Traveling with Global Entry and TSA Precheck

plane3Even though I am British by birth, I am not found of queues, aka standing in line. So when I heard about Global Entry, the preclearance program that sends you to the front of the U.S. Customs line when you return from abroad, I signed up right away. And now that you can use your Global Entry Trusted Traveler number to join the TSA Precheck program, I couldn’t be happier.

Signing up for Global Entry requires a little effort and $100, but it’s worth it. You start by going to this website, filling out an application and paying the nonrefundable $100 fee. Your application is reviewed and if everything looks right, you get an email prompting you to go to the nearest Global Entry Enrollment Centers, usually at your local airport. You go in, chat with a customs officer briefly, give them your fingerprints and get your photograph taken. A week or so later your card is mailed to you and it’s good for five years.

For international travel, having the card means you don’t have to fill out the customs form on the airplane or wait in the often long line at U.S. Customs. Instead, you head straight for one of the Global Entry kiosks, insert your passport, picture page open, into the reader and follow the instructions on the screen. You’ll be asked the same questions that are on the printed form, but just have to touch the screen to answer yes or no. This is timed, so don’t take all day about it. Not all airports have Global Entry kiosks, but most of the big hubs are getting them, which is where lines tend to be a problem anyway.

Pro tip: You have to place your fingers on a glass panel to prove you are the owner of the correct set of fingerprints. Try laying your fingers flat rather than pushing down on the tips; that can warp the sworls. (Sometimes the machines act up, as machines are wont to do. In this case, you have the right to go to the head of a line, although make eye contact and wait for the officer to wave you on if you don’t want to start a small riot.) When things work right, you get a printed receipt which you show to whoever’s monitoring the exit line at passport control, get it checked, and then either pick up your bags at Baggage Claim, or, if you have just carry-on luggage, proceed to Customs, following the “Nothing to Declare,” sign, unless of course you do. There’s usually a dedicated line marked “Global Entry,” you go there and hand your printed receipt to the officer and that’s it.

For the TSA Precheck advantage,  you need to enter your Trusted Traveler number when making reservations. This number is on your Global Entry card. Also check your frequent flier programs, many will let you enter this number into your profile which is convenient. Make sure your boarding pass has the designation “TSA Precheck” on it and when you present this and your ID to the control officer at the front of the security line you’ll be directed to the Precheck line. Having this clearance means you can keep on most shoes, light coat, belt, and you don’t have to take your laptop and 3-ounce liquids out of your carry-on. I did this for the first time recently and it is so, so much less hassle than having to half-strip and then hurriedly get dressed at the other end, all the while keeping an eye on your iPad to make sure it doesn’t go, shall we say, astray.

If you don’t have a Global Entry number you can apply directly to the TSA here.

A few other countries are accepting Global Entry as a Customs shortcut including New Zealand. You can also apply for expedited entry through the Dutch Privium program, the Korean SES program, and the Mexican Viajero Confiable.

I suppose ultimately, everyone will be in the Trusted Traveler line, which will kind of cut into the whole shortcut thing. Don’t know what will happen then. But for now, being in these programs is as much fun as zipping across the Bay Bridge in the carpool lane at 8:30 a.m.

The only hard part is keeping that smug look off your face. I recommend thinking about the fact that airline seats have now shrunk to about 17 inches across.

Coke’s glass act

Source: Riedel
Source: Riedel

When I was in daily news I sometimes worked on stories so big they were sent out as a bulletin series — two or three short sentences that moved on high priority. So, Twitter without the snark, basically. I mention this only because I wish I had something like that to highlight today’s big, big news which is that Riedel, Continue reading “Coke’s glass act”

Duck Dynasty Wine

vcsPRAsset_521319_81228_4e1911a6-bad8-481c-9795-fabcac3e3733_0The Trinchero Family Estates – Duck Dynasty wine collaboration has ruffled some feathers.

Shanken News Daily is reporting that Duckhorn Wine Company is suing over the name, claiming trademark infringement. A Trinchero spokeswoman declined comment on the suit, saying the company does not talk about pending litigation as a matter of policy.

Earlier, Willie Robertson of the family behind the popular A&E reality show “Duck Dynasty,” was disinvited as a speaker at a church event because of the family’s association with wine.

Meanwhile, what of Duck Commander patriarch Phil Robertson’s controversial comments about gay rights and race relations to GQ Magazine? That earned him a suspension from the show, which triggered backlash from supporters, which was followed by A&E announcing it would resume filming this spring with the whole family.

Trinchero did not comment on that either, but referred us to the family statement on the issue and noted that Duck Commander wines has a no-discrimination policy.

The partnership between the Trincheros and the Robertson family was launched with a celebratory dinner in mid-November.

“There are some natural synergies between the Trinchero family and Robertson family businesses.  Both companies were built on family values with a mission to provide consumers with quality products.  This has helped us both establish customer loyalty which continues on from one generation to the next,” Roger Trinchero, principal, vice chairman and CEO of Trinchero Family Estates, said in a statement at the time. 

