June 2

Indulging Your Vegan Palate at Signorello Estate

Perfection…We have all had days that we’ve been able to label as perfect. The food extraordinary, the wine exquisite, the weather sunny and warm, the views breathtaking, the songbirds serenading and the service flawless. Perfect is the only way I can describe my experience at Signorello Estate. I was recently invited by Estate Sommelier Ron Plunkett to enjoy their Enoteca estate experience. This includes a chauffeured tour of their 100 acre estate and the 5-course guided pairing.

Until this visit, I had never been fully immersed in a true food and wine pairing experience. My fellow vegans know exactly what I’m talking about! It is rare to find a Sommelier and a Chef who will collaborate to provide a meal that not only indulges the palate of the plant based crowd but also pairs perfectly with the wine. But the collaboration between Chef Michael Pryor and Estate Sommelier Ron Plunkett have ended that dilemma forever! This is truly a wine and food experience unlike any other in Napa Valley!

Signorello Estate is located high above Silverado Trail – one of my favorite locations in all of Napa Valley. As I turned into Signorello Estate, I was surrounded by a gorgeous, symmetrical row of green trees and deep purple Japanese maples with the rows of grapevines just beyond. As I arrived at the tasting room, I was greeted by a shining infinity pool and the breathtaking views of the Vaca and Mayacamas mountain ranges with unparalleled views of the Valley below! Words like stunning & beautiful don’t even begin to describe the setting – it is all of that and more!

Before the tour began, I was welcomed with a glass of their 2013 White Uvaggio Estate wine. A unique blend of Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Chardonnay grapes that is only available at the winery. With complex flavors of peach, citrus, apple and roses, this was the ideal wine to sip while sitting in the sun and gazing at the views! My small group then loaded up on the 6-seater, customized off-road vehicles and we were off. The tour included the Sauvignon

Chef Michael Pryor

Blanc and Chardonnay vines planted at the bottom of the hill in the sandy loam valley. The Chardonnay vines were originally planted in 1980 and are some of the oldest in Napa Valley. Because of their age, they tend to offer a lower yield

Estate Sommelier Ron Plunkett sharing the view!

than younger vines which makes this micro-winery experience even more special. Next, we headed up the hill to take in the extraordinary views. A unique feature of Signorello Estate that I’ve never experienced at other wineries is the fact that they own both “sides of the hill”. Not only were we able to see what is at the top of the hill and beyond but it also allows them to grow east and west facing vines. The soil is very different from the soil at the bottom of the hill. It is shallow & rocky and lends itself to the red varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. With part of the vineyard benefiting from eastern exposure and the other from western exposure, the grapes have a diversity that leads to very complex and balanced wines. Sixth generation Winemaker Pierre Birebent grew up on his family vineyard in Corsica, France and studied viticulture & enology in Burgundy. He utilizes the French wine making method known for its balanced wines. He is also the vineyard manager so is very in tune with his grapes. The wines are not fined or filtered prior to bottling which guarantees they are always vegan-friendly.

Standing next to the RV taking in the sights!

While on the tour, Ron pointed out many of the environmental practices they have implemented to receive the Napa Green Certification. To control insects and rodents, instead of using toxic chemicals, they have added bat, blue bird and owl nesting boxes. In fact, the blue birds are small but fierce. Not only do they eat up the grapevine moths that can decimate grapevines but also run off the grape-loving crows that are 10 times their size! They even have a family of rattlesnakes that eliminate pests as nature intended. And their free-range chickens fill up on the insects that the blue birds leave behind. The land Signorello Estate sits on now even used to be a rescue for retired racehorses. And they use left over grapes for mulch. What’s not to love about this place?

Upon the conclusion of the tour, my group headed into the private dining room. Allowing a maximum of 8 guests, the food & wine pairing is a very intimate experience. Relying on his on-site garden and the local Napa & St. Helena Farmers Markets to offer fresh, in-season produce, Chef Michael Pryor’s menu generally changes weekly.

