Windwalker Vineyards – Somerset

“This wine is too good for toast-drinking my dear. You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that. You lose the taste.”

Ernest Hemingway




Congratulations Windwalker Winery

I have been keeping a close eye on commercial wine competition around California for the past 20 or so years. During that time more and more El Dorado County wineries have earned higher and higher awards as their quality not only increased, but stayed at those high levels.

As far back as I have been keeping track, our wineries have often scored as many high awards at the California State Fair as Napa and Sonoma, and have received a number of “Best of California Awards” for a specific varietal, the most recent being the 2007 Sangiovese from Nello Olivo Vineyards last year.

At other competitions such as the highly respected Orange County Fair, El Dorado County wines have always done well. In 2009 of the nearly 3100 wines entered, only 26 received the top award, a “4 Star Gold Medal.” Of these, two were from El Dorado County, the 2006 Fair Play, Sierra Moon Vineyards, Reserve Petite Sirah from MV Winery and the  2006 Estate Grown, Fair Play Zinfandel from Granite Springs Winery. Two out of 26 out of 3100, not bad.

Unfortunately, El Dorado County wines don’t aways get the best press outside of the county. After all, when “Two Buck Chuck” chardonnay won a big award a few years ago, it made for a more interesting story than how our wines did in a competition.

This year an El Dorado County winery, Windwalker Vineyard and Winery, may have helped prove the case to the media that our wines are as good or even better that others in California when their 2008 Shady Lady Amador County Primitivo received the coveted Best of Show Award for Red Wines at the California State Fair, a competition where 2800 wines competed. It also received 98 out of 100 points from the judges, a double gold medal, Best of Region Sierra Foothills Appellation award, Best of California award and Best of Class Sierra Foothills Appellation award.

A few newspapers and TV stations picked up the news of the award and, because of some confusion in the scoring sheets, some decided the winery was named Shady Lady and was in Amador County. Wrong! The wine is 2008 Windwalker “Shady Lady” Amador County Primitivo. The grapes came from Amador County, but that wine was made at Windwalker Vineyards and Winery on Perry Creek Road in Fair Play.

If you are wondering, a winery making wine from grapes grown other than on their own land is a common practice in the winemaking trade. Not only do El Dorado County wineries do that, a number of wineries in other regions of California use grapes grown in El Dorado County and make wonderful, world class wines. Maybe there is a varietal that just grows better somewhere else or maybe the winemaker just likes those grapes.

Congratulations James and Alanna Taff, owners of Windwalker, and winemaker Dominic Mantei for a job well done.

Sweet Spot Sandwich Shop – Placerville

“Too few people understand a really good sandwich.”

James Beard


Sweet Spot Sandwich Shop

Some time ago someone told me about a place called the Sweet Spot Sandwich Shop, which is located in Placerville’s Creekside Place, the mall where you also find the Creekside Cantina and Café Luna. Their web page says, “Not only will you will be greeted with enthusiasm and passion, you’ll be provided with an inviting setting, delicious custom made sandwiches, gourmet cookies, and other tasty treats.” What they say is true, when I walked in a was enthusiastically greeted by Larry Mosher, who with his wife April, own the business which they opened in January.

Mosher has a passion for the business and is enjoyable to talk with. “We are friends with Kelli of Kelli’s Gourmet Cookies and thought we might like to open a sweets shop,” said Mosher. “We talked with business people downtown and they said a sandwich shop would be nice. We have four kids so we figured we knew all about sandwiches, and when we found this place, it was perfect and had all the equipment.

“My wife April is a professional event planner and I worked in sales and marketing, but I always though ‘If I could have a job where I could talk to people, I would love it,’ and here I am.

“We try to price are sandwiches they way they should be. We kept the price around $5 for a good, big and delicious sandwich so that they are affordable. The only thing we charge extra for is guacamole, and that is only 49 cents more.

“Be buy our breads and make our own croissants, but we plan on making some of our breads in the near future. We are just waiting on some equipment.

