November 18

Napa Valley Film Fest 2015 – Day 1!

My relationship with the Napa Valley Film Fest began 5 years ago three thousand miles from Napa Valley! My husband, Steve, had interviewed for a job at a brand new Mercedes Benz dealership near Napa that was to begin in about 5 weeks. He flew out of San Francisco feeling good about the job and figured it would be a lot of work but in that 5 weeks, we could get our home packed and listed for sale, movers hired and our 3 dogs and cat loaded up to make the cross country trip with us in our little Kia Spectra. Instead, by the time he landed in Raleigh later that evening, he received a message telling him to be back in a week ready to start! Looking back I have no idea how we did it but thanks to Craigslist we found him a room to rent for the 2 months he would be training in South Bay, the dealership loaned him a Prius to drive until I got there with the Kia and 6 days later he was on his way! Me, I was left in charge of, well…pretty much everything else! It was very hard on both of us to be so far apart from each other. As much as I missed him, I know it was hardest on him. I was in our home, near friends and had the love of our dogs and cat to comfort me when I was stressed or lonely or overwhelmed while Steve had long stressful days and came back each evening to a rented room in a stranger’s home. I was so excited for him when his dealership became one of the first sponsors for the brand new Napa Valley Film Fest. Though it added more work to his plate, it was a wonderful distraction. He began to build relationships with the founders of the Festival, husband and wife team Marc and Brenda Lhormer and many other Napa locals. This is such an important thing – personally and professionally – especially when you move somewhere where you literally know no one! So, though I had a twinge or two of envy when he told me about the VIP parties, world premiere screenings and celebrity sightings he had, I was so happy for him! From that very first Festival, he was hooked and it has been our goal to support the Festival every year!

 This year, when I decided to apply for a press pass to the festival, I wasn’t
really sure what type of coverage I wanted to provide for my readers. Frankly, I was mostly just curious to see if I would get approved for the media pass. So, when I got the email saying that I was in, I really had to scramble to see how I could make this experience relevant to my vegan readers. Ultimately I decided to try to do a little bit of everything and share the experiences with you so you would have the opportunity to decide if it’s a good fit for you!

If you are a “cinemaddict” and don’t want to do anything but catch as many screenings as possible, you will love the Napa Valley Film Fest. With over 120 films offered that range from full length narrative and documentary features, narrative and documentary shorts, world premiere screenings and dozens of Q&As with filmmakers, your hunger for good cinema will be appeased! And there is a pass available for virtually every budget.

If you are a Patron Circle passholder, you will be treated to the ultimate VIP experience. Not only will you get to hang out with the celebrities and the filmmakers but it also includes priority access to the screenings and special events, exclusive VIP areas at the Gala and Tribute and invitations to the Vintner Circle dinners. Since the Patron Circle pass ranges from $2,500 to $25,000 per person, I am also certain that you will have a wonderful experience. And I bet for the cost of that ticket the chefs will even whip up an excellent vegan meal or two for you.

This posting is really for the rest of us. Those of us who like movies, love parties, enjoy mingling with the filmmakers but also want to taste some of the delicious food that is offered by more than 30 local chefs throughout the week without having to compromise on our choices! My press pass, with the exception that I got to stand on the red carpet and interview actors and filmmakers, is essentially the equivalent to the Pass Plus. The Pass Plus is not cheap – the cost ranges from $565 to $645 per person (the sooner you purchase them the cheaper they will be!)– but it offers virtually everything you could ask for…priority access to the screenings, access to special events and parties…many parties – from the Festival Gala, the Celebrity Tribute Program, after-hours parties and the Closing Nights Awards Ceremony AND Wrap Party. So follow me on my adventures on Day One and Opening Night of the 5th Anniversary of the Napa Valley Film Festival…

