Thursday, May 29, 2008

Perfect Picnics

Now that the warm summer afternoons beckon us outdoors, this is the perfect time for a picnic. I am often asked by visitors where a good place to picnic may be, so I have come up with several easy-to-find picnic spots for all those who wish to linger outdoors in wine country.

First, here are a few great spots to grab cheese, olives, salads and wine:

In Napa County-

  • Soda Canyon Store-4006 Silverado Trail, Napa
  • Oakville Grocery- 7856 St. Helena Highway, Oakville
  • Dean and DeLuca- 607 South St. Helena Highway, St. Helena
  • V. Sattui Winery-111 White Lane, St. Helena
  • Sunshine Foods-1115 Main St., St. Helena

In Sonoma County-

  • Sonoma Market-500 West Napa St., Sonoma
  • Fig Pantry-1190 East Napa St., Sonoma
  • Glen Ellen Village Market-13751 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen
  • Carneros Deli- 23001 Arnold Dr., Sonoma

What wine to serve? Look for a refreshing white wine. Sauvignon Blanc is a good choice, as well as Riesling or Chardonnay. Another good option is a Rose, but make sure it is dry and the bottle stays chilled.

Here are a few of our favorite picnic spots:

  • V. Sattui Winery (St. Helena)- By far the most popular picnic spot around Napa, thanks to the indulgent cheese and picnic deli, great wine tasting, and a shaded picnic grounds. But be warned-you may have to fight the crowds. Right off Hwy 29 on White Lane in St. Helena. Wine tasting is $5 per person. No reservations required. Open daily from 9am to 6pm (in the summer).
  • Cuvaison (Calistoga)- Warm hospitality and picnic tables under oak trees. Near the road, but has a nice, casual atmosphere. Tastings start at $10 per person. 4550 Silverado Trail, Calistoga. 707.942.2468. Open daily 10am-5pm.
  • Clos Du Val (Napa)- Picnic in the Olive Grove and enjoy their French bocce ball courts. Wine tasting is $10 per person, and there is a $5 per person fee to reserve a picnic table. Located off Silverado Trail in the Stags Leap district of Napa. Call 800.993.9463 for reservations. Open 10am-5pm.
  • St. Clement (St. Helena)- Picnic tables set out to enjoy the vineyard views are available and may be reserved, or choose a boxed lunch option for $25. Tasting start at $10. On Hwy 29 on the left just past the Culinary Institute in St. Helena. 2867 St. Helena Hwy (Hwy 29). Reservations suggested- 800.331.8266. Open daily 10am-5pm.
  • Rutherford Hill (Rutherford)- Very scenic picnic grounds amid Live Oaks or 100 year-old olive grove. Rutherford Hill provides gourmet picnic lunch options. To schedule a group picnic call 707.963.1871. Located right off the Silverado Trail in Rutherford at 200 Rutherford Hill Road. Tours & Tasting is $20 per person. Call for tour/tasting times.
  • Lambert Bridge (Healdsburg)- Dry Creek Valley- Enjoy a picnic on teak dining tables in a Mediterranean-style garden with a view of rolling hills. 4085 Dry Creek Rd, Healdsburg. 800.975.0555. Open daily 10am-4:30pm
  • Buena Vista (Sonoma)- This historic landmark has shaded picnic areas, and a gift shop with gourmet foods. Reservations suggested. 707.926.1266. Tasting fees start at $5 per person. 18000 Old Winery Road, Sonoma. Open daily from 10am-5pm.
  • Chateau St. Jean (Kenwood)- This winery has a beautiful courtyard and lush gardens and fountains. You can also purchase gourmet sandwiches, salads and artisan cheeses in the shop. Tours and tastings start at $10 per person. Located right off the Sonoma Highway in Kenwood. No reservations required. Open 10am-5pm daily.

Summer Picnic Recipe

Baby Potato and Haricot Vert Salad
A gourmet potato salad perfect for summer!

