Celebrity Millennium refurbishment

16 07 2012

We were excited to experience the recent refurbishment of Celebrity Millennium, so jumped at the opportunity to ride along on the repositioning along the West Coast to its summer home in Vancouver. The ship had just finished adding the popular Solstice features like Qsine and Cellar Masters. A repositioning cruise, where a ship is moving from one market to another is one of the exceptional bargains in cruising.


The Celebrity brand identity is Modern Luxury and the theme is reflected by the modern subdued decor in the ship. No Vegas glitz and mirrors here. Luxury is featured in the food, wine and service. A growing theme in cruise ships is offering cabins with a unique level of experiences. Celebrity offers this in the Aqua Class® veranda cabins. Aqua Class® guests have unlimited access to the Aqua Spa® Relaxation Room and Persian Garden, along with seating in Blu, the restaurant exclusive to Aqua Class® guests.


We found much to like on the ship. There are plenty of quiet corners to relax and read on sea days. Our favorite hangout was Cafe Al Bacio, the coffee shop and Gelateria. We were able to really enjoy because of another of our favorite features for Celebrity, the All Inclusive Beverage Package. For $44 per person per day (plus 15% gratuity) we got unlimited glasses of premium teas, specialty coffee and glasses of wine and cocktails up to $8 in value. Since our wine and coffee tab can normally exceed our cruise fare, this was a great deal for us. Also offered is the premium package for $54 a day, which we will try on our next Celebrity cruise.


Qsine, the specialty restaurant on deck 11 was one of the top 5 dining experiences of our life. It is a must do experience for foodies! In addition to the unique, mind blowing flavor combinations and creative presentations, we got to enjoy sailing out under the Golden Gate Bridge while we had our meal. A priceless experience.


Cellar Masters features self service dispensers of premium wines. No need to wait for a wine tasting to enjoy an extra special wine. While I would never buy a bottle of Opus One, I would share a glass. The wine selection offers enjoyable quality wine with prices and wines from moderate to exceptional.


We had been wanting to go to San Francisco for months, and are glad we did so by ship. San Francisco is an ideal cruise port. While we were in San Francisco, we enjoyed a view from our balcony that was better than any offered by the expensive hotels downtown. Considering the per day cruise price that included the ride under the Bridge, meals and a room with an awesome view, we got a great deal!  Between walking and cable cars, it is easy to enjoy much of The City by the Bay in a day.


We walked up to the North Beach area and then went to the Ferry Building to enjoy a plate of oysters at Hog Island Oysters. Shore excursions are offered for San Francisco.  Napa and Sonoma shore excursions are also offered for wine lovers. I can see the difficult decision for passengers not from the West Coast. Spring is a beautiful time to be in the Napa area, the vineyards are every bit as picturesque as Italy or France.


One of the signature entertainment features for Celebrity is an a cappella singing group. This group along with a chamber group, a piano player and a classical guitarist rotated through the ship’s public areas during the day and evenings. We rarely enjoy the evening entertainment in the theater, usually opting for the smaller venues. The night we did go to the theater, we found it large enough to accommodate everyone who wanted to see that performance.




El Dorado AVA

1 04 2012

The El Dorado AVA was officially designated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in 1983. El Dorado is a sub group of the larger Sierra Foothills AVA and contains an additional sub group identified as the Fair Play Appellation. The El Dorado AVA contains all the portions of El Dorado county between 1,200 and 3,500 feet. The local winery associations will feature the distinct ‘altitude’ of the AVA.

Grape growing and wine production has been a feature of the area since the 1840’s. There are a few vineyards producing Zinfandel from 100 year old vines. It is these vines that sparked the renewed interest in wine production for the area. With a diversity of altitudes and soil profiles, growers have been successful with almost all the well known grape varieties. Many of the French varieties are represented by plantings in the county. Initially, growers focused on the better know varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Petit Syrah. Recently, growers are finding success with Italian varietals like Sangiovese, and Barbera. You can also find Spanish grapes like Tempranillo. The Burgundian grape Malbec is growing in popularity in the area.

Irrigation is now used in most vineyards, but head pruning and dry farming is still used for some Zinfandel vines. If you see the designation Sierra Zinfandel, it usually signifies a dry farmed vine that will produce a rich, concentrated wine.

