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!

September 4

Napa Valley Vegan’s Summer Festival Extravaganza – Part I

Taste of Napa inside bannerI had the opportunity to attend two amazing festivals this summer – the Festival del Sole’s Taste of Napa 2015 and the Sonoma County Vegfest. They were completely different though equally wonderful experiences. The Festival del Sole is an annual event here in Napa Valley that celebrated its 10th anniversary this summer. The Festival offers 10 days of over 60 events; 100 wineries; the stars of music, dance and theater; Napa Valley’s finest wine and cuisine (so say the non-vegans!) all while enriching art, fitness and community programs. The SoCo Vegfest, though in its infancy, has grown and improved in just two years. A celebration of ethical eating, the Vegfest offered almost a dozen speakers and cooking demonstrations as well as the screening of Speciesism – an exploration of filmmaker Mark Devries as he delves deeply into the argument that humans are more important than other species and investigates our treatment of non-human animals in food production. The important similarity between these events is the enrichment that they both bring into our lives – one through art, fitness and sense of community while the other by offering and celebrating compassionate and loving choices through the food we put into our bodies, the products we put onto our skin and the way we treat the sentient beings we share our planet with. Today, in Part I, I’m going to focus on my experiences of the Taste of Napa 2015.

 My Video Introduction to Taste of Napa 2015!

press pass and sunglassesTaste of Napa 2015 was the first event I’ve attended in Napa that I covered as part of the press. Yep, my very first (and at this time…only) press pass. Being my first, I had no idea exactly what to do but figured I could wing it well enough. My husband, Steve, in celebration of my first media credentials, even took the day off to work as my photographer. As instructed, I got to the building formerly known as Copia, found the press table and got my pass. When it was time for the doors to open, my crew and I (ie: husband Steve) even got to enter through the press entrance ahead of everyone else. Believe me, I felt really cool and so excited. Rather than do any research ahead of time on what vegan food and wine options were available, I wanted to attend Taste of Napa 2015 spontaneously just as someone visiting Napa would do. The building offers over 13,000 square feet of open exhibition space as well as terraced space outside that were both filled with food and wine vendors! It was overwhelming and fantastic. I chose to start outside since it was such a gorgeous Napa day and I could see the band outside getting ready to start playing. Since seeing my first live show – Quiet Riot opening up for Loverboy (I was so in love with Mike Reno and his red leather pants!) in the early 80s in Sault Ste. Marie, MI, I have been in love with the energy of live music!

Video -Waiting for the band to begin with my new friend Charles Krug!

The first table I stepped up to had these luscious looking cherries wrapped in…something. I couldn’t believe that I had found vegan food so quickly. When I asked what the cherry was wrapped in, the response was foie gras! Ugh! I must admit that took the smile off my face for a moment but I knew I had to rally and not let that ruin my experience. So after (very) quickly moving on, I headed for the Keller Estate’s wine table. Anton Matulic, the Estate Ambassador for Keller Estate, poured me some of their amazing pinot noir. While they sometimes fine their Chardonnays with egg whites, their reds are not fined with animal products. So I happily headed off with wine in my hand to continue exploring.

Video – Join me for some Pinot Noir!

Napa Nuts, etc in the heart of Napa Valley since 1990.
Napa Nuts, etc in the heart of Napa Valley since 1990.

Next I chatted with Bonnie Miluso, the VP of Sales & Marketing for Napa Nuts, etc. Located in the heart of the California Wine Country, Napa Nuts, etc. is one of the largest single providers of dried fruit, nuts and confections in Northern California. They have been providing quality ingredients since 1990 to more than 500 restaurants, wineries and bakeries all around the United States. Though they did not know if the sugar they use is bone char free, I happily filled up on their delicious cashews. My next stop was with Merryvale Vineyards who were really receptive to finding out more about how their wine is made. I am still working on the fining details at Merryvale and will update you when I have confirmation from their winemaker on their vegan-friendliness!

Wandering inside, I noticed a HUGE crowd around the Miracle Noodle table. I had to learn more! This ended up being very easy because they had a huge banner that proclaimed Miracle Noodles to be vegan certified, gluten free, soy, corn and wheat free, calorie and carb free plus non-GMO. Miracle noodle? Absolutely! The rice and noodles are made almost entirely of fiber from the konjac perennial. Native to subtropical and tropical climates the konjac has been known in Japan since the sixth century as a medicinal food and has been eaten for 1500 years. Since it is almost entirely fiber and fiber slows our digestion, it allows for slower absorption of glucose which is why it is beneficial for weight loss and can be beneficial if you have diabetes. I quickly understood why the table was literally swamped with people. As we learn more about where our food comes from, we all want healthier choices! I got to sample both of their options – the delicious rice and noodles – and chatted a bit with Susan Carp the Regional Sales Manager who let me know that Miracle Noodles are available at Whole Foods across the state.

Let me tell you about the Miracle Noodles!

Brown Dog Mustard is a small batch, handmade, artisan mustard producer made by husband and wife team Scott and Victoria Miller right in Concord here in East Bay. Victoria, who is the CMM – Chief Mustard Maker – learned cooking through family recipes passed down from her Dutch and Pennsylvania Dutch Grandmothers. I ate many a pretzel smeared with their Sunny Summer Yellow (contains honey), Balsamic Sweet, Peppercorn and Whole Grain mustards. There is no comparing a grocery store mustard that can (and does) sit in a warehouse for years to this mustard lovingly made with organic apple cider and balsamic vinegars (no distilled vinegar here!).

Salute Sante’s amazing grapeseed oil!

Harvest Table
Chef Mezick from Harvest Table in St. Helena

I followed up my mustard binge with a stop at Salute Sante’s grapeseed oil table. Nanette and Valentin Humer have been spreading the word about the health benefits of grapeseed oil for years. Instead of going to waste, they press the Valley’s grapeseeds and create their delicious and healthy oils and flour. They have been featured in the local Napa Valley Life Magazine, The New York Times and the Pacific Sun. In addition to their gluten-free, high fiber flour, they also offer varietal extra virgin cold-pressed oils made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Syrah, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and French Colombard seeds. Their infused oils line includes five flavors – roasted garlic, basil, chili, rosemary and lemon that are perfect for marinades, salad dressings or for bread dip. I couldn’t decide which my favorite was so I had to keep trying them all! My next stop was with the Harvest Table restaurant. There were no vegan options but I had the opportunity to speak to Chef Levi Mezick. He invited me out to try their new restaurant located in St. Helena and promised he would make me a vegan meal I couldn’t forget. I will keep you posted on the outcome!

Hanging out in the Reserved Section

It was time to walk some of this off so I wandered outside to the Reserve section. Having a press pass is apparently like having a backstage pass…when the volunteer staff saw the pass they just waved me through! And you’ll never guess what I found…more wine and food!  I struck up a conversation with MJ Baird, the Premier Clientele Liasion for Lede Family Wines. She was really excited to discuss her wine and invited me to be her guest at the winery. I will let you know all about my experience very soon!

Living in such a meat and cheese inclined city, I was pretty pleased with the vegan options I was able to find amongst the over 80 wineries, restaurants and food artisans. There is no doubt that having a bit of a wine buzz makes everything just a little brighter and a little happier! By being vocal, asking questions and building relationships with local Chefs and wineries, I hope to see things improve every year!

It’s a Wrap!

My next posting I will share my amazing experiences at the 2nd Annual Sonoma County Vegfest. A big thanks for joining me while I ate and drank my way through the Festival del Sole and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!