07/10/12

The Room by the Sea

The view from my terrace at The Cliff House in Ogunquit, Maine.

I’m in Maine, enjoying the hospitality of The Cliff House in Ogunquit, perched above the sea on a wildly gorgeous stretch of rocky coast. Being able to drink in the surroundings has been one blessing from my opportunity to stay; having access to the same stretch of shoreline that wooed May Sarton when she lived a few miles from here is another. Having her words has brought my experiences greater depth and has intensified this writer’s pleasure beyond words.

As I’ve watched flotillas of waterfowl bobbing in the tiny coves created by the jagged outcropping below my terrace, I imagined Sarton at Wild Knoll. She wrote about living there in a journal she kept during 1974. It was published in 1976 as The House by the Sea. She described her first taste of the landscape in the book: “…once I had stood on the wide flagstone terrace and looked out over that immensely gentle field to a shining, still, blue expanse, the decision [to move there] was taken out of my hands.” She describes this part of Maine as a place “creating the atmosphere of a fairy tale, something open yet mysterious that every single person who comes here is led to explore.”

The waning light paints a resplendent portrait of the end of this day.

The blue expanse Sarton wrote about has a powerful presence that infuses every part of the day with altering moods. While having a glass of wine as the sun slid away to the west, I studied the view from the terrace from an al fresco table holding a bright red umbrella like summer’s promise of glee. The scene revealed a swath of water turned the color of liquid mercury, crimped in spots where the wind touched its surface. The sky, palest blue and powdery pink except at its meeting point with the water, seemed to want to emulate the blue notes from the strip of darkest hues where the ocean met the horizon. A boat cut a wake, marring the serenity and leaving an indelible blue line drawn in the liquid sheen. The mark became ruffled as the rising tide nudged it to shore. Caught in the movement, it splashed above boulders and slabs of striated moss-laden rock until it was picked up by the breeze and dashed heavenward. Puddles of water formed erratically shaped mirrors reflecting the waning daylight, mercurial in contrast to the wet darkness of the seaweed-draped stones.

Sarton wrote, “I have slipped into these wide spaces, this atmosphere of salt and amplitude, this amazing piece of natural Heaven and haven, like a ship slipping into her berth.” Like Sarton, I came here seeking a place to write, and I have found it. The staff here has been attentive but respectful of my desire for solitude as I scribbled in notebooks and slashed pieces of writing long needing my attention while “real life” made it impossible for me to give them the concentration they deserved. I had a wonderful massage yesterday and as Julie gently rocked me from side to side, causing tears to spring to my eyes from the gratitude of having someone create such a lovely experience just for me, I thought about how the theme of this stay is about being touched. Not just by her knowing hands, which helped to relieve the tensions brought on by the world; but by Christian’s carefully selected wines; by a staff eager to please; and most gloriously by a powerful landscape.

Christian Bahre shared with me a delightful Moscato D'Asti from Italy.

Thirty-eight years ago to this day, Sarton intended to take an afternoon nap; she found herself caught up in the surrounding natural activity instead: “…unable to fall asleep, I amused myself listening to all the summer sounds—the leaves stirring like the rustling of taffeta; beyond it the gentle steady roar of the sea, tide rising; but what surprised me was how many birds were singing at that hour, two in the afternoon…I lay there for a half hour, listening, and got up refreshed.” I am being given the same opportunity for refreshment as I let the magic of this place wash over me. Thanks to Patrick, Matt, Brenda, Cheryl, Courtney, Christian, Birget and Julie for making my stay so peaceful. You have helped me to achieve what Sarton sought when she wrote, “I mean every encounter here to be more than superficial…”

[This post was written on July 10, 2012, in Ogunquit, Maine. I have been given comped stay and services by this property but the generosity has in no way swayed my opinions expressed here.]

04/11/11
Newton Vineyard's Unfiltered Chardonnay and Michael Wisner's "The Element"

Making Some Noise (the Wine’s Unfiltered)!