2 pounds Baby potatoes

1 cup cherry tomatoes

½ lb. Haricot vert (baby green beans) or fresh green beans

1 small bunch basil, chopped

1 small bunch chives, chopped

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

¼ cup champagne or red wine vinegar

¼ cup olive oil

1 tbsp. Dijon or whole grain mustard

1 tbsp. honey

Salt and pepper to taste

Bring potatoes to boil, add salt, and boil for 15 to 20 minutes until tender but firm. Drain and rinse with cold water and cut in half. Blanch green beans in hot water and cool in ice water bath so they are tender and crunchy. Cut cherry tomatoes in half, and add basil and chives. For dressing, mix balsamic vinegar and red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, olive oil and salt and pepper. Fold dressing in with potatoes. Combine tomatoes and green beans with potatoes and dressing, and top with goat cheese. Serves 6.

By Chef Emily Buller

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Drinking Green

In the past, organic wines have had a spotty reputation for quality. For a winery to label themselves as organic, meant that they did not use sulfites in their wines. Sulfites are added to wine to protect the wine against oxygen, creating more stability in the wine and allowing it to age longer. Wines that do not include sulfites have a reputation for quickly losing some of their fruit character and not aging well.

With a strong consumer focus on all things green these days, many wineries are now touting sustainable or biodynamic farming methods in addition to organic. These methods have long been employed by growers and winemakers to enhance the quality and terroir of their wines. Now wine drinkers are starting to get on board and seek out wines that are made from sustainable, organic and biodynamic grapes.

So what exactly is the difference between each of these practices and how do they impact the flavor and quality of wine?

Sustainable winegrowing is the most ambiguous of the green designations but it is also the most widely promoted method in grape growing. The purpose is to reduce water and energy use, minimize pesticide use and utilize practices that protect the soil, air and water. There are no national certification programs for sustainable farming, but you can find some regional certifications on your wine labels.

Taking sustainable farming a step further, organic grapes must be certified organic and in California this is done by the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). For grapes to be considered organically grown, no conventional pesticides, synthetically compounded fertilizer or growth regulator may be used, with a focus on maintaining healthy soil.

The CCOF works with the US Department of Agriculture when it comes to labeling a wine as organic. A wine may only be labeled as organic if it does not contain sulfites, however if a winery uses sulfites but the wine is made from certified organic fruit, the label may read, “made with organic grapes”. Given the wide debate on sulfites mentioned before, many consumers are looking for wines that are made with organically certified grapes, but that may still contain sulfites.

Now biodynamic farming methods are also starting to go mainstream. Biodynamic farming goes much farther than sustainable or organic farming and looks at the farming system as a whole, including the soil, the people that tend to the vineyard, the plants, and the animals that are part of the ecosystem. Thus, it is a holistic approach to winegrowing. Many winemakers who practice biodynamic farming also believe the result is stronger and more vibrant wines. Biodynamic farms are certified by the Demeter Association.

No matter what method of green farming is being employed, most winemakers and growers will agree that green farming techniques improve the quality of the wine and provide a long lasting benefit to the environment. That’s something we can all raise a glass to!

Our Favorite Green Wines

Patianna 2006 Sauvignon Blanc (Biodynamic)
Patti Fetzer, of the pioneering Fetzer family, produces wine from a 126-acre estate on the Russian River in Mendocino County. Her Sauvignon Blanc is a crisp, dry and balanced wine with great flavors of citrus, melon and pear. A great summer wine!

Frog’s Leap 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa (Organic)
Frog’s Leap has been farming organically since 1988. We recommend their 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon blended with a bit of Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

Ridge 2005 Lytton Springs Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley (Sustainable)
An elegant, full-bodied zinfandel blended with Petite Sirah and Carignane from Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley. The grapes are not certified organic but Ridge employs sustainable farming methods.

Written by Linzi

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Pizza Night

Friday is pizza night around my house. We make our dough from scratch and throw on whatever we picked up at the local Farmer’s Market that morning. Sometimes it’s just a low key dinner and other times we invite our friends over to make their own unique concoctions. With summer coming, the pizza usually ends up getting cooked on the grill. Pizza is such a social food and can be topped with endless varieties of fresh veggies, cheeses, meats and sauces, that there is always something to please even the pickiest of eaters.

