August 10

Gott’s Roadside Introduces the Vegan Impossible Burger to Napa Valley!

When I heard the news that Gott’s Roadside had begun offering Impossible Foods‘ vegan Impossible Burger (IB), I could barely control my excitement! First Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger was being sold in our local Safeway and now this! For those of you who live in a vegan-friendly city, this may not seem like much of a big deal. But for those of us here in Napa Valley who have been waiting for the local chefs to recognize and accept that veganism is not a fad that is going away, this news created a buzz of excitement and conversation in our vegan community! In fact, when I posted this information on my Facebook page, I reached hundreds of my readers who had dozens of comments.

This excitement made me really want to dig in a bit and learn more about Impossible Foods (IF) which led me to their comprehensive and informative 2017 Sustainability Report. CEO and Founder, Pat Brown, left Stanford in 2011 and started Impossible Foods with one mission. To make the global food system sustainable by replacing animal-based foods with delicious, nutritious AND affordable plant-based meat & dairy foods. The amount of land needed to raise and feed these sentient beings takes up nearly half of ALL land in the world! 75% of the agricultural land in the U.S. is used for the beings and the crops they eat. Talk about unsustainable! The animal agriculture industry is responsible for consuming 25% of all fresh water and creating at least 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions – as much as every car, truck, bus, ship, airplane and rocket combined! The continued degradation of our natural ecosystems is happening at the expense of wildlife – the global populations of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles & amphibians have declined by 58% in the last 40 years. But as many of us remember from our pre-vegan days, our species loves to eat meat. Regardless of the constant health warnings, our ever expanding waist lines and our disintegrating health, meat consumption has grown four-fold in the past 50 years and is projected to increase by as much as 70% in the next 30 years!

IFs has spent the last five years, studying what is it about meat that drives this seemingly insatiable craving! Their scientists have studied meat at the molecular level to help reproduce the texture, taste and even aromas of meat using only plant sources. They have found  “heme” to be the magic ingredient that makes meat taste like…well, meat. It is a building block that is found in all living things – plants and animals and the source that provides our bodies with bioavailable iron. IFs initially harvested the plant-based heme from legumes. However, to produce it on a commercial scale, they now use an engineered yeast that is produced through fermentation similar to the process used by Belgian beer makers for centuries.

Next, I reached out to Gott’s Brand Manager, Ann Pepi, to learn more about their motivation for adding the plant-based burger to their very meat-centric menu. The answer was surprisingly simple. They had offered a vegetarian garden burger as a substitute on their menu prior to the IB but found  there was a demand from their customers for something better. So the team tried both the Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger and the Impossible Burger was the winner! Because the IB is “uncharted territory” for Gott’s they are treating it like a new product. It is currently in its test stage and they plan to offer it as a special for several months. Ann’s expectations have been  “blown away” by the amount of curiosity and interest their customers are showing. But they plan to look at the long-term interest before deciding if the IB will be added to their permanent menu. Ann mentioned several times how happy she was that they are offering an option that is good for the planet.

When I visited Gott’s Roadside here in Napa, I had the opportunity to discuss the food preparation with Assistant General Manager, Daniel Hicks. Because of the more delicate nature of the Impossible Burger, instead of using the grill (where the beef burgers are cooked), they use a separate griddle. The griddle is used for toasting buns and sometimes cooking fish products. Before the IB is added to the griddle, they clean it with club soda and add oil instead of using butter.  Though their egg and gluten-free buns are not vegan-friendly, they offer the option of a lettuce wrap, whole wheat or sourdough bread. And then you can get creative. In addition to the lettuce, tomato and pickles you can add pickled carrots, avocado, vegan kimchi, pico de gallo, jalapeños, salsa verde or vegan slaw. The vegan-friendly sides include their french fries and sweet potato fries, customizable kale salads and watermelon with mint and black pepper. I had the delicious opportunity to try the Impossible Burger on whole wheat bread with mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickles and avocado AND with kimchi on sourdough. The taste, texture and aroma of the IB was incredible. I admit I have not eaten meat in close to a decade so my memory is probably a bit fuzzy but it seemed very authentic to me. And it tastes great! There is nothing else available that tastes this good! Oh, and get the sweet potato fries! They are crisp, a touch spicy and possibly the best I’ve ever had. When Daniel delivered the food, he admitted that he eats a lot of meat but after trying the Impossible Burger he is “going to become a vegetarian when I’m at work”. That seemed like the perfect testimonial for the vegan Impossible Burger!

This year, Impossible Foods is scaling up to meet the incredible demand. They have purchased a factory in Oakland that will produce 1.1 million pounds of this plant-based bliss per month. In addition to saving animals, this amazing product will use 75% less water, produce 87% fewer greenhouse gases and require 95% less land than animal-based beef. What a summer to be a vegan! Now get on over to Gott’s and support their efforts to bring this delicious burger to Napa Valley! And remember to eat, 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!!

 

 

June 2

Indulging Your Vegan Palate at Signorello Estate

Perfection…We have all had days that we’ve been able to label as perfect. The food extraordinary, the wine exquisite, the weather sunny and warm, the views breathtaking, the songbirds serenading and the service flawless. Perfect is the only way I can describe my experience at Signorello Estate. I was recently invited by Estate Sommelier Ron Plunkett to enjoy their Enoteca estate experience. This includes a chauffeured tour of their 100 acre estate and the 5-course guided pairing.

Until this visit, I had never been fully immersed in a true food and wine pairing experience. My fellow vegans know exactly what I’m talking about! It is rare to find a Sommelier and a Chef who will collaborate to provide a meal that not only indulges the palate of the plant based crowd but also pairs perfectly with the wine. But the collaboration between Chef Michael Pryor and Estate Sommelier Ron Plunkett have ended that dilemma forever! This is truly a wine and food experience unlike any other in Napa Valley!

