February 11

The Jewel of Carneros Offers Vegan Gems

When I moved to Napa three years ago, I didn’t have much experience drinking wine. I had only been wine tasting once before on Old Mission Peninsula on Lake Michigan while I was visiting family in Traverse City, Michigan one summer. It was an amazing experience but by the time I made it back home to Denver, it faded quickly from my thoughts. When I did drink wine, I would just grab a cheap bottle of Riesling from the grocery store. As long as it was really sweet, I was happy! Once I got settled into my new home in Napa and finally took in the gorgeous grapevines, the scenic beauty between the mountains and valley and the welcoming attitudes of everyone, I decided that now was the time to learn more and find out why everyone else was so excited about Napa Valley wines.

Traverse City overlooking Lake Michigan
Traverse City overlooking Lake Michigan

What made this new adventure easy is the fact that my husband Steve has a real taste for wine. In fact, he loves it. Put a robust Cabernet Sauvignon in front of him and he is thrilled. With about 400 wineries in Napa Valley alone, we had a new hobby! Our adventures took us from downtown Napa, up Highway 29, to Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga and back down Silverado Trail. We found so many delicious wines but began to see that we had completely different palates. I found myself gravitating toward the Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays and when I enjoyed a red wine it was typically a Pinot Noir or blend. Did I mention that Steve loves Cabs – the more robust the better? As much as we wanted to become wine club members, we truly could not agree on a winery that made us both happy.

This all changed in April 2013 in a really obscure and surprising way. Steve had a Sunday off which was really rare at the time so we decided to head to downtown Napa to grab some lunch and check out the Arts in April celebration. I remember it being a very sleepy day downtown and we were not sure where our day was going to lead us. One of the artists highlighted for Arts in April was Gordon Huether. We had never met the artist but had seen some of his work throughout Napa Valley and through the power of social media Steve and he were Facebook friends. Gordon Huether Gallery was a provocative mix of glass and sculpture installations and unique works in a variety of media including glass, metal and canvas. It was a studio full of gorgeous and unusual works of art. We purchased a couple of small pieces and while we were chatting with the staff they asked if we would like two passes for a complimentary wine tasting at Artesa Vineyards & Winery in the Carneros region. Since Gordon Huether is the Artist in Residence at Artesa, we figured it would be a great way to wrap up our afternoon – more amazing art and a little free wine.

rolling vineyards
Overlooking the Carneros region

We left downtown Napa and headed south along Old Sonoma Road. As we headed up the hill and left Napa behind we were almost immediately surrounded by gorgeous, green vineyards. I was just amazed by the beauty of the Carneros region. As we turned off Henry Road and began circling up toward Artesa Winery, we were just blown away by the beauty but really had no idea what we were in store for when we reached the top.

Carneros Region
Carneros Region located between Napa & Sonoma
Artesa Vineyards
Artesa Vineyards
Carneros AVA
Carneros  AVA

Artesa Winery is truly a study in the harmony between natural and manmade spaces. The design is the creation of renowned Barcelona architect Domingo Triay. The seamless blending between the tasting room structure and the surrounding landscape is truly avant-garde! The winery is naturally insulated, set into the highest hill of the 350-acre estate and covered with windswept native grasses. The architecture captures a series of Mediterranean themes including water flowing through narrow channels and a sweeping staircase set between twin cascades of water and flowing fountains that lead to the winery entrance.

close up of water
Beautiful water features leading to Artesa’s entrance!