“We are not a deli, we are a sandwich shop where you select your bread from a list including a croissant, French roll, wrap, sliced sourdough, gluten-free, rye or a wheat Hoagie, then add the meat: turkey, roast beef, pastrami, salami, ham, tuna, bacon or veggie bacon, and then the cheese: American, Swiss. provolone, Cheddar, pepper jack and even cream cheese. For $1.99 more you can add a soda, iced tea or slushie and chips or fruit and make it a full meal. We also have salads, a half sandwich and salad and kids meals.

“We have Kelli’s gourmet cookies, which are all natural, along with chips, smoothies, slushies, coffee (brewed – frozen and Iced), soda, energy drinks and other tasty treats.”

Sweet Shop Sandwich Shop is family friendly with seating inside and in the courtyard. Set back from the street, it is the ideal place for families, friends, and local businesses to gather for a yummy bite to eat and a break from their daily routine. The hours are from 9 until 4, Monday through Friday and from 11 until 4, Saturday and Sunday. For more information call (530) 316-4541 or visit

Rafferty’s Candies – Garden Valley

“Anyone who uses the phrase ‘easy as taking candy from a baby’ has never tried taking candy from a baby.”

Author unknown


Rafferty’s Candies

Last week I received a call from my long time friend, Rick Siegel of Shoestring fame. He owned Shoestring in Placerville, before selling it to his sister, Debbie, and now his daughter and her husband run the Shoestring restaurant in Garden Valley.

He called to tell me that a brand new candy store opened in the same shopping center as Shoestring, which is located at 4862 Black Oak Mine Road in Garden Valley. He said everything they made was great and that I should come over and sample what they had. Their grand opening was last Sunday, so I drove over there to see for myself and I was delighted.

Brad and Lori Rafferty run the business, but for the opening Brad’s father, Raff, was there to help (while everyone else had the list of items on the back of their tee shirt, his said, “Raff’s Back”).

Raff opened the first Rafferty’s Candies in 1967 at Sun Valley Mall in Concord, CA. After that he opened stores in places like Modesto and El Cajon, and at one time had four stores going.

“Brad grew up in the business,” said Lori, Rafferty, “and ever since I met him has talked about opening a candy store of his own. Now we have done it, right here in Garden Valley where we live. And, the community support has been fantastic. We have only been open three weeks and people are finding us and loving what we make.”

While I was there Raff was making pecan brittle and I got to watch the process. After the brittle was cooked, it was poured from a copper kettle out onto a marble slab. “We had to special order the slab from Vermont,” said Lori. “It is three by eight feet and had to be four inches thick to properly cool the brittle. It weighs about 700 pounds.”

As the brittle cooled, it was flipped, pulled, pressed and thinned and then cut into pieces, which would be then broken in the proper size. The whole process took just a few minutes and it was thin and delicious, as were several other brittles I tried.

They have peanut, cashew, almond, macadamia nut and pecan brittles, with more to come, English toffee, honeycomb, fudge, pecan caramel delights, “ugly cups” (chocolate and peanut butter treats that are only a bit “ugly,” but I am sure are delicious), rocky road, divinity, chocolate covered nuts, caramel and cinnamon apples and lots more. Oh yes, milk, dark and white chocolate. All of this is on the top shelf.

On the second shelf are items they don’t make like salt water taffy (regular and sugar free), Jelly Bellys, jawbreakers, gummy worms, chocolate malt balls, pastels, cinnamon bears, orange sticks, raspberry sticks, licorice bridge mix and even more.

They will be adding more items as they go along and yes, everything I tried was excellent, especially the dark chocolate honeycomb and the dark chocolate English toffee.

“We’ve got candy making down to an art,” added Lori. “Once people try our hand-dipped chocolates and hand-stretched, thin brittle, they won’t be satisfied with any others.”

Rafferty’s Candies is open daily from 11 until 5 ( “If we’re here, we are open,” added Lori) and can be reached at (530) 333-1633 or visited at