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!

September 3

Mason Cellars vegan wine

Jon at Mason Cellars
Jon at Mason Cellars

I’ve lived in Napa, CA for almost three years and have to admit that before this magical city became my home I didn’t really have much of an appreciation for wine. When I was younger, I loved my beer and as I got older I always preferred a red apple vodka martini or two. It didn’t help that I chose my grocery store wine based on how much I liked the label! That’s how everyone chooses a good wine, right?! Wrong! Just ask any of the 4.5 million people who visit our over 500 wineries in Napa Valley annually!

As I began to visit different wineries and enjoy tasting the many different varietals – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Sauvignon Blanc being my favorites, I really began to have a much greater appreciation for wine and finally understood what the big deal was all about! As I became more interested in wine tasting, it became very important to me to be sure that what I was drinking was vegan. Turns out that many of the wines I loved were not animal friendly at all. Part of the winemaking process includes a  “fining” process. To a lay person like you and me basically a fining agent is added to the wine and it attracts grape particles, dead yeast cells and can even remove some tannins to make the wine more drinkable. All of that seemed reasonable enough to me until I found out that many of the fining agents used include blood powder, casein (milk protein), egg whites, isinglass (fish bladders) and gelatin. But do not despair, the great news is that there are vegan fining agents available for winemakers to use – carbon, bentonite clay, limestone, kaolin clay, silica gel and plant casein are all good alternatives.

As part of my promise to you to eat, drink and shop my way through Napa Valley, I recently visited Mason Cellars and tasted their incredibly tasty vegan wines. Mason Cellars tasting room is located at 714 First Street near Oxbow Public Market. Their delightfully fruity releases include the citrusy Mason Sauvignon Blanc, the intense grapefruit Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc, the crisp apple Three Pears Pinot Grigio, seasonal berry 60 North Merlot and the earthy Mason Cabernet Sauvignon. Just delicious!

Mason Cellars Merlot

Instead of using animal proteins, the winemaker Randy Mason uses bentonite clay to fine his wines. His goal is to create the finest wine possible, make it consumer friendly (we vegans thank him for that!) and price it fairly so everyone can enjoy his passion. With wine ranging from only $10 – $24 a bottle, Randy has made his wine accessible to almost everyone! If you stop by between 11 and 5:30 Thursday – Monday you can also enjoy complimentary wine tastings.

You will also have the pleasure of meeting Jon who is in charge of the tastings. His knowledge of the wines is exceptional and he is very friendly! The tasting room is also very dog friendly.  In fact, if you come in with your four legged family, Jon is going to be sure that you all feel welcome! I also had the opportunity to meet their much loved office dog Cabo. She was rescued by Laura, the office manager and gets to spend her days hanging out at the Mason tasting room.

My favorite work of art!
My favorite work of art!

Randy’s wife Megan is in charge of the design and set-up of the delightful tasting room. Come in and take a look at the local artists showcased while you are sipping wine. I enjoyed all of the pieces but I did have my favorite!

It was really hard to choose a favorite wine but I settled on a bottle of the Merlot and Pinot Grigio to enjoy at home. And I will definitely be back for more!

To enjoy at home!
To enjoy at home!

On Tuesday, September 16th at 6 p.m. PST I invite you to join me on Tout Suite’s live program. Napa Valley Vegan will be featured on this episode. I will be discussing my vegan adventures through Napa Valley and will be preparing Butler’s BBQ soy curls and pairing it with Mason Cellars vegan wines. If you would like to be a part of the live audience or join us from the comfort of your own computer click this link to register! I would love to see you there!

 http://toutsuite.com/events/living-vegan-napa-valley