Fountain water2

Awestruck from the amazing views, we stepped over the winery threshold into a light filled, gallery-like Visitor Center. The welcoming receptionist provided us with a flute of champagne and guided us to the tasting area. The sophisticated interior includes wide glass expanses overlooking a courtyard and the lobby offers several modern furniture groupings for gathering with friends. This is all a gorgeous backdrop for Gordon Huether’s original works of sculpture, paintings and mixed-media art. This leads to a small retail area full of handbags and cookbooks, chocolates and sun hats.  In fact, I have purchased one of my favorite pastry cookbooks of all time from Artesa. We then stepped into a large, open area with huge windows leading to the patio-like terrace and two bars for wine tasting. The expansive terrace offers breathtaking panoramic views of Napa Valley and its own beautiful estate vineyards. This day in April was sunny and clear and we had an amazing view of the San Francisco skyline too! If you really want to enjoy the terrace, remember to bring your sunhat because you will not want to go in. Not only is the view spectacular but you get to sit in the sun and sip wine while relaxing. It is such an amazing experience!

gorgeous view
Sweeping vista from Artesa’s terrace!

wines glasses

Steve enjoying the sun, view and fabulous wine!
Steve enjoying the sun, view and fabulous wine!

Artesa Winery is owned by the Raventos family whose winemaking history dates to mid-sixteenth century Spain. That is the mid-1500s for those of you who did not pay attention in history class! In fact, Artesa is a Catalan word meaning “handcrafted”. These days Artesa focuses on producing small, ultra-premium lots of the varietals that the Carneros region is known for – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Artesa’s roots are located in the coolest portion of Napa Valley on their 350-acre estate in Carneros ideal for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. In addition to the Carneros estate, Artesa has over 400 acres in Alexander Valley to grow Bordeaux varieties and 180 acres on Atlas Peak devoted to their Cabernet Sauvignon. Artesa also offers Burgundy, Albarino, Tempranillo, Pinot Blanc and Cabernet Franc.

Their winemaker Mark Beringer, a fifth generation winemaker from Napa Valley, brings his wealth of experience and winemaking accolades to Artesa. With his family winemaking for five generations, it seems that winemaking has become a part of his DNA! In fact, Mark is the great-great grandson of Beringer Winery co-founder Jacob Beringer. When Mark was just 12 years old he worked at his parent’s local wine shop stocking shelves and dusting bottles. Being so immersed in the business, he quickly became very versed in the complicated language of wine. It was clear very early on that winemaking was his calling! He then went to work in his Uncle’s winery while attending Santa Rosa Junior College which then led him to California State University in Fresno. He graduated with his B.S. in Enology and began his winemaking journey. From Glen Ellen Winery to Duckhorn Vineyards which launched Paraduxx and then Goldeneye. By 2005, The San Francisco Chronicle named Mark “Winemaker of the Year” for his work at Duckhorn Vineyards! During Mark’s tenure at Duckhorn, he garnered two Winery of the Year titles, was named Regional Winery of the Year four times and won the #6 rated Wine of the Year for the Duckhorn Vineyards 1999 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Wow! What an impressive resume! Mark then founded Mark Beringer Consulting and worked on a variety of projects within the wine industry before joining Artesa Vineyards and Winery as Vice President of Production and Winemaking in February 2009.

Winemaker Mark Beringer

Of course, much of this information about Artesa Winery and their winemaker Mark Beringer I did not find out until much later. What interested me at the time was how wonderful the wine tasted. For the first time in almost a year and a half of wine tasting, my husband Steve and I finally found wine that we both loved. Before we left that afternoon, we signed up for our first wine club membership EVER! This was almost two years ago and we are still enjoying our wines and love visiting every few months to experience the amazing views, share the experience with friends and family and do some much needed wine tasting!

One important lesson I have learned since my move to Napa and embracing the wine drinking experience is that not all wines are vegan-friendly. As this fact became more important to me, I reached out to Artesa Winery to find out if this was still the best place for me. The great news is that many of their current releases are appropriate for us vegans to enjoy! This includes the

  • 2012 & 2013 Estate Reserve Chardonnay
  • 2011 Rive Gauche
  • 2011 Limited Release Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley
  • 2013 Limited Release Chardonnay
  • 2011 & 2012 Limited Release Tempranillo
  • 2011 & 2012 Limited Release Meritage
  • 2012 Tradicio
  • 2012 & 2013 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir
  • 2013 Albarino

I have had the pleasure of tasting many of these wines and it is an amazing selection that I know you will enjoy!

