September 25

Schug Carneros Estate Winery- Vegan Wines in Sonoma Valley!

Schug Carneros Estate logo reflects their German history!

I wanted to add a quick update to my experiences with Schug Carneros Estate Winery. As you’ll see once you read my blog post, the winery has a gorgeous view; offers incredible vegan wines and really knows how to throw a party. I was invited back recently by Crista Johnson, Schug’s Marketing Coordinator, to celebrate Oktoberfest. She assured me that Chef Kristine even had some vegan German cuisine just for Steve and me. So on another gorgeous day I headed over to beautiful Sonoma to spend the afternoon with my new friends at Schug. The Biergarten (or more accurately, Weingarten) was perfectly set with polka band Polkageist West, a buffet of German cuisine, never ending Federweisser and all the pretzels and mustard I could eat! Just as Crista promised, Chef made sure I was very well fed. Vegan wurst, German potato salad, cabbage salad, warm pretzels and the best artisan whole grain mustards I’d ever had! If you are looking for a new wine club membership I highly suggest that you give Schug Carneros Estate Winery a try. They have gone far above most local wineries to ensure that their vegan guests have as much food, wine and fun as their omnivorous guests!

I never dreamed that I’d come home from a wine tasting sunburned, sweaty and covered in dirt from my shins down and consider it one of my favorite wine tasting experiences!  I recently joined Schug Estate winemaker Mike Cox and his team at their Pinot N Pickin party and picnic. This was my first grape picking party and I have to admit that it brought out a bit of my competitive side!

Schug Carneros Estate Winery is located in Sonoma County’s beautiful Carneros region just 20 minutes from downtown Napa. This family owned winery has an enduring history in wine making. Founders Walter and Gertrud followed in the footsteps of their fathers who were both wine estate managers in Germany. Their true love endeavored over the next six years while Walter trained at various wineries in Germany, England and California and continued to complete his Viticulture & Enology degree. Finally, spring of 1961, they married and within a month were on a ship heading to New York City. From there, they loaded up all of their possessions into their Volkswagen Beetle and made the cross-country journey to California to join the burgeoning wine industry. In 1966, Walter was hired by E&J Gallo which led to a long relationship making wines for Joseph Phelps Vineyards before he struck out on his own. Having more demand than their leased winery could produce, Walter & Gertrud purchased 50 acres in Sonoma’s Carneros Appellation. As their family business grew, their three children, Andrea, Claudia and Axel, contributed their expertise to the business. And Axel’s wife Kristine explores her passion for food and wine pairing as the Winery Chef. Though Walter and Gertrud have now both passed on, their passion for wine endures through their children!

The morning of the grape picking dawned cool and sunny. It was the beginning of a perfect day. Surrounded by many of the wine club members, I was treated to a quick tour of their cellar before the hard work began. I always enjoy seeing the inner workings of the winery. And contributing to the harvest of the grapes helped me appreciate the amount of work that goes into the finished bottle. The entire team was working hard and bustling around getting it done! Next, was the picking of the teams! Intern Michele from Italy and Lena from Germany were in charge of the competition. As soon as I heard Lena was from Germany, I made sure I got on her team. I even got to practice a bit of my new language skills! But this was no time for play. My team needed to defeat Team Italy. After a quick demonstration on how to use sharp cutting instruments, the picking began. We all started out a little slow but the chatting died down as we became more comfortable harvesting the grapes. It wasn’t long before jackets and sweaters came off and sun hats went on. As the bins began to fill with grapes, the energy turned from friendly to friendly but competitive. It was amazing how quickly an hour and a half flew by! Then the waiting began. Each bin of grapes were driven up to the scales. Tension filled the air and everyone held their breath. And then it was announced…Team Germany defeated Team Italy by 200 pounds! Ja! Fantastich!