Signorello Estate is located high above Silverado Trail – one of my favorite locations in all of Napa Valley. As I turned into Signorello Estate, I was surrounded by a gorgeous, symmetrical row of green trees and deep purple Japanese maples with the rows of grapevines just beyond. As I arrived at the tasting room, I was greeted by a shining infinity pool and the breathtaking views of the Vaca and Mayacamas mountain ranges with unparalleled views of the Valley below! Words like stunning & beautiful don’t even begin to describe the setting – it is all of that and more!

Before the tour began, I was welcomed with a glass of their 2013 White Uvaggio Estate wine. A unique blend of Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Chardonnay grapes that is only available at the winery. With complex flavors of peach, citrus, apple and roses, this was the ideal wine to sip while sitting in the sun and gazing at the views! My small group then loaded up on the 6-seater, customized off-road vehicles and we were off. The tour included the Sauvignon

Chef Michael Pryor

Blanc and Chardonnay vines planted at the bottom of the hill in the sandy loam valley. The Chardonnay vines were originally planted in 1980 and are some of the oldest in Napa Valley. Because of their age, they tend to offer a lower yield

Estate Sommelier Ron Plunkett sharing the view!

than younger vines which makes this micro-winery experience even more special. Next, we headed up the hill to take in the extraordinary views. A unique feature of Signorello Estate that I’ve never experienced at other wineries is the fact that they own both “sides of the hill”. Not only were we able to see what is at the top of the hill and beyond but it also allows them to grow east and west facing vines. The soil is very different from the soil at the bottom of the hill. It is shallow & rocky and lends itself to the red varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. With part of the vineyard benefiting from eastern exposure and the other from western exposure, the grapes have a diversity that leads to very complex and balanced wines. Sixth generation Winemaker Pierre Birebent grew up on his family vineyard in Corsica, France and studied viticulture & enology in Burgundy. He utilizes the French wine making method known for its balanced wines. He is also the vineyard manager so is very in tune with his grapes. The wines are not fined or filtered prior to bottling which guarantees they are always vegan-friendly.

Standing next to the RV taking in the sights!

While on the tour, Ron pointed out many of the environmental practices they have implemented to receive the Napa Green Certification. To control insects and rodents, instead of using toxic chemicals, they have added bat, blue bird and owl nesting boxes. In fact, the blue birds are small but fierce. Not only do they eat up the grapevine moths that can decimate grapevines but also run off the grape-loving crows that are 10 times their size! They even have a family of rattlesnakes that eliminate pests as nature intended. And their free-range chickens fill up on the insects that the blue birds leave behind. The land Signorello Estate sits on now even used to be a rescue for retired racehorses. And they use left over grapes for mulch. What’s not to love about this place?

Upon the conclusion of the tour, my group headed into the private dining room. Allowing a maximum of 8 guests, the food & wine pairing is a very intimate experience. Relying on his on-site garden and the local Napa & St. Helena Farmers Markets to offer fresh, in-season produce, Chef Michael Pryor’s menu generally changes weekly.

The Primo course of spring vegetable ragout, fennel broth & sliced radishes paired with the 2014 Seta Estate wine started the meal off with a bang. Seta is Italian for silk and that is exactly what it felt like. The simple combination of spring vegetables and broth was absolutely bursting with flavor.

The Secondo course was an amazing pairing of the 2014 Vielles Vines Estate Chardonnay with bruschetta topped with almond cheese, grilled peaches, toasted walnuts & smoked sea salt. The old vine Chardonnay flavors of apple & vanilla were exquisite with the grilled peaches & sea salt. Until I reached the 5th course, this was my favorite pairing of flavors.

The Terzo course of king trumpet mushrooms, roasted cherries, cipollini onions, spinach, pistachios and the 2013 Pinot Noir Las Amigas was the most aromatic portion of the meal. And the delicious combination of flavors brought out the black pepper note of the pinot.

Course Quarto was an Italian farro pasta with deconstructed pesto & wax beans paired with the 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Again, the aroma was incredible and the pasta brought out the bold, full flavors of the wine. As delicious as it was, I knew I needed to save room for the final course!

Final course Quinto was pan seared eggplant, caramelized squash, olive oil roasted potatoes with salmorejo sauce. Even though I knew this was vegan, the weight, feel and taste of the pan seared eggplant was reminiscent of fat. This pairing was absolutely exquisite with the 2013 Padrone Estate blend. The blended Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc was elegant and well deserving of its 96+ rating.

The Enoteca experience is 2 1/2 hours of bliss. Beginning with the views, the location, the tour and finishing with the 5-course pairing. I have had many wonderful wine tasting experiences since arriving in Napa in late 2011 but I can say with confidence that this is the best yet. In fact, the wine was so incredible that I joined their wine club and brought my bi-annual allotment of 6 and an extra bottle of the 2013 Estate Padrone home with me!

To schedule your own Enoteca experience, visit Signorello Estate and reserve your spot HERE. Be sure to note that you are vegan and ask for Estate Sommelier Ron Plunkett! His knowledge of the wines and the history of Signorello Estate is wonderful. And ask him to explain why he is called the Cop Somm. You’ll love the story of his journey! As I was leaving, I had the opportunity to chat with Chef Michael for a few minutes and was really excited to find that he has recently joined the whole foods, plant-based diet program sponsored by our local hospital and not only feels great but has also lost over 50 pounds! What an incredible win for him and the animals!

Whether this is your first or tenth time visiting Napa Valley, be sure to include this experience in your schedule. And as always…eat, drink & be vegan! Cheers!