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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Small and Large Wineries Along The Wine Road in Sonoma

The Wine Road in Sonoma is not on any maps but rather a collective of over 150 wineries and 50 places to stay in the wine country. When they invited us to a blogger's retreat there in May I had no idea of what was in store for us. One of the biggest surprises for me was the wide range of wineries we visited that were all part of the Wine Road group. We visited a husband and wife winery all the way up to the famous Kendall-Jackson Estate and many others in between.

From the cover of Sonoma County Vol. 2 - Photos by Robert Janover

Our tour of Northern Sonoma included the three appellations or regions of Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley. The smallest of the wineries we visited was the Russian River Valley husband and wife run Lauterbach Cellars. Pictured here is Dr. Stewart Lauterbach who is truly the CEO, chief cook and bottle washer. Winemaking just doesn't get any more grass roots than at Lauterbach with Stew and his wife, Barbara, having their hands on literally every step from soil to foil.

We were mesmerized listening to Stew's candid and unassuming tales of making wine at this hand crafted level. This photo below is the bulk of his entire one room operation.

Stew fields questions from a barrage of bloggers.

Lauterbach Cellars specializes in Russian River Valley Syrah and Pinot Noir.

For "dessert" we were also treated to Stew's 2008 Syrah Dessert Wine or late harvest Port as it is sometimes known.

Our thanks to Stew Lauterbach for the most up close and personal experience at this little winery. Generally, up to 5,000 cases a year is considered the "Boutique" level of winemaking. Lauterbach Cellars only produce about 400 cases a year so you need to get it before they sell out. By the way tasting hours are by appointment only so don't just drop by but please do let them know you are coming. Stew and his crew of family and friends even do their own bottling/corking/foiling because mobile services normally have a 500 case minimum. Congratulations to the Lauterbachs for putting so much care into their craft.

Every winery we visited seemed to have a uniqueness to it. One of my favorites of the entire trip was the highly environmentally conscious Quivira Vineyards and Winery.

Quivira was founded originally in 1981 by Holly and Henry Wendt who began restoring Wine Creek which runs along and through their property. The creek is crucial to fish spawning and the Wendt's concern for this important conservation project has been kept alive by current owners Pete and Terri Kight who bought Quivira in 2006.

The Wine Creek at Quivira Vineyards and Winery

Quivira takes the now commonly used term of "Green" to a whole new level. They are certified as biodynamic farming which is a spritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture, food production and nutrition. Biodynamic farming creates a diversified ecosystem that strives to generate as much fertility as possible from within the farm itself. I have never seen a winery with so many different crops growing at it. Many of these crops are grown in raised gardens. The yield from these plants provide food for events at the winery as well as sources for local restaurants. As more than just a casual home chef I could really appreciate the variety and size of these plant gardens.

Plants are not the only thing raised here that contributes to the diverse ecosystem.

Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention they make wine at Quivira too. :) We enjoyed their 2011 Rosé which was dry, refreshing and a perfect warm weather wine.

Diversity was the theme at Quivira and also of our agenda. Our final destination was the very established and more formal Kendall-Jackson Estate and Gardens Like many others I am quite familiar with the Kendall-Jackson brand but I had never seen their facility which was full of great surprises.

Meticulously manicured grounds greet you upon arrival at Kendall-Jackson Estate

K-J wasted no time getting the hospitality going as were immediately served a glass of their new Chardonnay called AVANT which was introduced early last year. Our welcome began in a gazebo right in the heart of their vineyards.

The first surprise was the massive gardens that serve multiple functions. They supply food for their food and wine pairings as well as cover crops to attract the beneficial insects and birds thus avoiding the need to use pesticides. Part of these gardens were designed by the world renowned horticulturist, Adrian Bloom, for Kendall-Jackson in 2002. What an appropriate name for a plant person.

The foodie in me was once again in awe of four special gardens one each for French, Italian, Latin/South American and Asian cuisines. Can you imagine just stepping outside to pick the fresh herbs you needed for cooking in any of these styles! And speaking of food we we treated to an incredible food pairing right in the heart of what they call their "Interactive Wine Sensory Gardens." It is also more affectionately known as their "Scratch and Sniff Garden" because they encourage visitors to touch the plants, grab a leaf and take in all of the wonderful senses that fresh produce offers. Surprise number three was the incredible food pairing that awaited us. They really walk the walk at Kendall-Jackson when it comes to food. This table is surrounded by the same gardens that yield the foods you enjoy paired with their wines so it just doesn't get any closer to farm-to-table dining that this. The best news is that Kendall-Jackson makes these pairings available to anyone with just a little advanced notice. Every thing you need to know about these food and wine pairings can be found just by clicking here.

Al Fresco Dining in the middle of Kendall-Jackson Gardens for superb wine and food pairing
So what surprises were on our menu? Here are just a few close up shots of our food and wine pairing.

Stone Ground Grits from Old Mill of Guilford and Micro Greens
paired with 2006 Highland Estates Trace Ride Cabernet Sauvignon
Tofu Slider with thinly sliced cucumbers and Syrah BBQ Sauce
paired with 2006 Highland Estates Alisos Hills Syrah
Mushroom Arincini with Scottocenere Truffle Cheese and Pinot Noir
paired with 2007 Highland Estates Seco Highlands Pinot Noir
Kendall-Jackson turned out to be nothing but delightful surprises including my favorite one of our entire retreat. Turns out their Estate Manager is a long lost friend of mine from her days at San Jose Red Lion Inn. I had not seen Robin in over twenty years and our reunion could not have taken place at a more inviting setting. Thanks to Robin and everyone else at Kendall-Jackson for the warm welcome and incredible hospitality.

