July 19

Being Vegan at the Taste of Napa 2017!

 

This time next year I will be wrapping up all the loose ends before packing me, my husband Steve, our dog Violet and our cats Stig & Clover off to our new home in Berlin, Germany! 🇩🇪 And since Taste of Napa was the first event I’d ever covered for my blog, I certainly did not want to miss my final opportunity to eat, drink and be vegan at the festival. This year it was held at the Napa Valley Expo Center on 3rd street near downtown Napa. Having been to the center many times (this is where BottleRock is held every May), I was curious how it would be set up and if I’d like it as well as I did when it was held in Copia at Oxbow Public Market or Cairdean Estate (now rebranded as Brasswood) in St. Helena. I should have known that it would be perfect. While it was located outdoors, they had these huge, rainbow colored sail-like awnings shading the entire space. The Reserve Tasting Salon, the Stage and the Main Floor food artisans and wineries were all protected from the 94 degree sunlight. This year they included a Beer Garden (or Biergarten in my newly adopted language!) which felt really apropos! And the fact that it is a short walk from my home was certainly a big bonus.

Arthur with Napa Valley Distillery serving me my Mai Tai! Yum…

The Reserve Tasting Salon was intimate this year with minimal seating and tables but offered plenty of delicious wines and cocktails. The crowd was small so it did feel very VIP-like compared to the mash-up of  folks enjoying the Main Floor wineries, restaurants and food artisans. I’m a very social person but when temps start creeping up over the 90 degree mark, I do like to have a little bit of space! Believe it or not, my first libation was not even wine. It was the newest addition to Napa Valley Distillery’s Oak Blended cocktail line – the world famous Mai Tai! Putting their own spin on this classic cocktail, they replaced the orange curaçao with their Grand California Orange infused Brandy! This brandy was made specifically for this new Mai Tai blend and was crafted with citrus grown right here in California. Their partner El Guapo Bitters made a custom orgeat syrup and with a little fresh lime and their own craft Rum, I felt like I was in the Caribbean! Cute little tidbit I learned is though we all associate the Mai Tai with tropical islands some believe that it actually originated in Oakland at a Tiki themed restaurant called Trader Vic’s. So the story goes, Vic created a cocktail for a group of friends and after tasting it one of his friends shouted “maita’ I roa ae!” – Tahitian for “out of this world!”.  According to the NVD team, no animal products are used in the the crafting of the Mai Tai or their Old-Fashioned blended cocktail (a blend of sugar, water, bitters and Whiskey).

123 (Uno, Dos, Tres) Organic Tequila was also featured and is crafted using organically-certified agave plantations and small batch artisanal distillations. In addition to farming without pesticides or synthetic fertilizers the Founder, David Ravandi, is committed to lightening its carbon footprint by using recycled glass for bottling and recycled paper and natural soy ink for labelling. And though I wish I had been able to share my tasting experience with you, I have not been able to drink tequila for at least a couple decades! Just a sniff brings back memories I would like to forever forget!

General Manager Dave Bryant serving some incredible Alpha Omega vintages.

The Reserve Salon offered several vegan-friendly wines provided by some of the best wineries in Napa Valley including Alpha Omega, Tournesol and Bouchaine Vineyards. I enjoyed everything I tasted from these three wineries. I hope to visit each of them very soon and share more details with you in the near future. There was only one restaurant in the Salon – Estate Events by Meadowood – and that was a total bust for us vegans!

Gowan Heirloom Cider grown, harvested and crafted along the Mendocino Coast.

The Main Floor was a sea of people and with good reason. The majority of restaurants, food artisans and the beer garden all surrounded the main stage. I was really excited to see our local Tannery Bend Beerworks in the Beer Garden. They are a fairly new tap room located off Coombs Street as you head out of downtown Napa. I’ve been meaning to walk down since they opened but since my husband can’t burp (yeah, apparently that is a thing) he hasn’t been too excited about joining me. But now that I’ve tasted their light, citrusy Coombs Saison and had the opportunity to meet their team, I will be heading over really soon. The star of the Beer Garden for me though was Gowan’s Heirloom Ciders. They are located in Mendocino and have been growing and harvesting apples on their family orchards for over 140 years. I wish I could share my favorite with you but frankly they were all incredible. I’ve been a fan of hard cider since my first trip to England 20 years ago and I can say with confidence that they make the best cider I’ve ever had! And many others agree with me. Gowan’s earned the BEST in Show in 2016 for five of their blends – 1876 Heirloom, Gravenstein Heirloom, Macintosh Heirloom, ‘Still Sierra Beauty and Sparkling Sierra Beauty.

