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 3

Berkeley Vegan Earth Day!

In San Francisco 47 years ago, peace activist John McConnell proposed a day to honor our planet and the concept of peace. March 21st, 1970, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere, was planned for the first celebration. A month later, on April 22nd, Senator Gaylord Nelson founded a separate Earth Day focused on providing the U.S. with a day focused on protecting our environment from the ever increasing rate of industrialization & our careless attitudes toward Mother Earth. By 1990, Earth Day had gone global with organized events planned in 141 different nations. Today, more than 190 countries and one billion people demonstrate their support for our shared planet’s environment on Earth Day!

With terrifying statistics like this one: Livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide which stays in our atmosphere for 150 years! Or gems like this one: Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually which accounts for 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. I had no doubt that I’d be able to easily find an Earth Day celebration that not only taught us the importance of shorter showers, recycling, using public transportation and alternate energy sources but also focused on making a plant based diet a priority! When I reached out to the Earth Night celebration hosted by Connelly Ranch, here in Napa, only 2 of the 5 food trucks even responded when I asked if vegan food would be available. So, instead of staying local to enjoy my celebration, I headed down to Vallejo and hopped on the ferry to check out the San Francisco Earth Day event! Their website and Facebook page both mentioned the organic, vegan food court that would be available! However, after joining the march and wandering through the entire Earth Day street fair, I did not find a single food truck that served vegan food. Thank goodness I had several free Kombucha samples and a Clif bar to get me through the afternoon!

I’m sure you can only imagine how psyched I was to attend the 7th annual Berkeley Vegan Earth Day the following week! Finally, an event that brought the vegan and environmental communities together to celebrate a shared vision for our sustainable future. This non-profit event was hosted by Compassionate Living who reduced the vendor cost and ticket price so more of the local community could join in on the fun. Presentations ran from 11 a.m to 3:45 p.m. and included veganic farming, the environmental impact of animal agriculture and the devastating effects that the chicken and fishing industry have on our planet.

The David Brower Center was full of animal sanctuaries like FlipSide Sanctuary in Sonoma, Goatlandia Sanctuary in Santa Rosa and Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary in Stockton. Safe havens who were there to educate the attendees on what these sentient beings endure through the victimization of factory farming. Every time I visit farm animal sanctuaries and have the opportunity to rug piggies’ bellies and visit with the cows, turkeys and bunnies, I am reminded of why I made this incredible life change 10 years ago!

I got to nibble on delicious almond dips from la onda; sweet refreshing frozen ice pops from Fairyella; hand-crafted, small-batch kombucha from Health-ade and amazing raw, organic chocolate from Lulu’s Chocolate! My favorite find was the Handsome Carver’s organic nut butters. I’ve been adding the coconut cashew butter to everything I eat! While chatting with the staff, I learned that they also have a tent at the Napa Farmers Market so now I never have to worry about running out!

Some of my favorite eco-friendly vendors included the Clean Living Collection who offers organic, non-GMO tooth powders made with bentonite clay to detoxify and remineralize, turmeric to strengthen and whiten and cinnamon & cloves to aid in cleaning and healing. My teeth feel clean and healthy after using it. The founders of Klean Kanteen – the original steel water bottle company – were also there with their new California designed and made canteens & coffee cups. With concerns about continuing to manufacture their steel canteens in China, they founded Earth-in-USA. Using clay from right here in Northern California and working with local artisan designers, they’ve created lead-free, non toxic, totally sustainable alternatives to the steel bottles. I’ve been a member of Farm Fresh to You since the Sonoma Veg Fest last year. They offer home delivered locally grown organic produce and other unique hand-crafted farm products. They have got me completely hooked on fruit shrubs! Imperfect Produce was also there! They do an amazing job of gathering the “ugly” produce that usually go to waste on farms. Supermarkets and produce distributors reject these fruits and vegetables because they aren’t picture perfect (though they taste exactly the same). They will soon be delivering here in Napa Valley!

One of my readers, Valentina, also recognized me and we got to finally meet in person! I’m always so excited to meet my blog and Facebook followers! Good luck on your vegan journey Valentina!

It was a small but incredible event; I’ve already got it in my calendar for next year! With our typical Earth Day celebrations not making animal agriculture a priority in our climate change education, it is vital we support this event! So, always remember…take care of Mother Earth and eat, drink and be vegan!

***Upcoming blog posts: Napa Farmers Market and vegan tasting with five-course food pairing at Signorello Estate!