Artesa Vineyards & Winery is located in the beautiful Carneros region at 1345 Henry Road in Napa. The winter Tasting Room hours are Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The last pouring is at 4:30 p.m. so arrive with plenty of time to enjoy the experience and take in the amazing views! When you are ready to experience this beautiful winery, take my list of vegan-friendly wines and enjoy!

And as always…eat, drink and be vegan. Cheers!

January 25

Ground Boots Wines – For The Love of Dog!

gypsy canyon logo

Though I have strayed a time or two, the goal of my blog is to eat, drink and shop my way through Napa Valley and share those experiences with you. But when I learned about winemaker Deborah Hall and Ground Boots wines, I knew her story needed to be shared. Deborah’s winery Gypsy Canyon Winery is located in Central California’s Santa Barbara County and I became aware of Deborah because of the amazing powers of social media. And very loosely paraphrasing a philosophy by Mercedes Ruehl’s character Anne in the early ‘90s movie The Fisher King (one of the best movies EVER!), I fully believe that positive energy finds positive energy no matter how far apart it may be!

the fisher king

In her own words, Deborah is a winemaker, designer, tree hugger and Mom living on the vineyard. She is also the founder and principle of Gypsy Canyon Winery – a tiny historic vineyard and boutique winery that focuses on estate grown Pinot Noir and Mission grapes. Deborah studied viticulture and enology at U.C. Davis and has become a recognized expert in the field of grape growing, winemaking and package design. In 1999, she began her passion for growing grapes and making wines while tending the vines in the healthy and vibrant soils of Santa Barbara County.

Deborah Hall and her family!
Deborah Hall & Gregg Tully, Managing Director of Soi Dog. Deborah brought the front dog, Ting, home with her from Thailand!

Though she was doing what she loved, running a successful business and embracing her life in the country, Deborah felt a little empty. I know this is something I relate to and understand. Sometimes in the midst of what many people call “success”, there is a feeling that time is slipping past and maybe a little more can be done. In fact, I gave up my career in real estate three years ago so that I could explore that same nagging hunger that Deborah was feeling. Now I get to write about my passion for being vegan, volunteer for several animal welfare organizations in Napa Valley, I get to be a full time Mom to my 3 dogs and cat and a full time support system to my husband Steve! What I have sacrificed (and I do use that word very lightly) in material objects has more than been made up for with joy and fulfillment. And I have truly never been happier! About a year ago, Deborah also began reflecting on her life and thinking…”what next?” She remembered her love for animals and our environment. As a child, she had dreamed of becoming a veterinarian but as so often happens her life took her a different direction. It was then, she began to contemplate and consider what she could do now to make a difference.

Back to the wonders of social media…while Deborah was on Facebook she came across Soi Dog Foundation. Soi Dog Foundation is a not-for-profit, charitable organization based and registered in Thailand and registered in the U.S., Australia, the United Kingdom, France and Holland. The mission statement of Soi Dog is to improve the welfare of dogs and cats in Thailand which in turn improves the lives of both the animal and human communities. To end animal cruelty and to ultimately create a society without homeless animals. In addition to helping the homeless, neglected and abused cats and dogs of Thailand and responding to animal welfare disasters and emergencies, Soi Dog works tirelessly throughout the Region to end the ghastly dog meat trade. And in the midst of all of this hard work, they have also spayed and neutered over 77,000 cats and dogs across the Region!

soi dog logo

What caught Deborah’s eye about this non-profit, is the fact that they show the successes created by their hard work and compassion for all living things. She was literally able to see the before and after of a rescue! This gave her a huge dose of inspiration and after a couple days of brain storming she had her “ah ha” moment! Using her years of experience and vast resources in the wine industry, she decided to bottle some wine, sell it and donate the proceeds to Soi Dog. Being driven by purpose, her ideas continued to flow until she had created a whole new brand for Soi Dog and Ground Boots was born! Ground Boots is the very first wine dedicating 100% of the profits to make our world a better and more loving place.

