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Entries in Lifestyles & Things To Do

Brave New Swirls

The Coachella Valley uncorks a resurrected wine-bar scene.

Courtesy of JANICE KLEINSHMIDT RESTAURANTS

Photographs by Fredrick Broden

Photographs by Fredrick Broden

DRINK 


A rabbi, a mortician, and a conservationist walk into a bar.

It may sound like a joke, but this diverse trio describes three regular patrons of Dead or Alive, a 2-year-old wine bar in Palm Springs.

Once-popular wine bars have been supplanted over the past 10 years by cocktail lounges and craft breweries, according to Dead or Alive founder Christine Soto — a trend fueled in New York and Los Angeles. “Wine takes a back seat to cocktails if you have a full bar,” she notes.

But as food-loving millennials discover the pleasures of oenophilia, wine consumption is experiencing a steady rise, and dedicated venues for tasting, learning, and discovering are seeing resurgence. “I love wine bars because they provide an opportunity to try different things,” Soto says.

The trend can be seen across the Coachella Valley. “Our guests are adventurous, and they’re looking for an experience,” says Parker Palm Springs general manager Brandon McCurley with regard to last year’s introduction of the hotel’s Counter Reformation wine bar. The clientele, he adds, is “almost 50-50 hotel guests and locals. Our demographic ranges from younger and new-to-the-area to residents who have been here many years looking for something fresh and sophisticated.”

Here’s a look at some of the best places in the valley to swirl, sniff, and taste.

DEAD OR ALIVE

Among the pours at Dead or Alive is Amplify Wines’ Pink Flag rosé of Counoise grapes from Santa Barbara County.

Among the pours at Dead or Alive is Amplify Wines’ Pink Flag rosé of Counoise grapes from Santa Barbara County.

From the name, one might expect an Old West–themed saloon, not an intimate room with the refinement of eclectic music and a pink glow from a neon sign reading simply “Wine & Beer.”

“The concept was to be dark and alluring,” Soto says, adding that the lack of a business-name sign (the exterior is identifiable only by a glowing red circle) “in no way means I want to be secret or exclusive. I want anyone interested in wine and beer to come drink here.”

The long, narrow venue seats 21, mostly at the bar, which features embedded colored lights and a waterfall effect for lower stools at the front end. The tall backs of four unstained wood booths lend those spots to private conversations.

Soto notes that her bar is popular for people on Tinder dates but also attracts a lot of single men (in town on business, she speculates) and groups of women in their 50s and 60s.

A level-one sommelier, Soto selects only noncommercial wines. “There is no point in opening a wine bar to serve what someone can buy at the grocery store,” she says. “There is no discovery and experience in that.” She encourages patrons to “order something you don’t know — that you can’t pronounce.” 

Soto hosts monthly wine tastings and the occasional Wine Wednesday, with half-off 
bottles. The bar lacks a kitchen, but there are snacks such as gourmet potato chips, olives, 
nuts, and vegan cheese.

COUNTER REFORMATION

Counter Reformation at the Parker takes a democratic approach: All wines on offer, such as Château de la Liquière Faugères from Languedoc-Roussillon, cost $7 per 3-ounce pour.

Counter Reformation at the Parker takes a democratic approach: All wines on offer, such as Château de la Liquière Faugères from Languedoc-Roussillon, cost $7 per 3-ounce pour.

Down a tree-cloaked path beyond the lobby of Parker Palm Springs lies a wine bar in a former storage space. With its “hidden” entry, low ceiling, lack of windows, ’70s playlist, and Reformation-era pictures on the wall, the place feels a bit naughty. But that’s OK, because Counter Reformation also features an authentic confessional from Italy.

Adding to the time-shifting juxtaposition are the resort’s signature Jonathan Adler touches, such as midnight-blue subway tiles over custom orange-and-white patterned tiles and matching Annick de Lorme barstools.

“The hotel owner, executive chef Herve Glin, and I love the caves à manger of Paris,” McCurley says of the bar’s inspiration. “In the initial design, the counter was the core, with people standing and interacting. But Paris and Palm Springs are two different things; sitting is more approachable here.”

However, interaction remains key, so all 20 seats are along the zinc bar; Glin himself regularly engages with guests.

“With one counter, it’s so easy,” Glin says, emphasizing that he is “having fun” creating small dishes to complement the diverse wines, such as braised baby artichoke hearts, oysters, and caviar with crème fraîche and quail egg.

