Travel 2023 Year In Review

Travel 2023 New Brunswick Hopewell Rocks


In 2023, my travel explorations took me to destinations in Canada, North Carolina, and California, where I discovered some new hidden gems for wine. As has become the norm, I traveled both virtually and in person. Enjoy my travel 2023, year in review, as I continue to broaden my horizon with new places to explore.

Travel 2023 Year in Review – In-Person Travel

Traveling by car, I visited Fairfield, Carlsbad, Torrance, Santa Maria Valley, Solvang, and Santa Ynez Valley. I flew to New Brunswick, North Carolina, and Vancouver. I traveled from Vancouver to Los Angeles by ship, with stops in Victoria and San Francisco. Each location during my travel 2023 year left me with memorable moments, some more profound than others.

Driving to in-person wine tastings, luncheons, and events in Los Angeles took me to Australia, Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Bel Air, France, including the Loire Valley, Beaujolais, Champagne, Campania in Italy, and Spain. From my LA Wine Writers luncheons, several of my favorites were Eleven Eleven Winery in Napa, Robert Hall in Paso Robles, and Tercero in Los Olivos.

New Brunswick

The most profound of my journeys was my trip to New Brunswick, where I discovered the dramatic change in tides, influencing the lives of the people in this region. From the Northumberland Strait to the Bay of Fundy, the landscape was diverse, but the natural beauty of Hopewell Rocks was the most impressive.

The purpose of this trip involved writing an article on New Brunswick wine. One evening, I learned about the Acadians at Akadi Lumina. Here, lights illuminate a forest walk in a beautiful display telling the story of the Acadie people. At that moment, my article morphed into something new that genuinely inspired me. 

I still discovered New Brunswick’s wines and wrote several articles about them, especially the warm and friendly people making their cool-climate wines. Many of the wines are ideal holiday wines.

North Carolina

Learning about the wines of North Carolina had been on my bucket list for some time. I delved into two AVAs, The Crest of the Blue Ridge, where I discovered several exceptional wineries with a flair for Cabernet Franc and Gruner Veltliner. I found scenic vineyards and vistas at each winery. The wines rank highly, with many of my California favorites. While in the area, I visited the charming town of Hendersonville.

The Surry County Wine Trail, created in 2018, abuts the Yadkin Valley Foothills and is a part of the Yadkin Valley AVA, North Carolina’s largest AVA. The area is ideal for growing European Vinifera and French-American Hybrid grapes. The vistas at many wineries offer views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Pilot Mountain. Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin, Petit Verdot, Viognier, and Petit Manseng impressed me the most.

One of the anchors of the wine community is the Shelton-Badgette North Carolina Viticulture and Enology Center at Surry Community College. North Carolina wineries and winemakers consider the college’s experimentation with grapes and the winemaking process a vital part of their industry.

Shelton-Badgett North Carolina Center for Viticulture & Enology at Surry Community College
Shelton-Badgett North Carolina Center for Viticulture & Enology

The Yadkin Valley offers other things besides wine, including Mount Airy, where Andy Griffith was born and the inspiration for his hit show; the Surry Sonker Trail that showcases this heritage dessert; and the Surry Ground Steak Trail.  

Stay tuned for my article on the Yadkin Valley’s Surry County Wine Trail in 2024.

Fairfield California

Fairfield is home to Jelly Belly, the famous Jelly Bean factory. I enjoyed visiting the factory and learning about the history of the Jelly Bean and other candy. They offer a chocolate and wine pairing with local wines, a must on any visit.

Fairfield is also the home of Suisun Valley AVA, a hidden wine region not on most people’s radar. Located on the other side of the mountain from Napa, the price points are not as steep. Petit Syrah is one of the popular varieties in this area.

Stay tuned for my article on Fairfield in 2024.

Suisun Valley The Petite Sirah Capital
Suisun Valley The Petite Sirah Capital

Santa Ynez

The Central Coast is one of my favorite haunts, so it doesn’t take much for me to visit the area. In this case, it was to write an updated review of The Willows Restaurant. Of course, what visit to Santa Ynez doesn’t take in a winery or two? This time, it was Vincent Estate and Crosshatch Wines. We also drove west to Lompoc to see Camins 2 Dreams new tasting room.

Santa Maria Valley

Besides enjoying wine and the Santa Maria Barbecue, the area now has a farmer, Dewlson Family Farm, who grows coffee and tea. It is worth the visit to learn about growing coffee in a greenhouse. 

Inside Dewlson Central Coast Coffee Greenhouse
Inside Dewlson Central Coast Coffee Greenhouse

Solvang

My fondness for Solvang brings me to the area quite often. Although a small town, there is always something to discover. Solvang’s proximity to other cities in the Santa Ynez Valley broadens its lure.

Travel 2023 Weekend Escape to Solvang CA
Travel 2023 Weekend Escape to Solvang, CA

Carlsbad

I traveled to Carlsbad twice—the first to enjoy The Flower Fields of Carlsbad, a must if you are into flowers, especially ranunculus. Capture the array of colors that will wow your senses.