To celebrate our harvest, the sipping of wine began! The 2016 Sonoma Coast Sauvignon Blanc was bright, well balanced, and offered a lovely grapefruit finish. A much better way to cool down than drinking water! This wine paired really well with my picnic lunch of fresh greens and a grilled veggie & portobello sandwich on sourdough. It was really delicious; another reminder that some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten are made with simple & healthy whole foods. The 2015 Estate grown Chardonnay was another wonderful surprise. Grown in the cool climate at the Estate vineyard with minimal new oak, it was refreshing with an elegant finish. This Chardonnay pairs very nicely with food. Next, they introduced the 2015 Estate grown Pinot Noir. It will do nothing but improve with a couple more years of cellaring but I really enjoyed the flavor of strawberry and the silky finish! Finally, I finished my picnic with the 2013 Late Harvest Riesling. The 2013 Riesling is not vegan but the next vintage release will be! Walter Schug was a true pioneer of late harvest Rieslings with almost 60 years of winemaking experience here in the U.S. and Germany. Its high sugar content made this the perfect finish to a perfect afternoon! Who needs dessert when we can sip the wonderful outcome of noble rot!

Winemaker Mike Cox grew up in Sonoma and learned much about the winemaking process in his hometown. Being a local, he had a big jump start over many other young winemakers who don’t grow up in such an extraordinary area. While he started college studying to become a chemical engineer, it wasn’t long before he transferred to U.C. Davis and completed his Enology degree. His summers where spent working at Sonoma wineries, learning and building experience in the industry. He enjoys working closely with growers and prefers small production vineyards for the unique qualities they contribute to his blends. This really does show through in his wines. He prefers using the newer technologies available to winemakers today which include not only the hydraulic punch-down fermenters but also moving away from using animal product to fine his wines. Beginning with his 2014 to current vintages, his whites are all vegan-friendly. Any reds beginning in 2005 to current vintages are vegan as are the Roses and Rouge de Noirs.

Intern Lena with Team Germany celebrating our win!

If you are planning on exploring Sonoma Valley, Schug Carneros Estate is a wonderful place to start. The drive up Bonneau Road takes you through the vineyards to the hillside tasting room. The families’ German history is reflected in their cozy post and beam tasting room and their German flag. And from the upper patio you will enjoy a spectacular 360 degree view that includes Mount Diablo. Hang out with friends at the picnic tables and order wine by the glass or take a self-guided tour wandering through the vineyards. No appointment is needed; just stop by the tasting room for a detailed guide with the points of interest marked along your route. Reservations for a tasting are only required if your party is 6 or more. If you do prefer a private tasting, CLICK HERE to schedule your visit. Make a day of it, enjoy beautiful Sonoma Valley and as always; eat, drink…and be vegan!

December 24

Taking Care of our Whole Body


wholefoodsMy journey to becoming vegan did not start out with the food I put into my body but with the products that I put onto my body. Like many, I bought skincare products based on commercials, word of mouth and often what was on sale. I never spent any time considering what ingredients were in the products I used and had no idea that a sentient being might be harmed so that my mascara didn’t make my eyes sting. I was unconsciously incompetent. When I was about 31, my boyfriend (now husband) Steve and I bought our first home and moved into a new neighborhood near Denver. While getting to know my neighborhood, I began to shop at a new (new to me anyway!) grocery store called Wild Oats. Wild Oats was what friends called a “health food store”. I had heard of these mystical places before but this was my first experience actually shopping in one. While wandering through their health and beauty section, I began to notice phrases printed on the bottles and containers that I had never seen before. Things like “cruelty-free”, “not tested on animals” and “animal-product free”. What??!!! What in the world could have been cruel about my lotion and tested on what? I was in shock! I had just become consciously incompetent. And that is when my life changed forever! Over the next several years of my life, I learned everything I could about the products I used on my body and slowly became consciously competent of anything that I bought from my shampoo to my body wash to my make-up. And then one day I woke up and realized that for all I was doing to help myself and the precious bunnies and rats and mice that had been suffering because of my choices, I still ate meat! And that was the day that I finally reached unconscious competence. That day I made the most profound decision ever. I became a vegan and ended my role in all animals’ suffering! That was 14 years ago and I haven’t looked back since!

