Take a Trip to Paris in My New Children’s Book

I’m thrilled to announce the launch of my new children’s picture book, KeeKee’s Big Adventures in Paris, France!

I started Grape Occasions to share my love of travel, wine and spas with the world. If you’ve read my bio, you’ll know my love of travel started at a young age when my mom was a flight attendant. As a child, travel opened my eyes and ears to the world.

For the last 30 years, I’ve continued my travel adventures and had the amazing opportunity to live in Amsterdam for four years. In addition to providing content for Grape Occasions, the idea for KeeKee’s Big Adventures was born…sharing travel adventures with parents and kids.

KeeKee is the adventurous calico kitty who travels the world in her hot air balloon. Her first stop? Ooh là là! It’s Paris, France!

Join KeeKee as she explores the sights, sounds, and tastes of this beautiful and historic city. Young readers will share KeeKee’s delight as she makes new friends, discovers exciting places, and immerses herself in the fascinating French culture. And, they’ll have fun with the kid-friendly pronunciation guide and glossary in the back of the book, along with a unique and charmingly illustrated map of Paris.

KeeKee’s Big Adventures sparks curiosity and inspires appreciation for our great big wonderful world!

It’s a book you can share with your children each day or evening and take a little trip to Paris!

Check out our website for details about our events and fun activities for you and your kids!


It’s Beaujolais Nouveau Day… Join the Celebration!

As they say in France on the third Thursday of November each year, Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé,  the Beaujolais  [pronounced BOE-zjoh-lay] Nouveau has arrived!

This 60 year tradition celebrating the first wine vintage of the year to celebrate the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau, a red wine made in less than 10 weeks from the Gamay grape and meant to be enjoyed immediately, kicked off yesterday at the stroke of midnight in France as bottles started hitting shelves across France and around the world.

The Gamay grapes were first planted by the Romans in the Beaujolais Province south of the Burgundy region/north of Lyon. They must come only from the Beaujolais AOC, a 34-mile long region, and by law, they must be picked by hand. Why? Because Beaujolais is made using the carbonic maceration wine making process or whole berry fermentation. This process preserves the fresh fruit flavors for the wine without extracting the bitter tannins from the grape skins. The result? A light-bodied fruity easy to drink wine best served slightly cool (about 55 degrees Fahrenheit) to bring out the fruit flavors. For more on the history of this wine, read on.

This first taste of the 2011 vintage will be interesting. A year characterized by unusual weather lead to early harvest which could benefit the 2011 Beaujolais Nouveau as it gave it a little more time to mature. We’ll have to see today as we taste it.

Want to join the celebration? In addition to events going on in restaurants, wine bars, and wine stores, there’s a virtual event taking place, the 1st Annual Beaujolais #NouveauDay celebrating the official arrival of Georges Duboeuf’s Beaujolais Nouveau. So grab your bottle, pop the cork and get on Twitter to share, learn and celebrate!

Looking forward to later. Santé!

April in Paris: An Evening on the Town

I love the warmer weather in Paris, especially at night, as there are so many things to do. Here are my MUST GOs for a fun night out:

Sunset Cruise

  • What could be more romantic than a cruise down the river Seine at sunset? At the end of Île de la Cité (isle with Notre Dame) is Pont Neuf (also a spectacular pedestrian bridge) where you can catch a variety of tour boats for a one hour ride along the Seine. Check sunset time for the evening and schedule your boat trip accordingly. Show up a bit early to grab a bottle of wine from the vendor before you board, grab a seat outside, pop the cork and drink in the views. Les Vedettes du Pont Neuf and Bateaux Parisiens are great options.

Dinner & Jazz

When in Paris, live jazz one evening is a must! Jazz has been a staple in here since the 1920s.