My current favorite pizza dough recipe is from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (one of my top 10 favorite books of the year). Make the dough, let it rise, roll it out, top with your favorite toppings and throw in the oven or on the grill.

A few of our favorite topping combinations…

Asparagus, Ricotta and Lemon Zest

Fresh Mozzarella, Kalamata Olives, Fresh Basil and Tomato Sauce

Carmelized Onions, Blue Cheese and Fresh Thyme

What wine to pair with pizza? For most pizza combinations made with a rich tomato sauce, go for a red wine with lower acid levels to balance the acid in the tomato sauce. We recommend a medium-bodied Zinfandel or Syrah. A lighter pizza such as the asparagus and ricotta combination would also pair nicely with a crisp, unoaked Chardonnay. For almost any pizza combination, you'll usually find The Climber Red Wine from Clif Bar Family Winery on our table, a jammy blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet, Merlot and Petite Sirah that is loaded with fruit and really well balanced.

Pizza Dough:

3 tsp yeast

1 tsp salt

1 ½ cups warm water

2 ½ cups white flour

2 cups whole wheat flour

3 Tbs Olive Oil

Dissolve the yeast into the warm water and add oil and salt. Mix the flours and knead them into the liquid mixture. Let the dough rise for 30-40 minutes.

Written by Linzi

Monday, May 5, 2008

Women in Wine

This past weekend, I attended the second annual Women for WineSense Grand Event, Celebrating Women in Wine, at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena. The event provided an educational and entertaining opportunity for women to connect with others who share their passion for wine.

The weekend festivities were kicked off with a lively food and wine reception at Paraduxx Winery, which set the stage for the weekend events to come.

On Saturday there were many educational seminars to choose from. Speakers lectured on organic vineyard practices, sensory evaluations, and food and wine pairings taught by a sommelier and a master chef.

The Symphony of Wine class discussed how music-from classical to jazz-can actually affect the sensory evaluation of wine.

The educational portion of the day was followed by a delicious buffet prepared by the chefs at the CIA, and accompanied by fine wine and toasts to new women “rising stars” in the wine industry.

Southern California wine marketer Julie Brosterman who founded Women & Wine was the first to receive a rising star award.

“This is my first recognition from my peer group, and it means a lot,” Brosterman said, “It’s really about connecting with old friends, and feeling like you are a part of the community.”

Other Rising Star recipients included Vanessa Wong, a winemaker from Sonoma who makes world-class, single-vineyard wines, and winemaker Whitney Fisher from Fisher Vineyards who is working on her tenth vintage.

Susan Sokol Blosser, President of Sokol Blosser Winery in Oregon, received a lifetime achievement award for her pioneering spirit of planting vines in a place that previously had no wine industry. She is recognized as playing a large part in shaping Oregon’s wine industry, and has written the book, At Home in the Vineyard.

Dawnine Dyer, a California winemaker and a founding board member of Women for WineSense, was one of the speakers at the event. Dyer said the event was an opportunity to reflect on what women have accomplished, and added, “The energy here is good.”

She believes that the door is open for women in the wine business, with plenty of good opportunities in the future.

Women taking leadership roles in the wine business do not always have it easy, Dyer says. “The goal, and difficult aspect of this job is to achieve is a balance between family and your work—and it is hard to achieve.”

The day commenced with a grand tasting on the terrace of the CIA, where fellow wine enthusiasts were able to taste wines made by women in leadership roles. They were also able to connect with others, and reflect upon the day.

“It is incredible—sometimes you feel alone, and there are not a lot of women in this profession, so the only resources you have is something like this,” stated Sommlier Barbara Paige who is the Director of Hospitality and Marketing for Caldwell Vineyards in Napa.

“It is also good to have different perspectives on what people are thinking and doing in the wine business,” added Albacela Winery Vice President Hilda Jones.

Wineries from all over the valley opened their doors the following Sunday with behind the scenes tours at wineries. Spring Mountain, Quixote, Paloma, Palmaz, Swanson, St. Supery, EMH and Schweiger Vineyards all participated in tours and exclusive wine tasting.