logoWhat has helped me throughout this journey has been the Whole Body section of the grocery store chain Whole Foods. They have applied the same high standards for the food they sell to their personal care products. Over the course of two years, they examined every personal care ingredient that is sold in Whole Body and created a set of Premium Body Care Standards. First and foremost, they do not allow any animal testing for any of the personal care products…EVER! Additionally, they encourage their vendor partners to use plant-based and naturally derived ingredients, pure essential oil fragrances, gentle preservatives and non-petroleum based ingredients. To be labelled as a Premium Body Care product there are several steps that must be met. First, the products need to offer results – and only contain ingredients that are necessary for the product to do what it says it will do. Next, where the ingredients are sourced must be as close to nature and as minimally processed as possible. Followed by the environmental impact they cause. Every product we use eventually makes its way down the drain and into our environment so these products must not only have minimal impact when they are manufactured but also when they are used. The next stage is safety. Since what goes on the body goes into the body and there is no governmental regulation, Whole Body has done the research for us. All Premium Body Care product ingredients are labeled accurately, have established safety data or are less likely to cause skin irritation or allergies. To be specific, they have identified over 400 ingredients that are unacceptable. A short list includes parabens, polypropylene, sodium lauryl and laureth sulfates. Though preservatives are necessary in body care products, they only allow milder versions that have a lower likelihood of causing allergic reactions and sensitivities. Chemical based fragrances (that are now becoming linked with not only exacerbating asthma but also causing it), are replaced by fragrances made using natural essential oils or components of the essential oils. Whole Body sells over 2500 skincare products that fit within the guidelines I just listed with more being added every day. When making your decision on what products will be the safest for you and our planet, look for the Premium Body Care Standards logo. With the fact that the U.S. government does not EVER require health studies or pre-market testing for our health, beauty, skincare and cosmetic products, I will forever be grateful to Whole Body for doing much of the research for me!

Though every Whole Foods has a Whole Body section, I had the pleasure of visiting my first stand-alone Whole Body Lifestyle store recently in Sebastopol! This is only the second Whole Body store to open EVER! And it is right here in beautiful western Sonoma County. Now, of course, all of the things that I mentioned are important to me. I only want to use products that are good for me and for the planet. But what is most important to me is if the product is vegan! Along with a couple other local bloggers – Dale with savvy spice and Adrienne with The Rich Life On A Budget – I had the wonderful opportunity to spend some time with each of the vendors at the event. And here is what I found!

IMG_1342Gabriel De Santino, Founder and CEO of Gabriel Cosmetics and ZuZu Luxe watched as his grandmother made homeopathic cosmetics from seaweed, kelp and herbs that he helped gather by the ocean in Mexico. As a naturopath and herbalist, his grandmother knew of the healing and revitalizing properties of ocean plant life. As he grew up and entered the field of beauty, he used these healthy alternatives to create clean cosmetics. The cosmetics are 100% vegan and cruelty-free; certified gluten-free and are free of coal tar derivatives, FD&C coloring, parabens, mineral oil, lanolin, talc, propylene glycol, hydrogenated oils, carmine, lead and nano-sized particles! I have been using ZuZu cosmetics for years and love them. And now I can add Gabriel Cosmetics and try some new colors in lipstick, gloss and eye shadow!

IMG_1335 (1)I have always been a huge fan of Evan Healy products. In fact, I found them for the first time in the Whole Body section of my store in Raleigh, NC about seven years ago. I had always had oily skin so the concept of using oil and water to care for my skin seemed very counterintuitive to me! But there was an Evan Healy representative there that day and I was really searching for a product that I could trust and would help my skin look its best. She explained that our skin uses a protective layer of sweat glands and sebaceous glands that work together to produce a thin layer of lipids (oil) and perspiration (water). This is called our acid mantle. This acid mantle is our skin’s protective barrier from disease. When this delicate balance between acidity and alkalinity is disrupted, our skin’s ability to protect itself is weakened. And her products help restore that natural balance by using oils and waters from the plant kingdom! And I love the intimate connection they have with the product. From the fields and forests where they gather the plants to the lighting of the stills and the pressing of the nuts into oil, every formula is hand blended, hand labelled and hand packaged. Such a beautiful connection! All Evan Healy products are certified organic, non-GMO and vegan!