Screening #1 – Carol

 Though I tend to prefer small, independent films, I was really excited when I read about the movie Carol. It is a romance set in 1950s New York about two vastly different women who meet and fall in love. The characters are played by Cate Blanchett (Carol) and Rooney Mara (Therese). Carol is privileged and wealthy and trapped in a loveless marriage while Therese is drifting and trying to find out who she is and Uptown with lightswhat she wants. I’m a fan of both actresses and went into the screening with high expectations. I also hoped to see what has changed and improved as far as social attitudes and behavior regarding same sex relationships over the past 60 years. It ended up being melodramatic scene after scene of deep, longing glances between two virtually personality-less women and not much else. Kyle Chandler brought a little passion to his character but even the beautiful chemistry between Carol and Therese during the sex scene was not enough to make it an enjoyable movie. They did touch on the unfairness of a “Morality Clause” that was used to defame Carol during the custody fight and the sad reality that she was forced to endure psychotherapy to “cure” her illness or lose her daughter forever. As much as I wanted to love the movie because of the subject matter, I didn’t! But to be fair, when I went to my hair stylist the next day to have her do my hair for the Gala that evening, her last client had also seen it and RAVED about it! The best parts about my first screening of the Festival were enjoying the beautiful art deco Uptown Theater and having priority access seating. It was really nice not having to wait in line!

Screening #2 – Opening Night World Premier of Somm: Into the Bottle

 After a quick snack (I brought a smoothie from home because I knew timing was going to be tight), I prepared for the

Napa's paparazzi lining the red carpet!
Napa’s paparazzi lining the red carpet!

red carpet screening of the documentary Somm: Into The Bottle. This is the sequel to SOMM – the story of four sommeliers trying to join the Court of Master Sommeliers by passing an examination that is virtually impossible! SOMM had its world premiere at the Napa Valley Film Festival in 2012.  Somm: Into The Bottle, director Jason Wise gives audiences a look behind the curtain into the rarely seen world of wine production from the growing of the grapes to the steps involved from vine to cellar to table. There was also a great section about the history of wine beginning with the Romans, through prohibition, the First and Second World Wars up to the 2014 earthquake here in Napa. It was filmed in dozens of wine regions around the world so was absolutely stunning to watch. It is very rare that I watch a documentary and even rarer when I enjoy it but this one was excellent. Though I am very much a wine novice, I am definitely being seduced by wine and winemaking like so many others who come to Napa Valley. But I truly believe that someone who has little interest or knowledge of wine, will still very much enjoy the film. The history, the scenic beauty, the humor, the passion of the sommeliers and wine makers featured all amount to an incredibly entertaining 90 minutes!

Prior to the screening, I had the opportunity to speak to Director Jason Wise, Master Sommeliers Ian Cauble, Brian McClintic, Fred Dame, Geoff Kruth; Sommeliers DLynn Proctor and Kelli White, local winemaker Steve Matthiasson and grape geneticist Carole Meredith. I will soon have the videos up on my blog and YouTube but here are excerpts of what each of them had to say!

Master Sommelier Geoff Kruth on the red carpet!
Master Sommelier Geoff Kruth on the red carpet!

Though Geoff Kruth has not seen a big shift in demand for vegan food and wine pairings, his feelings are that as a sommelier it is his job “to pair wines with whatever the guest wants” from an all vegan meal to knowing that the wine was processed in a vegan-friendly manner.

I asked director Jason Wise if in filming this documentary he was shocked by some of the things that are added to wines. And he was! Because not all wines are made the same, many winemakers put so much care into the product they produce, he had to cut much of the

Director Jason Wise and co-writer, co-producer and wife Christina Wise.
Director Jason Wise and co-writer, co-producer and wife Christina Wise.

documentary that exposed the unwanted ingredients some winemakers use. To make a sweeping generalization that all wine is made using shocking ingredients is not only incorrect but would have offended far too many people. However, based on all that was cut from this documentary, he feels that this topic really “deserves its own film” and feels that wine should contain the one item we all expect…grapes!

Brian McClintic agrees “100%” that people are very concerned about what they put into their bodies and though the

Brian McClintic at the Somm: Into the Bottle world premiere
Master Sommelier Brian McClintic at the Somm: Into the Bottle world premiere

movement may be happening a bit more slowly with wine than it did with food, partly  because wine bottles don’t provide a list of ingredients, he feels the movement is already “afoot”! And with climate change, caring for our environment and the move toward sustainability, everything being done in his vineyard is to try to protect the ecosystems and is a huge area for opportunity!