Small-batch wines that, McCurley says, 
are “not available anywhere else in the 
Coachella Valley” rotate onto the menu. 
To encourage discovery by removing the decision-making process based on price, all wines cost the same: $7 for 3 ounces, $12 for 
6 ounces, or $42 per bottle.

“People come before and after dinner and find it so relaxing that they end up trying two or four wines,” he notes.

COACHELLA WINERY

From 2002 to 2014, The River at Rancho Mirage offered the desert’s only winery tasting room, Tulip Hill. In late November, a new one opened in the same space.

Owner Salvatore Evangelista, a wine importer for many years, previously operated the Gaia Italian bistro a few doors down. Concurrent with embarking on winemaking in Paso Robles, he opened the Rancho Mirage lounge to feature his own label (made with purchased grapes), as well as imported wine, and beer from Thousand Palms–based Coachella Valley Brewery Co.

Differentiating itself from Tulip Hill, which served only its own wines and included a retail component, Coachella Winery uses the space to accommodate seating for 60 at tables, pairings of loveseats and easy chairs, and a bar. Living room–style furnishings, low-hanging light fixtures, and lounge music inject warmth into the high-ceilinged expanse.

“We get customers ranging in age from 20s to 80s,” says Luca Ricca, Evangelista’s nephew and bar manager.

Wines under the house label can be purchased by the carafe, glass, or in a flight of four. A separate menu lists wines from Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy, sold only by the bottle. There’s an extensive Italian-leaning food menu too.

Coachella Winery discounts select wines 
and snacks during happy hour Monday to Thursday and brings in a DJ to spin tunes on 
Friday evenings.

WINE EMPORIUM

Old Town La Quinta’s Wine Emporium veers from the cozy atmosphere of other venues, 
with capacity for 60 people indoors and 
70 more on the patio.

Owner Marcie Johnson uses the space adjoining her Old Town Coffee Co. to keep the buzz going well into the evening, when live music or DJs are on the bill.

“During the day, we get locals that want to hang out, like groups from country clubs. It’s really night and day between night and day,” manager Dustin Miller says.

A seven-piece country band draws “a huge crowd” on Tuesdays during the season, he adds. “Once the music gets going, people dance, and everybody parties.”

The bar attracts sports fans (two flat-screen TVs show football games) and beer aficionados. “We sell a ton of craft beer,” Miller notes, “but the emphasis is on wine.”

To that end, Wine Emporium offers 2-ounce tastes, as well as wines by the glass. Bottles can be purchased for consumption on-site or taken home. The venue occasionally hosts tastings with winemakers and operates a wine club, for which it hosts monthly pick-up events. The food menu includes cheese and charcuterie plates, sandwiches, flatbreads, and salads.

“Wine bars have evolved,” Miller notes. “We have live music, and that attracts people of all ages and backgrounds.”

JUST A TASTE
A WINEMAKER SETS UP SHOP.

As owner of a Santa Barbara County boutique winery, Mark Cargasacchi traveled hundreds of miles to market Jalama Wines in person. 

“Palm Springs was one 
of my best areas for sales, and I realized this was a wine-drinking community,” he 
says, noting that shops in 
the area bought 10 to 15 cases at a time, compared to 
those in Los Angeles buying two to three.

Because his winery license allows only one off-site tasting room, Cargasacchi shuttered the one he had in Lompoc 
and in December opened 
a Jalama Wines tasting 
room in downtown Palm Springs’ La Plaza. 

“When I announced on Facebook that I was closing it, I was scared a lot of people would discontinue the wine club. But most of our club members are from Los Angeles, and the feedback I got was how awesome it was that I was moving to Palm Springs. They said, ‘You will get me to Palm Springs before you will get me to Lompoc,’ ” says Cargasacchi, whose operation has vineyards in the Santa Barbara County and Santa Rita Hills AVAs. In one month here, he gained 10 
club members.

The tasting room’s ambiance reflects the Cargasacchi family farm, he says, with redwood-lined walls and black-and-white photographs of the ranch 
and vineyards under dramatic skies. “I am trying to bring 
the ranch down here.”

Wine and Dine

Now in its sophomore year, Rancho Mirage Wine and Food Festival is soon to be a desert classic.

Courtesy of KAY KUDUKIS JANUARY 14, 2019 CURRENT DIGITALRESTAURANTS

The Rancho Mirage Wine and Food Festival is back Jan. 30—Feb. 2 at Rancho Mirage Community Park.   PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY RANCHO MIRAGE WINE AND FOOD FESTIVAL

The Rancho Mirage Wine and Food Festival is back Jan. 30—Feb. 2 at Rancho Mirage Community Park.

PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY RANCHO MIRAGE WINE AND FOOD FESTIVAL

Rombauer Vineyards has teamed up with Roy’s Restaurant for a five-course dinner and wine pairing Jan. 30 to help kick off the Rancho Mirage Wine and Food Festival.

“We do an extraordinary amount of business in Palm Springs,” says Alison Sturgeon, national sales manager at Rombauer Vineyards. “It’s a very wine loving territory, so we try to do a lot of events and participation. Chef Joey Domingo [of Roy’s Restaurant] tasted through the entire portfolio of wine styles and made notes back in October and is planning his menu around his choices.”

Rombauer will bring in Alan Cannon, a certified wine educator, who has been with the vintner for 20 years — the last five as director of distributor relations and education, traveling the United States and telling the Rombauer story.

ranchomirage.jpg

“Sometimes festivals aren’t just about the wine, they’re more about the food or food with a little bit of wine or they’re so expensive or there are so many brands, you can get lost,” Sturgeon says. “The boutique nature of Rancho Mirage Wine and Food Festival was quite captivating to us. And that’s why we’re coming to participate.”

That is exactly what David Fraschetti, the founder of the Rancho Mirage Wine and Food Festival, had in mind when he created the event. “We attended 18 different winery festivals over a two-and-a-half-year period doing market research,” he shares. “We always asked the wineries the same questions: What did you like about particular festivals, and what would you change? We took notes. The overwhelming response was get rid of the beer, get rid of the spirits, and make it about the wine again. If you’re at a wine-tasting event, you need to have a fresh palate.”

Rancho Mirage Wine and Food Festival is not Fraschetti’s first go at a wine festival. He also founded VinDiego Wine and Food Festival, which has been pulling in crowds of oenophiles since 2011. Besides the Rombauer/Roy’s mashup, there is the Riboli Family Winery Five-Course Dinner at Pinzimini, a restaurant in Rancho Mirage, with a menu by James Beard Award–winning executive chef Joel Delmond. Also, there will be three wine seminars — one with Rombauer, another being a blind test with Sonoma wines , and a third with co-owner of J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, Cynthia Lohr, the daughter of legendary winemaker Jerry Lohr.

ranchomiragewinefoodfest.jpg

The big events are Feb. 1–2, beginning with the Special Sunset Rare and Reserve Tasting (Feb. 1). Limited to 300 seats, the event provides attendees an opportunity to try rare and reserve bottles, some that are impossible to buy and are no longer in distribution.

At press time, the Grand Tasting (Feb. 2 from 2 to 5 p.m.) lineup features 47 participating wineries and 18 local eateries. If you want to be one of the first to swirl, sip, and taste, opt for the Grand Tasting Early Entry package; it will get you in the door one hour earlier than regular ticketholders.

Sample of variety of food choices from Greater Palm Springs restaurants.

Rancho Mirage Wine and Food Festival, Jan. 30–Feb. 2, Rancho Mirage Community Park, 71560 San Jacinto Drive, Rancho Mirage; ranchomiragewineandfoodfestival.com.







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No Better Time Than Fall or Winter for Hiking In and Around Palm Springs

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You can only play so much tennis or golf. And hanging around the pool? It can get really boring.

So when I visit the Palm Springs area, I head into the hills for some hiking. There are plenty of trails, from easy to strenuous, in this corner of the Sonoran Desert.

Trails covering more than 1,250 miles lie within a 60-mile radius of Palm Springs, said Nancy Bone, a member of the Coachella Valley Hiking Club and an outings leader, and the variety of topography and plant life make it one of the country’s best hiking destinations.

Layer in cooler fall and winter temperatures and it’s pretty close to hiking heaven.

To prepare for my visit last year, I bought Philip Ferranti’s book “140 Great Hikes In and Near Palm Springs,” then got half a dozen recommendations from easy to challenging from Melissa Schmidt, a Backroads guide, and Michael Sanchez, who works at La Quinta Resort.

“Many of the people who come to the Palm Springs area are active and want to be out and about,” said Schmidt, whose Berkeley-based company leads hiking tours in the area from October through March.

You can only play so much tennis or golf. And hanging around the pool? It can get really boring.

