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

October 6

St. Clair Brown Winery – Garden to Table Urban Eatery

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After hearing wonderful things about St. Clair Brown Winery from friends, this is what I found on their website –

“To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion, to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly, to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart, to bear all cheerfully, to all bravely await occasions, hurry never. In a word, to let the spiritual unbidden and unconscious grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony.”

How could I not fall in love with a winery that has chosen this as their manifesto?! And that was just the beginning of the wonderful things they have to offer. St. Clair Brown Winery and their winemaker Elaine St. Clair make small lot, hand-crafted wines in a state-of-the-art facility in downtown Napa. They have much less space than many of the sprawling wineries so craft their wine in smaller tanks and equipment. Which perfectly suits the production of their 200 (or less) cases of wine. But Elaine’s skills don’t just end as a world-class winemaker. She also holds a degree in Fermentation Science from the University of California at Davis. In addition to winemaking in the 90s, she also co-owned Napa Ale Works and spent a decade brewing award-winning beer. She has since returned to winemaking exclusively until now – clearly, her love for brewing never died! Sharing the same building as their winery, they are currently constructing their own micro-brewery. Once completed, it will provide a 10-barrel, all-grain system that will allow them to produce up to 300 gallons of beer made fresh daily. gardenAcross the street, in what used to be a vacant lot, sits their Garden Eatery which is nestled in the midst of their beautiful culinary garden. Their philosophy is that part of what makes Napa Valley such an amazing place to live is access to so much homegrown and locally sourced produce. Because of this, they made the decision that the grounds would be planted with a completely edible landscape. They teamed with Master Organic Gardener, Peter Jacobsen, of Jacobsen Orchards, to help make this beautiful dream a reality. Peter has been a farmer and orchardist in Napa Valley for over 30 years who grows exclusively for restaurants including several of Napa Valley’s top Michelin rated eateries. His relationships with local Chefs seems to have really spurred the current farm to table attitudes. It is so vital for us to know where our food really comes from! And it gets even sweeter! greenhouseThe garden includes a glass greenhouse that they converted into a small eatery! You can sit inside the greenhouse or at any of the many tables set throughout the garden. Because of the incredible weather in Napa, we all gathered outside to eat, drink and be merry!

I reached out to St. Clair Brown Winery before heading over…because that is what I do! Being vegan for almost 5 years, when it comes to what I put inside my body I have got to gather the facts first. I don’t like surprises…especially when I am hungry! I had a really lovely email conversation with St. Clair Brown’s Executive Chef Andreya Nightingale. The menu offers several small plate offerings and even though the menu is small, she strives to include delicious options for us vegans. In fact, her father-in-law has been vegan for 7 years and she loves cooking for him! The menu is constantly changing too based on what is in season and available in the culinary garden. Though some of the ingredients may change she prepares 5 small plates that will always be vegan – hummus with coriander, cumin, paprika, garlic, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, chickpeas and house-made nut butter; olives with garden herbs, lemon zest and garlic; almonds made with garden herbs and extra virgin olive oil; chocolate bark made with marcona almonds, lavender, rosemary, heritage sea salt and no added sugar; and the PB&J board. PB&J boardThe PB&J board was inspired by her father-in-law who loves his Friday evening PB&J with Cabernet! When I was there, the PB&J was a delicious house-made almond-pecan, cardamom nut butter, apples and pears poached with Syrah and Cabernet, and a small baguette baked by Model Bakery. I was able to taste the olives and almonds which were both delicious. They are made with fresh herbs and lemons picked right out of their garden and the flavors really shine through. The PB&J board is wonderful. Instead of a typical jam, the wine poached fruit was a delicious surprise. And, of course, the chocolate bark was intense, dark and delicious! Chef Nightingale is also testing a house-made vegan cheese similar to Miyoko’s Kitchen in Marin and hopes to launch it on her winter menu! I am very excited about that and will let you know when that happens! And she offers a salad – when I was last there it included roasted beets and carrots tossed in lemon-walnut vinaigrette with shallots, mint and oregano from the garden. Just ask for the salad without the burrata cheese and you have yet another vegan option!

menuTo pair with the small plates, the garden eatery also offers wine by the half glass, glass, half bottle carafe or bottle. The wines include Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rose, Estate Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. They also offer a tasting flight that include a sampling of four wines – the Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. All made by winemaker Elaine St. Clair and all fined without the use of animal products! And if you find a wine you love, it is available to purchase at the table or in the greenhouse. If you become a wine club member (which I plan to do next visit), you not only get 2 bottles of wine every other month but a free glass of wine whenever you visit the Garden Eatery!

St. Clair Brown Winery’s Garden Eatery is located at 816 Vallejo Street and is open daily from Noon to 8 p.m. Reservations are not required but are always appreciated and can be made through their website’s Contact Us page or by calling 707.255.5591.

I eat and drink aplenty – not only for my pleasure and enjoyment but for my readers. And this experience is hands down one of my absolute favorites! The garden is such a pleasant surprise tucked into this very urban area. The atmosphere is quiet and peaceful, the food is fresh and wonderful and the wine offers exceptional structural balance and layers of complex flavors. Be sure to make time to visit this little diamond in the rough; you will be so glad you did!

Thanks for joining me on my latest dining and wine tasting adventure. And as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

January 25

Ground Boots Wines – For The Love of Dog!