Shikai was formed in 1970 by Dr. Dennis Sepp, an organic and medicinal IMG_1373chemist. He began exploring the unique properties of certain plants and how they could benefit our hair and skin. One of his first studies was done with shikakai – a plant grown in India that was well known for its ability to clean hair, leave it soft and shiny but not dry it or the scalp. He created his first shampoo and the rest is history. Shikai now makes over 50 products from start to finish in their Santa Rosa facilities. And Dr. Sepp continues to oversee the formulation and manufacture of all of the products. All 50 products are cruelty free and free of all animal products. In fact, they have a Master Ingredient List right on their website that was most recently updated in August 2015. Bravo Shikai!

IMG_1337Three Sisters Apothecary makes hand crafted artisan soaps in small batches using high quality, cruelty free ingredients. This adventure started when the founders’ daughter came into this world at 3 lbs, 1 ounce! She began growing and making organic baby food, questioning every immunization and even making her own soap for her daughter! Now they make this soap together! They even make a soap for our dogs. All the ingredients are listed on the website and they all appear to be vegan-friendly!

IMG_1333My husband and I have both been using ACURE facial cleansing products for a couple years. In addition to skincare, they offer facial oils, beneficial oils for hair, skin and scalp, body wash, body lotion, bath soap, dry oil body spray, physical sunscreen (vs. toxic chemical), lip care, hair care and baby products. I have to admit that I had no idea they offered so many products! Their products are made with organic ingredients, no petro chemicals, sulfate-free, paraben free, cruelty free, no synthetic fragrances, gluten free and no mineral oil. Kristy Guerra founded ACURE to honor her grandmother who battled breast cancer for a decade in hopes of bringing awareness to the importance of healthy skin care made without toxins. Part of their “green’ culture includes planting a tree through Trees for the Future for every lotion that is sold and ten cents from every hair care unit sold goes to They us 100% plant and food based ingredients. This does include beeswax in a limited number of their products.

IMG_1378My husband has been a huge fan of Dr. Hauschka products for years. They are a German organic, biodynamic skin care company founded in 1967 that offers skin care for our face and body, cosmetics, deodorants, body oils, foot creams, nail & cuticle oils and bath & shower products. But it all began when Dr. Hauschka began making natural, alcohol free homeopathic medicines in 1935. Though it was a huge success, it was banned by the Nazis and he and his future wife were both imprisoned before finally settling in Bad Boll/Eckwalden in the 1950s. They have an area of just over 11 acres where they grow 150 different nurturing plants using biodynamic methods. Most of the seeds for the next year’s cultivation come from their own plants. And they tend to more than 25 compost heaps that are then converted into high-quality soil! When they can’t grow it themselves, they find renewable resources all over the world to use. This provides them with abundant quantities of the ingredients they need while also benefitting the earth and providing work for local communities. Whenever possible, they source ingredients from biodynamic or organic farms and when that is not available they initiate the organic farming project themselves. Again, making jobs and supporting local communities. They literally have partners around the world and are currently working with the World Health Organization to offer about 700 farmers the opportunity to work and earn an income using organic rose cultivation methods rather than becoming opium producers. Along with their own bee colonies, they are always thrilled when other animals make a home in their gardens! They offer 48 vegan products that include face care, body care, bath & shower and cosmetics!

IMG_1381Aura Cacia offers high quality essential oils and aromatherapy products. Using their own ethical and sustainable sourcing program, their goal is to always guarantee high-quality oils from source to shelf. Unlike many companies, they believe in full ingredient disclosure – you will see every ingredient listed in order of quantity used. You will know exactly what is in the bottle you purchase! Aura Cacia products are never tested on animals and they contain no animal by-products with the exception of beeswax in some of their products.

I had such a wonderful time learning more about products that I already trusted and those that were new to me. I really enjoyed the stand-alone concept of the Whole Body Lifestyle store. It has the feel of a cosmetics and skincare boutique and is much calmer and relaxing then being featured in the middle of a bustling grocery store. I hope that we see more of these open up. And a big thanks to Amy Pellegrini, Whole Foods’ Marketing and Communication Lead – North Bay and her wonderful team for inviting me and sharing this new concept.

