Daytripping Mendocino County: Heirloom Apples and Warm-Weather Wines

Philo's Finest: Gravenstein Apples.

Philo’s Finest: Gravenstein Apples.

The end of Labor Day Weekend is a milestone that I anticipate every year. For one thing, it’s the last three-day weekend of the season, which is fine by me, since I don’t have normal weekends off anyway. Unlike most people in America, I derive zero joy from the almighty three-day weekend. Monday holidays make restaurant work extra difficult, as Saturday and Sunday essentially become back-to-back Saturdays (already the most difficult day of the week), and an otherwise benign Monday is subsequently transformed into a Sunday (the second-most difficult day of the week). But that’s just the perspective of a line cook, although I do admit, there’s an inherent satisfaction in pushing out an insane amount of covers over a three-day span, at least every once in a while.

Beyond my own professional gripes, the end of Labor Day also means something more important: [… read more …]

Eating Well: Slow Food Napa Valley’s Potluck Brunch @ Ehlers Estate Winery, St. Helena

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The dining area outside Ehlers Estate.

Slow Food Napa Valley hosted a pig roast and potluck on Sunday, September 11th, in conjunction with Ehlers Estate in St. Helena. The following photos highlight the event, which provided a forum for SFNV members to discuss the future of SFNV, and how they can help to increase interest and awareness of the Slow Food movement. Naturally, the brunch was amazing. Please click on any photo for a full-screen view.

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Pig cracklins, up close.

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CIA instructor Patrick Clark carves the Mulefoot Hog, which was provided by Michael Fradelizio of the Silverado Brewing Company and Beer Belly Farms.

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Michael Fradelizio (left) and Patrick Clark (right) remove the pig from the Caja China roasting box. A hungry crowd gathers.

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A [… read more …]

Photo Purge: Scenes from the California Bay Area and Beyond

Gateway Market, Emeryville: Adorned with a fantastic mural alongside its parking lot, the Gateway Market is tough to miss on San Pablo Blvd. The artwork has a definite graffiti vibe, but the details are fantastic. Luckily, it hasn't been tagged over. The "W" in Gateway is pictured above (each letter has its own theme). Click on the photo to reveal all of the great flourishes.

Most of these pictures have never appeared on this site, although a couple did appear a few years ago, long before I sharpened my photo-editing skills. Many readers have emailed me about my approach to photography, and I must confess, my only real secret is to simply seek the best lighting possible. Truthfully, I’ve never had any formal photography training, but I did develop an eye for proper lighting while I was working (briefly, almost 15 years ago) as a grip in Los [… read more …]

Reviewing Napa’s Michelin Star Contenders for 2011: Ubuntu Restaurant, Downtown Napa

These days, when a rising-star chef leaves any given restaurant, it has the potential to become news. Here in the Bay Area, we’ve seen this phenomenon recently with Nate Appleman exiting SPQR and with Jeremy Fox leaving Ubuntu. For the guests who have come to appreciate these restaurants, the departure of an executive chef can introduce many question marks, and quite possibly, a large degree of doubt. It all makes perfect sense, of course, since today’s professional chefs now have true rock-star potential. When David Lee Roth left Van Halen, it was certainly an issue for the band’s early followers, and when it turned out that Sammy Hagar couldn’t fill Roth’s shoes (or his spandex leotard), some Van Halen fans became bitter at the situation. In the restaurant business, creativity trades at the same premium, which is why professional chefs can now garner such a cult following among diners. [… read more …]

Wine Tasting Notes: Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Napa Valley

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I’ve covered so much about food lately that I haven’t been keeping up with my wine tasting notes. The best wines that I’ve tasted recently were some older vintages of Chappellet Cab, but I’ll try to address those in the future. For the sake of staying a little more relevant to the here and the now, I do have a few notes from my recent tasting at Joseph Phelps Vineyards. I’ll cut to the chase and discuss the 2006 Insignia ($200) the winery’s flagship bottling, and a wine that has developed a loyal following over the years. Recent buzz is that Robert Parker has already anointed the 2007 Insignia with a score of 97-100 (based upon a barrel sample). We’ll see. The 2007 Insignia goes retail later this summer. As for the 2006 Insignia, I found it as underwhelming as I found the 2005 before it. Perhaps it’s just [… read more …]

Wine Tasting Notes: Santa Ynez Valley, CA

The tasting area behind Demetria Estate offers the shade of oak trees and a view of the Santa Ynez Valley.

