25 September 2011

Wine Country – Part Deux

Heirloom tomatoes from Cakebread

Saturday was our unplanned day.  While at the Sunshine Foods market yesterday, we got some provisions for light breakfasts at the double-wide, so we enjoyed Greek yogurt, Costeaux granola, fresh figs and heirloom tomatoes.  The tomatoes get a shout-out here…  At Cakebread Cellars, they have a kitchen from which they cater special events and offer cooking classes.  To supply their kitchen, they grow vegetables and herbs in their organic garden.  Whatever produce they do not use in the kitchen is offered for sale to winery guests in their “honor shed” – a tiny wooden structure with a couple of shelves of veggies and a money basket.  You bag your selections and leave cash in the basket.  For $2.50 we got a basket of 7 perfect heirloom tomatoes.  (Note that only 5 are pictured; 2 were consumed before I could arrange the plate and snap the photo.)

For our free day, Julie and Chris had lunch with some local friends, and Tom and I made a lunch date with the CIA – the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.  Greystone is a huge structure in St. Helena that once housed Christian Brothers Winery.  The CIA bought the facility, converted it into their western campus and opened a “teaching” restaurant.  The kitchen and wait staff are all CIA students, except for a couple of seasoned pros who I guess would be considered faculty.  The restaurant’s patio was shady, breezy and cool, but we opted for a table in the dining room next to the open kitchen so we could watch “the kids” at work.  The restaurant is not-for-profit, so we enjoyed the most generous portions at the most favorable prices of any meal on the trip.  We had a very nice bottle of their namesake chardonnay for $30, which is unheard-of in this part of the world.  After lunch, it was back to the double-wide to link  up with the Richeys for some bocce and zinfandel.

Chris and Tom taste and pose
Mazzocco Winery (home of the double-wide) is owned by the Wilson family (think sporting goods), so we received an invitation to a hoe-down (I don’t make this stuff up.) at their namesake winery for the introduction of their 2011 releases.  Wilson Winery is a couple of miles down the highway.

Tom, Chris and Julie with the pony
In addition to the requisite wine sampling, festivities included games, line dance lessons, hors d’eouvres (which were awfully gourmet for a hoe-down) and a pitiful little petting pony trapped in a pen that was too small for him to even turn around in.  They also served a full dinner, with a pig on the spit, all the trimmings and a huge dessert buffet, all paired with Wilson’s just-released reserve wines.  I would guess there were 100-150 guests, and everything was complimentary.  So I’ll have to amend my previous comment about prices at The Greystone.  But wait!  There’s more!

One of the games was a bean-bag toss, only modified appropriately to be a cork toss.  You toss a cork in one of the various size holes to win a prize commensurate with the size of the hole.  Three of the four of us each won a bottle of Wilson’s 2009 zinfandel.  (Sorry, Chris.  I know the pressure was on.)  More trivia:  Remember the soccer ball from “Castaway” with Tom Hanks?  It was displayed behind the bar in their tasting room.

Picnic lunch at deLormier Winery
Sunday was our escorted tour of several other Wilson family wineries, covering Sonoma and Mendocino counties and highlighted by a picnic lunch at DeLormier Winery.  The four of us were joined by Julie’s friend from Santa Rosa, a fellow mosaicist, and her husband.  The tour lasted about 7 hours, and was capped with a full tasting at Mazzocco.  For dinner, we drove into Healdsburg and had a very low-key meal at a local hamburger hang-out.

The final tasting at Mazzocco Winery
Monday was going-home day, but our festivities were not over, yet.  We were invited to the Richmond home and studio of friend and artist, John Wehrle (www.troutinhand.com).  So on our return trip to SFO, we detoured through Richmond for art, conversation and Thai food.  Final trivia:  There are very few gas stations along the 101 anywhere close to SFO.  We had to back-track to gas up the Jeep before surrendering it there.

Back in the reality of Dallas, I now anticipate the next big event – the South Cobb High School class of ’81 thirty-year reunion.  Yikes.  Stay tuned...

