July 23

Taste of Napa 2016 Gets Vegan-Friendly!

Taste of Napa 2016 selfie!

For those of you who are new to my blog or just can’t quite remember a post you read a year ago (believe me, I get it!), Festival del Sole’s Taste of Napa 2015 was the first local event that I attended as an actual member of the press. I can still feel the excitement I experienced when I got the approval from Fuller & Sander Communications! I was legit. A credentialed media type. I was perfectly giddy when I put that lanyard around my neck. Oh, and when the event volunteers waved me into the Reserve Tasting Salon (ie VIP section)? I compare that to the thrill I felt the first time I flew first class. I was 19 and naïve, flying from the tiny Cherry Capital airport in Traverse City, Michigan to the Dallas/Ft. Worth International airport. The American Airlines ticket agents were awesome and upgraded me so I could enjoy the experience. I had maxed out my credit card to get to Dallas to interview for a flight attendant gig with American’s tiny hub – American Eagle. The attendants were friendly and kept asking me if I wanted a drink or anything to eat. Of course, I kept saying “no thanks”. I had no money and had no idea how I’d be able to pay for it! Okay, so I wasn’t nearly as naïve getting into the VIP section but definitely just as excited!

The gorgous Reserve Salon.
The gorgous Reserve Salon.

A bit has changed since last year – Festival del Sole is now called Festival Napa Valley. And instead of being held at the large venue formerly known as Copia in downtown Napa, the Taste of Napa was held in the gorgeous food and wine village Cairdean Estate in St. Helena. Though my history with the Taste of Napa doesn’t run very deep yet, with only 2 years under my belt, this location was an absolutely stunning choice! The smaller, intimate feel of Cairdean Estate changed the entire dynamic of the event. I never felt overwhelmed or jostled like I had the year before. The Reserve Tasting Salon was located inside so when the weather began to heat up it was a welcome respite with a spectacular view.



Now onto why you are reading this – the food and wine! I was excited to see that Miracle Noodle was back again. I met Susan Carp, a member of the Miracle Noodle team, last year at the Taste of Napa. The couple of times we’ve spoken by phone since we met last year she continues to be a huge advocate of the health benefits of Miracle Noodle. And quite frankly, they are delicious too! I was thrilled to see that the crowd around the Miracle Noodle table was just teeming with attendees. I would have loved to stop by and have a chat and a sample (or two) but I didn’t want to break up their flow!

Solbar's compressed watermelon. Refreshing!
Solbar’s compressed watermelon. Refreshing!

Next, I moved onto the Solbar at Solage Calistoga display. They had a gorgeous mountain of delicious, refreshing compressed watermelon nibbles. They made mine to order minus the cheese and it was a mouthful of fruity bliss! Joe Odgie, Director of Operations, assured me that their menu is vegan-friendly and they strive to offer an appetizer, entrée AND dessert to their vegan customers. I’m so excited about exploring their menu more in-depth!

My wanderings next took me to one of my favorite Napa restaurants – Aroma Indian Cuisine. I had the pleasure of enjoying a couple delicious veggie pakoras with vegan-friendly plum sauce served by Chef Jeet Bhangoo and his team. I’m never sure if it is the food or his beautiful aura that keeps me coming back for more!

Aroma Indian Cuisine Chef Jeet & his team.
Aroma Indian Cuisine Chef Jeet & his team.

Napa Valley Extra Virgin offered an amazing tasting of local extra virgin olive oil and cask aged balsamic. The balsamic is produced from the juice of just-harvested white grapes (typically, Trebbiano) and aged for 12-18 years! While the oil is created by Napa Valley’s other famous harvest! I see why Napa Valley Extra Virgin has won numerous awards in the four short years they’ve been producing.

Estate Events by Meadowood, located in the Reserve Tasting Salon, offered a delicious and refreshing cold heirloom gazpacho that was absolutely bursting with flavor. I made a point to wander by the table a couple of times. Mallorey Bischof, Wine & Cuisine expert, explained that Meadowood Napa Valley is always happy to provide their guests with anything they request – whether that is because of their vegan lifestyle choices or issues with gluten intolerance or allergies. I look forward to discussing this more with her and visiting their restaurant very soon!

Napa Valley Tea Company
Napa Valley Tea Company

Though each tasting was amazing in its own way, my favorite experience at Taste of Napa 2016, was with Napa Valley Tea Company. Founder/owner E. Agnes Ramos has created a beautiful fusion of grapes with the soothing and healthful benefits of tea. Absolutely brilliant! Her tea infusions embody the calm and simple lifestyle of Napa Valley. She guided me through a tea tasting and explained the properties and benefits of each combination. Really incredible. 

Meadowood's Heirloom Gazpacho. The veggie stuff always goes first!
Meadowood’s Heirloom Gazpacho. The veggie stuff always goes first!

