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!

November 3

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

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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.