August 10

Gott’s Roadside Introduces the Vegan Impossible Burger to Napa Valley!

When I heard the news that Gott’s Roadside had begun offering Impossible Foods‘ vegan Impossible Burger (IB), I could barely control my excitement! First Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger was being sold in our local Safeway and now this! For those of you who live in a vegan-friendly city, this may not seem like much of a big deal. But for those of us here in Napa Valley who have been waiting for the local chefs to recognize and accept that veganism is not a fad that is going away, this news created a buzz of excitement and conversation in our vegan community! In fact, when I posted this information on my Facebook page, I reached hundreds of my readers who had dozens of comments.

This excitement made me really want to dig in a bit and learn more about Impossible Foods (IF) which led me to their comprehensive and informative 2017 Sustainability Report. CEO and Founder, Pat Brown, left Stanford in 2011 and started Impossible Foods with one mission. To make the global food system sustainable by replacing animal-based foods with delicious, nutritious AND affordable plant-based meat & dairy foods. The amount of land needed to raise and feed these sentient beings takes up nearly half of ALL land in the world! 75% of the agricultural land in the U.S. is used for the beings and the crops they eat. Talk about unsustainable! The animal agriculture industry is responsible for consuming 25% of all fresh water and creating at least 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions – as much as every car, truck, bus, ship, airplane and rocket combined! The continued degradation of our natural ecosystems is happening at the expense of wildlife – the global populations of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles & amphibians have declined by 58% in the last 40 years. But as many of us remember from our pre-vegan days, our species loves to eat meat. Regardless of the constant health warnings, our ever expanding waist lines and our disintegrating health, meat consumption has grown four-fold in the past 50 years and is projected to increase by as much as 70% in the next 30 years!

IFs has spent the last five years, studying what is it about meat that drives this seemingly insatiable craving! Their scientists have studied meat at the molecular level to help reproduce the texture, taste and even aromas of meat using only plant sources. They have found  “heme” to be the magic ingredient that makes meat taste like…well, meat. It is a building block that is found in all living things – plants and animals and the source that provides our bodies with bioavailable iron. IFs initially harvested the plant-based heme from legumes. However, to produce it on a commercial scale, they now use an engineered yeast that is produced through fermentation similar to the process used by Belgian beer makers for centuries.

Next, I reached out to Gott’s Brand Manager, Ann Pepi, to learn more about their motivation for adding the plant-based burger to their very meat-centric menu. The answer was surprisingly simple. They had offered a vegetarian garden burger as a substitute on their menu prior to the IB but found  there was a demand from their customers for something better. So the team tried both the Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger and the Impossible Burger was the winner! Because the IB is “uncharted territory” for Gott’s they are treating it like a new product. It is currently in its test stage and they plan to offer it as a special for several months. Ann’s expectations have been  “blown away” by the amount of curiosity and interest their customers are showing. But they plan to look at the long-term interest before deciding if the IB will be added to their permanent menu. Ann mentioned several times how happy she was that they are offering an option that is good for the planet.

When I visited Gott’s Roadside here in Napa, I had the opportunity to discuss the food preparation with Assistant General Manager, Daniel Hicks. Because of the more delicate nature of the Impossible Burger, instead of using the grill (where the beef burgers are cooked), they use a separate griddle. The griddle is used for toasting buns and sometimes cooking fish products. Before the IB is added to the griddle, they clean it with club soda and add oil instead of using butter.  Though their egg and gluten-free buns are not vegan-friendly, they offer the option of a lettuce wrap, whole wheat or sourdough bread. And then you can get creative. In addition to the lettuce, tomato and pickles you can add pickled carrots, avocado, vegan kimchi, pico de gallo, jalapeños, salsa verde or vegan slaw. The vegan-friendly sides include their french fries and sweet potato fries, customizable kale salads and watermelon with mint and black pepper. I had the delicious opportunity to try the Impossible Burger on whole wheat bread with mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickles and avocado AND with kimchi on sourdough. The taste, texture and aroma of the IB was incredible. I admit I have not eaten meat in close to a decade so my memory is probably a bit fuzzy but it seemed very authentic to me. And it tastes great! There is nothing else available that tastes this good! Oh, and get the sweet potato fries! They are crisp, a touch spicy and possibly the best I’ve ever had. When Daniel delivered the food, he admitted that he eats a lot of meat but after trying the Impossible Burger he is “going to become a vegetarian when I’m at work”. That seemed like the perfect testimonial for the vegan Impossible Burger!

This year, Impossible Foods is scaling up to meet the incredible demand. They have purchased a factory in Oakland that will produce 1.1 million pounds of this plant-based bliss per month. In addition to saving animals, this amazing product will use 75% less water, produce 87% fewer greenhouse gases and require 95% less land than animal-based beef. What a summer to be a vegan! Now get on over to Gott’s and support their efforts to bring this delicious burger to Napa Valley! And remember to eat, drink and be vegan!

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!!