Deborah Brenner, author of Women of the Vine summed up the weekends festivities by saying, “What I’ve learned is that you can do what you want to if you are passionate about it and believe in it…but it does take patience.”

Brenner insists, “Everyone should spend time with all these wonderful women in wine.”

Written by Karen

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Feeling Tipsy

Although I have done my time working in the hospitality industry, I think my tipping knowledge might have gotten a little bit rusty over the years. I know how to tip at dinner, but what about the spa or the valet, and do I really have to tip the doorman?

On a recent trip to the Hotel Coronado in San Diego, I was confronted by my cheap, inner scrooge. With outstanding service lurking behind every corner, I became bewildered (and, I admit, a bit obsessed) with the question of who and what to tip.

CNN Money recently provided a solution in the form of a guide by the Emily Post Institute on what are the customary gratuities for various services.

Let’s first assume you are going on short weekend trip to a resort. One of the things that you wish to do is visit the salon or spa. When you pay the bill on your $150 hair cut, don’t forget about the additional 15%-20% that is now the acceptable tip. Oh, yes, and the shampooer gets a $2 tip too. And your newly manicured nails and relaxing massage will also cost you an additional 15%-20%.

Fully coiffed and dressed for an elegant dinner out, you and your date attend a nice restaurant. A $5 tip is suggested for reservations made by the hotel concierge who made the dinner reservation for you.

Before you eat, you stop by the restroom to wash your hands, and a smiling lady hands you a towel. You hope that she is just a friendly patron until you spot the tip jar on the counter, and you drop another dollar.

Your food server expects to receive at least 15% of the bill, excluding tax for adequate service, and 20% for very good service. The sommelier who opened that bottle of wine for you, I am told, should also receive 15%. So you knew that already? Well, what about that bar you stop by later that night? Post tells us a bar tab tip should run between 15% to 20% of the tab, with a minimum of 50 cents per soft drink, and a $1 minimum per alcoholic drink.

Later that evening when you pick up your coat at the entrance, don’t forget to tip the coatroom attendant who also expects $1 per coat.

Before you check out early the morning, don’t forget to tip your housekeeper $1-$5 per night, and the parking attendant $2 to bring your car to you. The bellhop wheels your luggage behind you and also expects $1 per bag.

Is your head starting to spin?

Now after you drop off your car at the rental station, you will probably need a Taxi to take you to the airport. Above the cost of the Taxi, an additional 15% is standard, with an additional $1-$2 if he assists you with your luggage.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted, broke, and thinking about staying home next time…Nah

Written by Karen

Friday, May 2, 2008

Backroad Wineries of the Napa Valley

With summer around the corner, driving up Napa Valley’s Highway 29 can feel like a traffic jam of Los Angeles proportions. While no one will argue that Highway 29 boasts some of the world’s most remarkable wineries, you may find yourself yearning for some peace and quiet. Here are a couple of my favorite off-the-beaten path wineries in the Howell Mountain district.

Bremer Family Winery
975 Deer Park Road
This beautiful stone winery was originally built in 1891 overlooking Deer Creek on the slopes of Howell Mountain. Now the Bremers, along with winemaker Bob Bolan, make beautiful Howell Mountain wines including a Bordeaux blend they call Austintatious, named for their son Austin. Taste wine in the intimate tasting room or under big oak trees by the creek. And don’t forget to say hi to Crackers and Laddy Lu, the two dogs that live on the winery property. Call ahead to make an appointment. Beating the Tra
ffic: The best way to get to Deer Park from Napa is to head North on the Silverado Trail and take a right on Deer Park Road.

Ladera Vineyards
150 White Cottage Road S
Continue up Howell Mountain and you will reach Ladera. An even older stone winery – built in 1886 - sits on this historic property surrounded by vineyards that trace back to 1877. Owners, Pat and Anne Stotesbery, left a ranch in Montana for the Napa Valley and have been making – along with winemaker Karen Culler – cabernet from Howell Mountain and Lone Canyon ever since. Tours by appointment only. Beating the Traffic: From Bremer Family Winery, continue up Deer Park Road and make a left on White Cottage.

Written by Linzi