So, if you follow the wine blogs, magazines, or just plain wine speak in general you’ll know that one of California’s greatest gifts is simultaneously our bane. Yep, in a word? Zinfindels.

I mean, come on! Our weather, our terroir, naturally we would produce class-A Zins, magical, yummy, jammy, get-this-party-started-pieces-of-heaven-in-a-bottle. Or so I hear that’s the technical term. Our Zinfindels helped put California on the map wine-wise back in the day. That said, they are a double-edged sword. In recent years we have seen a great of flack, much of it deserved, for serving up gratuitous fruit-bombs.

OZV- proving California right

OZV- proving California right

A good Zin is jammy. It explodes on the palette, refusing to be ignored. It demands attention and rightly so because it is so, so, so delish. On the other hand a fruit bomb, which has become a sad pattern in recent years with young wineries jumping on the big Zin band wagon, is a wine so jammy you almost need a fork. It’s syrupy, no nuances, sicky sweet. God forbid you wait a year or two to drink it. The fruit bombs do NOT age well.

Okay, so that’s what you DON’T want. easy enough. You get the picture. OZV is like that, only completely opposite in the most delightful Alice in Wonderland kind of way. It’s big. It commands attention with its berry loveliness and its faint trace of spice. It’s full with a smooth finish. It warrants sharing with friends… but only the cool ones, not those wimpy ones who show up at a party with cheap Chardonnay.

No bueno.

Gretchen & Janine- good friends, good wine!

Gretchen & Janine- good friends, good wine!

Now mind you, OZV is a blend, mostly Zin, but with a mix of Petite Syrah as well. And a well done blend indeed. Also, they’ve avoided the fruit bomb curse of high-alcohol California wines (15%, even 16% alcohol). It’s 13% and can be purchased at Cost Plus for about ten dollars per bottle. Sigh. Contentment. Lack of stress. Yea.

My husband and I had a barbecue last weekend. We entertained about forty people in our backyard. Super fun, great guests, the best, most interesting and adorable friends- the kind of people who remind you how great life truly is, even with death and taxes. One of them brought OZV- bless her. Bless Trader Joe’s where YOU can purchase said wine at an affordable price. That’s the best kind of price. Enjoy!


This post was written by Erika Gardner.  If you enjoyed it, please sign up to receive updates on this blog.  Or you can follow Erika on Twitter @Erika_Gardner or “Like” her Facebook page Erika Gardner- Writer and Storyteller.  Check out her contributions to the BBB Blog.


Erika Gardner

Erika Gardner




This week’s Musical Monday springs from a personal source. I am thrilled to be able to showcase the debut novel, Nor-Cal, by my friend, Sean Finnegan. Sean and I are both Bay Area natives. We went to the same junior high school in Santa Rosa, but to be honest I don’t think we ever spoke. I always knew who he was though. How could this Irish girl miss a cute Irish boy named Sean Patrick Finnegan? We went to different high schools. Eventually, I attended a college in Northern California and he headed south. Years later, as so often seems to be the case, we ran across one another on Facebook through mutual friends. Once we realized we both had become writers we began to compare notes on our professional journeys.

Last spring Sean launched his first novel, Nor-Cal, on Amazon. Finnegan writes with a kind of stream of consciousness, but with more shades of Jack Kerouac than Faulkner. Real and raw, the author doesn’t pull any punches so while the age of the protagonist and the coming of age theme might lead one to include this in Young Adult, parents might want to take a look at it first. I can say that this read will spark some very necessary and honest conversations between loved ones on life & death, sex, drugs, and the gaps between generations, not to mention the clash of value systems. Call it the male perspective on coming of age, a boy’s Some Girls Are and potentially as controversial.

Nor-cal by Sean Finnegan

Nor-cal by Sean Finnegan

Click Here to Buy This Book!!!

Thanks so much, Sean, for agreeing to do this interview on my site. Because I am not up to the magic of podcasts and Finnegan lives a state away- we went old school:

1.) Nor-cal is clearly a very personal story for you. How much is memoir and how much is fiction? Where does Pavel O’Shea leave off and Sean Finnegan begin? 

