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!

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!