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Pahrump Winery Las Vegas

Wine Tasting in the Desert? Pahrump Winery Makes its Mark in Nevada

By Alexa Chipman May 1, 2017

Towering red cliffs and wide desert filled with Joshua trees surrounds Las Vegas, meandering through dusty roads to the town of Pahrump. An eclectic mix of independent survivors in rustic trailers and exquisite homes, it is not where you would expect to find a renowned winery. In a landscape of brush and rabbits, it was the first Nevada winery, but was neglected until 2003 when entrepreneurs Bill and Gretchen Loken stumbled across the opportunity to renovate and expand the business. It did not take long for them to fall in love with the art of winemaking, and their enthusiasm for Nevada wine has propelled them toward a goal of using local grapes. In the last few years, they have been busy planting vineyards around the state, and while California grapes heavily supplement their current wine, they are determined to turn that around and have at least 75% Nevada grapes in the next few years. They currently offer seven entirely Nevada grown wines and bottle about 9,000 cases per year.

Pahrump Winery Las Vegas

Growing grapes in the desert can be a challenge—they need plenty of irrigation from Pahrump’s aquifer, less pruning to allow the shoots to offer extra shade, and some such as chardonnay simply will not grow. When visiting, the middle of March and April will show the vineyards green with bright flower gardens to relax in before the summer heat radiates the area. Stop by the first weekend in October for the Grape Stomp with live music, competition, an art festival, and food. Speaking of fine dining, Symphony’s is an award-winning restaurant on site with mouth-watering dishes that are reasonably priced—a local favorite being the flame grilled salmon. It has limited hours of 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. for lunch and 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. for dinner, and is well worth it.

This boutique winery feels and tastes like any in Napa Valley, without the high price tag. Instead of a tasting fee, you can try up to seven different wines for free! They do not offer palette cleansers, but you should carry bottled water with you regardless, due to the desert area. Their gift shop is primarily clothing and has beautiful wine jewelry—their bottles are scattered throughout, so you may need to ask for assistance finding the one you want.

Pahrump Winery Las Vegas

Tasting is a casual experience, and I was surprised by the high quality of their dessert wines. There is enough variety on the list for multiple tastings, so it could be an experience of several days or a quick trip out to the country to break up your packed Las Vegas vacation.

Pinot Grigio (California 2015)
Its light floral tones compliment the pungent orange blossom aroma. It is well balanced with a citrus edge to it without being too tart; I was impressed by it’s structure.

Desert Blush (Pahrump, American blend)
Washed in a gentle peach scent, it is sweet without being overpowering—like drinking apple pie.

Symphony (Pahrump, California blend 2015)
Their best selling wine, for which the restaurant was named, they are working on using more Nevada vines for it, and recently planted an additional vineyard. It has too strong of a honey flavor for my taste, with overtones of honeysuckle and a floral aroma; it might be their most popular wine, but I did not find it appealing.

Tempranillo (Nevada 2014)
A strong bodied wine with traces of fine cigar smoke, it avoids a berry taste for straight wood infused flavor and is an effective wine.

Mourvedre (Nevada 2014)
It comes across as generic pinot noir without significant flavor, rather tannic, but the aroma is lovely with a strawberry hint to it. It is the first Nevada Mourvedre to be released.

Silver State Red (Nevada 2014)
A blend of nine different grapes, such as cabernet, merlot, and syrah, it is so smooth that there is no need to pair food with it. This is a perfect red wine, with cedar aroma, lack of acidity, and luscious taste.

Crème Sherry
I went straight to the shop to purchase this—I am not fond of crème sherry, and this proved me wrong. Its warm caramel flavor flows over the palette and is spectacular when poured over vanilla ice cream. If you visit Pahrump Winery, be sure to include this in your wine flight.

Next time you are on a business trip or girls’ night out in Las Vegas, an excursion through the desert to Pahrump’s vineyard oasis should be on your itinerary.

Daily 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Location: 3810 Winery Road, Pahrump NV

Immersive Exploration in ‘Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition’

By Alexa Chipman Apr. 26, 2017

If a historical event could be said to have celebrity status, the sinking of Titanic would be a headliner. It has prompted endless academic papers, feature films, and several musicals. The disaster took center stage in the 1980s when the wreck was discovered and excavated, prompting the wildly popular movie that defined millennial culture. I remember when you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing “My Heart Will Go On.” Although Titanic fever has passed, its significance and intrigue have not.

Luxor Hotel’s Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition (The Big Piece)

When thinking of the sparkling night life of Las Vegas, attending a museum exhibit is not the first thing that comes to mind. Why wander through a history lesson and stare at old dishes when you could be out drinking and enjoying flashy theatrical exhibitions?

Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition is no ordinary museum display—it is an experience. Rather than static presentations lined up against walls with dull indoor lighting, it places the visitor on board the ship, beginning in steerage with lively Irish dance music and loud ship engines dominating the space, leading the visitor through what it was like to be aboard, with detailed signage and bold first person accounts on the walls that are easy to read, offering a choice between quickly walking through or taking the time to delve deeply into the historical background.

Luxor Hotel’s Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition (Grand Staircase)

Climbing up through the exhibit, much like the ship itself, the music shifts to elegant parlor ambiance, featuring fine crystal and photos of ornate rooms that were on board. What took my breath away were the reproduction areas—walking the promenade deck listening to sloshing of ocean waves and feeling cold gusts coming in off the water, wandering through a first class bedroom suite, and climbing the magnificent staircase where Kate Winslet stood in her sweeping beaded evening gown. Lighting shifts into ominous twilight with the first ice warnings, and plunges into darkness when the iceberg strikes. It is immersive and fully sensory, such as the opportunity to touch a huge block of ice.