Ian Cauble’s concern is about removing herbicides and insecticides from the winemaking chain. The business he started, SommSelect, is focused on biodynamic and organically farmed wines. Sadly, his observations are that scoring a big number for their wine is too often more important to a winemaker than offering healthy, toxin free wine. Like me, he has a firm belief

Ian Cauble discussing his biodynamic wines.
Master Sommelier Ian Cauble & his girlfriend Mercedes discussing his biodynamic wines.

that the sicknesses we see throughout our country are directly related to the chemicals in our food chain.

DLynn Proctor is also hearing many more requests for organic wines though knows that the vegan movement in the wine industry is “trending” as it becomes important to more consumers. He feels it’s extremely important that wines are

DLynn & his wife enjoying the world premiere!
Sommelier DLynn Proctor & his wife Candice enjoying the world premiere!

offered that are “not touched or not handled” by anything that had touched “live product”. “Biodynamic, certifiable, sustainable…why not vegan?”

Next I chatted with Jill and Steve Matthiasson, local winemaker and Winemaker of the Year 2014 SF Chronicle. He is finding more of his consumers requesting vegan-friendly wines than he has in the past and in the 13 years of Matthiasson Wines he has only once used egg whites! His wines are very healthy with moderate alcohol levels, no animal additives and organic farming and is happy to assimilate this new consideration (vegan-friendly) into his winemaking. I’m looking forward to meeting with him soon to wine taste and blog about his wines!

Steve and Jill Matthiasson
Winemakers Steve and Jill Matthiasson

Fred Dame, has not only been a Master for decades but was the first American to pass all three parts of the Master Sommelier Exam in a single year and is the first American to serve as president of the Court of Master Sommeliers Worldwide. The vegan-friendly aspect of wine is a conversation that he has all the time since “it is not a match that is traditional.” He feels it is a fascinating topic…”a head scratcher and anything that is a head scratcher is interesting”.

Grape geneticist Carole Meredith is not only a retired academic but also a winemaker who is a very traditional and non-interventionist farmer. They don’t do anything highly technical with their wine and try to do what is best for the land and the vines that are on it. Her DNA research didn’t really solve any immediate problems in the winemaking industry but it did help give a better perspective on the history of wine and on where some of the most important wine grapes came from. But more than anything, it was “just intellectually fascinating” to her. More good news…occasionally they egg white fine but that is not done every year. I look forward to learning more about her wines and sharing it with you.

Master Fred Dame
Master Sommelier Fred Dame

Last but not least I spoke to Kelli White who is also finding more requests for vegan-friendly wines come up. Her challenge is that since wines are not required to list the ingredients, it is not always apparent what wines are free of animal product. She does feel that wine bottles listing their ingredients is a wonderful idea and sees “just positives and no negatives to that” and feels there is no need to keep ingredients a secret.

This was such a fascinating and interesting topic and group of people to discuss it with. I will be posting the full video of my interviews very soon!

Opening Night Party at the Riverfront Promenade

 Okay, here is what I was waiting for all night. What I have learned about the Napa Valley Film Fest is that they know how to throw a good party! The Historic Napa Mill’s riverfront location provided an exciting outdoor backdrop for the festival with food, wine, cocktails and Stella Artois beer and cidre (not vegan-friendly!) with live music playing throughout. It was a beautiful maze of adult treats around every turn! I was able to catch up with friends, have a few drinks and party with the Somm cast and crew! My favorite food experiences of the night included delicious avocado roll bites provided by Eiko’s and the il morso Americano coffee bar. The Americano is a delicious blend of organic espresso beans, organic cocoa butter and organic cane sugar. It was their one vegan option and I ate plenty of them. Needless to say, I did not sleep very well that night since each one contains 18 mg of caffeine! Ivy Hill Entertainment provided three bands on three different stages. My favorite was led by the Brian Bergeron Trio. They were joined by several other musicians and offered an awesome mix of folk and bluegrass. What a wonderful way to end an amazing day. My Napa Valley Film Festival experience was off to a great start.Silo's

I hope you enjoyed my journey through the Festival. My adventures of days 2 – 5 are coming soon so be prepared for more fun and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

 

 

 

 

November 3

Cliff Lede Vineyards – A Blend of Wine, Conservation, Poetry and…Rock n Roll!