Ranunculus at the Flower Fields of Carlsbad
Ranunculus at the Flower Fields of Carlsbad

On my second visit, I visited an oyster farm and the Aqua Hedionda Lagoon Foundation, where I held a Gecko, which took courage on my part. I also explored the Carlsbad village with the Carlsbad Food Tour, a foodie tour that gives one the historical aspects of this town as it is all about water. Believe me, people love the Carlsbad water.

Stay tuned for my article on Carlsbad, published in 2024.

The Gecko Challenge
The Gecko Challenge

Torrance

Visiting Torrance, one feels a great sense of community. One example is its dedication to one of their heroes, Louis Zamperini, the 1936 Olympic track star and World War II veteran. Another is the story of the Pacific Electric Railways Red Cars, which ironically is the name of a favorite restaurant and brewery. The community spirit ingratiates one into the city.

Louis Zamperini Mural Torrance
Louis Zamperini Mural Torrance

Surrey, Canada

Surrey, BC, represents an area with ethnicity and diversity of food. Even with my allergies, I opened my horizons to new food and loved it. Besides the cuisine, I enjoyed seeing the unique public art on display around the city center. We visited the Honeybee Centre to learn more about the honeybee and the process of making honey. I even got to make some honey. I cannot visit a city without visiting a winery, and Cavallo Winery sources its grapes from Napa and creates some excellent wines. We capped off our visit with an evening walk down Canada’s longest pier.

Stay tuned for my article on Surrey, BC, in 2024.

Cruising on the Discovery Princess

Sailing onboard the Discovery Princess from Vancouver to Los Angeles with stops in Victoria and San Francisco. The ship is one of the newest from Princess Cruises and has all the latest amenities. I remember sailing from San Francisco in the ’70s. During our departure from San Francisco Bay, the fireboats gave us a spectacular send-off using their fire hoses to spew fountains of water into the bay. On this trip, we received a spectacular send-off with an air show practice by the Blue Angels during Fleet Week.

Coming into and departing from San Francisco, the ship travels under the Golden Gate Bridge. We arrived at noon and left at sunset, so we were treated to an extraordinary view as the ship traveled under the bridge. This experience reminded me of cruising through the Panama Canal locks. These experiences are exciting and memorable, especially at Sunset when you can sit and sip a glass of wine.

Stay tuned for my article on my Discovery Princes Experience in 2024.

Blue Angels Flying in San Francisco Bay
Blue Angels Flying in San Francisco Bay

Travel 2023 Year in Review – Winery Visits

I visited many wineries during my travel 2023 year. The list is too long to mention all, but here are some of my favorites from the different places I visited during my travels.

Santa Maria Winery Visits

Native9 is a Santa Maria winery with family ties going back nine generations. I visited the Native9 site twice in 2023. I was impressed with the history, wine, and property and returned for my second visit with other writers. 

Travel 2023 Rancho de Ontiveros Property
Travel 2023 Rancho de Ontiveros Property

Presqu’ile sits at the crest of the estate. The winery offers unique food and wine pairing while enjoying the magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean.

Santa Ynez Valley Winery Visits

Kaena has a tasting room in Solvang and in Los Olivos. Kaena means potential for greatness. It refers to the name owner Mikael Siqouin’s great-grandmother, Tutu, gave him while growing up in Hawaii. It also symbolizes his heritage. Keana’s primary focus is Grenache.

Tercero, located in Los Olivos, is always an adventure visiting with owner Larry Schaffer. He leads one on a journey through an eclectic variety of wines, sharing his extensive knowledge in an easy-going way.

Vincent Vineyards is my most recent winery visit. Specializing in the Bordeaux varieties, I found the wines exceptional. Sitting on the patio, tasting wine, one feels like they are in the middle of the vineyard. One must-try is the Cabernet Franc Pet Nat.

Vincent Vineyards Cabernet Franc
Vincent Vineyards Cabernet Franc

Lompoc and Buellton Winery Visits

Camins 2 Dreams represents the routes we travel to attain our goals and dreams. For Tara Gomez and Mireia Taribo, it is a path they pave as LBGT women and Tara as the first Native American woman winemaker. They pursue their dreams using organic, biodynamic, and regenerative practices in their winemaking style. This year, they achieved a new milestone by opening their new tasting room in Lompoc.

Vega Vineyard and Farm is situated in a lovely location in Buellton. It is one of the few places east of the 101 that serves food. The patio seating is perfect for lunch and wine tasting. Vega’s winemaker is Steve Clifton. The focus is primarily on Italian varieties with some Spanish options.

Buellton Wine Tasting at Vega Vineyard and Farm
Buellton Wine Tasting at Vega Vineyard and Farm

Southern California Winery Visits

Moraga Estate is an unexpected find in Bel Air. One sees the vineyard on the tram ride up to the Getty. Entering the gates to the Moraga Estate compound is a unique find in this residential area. From the Bordeaux-styled wines to the wine cave, visiting will be the highlight of your day.

