July 19

Being Vegan at the Taste of Napa 2017!

 

This time next year I will be wrapping up all the loose ends before packing me, my husband Steve, our dog Violet and our cats Stig & Clover off to our new home in Berlin, Germany! 🇩🇪 And since Taste of Napa was the first event I’d ever covered for my blog, I certainly did not want to miss my final opportunity to eat, drink and be vegan at the festival. This year it was held at the Napa Valley Expo Center on 3rd street near downtown Napa. Having been to the center many times (this is where BottleRock is held every May), I was curious how it would be set up and if I’d like it as well as I did when it was held in Copia at Oxbow Public Market or Cairdean Estate (now rebranded as Brasswood) in St. Helena. I should have known that it would be perfect. While it was located outdoors, they had these huge, rainbow colored sail-like awnings shading the entire space. The Reserve Tasting Salon, the Stage and the Main Floor food artisans and wineries were all protected from the 94 degree sunlight. This year they included a Beer Garden (or Biergarten in my newly adopted language!) which felt really apropos! And the fact that it is a short walk from my home was certainly a big bonus.

Arthur with Napa Valley Distillery serving me my Mai Tai! Yum…

The Reserve Tasting Salon was intimate this year with minimal seating and tables but offered plenty of delicious wines and cocktails. The crowd was small so it did feel very VIP-like compared to the mash-up of  folks enjoying the Main Floor wineries, restaurants and food artisans. I’m a very social person but when temps start creeping up over the 90 degree mark, I do like to have a little bit of space! Believe it or not, my first libation was not even wine. It was the newest addition to Napa Valley Distillery’s Oak Blended cocktail line – the world famous Mai Tai! Putting their own spin on this classic cocktail, they replaced the orange curaçao with their Grand California Orange infused Brandy! This brandy was made specifically for this new Mai Tai blend and was crafted with citrus grown right here in California. Their partner El Guapo Bitters made a custom orgeat syrup and with a little fresh lime and their own craft Rum, I felt like I was in the Caribbean! Cute little tidbit I learned is though we all associate the Mai Tai with tropical islands some believe that it actually originated in Oakland at a Tiki themed restaurant called Trader Vic’s. So the story goes, Vic created a cocktail for a group of friends and after tasting it one of his friends shouted “maita’ I roa ae!” – Tahitian for “out of this world!”.  According to the NVD team, no animal products are used in the the crafting of the Mai Tai or their Old-Fashioned blended cocktail (a blend of sugar, water, bitters and Whiskey).

123 (Uno, Dos, Tres) Organic Tequila was also featured and is crafted using organically-certified agave plantations and small batch artisanal distillations. In addition to farming without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers the Founder, David Ravandi, is committed to lightening its carbon footprint by using recycled glass for bottling and recycled paper and natural soy ink for labelling. And though I wish I had been able to share my tasting experience with you, I have not been able to drink tequila for at least a couple decades! Just a sniff brings back memories I would like to forever forget!

General Manager Dave Bryant serving some incredible Alpha Omega vintages.

The Reserve Salon offered several vegan-friendly wines provided by some of the best wineries in Napa Valley including Alpha Omega, Tournesol and Bouchaine Vineyards. I enjoyed everything I tasted from these three wineries. I hope to visit each of them very soon and share more details with you in the near future. There was only one restaurant in the Salon – Estate Events by Meadowood – and that was a total bust for us vegans!

Gowan Heirloom Cider grown, harvested and crafted along the Mendocino Coast.

