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Ross Halleck
March 10, 2015 | Ross Halleck

Southern Charm

With time to cool my heels, I am gearing up for two big weeks of travel ahead. I write as I look out at the fog billowing in from the coast. I was hoping for an afternoon cycle, but visibility precludes.

I just returned from six days in Utah where I enjoyed the most epic skiing of recent years. I began the trip near Provo, at the home of my dear friends Leesa and  Gary Lee Price. Adriana picked me up at the airport for the drive south. We scoured the countryside for cigars before arriving at Leesa and Gary's. Gary is a sculptor working on the biggest monument to be on this coast, the Statue of Responsibility. It will the national bookend and same size as the Statue of Liberty. I had the opportunity to tour Gary's studio, full of varying models of the over 300 ft. statue. 

I met Leesa late last year at CEOSpace and we became instant friends. Gary and Leesa joined me at Halleck Vineyard for lunch soon after to discuss their project with Potenza, who has been working on her "Hearts of the World" for over 20 years. Bonds were established and I am excited to witness one of the greatest artistic endeavors of our time. We hope to have Potenza's Heart flags encircling the island which will host the Statue of Responsibility on the San Diego coast. 

The next morning, I headed to Salt Lake City to meet my friends, Bob and Jean Jacques, for our ski adventure. We were housed in a 50 year old cabin on the mountainside ski resort of Alta. Friends of 40 years, I met Bob and Jean Jacques as young men in Kenya in the mid-1970s. We were joined by an old friend of Bob's, John (now a Halleck Vineyard Wine Club member :-). Our food was snow-catted up prior to arrival. We had to take two lifts up the mountain in a white-out blizzard, wearing backpacks with our gear;  then we skied down the mountain, off-piste (not on the ski runs, through the trees) to find our cabin. Bob has owned the cabin for over 30 years, so it is well maintained and he guided us without getting lost. I would NEVER have found it on my own!

The five days of skiing were the best. Classic Utah Champagne Powder. We barbecued ribeyes and burgers, roasted a turkey, enjoyed pasta and ham for dinners. Lunches were sandwiches of the same. Someone's wines graced the table, punctuating the communion. And those cigars were also enjoyed. Four old guys camping in luxury. Snow whirled around for two days, then we had 3 bluebird days. Wed and Thursday offered fresh powder fields under sunshine, but required some serious ski-hiking and traverses up. Kicked my sea-level ass! And I was the youngest among-us! It was awesome!

I headed home on Saturday for a charity dinner at Halleck Vineyard for "Rooms That Rock", an organization that decorates hospital rooms for children with cancer to soften their institutional experience. I was partnered with chef Charlie Ayers, owner of Calfia in Palo Alto. Charlie was the head chef for Google, one of their first employees.  Calfia is one of the most popular amongst the "tech-set" in Silicon Valley. He was joined by his colleague, chef Frank Otte, who has travelled the world on private jets serving the business and political elite for most of his career. He now oversees all of Calfia's bustling catering business. They did an amazing job, comparable to any of the best meals I have had at Restaurant Picco, Gramercy Tavern, or even Per Se.

The three of us worked seamlessly, though having never met. It was a love-fest. Every desire of or philanthropic guests was catered to. I look forward to hosting a Halleck Vineyard event in Palo Alto in the not-distant future.

My next stop was intended to be Houston for the Grand Opening of Peli Peli in the Galleria. Unfortunately, due to an administrative snafu, permits were delayed. So the events are postponed and I have a few unexpected days to myself. 

On Saturday before dawn, I head to Atlanta. Dinner is on Sunday at Restaurant Eugene to benefit the High Art Museum. Atlanta is a favorite town. Before the market shift, Atlanta's top restaurants served Halleck Vineyard wines. I made lots of friends and Wine Club members. This will be a wonderful home-coming for me. Chef Linton Hopkins received the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in the Southeast in 2012. Get the picture?! This is primarily a farm-to-table dining experience. I have had the privilege of joining Chef Linton and his lovely wife, Gina, many times during Atlanta stays. The dinner has been sold out for weeks. I am excited!

Then I begin a road trip through the South. I head north with my great ski buddy, soul brother, and Baptist Minister friend, Bill Black. He lives in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and has plans to show me around. He introduced me to real Moonshine. We met years ago on a ski lift in Beaver Creek Colorado during a wine event. This has been followed up by over a hundred oysters at Nick's Cove, skiing in Tahoe, and a night of Moonshine out of a Ball jar.

We will head to Asheville, North Carolina, to meet up with my friend, Susi Gott Seguret, Executive Director and Chef of the Seasonal Culinary Institute. Susi has created a one-of-a-kind experience. I have never had the pleasure of dining at this level. We will be in a remote location, the Laughing Frog Estate. Susi, VERY French trained, has created a menu to pair with each of my wines. You can click to view the menu. Then she has engaged a Grammy Award-winning ensemble to correlate musical arrangements with each dish. How is that for pairing. 

The following day, Friday, March 20, I head up to Charles City, Virginia to the home of Annie Chalkley, chef extraordinaire. Our friends and Wine Club Members, Freddie and her husband, Lawrence, own a family estate called, The Farm. I met Freddie in Sebastopol at a "girls party" where I served my wines and, of course, she fell in love with Halleck Vineyard, The Farm Vineyard, Pinot Noir. She bought a case for Lawrence's upcoming birthday. She and Lawrence have sponsored three events, two for charity, while I am in the neighborhood. Annie is the chef. So I continue with Annie, Freddie and Lawrence on Saturday and Sunday at an event each day with Halleck Vineyard wines to meet new friends and grow our community.

Freddie has promised a wonderful tour of southern culture, hospitality and comfort. Hopefully the weather will be warm enough to enjoy it. I have not been through the South since I was a child. To be carried along on the hearts of so many generous and caring people promises for a meaningful trip. 




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