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!

May 20

Glowing Skin Provided by The Clean Living Collection

My journey that eventually led me to my awesome vegan life began about 15 years ago when I learned that most (possibly all) of the cosmetics and personal care products I used were tested on animals. And not just any animals…bunny rabbits. I had not grown up with pets but had always dreamed of having a bunny rabbit to hug him and pet him and squeeze him and name him George! Those of you that are too young to have seen Bugs Bunny in the 70s, here is what I’m talking about! So when I got my first apartment, I got a bunny and I named him George. I loved George! And years later as I was learning about this tragic thing called animal testing, I had to look my bun-buns Cadbury & Chloe in the eye after I found out what I had been supporting with my purchases. Transitioning to cruelty-free products became my life’s mission. And through that time of change I learned of the appalling treatment of farmed animals and raccoon dogs and my animal loving, plant based life began!

Vegan tooth powder samples

I love attending events like Berkeley Vegan Earth Day to discover new, vegan, cruelty-free products. At this event, I was introduced to the Clean Living Collection for the first time. Ariel handcrafts her products here in the Bay Area using ingredients that are 100% organic, non-GMO and free of synthetic fragrances. All oils are raw, unrefined and cold pressed so they offer the most benefit to our skin and bodies. Less than a year ago I started using EarthPaste and really love the product. It is made of Redmond clay, salt & essential oils. So I was definitely ready to try Ariel’s 3 clay tooth powder. I went with the Sweet Citrus with sweet orange & grapefruit essential oils based purely on how good it smelled. The powder is made up of two clays – bentonite and French green which work to remineralize my teeth. My powder also contains turmeric and activated charcoal which have done an amazing job of brightening & whitening. And the cinnamon & cloves not only taste great but help keep my mouth clean & healthy. By the second time I used the tooth powder, I was hooked! Every time I brush, my mouth and teeth feel detoxed and clean. The first time I used it, it looked like I was spitting mud into the bathroom sink but don’t worry…your teeth will look and feel so good you won’t even care!

Loving the tooth powder as much as I did, I wanted to learn more about Ariel’s products. So I reached out to her to find out more about Clean Living Collection. Like many of us, she began to realize how toxic conventional body care products are. She set about researching ingredients and realized that if she wanted it done right, she would have to do it herself. The first two products she created were tooth powder and deodorant since those were items she used every day. Folks started asking her how they could purchase her products but it was when her dentist asked to buy her tooth powder that she decided it was time to turn this passion into a business! In fact it is going so well, that in just two years, she has now committed full time to the Clean Living Collection. Ariel generously sent me several more of her vegan-friendly products to try out and here is what I experienced!

The Organic Deodorant Spray, is a new favorite in our household. While I have sensitive skin on my face and neck, my husband Steve’s sensitive spot is his armpits. So when the box came in the mail I knew he was going to be the perfect person to try this out on. Witch hazel has been used for hundreds of years because of how beneficial it is to our skin. And the colloidal silver is perfect at eliminating body odor. We both love the refreshing aroma that comes from the sandalwood, neroli & Turkish rose otto essential oils. After using it every day for over a week, Steve’s pits are healthy and rash-free! And it has kept me odor-free through my Pilates, power Yoga and BodyCombat classes! Impressive!

I have used several different facial serums off and on over the last decade or so as I began to see signs of aging. The Hemp &
Green Tea rejuvenating facial serum is definitely a keeper. Daily, I add about 5 drops of serum to my face and neck after cleansing. I let it soak in for about five minutes, apply my raspberry seed oil sunscreen, moisturize next and I’m prepped for make-up. What I’ve noticed the most about this serum is how soft my skin felt right away. Applying it once a day, my skin is already looking smoother & more youthful. I’m excited to see what the long-term improvements will be.

My Clean Living Collection samples!

There are so many things to love about the Flowers & Mud Mask. It is loaded with clays that detoxify by attracting and drawing heavy metals out of my body. The high amount of silica in the Moroccan clay is already smoothing out my wrinkles and my skin. I immediately noticed a reduction in my pore size after just one use. The increased circulation was obvious right away too. It made my skin glow by wiping away the dead skin cells which helps with cell turnover. My skin tends toward dry so I use the mask just once a week and moisturize after. It is also supposed to improve dark under eye circles by increasing the blood flow. I’m looking forward to seeing some improvements after dealing with the circles for over a decade.

I admit that when I learned Ariel’s products are organic, non-GMO, raw, free of toxic fragrances and made right here in the Bay Area, I was immediately impressed. But now that I’ve had the opportunity to use them, I’m really blown away by the improvements to my skin in such a short amount of time. Besides vegan doughnuts, there isn’t much I love more than finding vegan, handcrafted, holistic skincare that is inspired by nature. Her products can be purchased at Clean Living Collection and you may run into her at vegan events throughout the Bay Area and around the country (and even in the U.K.). Knowing that what we put on our skin is as important as the food we put into our bodies makes me very happy to have found her products! So go holistic and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!