Newton Vineyard's Unfiltered Chardonnay and Michael Wisner's "The Element"

Tonight, winemaker Chris Millard of Napa Valley’s Newton Vineyard will be in New York to host an interactive workshop on sustainable winemaking. Also on hand will be Michael Wisner, the Snowmass, Colorado-based eco-friendly ceramicist who has joined with Newton for the winery’s third-annual Eco-Chic collaboration. Wisner will preview “The Element,” a set of clay coasters and a wine chiller created from clay he harvested in Newton’s Carneros vineyards, made exclusively for the vineyard’s Unfiltered Chardonnay, which will be available in late April. Millard will explain what distinguishes unfiltered winemaking from other methods, while Wisner will discuss his own take on sustainable artisanship.

Last Thursday evening, William and Susan Brinson invited a lucky gaggle of tweeps to their chic NYC apartment for a delectable repast. We had the pleasure of drinking the Chardonnay and I’d say it’s going to be a feather in the vineyard’s eco-chic cap. We sipped the wine as we nibbled on William’s spread of appetizers that included a sauterne and black truffle pate, speck ham, crusty French bread, pungent aged cheeses, and spiced cashews. For dinner, he and Susan served Jamie Oliver’s Pasta alla Norma. It was divine and the perfect end to our rousing tweetup at the Duravit showroom, which brought the always entertaining Philippe Starck to town to debut his shower toilet SensoWash. How do we know he’s ever the life of the party? Check out this interview, one I will personally never forget!

It was so great to see all the tweeps who rocked the #Starck4Duravit event with us. A shout out to @irwinfelddesign @nestnestnest @abcddesigns @StudioBrinson @sar_fraz @WilliamBrinson @novitapr @RobertaKLEEDAP @RachelWells @jenniferrector @apttherapy. And a hearty thanks to @NewtonVineyard for creating such a fantastic wine!

03/10/11

Pouring it on in Paris

During my last trip to Paris, I spent an afternoon sipping wine in Les Caves du Paradis, the former private wine cellar of Louis XV, at Ô Chateau. Our charming sommelier, Lionel Médoc, took a group of us through the in’s and out’s of identifying a wine’s clarity. He was a charming host, very knowledgeable about the French wines he was pouring that day. After obtaining a degree in oenology from Toulouse, Lionel told us he traveled the globe studying New World wines, trekking to Sonoma, Mendoza, and Australia. Even though his last name could pin him as a pure Bordeaux man, Lionel is actually the son of a Burgundian mother and he grew up on Reunion Island, near Mauritius. His charm during the several hours we spent swirling and sipping in the cellar with its graceful stone archways is evident in this video. Owner Olivier Magny has just opened a new wine bar, so be sure to stop in if you are in Paris anytime soon! Details are on the web site. À votre santé on this #WineWednesday, everyone!

08/17/10
The Touch by John Pomp

Product Peek: John Pomp’s Eloquence in Glass

The Touch by John Pomp

Earlier this year, Newton Vineyard debuted a limited edition decanter by glass artist John Pomp. I have seen it in person and it is quite the transparent beauty! Pomp, who has created glass objects for Tiffany & Co., and installations for Donna Karan, made 100 mouth-blown pieces from 30% recycled glass. He has signed and numbered each decanter in the collection, which he has named “The Touch.” Though the glass piece is substantial, the dimple is so perfectly placed that it’s comfortable to hold in spite of its weight. He describes his inspiration for the design quite eloquently in this video I thought I’d share.

“Coaxing the molten glass into the form of ‘The Touch’ requires a natural sensibility,” says Pomp, who uses all handmade tools and molds in the process. He likens working with the molten glass to winemaking, noting that “every move affects the final product, and every product bears the signature of my handiwork, much like a winemaker’s hand shows in every bottle.”
07/14/10
One of Bluestein's images of Cuba, on exhibit at the hotel...