14 September 2011

Wine Country - Part 1

Our Deck View from the Double-Wide

What could be prettier than tasting America’s finest wines in their native region with friends?  Doing so a week before the harvest (or “the crush” as some call it), when the vines are loaded with the sweet red berries that will become some of the world’s premier wines over the next few months.  I got to do just that this past weekend at a variety of spots in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties in northern California.

Our trip began early Thursday morning.  We arrived at SFO just in time for lunch, and as we headed north toward winedom, we stopped at Fish in Sausolito for a bite.  Fish is an organic seafood (DUH!) restaurant focusing on sustainable fishing practices.  The setting is picnic table casual, but with the patio overlooking the bay, who cares?!

From there, it was north to Caymus Winery for our first formal tasting.  It was more entertaining than educational, and the wines did not compel any in our group of four to make a purchase.  Of course, there was plenty of profit for them in the $30 (each!) tasting fee.  From there, we headed to Healdsburg and Mazzocco Winery, not for the tasting, yet, but because their guest house was our accommodation for the extended long weekend.

“Guest House” is their euphemism for what we in the south would call a double-wide.  No kidding.  Granted, the setting was beautiful, with the winery on one side, and vineyards & a runway on the other.  Thankfully, the runway was the Healdsburg regional landing strip about 200 yards away and only had to handle about four small plane take-offs and landings each day.  The deck affixed to the double-wide was great – long and wide, with a panoramic view of the Mazzocco grape fields and said runway.  They did a nice job with floral plantings around the double-wide, and on one end we had a bocce court and a horseshoe pit.  But it’s still a double-wide.  To their credit, the nightly rate for four of us in the very large double-wide (with kitchen, 3 bedrooms and 2 baths) was a fraction of what a pair of hotel rooms in the region would have been.  And the scenery (looking away from the double-wide) was great.  Added bonus:  We had two bottles of Mazzocco’s reserve wines awaiting us when we arrived.

Thursday’s dinner was at The Farmhouse, a small restaurant attached to an ultra-lux inn in Forestville.  The food and service were predictably excellent and predictably expensive.  Then it was back the dark winding road to the double-wide.

Per a recommendation from one of our hosts at Mazzocco, Friday breakfast was at Costeaux Bakery in downtown Healdsburg.  The omelets and coffee were great.  Thankfully, it was pretty early in the morning, so the bakery case stocked with sweet pastries and tartlets was easier to resist.

Stacks of Barrels at Cakebread
Our first stop after breakfast was a tour and tasting at Cakebread Cellars in Rutheford.  This was an hour walk-and-talk through their vineyards and winery, followed by a half-hour tasting of several of their products that are not widely distributed (if at all).  Our guide, Summer, was interesting and entertaining, and she had the product in the tasting room to back up the typically over-descriptive wine-speak.  “Heavy on the nose.”  “Fruit-forward.”  “Hits the middle of the palate.”  Shut up already!  Do I like it or not?  Interesting bit of trivia:  Cakebread is a family name, and the founder used to run a garage in Oakland.

From Cakebread, it was off to Yountville (“YONT-ville”) and lunch at Bouchon.  Bouchon is the little sister of the famed French Laundry, so we decided to call it “The Laundrette”.  They serve French fare at French prices with French service (respectively, excellent, high, and slow by American standards).

Quixote Winery by Hundertwasser
Our afternoon tour-n-taste was at Quixote Winery.  Quixote is a boutique winemaker with very limited distribution.  They are as famous for their Hundertwasser-designed structure as they are for their superb screw-cap wines.  Even the wine barrels are fun here, with colorfully striped steel bands binding the oak planks into place.

Colorful Barrels at Quixote
On our drive back to the double-wide, we stopped at Sunshine Foods in St. Helena and picked up stuff for a simple, quiet dinner at “home”.  Sunshine is proud of their products (expensive!), but the quality of their organic locally-sourced foods is indisputable.  Paired with some excellent Mazzocco reds, our double-wide dinner was delightful.

Tomorrow is Saturday, our planned no-plans day…