The Main Floor was a sea of people and with good reason. The majority of restaurants, food artisans and the beer garden all surrounded the main stage. I was really excited to see our local Tannery Bend Beerworks in the Beer Garden. They are a fairly new tap room located off Coombs Street as you head out of downtown Napa. I’ve been meaning to walk down since they opened but since my husband can’t burp (yeah, apparently that is a thing) he hasn’t been too excited about joining me. But now that I’ve tasted their light, citrusy Coombs Saison and had the opportunity to meet their team, I will be heading over really soon. The star of the Beer Garden for me though was Gowan’s Heirloom Ciders. They are located in Mendocino and have been growing and harvesting apples on their family orchards for over 140 years. I wish I could share my favorite with you but frankly they were all incredible. I’ve been a fan of hard cider since my first trip to England 20 years ago and I can say with confidence that they make the best cider I’ve ever had! And many others agree with me. Gowan’s earned the BEST in Show in 2016 for five of their blends – 1876 Heirloom, Gravenstein Heirloom, Macintosh Heirloom, ‘Still Sierra Beauty and Sparkling Sierra Beauty.

Lauren and the Tannery Bend Beerworks’ team keeping the crowd cool with their incredible beer!


Now it is beginning to sound like all I did is drink but I was on the look out for food too! The Restaurant at CIA Copia was assembling a fresh, delicious salad full of veggies and they were happy to make it vegan just for us. Meritage also put together a tasty bite of avocado & peach sprinkled with micro greens. What kept me hydrated and energetic throughout the afternoon was Nekter Juice Bar. They were giving away samples of several of their juices. The two that kept me going back for more were the Detox loaded with Parsley, spinach, apple, lemon and ginger. And the Buzz with carrot, orange, lemon and ginger. They definitely put some pep in my step! Napa Valley Tea Company was offering samples of their organic tea blends. I met the team last year at the Taste of Napa at Cairdean Estate and just love their teas. Regina’s Heavenly Treats even offered a couple vegan snacks.

Staying sober and hydrated with Nekter’s delicious juices!

The Live Music Stage featured the winners of their Battle of the Bands! Serf and James, The Deadlies and Drop Dead Dangerous rocked the event all afternoon! The music was really good and helped keep my mind off the heat.

Chef with CIA @ Copia making sure we vegans were well fed!

Each year, there is something special that really stands out about the event and this year it was the music and the libations. The wine, the cider, the cocktails and the beer were really excellent. Nekter Juice Bar kept me hydrated and happy and all three of the bands were really talented. I would have loved to have had more dining options but once in a while we just have to rock, drink and be vegan!!

 

 

 

 

June 29

Vegan Adventures on the Napa Valley Wine Train!

While out walking with my dogs, I always enjoyed seeing the Napa Valley Wine Train (NVWT) full of happy, slightly drunk tourists chugging up and down Valley. Never did I imagine that I would be one of those happy, slightly drunk passengers! As a vegan, I made an assumption that there would be no dining options for me. And as I mentioned before, it’s just for wine sipping tourists anyway, right? Wrong! I recently had the opportunity to enjoy an intimate twilight tour on the NVWT’s 36-seat, single car Quattro Vino Pullman thanks to Yelp! And I really had the time of my life!

 

Date night on the train!
Tower of fresh fruits & veggies

The experience started at the train station on McKinstry near Oxbow Commons. The staff were all incredibly friendly, excited to help and were a big part in making the evening unforgettable. Prior to boarding, they served bubbles from Domaine Chandon to get the party started! Once I boarded the train, I was drawn back in time! The 1915 lounge car is a lavish reminder of how we travelled a 100 years ago. With only 36 seats it felt very private and is perfect for date night!

 

The trip up valley included pours of Grgich Hills Estate’s 2014 Fume Blanc, their 2013 Chardonnay and the 2016 Rosé. Along with the wine, I was served a tower of fresh fruits and veggies and salty, crispy bread. The tomato, bread and balsamic made a wonderful combination of flavors. The next course was a delicious plate of grilled veggies & lentils that were warm and hearty. I wish I could describe the view but I admit that I was so wrapped up in the wine, food and conversation that I barely looked outside! And before I knew it, the train had reached beautiful Grgich Hills Estate in Rutherford.

