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Wednesday, 29 October 2014 11:21

Bariani Family Expands Olive Oil Business

Angelo Bariani at Farmers Mkt PicmonkeyAngelo Bariani sells at farmers market

by Dan Clarke

Feeling that California offered great educational prospects for their four sons, Angelo and Santa Bariani relocated their family from Lombardy to California in 1989. After a year they bought a house with a little acreage southeast of downtown Sacramento. Sebastian, youngest of of Angleo and Santa's four sons, says that the first fall the family spent in their new home they noticed that trees on the property were producing olives—an apparently unexpected development. His mother urged that they take advantage of the situation, so Angelo built their first crusher and press. They produced 125 gallons of olive oil that first year—enough for an Italian family's own use, but not really a commercial quantity. In 1993 there was a bit more production and they began to sell some oil at farmers markets. “And by 1994 we basically figured it was going to be our business,” Sebastian explained.

Soon they purchased an adjacent 11-acre parcel and planted Manzanillo olive trees to complement the Missions on their home ranch. Their oil was well received and the business showed steady, if not spectacular, progress. In 1997 they bought 130-acres near Zamora in Yolo County, where they planted both Missions and Manzanillos. The family completed the planting of another 50-acre orchard on a recently acquired parcel just before the harvest of 2014 was to begin.

Bariani olive close up PicmonkeyOlives turn from green to black

Eldest son Luigi, now 49, lives in Germany, but returns each fall to help with the harvest. Angelo and Santa are working full time in the family business, as are their sons Enrico, Emanuele and Sebastian.

Coming from a culture steeped in olive oil—at least figuratively, if not literally—the Barianis considered planting Italian varieties, but Sebastian says, “We're in California. It didn't make sense to plant Italian varieties.” The Mission is the olive originally brought to California by the Franciscan missionaries in the 18th Century. Manzanillos also have a Spanish origin, but came to California via Mexico, according to Sebastian, who believes “the Manzanillo gives a different flavor here than when grown in Spain.”

Sebastian said that most Bariani olive oil, which is bottled with a white label, is made from a mixture of “green” and “black”olives.” The company also produces a limited quantity, green label bottling of oil made from not-quite-ripe (green) olives picked early in the season. Such olives yield less oil, but provide a more intense, grassy flavor appropriate for use on salads or drizzled on vegetables or bruschetta.

Sebastian helps a young picker PicmonkeySebastian shows technique to harvester

Might giving some of his oil a “reserve” designation as is sometimes done with wine be a way to accommodate customers eager to pay more for what they perceive as higher quality, we asked? “The quality of the white and green labels is the same, the only difference is the flavor profile,” Sebastian Bariani responded. “Every bottle is the best we can produce—every bottle is a reserve bottle.”

As Americans develop their taste for olive oil, it's inevitable that some will reach for more knowledge. This has given rise to the “oleologist,” a title eschewed by Bariani “By no means are we experts, despite being in business for 24 years and continuing to return to Italy for many classes,” he said. “The learning curve is so big. You don't stop learning. You have to be humble cause there's always somebody better than you. When you keep that in mind you strive to do the best you can . . . and that's when you make progress.” Sebastian recently asked people in Italy if they have oleologists these days and reports, “They just laughed and said no one would call themselves that.”

What about curing table olives? Would that be a way to expand the business? “We keep talking about it, but not yet,” Bariani responded. “Every year we have a project. This year it is to cure olives and make an olive pâté. This would be made just from olives and different from a tapenade.” (Editor's note: A tapenade may include capers and anchovies and even sun-dried tomatoes and spices in addition to crushed olives.)

Sebastian with tree at bee box PicmonkeyBee hives help with olive tree pollination

Serendipity brought another aspect to the Bariani family business a couple of years ago. “Olive trees are self-pollinating, but we added some bees to help this process,” Sebastian related. “We found we got a bigger crop. And we found we had some honey, also.” Their bottled honey is now sold at farmers markets and at local retailers such as Corti Brothers and Whole Foods, as well as through the internet. They've also begun to make a skin lotion using just three ingredients: water, olive oil and beeswax. “It's as natural as we can make it,” said the youngest of the Bariani brothers.

Family businesses tend to mean round-the-clock involvement and can produce more stresses than the nine-to-five world. “We're always talking and arguing, but we never fight,” said Sebastian. “We have very high expectations of each other. We give ourselves two weeks vacation a year. I haven't taken mine this year. My brother Emanuele took one weekend. We don't complain because our work is our vacation. When I'm in the orchard it's amazing . . . I love my trees. My parents went to Italy for two weeks to celebrate their 50th anniversary, but wanted to come home after a couple of days.”