I divide the county into several areas. North of Highway 50 is the Camino/Apple Hill area. Here you will find Boeger Winery, who reestablished the area as a premier wine producing area beginning in the 1970’s. Because the Apple Hill area is a destination spot for many visitors to the area, the wineries in this area may charge for tasting or limit the number of tastes. When we taste, we try to buy a couple bottles of wine in return for the wineries hospitality. If you take an interest in the wine, and do not try to act like a know it all, the wineries in this area will often waive the tasting charge if you buy some wine.

South of Highway 50, off Pleasant Valley Road, is the Pleasant Valley area., The Pleasant Valley area growers have focused on Rhone varietals such as Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre,  and Viognier. A popular yearly event is Rocks and Rhones, paying homage to the grapes and the rocky soil in the area.

At the south of the county is the Fair Play Appellation, where the bulk of the county’s wineries are located. The combination of the area’s deep granitic soil and high elevation produce a unique terroir suited for the production of dry table wines.  Vines are often planted on ridge tops to allow the cold air to drain off the vines. The area is known for late spring frosts that can damage early budding grapes.

The smallest area for wine production in the county is the Coloma/Gold Hill area, home to two wineries. Gold Hill Winery produces Chardonnays and Bordeaux reds close to a site that produced wine 150 years ago. David Girard grows Rhone varietals on 38 of his 85 acres and also has an event center.

While wine production has been going on in the Sierra Foothills for over a hundred years, it is only within the last 40 years that scientific study and experimentation has resulted in the successful production of new varieties of wine to the area. I would recommend you try Petite Syrah in wineries producing it. It has become one of my favorite varieties for the area. Growing wine at one of the State’s highest elevations (3000 ft), Madroña Winery  produces some excellent dry Rhine varieties. Do not pass up the opportunity to try the dry Riesling.

Napa Valley Terrior

1 04 2012

The terroir (tare-wa) of an area is the specific combination of geology, climate, soils, and topography that adds unique characteristics to wine.( Terroir is normally italicized because it is borrowed from French.)  The components will be the soil type, depth, drainage, water holding capability, rain totals, minerals in irrigation water and the climates and microclimates within a vineyard. The concept is the basis of the French Appellation d’origine controlee (AOC) system that gives us the famous wine regions. Burgundy, Rhone, Loire, and Bordeaux are a few of the 300 French AOC’s .

Here in the United States, areas are broken into American Viticultural  Areas (AVAs). The AVA designation is awarded by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. To receive an AVA, the region must have unique climate, elevation, soil and other physical characteristics that can distinguish the boundaries of the area. The most famous AVA would be the Napa AVA. http://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2003AM/finalprogram/abstract_60313.htm

The Napa AVA covers a diverse geography. What must be remembered is that within an AVA as large as Napa and even within a single vineyard, there are numerous soil types and depths. The Napa AVA contains 33 different soil series. The topography of Napa ranges from the valley floor, to the rolling foothills, to steep mountains. This diversity creates the controversy over terroir. If you find a wine defined as defining the terroir of an AVA, you must assume it represents the majority of the vineyards. A key component of Napa terroir is the warm days and cooling marine layers that slow down vegetative growth and allow fruit to mature more slowly and with more depth.

The geologic foundation of the Napa AVA consists of three rock bodies. The older two, the upper Mesozoic Franciscan complex and the Great Valley sequence, are composed of mostly marine sandstone and shale which can contain serpentinite and greenstone. The younger, Pliocene Sonoma Volcanics can contain components from basalt to rhyolite. The important discriminator for the vineyards is the soil profile. These are divided into three groups: bedrock, sediment forming alluvial fans and a mixture of deposits.

The Napa Valley AVA is divided into 14 sub appellations. Divisions can be both geographic and political.  As winemaking in the area evolves, so does a tension between those winemakers striving to create a uniform product despite the differences in sunlight, microclimates, and rock patterns and the winemakers striving to create a unique product that can only be found in the grapes coming from a block within a vineyard. As wine drinkers become more sophisticated, it will be interesting to see how this tension is resolved in the market place.


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