November 18

Napa Valley Film Fest 2015 – Day 1!

My relationship with the Napa Valley Film Fest began 5 years ago three thousand miles from Napa Valley! My husband, Steve, had interviewed for a job at a brand new Mercedes Benz dealership near Napa that was to begin in about 5 weeks. He flew out of San Francisco feeling good about the job and figured it would be a lot of work but in that 5 weeks, we could get our home packed and listed for sale, movers hired and our 3 dogs and cat loaded up to make the cross country trip with us in our little Kia Spectra. Instead, by the time he landed in Raleigh later that evening, he received a message telling him to be back in a week ready to start! Looking back I have no idea how we did it but thanks to Craigslist we found him a room to rent for the 2 months he would be training in South Bay, the dealership loaned him a Prius to drive until I got there with the Kia and 6 days later he was on his way! Me, I was left in charge of, well…pretty much everything else! It was very hard on both of us to be so far apart from each other. As much as I missed him, I know it was hardest on him. I was in our home, near friends and had the love of our dogs and cat to comfort me when I was stressed or lonely or overwhelmed while Steve had long stressful days and came back each evening to a rented room in a stranger’s home. I was so excited for him when his dealership became one of the first sponsors for the brand new Napa Valley Film Fest. Though it added more work to his plate, it was a wonderful distraction. He began to build relationships with the founders of the Festival, husband and wife team Marc and Brenda Lhormer and many other Napa locals. This is such an important thing – personally and professionally – especially when you move somewhere where you literally know no one! So, though I had a twinge or two of envy when he told me about the VIP parties, world premiere screenings and celebrity sightings he had, I was so happy for him! From that very first Festival, he was hooked and it has been our goal to support the Festival every year!

 This year, when I decided to apply for a press pass to the festival, I wasn’t
really sure what type of coverage I wanted to provide for my readers. Frankly, I was mostly just curious to see if I would get approved for the media pass. So, when I got the email saying that I was in, I really had to scramble to see how I could make this experience relevant to my vegan readers. Ultimately I decided to try to do a little bit of everything and share the experiences with you so you would have the opportunity to decide if it’s a good fit for you!

If you are a “cinemaddict” and don’t want to do anything but catch as many screenings as possible, you will love the Napa Valley Film Fest. With over 120 films offered that range from full length narrative and documentary features, narrative and documentary shorts, world premiere screenings and dozens of Q&As with filmmakers, your hunger for good cinema will be appeased! And there is a pass available for virtually every budget.

If you are a Patron Circle passholder, you will be treated to the ultimate VIP experience. Not only will you get to hang out with the celebrities and the filmmakers but it also includes priority access to the screenings and special events, exclusive VIP areas at the Gala and Tribute and invitations to the Vintner Circle dinners. Since the Patron Circle pass ranges from $2,500 to $25,000 per person, I am also certain that you will have a wonderful experience. And I bet for the cost of that ticket the chefs will even whip up an excellent vegan meal or two for you.

This posting is really for the rest of us. Those of us who like movies, love parties, enjoy mingling with the filmmakers but also want to taste some of the delicious food that is offered by more than 30 local chefs throughout the week without having to compromise on our choices! My press pass, with the exception that I got to stand on the red carpet and interview actors and filmmakers, is essentially the equivalent to the Pass Plus. The Pass Plus is not cheap – the cost ranges from $565 to $645 per person (the sooner you purchase them the cheaper they will be!)– but it offers virtually everything you could ask for…priority access to the screenings, access to special events and parties…many parties – from the Festival Gala, the Celebrity Tribute Program, after-hours parties and the Closing Nights Awards Ceremony AND Wrap Party. So follow me on my adventures on Day One and Opening Night of the 5th Anniversary of the Napa Valley Film Festival…

Screening #1 – Carol

 Though I tend to prefer small, independent films, I was really excited when I read about the movie Carol. It is a romance set in 1950s New York about two vastly different women who meet and fall in love. The characters are played by Cate Blanchett (Carol) and Rooney Mara (Therese). Carol is privileged and wealthy and trapped in a loveless marriage while Therese is drifting and trying to find out who she is and Uptown with lightswhat she wants. I’m a fan of both actresses and went into the screening with high expectations. I also hoped to see what has changed and improved as far as social attitudes and behavior regarding same sex relationships over the past 60 years. It ended up being melodramatic scene after scene of deep, longing glances between two virtually personality-less women and not much else. Kyle Chandler brought a little passion to his character but even the beautiful chemistry between Carol and Therese during the sex scene was not enough to make it an enjoyable movie. They did touch on the unfairness of a “Morality Clause” that was used to defame Carol during the custody fight and the sad reality that she was forced to endure psychotherapy to “cure” her illness or lose her daughter forever. As much as I wanted to love the movie because of the subject matter, I didn’t! But to be fair, when I went to my hair stylist the next day to have her do my hair for the Gala that evening, her last client had also seen it and RAVED about it! The best parts about my first screening of the Festival were enjoying the beautiful art deco Uptown Theater and having priority access seating. It was really nice not having to wait in line!

Screening #2 – Opening Night World Premier of Somm: Into the Bottle

 After a quick snack (I brought a smoothie from home because I knew timing was going to be tight), I prepared for the

Napa's paparazzi lining the red carpet!
Napa’s paparazzi lining the red carpet!

red carpet screening of the documentary Somm: Into The Bottle. This is the sequel to SOMM – the story of four sommeliers trying to join the Court of Master Sommeliers by passing an examination that is virtually impossible! SOMM had its world premiere at the Napa Valley Film Festival in 2012.  Somm: Into The Bottle, director Jason Wise gives audiences a look behind the curtain into the rarely seen world of wine production from the growing of the grapes to the steps involved from vine to cellar to table. There was also a great section about the history of wine beginning with the Romans, through prohibition, the First and Second World Wars up to the 2014 earthquake here in Napa. It was filmed in dozens of wine regions around the world so was absolutely stunning to watch. It is very rare that I watch a documentary and even rarer when I enjoy it but this one was excellent. Though I am very much a wine novice, I am definitely being seduced by wine and winemaking like so many others who come to Napa Valley. But I truly believe that someone who has little interest or knowledge of wine, will still very much enjoy the film. The history, the scenic beauty, the humor, the passion of the sommeliers and wine makers featured all amount to an incredibly entertaining 90 minutes!

Prior to the screening, I had the opportunity to speak to Director Jason Wise, Master Sommeliers Ian Cauble, Brian McClintic, Fred Dame, Geoff Kruth; Sommeliers DLynn Proctor and Kelli White, local winemaker Steve Matthiasson and grape geneticist Carole Meredith. I will soon have the videos up on my blog and YouTube but here are excerpts of what each of them had to say!

Master Sommelier Geoff Kruth on the red carpet!
Master Sommelier Geoff Kruth on the red carpet!

Though Geoff Kruth has not seen a big shift in demand for vegan food and wine pairings, his feelings are that as a sommelier it is his job “to pair wines with whatever the guest wants” from an all vegan meal to knowing that the wine was processed in a vegan-friendly manner.

I asked director Jason Wise if in filming this documentary he was shocked by some of the things that are added to wines. And he was! Because not all wines are made the same, many winemakers put so much care into the product they produce, he had to cut much of the

Director Jason Wise and co-writer, co-producer and wife Christina Wise.
Director Jason Wise and co-writer, co-producer and wife Christina Wise.

documentary that exposed the unwanted ingredients some winemakers use. To make a sweeping generalization that all wine is made using shocking ingredients is not only incorrect but would have offended far too many people. However, based on all that was cut from this documentary, he feels that this topic really “deserves its own film” and feels that wine should contain the one item we all expect…grapes!

Brian McClintic agrees “100%” that people are very concerned about what they put into their bodies and though the

Brian McClintic at the Somm: Into the Bottle world premiere
Master Sommelier Brian McClintic at the Somm: Into the Bottle world premiere

movement may be happening a bit more slowly with wine than it did with food, partly  because wine bottles don’t provide a list of ingredients, he feels the movement is already “afoot”! And with climate change, caring for our environment and the move toward sustainability, everything being done in his vineyard is to try to protect the ecosystems and is a huge area for opportunity!

Ian Cauble’s concern is about removing herbicides and insecticides from the winemaking chain. The business he started, SommSelect, is focused on biodynamic and organically farmed wines. Sadly, his observations are that scoring a big number for their wine is too often more important to a winemaker than offering healthy, toxin free wine. Like me, he has a firm belief

Ian Cauble discussing his biodynamic wines.
Master Sommelier Ian Cauble & his girlfriend Mercedes discussing his biodynamic wines.

that the sicknesses we see throughout our country are directly related to the chemicals in our food chain.

DLynn Proctor is also hearing many more requests for organic wines though knows that the vegan movement in the wine industry is “trending” as it becomes important to more consumers. He feels it’s extremely important that wines are

DLynn & his wife enjoying the world premiere!
Sommelier DLynn Proctor & his wife Candice enjoying the world premiere!

offered that are “not touched or not handled” by anything that had touched “live product”. “Biodynamic, certifiable, sustainable…why not vegan?”

Next I chatted with Jill and Steve Matthiasson, local winemaker and Winemaker of the Year 2014 SF Chronicle. He is finding more of his consumers requesting vegan-friendly wines than he has in the past and in the 13 years of Matthiasson Wines he has only once used egg whites! His wines are very healthy with moderate alcohol levels, no animal additives and organic farming and is happy to assimilate this new consideration (vegan-friendly) into his winemaking. I’m looking forward to meeting with him soon to wine taste and blog about his wines!

Steve and Jill Matthiasson
Winemakers Steve and Jill Matthiasson

Fred Dame, has not only been a Master for decades but was the first American to pass all three parts of the Master Sommelier Exam in a single year and is the first American to serve as president of the Court of Master Sommeliers Worldwide. The vegan-friendly aspect of wine is a conversation that he has all the time since “it is not a match that is traditional.” He feels it is a fascinating topic…”a head scratcher and anything that is a head scratcher is interesting”.

Grape geneticist Carole Meredith is not only a retired academic but also a winemaker who is a very traditional and non-interventionist farmer. They don’t do anything highly technical with their wine and try to do what is best for the land and the vines that are on it. Her DNA research didn’t really solve any immediate problems in the winemaking industry but it did help give a better perspective on the history of wine and on where some of the most important wine grapes came from. But more than anything, it was “just intellectually fascinating” to her. More good news…occasionally they egg white fine but that is not done every year. I look forward to learning more about her wines and sharing it with you.

Master Fred Dame
Master Sommelier Fred Dame

Last but not least I spoke to Kelli White who is also finding more requests for vegan-friendly wines come up. Her challenge is that since wines are not required to list the ingredients, it is not always apparent what wines are free of animal product. She does feel that wine bottles listing their ingredients is a wonderful idea and sees “just positives and no negatives to that” and feels there is no need to keep ingredients a secret.

This was such a fascinating and interesting topic and group of people to discuss it with. I will be posting the full video of my interviews very soon!

Opening Night Party at the Riverfront Promenade

 Okay, here is what I was waiting for all night. What I have learned about the Napa Valley Film Fest is that they know how to throw a good party! The Historic Napa Mill’s riverfront location provided an exciting outdoor backdrop for the festival with food, wine, cocktails and Stella Artois beer and cidre (not vegan-friendly!) with live music playing throughout. It was a beautiful maze of adult treats around every turn! I was able to catch up with friends, have a few drinks and party with the Somm cast and crew! My favorite food experiences of the night included delicious avocado roll bites provided by Eiko’s and the il morso Americano coffee bar. The Americano is a delicious blend of organic espresso beans, organic cocoa butter and organic cane sugar. It was their one vegan option and I ate plenty of them. Needless to say, I did not sleep very well that night since each one contains 18 mg of caffeine! Ivy Hill Entertainment provided three bands on three different stages. My favorite was led by the Brian Bergeron Trio. They were joined by several other musicians and offered an awesome mix of folk and bluegrass. What a wonderful way to end an amazing day. My Napa Valley Film Festival experience was off to a great start.Silo's

I hope you enjoyed my journey through the Festival. My adventures of days 2 – 5 are coming soon so be prepared for more fun and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!





November 11

Join Napa Valley Vegan on the Napa Valley Film Festival Red Carpet!

logoWhen I was about 10 years old, my hero was a news broadcaster named Jessica Savitch. She was not only beautiful but was interesting enough that a child looked forward to seeing her nightly news break every evening. In fact, because of her, I wanted to be a newscaster when I grew up. This was a very long time ago when media wasn’t 24/7 and my TV actually went off the air at midnight! Time went by and as I grew up, I saw her less on television until I forgot about her and my desire to be a newscaster.

Jessica Savitch with her beloved dog Chewy.
Jessica Savitch with her beloved dog Chewy.

Years later I was heartbroken to learn that she had died in a freak car accident when she was only in her mid 30s. I went on to work many different jobs and had a career in real estate for about 10 years before I finally got up the nerve to start my blog and write. It has been a busy and rewarding 15 months since this all began. When I started I had no idea what direction it would take me (and still don’t) but was ready to go for it and follow wherever it led! Well, this year, I will be attending the 5th anniversary of the Napa Valley Film Festival as part of the press. Not only will I be attending as many sneak preview screenings as I can pack into 5 days, partying at the Gala and the after parties, and searching for vegan-friendly dining options but I will be standing on the red carpet interviewing celebrities. Now it is not very likely that I will be standing next to Billy Bush with Access Hollywood, in fact the online press is usually at the very end of the line. And, if I am very lucky, I will be allowed to ask each celebrity one question (don’t worry though – if I only get to ask one, I’ll make sure it’s a good one!). But when I found out that my application for the press pass had been approved, all of those wonderful memories of dreaming that I would be the next Jessica Savitch came flooding back. I am excited, nervous and thrilled that 36 years later, I finally get to do possibly the job I was always meant to do – research, investigate and share what I learn with the people!

The Festival runs from Wednesday, November 11th through Sunday, November 15th. Please join me there – I will be on the red carpet interviewing Master Sommeliers Fred Dame, Ian Cauble and Brian McClintic and our local wine expert DLynn Proctor from the film SOMM: Into the Bottle; interviewing the Festival Gala talent which includes actors Emilie de Ravin, Keegan-Michael Key, Evan Peters, Xander Berkeley, and many more;  attending the Celebrity Tribute honoring John Travolta, Keegan-Michael Key, Evan Peters, Finn Wittrock, Lydia Hearst, and Zoe Kazan; and cheering for the Festival winners at the Awards Ceremony. Sprinkled into all of that I will be interviewing the director of the film Honeyglue, James Bird, star/producer Adriana Mather and producer/composer Anya Remizova. All proud vegans! As co-owners of Zombot Pictures they also offer organic and vegan food on their sets regardless of the additional expense. We are going to have so much to talk about! I’m also excited to chat with Kristin Wallace, the star of Moments of Clarity who is a huge animal lover and animal welfare advocate. As a Mom of 2 dogs and 2 cats, she and I will have plenty to discuss as well!

I hope to see you at the Festival! If you can’t make it be sure to follow my adventures on Facebook and Twitter. And I look forward to sharing all of my exciting adventures with you in my next blog post! A big thanks for following my antics and allowing me to finally honor all that Jessica Savitch meant to me. And as always…eat, drink, be vegan…and watch lots of movies!!

September 5

Napa Valley Vegan’s Festival Extravaganza – Part 2

So Co Vegfest

The 2nd Annual Sonoma County Vegfest has been such a success over the last two years that they have already outgrown the Finley Community Center located in Santa Rosa and are on the search for a bigger and better venue for 2016! Over 1500 people attended the celebration of compassion this year – 500 more than just last year! There were almost 60 vendors, cooking demonstrations, presentations, animal rights information, the screening of Speciesism, a Kid’s Corner and of course, tons of vegan food to eat! With just a small $5 attendance fee and children under 13 free, it opened the event up to everyone!

Trailer to Speciesism

As I am sure you are too, I am noticing more and more VegFests and similar vegan events popping up all over the country including our neighboring county Sonoma just over the mountain. Hint, hint Napa – with all of the information out there about the horrors of Factory Farming, the negative health consequences of eating a diet loaded with saturated fat, and the solid fact that the production of animals for meat is destroying our planet, it is time to pay attention. The plant based movement is not going away but growing bigger and stronger every day! Just like so many of my fellow vegans, this festival made me feel right at home. I was able to connect (and reconnect) with others that feel the same way as I do so that I could recharge and keep up the good (nonviolent) fight! Some really exciting news I heard about the SoCo Veg Fest is that of the 1500 who attended half of them eat meat and two-thirds are ovo-lacto vegetarian. But they are curious in learning more and making changes. And being surrounded by good people, great information and delicious food helps in making change!

After attending the Taste of Napa earlier this summer and having only a few vegan choices, I was really excited and ready to eat every tasty vegan treat I could find. And, oh boy, did I! Some of my favorite vendors were at the Vegfest again this year.

MiyokoMiyoko Schinner and her team from Miyoko’s Kitchen were serving her incredible nut based artisan cheeses. I’ve been eating a plant based diet now for almost 8 years and am still just amazed by the improvements in the dairy free cheeses now available. Just 5 years ago when I made the change from ovo-lacto vegetarian to vegan, the cheese alternatives were so bad that I chose not to eat them. But now, Miyoko’s cheeses are so delicious and authentic they will easily satisfy all of your friends – vegan and non-vegan alike!

V-dog was there again showing dog guardians that their four legged family members can eat a healthy vegan diet too. v-dogV-dog’s kibble is corn, wheat and soy free and is made in the U.S. In fact, I met Linda Middlesworth, co-owner of V-dog, several years ago at Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals and my dogs have been vegan ever since. It is such a comfort to know that my dogs are eating compassionate and healthy food. And they absolutely love all of the fruits, vegetables and grains that I have added to their diet so they have a little variety!

Earth EliSjaak’s Organic Chocolate is located in Petaluma and makes the most amazing organic vegan chocolates and candy bars. My absolute favorite are their Eli’s Earth Bars – vegan, organic, fair trade and the best candy bars I have ever had! Sjaak’s also gives back 5% of every sale to non-profit charitable organizations that benefit children so children can embrace what matters – joy, peace and delight! I definitely brought a few of the Earth Bars home with me to share with my husband.

So many cupcakes to eat! Thank you Muir’s Tea Room.

I was also delighted to see Muir’s Tea Room back for the second year. They were still working on opening their new vegan tea room in Sebastopol when I met them at the Vegfest last year. Now they are open and thriving! They were inspired by Scottish conservationist John Muir and opened their tea room in December 2014 in downtown Sebastopol in a historic Victorian home. Offering a delightful respite, they serve the traditional Scottish/English high tea service with tiered racks of finger sandwiches, petit fours, scones, fairy cakes, pastries and a pot of tea. They also offer lunch items that include sandwiches, salads with homemade dressings and 2 house made soups daily. They proudly use the freshest ingredients, local and organic whenever possible! I am absolutely mad for cupcakes and theirs are some of the best. In fact, I had 2 while wandering the Vegfest!

Animal Place’s Vegan Republic specialty store was also there selling vegan groceries, accessories and skin care products!I happily ran into my friend Carol Treacy. Carol is the author of Vegan Cowboy. Mirroring her own life in many ways, the story takes place in Petaluma and is about a 50-something woman wanting to expose factory farming and finally following her own intuition.

Citizen Fox signI learned about Citizen Fox last October at Farm Sanctuary’s Walk for Farm Animals event in San Francisco. While they continue working to find their own bricks and mortar restaurant, they currently offer pop-up brunch and dinner.  I was happy to see them serving their delicious food at the Fest. In fact, someone walked past be with a vegan corndog and I would not rest until I found out where they got it. The line at Citizen Fox was already getting long even though the Vegfest had just begun. I ordered my corndog and enjoyed every last bite of it!

Oh vegan corndog how I loved you!
Oh vegan corndog how I loved you!

I also met a couple new vendors this year – as I mentioned before, I am crazy for cupcakes. In fact, the only thing that will lure me away from a vegan cupcake is a vegan yeast raised doughnut! Well, my husband Steve is a cookie monster! And since he was stuck at work all day I promised myself I would find him some yummy cookies. And with the help of My Sweetheart Wife’s Vegan Kitchen I found Steve a ginger and chocolate chip cookie. He was very happy! I also had my first scoop of peanut butter nice cream from Subzero. Subzero is located in Sebastopol and has no freezers in their store. They mix each order individually by hand and freeze with liquid nitrogen! Because each order is custom made, they are able to offer whatever you want…vegan, gluten free, etc. This vegan ice cream was exactly what I remember about ice cream before I gave up dairy. Creamy, smooth and amazing. I was really blown away!

Subzero - made with liquid nitrogen!
Subzero – made with liquid nitrogen!

The screening of Speciesism: The Movie was available for everyone to view. The director Mark Devries set out to explore the hidden factory farms that modern farms continue to try to keep secret. Mark Devries takes the viewers on a sometimes funny, sometimes frightening adventure from crawling through the bushes that hide the factories, flying above the toxic manure lagoons and sometimes coming face to face with those who have most at stake in keeping us in the dark!

There were many wonderful speakers this year including Priya Sawhney, the lead international organizer and investigator for Direct Action Everywhere. She discussed the importance of open rescue and also the findings of a recent investigation and rescue that exposed shocking cruelty at a “humane” Whole Foods farm. Priya discussed how DxE’s campaigns have provoked public consciousness and inspired nonviolent direct action in over 95 cities and 20 countries.

Dr. Ulka Agarwal is a board certified physician who specializes in psychiatry, nutrition and integrative medicine. She is currently the Lead Physician at Cal State University East Bay where she developed and leads a weekly employee wellness program on plant-based nutrition. She also worked with Dr. Neal Barnard for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine researching the effects of plant-based diets on chronic illness and mental health. She shared her findings on the relationship between plant-based food and mood. She leads a vegan lifestyle and believes that every living being deserves a life of dignity and respect.

Mark Hawthorne, author of Bleating Hearts, discussed compassionate choices, the truth behind animal exploitation and how we can all make a difference. Offering a very empowering talk, he discussed a wide variety of simple methods for putting compassion into action for animals.

Jack Norris, registered dietician and Executive Director of Vegan Outreach, discussed the research that has been done on vegans, rates for common chronic disease and the specific nutrients we need. Vegan Outreach promotes individual outreach through distribution of booklets on campuses through an Adopt a College program. Jack has also co-written Vegan for Life: Everything You Need to Know to Be Healthy and Fit on a Plant-Based Diet.

Best-selling author Colleen Patrick-Goudreau offered an inspiring, entertaining and informative lecture with responses to everything from “I don’t have time to chop vegetables” and “I tried to be vegetarian but I craved meat” to “I could give up everything, except cheese” and “Vegans don’t get enough protein”. She is an acclaimed speaker and beloved host of the inspiring podcast, “Food for Thought,” which was voted Favorite Podcast by VegNews magazine readers. Colleen shares her message of compassion and wellness on national and regional TV programs, including the Food Network, CBS, PBS, and FOX. Interviews with her have been featured on NPR, U.S. News and World Report, and The Chicago Tribune, and her recipes have been featured on and Colleen is a regular contributor to National Public Radio.

The Sonoma County Fair refused to allow this cake to be entered into their
The Sonoma County Fair refused to allow this cake to be entered into their “Ugliest Cake Contest”

I have to make an “Honorable Mention” to the Ugliest Cake I have ever seen! This cake was entered into the Sonoma County Fair’s “Ugliest Cake Contest”. Though the baker was allowed to enter the cake, they refused to display it on the table with the other contestants. They were unable to give him a reason why but the Vegfest was happy to let it be shared with others. I have known about the ugly truth of factory farming for a long time and am no longer able to look away from it. However, not everyone is able to look these truths in the eye quite yet!

The Sonoma County Vegfest earned an A+ from me this year. The food was amazing and plentiful, there were many animals rights’ groups offering powerful information, vegan goods available to purchase (I got a couple t-shirts!), awesome speakers and demonstrations plus a wonderful energy of compassion. Santa Rosa is just an hour from Napa and well worth the drive. Absolutely an experience you don’t want to miss! I look forward to seeing you there next year! Thanks for joining me on my tour of summer festivals. And as always…eat, drink and be vegan!