Though, I wanted to spend more time sipping wine, I took some time out to listen to Dr. Melina Jampolis. She is an M.D. and one of only 200 board-certified Physician Nutrition Specialists. In a country where the majority of our physicians receive little to zero nutritional training, I was really curious to hear what a doctor trained on nutrition had to say. Before becoming vegan, I spent decades eating food that I thought was good for me that it turned out wasn’t especially healthy. Because of this, I wasn’t feeling very generous and was doubtful as to what she would contribute. It turns out that the majority of her seminar was based around the benefits of us all eating more phyto-nutrients – a fancy term for plants. What a pleasant surprise! Though it was off to a bit of a rocky start when she assured everyone that she was not advocating a vegetarian or vegan diet. She explained that she had tried to “go vegan” for a day for her blog but only made it to about 10 a.m. due to poor planning. She did spout the usual rhetoric about being so hungry that she had to give up. I stuck it out though and with a few exceptions agreed with what she had to say! Let me assure you that I am not a doctor nor am I formerly trained in nutrition. But here’s the reality, I am more educated than most of the doctors on the benefits of plant based nutrition. Even Dr. Jampolis commented that most “doctors don’t know what the hell to eat either.” And she really won me over when “food is medicine” came out of her mouth. The fact that she was so adamant that processed meat is a known carcinogen and should be eliminated from our diet and stated that “red meat has a not great impact” on our gut bacteria, kept me listening. It’s taking time but the benefits of a whole foods, plant based diet are becoming apparent even to the mainstream!

E. Agnes Ramos - Founder/Owner of NV Tea Company!
E. Agnes Ramos – Founder/Owner of NV Tea Company!
Napa Valley Extra Virgin made with our local harvest.
Napa Valley Extra Virgin made with our local harvest.

By then I was completely parched. Parched for wine anyway! I found two of my favorites – the wonderful vegan-friendly Sauvignon Blanc by Cliff Lede Vineyards and Duckhorn’s Paraduxx red blend. While Duckhorn Wine Company cannot guarantee that any of the Library or older vintages are vegan, anything beginning in 2011 is ours to sip (or guzzle!).

I ended my afternoon sitting in a Tesla Model X SUV complete with Falcon Wings! I learned later that the car I sat in had their new vegan upholstery. I was drawn to it for a reason. And not just because it’s a gorgeous vehicle.

Duckhorn Wine Company - vegan-friendly since 2011.
Duckhorn Wine Company – vegan-friendly since 2011.

Taste of Napa 2016 was an absolute success! I was thrilled that so many meat-centric restaurants chose to provide plant based optios. What a change from my arrival in Napa five years ago! This is a huge win for animals and the vegan community…and people’s health, our planet’s health…It’s just a wine…period! I invite all of my vegan readers to join me next year at the 2017 Taste of Napa. We can celebrate, socialize and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

July 16

Napa Valley Vegan at the 2016 Taste of Napa!

festival NV useHi friends! You have no idea how happy I am to be back. My life has been so full of joy, stress, loss and excitement over the last several months. Overwhelming! After five years out of the business, in February, my husband and I decided that it was time for me to get back to work selling real estate. We realized that after 5 years with his current company, his career was dying a very slow (often painful) death and living paycheck to paycheck had finally lost its allure! I began reading 1,800 pages of California real estate practices, procedures and legal aspects. Yep, it was as mind numbing as it sounds! On the last day of March, while on my way to pick up my passes to the amazing Sonoma Film Festival, I was rear ended by a 95-year-old man. My first thought was, “Wow! Kudos to you for still being licensed and independent”. My second thought was “F@ck! My back hurts.” Luckily, within a couple weeks my back and range of motion in my neck were almost back to normal. The downside was that since I had both of my hands on the steering wheel at the moment of impact, both of my wrists were sprained and swollen. That has taken much longer to heal but they are finally almost never sore or swollen. YAY! Within a couple days of this excitement, we got a call from our property manager to let us know that our landlord had recently passed away and we now had 60 days to vacate the home we had lived in for almost three years. We were sad for his family and knowing the current rental market in Napa just a little concerned about finding a place in just 2 months. On top of that, rent had increased by about 20% since the last time we had signed a lease. Sheesh! The hits just keep on a coming! And then things got really sad. My mother-in-law Jenelle, who had been ill and battling Parkinson’s disease for a couple years, finally lost her battle. In so many ways it was a relief to see her finally at peace and no longer suffering but that is easy for me to say. My husband lost his Mom. Now with both of his parents gone his sister Barb is the only person on this planet that has known him his entire life. Sad times. But just as quickly as it seemed that everything was going wrong, wonderful things were happening too! Though the real estate board is still weeks away from processing my application for the exam (I guess everyone wants to be an agent again!), with the help of a friend, I found a job at a small local real estate office. I’m working as an administrative assistant until I’m licensed. I wouldn’t call it interesting or exciting but it is helping me get used to being back in the work force. And thanks to another friend, we found the perfect little oasis in Old Town Napa. A charming little home with the sweetest backyard full of towhees, hummingbirds, bumble bees, butterflies and a little opossum we named Dixie after one of my favorite 90s bands Possum Dixon. In fact, I’m sitting outside right now with my lovely little doggie Violet sitting in my lap! And did I mention that I’m less than 2 blocks to Fuller Park and downtown?!!