So when I visit the Palm Springs area, I head into the hills for some hiking. There are plenty of trails, from easy to strenuous, in this corner of the Sonoran Desert.

Trails covering more than 1,250 miles lie within a 60-mile radius of Palm Springs, said Nancy Bone, a member of the Coachella Valley Hiking Club and an outings leader, and the variety of topography and plant life make it one of the country’s best hiking destinations.

Layer in cooler fall and winter temperatures and it’s pretty close to hiking heaven.

To prepare for my visit last year, I bought Philip Ferranti’s book “140 Great Hikes In and Near Palm Springs,” then got half a dozen recommendations from easy to challenging from Melissa Schmidt, a Backroads guide, and Michael Sanchez, who works at La Quinta Resort.

“Many of the people who come to the Palm Springs area are active and want to be out and about,” said Schmidt, whose Berkeley-based company leads hiking tours in the area from October through March.

Stone pools

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My favorite stroll was in Indian Canyons, the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians,

The lush canyons were home to the Cahuilla people in centuries past, and you can see remnants of their house pits, irrigation ditches, dams and rock art.

The canyons also are filled with towering, shaggy California fan palms and creeks that flow almost year-round with snow melt from the looming San Jacinto Mountains.

I chose the Palm Canyon Trail to the Stone Pools, a six-mile out-and-back jaunt that had a moderate 800-foot elevation gain.

Once you leave the almost jungle-like stream bed and ascend to the desert plateaus, you’ll encounter water-sculpted rock gorges and cliffs that make great spots for a picnic. Other hikes in the same area lead to the Andreas, Fern and Murray canyons.

Info: Indian Canyons, 38500 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; (760) 323-6018. Admission $9 for adults, $7 for students and 62 and older, and $5 for children 6 to 12. Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily Oct. 1 to July 4 and Fridays-Sundays from July 5 to Sept. 30. Buy your pass at the trading post, 38520 S. Palm Canyon Drive. No animals.

Info: Indian Canyons, 38500 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; (760) 323-6018. Admission $9 for adults, $7 for students and 62 and older, and $5 for children 6 to 12. Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily Oct. 1 to July 4 and Fridays-Sundays from July 5 to Sept. 30. Buy your pass at the trading post, 38520 S. Palm Canyon Drive. No animals.

My favorite stroll was in Indian Canyons, the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians,

The lush canyons were home to the Cahuilla people in centuries past, and you can see remnants of their house pits, irrigation ditches, dams and rock art.

The canyons also are filled with towering, shaggy California fan palms and creeks that flow almost year-round with snow melt from the looming San Jacinto Mountains.

I chose the Palm Canyon Trail to the Stone Pools, a six-mile out-and-back jaunt that had a moderate 800-foot elevation gain.

Once you leave the almost jungle-like stream bed and ascend to the desert plateaus, you’ll encounter water-sculpted rock gorges and cliffs that make great spots for a picnic. Other hikes in the same area lead to the Andreas, Fern and Murray canyons.

Info: Indian Canyons, 38500 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; (760) 323-6018. Admission $9 for adults, $7 for students and 62 and older, and $5 for children 6 to 12. Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily Oct. 1 to July 4 and Fridays-Sundays from July 5 to Sept. 30. Buy your pass at the trading post, 38520 S. Palm Canyon Drive. No animals.

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The Coachella Valley Preserve is perched on the San Andreas Fault. Its hydrogeology forces water to seep to the desert’s surface, where it feeds more than 1,200 California fan palms and critters such as the fringe-toed lizard.

Three of the most popular hikes in the 17,000-acre preserve are the Pushwalla Palms, the Willis Palms and the McCallum trails. All are easy to moderate because much of the terrain is relatively flat.

The Pushwalla hike with a gain of 944 feet is the most difficult. The 5.6-mile loop leads to the Pushwalla Palms Oasis. The Willis Palms hike is four miles, and the McCallum trail is a mere 1.7 miles and a good choice for families with small children.

Info: Coachella Valley Preserve, 29200 Thousand Palms Canyon Road, Thousand Palms; (760) 353-1234. Open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. through April 30; 6 a.m.-8 p.m. from May through September. Admission is free but donations are accepted. Trained service dogs only.

More hikes

La Quinta Cove, a neighborhood off Calle Tecate at the southern edge of La Quinta, is the trailhead for several footpaths that lead to views of the Salton Sea and the Santa Rosa Mountains. You may even encounter a bighorn sheep or two. A moderate trail goes from the Cove to Lake Cahuilla, covering 6.6 miles round trip with a gain of 915 feet.

