August 3

WineaPAWlooza 2017 – Eat Vegan, Drink Wine, Save Animals!

Food and wine go hand and hand here in Napa Valley. In fact, there are seven Michelin starred restaurants dotted along the 30 mile stretch that runs from Napa to Calistoga. Really an incredible number! Sadly, the philosophy of the Chefs in Napa Valley is that it is animal products that pair best with wine. Animals are viewed as nothing more than a commodity. This philosophy is reflected by most of the residents and visitors of Napa Valley who simply see animals as a menu item. And as much as I’ve enjoyed the beauty of the Valley and the extraordinary experiences I’ve had the privilege to enjoy, I’ve often felt conflicted with my decision to live here.

I’m never happier than when hugging animals!

So when I heard of Monica Stevens and her vision for Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch (JARR) three years ago, I was thrilled. Monica’s mission to provide Napa Valley with a no-kill rescue that will not only save the lives of companion animals like cats, dogs and bunny rabbits but farmed animals too. In the three years that Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch has been active, it has done incredible things for all animals. This includes finding forever homes for 500 animals in need that include dogs, cats, bunnies, chickens, ducks, horses, pigs, goats and sheep. JARR has provided 15,000 pounds of pet food for the local food bank and those in need; has provided over 1,000 spay/neuter surgeries; funded 50 life saving emergency surgeries and fields 120 calls per week from people who need help saving their animals! And this is just some of what they have accomplished! Early in 2017, JARR opened Ella’s Cathouse & Catnip Bar. This cage-free, no-kill cat adoption center is the first of its kind in Napa and has kept dozens of cats out of the county shelter system and found forever homes for them. It is also the first animal adoption center that has a no-meat policy for all staff and volunteers. Monica and her team have done all of this amazing work with the help of hundreds of dedicated volunteers and foster parents. JARR’s ultimate goal includes building a state-of-the-art, cage-free rescue and sanctuary that will serve the physical and emotional needs of the companion and farmed animals that call it home.

Saturday, July 29th was the fourth annual fundraising event. Ranked as one of Napa Valley’s top wine auctions,

Ottimo’s vegan Farro with Summer Beans

WineaPAWlooza has raised millions of dollars for the animals. Thanks to the generosity of the Napa Valley winemakers and wine lovers, this year alone, JARR raised $1.3M! Generously hosted again by the Gamble Family Vineyard, the who’s who of the Napa Valley wine industry shared the red carpet with dogs, goats, a pig and a donkey!

Vegan Japanese Curry served by Nuri!

Beginning with a Grand Tasting event that featured over 50 of the Valley’s premiere wineries and restaurants, we enjoyed mouth watering plant based bites that paired just perfectly with the wines! I was incredibly pleased by how well these decidedly unvegan restaurants did! Williams Sonoma Spanish Style Heirloom Gazpacho with Smoked Paprika was refreshing and delicious. La

Williams Sonoma’s vegan Heirloom Gazpacho!

Toque’s Chilled Snap Pea Jus with Salted Radish and Nori had a savory, seafood -like flavor. I scooped up Nuri’s delicious Japanese Curry with eggplant & tofu with a cracker as my spoon. I went back for seconds for Ottimo’s Farro with Summer Beans, peas & almond citrus. This salad is incredible and it is on their regular menu to enjoy any time! Bottega made an amazing Watermelon with Calabria chili vinaigrette salata. Ring of Fire included cheese on all of their offerings but after chatting with one of the servers about being vegan she took it upon herself to have the Chef bake up a vegan pizza for Steve and I. She even tracked me down and gave me the whole pizza to be sure we had enough to eat. That was a level of service I did not expect! I wish I could talk more about the wines but I had just finished a 5-day juice fast so my focus was 100% on the food offerings!

Bottega’s vegan Watermelon with Calabria chili vinaigrette!

The Pet Parade included a stoic donkey, a happy-go-lucky pig, two adorable goats and a stream of fortunate dogs all rescued and rehomed with the help of JARR! The live auction is where the real magic happens and thanks to the generous bidding $1.3 Million was raised to build the sanctuary. JARR announced the addition of a Sundowner Sportman 3H Bumper Pull trailer dedicated to the Roth family of New York for their dedication to animal welfare. This trailer will be housed in Napa Valley and, in collaboration with the County of Napa Emergency Services, will be made available to assist with the large animal emergency rescue during wildfires, accidents and other natural disasters. And even more wonderful news was announced that JARR is currently in escrow on property in the Carneros region. JARR is now one huge step closer to realizing their dream. When completed, this sanctuary and educational haven will be open to the community and will welcome all visitors. According to Monica, it will serve as a destination and best-practices example for animal advocacy. And to finish off this celebration, Co-founder David Stevens and his band Wristrocket, provided the music for the late night party and SONS Bier Garden.

 

Love at first sight for me and the donkey!

Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch is well on its way to achieving their goal to offer sanctuary for farmed animals, education for the public and rumor has it, that once completed, they may even offer a vegan cafe which will be the first all-vegan offering in Napa Valley! So if you are looking to volunteer your time or would like to donate to an organization that is in line with your vegan principles visit their website HERE to learn more! I hope to see you at next year’s WineaPAWlooza but until then remember to Drink Wine, Save Animals. And as always…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!!