Tai Chi before!
Tai Chi before!
Tai Chi After
Tai Chi After

Deborah teamed up with famed artist Donald Roller Wilson to design a label for Ground Boots. He then generously donated one of the images for the label. And using her vast resources in the business, she sourced some top quality wine that is often declassified and sold off as bulk. This is often done merely because the wine does not “fit the program” or the marketing plan. She chose the finest barrels to bottle and it became Ground Boots. She has now also created a new title for Ground Boots which is Charitable Negociant.

Label

Now that she is experiencing the magic that being driven by purpose creates, she has decided to dream really big. This is not a one-time charitable donation for Deborah and Ground Boots. Her goal is to work hard and to grow her love for animals into the “Tom’s” of the wine world! In fact, Deborah has taken her altruism even a step further. She flew to Thailand to personally vet Soi Dog Foundation. Over the course of two weeks, she journeyed into small villages and assisted in the set-up of mobile spay and neuter clinics. This allowed the local “dog catchers” to visit the local temples and to bring stray and injured dogs and cats in for treatment. She also went through the heartbreak of visiting Wat Saun Kaew in Bangkok. This shelter is known as the worst dog shelter in the world. Deborah met and spent time with the founders of Soi Dog – John and Gill Dalley. They poured over maps of the northeastern districts of Thailand and educated her on the vicious underbelly of the dog meat industry. Seeing what an incredible group this was and what radical changes they were making, she made Soi Dog Foundation her first non-profit partner!

The hardworking Soi Dog Foundation team!
The hardworking Soi Dog Foundation team!

But it gets even better! Deborah will be returning to Thailand this summer with a journalist and videographer. She will not only be presenting Soi Dog with the funds she raised but she will head back into the trenches and will be working hand and hand with Soi Dog. She will once again return to the Wat Saun Kaew shelter in Bangkok. She will also journey to the Buriram District of Thailand to spend time with the rescued dogs and she will be a part of the undercover investigations of the northeastern Thailand dog meat trade. Her mission is to share all of this live via social media and Livestream! What an amazing woman helping others do amazing good!

Now onto the important stuff…the wine! The first bottling was a 2012 Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, using earth friendly bottles. 100 cases were bottled and are available for just $70.00 a bottle. Click this link now to reserve your wine today! This will be the most loving and fulfilling wine, you have ever purchased!

Ground Boots bottling team!
Ground Boots bottling team!

Thank you for letting me share this amazing story and Deborah’s beautiful journey to help the voiceless dogs and cats of Thailand. And as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

****To all of my vegan friends, I have not confirmed that the wine is considered vegan-friendly.

October 28

Baldacci Family Vineyards Offers Red & White Vegan Wines!

Beautiful Stags Leap District!
Beautiful Stags Leap District!

Baldacci Family Vineyards is located in the gorgeous Stags Leap District in Napa Valley. The Stags Leap District is located south of Yountville Cross Road on scenic Silverado Trail. I drive up Silverado Trail every Saturday from April to September to help care for orphaned song birds before they are released back into the wild. And every time I make that drive it is a reminder of how lucky I am to live in this beautiful section of Northern California!

