September 25

Schug Carneros Estate Winery- Vegan Wines in Sonoma Valley!

Schug Carneros Estate logo reflects their German history!

I wanted to add a quick update to my experiences with Schug Carneros Estate Winery. As you’ll see once you read my blog post, the winery has a gorgeous view; offers incredible vegan wines and really knows how to throw a party. I was invited back recently by Crista Johnson, Schug’s Marketing Coordinator, to celebrate Oktoberfest. She assured me that Chef Kristine even had some vegan German cuisine just for Steve and me. So on another gorgeous day I headed over to beautiful Sonoma to spend the afternoon with my new friends at Schug. The Biergarten (or more accurately, Weingarten) was perfectly set with polka band Polkageist West, a buffet of German cuisine, never ending Federweisser and all the pretzels and mustard I could eat! Just as Crista promised, Chef made sure I was very well fed. Vegan wurst, German potato salad, cabbage salad, warm pretzels and the best artisan whole grain mustards I’d ever had! If you are looking for a new wine club membership I highly suggest that you give Schug Carneros Estate Winery a try. They have gone far above most local wineries to ensure that their vegan guests have as much food, wine and fun as their omnivorous guests!

I never dreamed that I’d come home from a wine tasting sunburned, sweaty and covered in dirt from my shins down and consider it one of my favorite wine tasting experiences!  I recently joined Schug Estate winemaker Mike Cox and his team at their Pinot N Pickin party and picnic. This was my first grape picking party and I have to admit that it brought out a bit of my competitive side!

Schug Carneros Estate Winery is located in Sonoma County’s beautiful Carneros region just 20 minutes from downtown Napa. This family owned winery has an enduring history in wine making. Founders Walter and Gertrud followed in the footsteps of their fathers who were both wine estate managers in Germany. Their true love endeavored over the next six years while Walter trained at various wineries in Germany, England and California and continued to complete his Viticulture & Enology degree. Finally, spring of 1961, they married and within a month were on a ship heading to New York City. From there, they loaded up all of their possessions into their Volkswagen Beetle and made the cross-country journey to California to join the burgeoning wine industry. In 1966, Walter was hired by E&J Gallo which led to a long relationship making wines for Joseph Phelps Vineyards before he struck out on his own. Having more demand than their leased winery could produce, Walter & Gertrud purchased 50 acres in Sonoma’s Carneros Appellation. As their family business grew, their three children, Andrea, Claudia and Axel, contributed their expertise to the business. And Axel’s wife Kristine explores her passion for food and wine pairing as the Winery Chef. Though Walter and Gertrud have now both passed on, their passion for wine endures through their children!

The morning of the grape picking dawned cool and sunny. It was the beginning of a perfect day. Surrounded by many of the wine club members, I was treated to a quick tour of their cellar before the hard work began. I always enjoy seeing the inner workings of the winery. And contributing to the harvest of the grapes helped me appreciate the amount of work that goes into the finished bottle. The entire team was working hard and bustling around getting it done! Next, was the picking of the teams! Intern Michele from Italy and Lena from Germany were in charge of the competition. As soon as I heard Lena was from Germany, I made sure I got on her team. I even got to practice a bit of my new language skills! But this was no time for play. My team needed to defeat Team Italy. After a quick demonstration on how to use sharp cutting instruments, the picking began. We all started out a little slow but the chatting died down as we became more comfortable harvesting the grapes. It wasn’t long before jackets and sweaters came off and sun hats went on. As the bins began to fill with grapes, the energy turned from friendly to friendly but competitive. It was amazing how quickly an hour and a half flew by! Then the waiting began. Each bin of grapes were driven up to the scales. Tension filled the air and everyone held their breath. And then it was announced…Team Germany defeated Team Italy by 200 pounds! Ja! Fantastich!

To celebrate our harvest, the sipping of wine began! The 2016 Sonoma Coast Sauvignon Blanc was bright, well balanced, and offered a lovely grapefruit finish. A much better way to cool down than drinking water! This wine paired really well with my picnic lunch of fresh greens and a grilled veggie & portobello sandwich on sourdough. It was really delicious; another reminder that some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten are made with simple & healthy whole foods. The 2015 Estate grown Chardonnay was another wonderful surprise. Grown in the cool climate at the Estate vineyard with minimal new oak, it was refreshing with an elegant finish. This Chardonnay pairs very nicely with food. Next, they introduced the 2015 Estate grown Pinot Noir. It will do nothing but improve with a couple more years of cellaring but I really enjoyed the flavor of strawberry and the silky finish! Finally, I finished my picnic with the 2013 Late Harvest Riesling. The 2013 Riesling is not vegan but the next vintage release will be! Walter Schug was a true pioneer of late harvest Rieslings with almost 60 years of winemaking experience here in the U.S. and Germany. Its high sugar content made this the perfect finish to a perfect afternoon! Who needs dessert when we can sip the wonderful outcome of noble rot!

Winemaker Mike Cox grew up in Sonoma and learned much about the winemaking process in his hometown. Being a local, he had a big jump start over many other young winemakers who don’t grow up in such an extraordinary area. While he started college studying to become a chemical engineer, it wasn’t long before he transferred to U.C. Davis and completed his Enology degree. His summers where spent working at Sonoma wineries, learning and building experience in the industry. He enjoys working closely with growers and prefers small production vineyards for the unique qualities they contribute to his blends. This really does show through in his wines. He prefers using the newer technologies available to winemakers today which include not only the hydraulic punch-down fermenters but also moving away from using animal product to fine his wines. Beginning with his 2014 to current vintages, his whites are all vegan-friendly. Any reds beginning in 2005 to current vintages are vegan as are the Roses and Rouge de Noirs.