A Stitch in Time…

The Classic Betsy Guestroom

During my last night as a full-time resident of South Beach (I’ll always call Miami Beach one of my homes, after all), I had the delicious pleasure of staying at The Betsy Hotel on Ocean Drive and dining at the hotel’s hip restaurant BLT Steak (not your grandmother’s BLT, but Bistro Laurent Tourondel, the French-trained chef who knows his way around a magnificent menu!). The hotel was named for Betsy Ross, the seamstress who was said to have stitched the first American flag for George Washington. Don’t be fooled by the historical reference because there’s nothing dated about the resort with its gem of a pool tucked into the interior courtyard surrounded by guest rooms. As I checked into the my room that afternoon, the intense heat of the tropics faded away. The lazy lancets of ceiling fans whirred in the hallway as I stepped through the door, feeling as if I were leaving the rest of the world behind me.

One of Bluestein's images of Cuba, on exhibit at the hotel...

One of the things I loved most about the room from a design standpoint was the tailored feel that had been achieved with the furnishings, the moldings and the pale linens trimmed in tropical hues. Accents of straw, especially attractive on the ceiling, brought a textural liveliness to the room and heightened the great West Indies vibe that is so well executed in the lobby area. One of my favorite design aspects outside the room is the photography that peppers the corridors and the public spaces, some of it by Richard Bluestein. There was a rawness and patina to his images that made it the perfect relief to the crispness of the hotel’s interiors. If anyone ever doubted that a Georgian building could be infused with a modern-day beauty, one look at The Betsy clears that up!

BLT Steak South Beach

So, while living la vida Betsy, the first order of business was dinner in the lobby restaurant with its giant blackboard that holds a list meats that would make a cattleman swoon. I settled in for a feast that began with chicken liver pate served with crunchy bread. I had a glass of Far Niente Chardonnay (one of my favorite California wineries) and he tried a new Cabernet Sauvignon they were pouring that night. The signature popovers were followed by a salad of beets, apples, arugula and gorgonzola, the beets bleeding on my plate in a delicious earthiness that was tart on the tongue. The meal was all about beef, of course: Kobe, Wagyu and Angus the main stars of the lineup. Dessert was a crowning glory. The chocolate and peanut butter mouse with banana ice cream was complemented by a visit from the Chef de Cuisine, Samuel Gorenstein (there’s a nice piece about him on the NBC Miami web site). Last but not least, orange blossom madeleines had me pining for Paris. Compliments to the chef! [Some services were comped during my stay, though the consideration received no special treatment in terms of coverage. Had I not been pleased with any facet of the experience, I would simply have written nothing.]

05/18/10
IMG_6331.JPG.scaled500

In Vino Veritas

It’s #TravelTuesday and Roaming By Design is taking you to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the steaks sizzle and the wines are fine!

Daniel Karlin

Daniel Karlin and partners founded Anuva Wines in 2007 in Buenos Aires with the goal of providing the best valued Argentine wines at all price points to the world. The company does this in 3 ways: by holding wine tastings in Buenos Aires for visitors to the city (in English or Spanish); by importing and wholesaling in the U.S.; and through the company’s wine club with direct shipping of wine to 34 states in the U.S. The company’s wine tastings for visitors to Buenos Aires consist of 5 premium and ultra-premium wines, which are hand-selected for guests; 5 specific food pairings; and a casual presentation about Argentine terroir, the wines, winemaking, and subjects such as which restaurants to visit, other wine-related activities and hyped-up things to avoid in the city. I thought RBD readers would like to know how an American who ended up in Buenos Aires without the intention of staying met the love of his life, put down roots and created a worldwide wine distributorship. RBD: How did you become interested in wines? DK: I arrived in Argentina in 2004 and was told by several Argentines and Brazilians that Malbec was the wine to drink. I had never liked wine before but I drank it and was very impressed. I thought, What great wine! What a great price! I bet this could sell in the U.S. and to tourists. My next thought was, If there were just a white wine to go with it! Then I found Torrontes, the flagship white of Argentina, on my first trip to Mendoza and was sold. RBD: Why did you choose Buenos Aires?

 

DK: I think Buenos Aires chose me more than I chose it. When I arrived in 2004, I had intended to backpack around the world for twp years. Within 36 hours of landing, I met the girl who is now my wife and one of the co-founders of Anuva. The two of us, along with my business partner Yuji, started Anuva because we saw great opportunity: unknown wines, very high quality wines at very good prices, an appealing culture and my desire to create an Argentine-American business.

RBD: Argentine wines have enjoyed quite a high popularity in the past decade. To what do you attributed this renown?

DK: The best price-to-quality-relationship wines in the world. Argentina enjoys lower production costs than any other country and this translates to the prices of their wines. Also, the terroir of Argentina is truly unique: it is the only major wine making country that has continental weather systems as opposed to coastal. The Andes Mountains create a physical barrier between the winemaking region and the ocean. This does several key things: it creates a very dry region that has fresh runoff water from the Andes; Argentina has the highest altitude vineyards in the world (altitude creates a higher diurnal temperature differential); and Argentina has porous, rocky, alluvial soil, which creates the ability to induce “water stress” in the vines. These characteristics are key for making great Malbec, Torrontes and Bonarda—the three varietals that hail from Argentina. Dryness eliminates the need to spray and also allows the fragile Malbec and Torrontes grapes to achieve full maturation on the vine, which creates fruity, drinkable wines. The altitude creates a temperature differential, which fosters higher acidity. In the case of Torrontes especially, this is key. Take Spain, Torrontes’ original home as a comparison: the altitude was not high enough so the wine came out “flabby” or lacking acidity. Permeable, alluvial soils are great for grape growing in general as this allows for water stress which creates more dense, concentrated grapes which are necessary for making great wine.

No Wine Before Its Time…

RBD: What is the most important piece of advice you’d give to visitors to Baires when it comes to choosing where to sample wines and for visitors wanting to tour Argentina’s wineries?

DK: Well, in Buenos Aires we are the only gig in town. There is literally nowhere else to go to do a real sampling of five wines from all over Argentina. But if they are visiting Mendoza, I try to give advice based on their preferences: are they young and just getting into wine, which might mean they’d like the Bikes and Wines tour? Are they the type to hire a private car? Do they want to be more social and go with a group of 12? Are they collectors with a 10,000-bottle cellar? Based on answers to questions like this, I then recommend wineries from the smallest boutiques to the largest commercial wineries.

RBD: What’s the best time of year for visitors to come to Argentina to visit wineries?

DK: March through April and October through November are best.

RBD: Do you have an all-time favorite wine, and why?

Smooth Sampling!

DK: I always say that this is a bad question to ask me because a) I have so much access to wine that I make selections based on my mood and what food I’m eating, and b) because I love wine so much it is easy for me to be too snobby about it. But in the top 5 are San Gimignano Malbec Roble, Mairena Blend Reserve, Carinae Prestige and Torrontes, Serrera Gran Guarda, Hom Sparkling.

RBD: If you could think of one insider tip to give Americans about Argentine wines, what would it be?

DK: The argentine wine you find on most big supermarket shelves is not the best stuff that Argentina produces. We are still only seeing 30 to 40% of all wine produced in Argentina being exported to the U.S., and 90% of this volume is from the big boys: Catena (Alamos), Trapiche, Dona Paula, Zuccardi, etc. Look at what the companies (there are about three of us now) who are importing exclusively Argentine wine are promoting and sample these. This is where you will find the great values.

03/22/10
Flowers at George V

On Elegance

The Eiffel Tower

As I nestled into my seat on the Air France flight to Paris, the word elegance came to mind and never left it during a six-day trip that was one of the finest adventures of my life thus far. I don’t fly business class often so when the stewardess handed me the printed dinner menu and I saw that the airline’s sommelier had handpicked wines to accompany the meals—from champagne and Languedoc Blanc to Bourgogne Rouge and Bordeaux Rouge—I thought to myself, “Thirty-thousand feet isn’t heaven but it’s seeming pretty darned close!” It wasn’t just that I was seated in the front of the aircraft that made it an elegant experience. I have been in business class on other carriers and had yet to be served Camembert and Brie on a beautiful cheese leaf onboard an airplane! The tiny bottle of olive oil on my tray was shaped like the Eiffel Tower. I actually kept it as a souvenir because I’m a total sap for such finely considered aesthetic details. The steak, served with horseradish-spiked potatoes, was pink and tender, and the crunchy asparagus tasted earthy as if it had just been plucked from the ground. This was only the first physical manifestation of the truism “the French really know how to live.” [