Wappo Indian Dwellings
Wappo Indian Dwellings

Stags Leap District borrowed its name from a legend handed down by the Wappo Indians who were native inhabitants of Napa Valley. Story has it that a strong and beautiful stag was trapped between steep cliffs and (non-vegan!) hunters. Instead of giving up, this stag soared across the chasm in the cliffs, eluded the hunters and created this wonderful legend! This legend is just the beginning of the District’s long history. In the mid-1800s even though Silverado Trail was nothing more than a quiet horse trail, this did not stop the grape growers. And by 1878 the region’s first winery was built. Many of you Cabernet lovers may already know this but the more recent history of the Stags Leap District began in 1961. Nathan Fay planted 70 acres of the region’s first Cabernet vineyards. This decision bordered on brilliant. There are now over 9,800 cabernet acres in Napa Valley and the Stags Leap District is recognized for its world-class cabernet sauvignons! And that isn’t just us bragging. In 1976 at a blind tasting held in Paris, nine French judges awarded Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars first place for its 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon. Ten years later the same wines were judged a second time and this time Clos Du Val’s 1972 Cabernet Sauvignon took the honors!

Baldacci Family Winery
Baldacci Family Winery

Thomas and Brenda Baldacci arrived at the site that is now Baldacci Family Winery almost 20 years ago. It includes 45 acres of Estate vineyards, an on-site winemaking facility and a unique system of wine caves below. They have also purchased 23-acres in Carneros and replanted with their Family Collection varietals which will produce Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay. Many of which are vegan-friendly. And in 2013 they expanded yet again with the purchase of Stella Vineyards. This 8.5 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes is located upvalley in Calistoga at the base of Diamond Mountain.

When my husband Steve and I made the decision to move all the way across the country from Raleigh, North Carolina to Napa, California three years ago I was really nervous. I had spent the last five years living in the South and I imagined that everyone in Napa would be too busy or worse yet – not friendly! Thankfully, I was so unbelievably wrong. I have lived from Northern Michigan to Southern Florida to Eastern Virginia to Central Colorado to Eastern North Carolina and have met many wonderful people. But I have never felt as welcomed anywhere else as I have since I moved to Napa. It is such a wonderful place to live. Happy, friendly people; perfect weather and lots of wine!

Me and Matt!
                         Me and Matt!

Matt Mills is one of those special people. Through the wine industry, Steve and I met Matt very soon after we moved to Napa. We have all stayed in touch and I was excited when I learned that he is the Direct-to-Consumer Manager for Baldacci Family Winery. When I reached out to Matt to schedule our wine tasting, he discussed our vegan lifestyle with their winemaker, Rolando Herrera, and created a special wine tasting just for us!

Tasting the delicious Gewurztraminer
Tasting the delicious Gewurztraminer

We enjoyed the delicious 2012 Frederich Gewurztraminer, the 2012 Sorelle Chardonnay, the 2011 Elizabeth Pinot Noir and a not yet released Pinot Noir all grown from their Carneros Estate vineyard. They were all such amazing wines that we came home with a bottle of the Chardonnay and the Pinot! And not to start bragging about the award-winning wines produced in the Stags Leap District again but their vegan Sorelle Chardonnay was the 2014 winner of the prestigious San Francisco Wine Chronicle!

2014 San Francisco Wine Chronicle Winners!
2014 San Francisco Wine Chronicle Winners!

One concern that I have when discussing vegan wines is that many wines may be vegan-friendly one year because the winemaker chose not to fine the wine but may not be vegan the next year if the winemaker feels fining is necessary and he uses an animal product to do the fining. This is a problem we vegans do not have to worry about with Baldacci Family Winery. Matt explained that all of the wines we tried will forever be vegan because even if the winemaker decides to fine his next vintage of Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer or Pinot Noir they use vegan-friendly bentonite clay for these particular wines! I also learned something really interesting from Matt for my gluten intolerant readers. Since Baldacci uses the natural cork which seals perfectly, no gluten is used in the bottling process.

Pinotandchardonnay soywaxcandles wine awards wine tasting2

Baldacci Family Winery is located at 6236 Silverado Trail in Napa and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Contact them at 707.944.9261 to schedule a tasting appointment with Matt! Please thank them for using a vegan-friendly fining agent in several of their wines and let them know you are vegan when you schedule your appointment. And be sure to take home one of their delicious smelling soy candles. But most of all, enjoy…Cheers!!