If you are looking for clean, toxin free, cruelty-free, vegan products, be sure to check out your local Whole Foods. And the next time you are up in Sebastopol be sure to stop by the new Whole Body Lifestyle store. I hope you love it as much as I did! I look forward to seeing you there and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

And to learn some tips on improving your eating habits, visit this link from Health Ambition. Though not all suggestions are vegan, they offer some great common sense tips like minimizing processed foods & caffeine, eliminating soda (especially diet!) and as we vegans already know…eat lots of organic, real whole plant-based foods! To read the entire article, follow the link HERE!





April 9

This Tin Barn is Animal (Product) Free!

Carneros Region in Sonoma Valley!
     Carneros Region in Sonoma Valley!

I live in Napa and so tend to do most of my wine tasting in Napa Valley. Well, and there is the fact that my blog is called Napa Valley Vegan! But this is not to say that there aren’t wonderful wines in Sonoma Valley and surrounding areas. But with over 450 wineries to choose from in Napa Valley alone, it just comes down to time! Some days I wish I could just sip wine fulltime but most days I have to live in the real world! That being said, I did have an amazing opportunity recently to do some wine tasting in beautiful Sonoma Valley. Tin Barn Vineyards is truly a hidden treasure that offers single vineyard artisan wines. How hidden do you ask? Well, I travelled down Highway 12 between Napa Valley’s Carneros Region into Sonoma Valley’s Carneros Region and everything looked just as I expected. Rolling hills terraced and covered with symmetrical rows of grapevines, sun and beauty! From there I came to East Eighth Street in Sonoma. It is hard to miss – just look for the dozens of empty train cars! Following Eighth Street, I was surrounded by vineyards, rock quarries, body shops and solar panels! What?! I was beginning to think that my typical lack of direction had taken over and I was lost yet again. The next thing that really had me convinced I had taken a wrong turn, was Siri telling me to pull into the Wine Country Industrial Park and Sonoma Sky Park Airport. Really?! Yep, really! There it was…a big red tent sign announcing Tin Barn Vineyards. I followed several more directional signs through large warehouses and a food truck or two and came to my destination – Tin Barn Vineyards!

Welcome to Tin Barn Vineyards
          Welcome to Tin Barn Vineyards

There is a Tin Barn Vineyards sign that hangs above their tasting room entrance and when I entered the warehouse I was also able to see the cellars where they produce their artisan wines. What really stood out for me was being greeted by Amy, the Assistant Director of Operations and Steve, the part-time Winery Ambassador. They were both so welcoming and it did not take long to see their passion for the wine. Amy shared not only an amazing tasting experience with us but a lot of great information about the grapes and the winemaking process. I enjoyed each of the wines that I tasted but fell in love with their Joon – Rose of Syrah. And the story that Amy shared was equally as lovely. Legend has it that the original Syrah grape came from the Persian city of Shiraz. So they used the Persian term for “dear” to name their debut wine. While I was purchasing my wine from Brett Hamner, another of their Winery Ambassadors, we discussed the wines and if they were vegan-friendly. He was about 98% sure that they were but to be sure he texted Michael to confirm. And to my delight, Michael confirmed that since he does not fine any of his wines they are all vegan-friendly! Yay!!

Amy and Steve sharing their wine and knowledge with us!
Amy and Steve sharing their wine and knowledge with us!

Michael Lancaster is the Co-Owner and Winemaker for Tin Barn Vineyards. His passion for winemaking and vineyards that are off the beaten path began while he was a part of the corporate world. He took a year off and while on two wheels cycled through some of the world’s most esteemed wine regions. Upon returning to his native Toronto, he hung up his suit and tie for good! He headed to the University of California, Davis to study the enology program. From there, his first job took him to Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves. And then to Quail Ridge Cellars where he was promoted to winemaker. Finally, in 2000 with the partnership of friends, Michael launched Tin Barn Vineyards.