  • I’d say that the character of Pavel is a composite divided into thirds; one third me and my experiences/ one third my sister’s perspective and disciplined nature/ and one third based on the life of a guy I worked with in a restaurant. I have a strange writing style which utilizes a Cuisinart to puree’ true events with complete fiction.

2.) Pavel seemed to have more positive relationships with many of the women in his life than the men, even those men closest to him. Was this on purpose? What did you mean to say about your main character with this dynamic?

  • I grew up in a family almost entirely comprised of women. My father left when I was young. My grandfather left before I was even born. A lot of guys I knew growing up in the 80’s not only had divorced parents, but fathers that were almost entirely absent from their lives. James Hetfield is in this documentary called “Absent Dads” and it blew me away to learn he had a similar story to mine and that of a lot of my friends. I’m just reporting on this phenomenon more than trying to say anything about it. But I read this quote by Lemmy from Motorhead who said: “Not only do I lust after women, but I actually like women, like talking with them.” And I’d whole-heartedly agree with that. I’ve always had a few women in my life who weren’t relatives or girlfriends, but just damn good friends. And I don’t read about those relationships too often in most “young man/coming of age stories.” My friendships with men are awesome, crucial, instinctive, hysterical and vital. But rarely are they jam packed with moments of tenderness. So, when those moments occur they carry a lot of weight.

3.) Nor-cal is billed as a book centered around the SF music scene, thrash metal and punk rock in particular, but it could be argued that the book truly centers around the SF drug scene. Is that a fair statement? How deep do you think the classic link between rock-n-roll and drugs really lies?

  • Let’s face it, rock and roll and drugs have ALWAYS gone hand in hand. Not that drugs are required for good rock music, but the influence is definitely there. Jimmy Page and heroin, Bob Marley and pot, The Grateful Dead and LSD, there was a lot of coke and speed in the Bay Area thrash metal scene, that’s for sure. But see, I don’t think all drug use is bad; matter of fact when used in a safe manner I think there can be extremely positive benefits to moderate drug use. Damn near everyone drinks in this country and nobody’s too upset about booze even though it kills more people each year than ALL the illicit drugs combined. That being said, I think some drugs are completely worthless, I’m talking methamphetamine, cocaine and cigarettes. Although I’ve never shot heroin, I’d like to include that one in the “worthless” category as well except for the fact that most of the musical geniuses of the 20th century were all smack addicts. But the problem with heroin is you never really hear of a casual heroin user, most people destroy their lives behind that one. Anytime a person crosses into unmanageable addiction, it’s always terrible. And because this story is set in the mid-80’s, I focused on the extremely rapid and negative affects crack and freebase cocaine had on the drug culture at that time. It was a complete game changer which took down a lot of good people.

4.) The book describes iconic California scenery and landmarks. Do you think most of America has a clear picture of Northern California? Do you think Nor-cal paints one? What aspects of California in the 1980’s did you especially want to play up? Why?

  • I know people from all over the country, all over the world and nobody knows a goddamn thing about Northern California. Okay, maybe the wine country and the Golden Gate? But the vision most people have of California is of Southern California, a big sandy beach. I dig So-Cal, lived there for ten years and still love to visit the place, see my friends down there. I’m certainly not an L.A. hater by any means. But I just wanted to share everything I could about the locale where we both grew up, Erika. I think there’s a good taste of it in the book. San Francisco and Humboldt County seem to epitomize the extremes of Nor-Cal to me. And I really wanted to reference the tone of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, a more conservative era people hardly remember anymore, when the Soviet Union was our sworn enemy and pot was totally illegal under threat of a severe jail sentence, ten years before medical marijuana.

5.)  One of the challenges Pavel must over come is grief and loss. Do you think the young are better or less equipped to deal with these emotions? What about Pavel allows him to soldier through his bereavement?