Moraga Estate Bel Air
Moraga Estate Bel Air

Warson Wine is the winery of Paul Warson, whose winemaking career has taken him from Napa and the Central Coast back to Los Angeles, where he is the winemaker for Moraga Estate. Our visit included a wine and chocolate pairing. The chocolate, an incredible, uniquely different selection of chocolates from Jessica Foster Confections in Santa Barbara, made the pairing exceptional.

North Carolina The Crest of the Blue Ridge Winery Visits

Marked Tree sits atop a knoll offering wonderful views. The experience represents North Carolina at its best. You will be in heaven if you like Gruner Veltliner and Cabernet Franc.

Souther Williams features a family estate that has been in the family since the 1800s. Its location in a glen offers a beautiful idyllic vista surrounded by grapevines. Owner Ken Parker has a bent for the Alsatian and German varieties. My choice is the Gruner and the Cab Franc.

Stoney Ashe gets its name from the soils found on the slopes of this vineyard. The winery is known for its Bordeaux varieties.

Saint Paul Mountain is one of the older wineries, with the family farming the property for nine generations. Not only do they produce wine, but Saint Paul has a cidery.

Saint Paul Mountain Winery and Vineyards
Looking between the trees at Saint Paul Mountain Winery and Vineyards

North Carolina Yadkin Valley Surry County Wine Trail

Jones Von Drehle was one of my favorites in the Yadkin Valley. The wines are fruit-focused and consistent across their wine portfolio. There Viognier is one of my all-time favorites. If you have never sampled a Petite Manseng, the Jones Von Drehle is excellent. I was also very impressed with the Merlot and Cabernet Franc. 

Stoney Knoll, the goal is to grow grapes with minimal additions. If you like Chambourcin, Stoney Knoll produces an excellent one. 

Jolo Winery and Vineyard’s location offers a fabulous view of Pilot Mountain. The winery offers one dining and tasting experience from quite an extensive portfolio. In 2023, Jolo Pink, a Rosé, was the top winner of Florida’s American Fine Wine Rosé Competition.

Stoney Knoll Vineyards
Stoney Knoll Vineyards

Travel 2023 Year In Review – Virtual Travel

Joining in Zoom webinars and wine tastings, I ventured to destinations across the US and Canada. Wine webinars took me to Bells Up in the Willamette Valley, Virginia, Chile, to study Carmenere and Argentina.

I discovered many places by co-hosting the IFWTWA International Food Wine Travel Writers Association webinars. Join me as I highlight the cities I explored.

Greenville, SC

Greenville is South Carolina’s gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains. The city is vibrant, especially during the winter holidays. The highlight of our virtual tour of Greenville, South Carolina, was an olive oil tasting. Like wine, a technique for sampling oils includes sniffing, sipping, and swirling in your mouth. 

Virginia Wines

The Petit varieties have become very popular in Virginia, especially in the Monticello AVA. The Petits refer to Petit Manseng and Petit Verdot, and it was the first time I sampled a dry Petit Manseng. Since then, I discovered the trend is moving to North Carolina.

Monticello AVA Petit Manseng and Petit Verdot
Monticello AVA Petit Manseng and Petit Verdot

Travel Santa Ana

Santa Ana’s rich culture offers exciting culinary diversity with a fusion of flavors that defines their restaurants. That rich culture carries over into its art, which ranges from funky to folk.

Buena Park

Buena Park is home to the Boysenberry and Knott’s Berry Farm. The boysenberry was developed in Buena Park. Its beginning has led to the city’s culinary growth, including the emergence of Michelin-rated restaurants.

Fort Wayne, Indiana

On my second virtual visit to Fort Wayne, I discovered the chocolates from DeBrand Fine Chocolates. From Truffles to other chocolate candy delights, you will find Cathy Brand’s passion for creating chocolate in every bite. 

DeBrand Fine Chocolate
DeBrand Fine Chocolate

Quebec

Quebec City is a destination with four distinct seasons. Walk the cobblestone streets of Old Quebec, a Unesco World Heritage Site, discovering its quaintness and culinary delights. A visit to Quebec must include an afternoon tea at the Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. 

Quebec Fairmont Le Château Frontenac
Quebec Fairmont Le Château Frontenac

Plans for 2024

I look forward to moving from my travel 2023 year to traveling to new horizons as I begin my travel plans for 2024. As my plans emerge, I hope to experience wine in the Umpqua Valley, Willamette Valley of Oregon, and the Cab Collective in Paso Robles. Of course, there will definitely be a trip to Santa Barbara County’s wine country. My local LA Wine Writers luncheon will take me to discover the wines of Epoch. So far, my virtual transport will tour the Finger Lakes and Rochester.

I wish everyone a Happy New Year as we welcome 2024.

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