 

It had been about 5 years since I last visited Grgich Hills and I had forgotten what a beautiful setting it offers. The tasting room is surrounded by roses and the view above it is just spectacular. Daniel led us on a private tour of the Estate that included some of Milijenko “Mike” Grgich’s amazing contributions to winemaking and Napa Valley. In fact, Mike first gained international recognition at the celebrated “Paris Tasting” of 1976. This now-historic blind tasting included a panel of eminent French judges who swirled, sniffed, and sipped a collection of white French Burgundies along with a small sampling of Napa Valley Chardonnays. And when the scores had all been tallied and the winner announced, Mike’s 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay was named the finest white wine in the WORLD! Not only were the judges stunned but it changed the international wine industry’s perception of Napa Valley forever!

Dessert!

The tour also included tastings of the 2016 Zinfandel and 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet became one of my favorites – fruity and elegant just how I like them. I also learned that their wines are all certified organic, pesticide & herbicide-free. And since bentonite clay is used in the fining process the wines are also vegan! The trip home included a light, delicious dessert of  poached Seckel pears with berries drizzled with raspberry sauce. Oh, and more wine! What a perfect finish to a lovely evening!

 

Whether you are visiting Napa Valley or you live locally, the wine train experience is something that you should not miss. The food and wine are extraordinary & the private winery tour is very special. When you make your reservations, let them know that you are vegan. In fact, since my experience, they have added veg-only tables so you won’t find yourself sitting across from meat eaters or looking at a tower of cheese & charcuterie when you sit down! Schedule your extraordinary wine train tour HERE! Enjoy your train ride of Napa Valley and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!!

 

 

June 2

Indulging Your Vegan Palate at Signorello Estate

Perfection…We have all had days that we’ve been able to label as perfect. The food extraordinary, the wine exquisite, the weather sunny and warm, the views breathtaking, the songbirds serenading and the service flawless. Perfect is the only way I can describe my experience at Signorello Estate. I was recently invited by Estate Sommelier Ron Plunkett to enjoy their Enoteca estate experience. This includes a chauffeured tour of their 100 acre estate and the 5-course guided pairing.

Until this visit, I had never been fully immersed in a true food and wine pairing experience. My fellow vegans know exactly what I’m talking about! It is rare to find a Sommelier and a Chef who will collaborate to provide a meal that not only indulges the palate of the plant based crowd but also pairs perfectly with the wine. But the collaboration between Chef Michael Pryor and Estate Sommelier Ron Plunkett have ended that dilemma forever! This is truly a wine and food experience unlike any other in Napa Valley!

Signorello Estate is located high above Silverado Trail – one of my favorite locations in all of Napa Valley. As I turned into Signorello Estate, I was surrounded by a gorgeous, symmetrical row of green trees and deep purple Japanese maples with the rows of grapevines just beyond. As I arrived at the tasting room, I was greeted by a shining infinity pool and the breathtaking views of the Vaca and Mayacamas mountain ranges with unparalleled views of the Valley below! Words like stunning & beautiful don’t even begin to describe the setting – it is all of that and more!

Before the tour began, I was welcomed with a glass of their 2013 White Uvaggio Estate wine. A unique blend of Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Chardonnay grapes that is only available at the winery. With complex flavors of peach, citrus, apple and roses, this was the ideal wine to sip while sitting in the sun and gazing at the views! My small group then loaded up on the 6-seater, customized off-road vehicles and we were off. The tour included the Sauvignon

Chef Michael Pryor

Blanc and Chardonnay vines planted at the bottom of the hill in the sandy loam valley. The Chardonnay vines were originally planted in 1980 and are some of the oldest in Napa Valley. Because of their age, they tend to offer a lower yield

Estate Sommelier Ron Plunkett sharing the view!

than younger vines which makes this micro-winery experience even more special. Next, we headed up the hill to take in the extraordinary views. A unique feature of Signorello Estate that I’ve never experienced at other wineries is the fact that they own both “sides of the hill”. Not only were we able to see what is at the top of the hill and beyond but it also allows them to grow east and west facing vines. The soil is very different from the soil at the bottom of the hill. It is shallow & rocky and lends itself to the red varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. With part of the vineyard benefiting from eastern exposure and the other from western exposure, the grapes have a diversity that leads to very complex and balanced wines. Sixth generation Winemaker Pierre Birebent grew up on his family vineyard in Corsica, France and studied viticulture & enology in Burgundy. He utilizes the French wine making method known for its balanced wines. He is also the vineyard manager so is very in tune with his grapes. The wines are not fined or filtered prior to bottling which guarantees they are always vegan-friendly.