  • I don’t know if anyone is well equipped to deal with grief or loss. Personally, I’m terrible at it. I lost nine very close family members and friends during the writing of this book from forty-one yrs old to forty-five yrs old and these losses obviously affected the course of the story. Writing the novel was my saving grace, a life preserver nobody could take from me. My girlfriend dumped me 3 weeks before John Lucanic (film school best friend/ multiple Key Arts award-winning editor/ Santa Rosa High School graduate) died at thirty-eight. The pain was intolerable after losing my 1st cousin, father, grandmother, and a few other extremely close friends only months before. Having this self-appointed job of writing and finishing a novel kept me going. For Pavel, I think the combination of his running habit and the candle flickering in his heart, this quest to find his place in the world keeps him moving forward. I think when a person is truly devastated any positive routine, habit, or ritual is essential to navigating the bereavement.

6.) In Nor-cal Pavel O’Shea is a very intelligent guy who occasionally does pretty dumb things. For much of the novel education is not a priority, although it’s talked about a lot. Do you think by the end Pavel has changed his mind on that score? Why?

  • I love that you asked this question. I think people mainly run on their emotional make-up as opposed to their level of intelligence. I think intelligence is great for learning a new app, tying your shoelace, speaking in a foreign language, curing cancer, or mapping the route to Yellowstone. But I don’t think it dominates our base level decision making. Occasionally, I guess intelligence can override one’s autonomic programming, but I think that rarely happens.

6.) We authors tend to refine and rewrite endlessly. Sometimes it’s hard to walk away from a book, even after it’s done. Now that Nor-cal is out, is there anything about it you wish you could rewrite just one more time?

  • Well, my Mac kept “freezing” two weeks before my launch date. About 5% of my Spellchecks were lost and a few errors snuck through. I’ve had six readers check for mistakes and luckily most of their notes overlapped. I’m relaunching this more “perfect” version in September. But as far as content….I spent three years writing, a year re-writing, and another year editing and proofreading. The story I wanted to tell is all there. I’ve already moved on to my next novel.

7.) What’s next for you as far as literary aspirations? Will we see more of Pavel? What can fans expect?

  • I never really thought about Pavel’s story continuing. But now you’ve got me considering it.  Hopefully, the reader envisions his life beyond the last page of “Nor-Cal”. My next book will be out early next year, it follows a thirty year-old surfer in Venice Beach. But after that I’ll depart from the coming-of-age story. My third book is a woman’s story. It’s been outlined on index cards for many years. I also have a couple of Sci-Fi stories outlined.

8.) There’s a lot of great music mentioned in the book: Armored Saint, Metallica, Marley, Motown, and Cash just to name a few. Who are you listening to these days? Who are your go-to classic favorites?

  • I try listening to as much modern music as possible but it rarely takes hold. I’ve become that cranky fuck who mainly likes music from his own era. And as much as I love thrash metal and punk, I also listen to a ton of jazz, old-school country, reggae, Motown, funk, soul and folk. I love classic rock and 90’s alternative and probably every band from Seattle. But my mainstays are Sabbath, Pat Metheny Group, Nirvana, Miles Davis, Tammy Wynette, Fleetwood Mac, Van Halen, Motown, Suicidal Tendencies, Steely Dan, Metallica, Zeppelin, Ani DiFranco, Hendrix, D.R.I., Pantera, Curtis Mayfield and Joni Mitchell.  Thanks for reading the book, Erika. I really appreciate it!


Sean Finnegan, author of "Nor-Cal"Sean Finnegan, author of "Nor-Cal"

Sean Finnegan, author of “Nor-Cal”


Sean Finnegan was born in San Francisco and raised in Sonoma County. Finnegan studied screenwriting at CSU Long Beach. After working ten years in television, Nor-Cal is his first novel. When not writing, the Portland-based author spends his time fishing throughout the Pacific Northwest. To keep up with all things Finnegan, you can follow him on his Amazon author page. To purchase Nor-Cal click on the following Amazon link to buy Nor-Cal on

Okay, so we’ve learned about an awesome book, talked to a stellar author, and told you how to get your mitts on said awesome book. Only one thing remains… C’mon, Erika, what’s our Musical Monday tune going to be?