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Living here in Napa Valley, I am surrounded by breathtaking beauty. There is so much beauty that there is no reason to choose one favorite location. But I do have a soft spot for Silverado Trail. One of the most picturesque drives in Napa is the drive north on Silverado Trail from Trancas Road in Napa to Calistoga. For the last three years, I have been driving grapevines & hillup Silverado Trail once a week to feed orphaned songbirds at the Wildlife Rescue Center of Napa County’s Songbird Clinic. Enjoying the views and then helping give our wildlife another shot at a happy and healthy life makes that area a very special place for me. So I was especially excited when I received the invitation to visit Cliff Lede Vineyards located off Yountville Cross Road right on the edge of the stunning Stags Leap District.

 

Though Cliff Lede (pronounced lady) grew up involved in his family’s construction business in Canada, it was his Mother, Florence, who sparked his interest in winemaking and sustainability. Two of her hobbies were making “basement” wine and gardening! And while on a business retreat in the 1990s, Cliff was introduced to beautiful Napa Valley. As an avid long-distance runner, he explored many of Napa’s back roads and began to fall in love! Being a collector of Bordeaux wines since his late 20s, he felt an almost instant connection to all that Napa Valley has to offer. He was soon returning often and before long he began the search for the perfect location to start his own winery. The Stags Leap District is the region that spoke to him due to its complex and age-worthy wines. With time and patience, he was able to found Cliff Lede Vineyards on stunning Yountville Cross Road. The following year Cliff also acquired the rare hillside property above Silverado Trail and Poetry Vineyard was born.

Poetry Inn overlooking the winery.
Poetry Inn overlooking the winery.

In 2005, he opened the secluded luxury boutique hotel Poetry Inn. The Inn perches high above the Valley and offers stunning views of his winery and vineyards. Then in 2009, he expanded to Anderson Valley which allows him to offer cooler-climate varietals. And as a tribute to his Mother, Florence Elsie Lede, and her winemaking hobby, his Anderson Valley winery became FEL Wines. The FEL label is an illustration of an opening tulip. Like many of us who grew up in Northern climates, the sprouting of a tulip signified the end of a long, dark winter and promised the freshness and joy of warmer days ahead. And in honor of his Mother’s love for gardening the tulip was added to the FEL label. And just this year, Cliff Lede Vineyards achieved both Napa Green Land and Napa Green Winery certification. Though the details to achieve Napa Green Land are unique to each owner’s property, they include restoration of wildlife habitat, healthy riparian environments and much more in concert with sustainable agriculture practices. And the Napa Green Winery certification requirements include water conservation, energy conservation, pollution prevention, and solid waste reduction elements and requires vintners to perform a comprehensive analysis of their operations. And yet another way to pay homage to his Mother’s love and appreciation for gardening and our planet!

Kim and I discussing Cliff Lede Winery!
Kim and I discussing Cliff Lede Winery!

My tour was led by Kim, the Director of Marketing for Lede Family Wines. We started in their light, bright craftsman-style tasting room and then headed out to explore. Along the back of the tasting room is a sun-drenched veranda with members onlyspectacular views of the vineyards and surrounding Palisades mountain range. The gorgeous permanent display of artist Jim Dine’s Twin 6’ Hearts divides the veranda and the shaded Members Only courtyard. The courtyard is full of comfortable lounge chairs and a peaceful fountain that provides the club members with Front Row views of the vines. From there we wandered through the Backstage Reserve Lounge. This cool and comfortable lounge offers a backstage pass to the Cliff Lede limited production wines. The Lounge features rotating art exhibits and classic rock music. During my visit, the exhibit was wall to wall Grateful Dead!

The Backstage Lounge
The Backstage Lounge

Very groovy! The guided tour then took us along the olive groves and through the Cliff Lede Vineyards “Rock Blocks”. I was definitely beginning to see a pattern. Instead of numbers on each block of vines, each were named after a rock n roll song!  From The Who’s “My Generation” to Pink Floyd’s “Dark

A Rock Block!