Duck Commander CEO Willie Robertson said his family “decided to create Duck Commander Robertson Family wines because we know that many of our customers and our viewers choose to celebrate family moments with wine.  We knew we needed to find a family company in the heart of wine country that could produce authentic, quality wines. The Trinchero family is the right fit, and the wines are delicious.”

The first vintage included Triple Threat 2011 Red BlendWood Duck 2012 Chardonnay, and Miss Priss 2012 Pink Moscato, all produced from California vineyards.


Porto Portfolio


Douro overviewIt’s in the high 80s here in Porto, which is warm for anyone, but for someone whose blood has been thinned by the anemic San Francisco sun positively a blazing inferno. While strolling the quay alongside the Douro River I had to restrain myself from going full-on Margaret Hamilton, “I’m melting! I’m melting!”

I persevered, however, and was glad I did because there is some excellent walking to be done here.

I’m staying on the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the river, which is where all the port houses are and is a a little bit quieter than the Porto side. So, first I walked across the Dom Luis bridge which is a very cool iron arch with two levels, both accessible to pedestrians. The top level carries the Metro yellow line and has great views, dropping you off about halfway up the hill that Porto sprawls over. The lower level, open to regular traffic connects directly with the Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia quays.


Does it look a little bit familiar? It should. It was engineered by Teophile Seyrig, former business partner of the famous Gustav Eiffel.

I took the high way over and the low way back and then collapsed by the hotel pool for the rest of the afternoon.

The next day, I followed the Gaia riverfront trail to the sea, about a four-mile trek. There’s a wooden boardwalk for much of the way and lots of shady benches to sit on so it’s not too strenuous. Along the way I passed some intriguing ruins.


And I walked past a marina with an eclectic group of boats that ranged from sleek yachts to “can that thing really float?”


When I finally reached the sea it reminded me of a Northern California beach where you look at the waves and craggy rock formations but only an idiot (sorry surfers) would actually dive in.


I also learned a little Portuguese hiking etiquette. The whole California, slight smile and dip of the head which connotes, “Hello, friend. I am not the trail side strangler,” just got me some blank looks and even a few hard stares. I tried a couple, “Hi’s.” Ditto. I was about to give up when an old guy pedaling by at a pretty good clip called out “Bom dia!” Portuguese for “Good morning.” Aha. I looked straight in the eye of the next walker I saw and caroled, “Bom dia!”

“Hello,” he said.

Well, it’s a start.

Cheers, peripatetically.

MacMurray Ranch: Hollywood Meets Vine

You know Fred MacMurray as a distinguished and gentlemanly actor. But did you also know he was a serious farmer and rancher in Sonoma wine country?

MacMurray and his wife, actress June Haver, raised Angus beef, not grapes,but these days the ranch, now owned by the Gallo family, is part of the wine scene with 425 acres producing grapes that go into the very good value MacMurray Ranch wines.

Most of the time the ranch is closed to the public, but over the Labor Day weekend it’s open as part of Taste of Sonoma, a terrific event held each year. (I just checked; this is sold out but there are a few tickets left to other events.)

When they bought the ranch in the 1990s, the Gallos asked Fred’s daughter, Kate, to stay on as brand ambassador and that turned out to be one smart decision. Kate is one of the warmest, nicest, most down-to-earth people you will ever meet, and I say that as someone who usually gets tongue-tied and self-conscious around the rich and famous.

I interviewed Kate earlier this year for a story on wines with celebrity connections and the visit ranks as one of my highlights of 2013. The ranch has been beautifully restored by the Gallos — they even hired a painter to touch up the vintage wallpaper — and is just as it was when the MacMurray family lived there, right down to the rocking chair with the wide, flat arms just right for holding the actor’s drink as he sat reading the paper in the evening.

The MacMurrays bought the property in 1941 from the Porter family who established the farmstead in the 1850s – their old wagon still stands in front of the house – and used it first for diversified farming in World War II and then for cattle. A display of panoramic photos in the old barn paints a detailed picture of the evolution of the area.

“It has a rich agricultural history and it’s very specific to Northern California,” MacMurray pointed out. ” If you held a mirror up to our ranch what would reflect back is the whole history of agriculture in Northern Califronia. It’s quite remarkable.”

MacMurray, star of such classics as “Double Indemnity” and “The Apartment,” and later the popular TV series “My Three Sons,” spent his free time at the ranch and was deeply involved in the local agricultural scene. The photo displays include fun pictures of Fred, June and their prize cattle looking very spiffy for competition days.

MacMurray Ranch pinot noir has been my go-to Thanksgiving wine for some years. It’s usually to be found for under $20, sometimes under $15 and it’s rich and silky and does a nice job of smoothing out the turkey-cranberry-stuffing trinity. I also tried the reserve pinot on this visit and, while it is a bit more. with a suggested retail of $35, it is worth the splurge.

Here are my notes:

MacMurray Ranch 2010 Ranch Russian River Reserve Pinot Noir: Dark garnet color, nice aroma of red fruit followed by more cherry and raspberry in the mouth. Finishes rich and smooth. ABV 15.2 percent.