Lauren and the Tannery Bend Beerworks’ team keeping the crowd cool with their incredible beer!


Now it is beginning to sound like all I did is drink but I was on the look out for food too! The Restaurant at CIA Copia was assembling a fresh, delicious salad full of veggies and they were happy to make it vegan just for us. Meritage also put together a tasty bite of avocado & peach sprinkled with micro greens. What kept me hydrated and energetic throughout the afternoon was Nekter Juice Bar. They were giving away samples of several of their juices. The two that kept me going back for more were the Detox loaded with Parsley, spinach, apple, lemon and ginger. And the Buzz with carrot, orange, lemon and ginger. They definitely put some pep in my step! Napa Valley Tea Company was offering samples of their organic tea blends. I met the team last year at the Taste of Napa at Cairdean Estate and just love their teas. Regina’s Heavenly Treats even offered a couple vegan snacks.

Staying sober and hydrated with Nekter’s delicious juices!

The Live Music Stage featured the winners of their Battle of the Bands! Serf and James, The Deadlies and Drop Dead Dangerous rocked the event all afternoon! The music was really good and helped keep my mind off the heat.

Chef with CIA @ Copia making sure we vegans were well fed!

Each year, there is something special that really stands out about the event and this year it was the music and the libations. The wine, the cider, the cocktails and the beer were really excellent. Nekter Juice Bar kept me hydrated and happy and all three of the bands were really talented. I would have loved to have had more dining options but once in a while we just have to rock, drink and be vegan!!

 

 

 

 

November 3

Cliff Lede Vineyards – A Blend of Wine, Conservation, Poetry and…Rock n Roll!

Logo

Living here in Napa Valley, I am surrounded by breathtaking beauty. There is so much beauty that there is no reason to choose one favorite location. But I do have a soft spot for Silverado Trail. One of the most picturesque drives in Napa is the drive north on Silverado Trail from Trancas Road in Napa to Calistoga. For the last three years, I have been driving grapevines & hillup Silverado Trail once a week to feed orphaned songbirds at the Wildlife Rescue Center of Napa County’s Songbird Clinic. Enjoying the views and then helping give our wildlife another shot at a happy and healthy life makes that area a very special place for me. So I was especially excited when I received the invitation to visit Cliff Lede Vineyards located off Yountville Cross Road right on the edge of the stunning Stags Leap District.

 

Though Cliff Lede (pronounced lady) grew up involved in his family’s construction business in Canada, it was his Mother, Florence, who sparked his interest in winemaking and sustainability. Two of her hobbies were making “basement” wine and gardening! And while on a business retreat in the 1990s, Cliff was introduced to beautiful Napa Valley. As an avid long-distance runner, he explored many of Napa’s back roads and began to fall in love! Being a collector of Bordeaux wines since his late 20s, he felt an almost instant connection to all that Napa Valley has to offer. He was soon returning often and before long he began the search for the perfect location to start his own winery. The Stags Leap District is the region that spoke to him due to its complex and age-worthy wines. With time and patience, he was able to found Cliff Lede Vineyards on stunning Yountville Cross Road. The following year Cliff also acquired the rare hillside property above Silverado Trail and Poetry Vineyard was born.

Poetry Inn overlooking the winery.
Poetry Inn overlooking the winery.

In 2005, he opened the secluded luxury boutique hotel Poetry Inn. The Inn perches high above the Valley and offers stunning views of his winery and vineyards. Then in 2009, he expanded to Anderson Valley which allows him to offer cooler-climate varietals. And as a tribute to his Mother, Florence Elsie Lede, and her winemaking hobby, his Anderson Valley winery became FEL Wines. The FEL label is an illustration of an opening tulip. Like many of us who grew up in Northern climates, the sprouting of a tulip signified the end of a long, dark winter and promised the freshness and joy of warmer days ahead. And in honor of his Mother’s love for gardening the tulip was added to the FEL label. And just this year, Cliff Lede Vineyards achieved both Napa Green Land and Napa Green Winery certification. Though the details to achieve Napa Green Land are unique to each owner’s property, they include restoration of wildlife habitat, healthy riparian environments and much more in concert with sustainable agriculture practices. And the Napa Green Winery certification requirements include water conservation, energy conservation, pollution prevention, and solid waste reduction elements and requires vintners to perform a comprehensive analysis of their operations. And yet another way to pay homage to his Mother’s love and appreciation for gardening and our planet!

