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!!

 

 

 

 

July 23

Taste of Napa 2016 Gets Vegan-Friendly!

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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