Side of the Moon” and the service road throughout the vines was even called Abbey Road!  We took Abbey Road up to their spectacular state-of-the-art winery. Most of the harvest had been completed so I missed out on seeing their optical sorter in action but I did get to see a huge portrait of

Grace Kelly overlooking the winery.
Grace Kelly overlooking the winery.

Grace Kelly overlooking the high tech winery floor full of stainless steel tanks, concrete eggs and French oak barrels. Random and beautiful all at the same time! The winery is surrounded by more large dramatic sculptures – my favorite was of two large rabbits dancing. bunnies dancingThat’s my interpretation anyway! By the time we headed back to the tasting room, I had experienced so much that I almost forgot I was there to taste wine too.

Back on the Veranda, listening to classic rock and hanging out with Cesar the winery cat, I got to enjoy the vegan wines Cliff Lede and FEL have to offer. The 2014 Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, is made by winemaker Chris Tynan and is composed of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Sauvignon Vert. Wine tasting experts would say it is an opulent color of yellow diamonds with citrus & peach aromas and floral notes of orange blossom and honeysuckle. It coats the palate with layers of lemon curd and crème brulee and finishes with kumquat, marzipan and citrus marmalade. Me, I would say it was wonderful! The FEL Wines are made by winemaker Ryan Hodgins from vineyards in the Anderson Valley and Sonoma Coast. All of the FEL wines are vegan-friendly and include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. I enjoyed the 2014 Pinot Gris with its green apple aromas and flavors of grapefruit. The 2013 Pinot Noir has an intense aroma of black cherry while hints of blackberry and mint add to the complexity. Cherry and spices offer a rich palate and the robust tannins and acidity will ensure great age-ability.  I am definitely looking forward to opening the bottle I brought home!

I snuck into the Members Only section to check out the fountain!
I snuck into the Members Only section to check out the fountain!

The tasting room is located at 1473 Yountville Cross Road in Yountville. The tasting room is open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and offers tastings for $30 per person with no appointment necessary. With advanced reservations, you can enjoy tastings on the veranda for $40 or reserve the Backstage Lounge for $50 per person. For a real adventure, schedule the Estate Tour and Tasting which includes wine and food pairings of seasonal canapes for $75 per person. Poetry Inn is perfect if you are looking for an adults only get-away. This elegant five-room boutique hotel is perched high above the Valley floor and is the only hotel in the Stags Leap District. It is ultra-private and offers the ultimate in tranquility and romance. You will have to mention that you are vegan when you book your room to ensure a three course vegan-friendly breakfast is offered.

The setting is peaceful, the views tremendous, the wine lovely and in addition to that you get to listen to some 70s rock and enjoy their rotating art exhibits. Make your appointment today, and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

Always running into friends...old and new.
Always running into friends…old and new.

 

 

October 6

St. Clair Brown Winery – Garden to Table Urban Eatery

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After hearing wonderful things about St. Clair Brown Winery from friends, this is what I found on their website –

“To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion, to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly, to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart, to bear all cheerfully, to all bravely await occasions, hurry never. In a word, to let the spiritual unbidden and unconscious grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony.”