Kim and I discussing Cliff Lede Winery!
Kim and I discussing Cliff Lede Winery!

My tour was led by Kim, the Director of Marketing for Lede Family Wines. We started in their light, bright craftsman-style tasting room and then headed out to explore. Along the back of the tasting room is a sun-drenched veranda with members onlyspectacular views of the vineyards and surrounding Palisades mountain range. The gorgeous permanent display of artist Jim Dine’s Twin 6’ Hearts divides the veranda and the shaded Members Only courtyard. The courtyard is full of comfortable lounge chairs and a peaceful fountain that provides the club members with Front Row views of the vines. From there we wandered through the Backstage Reserve Lounge. This cool and comfortable lounge offers a backstage pass to the Cliff Lede limited production wines. The Lounge features rotating art exhibits and classic rock music. During my visit, the exhibit was wall to wall Grateful Dead!

The Backstage Lounge
The Backstage Lounge

Very groovy! The guided tour then took us along the olive groves and through the Cliff Lede Vineyards “Rock Blocks”. I was definitely beginning to see a pattern. Instead of numbers on each block of vines, each were named after a rock n roll song!  From The Who’s “My Generation” to Pink Floyd’s “Dark

A Rock Block!

Side of the Moon” and the service road throughout the vines was even called Abbey Road!  We took Abbey Road up to their spectacular state-of-the-art winery. Most of the harvest had been completed so I missed out on seeing their optical sorter in action but I did get to see a huge portrait of

Grace Kelly overlooking the winery.
Grace Kelly overlooking the winery.

Grace Kelly overlooking the high tech winery floor full of stainless steel tanks, concrete eggs and French oak barrels. Random and beautiful all at the same time! The winery is surrounded by more large dramatic sculptures – my favorite was of two large rabbits dancing. bunnies dancingThat’s my interpretation anyway! By the time we headed back to the tasting room, I had experienced so much that I almost forgot I was there to taste wine too.

Back on the Veranda, listening to classic rock and hanging out with Cesar the winery cat, I got to enjoy the vegan wines Cliff Lede and FEL have to offer. The 2014 Cliff Lede Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, is made by winemaker Chris Tynan and is composed of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Sauvignon Vert. Wine tasting experts would say it is an opulent color of yellow diamonds with citrus & peach aromas and floral notes of orange blossom and honeysuckle. It coats the palate with layers of lemon curd and crème brulee and finishes with kumquat, marzipan and citrus marmalade. Me, I would say it was wonderful! The FEL Wines are made by winemaker Ryan Hodgins from vineyards in the Anderson Valley and Sonoma Coast. All of the FEL wines are vegan-friendly and include Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. I enjoyed the 2014 Pinot Gris with its green apple aromas and flavors of grapefruit. The 2013 Pinot Noir has an intense aroma of black cherry while hints of blackberry and mint add to the complexity. Cherry and spices offer a rich palate and the robust tannins and acidity will ensure great age-ability.  I am definitely looking forward to opening the bottle I brought home!

I snuck into the Members Only section to check out the fountain!
I snuck into the Members Only section to check out the fountain!

The tasting room is located at 1473 Yountville Cross Road in Yountville. The tasting room is open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and offers tastings for $30 per person with no appointment necessary. With advanced reservations, you can enjoy tastings on the veranda for $40 or reserve the Backstage Lounge for $50 per person. For a real adventure, schedule the Estate Tour and Tasting which includes wine and food pairings of seasonal canapes for $75 per person. Poetry Inn is perfect if you are looking for an adults only get-away. This elegant five-room boutique hotel is perched high above the Valley floor and is the only hotel in the Stags Leap District. It is ultra-private and offers the ultimate in tranquility and romance. You will have to mention that you are vegan when you book your room to ensure a three course vegan-friendly breakfast is offered.

The setting is peaceful, the views tremendous, the wine lovely and in addition to that you get to listen to some 70s rock and enjoy their rotating art exhibits. Make your appointment today, and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

Always running into friends...old and new.
Always running into friends…old and new.