For something considerably more difficult, try the 12-mile Boo Hoff Trail, named for a horseman who helped create many trails in the area. It starts in a wash and climbs 2,200 feet to a lookout,passing cholla cactuses and colorful ocotillo along the way. It then loops back along Devil’s Canyon to the Cove.

For something considerably more difficult, try the 12-mile Boo Hoff Trail, named for a horseman who helped create many trails in the area. It starts in a wash and climbs 2,200 feet to a lookout,passing cholla cactuses and colorful ocotillo along the way. It then loops back along Devil’s Canyon to the Cove.

The Coachella Valley Preserve is perched on the San Andreas Fault. Its hydrogeology forces water to seep to the desert’s surface, where it feeds more than 1,200 California fan palms and critters such as the fringe-toed lizard.

Three of the most popular hikes in the 17,000-acre preserve are the Pushwalla Palms, the Willis Palms and the McCallum trails. All are easy to moderate because much of the terrain is relatively flat.

The Pushwalla hike with a gain of 944 feet is the most difficult. The 5.6-mile loop leads to the Pushwalla Palms Oasis. The Willis Palms hike is four miles, and the McCallum trail is a mere 1.7 miles and a good choice for families with small children.

Info: Coachella Valley Preserve, 29200 Thousand Palms Canyon Road, Thousand Palms; (760) 353-1234. Open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. through April 30; 6 a.m.-8 p.m. from May through September. Admission is free but donations are accepted. Trained service dogs only.

More hikes

La Quinta Cove, a neighborhood off Calle Tecate at the southern edge of La Quinta, is the trailhead for several footpaths that lead to views of the Salton Sea and the Santa Rosa Mountains. You may even encounter a bighorn sheep or two. A moderate trail goes from the Cove to Lake Cahuilla, covering 6.6 miles round trip with a gain of 915 feet.

For something considerably more difficult, try the 12-mile Boo Hoff Trail, named for a horseman who helped create many trails in the area. It starts in a wash and climbs 2,200 feet to a lookout,passing cholla cactuses and colorful ocotillo along the way. It then loops back along Devil’s Canyon to the Cove.

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Info: Hiking La Quinta. To reach the trailhead, take California 111 to La Quinta. Turn south at Washington Street. Continue to Eisenhower Drive, turn right and follow to Avenida Bermudas. Turn right on Calle Tecate. Park where Calle Tecate meets Avenida Madero. Free.

Great views

The Mission Creek to the Pacific Crest Trail hike is in the 4,760-acre Mission Creek Preserve near Joshua Tree National Park. The moderate eight-mile trek one way from the entrance of the Mission Creek Preserve to the Whitewater Preserve has a 1,300-feet elevation gain and one of the best spring flower displays — if winter rains total at least 4 inches — and great views of the San Jacinto Mountains.

Hikers with two vehicles should shuttle one to the Whitewater Preserve, unless they want to do 16 miles. To trim 1½ miles off the one-way trek, you can start at the Stone House inside Mission Creek Preserve. That requires a free parking permit, which you can obtain two days in advance from the preserve website.

Info: Mission Creek Preserve, 60550 Mission Creek Road, Desert Hot Springs; (760) 369-7105. Open daily dawn to dusk; free.

Endurance test

For those who want a monster challenge, the Cactus to Clouds Trail starts behind the Palm Springs Art Museum and climbs more than 10,000 vertical feet over 21 miles to the summit of Mt. San Jacinto.

Keith Schwebel, of Studio City, did the grueling ascent recently in a little less than 12 hours after training on Mts. Baldy and Wilson.

“It definitely tested my endurance because it was steep and long,” said Schwebel, who used a GPS unit — which he highly recommended — to keep him on the trail.

He said the first nine miles on the Skyline Trail climb precipitously to Long Valley at 8,400 feet, which is next to the upper station of the Palm Spring Aerial Tramway. Some hikers call it quits there, but he continued on 5½ miles to the summit before returning to Long Valley.

“I … took the tram down,” he said. “You bet I did.”

Info: Trailhead is behind the Palm Springs Art Museum at 101 N. Museum Drive. The Skyline Trail begins on a path known as the Museum Trail and continues to a junction with the North Lykken Trail. It then becomes an informal trail.

For more information, go to the Coachella Valley Hiking Club. The club offers many member-led guided hikes.