Imagine sitting on a lovely patio overlooking a beautiful lake with a melodious fountain—all in the middle of a southern California desert as the sun is setting over the majestic San Jacinto Mountains. And to make the picture even more enticing: Also imagine a handcrafted cocktail in your hand as you relax by a flickering bonfire while you await an exquisite wine-paired dinner. But this scene isn’t just a figment of my imagination. Recently, we actually found ourselves in the midst of this enchanting setting.
We were at the newly remodeled Chateau at Lake La Quinta, a luxury boutique hotel located in the Coachella Valley in La Quinta, about 20 minutes from Palm Springs and no more than two hours from just about anywhere in San Diego, Orange or Los Angeles counties. We were there to savor an elegant four-course dinner prepared by Executive Chef Nestor Ruiz and accompanied by stellar wines from Flora Springs Winery in Napa.
Before dinner, we had time to talk with Christopher Chmielak, the personable general manager of the hotel and restaurant. After a career in the food and beverage industry, Chmielak started working at the Chateau several years ago when it was still a 13-room bed and breakfast. In the last year he has overseen the refreshing of these rooms and the lobby, plus the addition of 13 new rooms, and the establishment of Melange, the stylish bar and gourmet restaurant where our wine pairing would be held. All these changes took place under the new ownership of Todd Spector of Las Vegas whose goal has been to elevate the hotel’s experience for guests, including the enhancement of the food and beverage service.
Chmielak aptly describes the hotel as “intimate and unexpected with high touch service.” He points out that the personal service and intimacy of the setting distinguish the Chateau on Lake La Quinta from larger hotels. There is no other hotel like it in the La Quinta area and it certainly is the only one on water. We admired the hotel’s old world French Manor décor combined with elegantly casual modern design touches.
We stayed all night in one of the newly “refreshed” guest rooms and loved it. The room was spacious with a working fireplace (which we immediately turned on) and a pleasant private patio looking over the lake. High quality bedding provided the utmost in sleeping comfort. The bathroom was beautifully appointed with both a tub and a luxurious, walk-in shower. And the décor and artwork in the room created an ambiance and artistic appeal that added to our tranquil experience. There was an inviting heated pool a few steps from our room that is open 24 hours a day. Separate bungalows and larger suites are also available.
We next adjourned to the lobby bar area where we met Scott Halterlein who was representing Flora Springs Winery, located in St. Helena at the base of the Mayacamas Mountains. When it was purchased in 1978 by Jerry and Flora Komes, Flora Springs was an overgrown “ghost winery” with a rich winegrowing history dating back to the 19th century. Now comprising 650 acres throughout Napa Valley, the winery is able to produce a wide variety of wines, but it is still very much a winegrowing venture with much of its harvest sold to other wineries, although the winery produces about 30,000 cases annually. Wines can be purchased online via the Flora Springs website or they can be found in many fine dining restaurants in California.
Flora Springs wines are superb, as we were about to discover. The current owners, John and Carrie Komes and Julie and Pat Garvey, treasure their land and focus on sustainable, ecologically-sound farming practices in their vineyards. The third generation in this family is now poised to take over the winery.
We thoroughly enjoyed the Flora Springs wines that were so nicely paired with each course of our dinner. As we sat down to dinner, we sipped a welcoming glass of Flora Springs 2013 Chardonnay. We could understand why it is one of the winery’s most popular varietals. Opulent green pear and apple aromas with hints of ginger greeted us followed by tastes of crispy apple and vanilla on our palates. This creamy Chardonnay was a wonderful way to launch our spectacular dinner.
Our first course was a refreshing salad of crisp greens creatively mixed with dried cherries, crunchy onion, spicy pecans and goat cheese, all lightly dressed with a tangy white balsamic vinaigrette. The salad was perfectly paired with Flora Springs 2013 Soliloquy Sauvignon Blanc produced from the winery’s proprietary Soliloquy clone. This nicely balanced wine was true to what an excellent Sauvignon Blanc should be with its strong lime and lemon aromas, fresh acidity, and orange and ginger tastes along with hints of vanilla and honey.
The next course was a rich braised pork belly served over a blackened potato with a brandy reduction sauce. The Flora Springs 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon was an ideal match because of its intense, dark berry tastes with spicy, smoked wood overtones.
My favorite course was the huge, tender veal chop with a savory morel mushroom sauce, accompanied by potatoes au gratin and yellow and green haricot verts. The wine pairing with Floral Springs 2012 Triology was ideal. This signature wine is a lush Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot that brings together deep flavors of cherries and berries, along with hints of chocolate. The lingering finish with nice tannins enriched each bite of the tasty veal chop.
The pistachio crème brulee was our creamy, delectable final course, and was perfectly paired with a rare 2002 Flora Springs Tawny Port that enhanced the dessert beautifully with its nutty, stone fruit and sweet toffee flavors.
After the dinner Executive Chef Nestor Ruiz sat down with us for a few minutes. We learned that he was brought into the Chateau’s newly remodeled restaurant about six months ago by General Manager Chris Chmielak who had worked with Chef Nestor in the past, mainly at high-end steak houses. The Chef relishes this new position because he has the opportunity to branch out with his own menu creations. He said his goal is to always start with the best ingredients he can find with local sources as much as possible. He really appreciates the opportunity to pair his dishes with some outstanding wines at these wine-paired dinners.
This was the second of four scheduled wine-paired dinners at the Chateau at Lake La Quinta. The next dinners will feature Sanford Winery on February 5 and Mi Sueño Winery on February 26. To make a reservation for these dinners or at the hotel, call 760-564-7332.