Well, let me tell you,my one beef with Nor-Cal… some bastard character called my beloved Scorpions “80’s Glam Rock.” Ummm, NO! Scorps’ pedigree extends a decade before that and they do completely rock. The quality of the music deserves more than such dismissive categorization. I can’t have my Scorpions placed on the same shelf as Poison and Warrant. Hell to the no. That said, this week’s song is… Coming Home by the Scorpions since Nor-Cal has a lot of home in it for me.




Erika Gardner

Erika Gardner

This post was written by Erika Gardner.  If you enjoyed it, please sign up to receive updates on this blog.  Or you can follow Erika on Twitter @Erika_Gardner or “Like” her Facebook page Erika Gardner- Writer and Storyteller.  Check out her contributions to the BBB Blog.



Happy Hump Day! For me Wednesday is the day when one can truly hunker down and plan out one’s weekend. Monday is spent mourning the passing of the previous weekend and Tuesday is the day actual work gets done, so Wednesday is the time to look forward once more.

Let’s wet your weekend whistle with another tantalizing wine for your pleasure. Like most of my Wine on Wednesday finds, this one resulted from a night of delicious food, fabulous conversation, and lovely friends. Recently, I spent the evening at the Coco Cabana (a local restaurant with Latin flair). Our waitress turned out to be the adorable Miranda.

I mention her because her bar staff cracked me and my friends up. Their wine list showcased two Spanish blends. Now, Spain is a land of wonderful wines, but there is a huge range in the type of grapes that might be included in something labeled “Spanish blend.” Naturally, in order to make a more educated selection, I asked which varietals were included in each wine.

If you work in a nice restaurant and tend their bar, let me give you a quick tip on a couple of things NOT to do.

1.) If the customer orders a specific bottle of wine and you are out of it, do not send the server back to the table with the message, “it’s not very good anyway.” If the customer specifically asked for it, chances are it’s a wine they know and enjoy.  Don’t make them feel badly regarding their choice. If you ran out then clearly SOME ONE enjoyed this wine.

2.) When the customer asks you what kind of wines are included in your Spanish blend, DON’T say, “Spanish ones.” Especially if the types of grapes are actually printed on the bottle in large letters, see my photo below.

3.) If a customer asks you for a taste of wine- for the love of God- if it’s an open bottle, SMELL the wine. If it smells of vinegar and/or makes you want to puke- Do NOT serve the wine.

These are simple things, oh tender of the bar, but they will be appreciated by your customers- I promise.

As I mentioned our waitress proved to be very patient and professional. We gave up on tasting the one mystery Spanish wine and ordered the wine whose varietals were printed in large letters on the front of the bottle (mind you, wine lists do not typically include pictures so that’s why I asked). Those two types of wine were Tempranillo (which IS a Spanish wine) and Cabernet Sauvignon (which is NOT a Spanish wine). The combination sounded tempting to me. To our delight after all that, the wine turned out to be fantastic. So fantastic, in fact, that you are going to read about it here. Yes, it was Wine-On-Wednesday worthy.

The Spanish Quarter- Cab Sauvignon & Tempranillo

The Spanish Quarter- Cab Sauvignon & Tempranillo

The wine in question is the 2012 Spanish Quarter Cabernet-Tempranillo blend distributed by a company called Aveniu. This distributor is owned by one of Spain’s oldest wine companies, Codorníu, which dates back to the 1500’s. That’s staying power for you. Their specialty is cava. Call it the Spanish equivalent to champagne.

I had a girlfriend comment on my last wine post that she liked learning a fresh bit of vino knowledge, so I’ll give you a couple of new terms here regarding Codorníu and their wines. Today’s post is brought to you by the words Tempranillo and Super-Rioja.

