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 21

Napa Valley Film Festival – Days 2 and 3

Gala overview

Day 2 – The Festival Gala! You may remember me mentioning that the Napa Valley Film Festival knows how to throw great parties. My favorite has always been the annual Gala. It is one of the biggest parties I have ever attended and is a continuous onslaught of food, wine, cocktails, celebrities and live music! This year was absolutely no exception. Learning that it was going to be held at the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville, I struggled to envision it. I should have known better than to worry about it with the film festival in charge of the party planning. The evening began with a walk along the red carpet with everyone dressed in their cocktail attire and looking glamorous!

Me in my best looks! Vegan clothes from head to toes!

I’ve never seen the Center lobby look this stunning! Filmmakers, actors and directors were mingling with the crowd. Along with over 30 different culinary options there were 50 vintners, a cigar lounge, 10 live music performances throughout the evening, Stella Artois beer & cidre, and artisanal cocktails served at the Clever Root Bar. And the gorgeous Von Saal Lounge offered drinking and dancing on the Center’s stage! This year, hands down, offered the most vegan-friendly options since the Festival began. All of the previous years were very meat-centric. Of course, there was still plenty of meat being served but this year they had almost a half dozen vegan and vegetarian choices. All they had to do was make the nibbles without the cheese and voila’ – vegan! Surprisingly, Cole’s Chop House was my first stop. I did not expect this classic American steakhouse to offer anything vegetarian, let along vegan, but they had a delicious fruit chutney served on a crostini and were happy to make us a couple without the cheese. I always have to remember to never make assumptions! My next stop was at Azzuro Pizza’s table. Yet again, I was pleasantly surprised. They made several crostinis heaped with butternut squash & a drizzle of oil. They were simple and incredible! Lindt chocolate was giving away full sized chocolate bars so I slipped a couple of their dairy-free dark chocolate into my handbag! As I wandered through this incredible playground for the 21 and older crowd with a glass of wine in my hand, I next had some delish hummus & veggies from Tarla’s Mediterranean Bar + Grill. As I wandered past Napkin’s Bar + Grill table, I noticed huge bowls of chips, guacamole and tomatillo sauce. Vegans score again! My final, and probably favorite, find at the Gala was a fig and macadamia nut crostini, offered by Celadon. It was amazing!

As recently as last year, I was considering not attending the Gala anymore because of how incredibly unfriendly its food choices were. In fact, they actually carted a slaughtered pig through the lobby of the Copia and roasted him for all to eat. Even living in a non-vegan world, I was horrified by the total disregard the other party goers showed and that the Festival planners thought that was a good idea. I am so glad that the tides have turned and attitudes are becoming more open to offering some compassionate choices! The food aside, it is a party that should not be missed!

Day 3 – Celebrity Tribute

Emilie de Ravin dressed for the Gala!
Emilie de Ravin dressed for the Gala!

Day 3, I was back to work on the red carpet. Every year the Festival honors actors for their achievements and creative innovation. This year, they honored Bruce Dern for his long and distinguished career. John Travolta was also honored for his many contributions to the film industry. Keegan-Michael Key was honored with the Trailblazer Award to for his diverse skills and wide-ranging talent. Rising Star honorees included Finn Wittrock, Evan Peters. Lydia Hearst and Zoe Kazan.

Keegan-Michael Key tribute official
Keegan-Michael Key on the red carpet!

You know me…I couldn’t be easy and ask about their career or what projects they were working on. Instead, I found out some wonderful little gems about each of them. I was a bit disappointed that Bruce Dern could not attend the Tribute since he is such an avid and life-long animal rights activist. But I did learn that Lydia Hearst helped design vegan handbags for Puma a few years ago and her cousin Amanda through the organization Friends of Finn raids puppy mills and gives these dogs and puppies a second chance. CLICK HERE to see the interview! Finn Wittrock recently did a photo shoot with dogs for an animal welfare campaign that is helping get dogs into forever homes. In the midst of this he also adopted a dog! CLICK to check out his comments! Evan Peters also adopted a dog a couple years ago instead of buying from a breeder or pet store. CLICK HERE to see the

Evan & Lydia2
Lydia Hearst & Evan Peters talking to the media!

interview! And most exciting of all was when I asked John Travolta if he would consider going vegan to prepare for a role and he said yes! In fact, his good friend Forest Whitaker, who was a long time vegetarian before becoming vegan, is so enthusiastic about his diet that John is tempted to give it a try. And though Kelly Preston admits to eating everything, she not only raved about some of the delicious vegan meals she has had but told me that I was glowing! How cool is that?! CLICK HERE to see what they had to say! Though I haven’t followed John Travolta’s career much since Pulp Fiction, I will always have a place in my heart for him. When I was in fourth grade, I got to go to the movie theater with a big group of kids and Moms to see Grease. Grease was the first movie that I had ever gone to that was for adults. Not a cartoon, not a Disney movie…a real live film! I had also never seen a musical before. But once they started singing and dancing, I was hooked forever! And even at 9 years old, I thought Sandi and Danny made a beautiful couple! So for that, John, I will always be a fan!

Finn Wittrock on his way in to the Tribute!
Finn Wittrock on his way into the Tribute!

Here we are with 3 days down and 2 more to go. Be prepared for more screenings, filmmaker Q&As and one more red carpet! And as always…eat, drink and be vegan!