And speaking of smooth, I was my usual urbane, suave self while interviewing Kate. Here is a picture of me striking a sophisticated pose.

Cheers, poisedly.


My dinner with Yao Ming

Yao-Ming41It’s a warm summer evening in the Napa Valley and the clink of glasses echoes along the restaurant-rich main drag of tiny Yountville as two weddings, a college reunion and the usual Friday night dinner crowd get ready for some serious wining and dining.

Suddenly, heads turn and eyes widen as a tall man, a VERY tall man, walks into Michael Chiarello’s Bottega restaurant. Is it? It looks like … yes, it is Yao Ming, the retired Houston Rockets star who last year started a second career with his Napa-based Yao Family Wines.

No doubt about it, at 7-foot-six, the first thing that strikes you about Yao is his size. But it doesn’t take long before you’re impressed by other things, like his gravity, intelligence and complete lack of diva-tude.

How serious is Yao about his new line of work? Well, I’d hoped to meet him at this year’s Napa Valley wine auction, where Yao Family Wines had a lot in the live auction. Turns out he couldn’t make it because he had finals. It’s true. A guy who is more than set for life financially is polishing up his business acumen by studying for an economics degree in his hometown of Shanghai and plans to get an MBA after that.

Yao was hosting the dinner to give a sneak preview of a new wine to be released soon, the 2010 Napa Crest which will retail at $48 a bottle. That’s quite a bit less than the winery’s two other releases, a Napa cabernet sauvignon priced at $150 and a Yao Ming Family Wines Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, produced in very small quantities, that goes for $625. The wines are primarily cabernet sauvignon with other Bordeaux varieties such as merlot and petit verdot blended in and are delicious.

Obviously, a $625 or even $150 price tag is not for every budget, including mine, but I asked Thomas Hinde, president and director of winemaking at Yao Family Wines, about that $150 price tag and he said it came from benchmarking the wine with quality Napa cabs and 3rd- and 4th-growth Bordeaux and setting the price accordingly.

(Funny story. I took my resident expert in all things basketball and Chinese, Mr. Ho, to the dinner. As I’ve mentioned a time or twenty, he’s a little on the frugal side and I asked him what he thought about a wine priced at six-twenty-five. “It’s good,” he said. “I’d buy this.” I was stunned. Could this be Two Buck Chuck’s No. 1 fan talking? And then I figured it out. “Honey,” I said, “it’s six hundred and twenty five dollars, not $6.25.” “Oh,” he said.)

Yao is interested in being part of China’s booming wine market and his wines were first released in his home country. He told me that he was introduced to wine by his dad (both Yao’s parents were basketball players in China) and continued his education as an NBA player through going out to dinners with the other players and enjoying a glass of wine. “At that time, I don’t know what is good or what is bad, I just want to enjoy the moment,” he said.

Yao, who retired two years ago, has since developed his palate and gives input on the style of Yao Family Wines. He sees wine as something like “a time machine that can bring you to a special moment when you can just relax.”

Ultimately, selling wine is a business, “but it’s a very lovely business,” he said. “You not only sell this to make a profit. I believe it changed my life. I believe that it will change others, too.”


Gruet Grand Rosé

Gruet Rose and sweet potato fries at Corkscrew Cafe. /Photo Michelle Locke
Gruet Rose and sweet potato fries at Corkscrew Cafe. /Photo Michelle Locke

It’s summer here in the San Francisco Bay area which means that I’m wearing, jeans, a shirt, a sweater, a jacket … and I’m still cold.

I’ve been assured by scholars at the University of California, Berkeley, that there’s no evidence Mark Twain actually said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco,” but whoever said it, brother, did he say a mouthful.

However, I had occasion to escape the clammy embraces of the San Francisco fog recently and popped down to Carmel to do a couple of interviews for a travel story. And while I was there it was sunny and warm, just like in regular America, in fact so balmy that I found myself at a delightful roadside cafe (Corkscrew Cafe, I highly recommend it) and in need of a cool, light, crisp and refreshing glass of bubbles.

I chose the Gruet 2007 Grand Rosé and was very pleased with it. Gruet is from New Mexico, which is not the first place you think of when you think of fine sparkling wines. It turns out the grapes are grown at high altitudes so even though they do get pretty toasty during the day, the nights are cool enough to give the grapes the big day-night temperature swings that they like.  The Gruet family is originally from France and the wine is made in the traditional (expensive) method so the price is not bargain basement, suggested retail of $32.99. However, it is extremely delicious. I’ve had sparklers that came at twice the price that didn’t taste as good. Gruet also has a range of non-vintage sparklers that are also made in the traditional method and are  a total bargain at around $15. I recommend you check them out.

Here’s the rundown.

Gruet 2007 Grand Rosé: Salmon-pink color with a pretty, floral aroma. The wine is 90 percent chardonnay, but the 10 percent pinot noir packs a big flavor punch, adding cherry, almonds and crisp apple to the mix. Suggested retail $32.99. Alcohol around 12 percent.