Tempranillo is to Spain what Sangiovese is to Italy- meaning, it’s everywhere and intrinsically tied to the local food and wine-making culture. Likewise a Rioja can arguably be called the Chianti of Spain, meaning that it is a definable, regulated common table wine. Just as Italian winemakers sought to create a higher quality, more experimental wine by introducing the “Super-Tuscans,” their Spanish brethren are getting funky with blends and coming up with “Super-Riojas.” Codorníu possesses a big enough name, enough Spanish mojo, to enable their smaller boutique style wineries to source some truly quality grapes. Better grapes=better wines.

Tempranillo is a perfect starting place for an exciting blend. It is a medium-bodied wine, not a lot of tannins, not too dry or too fruity. It pairs with a wide array of foods. It’s what I like to call a Gateway Wine. By this I mean that if you are just beginning to seek out table wines, this is a great place to begin. Many novice wine-drinkers head straight to the names they’ve heard bandied about the most, usually Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Those two are the heavies of the wine world, the biggest, most complicated wines. You work your way up to them. Starting with them may mean a newbie will think they don’t like wine, when in fact your palette just wasn’t ready for it. Start with a nice Pinot Grigio or Tempranillo and you’ll enjoy yourself much more.

This is one of the reasons the Spanish Quarter blend succeeds so well. Take a perfectly nice Tempranillo and add some Cab and you’ve amped the wine up. The earthy smokiness of Tempranillo will combine with the complexity, structure and fruit of the Cab. The majority of the aging is done in steel tanks. That way you don’t have the taste of oak competing for its spot in the flavor mix. The wine is only in barrels the last couple of months before bottling. The result is a lush wine that still works well with a variety of foods. It’s nice and tight with great fruit. Best of all- you can buy this wine for just $9.99 a bottle. Yep, you read right, $9.99 a bottle. I am buying myself a Spanish Quarter stash- I can tell you that for sure.

You’re welcome. Have a great weekend!


Erika Gardner

Erika Gardner


This post was written by Erika Gardner.  If you enjoyed it, please sign up to receive updates on this blog.  Or you can follow Erika on Twitter @Erika_Gardner or “Like” her Facebook page Erika Gardner- Writer and Storyteller.  Check out her contributions to the BBB Blog.

I first watched David Letterman in the early eighties at a sleepover at my friend Lisa’s house. Must have been seventh or eighth grade. We were up too late. That experience proved to be a game changer for me, a paradigm shifter. He did silly stuff, I mean really silly stuff. Anyone remember the velcro suit? How about the alka seltzer suit? The magnet suit? Then in college… I started listening to the words. A perfect evening was getting nachos at the dorm’s restaurant, The Junction, and then watching Letterman. It made the first class hell the next day, but it was worth it. Everyone else (that mattered) talked about the same show. We all had opinions. We drank another coca-cola and powered through the day, only to do the same thing the next night. Ah, youth.

I continued with Letterman over the years- when he switched networks and came on an hour earlier- wow, life saver! Way to completely screw it up, NBC. When Carson tells you who he wants as a successor, you go with Carson’s pick, no matter how nice Leno is. Amateurs.

Scroll forward to 1999. Late nights I nursed my infant son, then a daughter came along, and another daughter. During those bleary-eyed times I would watch Letterman and occasionally catch a show on Comedy Central, The Daily Show With John Stewart. I had no idea who this mouthy little man was, but I liked him. He talked me off the ledge after 2000 when Gore won the popular vote and ultimately, it turned out, the electoral college but still lost the election because of the two candidates he worried about what a protracted squabble could do to the country. George W. just cared about George W. That was a case of laugh or cry. Dave and John  helped us laugh.

They kept us laughing over the eight years of George W.  Thank heaven or I would have been on prescription meds and drinking a lot more. Between Dave’s nuanced commentary and John’s outright indignation and hilarious fact checking- I’m still sane.