  • Left Bank: Start with dinner in the Latin Quarter (5th Arrondissement). I love walking through this little district and finding a place for dinner. While a bit touristy in parts, every cuisine is on offer from French to Italian to Mexican. There’s always a great vibe to enjoy … perfect spot for dinner outside! Then head over to the St-Germain des Prés (6th Arrondissement) for live jazz at L’Arbuci (25 rue de Buci).
  • Right Bank: First stop is a fine meal in the Bastille Quarter (11th Arrondissement) at Brasserie Bofinger (5-7 rue de la Bastille), Paris’ oldest brasserie since 1864. The classic French brasserie serves up classic bistro dishes. We took my Mom here for her 60th birthday. Then headed over to Les Halles (1st Arrondissement), for a fun night of live Jazz at Au Duc des Lombards (42 rue des Lombards) in this quaint club with velvet seats and great acoustics.

Cocktails in Style

  • Ritz Paris is THE luxury hotel in Paris. While we may not all be able to enjoy a stay, we can enjoy a cocktail! My girlfriend and I had a great time one night all dressed up after dinner in The Ritz Bar, the place for a trendy Parisian night. Across the foyer is The Bar Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bar, now restored to its original appearance with rich wood panelling and leather arm-chairs. Enjoy a famous original cocktail from barman Colin Field.

* Up for a show…there’s always Moulin Rouge. 🙂

For more to do in Paris visit my April in Paris post.

Vive la Paris!


April in Paris

‘This is a feeling,’ says the song. And while fabulous in spring, any month in Paris is my favorite!

Rather than rehashing the standard ‘top sites to visit’ list every travel book gives you (my go to book is DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Paris), I’ll share with you my Paris MUST GOs. These are the spots I love to visit again and again.

*Montmartre: (18th Arrondissement) This highest point in the city is home to the beautiful Sacrê-Coeur basilica and is a great neighborhood full of history for spending a leisurely afternoon.

  • Place du Tetre: After enjoying the sweeping city views from the basilica’s steps, stroll over to the old village square, Place du Tetre. The once Bohemian neighborhood of poets and painters like Renior, Picasso and van Gogh in the late 19th and early 20th century, today is full of local painters and artists displaying and selling their work. Cafes line the square offering a great spot for wine, a cheese plate and watching people go by. Down rue Norvius at rue Poulbot is Le Tire Bouchon, a must stop for the live piano music, ambience and crepe or aperitif (don’t forget to tack up your business card).
  • Moulin de la Galette: In the mid-18th century, Montmartre was a French wine region that rivaled Bordeaux and Burgundy with over 50,000 acres of vineyards. Over 30 windmills stood to press grapes and grind wheat. Moulin de la Galatte on rue Lepic is one of two windmills still standing. Today only 2,000 vines remain producing 1,000 bottles annually.
  • Pigalle: At the bottom of Montmartre you’ll be in Pigalle, a fun place for the evening. Once home to Paris’ cabaret and dance halls including the famous Moulin Rouge (means red windmill and is as old as the Eiffel Tower from 1889) where you can still enjoy an evening of entertainment.

*Marais: I love spending an afternoon in the Marais (3rd and 4th Arrondissement or district), especially a Sunday when most areas of Paris are closed. Stroll around Paris’ oldest square, Place des Vosges, aristocratic houses and art galleries. Enjoy coffee or an aperitif at a café in the arcade. Then head down rue des Francs Bourgeois browsing the shops and scenery. Stop for lunch or early dinner at the awesome bistro Le Gaillac (24 rue Francs Bourgeois) for a leek salad, baked ham with a side of lentils and a nice glass of French red wine.

Louvre & Opéra: (1st and 9th Arrondissement) This is the center of many people’s visits to Paris as its home of the Louvre and has lots to offer.