The Louvre

From the stately beauty of its neoclassic architecture to its shockingly clean and chic arched metro stops clad in white subway tile, the city lived up to its sophisticated reputation. So did the experiences that unfolded during my time there. Sometimes it was the grand gestures that stood out, but often it was the subtleties of an experience that made an impression. I was traveling with my friend Patty Otis Abel, who began her every-six-hour-pink-champagne rule our first evening there. We were ensconced in a settee at the beautiful Bar 228 at Le Meurice on the rue de Rivoli across from the Tuileries Garden. A crisp Sancere in my glass and Rosé Champagne in hers, we toasted our good fortune at having one of the most luxurious settings possible for our first drinks in Paris—being bathed in soft candlelight, nestled into sumptuous leather and treated like royalty by the bar’s manager William Oliveri was simply the cream.

Flowers at George V

The next afternoon—while strolling through the lobby of another storied property, the George V—we marveled at the floral arrangements created by the hotel’s artistic director Jeff Leatham, who orders 9,000 blooms each week from the Netherlands to make his fragrant creations for the public spaces. The attention to quality and freshness truly showed. That day, tall clear and jeweled-green glass vases were filled with white orchids and bisque-colored heather, the intermingling of which created an interplay of whispery, texturally-rich paleness against the intricately veined marble of their surroundings.

Another experience at the hotel came to symbolize the pinnacle of elegance, as it brought with it the realization that the French understand the art of making a meal into an event worth savoring. After our tour of the George V, we had the exquisite pleasure of feasting on Chef Éric Briffard’s tasting menu at Le Cinq (where we had watercress soup that was dreamier than I could ever have imagined). The variety of flavors and the ways in which they were combined during the meal had us wondering how the next dish could possibly top the ones that had come before, but they always did. We also dined at Le Relais Plaza in the Plaza Athénée, which was nostalgically beautiful with its interiors designed after the ocean liner Le Normandie.

Chef Phillippe Marc’s interpretations of Alain Ducasse’s lauded fare were served in sensual waves of tasteful abundance within the buoyant setting. To be honest, I had expected these meals in two of Paris’s “starred” restaurants to be among our finest experiences but whether we were eating dishes prepared by a Michelin-tapped gastronomic luminary or in a corner café sharing a ham and cheese sandwich on a crunchy baguette, we didn’t have an unmemorable meal.

Museo Carnavalet

During our only weekend there, for example, we decided to spend Sunday morning at the Place des Vosges, which had been one of Patty’s favorite haunts when she lived in Paris. We left our apartment at around eleven, stopping in to visit the Musée Carnavalet, which was once the home of Madame de Sévigné, France’s first woman to collect and publish her letters. This was a pilgrimage for me, as I’d read biographies of her and most of her letters, which were written during the reign of Louis XIV. The museum held a retrospective of French history during her time, and I loved seeing the artifacts and knowing I’d walked along the pavers where her elegant slippers had once trod. With a buoyed feeling of having touched history, I strolled beneath the expansive colonnades that surround the park at Place des Vosges.

