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!!

 

 

 

 

September 4

Napa Valley Vegan’s Summer Festival Extravaganza – Part I

Taste of Napa inside bannerI had the opportunity to attend two amazing festivals this summer – the Festival del Sole’s Taste of Napa 2015 and the Sonoma County Vegfest. They were completely different though equally wonderful experiences. The Festival del Sole is an annual event here in Napa Valley that celebrated its 10th anniversary this summer. The Festival offers 10 days of over 60 events; 100 wineries; the stars of music, dance and theater; Napa Valley’s finest wine and cuisine (so say the non-vegans!) all while enriching art, fitness and community programs. The SoCo Vegfest, though in its infancy, has grown and improved in just two years. A celebration of ethical eating, the Vegfest offered almost a dozen speakers and cooking demonstrations as well as the screening of Speciesism – an exploration of filmmaker Mark Devries as he delves deeply into the argument that humans are more important than other species and investigates our treatment of non-human animals in food production. The important similarity between these events is the enrichment that they both bring into our lives – one through art, fitness and sense of community while the other by offering and celebrating compassionate and loving choices through the food we put into our bodies, the products we put onto our skin and the way we treat the sentient beings we share our planet with. Today, in Part I, I’m going to focus on my experiences of the Taste of Napa 2015.

 My Video Introduction to Taste of Napa 2015!

press pass and sunglassesTaste of Napa 2015 was the first event I’ve attended in Napa that I covered as part of the press. Yep, my very first (and at this time…only) press pass. Being my first, I had no idea exactly what to do but figured I could wing it well enough. My husband, Steve, in celebration of my first media credentials, even took the day off to work as my photographer. As instructed, I got to the building formerly known as Copia, found the press table and got my pass. When it was time for the doors to open, my crew and I (ie: husband Steve) even got to enter through the press entrance ahead of everyone else. Believe me, I felt really cool and so excited. Rather than do any research ahead of time on what vegan food and wine options were available, I wanted to attend Taste of Napa 2015 spontaneously just as someone visiting Napa would do. The building offers over 13,000 square feet of open exhibition space as well as terraced space outside that were both filled with food and wine vendors! It was overwhelming and fantastic. I chose to start outside since it was such a gorgeous Napa day and I could see the band outside getting ready to start playing. Since seeing my first live show – Quiet Riot opening up for Loverboy (I was so in love with Mike Reno and his red leather pants!) in the early 80s in Sault Ste. Marie, MI, I have been in love with the energy of live music!

Video -Waiting for the band to begin with my new friend Charles Krug!

The first table I stepped up to had these luscious looking cherries wrapped in…something. I couldn’t believe that I had found vegan food so quickly. When I asked what the cherry was wrapped in, the response was foie gras! Ugh! I must admit that took the smile off my face for a moment but I knew I had to rally and not let that ruin my experience. So after (very) quickly moving on, I headed for the Keller Estate’s wine table. Anton Matulic, the Estate Ambassador for Keller Estate, poured me some of their amazing pinot noir. While they sometimes fine their Chardonnays with egg whites, their reds are not fined with animal products. So I happily headed off with wine in my hand to continue exploring.

Video – Join me for some Pinot Noir!

Napa Nuts, etc in the heart of Napa Valley since 1990.
Napa Nuts, etc in the heart of Napa Valley since 1990.

Next I chatted with Bonnie Miluso, the VP of Sales & Marketing for Napa Nuts, etc. Located in the heart of the California Wine Country, Napa Nuts, etc. is one of the largest single providers of dried fruit, nuts and confections in Northern California. They have been providing quality ingredients since 1990 to more than 500 restaurants, wineries and bakeries all around the United States. Though they did not know if the sugar they use is bone char free, I happily filled up on their delicious cashews. My next stop was with Merryvale Vineyards who were really receptive to finding out more about how their wine is made. I am still working on the fining details at Merryvale and will update you when I have confirmation from their winemaker on their vegan-friendliness!

Wandering inside, I noticed a HUGE crowd around the Miracle Noodle table. I had to learn more! This ended up being very easy because they had a huge banner that proclaimed Miracle Noodles to be vegan certified, gluten free, soy, corn and wheat free, calorie and carb free plus non-GMO. Miracle noodle? Absolutely! The rice and noodles are made almost entirely of fiber from the konjac perennial. Native to subtropical and tropical climates the konjac has been known in Japan since the sixth century as a medicinal food and has been eaten for 1500 years. Since it is almost entirely fiber and fiber slows our digestion, it allows for slower absorption of glucose which is why it is beneficial for weight loss and can be beneficial if you have diabetes. I quickly understood why the table was literally swamped with people. As we learn more about where our food comes from, we all want healthier choices! I got to sample both of their options – the delicious rice and noodles – and chatted a bit with Susan Carp the Regional Sales Manager who let me know that Miracle Noodles are available at Whole Foods across the state.

Let me tell you about the Miracle Noodles!

Brown Dog Mustard is a small batch, handmade, artisan mustard producer made by husband and wife team Scott and Victoria Miller right in Concord here in East Bay. Victoria, who is the CMM – Chief Mustard Maker – learned cooking through family recipes passed down from her Dutch and Pennsylvania Dutch Grandmothers. I ate many a pretzel smeared with their Sunny Summer Yellow (contains honey), Balsamic Sweet, Peppercorn and Whole Grain mustards. There is no comparing a grocery store mustard that can (and does) sit in a warehouse for years to this mustard lovingly made with organic apple cider and balsamic vinegars (no distilled vinegar here!).

Salute Sante’s amazing grapeseed oil!

Harvest Table
Chef Mezick from Harvest Table in St. Helena

I followed up my mustard binge with a stop at Salute Sante’s grapeseed oil table. Nanette and Valentin Humer have been spreading the word about the health benefits of grapeseed oil for years. Instead of going to waste, they press the Valley’s grapeseeds and create their delicious and healthy oils and flour. They have been featured in the local Napa Valley Life Magazine, The New York Times and the Pacific Sun. In addition to their gluten-free, high fiber flour, they also offer varietal extra virgin cold-pressed oils made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Syrah, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc and French Colombard seeds. Their infused oils line includes five flavors – roasted garlic, basil, chili, rosemary and lemon that are perfect for marinades, salad dressings or for bread dip. I couldn’t decide which my favorite was so I had to keep trying them all! My next stop was with the Harvest Table restaurant. There were no vegan options but I had the opportunity to speak to Chef Levi Mezick. He invited me out to try their new restaurant located in St. Helena and promised he would make me a vegan meal I couldn’t forget. I will keep you posted on the outcome!

Hanging out in the Reserved Section

It was time to walk some of this off so I wandered outside to the Reserve section. Having a press pass is apparently like having a backstage pass…when the volunteer staff saw the pass they just waved me through! And you’ll never guess what I found…more wine and food!  I struck up a conversation with MJ Baird, the Premier Clientele Liasion for Lede Family Wines. She was really excited to discuss her wine and invited me to be her guest at the winery. I will let you know all about my experience very soon!

Living in such a meat and cheese inclined city, I was pretty pleased with the vegan options I was able to find amongst the over 80 wineries, restaurants and food artisans. There is no doubt that having a bit of a wine buzz makes everything just a little brighter and a little happier! By being vocal, asking questions and building relationships with local Chefs and wineries, I hope to see things improve every year!

It’s a Wrap!

My next posting I will share my amazing experiences at the 2nd Annual Sonoma County Vegfest. A big thanks for joining me while I ate and drank my way through the Festival del Sole and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!