This is an exciting exhibit that revitalizes history—Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition is a far cry from the dusty, poorly crafted displays you’ll find at most museums. It isn’t fluff either, the artifacts are simply displayed in a way that makes them interesting and relevant, rather than languishing in dusty cases. In addition to the story before and during the collision, there is information on the expedition to excavate the ship’s remains, concluding with the Big Piece, a towering part of the ship’s hull still in tact. Escape from the vibrant bustle of the Las Vegas Strip with this magnificent tribute to Titanic at the Luxor Hotel.

Daily 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Location: 3900 S Las Vegas Blvd, Las Vegas NV

Structured Elegance in Japanese Gardens

By Alexa Chipman Apr. 15, 2017

Rippling koi ponds filled with colorful fish, dramatic arched bridges, carefully tended shrubbery, pristine gravel gardens and bright blossoms come to mind with Japanese gardens. There is a sense of peace when strolling through the green paradise, mingling formal planning with the wild beauty of a natural forest.

I’ve spent hours sitting on a small bench nestled in a quiet corner, reading or gazing out at what comes close to perfection. Even when crowded and filled with screaming, exhausted children, somehow these gardens manage to overcome the cacophony to maintain their serenity and bestow it on visitors.

Portland Japanese Garden

Portland Japanese Garden Photo by Michel Hersen
Photo by Michel Hersen

Spreading across hills overlooking the bustling metropolis, the Portland Japanese Garden is designed in different styles through winding pathways. What I am drawn to are the Strolling Pond Garden (chisen kaiyu shiki teien) and Natural Garden (zoki no niwa) that meander between ponds, through a zig-zag walkway of iris, past an impressive waterfall cascading down a cliff, and into the tranquil Lower Pond. On a tour, I heard that it reflects a person’s life—starting quietly, becoming a small, energetic stream, widening to a rushing torrent, then slowing in old age to become a peaceful surface of water.

Other garden areas include a Flat Garden with clipped trees and bushes, the Sand and Stone Garden of raked gravel, reflective Tea Garden with sweeping bridge and building for the ceremony, Entry Garden through a mix of native plants and Japanese maples, and Courtyard Garden.

In addition to enjoying the natural beauty, they host a variety of lectures, demonstrations, and activities surrounding Japanese culture. The gardens have been active since 1963, and currently serve 356,000 visitors per year, cultivated by a staff of 83 employees. I would highly recommend taking the time for a visit if you are in the Portland area.

Summer Hours (3/13-9/30):
Monday 12:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Winter Hours (10/1-3/12): Monday 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Location: 611 SW Kingston Ave, Portland, OR

Missouri Botanical Garden: Japanese Garden

Missouri Botanical Garden Japanese Garden Zen

Completely different from the clustered, delicately designed Portland garden is the Japanese garden St. Louis, Missouri. When I first saw it, I was unimpressed by its sprawling, wide layout, but over time I came to appreciate the airy, open feeling. It is like a breath of fresh air without crowding the plants on top of each other, and quite a walk to go all the way around the lake it surrounds.

Watching it change over the course of seasons is delightful—from cheerful spring colors to a wash of autumnal glory, and twinkling snow during winter. I was intrigued by the domed ice structures caused when water froze in the stone basins, creating chilled sculptural patterns. A heater is turned on when temperatures freeze, to keep the koi comfortable, and there is a station on one side of the lake where you can purchase a handful of fish food that is quite popular with the younger visitors.

Although there is no formal tea room, you can purchase food while inside the garden. Because there are multiple cultural and botanical wonders, explore the Chinese garden that is nearby, along with a variety of other features, including a Victorian mansion, glass enclosed climate controlled jungle, and other beautiful landscapes. October is one of the best times of year to visit the Japanese garden area, due to the vibrant colors.

Daily 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Location: 4344 Shaw Blvd, St. Louis, MO

San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden

San Francisco Japanese Garden

Originally created as an exhibit in 1894 for the California Midwinter International Exposition, this treasure of a tiny garden was maintained by Makoto Hagiwara until he was forcibly removed during the internment of Japanese Californians into concentration camps during WWII. Fortunately, anti-Japanese sentiment on the West Coast did not permanently close this monument, and it currently thrives as a destination in Golden Gate Park, surrounded by blossoming cherry trees and throngs of visitors waiting for a glimpse inside.

Although there is an active tea house, it is nearly impossible to get a seat—be prepared to wait, and try arriving at an unusual time for a meal. They serve light dishes such as miso soup, tea sandwiches, kuzumochi (sweet rice cakes in refreshing flavors), and dorayaki (red bean filled savory cake).

This is the Portland Japanese Garden in miniature, with a popular arched drum bridge to clamber over for those unafraid of heights, and red pagodas towering over an array of flowers, graceful trees, and ponds. If you visit, even during the winter, it will be packed with tourists; this is not a garden to meditate in, unless you don’t mind being surrounded by toddlers, giggling selfie groups, and a constant lineup of family photos. There is a discount entry fee if you live in San Francisco. Parking can be difficult—follow signs for the Music Concourse / California Academy of Sciences parking garage if the street is full.

Summer Hours (3/1-10/31):
Daily 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Winter Hours (11/1-2/28): Daily 9:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.
Location: 75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA