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!

September 15

The Sonoma County VegFest – A Celebration of Ethical Eating!

It has been about a month since my last blog post. I recently returned from spending two weeks up in Northern Michigan visiting friends and family. I planned on doing so much writing and publishing so many amazing posts and instead…nothing. I don’t know who I was kidding. With friends and family abound, my days were full of fun and there was just no time to sit down and be creative. I’m not complaining; it was an awesome vacation.  I can’t wait to tell you about it! But, finally, here is my post on the incredible and delicious Sonoma County VegFest

I am always so excited when the SoCo VegFest comes along in August. It has become my favorite Bay Area veg fest! To see its growth in just four short years is a real thrill. I get to run into old friends & make new ones, meet vendors, learn about animal rights groups and listen to local and national speakers. Oh…and EAT!!!!

Sweet treats from Muir’s Tea Room!

Because of the rapid growth of the Fest, last year it was moved into the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa. The Center is much larger and provides plenty of indoor and outdoor space for the event. Though we had to share the parking lot with a local Farmers Market, the spaces opened up quickly and there were no real parking issues. It was really a breeze to get into the event. The entrance was lined with many food vendors offering delicious options along with some picnic tables nestled in under shade trees. There was so much amazing food that day that I cannot possibly list everyone who was there. So, I’ll do the next best thing and tell you about my favorites! Always first on my list is Sebastopol’s famous Muir’s Tea Room. In fact, my first conversation with Christine, Muir’s owner, happened four years ago at the first annual SoCo VegFest. She hadn’t opened her restaurant yet but had big plans and was selling her delicious baked goods. Outside they offered several of their savory sandwich options. The grilled cheese with jam is my favorite. While just inside the door was their sweet’s table. So began my sugar buzz. Cupcakes, homemade chocolates, pecan tortes, cake and more. Everything was as delicious as usual! If I had to choose a favorite, their luscious chocolate peanut butter cupcake is at the top of my list. Gaia’s Garden – one of my favorite veg spots in Santa Rosa offered deep fried deliciousness. Hush puppies, tofu, samosas, oh my! Steve just loves samosas and I tried their deep fried tofu with sweet & sour sauce. It hit the spot and helped level out my sugar high a bit. Later I saw someone walk by with potato salad from Goatlandia Sanctuary. It had a dill flavor and was as good as it looked! Of course, Miyoko’s Kitchen was there offering tasty little bites of their amazing cheeses. I really appreciate that they offer a discount off the retail price when we purchase products at the Fest. Several of the Fresh Loire Valley in a Fig Leaf went home with me!

On a side note, I was thrilled to find Miyoko’s High Sierra Rustic Alpine & a couple other flavors on my recent trip to Michigan. I came across it while wandering through the very heath conscious Creation Farm Market shop in the tiny village of Beulah. The shop offers locally grown, organic produce; vegan options galore; holistic skincare made with essential oils and aromatherapy products. After my VERY omnivorous mother tasted the Rustic Alpine (and lost 3 pounds in the week I was there), she announced that she was going vegan for three weeks and has been texting me her successes ever since!

I had my first taste of Health-ade Kombucha earlier this year at the vegan Earth Day festival in Berkeley. They offer about a dozen unique flavor combinations but I keep going back to the Blood Orange-Ginger-Carrot. The flavors meld to create a mouthful of bliss. In addition to being certified organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, raw, vegan AND kosher, their kombucha is fermented in glass in small 2.5 gallon batches. The glass prevents any leaching from plastic or metal. So, it really is as good for you as you think. My next stop was to enjoy some Subzero nice cream. I had my first bowl of Subzero at the very first annual SoCo VegFest. This seems to really be a trend. They are unique in the fact that they are an ice cream shop with no freezers! When they pour and hand mix the vegan milk into the nitrogen it freezes in 15 seconds (regular ice cream shops take at least 20 minutes). At this speed ice crystals do not have time to form. Creating some of the smoothest, most delicious nice cream available. And I’d know because my husband is an ice cream lover! The peanut butter flavor is my all time favorite!

When I was able to tear myself away from the food, I found my two favorite Festival retail vendors – the Clean Living Collection and Pinta Libre. A couple months ago I published a post about the Clean Living Collection after meeting founder Ariel Welch at the vegan Berkeley Earth Day event. I fell in love with her products. Her 3-clay tooth powder has become my only “toothpaste”. It cleans, whitens and mineralizes my teeth using certified organic ingredients without the use of fluoride, sodium lauryl sulfate or preservatives. I purchased the Sage MInt and it is my new favorite! Her deodorant spray is equally as awesome. Once again, it contains vegan, organic ingredients that include colloidal silver and essential oils. My husband has incredibly sensitive under arms and almost everything makes him break out into a rash. But not Ariel’s spray. He loves it! In fact, I am always stealing it from his drawer to use. I really need to purchase my own bottle next time!

Pinta Libre offers a beautiful collection of animals sketched and painted by Valentina Arenas. Valentina and I have communicated for the last couple years through my Napa Valley Vegan Facebook page and finally had the opportunity to meet this spring at the Berkeley Earth Day event. Clearly, that was the place to be in April! Valentina is a lovely woman and a very talented artist. I took home 3 small framed paintings of a bunny, a lamb and a cow. And since my most favorite animal in the world (besides by adorable doggie Violet) is piggies, I purchased a precious piglet charm for my necklace. I wear it everywhere and always get compliments!

Then came time to check out all of the animal sanctuaries that are working so hard to save lives! They are all doing incredible jobs but I did find myself gravitating to a few favorites. I’m not going to lie that I’m a big supporter of Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch (JARR). Not only is JARR the first animal protection non-profit in Napa County to address the needs of farmed animals as well as our beloved cats and dogs but it was founded by a fellow vegan who serves only plant based foods at their fundraisers. This may seem like a no brainer but this is the first animal non-profit in Napa Valley who has made the connection between animals we rescue and animals that are used for food. In just 3 short years, Monica Stevens has grown this grassroots rescue group from one staff member (her) and one volunteer to a full time staff of 6 and hundreds of dedicated volunteers. My next stop was to learn more about the rescued pigeons of Palomacy Pigeon and Dove Rescue. I have met their knowledgable & friendly staff and volunteers many times since my move to California. They are doing an incredible job rescuing birds that are released at weddings or are injured. If I wasn’t moving to Berlin in 10 months, I would love to adopt! Maybe I will find a Berliner pigeon who needs my help! I never grew up with cats and we had very few dogs. Sadly, they were never with us for long. So when I moved into my first apartment, I wasn’t sure what type of animal to welcome into my life. I’d always loved bunny rabbits, at least from afar, One day I was walking through a feed store and came upon these white bun-buns with pink eyes. It took me a while to understand that these poor rabbits were not available as pets. Once I realized it, I bought a little boy bunny, named him Cadbury and took him home to be safe and loved. This then led to a companion for Caddie. Chloe was tiny but fierce. She didn’t much like me but she loved her Cadbury. Save a Bunny (SAB) was featuring one of their rescues and I had to head over and say hi. The sad fact is that while rabbits from feed stores, flea markets and laboratories do end up in local shelters, the majority of rabbits that are euthanized were once family pets and classroom projects. SaveABunny is often the only resource for abused, neglected and homeless rabbits. SaveABunny works hard to rescue the rabbits who have “run out of time” in our shelter system. They may be highly adoptable buns who just didn’t find a home in time or they may have health or behavioral issues or special needs. Once they have a home with SAB, they will never run out of time!

With a touch of sadness, this was my last opportunity to support and enjoy the amazing SoCo VegFest. This time next year, I will be settling into my new home 9,000 miles away. And while you are offering your support to the VegFest, I will be celebrating my first annual Veganes Sommerfest in Berlin!

Whether I am a Napan or a Berliner, I will celebrate these festivals, love & support the animals and have you in my heart! And, of course, we will all continue to eat, drink & be vegan!

August 12

Napa Farmers Market Welcomes Vegans!

As you know, I am always on the hunt for good vegan food. And I’ve always enjoyed visiting the Napa Farmers Market. There is something really rewarding about meeting the farmer that worked so hard to grow my food. And I love being able to support local businesses whenever I can. For the last 5 years, I have seen vegan options go from almost none to dozens of delicious choices at our local Farmers Market. And since you know I love my sweets, I want to highlight two of my favorites – Mayacama Chocolate and Sweet Linda Lou’s.

Mayacama Chocolate

In 2011, Elena woke up with the brilliant idea to start a bean-to-bar chocolate company. The more she thought about it the more excited and driven she became to make it happen. Part of what she loved about being a chef was her role of working with flavors and textures until she found the perfect combination. Working with equatorial farmers and learning more about the flavor profiles of their individual growing regions, was another opportunity to use flavors and textures to create the ultimate chocolate experience. Soon after, she and her best friend Linda teamed up and Mayacama Chocolate was born.

Elena’s journey to creating fair-trade chocolate started 26 years ago when her son Garrett was born with food based allergies. Garrett was unable to eat wheat, dairy, soy, fermented/yeast based products and refined sugars. He grew up on fresh fruits, vegetables, rice and Rice Dream milk that she had to special order from the  now defunct local health food store Golden Carrot. But as he got older he saw his family eating and enjoying things like pizza, pasta and mac-n-cheese and wanted to enjoy them too. Elena’s culinary challenge was to take a traditional recipe and turn it into a healthy, vegan alternative that tastes great!