Michael Lancaster - Co-Owner and Winemaker
Michael Lancaster – Co-Owner and Winemaker

Michael has forged long-term relationships with many local grape growers which has helped to ensure the consistency and quality of the grapes he uses for his wines. Coryelle Fields Vineyard is a remote plot of Syrah vines just off Tin Barn Road 1000 feet above the tiny coastal town of Jenner. With a population of just 136, Jenner is located in Sonoma County on the Pacific coast near the mouth of the Russian River. Thanks to the 6-acres planted by Carolyn Coryelle in 1995, the grapes are in the direct path of the strong coastal breezes and slowly ripen amid the persistent coastal fog. This micro-climate gives the grapes a distinctly earthy quality with hints of smoky (vegan) bacon. Michael has not only sourced his Syrah grapes from Carolyn’s vineyard ever since but it is also his inspiration for the name of his winery. In 2012 he debuted my favorite wine – Rose of Syrah – from the Coryelle Fields.

Carolyn Coryelle - founder of Coryelle Fields Vineyard
Carolyn Coryelle – founder of Coryelle Fields Vineyard

Desnudos Vineyard translates to “naked” vineyard and has a very colorful history as an early twentieth-century nudist colony. Sadly, you won’t find any naked folks wandering around anymore but you will find the Merlot grapes dappled with sunlight and bathed in gentle breezes. The southwest-facing vines yield uncommonly complex and intensely flavored fruit.

For the last 35 years Dan & Mary Hountalas have divided their time between life in the city and life in the country – overseeing the historic Cliff House Restaurant in San Francisco and tending to the beautiful Hi Vista Vineyards in Sonoma’s stunning Carneros region. Hi Vista’s location provides a cool growing season that produces grapes with refreshing citrus and melon aromas.

As many of you wine lovers may already know, the Carneros appellation grows more Pinot Noir than any varietal anywhere in the world! WORLD! Yeah, it blew my mind too! So it does make a lot of sense that since Tin Barn Vineyards is based in the Carneros area that they make Pinot Noir. Their grapes come from the Ricci Vineyard which is a family estate located just a few miles from Tin Barn Vineyards. The fruit sprawls across 200 sloping acres and benefits from gentle breezes from the San Pablo Bay and steady, warm Sonoma County sunshine. Little has changed since the first farming began here in the early 1900s!

Michael’s relationship with Gilsson Vineyard has spanned more than a decade as he continues to source his award winning and bestselling Russian River Zinfandel from them. Gilsson is located just east of Windsor in Sonoma County and planted their Zinfandel vines nearly 40 years ago. The vines are raised on stakes so the fruiting area is elevated off the ground which allow for excellent air circulation and more even ripening of the grape.

Los Chamizal Vineyard
                 Los Chamizal Vineyard

And last but not least is the 42-acres of sustainably planted Zinfandel at Los Chamizal. The Zinfandel vines are amid the mountain terroir and reflect varied micro-climates from sandy clay loams at the bottom to fractured basalt at the top elevations. Tin Barn Vineyards takes multiple blocks of grapes from this very unique location.

Tin Barn Vineyards is located at 21692 Eighth Street, East, Suite #340 in Sonoma. They open their tasting room Friday through Monday from Noon to 5 p.m. and will occasionally accommodate a mid-week appointment. Contact them at 707.938.5430 to ask! They do request that you make reservations if your party is 6 or larger. The tasting fee is a very reasonable $12 per person and is waived for purchases of $50 or more. If you call ahead, they will add a cheese pairing to your tasting for $5. Ask if they would be willing to add vegan cheese pairings to their tastings. If enough of us ask, it might motivate them to offer it!  Whenever it is possible, they will also lead you on an impromptu tour of their cellars for no additional fee!

Our group's tour of the cellar & winemaking process
Our group’s tour of the cellar & winemaking process

I am so glad that I get to share this little surprise vegan gem with all of you. So if you love good wine, friendly and knowledgeable wine experts, and a winemaker who is passionate about his work, you will enjoy the experience just as much as I did! You are not going to find a stately overdone façade or a gift shop full of overpriced knick-knacks so nothing will distract you from enjoying the wine and the entire experience!

Steve and I loving Tin Barn's wine!
Steve and I loving Tin Barn’s wine!

Thanks for reading my blog and letting me share all of these amazing experiences with you. And as always…eat, drink and be vegan!