By mere definition “transcendent” is surpassing the ordinary, exceptional.

Nancy and I had that “transcendent” experience when we traveled to one of our favorite places, Los Olivos located in the Santa Ynez Valley. We usually go to a number of tasting rooms in the area made famous by the movie, Sideways. Each tasting room offers a number of opportunities to taste our favorite wines, chardonnay and pinot noir. There are other varietals, of course, but we found the Santa Rita Hills region east of Santa Barbara to be a bastion of small boutique wineries featuring the afore mentioned wines.

The chardonnay and pinot noir from this region reflect a wonderful level of intensity and focus germane to this subject because of soil, climate, and technique. This trip seemed different however.

Each winery we went to (our favorites) from Brewer Clifton, Melville, to Barbieri wines seemed to be out of focus serving pedestrian wines that didn’t reflect the pedigree we had come to expect and enjoy.

Sensing our disappointment one of the cellar hosts from Melville suggested we try a small winery which offered tastings by appointment only. He said that this wine maker was making some of the best wines in the region but few outside the region knew about his expertise. He gave us the wine makers number and provided an introduction so that we could text this gentlemen, Matt McKinney.

This proved to be a game changer. I have been to many wineries in California from Mendocino, the Russian River area and other benches in Sonoma County, Napa, Lake County, Murphys (the gold country), and of course the Santa Rita Hills. Never have I experienced the quality in every varietal I tasted until I had the pleasure of meeting Matt McKinney. He graciously accepted us and gave us the instructions that were necessary to find his family’s estate.

Matt graduated from UCLA (a history major). At UCLA he played basketball for one of the most storied programs in all of collegiate sports. In addition to basketball Matt was also a world class volleyball player. To hear the story of his championship in Puerto Rico and how this led to a bet he had with his dad to plant the back part of their property in wine grapes is a story best told by Matt himself.

Matt instructed us to come to his home, drive up the gravel driveway and in the back he’d meet us next to the horse barn. Matt has converted the original horse barn into a wine making facility with as he calls it, “The World’s smallest commercial wine making equipment.”

Three converted horse stalls translate to a wine making facility and educational forum for wine enthusiasts, a storage room filled with past and present varietals, and his current living quarters. The McKinney’s fortuitously purchased what was originally a horse ranch with 10 acres in 1993.

In 2010 Matt planted a half acre which would inspire him to become an active participant in the wine world or as I like to affectionately call people of this ilk… a cork dork.

Matts gift of personality, enthusiasm, and hard work led him to work with some of the finest winemakers in the region. This coupled with a soon to be discovered talent for this art form became a mantra for excellence displayed in every bottle of wine produced.

Each wine Matt has crafted has a well thought out story which revolves around history. One story I will relate is about one of his fifteen hand crafted wines entitled, “Napoleon’s Secret”. This wine is a classic Bordeaux blend with Cabernet, Cab Franc, Petite Verdot, Malbec, and Merlot.

However, according to Matt in those times if the wine seemed lacking in the deep rich color associated with the fine wines of Bordeaux they would reach out to the Rhone region of France. They would then bring Syrah grapes (established Rhone varietal) to richen the color but would never admit to adding this varietal to the now famous Bordeaux blend. Hence the name Matt has given this wine, “Napoleon’s Secret”. In this case the Syrah comes from Matt’s own estate vineyard and is blended into the traditional Bordeaux blend.

From Rhone varietals, Burgundian, Bordeaux blends, and even Super Tuscans from Italy, Matt McKinney Family Vineyards is a winery that captures the imagination and leaves you with only one conclusion… these wines are transcendent.

You can access Matt’s wines through his web site at

I suggest you become a wine club member as Matt only sells to wine club members.

This blog is sponsored by PAZAZ™ “The Magic of Cooking” kitchen tools for the discerning chef. Please go to to purchase these world class kitchen tools perfect for those very special dinners pairing wine with food.


Enjoy Life

Every once in a while you deserve to treat yourself to the joy’s that bring a smile to your face. Today we were in Coronado walking along the beach. I don’t know too many places where your inner smile appears and you laugh the laugh that comes from the place of a child.

Certainly the coast is one of those places. The negative ions comfort us as they whisper from the crash of the surf. This whisper is the siren song that captures us with the sound, smell, and limitless view of wave upon wave making its way to the shore.

The waves, the waves, occurring and occurring always threaten to drown me… until I realize that I am the ocean.

Each step across that sandy beach takes us farther away from the rigors of daily life and closer to where we belong, at peace and living in the spirit of creativity. It is in that special inner sanctum that we believe that anything is possible and that what we deserve is unconditional happiness. To live in that moment is a gift, breathing the salty air, delicious, like a caramel treat that melts in your mouth leaving an unctuous memory behind.