  • Opéra de Paris Garnier: You can’t miss this beautiful structure at the end of Avenue de l’Opéra. If you don’t go for a performance, pop in for the interior beauty. I love sitting at one of the many cafes across the street (Café de la Paix in the Inter-Continental or Le Relais Paris Opéra) and watching the world go by.
  • Musée du Louvre: If you’re planning a trip to the Louvre, quick tip…there’s a ticket machine unknown to most, and you don’t have to wait in the potentially l-o-n-g ticket lines! It’s located in the Carrousel du Louvre (the shopping area underground)…enter off rue de Rivoli (across the street from Hotel du Louvre) and you’ll find it on the landing after the first 2 sets of escalators down. Café Marly, in the Richelieu wing of the Louvre, is great anytime of day for a bite or drink. My favorite spot is under the arcade overlooking the glass pyramid.
  • Tuileries Gardens: Especially gorgeous in spring and summer, it’s the quintessential park for a stroll. Late summer features a carnival with the giant ferris wheel (take a ride for great views of the city). Any time of year get yourself a Nutella filled crepe at the booth as you enter the gardens off of Place de la Concorde.
  • Place de la Madeleine: The 52 Corinthian column la Madeleine church sits in the middle of rue Royale. Stop for a REAL French toast breakfast at Ladurée and their famous macaroons (corner of rue Royale and rue St. Honoré; if there is a long line, it’s usually for pastries so walk right to the front for a table). The flower market surrounds the church Tuesday through Saturday and visit the high end specialty food shops Hediard (founded in 1854) and Fauchon (THE Parisian grocer) across the street.
  • Avenue de l’Opéra is also has my favorite hotel, Hotel du Louvre. A bit of a splurge but a lovely Parisian spot! One of our stays was on the top floor with two balconies overlooking the Louvre, rue de Rivoli and Arc de Triomphe in the distance. A great spot to grab dinner across the street is Café Ruc. And up the street is the French department store / grocery Monoprix, where I love to by cute outfits for all my friend’s kids.

Tomorrow An Evening on the Town and a photo tour of the city.

“Wine is made in the Vineyard not the Winery”

A great quote from Grégory Patriat, Winemaker for the Jean-Claude Boisset Winery in Burgundy, as he lead a Wine Seminar at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival last weekend. Our 45 minutes with him was definitely one of the highlights!

Grégory introduced us to the Burgundy, France wine region which runs from Chablis AOC in the north to Beaujolais AOC in the south. Only two grapes are grown in the region, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and this is where they were born 2,000 years ago tended by monks. And while only these two grapes are grown, they produce hundreds of different types of wines from the 14 AOCs.

Jean-Claude Boisset founded his winery in 1961 at only 18 years old. The winery is housed in a former convent where Grégory tends to the wines. “He strives for authentic wines in which human intervention has been kept to a bare, discreet minimum. Utilizing native yeasts and never more than 30% new oak, the wines are concentrated, well-rounded, and naturally expressive of their terrior (land).Grégory emphasized how important he feels it is to respect the terroir… let the wine be made in the vineyard and not the winery. They focus on quality not quantity, producing only 200,000 bottles in 45 varieties. They are also very innovative in their practices like championing screwcap closures for their Grand Cru wines (the first Grand Cru ever sealed with screwcap).

Grégory tasted three of their fantastic wines with us.

  • Bourgogne Chardonnay 2006: A lovely white wine with a rich, tropical, white flower nose and rich bright apricot taste.  Not your typical oaky Chardonnay. Only 10,000 bottles were made and it retails around $26.
  • Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2006: A fabulous red wine with an earthy, spicy nose and raspberry, earthy taste. The Pinot Noir is a very difficult grape to work with and Grégory has done wonders with this one. Again only 10,000 bottles produced, retail $26.
  • Beaune 1er Cru “Les Bressandes” Beaune 2005: This premier-cru (their highest end wines) red comes from what is supposed to be one of the best production years, 2005. Beaune is the wine capital of Burgundy. Its nose is of raisins and dried fruit with a taste of berries.

The Boisset Family Estates, which Jean-Claude Boisett wines are part of, was founded in 1980 and is a collection of more than twenty historical and unique wineries boast leading positions in the world’s pre-eminent terroirs, including Burgundy, Beaujolais, the Rhône Valley, the South of France, Canada, and California’s Russian River Valley and Napa Valley. “Guided by generations of winemaking tradition, we bring that heritage into each bottle we create today. We believe that wine must reflect its unique terroir; in that spirit, 100% of our estate vineyards have converted to organic farming and some practice biodynamic farming.”