The Primo course of spring vegetable ragout, fennel broth & sliced radishes paired with the 2014 Seta Estate wine started the meal off with a bang. Seta is Italian for silk and that is exactly what it felt like. The simple combination of spring vegetables and broth was absolutely bursting with flavor.

The Secondo course was an amazing pairing of the 2014 Vielles Vines Estate Chardonnay with bruschetta topped with almond cheese, grilled peaches, toasted walnuts & smoked sea salt. The old vine Chardonnay flavors of apple & vanilla were exquisite with the grilled peaches & sea salt. Until I reached the 5th course, this was my favorite pairing of flavors.

The Terzo course of king trumpet mushrooms, roasted cherries, cipollini onions, spinach, pistachios and the 2013 Pinot Noir Las Amigas was the most aromatic portion of the meal. And the delicious combination of flavors brought out the black pepper note of the pinot.

Course Quarto was an Italian farro pasta with deconstructed pesto & wax beans paired with the 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Again, the aroma was incredible and the pasta brought out the bold, full flavors of the wine. As delicious as it was, I knew I needed to save room for the final course!

Final course Quinto was pan seared eggplant, caramelized squash, olive oil roasted potatoes with salmorejo sauce. Even though I knew this was vegan, the weight, feel and taste of the pan seared eggplant was reminiscent of fat. This pairing was absolutely exquisite with the 2013 Padrone Estate blend. The blended Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc was elegant and well deserving of its 96+ rating.

The Enoteca experience is 2 1/2 hours of bliss. Beginning with the views, the location, the tour and finishing with the 5-course pairing. I have had many wonderful wine tasting experiences since arriving in Napa in late 2011 but I can say with confidence that this is the best yet. In fact, the wine was so incredible that I joined their wine club and brought my bi-annual allotment of 6 and an extra bottle of the 2013 Estate Padrone home with me!

To schedule your own Enoteca experience, visit Signorello Estate and reserve your spot HERE. Be sure to note that you are vegan and ask for Estate Sommelier Ron Plunkett! His knowledge of the wines and the history of Signorello Estate is wonderful. And ask him to explain why he is called the Cop Somm. You’ll love the story of his journey! As I was leaving, I had the opportunity to chat with Chef Michael for a few minutes and was really excited to find that he has recently joined the whole foods, plant-based diet program sponsored by our local hospital and not only feels great but has also lost over 50 pounds! What an incredible win for him and the animals!

Whether this is your first or tenth time visiting Napa Valley, be sure to include this experience in your schedule. And as always…eat, drink & be vegan! Cheers!

July 16

Napa Valley Vegan at the 2016 Taste of Napa!

festival NV useHi 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?!!

TasteLogo400pxTo 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

March 23

JuJu’s Mediterranean Kitchen -Bursting With Flavor, Health & Love!

IMG_3547My first experience with JuJu’s Mediterranean Kitchen was several years ago. Steve and I were very new to Napa and noticed JuJu’s after leaving our insurance agent’s office. JuJu’s is tucked back on California Way and unless you’re taking a short cut to California Boulevard, at the time, there wasn’t really any reason to head down California Way. When we went in, we met Joumana Shweiky (JuJu), for the first time. She was very friendly but explained that they didn’t offer much in the way of restaurant services but were more into catering. We headed off from there and I have to admit I looked at it longingly every time I drove by over the years! Fast forward four years, and my Facebook friend, Cassandra, mentioned that JuJu’s Mediterranean Kitchen had plenty of clearly labeled vegan choices on their menu and that I should add them to my Eat! page. So I did what anybody interested in learning more about a restaurant would do, I checked the Yelp reviews! Sure enough…JuJu’s still offered their catering services but since my last visit have added tables and are now offering sit down service. Yay!

 

Yum! The Mezza Combo plate!
Yum! The Mezza Combo plate!