The beach offers a story that is complex and yet seems so simple as a sensory experience. The sea gulls glide across the crest of the waves and eventually land on the shore searching for morsels provided by Neptunes limitless bounty. Dotted along the sand are shells, stones, and seaweed. We carefully traverse this display every once in a while spotting a crab scurrying along the froth and into a vanishing sand hole. Driftwood from places beyond our site add mystery to the vastness of the ocean in full display.

Of course its not just about the sea in Coronado to me… it’s also about the spirit that each person feels when they come and build their dream homes. Each home is a representation of the homeowners creativity, beginning with where they came from, where they are, and where they’re legacy will take them. Certainly, Coronado is a very special place with the energy that comes from people that dream big surrounded by the beauty of a magical destination.

In our own way we can create that magic as we plan a vacation that will bring us solitude, enabling the possibilities we deserve, helping us recharge that very special battery that powers our heart. Each step along the way brings us the wisdom to live in the moment, secure in the belief that some how, some way, seemingly random acts collectively make a difference to ourselves and all those we love and care about.

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Enthusiasm is a Gift that Makes Everything Seem Different

Relationships with anything or anyone begins with a learning curve that expands your horizons. Connections with people, music, books, places, topics of other interest be it spiritual or intellectual expand your parameters of knowledge which helps to create an unusual gift, enthusiasm.

When I was knee high to a grasshopper my enthusiasm lay in the art of discovery. It was the discovery of the simplest of experiences: What does mud smell like? What does water from the creek taste like? What do your feet feel like when you run through the sand at the beach?

As we grow up we use those thousands of sensory references to jump to the next plateaus of discovery.

It was within that framework of discovery that I fell in love with music.

Watching my parents perform for their friends after diner parties was a gift I will never forget. My mom was a concert pianist and my dad an accomplished violinist. They certainly made beautiful music together. I would love the way my mom would smile and accentuate certain chords on the piano as my dad closed his eyes and swayed to the music like the spirit of the wind that rustles the trees effortless and hypnotic.

Their love and enthusiasm for their craft was inspirational every time they began their accent into a musical interlude. This intervening period of time would bring a wave of energy that captivated their friends and brought such joy in its capability to bring musical memories alive.

I remember the first time I fell in love with playing the violin. My mom was helping me with my violin lesson for the week when I played a song that was part of that week’s assignment. It was surreal because I couldn’t believe that I could create such beautiful music. The song was Autumn Leaves and that song launched my love for the violin and the possibility that someday I could affect people like my parents did during those after dinner concerts.

Sometimes a musical beat flows into books with a rhythm that prevents you from putting the book down, the enthusiasm we feel when we glean a message or experience that catapults us into another dimension. A dimension that is so in-tune with that author’s vivid descriptions that we fall into a trance lost in the message be it real or imagined.

These steps of discovery lead to an evolution of ideas enthusiastic and captivating as our friends and family listen to the spark that led to this tale of fact or fiction. In regurgitating this experience we heighten our own enthusiasm because as we come to find out the best part of life is sharing those events with those we love and care about.

Somehow it is in this moment that we share with others that we experience a joy that only comes with giving.

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My Dad’s Tomatoes

Through-out this short life we tend to remember certain things in retrospect that trigger wonderful memories of a person, time, or event. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, its a combination of all three.

In early spring in San Rafael California (where I grew up) my dad would ceremoniously begin the ritual of planting the tomatoes. They were always specific varieties that he preferred usually the Beefsteak tomato and the Cherry tomato.

First my dad would till the ground and use the compost he had so carefully created using a combination of fruits, vegetables and eggshells. This was prior to anyone that I knew of creating a compost pile for just such an application.

This process of creating the compost was laborious in nature. My dad would take uneaten fruit, vegetables, and eggshells from lunch or dinner and dispose of them under the sink into a plastic container. Then, when it was full, he would dispose of the compost down below the house in what we used to call “The Picnic Grounds”. This was really a forested area with a large oak tree surrounded by bayleaf trees, pine, and blackberries. At one time there was a tetherball set up but it had decomposed long before the fruits, vegetables, and eggshells.

My dad was the first organic tomato grower I knew as he never used any pesticides. The only exception regarding pesticides was the ant spray he used to kill the 10,000,000 ants forming a conga line up our driveway.

After tilling the soil and the integration of the compost he would then plant the tomatoes in two separate places on the property. One place was in front of my mom and dad’s bedroom on the north east part of the property outside their side door. This was a perfect place as there were two fences to keep the deer out and protect this very special commodity.

The other place was on our deck in the backyard. That is where he would plant in containers his favorite cherry tomatoes. They were trellised and carefully tied to hoops that would keep the stem from falling to the ground. This would provide more contact with the sunlight for the very special red beacons of deliciousness to thrive and flourish.

Everyday he would tend to those tomatoes watering and picking off any unwanted creatures. This ritual provided the love and caring that would result in the explosion of flavor to this day unequaled.

I remember this part of my life as another example of the fact that the simplest events in our lives we can cherish as proof that expressions of love go beyond the present boundaries of time.

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