Standing next to the RV taking in the sights!

While on the tour, Ron pointed out many of the environmental practices they have implemented to receive the Napa Green Certification. To control insects and rodents, instead of using toxic chemicals, they have added bat, blue bird and owl nesting boxes. In fact, the blue birds are small but fierce. Not only do they eat up the grapevine moths that can decimate grapevines but also run off the grape-loving crows that are 10 times their size! They even have a family of rattlesnakes that eliminate pests as nature intended. And their free-range chickens fill up on the insects that the blue birds leave behind. The land Signorello Estate sits on now even used to be a rescue for retired racehorses. And they use left over grapes for mulch. What’s not to love about this place?

Upon the conclusion of the tour, my group headed into the private dining room. Allowing a maximum of 8 guests, the food & wine pairing is a very intimate experience. Relying on his on-site garden and the local Napa & St. Helena Farmers Markets to offer fresh, in-season produce, Chef Michael Pryor’s menu generally changes weekly.

The Primo course of spring vegetable ragout, fennel broth & sliced radishes paired with the 2014 Seta Estate wine started the meal off with a bang. Seta is Italian for silk and that is exactly what it felt like. The simple combination of spring vegetables and broth was absolutely bursting with flavor.

The Secondo course was an amazing pairing of the 2014 Vielles Vines Estate Chardonnay with bruschetta topped with almond cheese, grilled peaches, toasted walnuts & smoked sea salt. The old vine Chardonnay flavors of apple & vanilla were exquisite with the grilled peaches & sea salt. Until I reached the 5th course, this was my favorite pairing of flavors.

The Terzo course of king trumpet mushrooms, roasted cherries, cipollini onions, spinach, pistachios and the 2013 Pinot Noir Las Amigas was the most aromatic portion of the meal. And the delicious combination of flavors brought out the black pepper note of the pinot.

Course Quarto was an Italian farro pasta with deconstructed pesto & wax beans paired with the 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Again, the aroma was incredible and the pasta brought out the bold, full flavors of the wine. As delicious as it was, I knew I needed to save room for the final course!

Final course Quinto was pan seared eggplant, caramelized squash, olive oil roasted potatoes with salmorejo sauce. Even though I knew this was vegan, the weight, feel and taste of the pan seared eggplant was reminiscent of fat. This pairing was absolutely exquisite with the 2013 Padrone Estate blend. The blended Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc was elegant and well deserving of its 96+ rating.

The Enoteca experience is 2 1/2 hours of bliss. Beginning with the views, the location, the tour and finishing with the 5-course pairing. I have had many wonderful wine tasting experiences since arriving in Napa in late 2011 but I can say with confidence that this is the best yet. In fact, the wine was so incredible that I joined their wine club and brought my bi-annual allotment of 6 and an extra bottle of the 2013 Estate Padrone home with me!

To schedule your own Enoteca experience, visit Signorello Estate and reserve your spot HERE. Be sure to note that you are vegan and ask for Estate Sommelier Ron Plunkett! His knowledge of the wines and the history of Signorello Estate is wonderful. And ask him to explain why he is called the Cop Somm. You’ll love the story of his journey! As I was leaving, I had the opportunity to chat with Chef Michael for a few minutes and was really excited to find that he has recently joined the whole foods, plant-based diet program sponsored by our local hospital and not only feels great but has also lost over 50 pounds! What an incredible win for him and the animals!

Whether this is your first or tenth time visiting Napa Valley, be sure to include this experience in your schedule. And as always…eat, drink & be vegan! Cheers!