How could I not fall in love with a winery that has chosen this as their manifesto?! And that was just the beginning of the wonderful things they have to offer. St. Clair Brown Winery and their winemaker Elaine St. Clair make small lot, hand-crafted wines in a state-of-the-art facility in downtown Napa. They have much less space than many of the sprawling wineries so craft their wine in smaller tanks and equipment. Which perfectly suits the production of their 200 (or less) cases of wine. But Elaine’s skills don’t just end as a world-class winemaker. She also holds a degree in Fermentation Science from the University of California at Davis. In addition to winemaking in the 90s, she also co-owned Napa Ale Works and spent a decade brewing award-winning beer. She has since returned to winemaking exclusively until now – clearly, her love for brewing never died! Sharing the same building as their winery, they are currently constructing their own micro-brewery. Once completed, it will provide a 10-barrel, all-grain system that will allow them to produce up to 300 gallons of beer made fresh daily. gardenAcross the street, in what used to be a vacant lot, sits their Garden Eatery which is nestled in the midst of their beautiful culinary garden. Their philosophy is that part of what makes Napa Valley such an amazing place to live is access to so much homegrown and locally sourced produce. Because of this, they made the decision that the grounds would be planted with a completely edible landscape. They teamed with Master Organic Gardener, Peter Jacobsen, of Jacobsen Orchards, to help make this beautiful dream a reality. Peter has been a farmer and orchardist in Napa Valley for over 30 years who grows exclusively for restaurants including several of Napa Valley’s top Michelin rated eateries. His relationships with local Chefs seems to have really spurred the current farm to table attitudes. It is so vital for us to know where our food really comes from! And it gets even sweeter! greenhouseThe garden includes a glass greenhouse that they converted into a small eatery! You can sit inside the greenhouse or at any of the many tables set throughout the garden. Because of the incredible weather in Napa, we all gathered outside to eat, drink and be merry!

I reached out to St. Clair Brown Winery before heading over…because that is what I do! Being vegan for almost 5 years, when it comes to what I put inside my body I have got to gather the facts first. I don’t like surprises…especially when I am hungry! I had a really lovely email conversation with St. Clair Brown’s Executive Chef Andreya Nightingale. The menu offers several small plate offerings and even though the menu is small, she strives to include delicious options for us vegans. In fact, her father-in-law has been vegan for 7 years and she loves cooking for him! The menu is constantly changing too based on what is in season and available in the culinary garden. Though some of the ingredients may change she prepares 5 small plates that will always be vegan – hummus with coriander, cumin, paprika, garlic, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, chickpeas and house-made nut butter; olives with garden herbs, lemon zest and garlic; almonds made with garden herbs and extra virgin olive oil; chocolate bark made with marcona almonds, lavender, rosemary, heritage sea salt and no added sugar; and the PB&J board. PB&J boardThe PB&J board was inspired by her father-in-law who loves his Friday evening PB&J with Cabernet! When I was there, the PB&J was a delicious house-made almond-pecan, cardamom nut butter, apples and pears poached with Syrah and Cabernet, and a small baguette baked by Model Bakery. I was able to taste the olives and almonds which were both delicious. They are made with fresh herbs and lemons picked right out of their garden and the flavors really shine through. The PB&J board is wonderful. Instead of a typical jam, the wine poached fruit was a delicious surprise. And, of course, the chocolate bark was intense, dark and delicious! Chef Nightingale is also testing a house-made vegan cheese similar to Miyoko’s Kitchen in Marin and hopes to launch it on her winter menu! I am very excited about that and will let you know when that happens! And she offers a salad – when I was last there it included roasted beets and carrots tossed in lemon-walnut vinaigrette with shallots, mint and oregano from the garden. Just ask for the salad without the burrata cheese and you have yet another vegan option!

menuTo pair with the small plates, the garden eatery also offers wine by the half glass, glass, half bottle carafe or bottle. The wines include Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rose, Estate Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. They also offer a tasting flight that include a sampling of four wines – the Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. All made by winemaker Elaine St. Clair and all fined without the use of animal products! And if you find a wine you love, it is available to purchase at the table or in the greenhouse. If you become a wine club member (which I plan to do next visit), you not only get 2 bottles of wine every other month but a free glass of wine whenever you visit the Garden Eatery!

St. Clair Brown Winery’s Garden Eatery is located at 816 Vallejo Street and is open daily from Noon to 8 p.m. Reservations are not required but are always appreciated and can be made through their website’s Contact Us page or by calling 707.255.5591.

I eat and drink aplenty – not only for my pleasure and enjoyment but for my readers. And this experience is hands down one of my absolute favorites! The garden is such a pleasant surprise tucked into this very urban area. The atmosphere is quiet and peaceful, the food is fresh and wonderful and the wine offers exceptional structural balance and layers of complex flavors. Be sure to make time to visit this little diamond in the rough; you will be so glad you did!

Thanks for joining me on my latest dining and wine tasting adventure. And as always…eat, drink and be vegan!