The greatest way to get to know wines is when you have the opportunity to enjoy a gourmet meal or specially paired treats with the wines.

I never drank alcoholic beverages until I decided to become a professional chef and started training at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. There, I was fortunate to have a teacher named Norm Roby who taught us about wines from around the world and how to pair them with various foods.

He was also a wine columnist for Wine Spectator magazine, where I would later work as tasting coordinator. But those first tastings in culinary school really surprised me. I could actually appreciate the difference in varieties and blends, whether they were from California or international countries.

That was in the mid-80s when we had nothing close to the array of fine wine-tasting rooms we have in California today.

Now, we have a wealth of great choices for tasting rooms, and the number of them with a professional chef is slowly but steadily growing. We are so fortunate here in the Santa Maria Valley to have one of the best examples of a highly acclaimed winery that hired a very talented French chef.

The Murray family, who created and manages Presqu’ile (pronounced PRESS-keel) hired chef Julie Simon, a very smart move. I have known her since she worked several years at the Park Restaurant in San Luis Obispo, and at Thomas Hill Organics in Paso Robles. I have always been impressed by her delightful dishes and good taste. The Murrays were lucky to get her, and she is creating some enticing, unforgettable meals paired with their wines.

To enjoy the food and wine experience, you must make reservations, and they have several options. All of her foods are made with local ingredients, most from the 1-acre estate garden they created for the chef. The first offering is “the mezze picnic,” which provides five to six family-style small plates. It’s priced $65 per person for groups up to six guests, $40 for guests enjoying food only.

The Presqu’ile wine and food tour provides a walking tour through the 240-foot cave, and throughout the winery to the hilltop pond. You will be served a tasting of their sparkling wine and single vineyard wines with appetizers prepared by chef Julie. There must be a minimum of four to eight guests for $125 per person; parties of three or less are $150 per person, and pets are not allowed on tours.

There are more offerings, including a horseback tour and tasting, which you can learn all about at Conveniently located just one mile from Highway 101 off Clark Avenue, this destination winery is a must visit for all wine lovers.

Winemaker Dieter Cronje, who they describe as a cool-climate pinot noir specialist, also creates excellent chardonnays, syrahs and more. Please don’t forget, they only accept visitors with reservations. You can make reservations through the webpage link above.

When I became a foodie, I started out cooking in restaurants two years before I started culinary school. I wanted to be sure I had a talent for it. As it turned out, that was the requirement to get into the college of food and wine at the time. I loved it, and was pleased to discover my abilities. Even before starting culinary training, I learned a few recipes that were always a huge hit. This is my favorite for biscuits, ideal for your Easter table at brunch or dinner.

Cafe Beaujolais whipping cream biscuits

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt (I usually only use 1/2 teaspoon)

1/4 cup butter unsalted, cut into 1/2-teaspoon-sized pieces and very cold

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream (9 oz.)

Mix dry ingredients, add cubed butter and blend with an electric hand mixer, or with fingers rubbing until butter is broken into pea-sized pieces. Add cream and stir with a fork until just moistened. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead just until it just comes together. Roll or gently pat out to 3/4-inch thickness. I always cut it with a sharp chef’s knife rather than a biscuit cutter, as to use up the entire batch of 12 pieces. Bake on ungreased baking sheet at 425 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack. I prefer this with a slightly sweet prosecco from Spain.

These biscuits are awesome for any meal with butter, jam, bacon gravy or strawberry shortcake. I made the latter for the culinary schools chef/teachers’ table when it was my turn to make their dessert. I also added handmade vanilla ice cream in the center, drizzled with sugar macerated strawberries, and topped it with Chantilly cream (sugar and vanilla whipped cream). I blushed when they chefs laughed at my homey dessert. But I jumped for joy when every single plate came back clean; they ate every bite!