Local owners who have plans to enhance its services and coverage area, and who vow to keep publishing the daily newspaper in paper form.

Sonoma County's Press Democrat newspaper, and its sister papers the Petaluma Argus-Courier and the North Bay Business Journal, were purchased late last year by a new local investors group, Sonoma Media Investments, after being owned by East Coast companies for nearly 30 years.

Read my interview with two of the members of the new ownership group –– Steve Falk (pictured left) and Darius Anderson –– in the special "Game Changers" issue of NorthBay biz magazine: http://tinyurl.com/q3474v5


What exactly is "agritourism"?

This buzzword has been around a long time, and can mean all sorts of things. But mostly it refers to cityfolk and their children getting out into the country to learn a thing or two about agriculture –– how artisan vegetables are grown, for instance, and the way farm-fresh eggs taste so much better than store-bought. They can also watch dairy cows and goats being milked, cuddle with friendly barnyard horses, and sample farmstead cheeses at the source, among other fun adventures.

My latest article for North Bay biz magazine explores the booming business of agritourism in Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties: http://tinyurl.com/m7lsjno


All in the family at Friedman's stores

My latest article for North Bay biz magazine is a short profile of Bill Friedman, long-time owner and overseer of his family's three home improvement stores in northern California. At a time when Home Depots and Lowes are popping up everywhere, locally owned Friedman's Home Improvement has survived and thrived for more than 60 years. A fourth Friedman's store will open next year in Petaluma. Read about Bill and his legacy in the magazine's Best of 2013 issue, here: http://tinyurl.com/lynb2x6


Here comes the bridal business

Spring means the grapes are budding in the vineyards and brides are booking their wedding venues. Wine Country is a hotbed of matrimony during the sunny season, with no shortage of gorgeous locations to plan fabulous nuptials. It's a multimillion-dollar industry that brings thousands of new visitors into the region, and sends the brides and grooms away with many fond memories. Read my latest article for North Bay biz magazine about weddings in Wine Country:


Mendocino County: Closer than you think

It’s pretty hard to resist taking a photo like this, when the ocean is so close to your hotel room balcony that you can practically reach out and touch it. A recent trip to Mendocino County yielded this scene at sunset, reminding me that the charms of my neighbor to the north are not too far away after all. Read my latest article for North Bay biz magazine about wining and dining in Mendocino County, a few of their festivals and other attractions that shouldn’t be missed, and a harvester of seaweed who can show you how it’s done: http://tinyurl.com/bwq4hkd 


From the classroom to a new career...

Whether they were laid off or took early retirement before the recession, many baby boomers are now seeking new employment. But some have found that to stay competitive in the current job market requires retraining, and that means going back to school in some fashion to learn a completely new set of skills. Read my latest article for North Bay biz magazine about this trend: http://tinyurl.com/as2su5k


Green Music Center makes you say 'wow'

What began more than a decade ago as a modest building project on the Sonoma State University campus has resulted in a world-class venue for chorale and symphony performances, exceptional classrooms for music students, and fine dining. The Green Music Center’s Weill Hall is off to a grand start, with numerous big names in classical music, contemporary music, and comedy having taken the stage already. I received a private tour of Green Music Center just two weeks before Weill Hall’s opening night. Read about the center’s long road to reality––and even the fabulous restrooms––in my latest article for North Bay biz magazine: http://tinyurl.com/bpalr2t


Dining outside the box

Whether called pop-up dinners, underground dinners, or off-the-grid "suppers," experiences designed for adventurous diners have hit their stride in the North Bay. Read my latest article for North Bay biz magazine at http://tinyurl.com/98c4qrn


My interview with Gina Gallo

Though she's now raising twin toddlers, Gina Gallo is still an important influence on the fine wines being produced in Sonoma and Napa counties. In my latest article for North Bay biz magazine, the winemaker behind the Gallo company's high-end products talks about her family, the old general store she owns in Dry Creek Valley, and how she is very much hands-on during the grape harvest, going on now. For all you wine wonks, my article also features insight into Gallo's grape-growing science, courtesy of Jim Collins, senior director of coastal winegrowing operations for Gallo. Read the article here: http://tinyurl.com/9kpp7eh


Meet John Webley, green entrepreneur

My latest article for North Bay biz magazine is a profile of John Webley, a man who made his mark in the telecom world in the 1980s and 90s. Now he's leading two new companies, based in Sonoma County, dedicated to (1) cleaning up and desalinating water on a global scale, and (2) filtering out everything nasty in our indoor air. Read all about him and his new ventures in the August issue of the magazine, available here: http://tinyurl.com/d9gwb6q