My adventure began when I found the web site for Carter Cellars was not working. I called Mark Carter, the owner, to let him know and he soon returned my call. Well, forty-five minutes later we were buddies and hed invited me up to taste his wine and be his guest at his fabulous hotel in Eureka.
Its a long trek from Santa Rosa to Eureka, over 200 miles, but with just two bucolic towns and some winding roads through more and more beautiful redwood forests, it only took three enjoyable hours to get there.
I received a cheery welcome from my British phone pal, Nicola, who personally escorted me to my room. Room does not do justice to the wonderful place Nicola brought me. As she went through the numerous features of the opulent suite I thought, my God, Im in paradise! A canopied bed! Ive never slept in a canopied bed.
This is a place you have to visit! Carter House Inns has received the grand award rating from the Wine Spectator magazine, the only establishment between San Francisco and Seattle to do so!
Mark was busy so I wandered down to the warm luxurious lobby. Complementary wine and hors doeuvres were being served in front of a big fireplace. No gas logs here.
I soon found myself in a delightful conversation with a couple from New York. He was a retired executive with a love of wines and a globe trotting past that had exposed him to the best of Europes great wines. To my astonishment, he went on and on about how wonderful this trip to California was and how great our wines were.
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Mark and his close friend Dan Blane soon joined me and the adventure began with Mark popping the cork on a bottle of his superb Cabernet. Heres how he describes it: Extraordinary richness, concentration, and complexity in a harmonious equilibrium between new oak, alcohol, tannin, acidity, and extract. Incredibly saturated black-purple-ruby color and intense aromatics of currant, plum, black cherry, spice, mint, cedar, and cassis, with ripe blackberry jam and floral notes. A velvety-textured, deeply flavored, and seamless wine - complex and full-bodied, with loads of concentrated fruit, firm tannins, and perfectly integrated acidity. A marriage of power and elegance.
My palate went to heaven and I knew right then that the long drive had been worth it.
Heres Marks story.
Mark has a penchant for Samuel and Joseph C. Newsom designs. He came across plans by these architects that detailed an 1884 mansion that had stood in the middle of San Francisco until the great earthquake and fire of 1906. Inspired by these old drawings, he built Carter House, a romantic bed and breakfast inn that opened in 1982 to rave reviews.
Always ready for new challenges, Mark built Hotel Carter across the street, to provide gracious accommodations for those who want the benefits of a classic hotel. The peach and ivory lobby is enhanced by an eclectic display of contemporary art and bleached pine antiques, a lovely fireplace and groupings of lush couches around small tables that always seem to have something good to eat on them.
San Francisco architects Samuel and Joseph C. Newsom designed what may be Americas most famous Victorian home. The Carson Mansion at 2nd and M streets in Eureka built in 188486. The Newsom brothers also designed the Pink Lady across the street from the Carson Mansion a wedding gift from William Carson to his son J. Milton Carson.
The spacious 23-room establishment also houses an innovative restaurant that blends a contemporary California style with old-fashioned values: greet guests with open arms; offer a warm fire, a glass of wine and a houseful of ambiance.
Lavish detailing in the five guest suites of the Carter House is complemented by simple interior design. Crisp white walls, polished oak floors spread with Oriental carpets and splashes of modern art all add to the bright, uncluttered feel of the rooms. Cozy down comforters and thick robes are part of the ambiance.
All rooms in Hotel Carter have private baths (some with Jacuzzis), telephones and televisions. They even have a collection of videotapes for guests to enjoy. The deluxe suites on the hotel's third floor are appointed with marble fireplaces, double-headed showers and honor bars stocked with regional specialties and wine. What I loved best about these rooms, however, were the whirlpool spas, some of which have great views.
A few doors down the street is the Bell House Cottage. The three rooms in this 1889 Victorian may be reserved as a unit or individually. Each room has a private bath, done in white marble, with a whirlpool tub; two have fireplaces. All have complete kitchens and living rooms with TV, VCR, stereo, and video and CD libraries. Mark and his wife Christi are now remodeling another of the neighborhood Victorians into a one-bedroom retreat with a state-of-the-art kitchen. They plan to make this new cottage into a cooking school and test kitchen.
Breakfast delicacies include fresh fruit, homemade granola, pastries and just-baked muffins. Sumptuous entrees highlight the generous and varied breakfast.
Christi Carter and Master Chef Matthew Szymanski produce extraordinary meals. "Everything is harvested from our garden and prepared the same day," says Matthew. The hotel offers a multi-course dinner service. With "fresh" as the key ingredient, the hotel's cuisine features a changing menu of regional delicacies, including north coast seafood and garden herbs and vegetables. Make reservations early for their monthly Winemaker and Guest Chef Dinners.
Your appetizer might be Humboldt Bay oysters with Asiago or baked local Chevre with garden greens. Flavorful entrees may include grilled duck breast with Zinfandel-blueberry sauce, scallops sautéed in garlic, lemon and fresh herbs, or a special vegetarian creation. To finish off the meal, choose from a variety of pastries and desserts that Christi's crew prepares daily.
Carter's extensive wine list has twice earned the Wine Spectator's coveted Grand Award, an honor reserved for an elite corps of just 83 dining establishments worldwide. Its a book of over 80 pages with verticals from all around the world!
What followed was a long leisurely dinner with great wines from Marks extensive wine list, wonderful appetizers and entrées from Matthew followed by a glass of port by the fireplace. This is my definition of decadence.
Mark took me on a personal tour, pointing out all the fantastic details he has insisted upon to make his guests feel comfortable in a luxurious setting.
As Emeril would say, Yeah, yeah, Its a tough job, but somebody has to do it.