While out walking with my dogs, I always enjoyed seeing the Napa Valley Wine Train (NVWT) full of happy, slightly drunk tourists chugging up and down Valley. Never did I imagine that I would be one of those happy, slightly drunk passengers! As a vegan, I made an assumption that there would be no dining options for me. And as I mentioned before, it’s just for wine sipping tourists anyway, right? Wrong! I recently had the opportunity to enjoy an intimate twilight tour on the NVWT’s 36-seat, single car Quattro Vino Pullman thanks to Yelp! And I really had the time of my life!
The experience started at the train station on McKinstry near Oxbow Commons. The staff were all incredibly friendly, excited to help and were a big part in making the evening unforgettable. Prior to boarding, they served bubbles from Domaine Chandon to get the party started! Once I boarded the train, I was drawn back in time! The 1915 lounge car is a lavish reminder of how we travelled a 100 years ago. With only 36 seats it felt very private and is perfect for date night!
The trip up valley included pours of Grgich Hills Estate’s 2014 Fume Blanc, their 2013 Chardonnay and the 2016 Rosé. Along with the wine, I was served a tower of fresh fruits and veggies and salty, crispy bread. The tomato, bread and balsamic made a wonderful combination of flavors. The next course was a delicious plate of grilled veggies & lentils that were warm and hearty. I wish I could describe the view but I admit that I was so wrapped up in the wine, food and conversation that I barely looked outside! And before I knew it, the train had reached beautiful Grgich Hills Estate in Rutherford.
It had been about 5 years since I last visited Grgich Hills and I had forgotten what a beautiful setting it offers. The tasting room is surrounded by roses and the view above it is just spectacular. Daniel led us on a private tour of the Estate that included some of Milijenko “Mike” Grgich’s amazing contributions to winemaking and Napa Valley. In fact, Mike first gained international recognition at the celebrated “Paris Tasting” of 1976. This now-historic blind tasting included a panel of eminent French judges who swirled, sniffed, and sipped a collection of white French Burgundies along with a small sampling of Napa Valley Chardonnays. And when the scores had all been tallied and the winner announced, Mike’s 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay was named the finest white wine in the WORLD! Not only were the judges stunned but it changed the international wine industry’s perception of Napa Valley forever!
The tour also included tastings of the 2016 Zinfandel and 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet became one of my favorites – fruity and elegant just how I like them. I also learned that their wines are all certified organic, pesticide & herbicide-free. And since bentonite clay is used in the fining process the wines are also vegan! The trip home included a light, delicious dessert of poached Seckel pears with berries drizzled with raspberry sauce. Oh, and more wine! What a perfect finish to a lovely evening!
Whether you are visiting Napa Valley or you live locally, the wine train experience is something that you should not miss. The food and wine are extraordinary & the private winery tour is very special. When you make your reservations, let them know that you are vegan. In fact, since my experience, they have added veg-only tables so you won’t find yourself sitting across from meat eaters or looking at a tower of cheese & charcuterie when you sit down! Schedule your extraordinary wine train tour HERE! Enjoy your train ride of Napa Valley and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!!
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’sTaste 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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
Hi friends! You have no idea how happy I am to be back. My life has been so full of joy, stress, loss and excitement over the last several months. Overwhelming! After five years out of the business, in February, my husband and I decided that it was time for me to get back to work selling real estate. We realized that after 5 years with his current company, his career was dying a very slow (often painful) death and living paycheck to paycheck had finally lost its allure! I began reading 1,800 pages of California real estate practices, procedures and legal aspects. Yep, it was as mind numbing as it sounds! On the last day of March, while on my way to pick up my passes to the amazing Sonoma Film Festival, I was rear ended by a 95-year-old man. My first thought was, “Wow! Kudos to you for still being licensed and independent”. My second thought was “F@ck! My back hurts.” Luckily, within a couple weeks my back and range of motion in my neck were almost back to normal. The downside was that since I had both of my hands on the steering wheel at the moment of impact, both of my wrists were sprained and swollen. That has taken much longer to heal but they are finally almost never sore or swollen. YAY! Within a couple days of this excitement, we got a call from our property manager to let us know that our landlord had recently passed away and we now had 60 days to vacate the home we had lived in for almost three years. We were sad for his family and knowing the current rental market in Napa just a little concerned about finding a place in just 2 months. On top of that, rent had increased by about 20% since the last time we had signed a lease. Sheesh! The hits just keep on a coming! And then things got really sad. My mother-in-law Jenelle, who had been ill and battling Parkinson’s disease for a couple years, finally lost her battle. In so many ways it was a relief to see her finally at peace and no longer suffering but that is easy for me to say. My husband lost his Mom. Now with both of his parents gone his sister Barb is the only person on this planet that has known him his entire life. Sad times. But just as quickly as it seemed that everything was going wrong, wonderful things were happening too! Though the real estate board is still weeks away from processing my application for the exam (I guess everyone wants to be an agent again!), with the help of a friend, I found a job at a small local real estate office. I’m working as an administrative assistant until I’m licensed. I wouldn’t call it interesting or exciting but it is helping me get used to being back in the work force. And thanks to another friend, we found the perfect little oasis in Old Town Napa. A charming little home with the sweetest backyard full of towhees, hummingbirds, bumble bees, butterflies and a little opossum we named Dixie after one of my favorite 90s bands Possum Dixon. In fact, I’m sitting outside right now with my lovely little doggie Violet sitting in my lap! And did I mention that I’m less than 2 blocks to Fuller Park and downtown?!!
To celebrate my return, I’m participating in Napa Valley’s annual music, food, wine and art festival – Festival Napa Valley (formerly known as Festival del Sole). Tomorrow, I’ll be covering the 2016 Taste of Napa. The event is being held at the new Cairdean Estate upvalley in beautiful St. Helena. Cairdean Estate offers estate wine tasting, dining, shopping and a perfect destination to meet up with friends! It was one of my favorite locations for screening films at the 2015 Napa Valley Film Fest. The event will be featuring dozens of exclusive wineries and just about every local Chef you could imagine including Alpha Omega, Caymus Vineyards, Cliff Lede Vineyards (one of my favorite spots in Napa!), Baldacci Family Vineyards (oh, another favorite), The Hess Collection (a definite favorite!) Aroma Indian Cuisine, Basalt and Carpe Diem. What does that mean to us vegans, you ask? Well…that’s why I’m going to be there. Just like last year, I will be tasting and sipping and chatting up every Chef and winemaker I can meet. It’s a tough job but I am here for you! My next blog post and videos will feature all the vegan-friendly moments so you can enjoy yourself on your next visit to Napa Valley!
I’ve missed you all and am so grateful that you are reading this post. I can’t wait to share the 11th Annual Festival Napa Valley with you! And as always…eat, drink and be vegan