Besides the addition of 4 or 5 tables, JuJu’s Mediterranean Kitchen is much as I remember it from my first visit. A large open kitchen, a small market specializing in Middle Eastern products, a large glass front cooler displaying house made salads sold by the pint and a very homey atmosphere. JuJu is just as friendly and welcoming as I remember. With the Lebanese music playing in the background, Steve and I both felt like we were sitting down in her kitchen at home. Though she was busy cooking, she took time out to go over the menu with me. This is really a vegan’s food heaven. There are 7 mezza favorites that can be purchased for just $5 for a ½ pint that range from Mujadara – a blend of lentils, cracked wheat & caramelized onions; Tabuli made with chopped parsley, fresh mint & cracked IMG_3545wheat; freshly made Dolmas wrapped with grape leaves and stuffed with a savory mix of rice, fresh mint & pomegranate molasses, Hummus and much more! I’m going to stop for just a moment here and mention that her Dolmas are the best I have ever eaten! JuJu’s Signature dishes include a Mezza Combo Plate (just mention that you are vegan and she will substitute grilled veggies for the non-vegan baba ganough), a Falafel Plate and she will also make Veggie Kabobs if you ask! The vegan wraps include the Falafel Wrap and the Greek Wrap (if you skip the feta). The Fatoosh Salad is vegan and the Mediterranean, Kale & Greek Salads can be with some slight adjustments. And then comes the A La Carte section – of the 16 choices, 8 are vegan! The Hummus plate, Foul M’Damas plate, grilled Tomato & Onion Skewer, side of olives, pita bread, garlic cilantro home fries, Falafel with tahini sauce and IMG_1632Dolmas. Steve and I enjoyed the Mezza Combo plate – a perfect taste of the Mediterranean with homemade Hummus, Muhamara, Mujadara, Falafel, Dolma and Tabuli served with warm pita bread. I loved having a little bit of everything on my plate. As I mentioned, the grilled veggies made a lovely substitution for the non-vegan baba ganough. I especially enjoyed the hummus, mujadara, tabuli and the dolmas!

 

Though JuJu has been a part of Napa Valley for 30 years, she is originally from Lebanon so the flavor of the food is very authentic. It is all made fresh daily using local produce, exotic spices, extra virgin olive oil and the Chef’s love! Some of her favorite things are to entertain and cook and introduce others to new cultures. This is really reflected in the IMG_3561experience I had when I visited her restaurant. She proudly talked about her 6 children who all grew up in St. Helena and are now lawyers, teachers, fashion designers and world travelers. I really loved that she shared with me her cookbook Soup for Syria. With so much physical distance between Syria and the U.S., I admit that I am somewhat disconnected from the turmoil and suffering that is happening. It does seem that the world has failed the Syrian refugees; the world’s wealthiest countries have turned their backs on this humanitarian disaster. While JuJu’s home country Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq have opened their borders to more than four million refugees. This has created a huge need for food relief. To assist, many world-acclaimed chefs and cookbook authors from around the world have come together to help alleviate the hunger of the Syrians by contributing a recipe. It is another great example that we don’t need to wait for our government to make a decision. We can help change the world all on or own!

 

Hanging out with JuJu
Hanging out with JuJu

With two decades of experience in the very demanding Napa Valley culinary industry, JuJu’s Mediterranean Kitchen is well worth the stop whether you are looking for casual dining, catering, lunch or dinner take-out or you need a boxed lunch for your next wine tasting excursion. JuJu’s is located at 3375 California Way and is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m to 8 p.m. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I did and as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

 

*You may have noticed that I am a big fan of Mediterranean food. I’ve enjoyed it from Small World Café and Heritage Eats to Tarla Mediterranean Grill and JuJu’s Kitchen. I’d love to hear your feedback on your favorite spot in Napa Valley for Mediterranean food. Please leave your comments below!