The thing about both of these men is that they managed to simultaneously look at the problems before us while not causing us to gauge our collective eyes out in reaction. Somehow Dave and John managed to keep me thinking, to engage my sense of outrage & civic responsible. They issued a call to action without making me give way to despair at the unconscionable, just arrogant, pratness of our leaders. By the way, as an aside, prat is defined as a person’s buttocks, and it is British slang for an incompetent, stupid, foolish person, as in idiot. Yeah, I know, I learned something, too. God, I love words.

So, if I call you a prat, now you know what you are getting.

Dave did it subtly, through satire. John did a better job explaining the news for a comedy show than most news anchors did on their nightly beat.

Now, they’re both off the air. First Dave, now John. Off to better things, but I am sad. Yet, they have permanently changed my mind-set. Begin everything with doubt. Don’t cry, laugh, then take action. Investigate, laugh some more. Be educated. Educate those around you. Read. Be the informed voter. Hear that Fox News?

The two have a long history. Both appeared on one another’s shows. When MTV canceled the John Stewart Show, Letterman turned up as his final guest. Letterman coached the depressed host, “Never confuse cancellation with failure.”

In honor of a New Jersey boy (Stewart) and an All-Amercian from Indiana (Letterman) I have chosen, who else? Springsteen. I chose Bruce’s classic The River. The Boss is retelling real lives, real struggles, and in the midst of life’s lovely chaos we still need to be vigilant and to fact check our media, our politicians, and, most importantly, the guys paying for it all.

Thank you, gentleman- much love.

Thank you, gentleman- much love.

And boys, gosh, I will miss you- every day. Thank you. And, good night.


This post was written by Erika Gardner.  If you enjoyed it, please sign up to receive updates on this blog.  Or you can follow Erika on Twitter @Erika_Gardner or “Like” her Facebook page Erika Gardner- Writer and Storyteller.  Check out her contributions to the BBB Blog.

Erika Gardner

Erika Gardner


Janine & Rose agree- Baker Lane is yummy!

Janine & Rose agree- Baker Lane is yummy!

Recently I made it out on the town with the gals. Each of these ladies has a child or children who ran middle school track. This is relevant because I too have children who run plus I coach Track and Cross Country for our local middle school. See, you just learned something new about me.

Anyhow, we’re doing our thing in the local downtown. We’ve got the good food on the table, awesome company all around, and lo, & behold- out comes the good wine. Yes! We ran through two bottles of this week’s wine, a lovely Pinot Noir which hails from my old stomping grounds, Sonoma County, California. Way to represent, Sebastopol!

We enjoyed the 2013 Pinot Noir Cuvee. The word “cuvee” is French and means batch or vat. Typically in California wine-making this means that the wine is a blend, usually of grapes from different vineyards. In Europe it is often used to denote a higher quality wine. However, word to the wise, the use of this term is unregulated, so just because some twit put cuvee on his bottle doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be getting topnotch wine.

The restaurant we chose that evening, Oasis on Main Street, Pleasanton, featured middle-eastern cuisine. The rich spice palate needed just the right wine pairing. Baker Lane Pinot features high acidity with a complex layers of peppery goodness and luscious fruit. I caught some berry notes, but the fruit was even brighter than typical berry- pomegranate? Cranberries? That sort fruitiness. The wine has a lovely finish, very smooth. This is a bottle to linger over.

The Oasis wine list sold Baker Lane as a $45 bottle, not bad considering restaurant mark-ups. However, you can buy it for $28 on the winery’s website. Not a price to make sangria out of, but certainly affordable for when friends come to call. It is available on a couple of  wine retailers’ sites but you’ll pay a couple of bucks more for it. Might as well go straight the source on this one.

In short- I am giving this nine yummies out of ten on the yummy scale that I just this instant made up. Enjoy and have a lovely summer!

Baker Lane 2013 Pinot Noir

Baker Lane 2013 Pinot Noir


This post was written by Erika Gardner.  If you enjoyed it, please sign up to receive updates on this blog.  Or you can follow Erika on Twitter @Erika_Gardner or “Like” her Facebook page Erika Gardner- Writer and Storyteller.  Check out her contributions to the BBB Blog.

Erika Gardner

Erika Gardner

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