TasteLogo400pxTo celebrate my return, I’m participating in Napa Valley’s annual music, food, wine and art festival – Festival Napa Valley (formerly known as Festival del Sole). Tomorrow, I’ll be covering the 2016 Taste of Napa. The event is being held at the new Cairdean Estate upvalley in beautiful St. Helena. Cairdean Estate offers estate wine tasting, dining, shopping and a perfect destination to meet up with friends! It was one of my favorite locations for screening films at the 2015 Napa Valley Film Fest. The event will be featuring dozens of exclusive wineries and just about every local Chef you could imagine including Alpha Omega, Caymus Vineyards, Cliff Lede Vineyards (one of my favorite spots in Napa!), Baldacci Family Vineyards (oh, another favorite), The Hess Collection (a definite favorite!) Aroma Indian Cuisine, Basalt and Carpe Diem. What does that mean to us vegans, you ask? Well…that’s why I’m going to be there. Just like last year, I will be tasting and sipping and chatting up every Chef and winemaker I can meet. It’s a tough job but I am here for you! My next blog post and videos will feature all the vegan-friendly moments so you can enjoy yourself on your next visit to Napa Valley!

I’ve missed you all and am so grateful that you are reading this post. I can’t wait to share the 11th Annual Festival Napa Valley with you! And as always…eat, drink and be vegan

December 1

Napa Valley Film Festival – 5th And Final Day!

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A quick latte before the films begin!

After a little break to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday and remind myself of all the amazing things I am grateful for, I am back to tell you about the 5th and final day of the Napa Valley Film Festival! I had been excitedly waiting all week for Sunday to come. I had no red carpets to cover and was finally going to see the two movies that were on the top of my list!


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Final evening at the Cairdean Estate in Calistoga.

Honeyglue, a gorgeously written and acted movie about love, self-discovery and what it means to truly live. The fact that the team that brought this story to the screen are animal loving vegetarians was a very happy coincidence. CLICK HERE to see the trailer! And Moments of Clarity a sweet, unique comedy of friendship and accepting others, quirks and all. CLICK HERE to watch the trailer. I have to admit, I was especially excited when I learned that two of the cast members in the film, Eric Roberts and Lyndsy Fonseca, are both vegan, animal rights advocates. All the (movie)stars aligned that day and both films happened to be playing upvalley in Calistoga with just enough Moments logo (186x275)time in between screenings for a quick lunch. Perfect!

Honeyglue was produced by Zombot Pictures, a truly independent film production company, founded by writer/director James Bird, actress/producer/author Adriana Mather and composer/producer Anya Remizova. The movie included an amazing cast led by Adriana Mather and Zach Villa. Christopher Heyerdahl, who I know best for playing the vengeful and dangerous character “the Swede” from Hell On Wheels, and BooBoo Stewart, known best for playing a werewolf on The Twilight Saga, (having no kids, I had to google to find that out!) both also gave incredible performances. And Amanda Plummer, who plays Jordan’s Mom, adds her unique style to the film. The story brings together two people from completely different backgrounds – Morgan is a young woman raised in a safe, conservative home and surrounded by a loving family while Jordan was raised in poverty by a single Mom that didn’t understand her son and his need to dress in women’s clothing. After Morgan is diagnosed with terminal cancer, she and Jordan fall in love and spend the last weeks of her life experiencing everything they can…together.

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Honeyglue cast at the Q&A!

James Bird’s idea for the story about Morgan’s illness came from his loss of a friend to cancer. While the idea for the love story came from the beautiful relationship between a bee and a dragonfly. While James was working on the screenplay, he noticed a bee that kept ending up in his pool. Each time he would see the bee, he also noticed a dragonfly who would swoop down into the pool. As if the dragonfly was trying to remove enough water to save the bee. And in James’ Native American tribe the dragonfly represents the only insect that can fly in between life and death. The bee and dragonfly play an important role in this film along with a gorgeous combination of “duals” – happy/sad, gay/straight, boy/girl, liberal/conservative, digital/film, dragonfly/honeybee…