Before my trip to the Santa Ynez Valley becomes too much of a distant memory, I wanted to recount the wineries that I had visited a couple of weeks ago. But before I delve into the specifics, I have to say that I was surprised by the pricing structure at many of these places. In short, I found that many wineries now command prices very similar to those of Sonoma County, especially in terms of the Pinot Noir. Certainly, the 2004 movie “Sideways” has had a heavy hand in this pricing, and perhaps the posh beach communities that lie south of Santa Ynez are also providing recession-proof demand for the local juice. Even so, I expected to encounter a few more Mendocino-like bargains along the way.

In all [… read more …]

Wine Tasting Notes: Ehlers Estate, St. Helena

The BioDynamic vineyard at Ehlers Estate comprises 43 acres in total. In ordeer to help amend the soil for springtime, rows of yellows mustard alternate with "super-green" rows of fava beans, vetch and other plants.

The BioDynamic vineyard at Ehlers Estate comprises 43 acres in total. In order to help amend the soil for the upcoming season, rows of vibrant yellow mustard alternate with verdant rows of grasses, fava beans and vetch. With rain subsiding, these same cover crops will assume a monotone shade of golden brown over the next month or so.

In some ways, it’s almost embarrassing to heap lavish praise onto my favorite Napa wineries. I often feel as though I might be coming across as some sort of Napa Valley rah-rah, gushing with unbridled hyperbole, as if I were posting on Yelp. As far as I’m concerned, Yelp represents the absolute lowest of the low in online content. In fact, I resent Yelp much more than I’ve ever resented the Wine Spectator. At least the Wine Spectator — with its hopeless predictability and its overblown influence — still manages [… read more …]

Winemaker Q&A: Matt Taylor of Araujo Estate and Taylor Cellars

Matt Taylor is not only Araujo's vineyard manager and winemaker, but he's also the estate beekeeper. For some reason, I'd always assumed that bee hives needed to be white by default, but Araujo's hives feature a terrific shade of pistachio. They reminded me of little droids lurking among the olive trees, standing guard over the nearby chicken coop.

With the harvest of 2009 quickly winding down, I’ve made this winter my time to catch up with a few winemakers. Among the folks I most wanted to meet, Matt Taylor certainly topped my list, not only as the winemaker for the cult-favorite Araujo Estate, but also as a BioDynamic vineyard manager and the proprietor of a brand new Pinot Noir label. This week, I ventured up to Calistoga to meet with Matt, to barrel sample some Aurajo wines, and to tour the legendary Eisele Vineyard. Needless to say, my [… read more …]

Day Tripping the North Coast: Mendocino and Sonoma in Photos

Vineyard in repose, Mendocino County.

You can say what you want about Napa. I happen to live there. But for me, Mendocino County is Northern California’s true paradise. I spent the better part of the day in the Anderson Valley today, driving past dozens of miles of vineyards that have all slipped into fall colors. All of Mendocino County looked like the photo above, at least along the winding curves of Highway 128. Outside of wine country, the landscape is dominated by moss, ferns, redwoods and oaks. In the winter, every shade of green is on display.

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Late-harvest Zin…

…or a fruitless vintage?

I noticed one vineyard, located just inside the eastern edge of Sonoma County, that still had its grapes. It looked like a Zinfandel vineyard, and I wondered if it was designated for a late harvest, or if the [… read more …]

Book Review: “BioDynamic Wine, Demystified” by Nicolas Joly

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As the former employee of a BioDynamic winery, I’ve had dozens of opportunities to promote the theories of BioDynamic farming. Unfortunately, the vagaries of BioDynamics are founded upon some very challenging ideas. For this reason, and despite my rhetoric on the subject, I feel that the BioDynamic movement remains largely misunderstood. At worst, BioDynamics is labeled as mere superstition. And while this dismissal is entirely unfair, I will admit that the underlying principles of BioDynamics are indeed strange and esoteric. I will also admit that, honestly, I don’t even understand many of the theories that surround BioDynamics — some appear intuitive, while others seem outlandish.

With its roots in cosmic energies, BioDynamics must seem like a big step backwards to many, a movement away from the hard realities of scientific fact and investigation. Inevitably, any deep discussion of BioDynamics requires an explanation of such things [… read more …]