For more information about Kendall-Jackson contact Estate Manager Robin Calkins  

July Excursion: 20th Annual Catalan Festival in Sonoma

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Catalan Festival and I was quick to accept Stacie's invitation to see it first hand. This annual event has become a tradition put on by the Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards in Sonoma, California.

First a bit of history on Catalonia. Spain was once a series of several autonomous kingdoms among them Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia and Castilla. Each of these kingdoms had their own language, culture, heritage and royalty. Over time conquests and marriages melded the kingdoms into the country of Spain although the regions still have their unique personalities. Catalonia is home to Barcelona and is the most urban of the regions. It is often called "Paris with palm trees." Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards has strong ties to Catalonia and was visited by their president upon opening in 1986.

This plaque proudly sits at the entrance to Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards
You can't get very far into the Catalan Festival before you are greeted by royalty. These huge statues loom overhead at about twenty feet tall and then even come to life with a march around the grounds. I found the king to be a bit scary with his ominous stare but the queen was actually quite a lady in spite of her size.

Giant Royalty Oversees The Catalan Festival
This trip was my very first ever to the Catalan Festival and here is my must see wish list based on the schedule of events we had seen on-line.

1. Cooking Demonstration by Paella Guy, Chef Jose Castaneda

2. Flemenco Dance Show by Sol Flamenco Dance Troupe

3. Grape Stomp Competition

4. Eat. Eat. Eat. Spanish foods and cheeses

We wasted no time running directly into that Paella Guy, Chef Jose Castaneda, because he had his gigantic paella pans fired up right at the start of the festival and directly in the middle of the main courtyard area. Just check out the colors and textures of this mass of goodness that greeted our eyes and noses. Like so many other parts of this vibrant culture you just cannot miss the flavor sensory overload of this classic one pan wonder of Spain driven by saffron and smokey paprika.

Totally Top Drawer Paella brought to you by Paella Guy
Chef Jose Castenada, aka Paella Guy
So how does he do it? Here is the play-by-play. Chef Castenada was very forthcoming with tips and secrets to making this one pan meal.

Onions saute kicked things off first

Up Next: Garlic
Chicken Onboard
Here comes the spicy Spanish Chorizo!
Jose's special seasoning sauces
In goes most of a bottle of dry white wine but with some held back for the chef
Rich stock for cooking the rice
Chef Jose carefully adds the rice in a spreading motion so it does not clump
A surprise pineapple garnishes the center and in comes all kinds of shellfish
Everybody's into the pool for a nice simmering and flavor meld
No doubt that Chef Jose makes this look a lot easier than it is. His collection of paella pans is extensive but the ones he was using are his favorite size. They serve up to 50 people and he brings everything needed to your party including bread, salad and flan for dessert. I highly recommend this unique type of catering to put a unique spin on an event. As we enjoyed the fruits (and veggies) of his labor we heard the Flamenco dancers warming up at the main stage right around the corner. No doubt this music and dancing is some of the most spirited you'll find anywhere. Backed by two guitarist the three lady dancers kept the crowd mesmerized with their seemingly endless energy.

Sol Flamenco Dance Troupe

Next up was the Grape Stomp Competition and we met our instant favorite well before the first round even started. His name was David Latour from Canada. Dave stood out in a very crowded field with his outgoing personality and infectious smile.

Meet Crazy Dave Latour - A Canadian Grape Stomping Fool

David stomps away with a little help from his wife
The Thrill of Victory!
Our next stop was a complete surprise as we stumbled upon a unique way to open a bottle of champagne or sparkling wine. We met Sam Simone who was one of the many very passionate people who was working at the festival. Sam was demonstrating the Sciabola del Sommelier which is a saber that looks very much like one you would see a soldier or pirate use. However, in the wine world it is a very festive way to crack open a bottle of your favorite bubbly.

A unique and very flashy champagne bottle opener - $150.00
Sam was very proud of his saber skills and he graciously posed for us with his favorite tool.

Sam Simone poised and ready to launch a cork
Mission Control: We Have Liftoff!!!
By this time I was getting very hungry and headed inside to check out all of the bites of Spain. This first picture is a grouping of my three favorites.

Clockwise from Left:  Gazpacho, Seafood Stuffed Piquillo Pepper and Corn Filled Filo Shells
I love gazpacho just about anytime but on a warm summer day it really hits the spots. This chilled soup from Spain is rich and satisfying. It had been puréed and had a very nice cucumber layer of flavor that made it also light and refreshing.

The mild Pepper was stuffed with a crab and shrimp moose and finished with a sherry reduction. It was another great refreshing choice by the culinary team for this very warm summer afternoon.

Fresh corn, goat cheese and an oven dried tomato made these filo tart cups very tasty bites. I only wish there had been more of them. 

For dessert I simply could not resist the sampler of Spanish cheeses. I have long been a fan of Spanish cheeses and especially Manchego. This little plate had a generous slice of three varieties paired nicely with cube of quince paste.

Spanish Cheeses: Idiazabal, Manchego and a Rocinante Blend (goat/cow/sheep milk)
Content with all those great flavors of Spain I ventured back outside where the group dancing had kicked into high gear with people of all ages joining in the fun.

Traditional Sardana Dance
This next photo might seem a bit mundane but it's indicative of the attention to detail we enjoyed at Gloria Ferrer. Instead of charging us a buck or two for bottled water these dispensers were continually refilled with ice cold filtered water. This nice touch was greatly appreciated in the warm weather and one of many good examples of the hospitality we experienced. It was obvious in twenty years of putting on this festival it has become a first class event.

My souvenir flute is a reminder of a really great time. There is much to enjoy at this two-day festival and I look forward to returning again.

My parting shot just speaks for itself. You don't have to travel to Spain to get a really nice taste of it.