The moment turned magical when I heard the stains of one of my favorite Django Reinhardt numbers wafting across the plaza. We followed the sound to a trio of musicians named Borsalino and stood listening to their cocky renditions of the French jazz artist’s tunes. After stopping in at a few shops that caught our eye, we came across a brasserie with cheerful red café chairs and tables on the sidewalk. The energy was lively but intimate inside so we decided it would be the perfect spot for brunch. [

A colonnade at Place des Vosges

We ordered the prix fixe and were delighted when the waiter placed pale plum-colored kirs in front of us. Our courses began with a delicious lentil salad and a half bottle of wine. As we progressed through the fresh, flavorful fare, we lingered in the cloistered atmosphere—talking, laughing and, as it turned out, crying our way into the afternoon. No one reached for our plates before each of us had completed our courses, no one offered us the check before we asked for it and at no time did anyone make us feel as if they needed our table for another guest, though the restaurant was teeming with customers. This, I believe, is the hallmark of a civilized, cultivated culture.

Patty remarked as we were leaving: “You’ve just had a true Parisian Sunday afternoon!” The brasserie was La Place Royale; it was simple and elegant, and I was in love with every moment we spent there! I’m guessing you might be asking, “Why in the world would two women with Paris at their disposal be crying on a glorious Sunday afternoon?” We were remembering the person who had introduced us. My first next-door neighbor in New York City and Patty’s decades-long best friend was Steve Hogan. From the minute he met me, he said he had a friend I simply had to meet because he knew we would hit it off. Needless to say, we did. Patty and I knew we’d be thinking of him as we made our way through the adventures that Paris offered us, but we didn’t know just how present his essence would be.

The relization began as soon as our first day there. Fresh from the airport, we dropped our suitcases at our apartment in the 2nd and, literally, hit the ground running. Our first task was getting to the Centre Pompidou, which we decided to do on foot. We were on our way to see an exhibition by one of Paris’ hottest designers Patrick Jouin, who was meeting us there. I have no idea why, but about halfway there I blurted out that the song “Volare” was running through my mind. We laughed because not only is it not a French song, it is a pretty corny Italian one at that! As we frantically searched for the next street sign pointing our way to the Boo Boo, which seemed to appear and disappear in no orderly fashion that we could tell, Patty remarked that if Steve had been with us, he’d have known the etymology of the word Volare, the cultural significance of it and quite possibly why it had popped into my mind!

Bar 228 at Le Meurice (photo by Guillaume de Laubier)

That evening, while we were sipping our drinks in Bar 228, we were reminded of that moment when an ensemble of musicians gathered around the grand piano and suddenly began playing “Volare.” Patty and I froze in stunned silence as they sang the word Volare, then abruptly stopped and moved on to another song. It would have been so much less remarkable had they continued the song through its rhythmic end, but they didn’t. It was as if they simply changed their mind without further ado!

These seemingly small but powerful occurrences happened again and again while we were there. The thing is, I would never have thought of Steve in the context of elegance had I not written this, but it is fitting. Yes, he was always the first one to knock a drink over at any given get-together because he loved to talk with his hands, and his gestures were sweeping and expressive. He also had a loping gate that made me run to keep up with him when he was excited, which was most of the time. But there was something groundedly ethereal about him, if you’ll forgive me the made-up word and the oxymoron.

Flowers at Au Jardin de Mexico Fleuriste Decoraeur

During one of my first weeks as his next-door neighbor in New York, I heard a noise in the hallway. When I peered through the ocular eye tamped into my door, I saw him leading an elderly woman up the flight of stairs to our floor. When they reached our landing, he smiled at her and handed her a bouquet of flowers. She smiled back, saying thank you in an odd-sounding accent, as he led her into his apartment. He later told me she was a Russian linguistics coach. Of course, I thought. He was eternally learning a new language—could, in fact, master one in about a week. He was simply that brilliant. But it was the fact that he’d taken the time to buy this elderly woman flowers that touched me. Who does that for a language teacher? I never did.

As it turns out, he bought her a bouquet every week, explaining when I asked about it that he did so because she’d lost her husband not long before the two of them had met and she felt alone for the first time in her life. So I bring these memories of Paris to a close by celebrating that among the treasures I found in The City of Light are happy memories of Steve and a remarkable time with his best friend, whom I now count among my cadre of closest compatriots.

[I was comped airfare and some of the meals reviewed in this article during my trip to Paris, though the consideration received no special treatment in terms of coverage.]