Intern Lena with Team Germany celebrating our win!

If you are planning on exploring Sonoma Valley, Schug Carneros Estate is a wonderful place to start. The drive up Bonneau Road takes you through the vineyards to the hillside tasting room. The families’ German history is reflected in their cozy post and beam tasting room and their German flag. And from the upper patio you will enjoy a spectacular 360 degree view that includes Mount Diablo. Hang out with friends at the picnic tables and order wine by the glass or take a self-guided tour wandering through the vineyards. No appointment is needed; just stop by the tasting room for a detailed guide with the points of interest marked along your route. Reservations for a tasting are only required if your party is 6 or more. If you do prefer a private tasting, CLICK HERE to schedule your visit. Make a day of it, enjoy beautiful Sonoma Valley and as always; eat, drink…and be vegan!

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!

March 23

JuJu’s Mediterranean Kitchen -Bursting With Flavor, Health & Love!

IMG_3547My first experience with JuJu’s Mediterranean Kitchen was several years ago. Steve and I were very new to Napa and noticed JuJu’s after leaving our insurance agent’s office. JuJu’s is tucked back on California Way and unless you’re taking a short cut to California Boulevard, at the time, there wasn’t really any reason to head down California Way. When we went in, we met Joumana Shweiky (JuJu), for the first time. She was very friendly but explained that they didn’t offer much in the way of restaurant services but were more into catering. We headed off from there and I have to admit I looked at it longingly every time I drove by over the years! Fast forward four years, and my Facebook friend, Cassandra, mentioned that JuJu’s Mediterranean Kitchen had plenty of clearly labeled vegan choices on their menu and that I should add them to my Eat! page. So I did what anybody interested in learning more about a restaurant would do, I checked the Yelp reviews! Sure enough…JuJu’s still offered their catering services but since my last visit have added tables and are now offering sit down service. Yay!

 

Yum! The Mezza Combo plate!
Yum! The Mezza Combo plate!

Besides the addition of 4 or 5 tables, JuJu’s Mediterranean Kitchen is much as I remember it from my first visit. A large open kitchen, a small market specializing in Middle Eastern products, a large glass front cooler displaying house made salads sold by the pint and a very homey atmosphere. JuJu is just as friendly and welcoming as I remember. With the Lebanese music playing in the background, Steve and I both felt like we were sitting down in her kitchen at home. Though she was busy cooking, she took time out to go over the menu with me. This is really a vegan’s food heaven. There are 7 mezza favorites that can be purchased for just $5 for a ½ pint that range from Mujadara – a blend of lentils, cracked wheat & caramelized onions; Tabuli made with chopped parsley, fresh mint & cracked IMG_3545wheat; freshly made Dolmas wrapped with grape leaves and stuffed with a savory mix of rice, fresh mint & pomegranate molasses, Hummus and much more! I’m going to stop for just a moment here and mention that her Dolmas are the best I have ever eaten! JuJu’s Signature dishes include a Mezza Combo Plate (just mention that you are vegan and she will substitute grilled veggies for the non-vegan baba ganough), a Falafel Plate and she will also make Veggie Kabobs if you ask! The vegan wraps include the Falafel Wrap and the Greek Wrap (if you skip the feta). The Fatoosh Salad is vegan and the Mediterranean, Kale & Greek Salads can be with some slight adjustments. And then comes the A La Carte section – of the 16 choices, 8 are vegan! The Hummus plate, Foul M’Damas plate, grilled Tomato & Onion Skewer, side of olives, pita bread, garlic cilantro home fries, Falafel with tahini sauce and IMG_1632Dolmas. Steve and I enjoyed the Mezza Combo plate – a perfect taste of the Mediterranean with homemade Hummus, Muhamara, Mujadara, Falafel, Dolma and Tabuli served with warm pita bread. I loved having a little bit of everything on my plate. As I mentioned, the grilled veggies made a lovely substitution for the non-vegan baba ganough. I especially enjoyed the hummus, mujadara, tabuli and the dolmas!

 

Though JuJu has been a part of Napa Valley for 30 years, she is originally from Lebanon so the flavor of the food is very authentic. It is all made fresh daily using local produce, exotic spices, extra virgin olive oil and the Chef’s love! Some of her favorite things are to entertain and cook and introduce others to new cultures. This is really reflected in the IMG_3561experience I had when I visited her restaurant. She proudly talked about her 6 children who all grew up in St. Helena and are now lawyers, teachers, fashion designers and world travelers. I really loved that she shared with me her cookbook Soup for Syria. With so much physical distance between Syria and the U.S., I admit that I am somewhat disconnected from the turmoil and suffering that is happening. It does seem that the world has failed the Syrian refugees; the world’s wealthiest countries have turned their backs on this humanitarian disaster. While JuJu’s home country Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq have opened their borders to more than four million refugees. This has created a huge need for food relief. To assist, many world-acclaimed chefs and cookbook authors from around the world have come together to help alleviate the hunger of the Syrians by contributing a recipe. It is another great example that we don’t need to wait for our government to make a decision. We can help change the world all on or own!

 

Hanging out with JuJu
Hanging out with JuJu

With two decades of experience in the very demanding Napa Valley culinary industry, JuJu’s Mediterranean Kitchen is well worth the stop whether you are looking for casual dining, catering, lunch or dinner take-out or you need a boxed lunch for your next wine tasting excursion. JuJu’s is located at 3375 California Way and is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m to 8 p.m. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I did and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

 

*You may have noticed that I am a big fan of Mediterranean food. I’ve enjoyed it from Small World Café and Heritage Eats to Tarla Mediterranean Grill and JuJu’s Kitchen. I’d love to hear your feedback on your favorite spot in Napa Valley for Mediterranean food. Please leave your comments below!