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January 30, 2008

Honing Your Wine Frequency at 32,000 Feet

By Courtney Cochran

crbs0661917.jpgAdmit it:  You’re seriously considering packing a parachute if you have to watch another G-rated animated flick on your redeye to Boston.  

But don't bail out just yet, frequent flyer.  

When popular wine podcast Graperadio (graperadio.com ) becomes available to American Airlines’ Business and First Class passengers beginning in February, it’ll allow air travelers the unprecedented opportunity to bone up on interesting topics like wine history, wine drinking and wine etiquette courtesy of the airline’s in-flight entertainment players.  And besides the usual “Wine 101”-type content, the 30- and 60-minute program segments will also feature interviews with high-profile wine industry luminaries such as Margrit Mondavi (telling the Mondavi story from her point of view, rather than that of a certain book author), Gaia Gaja of Piedmont’s acclaimed Gaja family, and Frederick Paniotis of Champagne’s venerable Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin.  

Here’s to Flying the Much Friendlier Skies
Together with the recent launch of the Vino Volo chain of airport wine bars, the high altitude debut of GrapeRadio signals a welcome new direction in air travel.  Thankfully, one that precludes packing a 'chute. 

January 22, 2008

I’ll Take My Massage At Solage

By Courtney Cochran

spa.jpgIn Napa for a conference last week, I stopped by new spa/hotel hot spot Solage in Calistoga to see what all the fuss was about.  The Auberge property, aimed at a younger demographic and completed in mid 2007, has taken some flak for its uber-minimalist design and “bungalows” rumored to recall military barracks more than cozy wine country cottages, so naturally I was eager to check it out and cast my vote.  

On a low note, true to the rumors I found the dwellings and landscaping disappointingly stark, the whole thing reminiscent of a deserted mini-tract-home community where the developers (perhaps prompted by the recent mortgage crisis) left in the night before finishing the landscaping.  The ghost town vibe wasn’t helped by the worrisome lack of guests; aside from myself and four other diners at the poolside BarSolage café there wasn’t a soul stirring on the nearly treeless “environmentally sensitive” grounds.

High Notes: Service & Spa
Happily, unlike the landscaping the service was anything but spare. Everyone I encountered during my visit, from bellhop to waiter to spa attendant, was cheerful and eager to help, in all likelihood relieved just to have someone to attend to.  Whether this level of attention can continue when patronage at Solage picks up (it should be noted that January is wine country’s slowest month for tourism) remains to be seen, but it’s a good sign nonetheless.  

On the whole, the best part of the Solage experience seems to be the spa, which is immaculate, vast, and offers a good variety of standard and more innovative services.  While some of the spot’s treatments sound a little contrived (sample: The Mudslide Experience features treatments administered in the mud “bar” by a “mud-tender”), others such as advanced facials from the school of celeb facialist Kate Somerville are solid additions to local spa offerings.  

Where Minimalism Makes Sense
And it's in the spa where the minimalist vibe that falls short on the rest of the property finds its best expression.  Spas are by nature simple, clean and zen, and so it's probably no surprise that the resort's restrained modernism seems right at home at SpaSolage.  

If they’d only plant a few more trees, I might be able to say the same for the rest of the place.   

January 11, 2008

Cold Therapy

By Courtney Cochran

pills.jpgWhile contemplating the usual suspects in cold therapy at my local Safeway today it dawned on me that my choices couldn't seem less therapeutic.  Their weird, extraterrestrial sounding names - a sampling included oddities Mucinex, Drixoral and Zicam - were an affront to my already congested senses.  Even worse, their homogoneous, sterile-looking packaging only served to make me feel more sick than I already did.  So, in a rare moment of extra-viral clarity, I pulled myself together and hacked and sniffed my way over to a much more inviting place:  the wine aisle.  

In a perfect world, my doctor's prescription for cold relief would include the following:

* warm blanket
* lots of sleep
* sappy romantic comedies along the lines of When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail
* gigantic bottle of full-bodied, fruity red wine, preferably high in alcohol content to encourage aforementioned sleep

Now, I just got off the phone with my doctor and I'm pretty sure her cold season advice did not include the fourth item on my list.  Still, what she doesn't know won't kill her, and so I am, with an enormous smile on my face, currently enjoying a 2004 Ledson "Baldocchi Old Vine" Russian River Valley Zinfandel (ABV 14.9%, thank you very much).  

It may not be Mucinex, but I sure do feel better.