This tight-knit group that is Zombot Pictures has produced two other films – Chasing Shakespeare starring Danny Glover and Eat Spirit Eat which is also James’ directorial debut. They are a fiercely independent company that write, produce and star in movies that are, as James puts it, “as diverse as the world is”. James passion for writing began with his Mom. They lived in a car while he was growing up and his Mom told him a story every night. It was when he wrote the screenplay for Chasing Shakespeare, that the idea of Zombot Pictures began to take shape. As just the writer, he had no control on how the film was made. He found that they wanted to take this Native American story starring an African American man and remove everything edgy and controversial. Instead of letting his work be “whitewashed”, Zombot Pictures was born and he made the film the way he envisioned it. When Adriana and James first met, she was a vegetarian and they made a wager over a game of dice that if she won, he would never eat meat again. Nine years later and they are still meat free and also recently engaged! In fact, when they filmed Honeyglue they even hired a caterer that provided all organic, mostly vegetarian food for the cast and crew! And how can you not love a couple that are not only vegetarian but also have a pet pig named Sheldon. If you live in Santa Monica, you may even know him. Sheldon is known to like participating in the Santa Monica annual marathon.

Actor Adriana Mather, writer/director James Bird and me!

Though I didn’t see Honeyglue until the end of the film fest, it was absolutely worth the wait. It is the best movie I have seen in years. After seeing the movie and listening to James and Adriana at the Q&A afterwards, I knew these were two people that I needed to meet. Anyone who can create these beautiful, multi-dimensional characters and then bring them to life on the screen, are the type of people that I want touching my life while I’m on this planet! It was amazing to see these artists do what they do. You too will fall in love with Morgan and Jordan and her entire family! The film will be released in March/April of next year in 10-15 major cities. Be sure to see this beautiful, creative, thought-provoking movie when it comes your way! To stay up-to-date on the film, follow their adventures on Twitter and Facebook.

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Christian Lloyd, Lyndsy Fonseca, Kristin Wallace, Stev Elam and David Philips from Moments of Clarity

After a very quick late lunch at Himalayan Sherpa Kitchen in St. Helena, I was back for movie #2. Kristen Wallace (Claire) and Lyndsy Fonseca (Danielle) star in the dark comedy, Moments of Clarity, as two teenage girls – one sheltered and naïve, the other rebellious and in pain, who through a weekend of adventure become friends. Mackenzie Astin, Saxon Trainor and Xander Berkeley round out the cast with quirky and endearing characters. And Eric Roberts starring as washed up porn star Hal Spreadum was brilliant! Though Claire and Danielle’s quest begins as an escape from their protective parents, it ultimately helps them to better understand themselves and the family they were trying to leave behind. The message of the movie in Kristin

Kristin, Christian, Lyndsy better
Writer Christian Lloyd

Wallace’s words is, “for people to really be their weird, fun, authentic selves, you know?” “We are all individuals.” After the film, they too stayed for an in depth Q&A. Seeing producer/screenwriter/key cast member Kristin Wallace, cast member Lyndsay Fonseca, director Stev Elam, writer Christian Lloyd and producer David Philips together, they reminded me of a big, happy family. I was very fortunate to be able to sit down with Kristin Wallace the next day to discuss with her one on one her vision for her new production company Long Stem Pictures and her first film Moments of Clarity.

Originally from Toronto, Kristin trained in theater before making indie films and a web series about Canadian superheroes. And then one day she decided that it was time to move to L.A. So six years ago, not knowing anyone, she made the move from the east coast to Southern California. She even admits that she “was blindly naïve to how hard it would be”. Unfortunately, what she found was the typical L.A. stereotypes. She wasn’t impressed with the people she was meeting or the acting opportunities she was being offered. Feeling like “a needle in a haystack”, she was seeing a pattern of “surface level, ditzy and slutty roles”, feeling “overly sexualized” In fact, after just two years, she almost left L.A. to head back home. Instead, she started doing some work up in Vancouver which is where she began to write. Once she was able to share her screenplay, she went from wanting to leave L.A. to loving it because she was finally beginning to attract the people she wanted to work with. Feeling empowered by this experience, having control as a producer and “having a say” in the types of roles she plays, her goals with Long Stem Pictures are to do more collaborating, produce, write and develop new ideas all while creating “more diverse roles for females.” Being a female myself, it’s exciting to see this fresh attitude from a filmmaker. While they continue to rack up film festival awards from Best Director and Best Film in Boston to the Audience Award in Catalina, they hope to have the film released to theaters by early 2016. Be sure to follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

These were the experiences I had been hoping attending the Napa Valley Film Festival would give me. Bringing these incredibly talented artists together to share their beautifully crafted characters and stories. These are the types of films that will make me a fan of going to the movies again! I want to thank you all for following me through my film festival adventures. I hope you had as good a time as I did. I look forward to doing this again next year and sharing festival #6 with you and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!