Linda has worked as a pastry chef at some of the most exclusive resorts and has always loved creating desserts that fulfill her guests needs. She even implemented “Living Free” areas on her pastry & bakery buffets to ensure that everyone could enjoy a sweet, delicious ending to their meal. She has taken this philosophy to the development of her chocolates. She now dedicates her time to creating handmade chocolates that can be vegan, gluten and dairy-free. Like so many, her brother was diagnosed with lactose intolerance and celiac disease so she has been hard at work developing flavors using their 72% Hispanola chocolate. And in her spare time, Linda has been baking vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free wedding cakes using their delicious chocolate!

Using single origin, fair-trade chocolate, here is a list of their current vegan options:

  • Lait-non-lait – for all of you who miss milk chocolate!
  • 72% Organic Hispaniola Medium Roast- Traditional Dark Chocolate
  • 72% Organic Sanchez Light Roast- Made with Unfermented Cacao
  • Mole Bar- Mole Spice Blend, Sliced Almonds, Golden Raisins and Pepitas
  • Strawberry Fields Bar- 60% with Dried Strawberries (my favorite!)
  • Raisin In The Valley Bar- 60% Dark with Cabernet Grape Raisins
  • Sipping Chocolate Mix- Specifically geared to be blended with non-dairy milks (I’ve been told that toasted Coconut-Almond milk makes the best combo!)

Their goal is to eventually open a storefront and feature the chocolate bars, luscious pastries and cakes and their bean to bar process. Oh, and to offer the best damn hot chocolate and chocolate soda in Napa Valley. And with all of the delicious vegan chocolates they craft, we can all be big kids in the candy store once again!

Sweet Linda Lou’s

Linda has loved baking since she was a child. She watched her Nana bake and cook and make the most amazing pies on earth! In fact, Linda was never a fan of pie unless it was made by her Nana. Though Linda didn’t have the natural pie making ability that her Nana and daughters have, she persevered and now makes incredible pies. And with a little bit of practice she has now perfected the vegan pie crust! These delightful little pies are baked in muffin tins and are the perfect sized treat! Linda is at the Farmers Market every Saturday even though she also works a full-time job. Be sure to thank her for all her hard work by stopping by for a mini-vegan pie (or two!). Though I suggest getting to the market early because the vegan pies sell out fast! She added gluten-free options last year and vegan options this year so everyone can enjoy her delicious treats!

When you swing by Sweet Linda Lou’s and Mayacama Chocolate to enjoy their delicious sweet treats, mention that you heard about them through Napa Valley Vegan!

The list of vegan-friendly vendors…

  • J&M Ibarra offers locally grown organic produce.
  • Handsome Carver offers delicious cashew, peanut & almond butters made with organic ingredients. A couple of them contain honey but most are vegan-friendly.
  • Way to Life Foods makes organic homemade granolas, cookies, cinnamon rolls and vegan burgers. All are vegan and all are absolutely delicious. The cinnamon rolls are as good as Cinnaholic’s and the cookies are the best out there!
  • Monday Bakery is not a vegan bakery but they are beginning to offer some delicious vegan options. I love their zucchini bread!
  • Sweetie Pie’s often offers their vegan berry muffins. They are big and delicious!
  • Sweet Peabody’s sorbet cart has been making small batches of sorbet for 5 years. The flavors are made fresh each week based on what’s in season. They use organic produce when possible and are free of dairy, gluten, corn syrup, synthetic stabilizers and artificial colors & sweeteners. They even use compostable spoons!
  • JuJu’s Kitchen offers delicious Mediterranean food much of which is vegan including falafel, hummus, tabuli, baba ghanough, fatoosh salad, dolmas, majadara and fava beans.
  • The Hummus Guy offers several flavors of organic hummus that are vegan, starch & preservative free and non-GMO. They are homemade and delicious.
  • Plantanito Pupusas makes delicious bean pupusas that can be veganized.
  • Contimo Provisions is VERY meat-centric but they almost always have a vegan sandwich available. The sandwiches are simple, delicious and handmade.
  • Flourchylde Bakery offers gluten-free, vegan Teff & Chia round bread. I’ve been asking them for years to add a vegan pastry option but nothing yet. Be sure to stop in and ask. If they see all the business they are missing, they may finally offer something.
  • Addictive Toast offers a pretty gourmet avocado toast decorated with edible flowers. The Original can be made with no dairy and is served on Flourchylde’s vegan, gluten-free bread.
  • Sukhi’s Indian Cuisine offers tasty sauces, chutneys and meals.
  • Atlas Peak Olive Oil made with olives grown in their Napa Valley orchard.
  • Napa Valley Tea Company makes exquisite organic teas and blends.
  • Ohm Coffee Roaster offers a couple non-dairy milks for lattes & cappuccinos.

This long list of vegan options will keep you very busy the next time you shop the Market! So set aside plenty of time to explore, remember to bring your reusable bags, thank these vendors for their efforts and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!