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Though I have strayed a time or two, the goal of my blog is to eat, drink and shop my way through Napa Valley and share those experiences with you. But when I learned about winemaker Deborah Hall and Ground Boots wines, I knew her story needed to be shared. Deborah’s winery Gypsy Canyon Winery is located in Central California’s Santa Barbara County and I became aware of Deborah because of the amazing powers of social media. And very loosely paraphrasing a philosophy by Mercedes Ruehl’s character Anne in the early ‘90s movie The Fisher King (one of the best movies EVER!), I fully believe that positive energy finds positive energy no matter how far apart it may be!

the fisher king

In her own words, Deborah is a winemaker, designer, tree hugger and Mom living on the vineyard. She is also the founder and principle of Gypsy Canyon Winery – a tiny historic vineyard and boutique winery that focuses on estate grown Pinot Noir and Mission grapes. Deborah studied viticulture and enology at U.C. Davis and has become a recognized expert in the field of grape growing, winemaking and package design. In 1999, she began her passion for growing grapes and making wines while tending the vines in the healthy and vibrant soils of Santa Barbara County.

Deborah Hall and her family!
Deborah Hall & Gregg Tully, Managing Director of Soi Dog. Deborah brought the front dog, Ting, home with her from Thailand!

Though she was doing what she loved, running a successful business and embracing her life in the country, Deborah felt a little empty. I know this is something I relate to and understand. Sometimes in the midst of what many people call “success”, there is a feeling that time is slipping past and maybe a little more can be done. In fact, I gave up my career in real estate three years ago so that I could explore that same nagging hunger that Deborah was feeling. Now I get to write about my passion for being vegan, volunteer for several animal welfare organizations in Napa Valley, I get to be a full time Mom to my 3 dogs and cat and a full time support system to my husband Steve! What I have sacrificed (and I do use that word very lightly) in material objects has more than been made up for with joy and fulfillment. And I have truly never been happier! About a year ago, Deborah also began reflecting on her life and thinking…”what next?” She remembered her love for animals and our environment. As a child, she had dreamed of becoming a veterinarian but as so often happens her life took her a different direction. It was then, she began to contemplate and consider what she could do now to make a difference.

Back to the wonders of social media…while Deborah was on Facebook she came across Soi Dog Foundation. Soi Dog Foundation is a not-for-profit, charitable organization based and registered in Thailand and registered in the U.S., Australia, the United Kingdom, France and Holland. The mission statement of Soi Dog is to improve the welfare of dogs and cats in Thailand which in turn improves the lives of both the animal and human communities. To end animal cruelty and to ultimately create a society without homeless animals. In addition to helping the homeless, neglected and abused cats and dogs of Thailand and responding to animal welfare disasters and emergencies, Soi Dog works tirelessly throughout the Region to end the ghastly dog meat trade. And in the midst of all of this hard work, they have also spayed and neutered over 77,000 cats and dogs across the Region!

soi dog logo

What caught Deborah’s eye about this non-profit, is the fact that they show the successes created by their hard work and compassion for all living things. She was literally able to see the before and after of a rescue! This gave her a huge dose of inspiration and after a couple days of brain storming she had her “ah ha” moment! Using her years of experience and vast resources in the wine industry, she decided to bottle some wine, sell it and donate the proceeds to Soi Dog. Being driven by purpose, her ideas continued to flow until she had created a whole new brand for Soi Dog and Ground Boots was born! Ground Boots is the very first wine dedicating 100% of the profits to make our world a better and more loving place.

Tai Chi before!
Tai Chi before!
Tai Chi After
Tai Chi After

Deborah teamed up with famed artist Donald Roller Wilson to design a label for Ground Boots. He then generously donated one of the images for the label. And using her vast resources in the business, she sourced some top quality wine that is often declassified and sold off as bulk. This is often done merely because the wine does not “fit the program” or the marketing plan. She chose the finest barrels to bottle and it became Ground Boots. She has now also created a new title for Ground Boots which is Charitable Negociant.

Label

Now that she is experiencing the magic that being driven by purpose creates, she has decided to dream really big. This is not a one-time charitable donation for Deborah and Ground Boots. Her goal is to work hard and to grow her love for animals into the “Tom’s” of the wine world! In fact, Deborah has taken her altruism even a step further. She flew to Thailand to personally vet Soi Dog Foundation. Over the course of two weeks, she journeyed into small villages and assisted in the set-up of mobile spay and neuter clinics. This allowed the local “dog catchers” to visit the local temples and to bring stray and injured dogs and cats in for treatment. She also went through the heartbreak of visiting Wat Saun Kaew in Bangkok. This shelter is known as the worst dog shelter in the world. Deborah met and spent time with the founders of Soi Dog – John and Gill Dalley. They poured over maps of the northeastern districts of Thailand and educated her on the vicious underbelly of the dog meat industry. Seeing what an incredible group this was and what radical changes they were making, she made Soi Dog Foundation her first non-profit partner!

The hardworking Soi Dog Foundation team!
The hardworking Soi Dog Foundation team!

But it gets even better! Deborah will be returning to Thailand this summer with a journalist and videographer. She will not only be presenting Soi Dog with the funds she raised but she will head back into the trenches and will be working hand and hand with Soi Dog. She will once again return to the Wat Saun Kaew shelter in Bangkok. She will also journey to the Buriram District of Thailand to spend time with the rescued dogs and she will be a part of the undercover investigations of the northeastern Thailand dog meat trade. Her mission is to share all of this live via social media and Livestream! What an amazing woman helping others do amazing good!

Now onto the important stuff…the wine! The first bottling was a 2012 Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, using earth friendly bottles. 100 cases were bottled and are available for just $70.00 a bottle. Click this link now to reserve your wine today! This will be the most loving and fulfilling wine, you have ever purchased!

Ground Boots bottling team!
Ground Boots bottling team!

Thank you for letting me share this amazing story and Deborah’s beautiful journey to help the voiceless dogs and cats of Thailand. And as always…eat, drink and be vegan!

****To all of my vegan friends, I have not confirmed that the wine is considered vegan-friendly.