There isn't a lot of structure in the Bariani family business. There are no formal job descriptions and no titles, but a lot of work seems to get done. “We don't have a schedule or a calendar. We don't have meetings,” said Sebastian. “I go to the farm and just see what needs doing and I do it. There's no schedule so it's never boring, it's exciting.”

Editor's note: More information about the Bariani family olive oils can be found at https://www.barianioliveoil.com/

Best of Show cheese 2nd place PicmonkeyPt Reyes Bay Blue, judged 2nd Place in Best of Show competition

by Dan Clarke

Sacramento, CA August 2, 2014 - Never have I seen so much cheese. By the time I left Exhibit Hall C in the Sacramento Convention Center it was filled with tasters. Most seemed to be involved with cheese in some professional way, but there were media types and folks who just liked cheese.

Last night's tasting was the culmination of the 31st annual meeting of the American Cheese Society (ACS). Any organization which brackets several days of academic sessions with a Tuesday evening California Cheesemaker Pubcrawl and Friday's concluding Festival of Cheese is ok in my book. As with winemaking and brewing, substantial science is involved in cheesemaking, but the products of all these endeavors are designed to give pleasure to the end users. Cheesemakers, I discovered, are every bit as fun-loving as their brewer and winemaker cousins. Maybe even more so.

A Keynote Chat

California is home to a substantial dairy industry, but until recent years it has lagged behind other states like Vermont and Wisconsin in its attention to cheese. Two fellows who know as much as anyone about the evolution of food in this state open Wednesday's sessions with what is billed as a “Keynote Chat.” Narsai David is a former restaurateur, PBS television personality and current KCBS radio commentator. Darrell Corti is owner of Corti Brothers, a retailer of wine and specialty foods. They trace the evolution of California's cuisine over the last half-century in a low-key and anecdotal style. “I don't know what we can tell you,” Darrell begins, “You're the experts.” Indeed, the banquet room is filled with cheesemakers with great knowledge of technical processes. However, few, if any, have the perspective on America's changing food scene that Darrell and Narsai can provide.

Darrell and Narsai PicmonkeyDarrell and Narsai--a wealth of experience

It may be a given that California can produce food and wine of world standard. But that's now. It wasn't always the case. Narsai references a blind tasting at his Pot Luck restaurant in the early 70's. Eight wines from Chardonnay grapes were poured—four great Montrachets and four Sonoma Chardonnay from Hanzell. “None of us could say which wine was which,” he reminisces. “We had a great Chardonnay that was every bit as good as great white Burgundy.” In that era Gourmet magazine observed that Pot Luck and Chez Panisse were doing “California Cuisine,” he says. “We were doing what we felt like doing. We simply were not (constrained by) the rules and limitations that burdened French chefs.” Such freedom may have led to some fads and excesses, but it also provided a sharp learning curve.

Darrell Corti is celebrating 50-years as a professional in food and wine retailing, but his experience predates that, as he grew up in the family business. “Cheese, much like winemaking, has changed. Sometimes for the better, “ he observes. “And sometimes not.” As the breadth and diversity of American cheesemaking has expanded, so have the problems and opportunities for marketing these cheeses. Noting that California wine names have evolved from European place names such as Burgundy and Chianti to wines labeled by the grapes used (Pinot Noir, Sangiovese) or by proprietary names, Corti suggests that American cheesemakers might want to develop nomenclature that wouldn't imply their products are copies or derivatives of time-honored European cheeses. If quality is good we should want our own identity, he suggests.

“We are doing things now that are the envy of the world,” Narsai David concludes. “And you are to be applauded for the direction that the American Cheese Society and all of you are a part of.”

Tbl Setting CA wine and cheese PicmonkeyThe why of wine with cheese

Wine and Cheese

The pairing of wine and cheese is accepted as tradition. But maybe not all combinations are equal. A seminar entitled “California Wine & Cheese: What Works, What Doesn't, and Why” brings experiential learning, as well as academic. Anita Oberholster of the Viticulture and Enology Department at UC Davis and Kirstin Jackson, a wine and cheese consultant, author and educator, take a sold out room through a tasting of four cheeses and four wines—two whites and two reds. Opportunity to taste a wine with the cheese likely to be the most complementary, as well as one less likely to work, is a palate-opening experience, especially when accompanied by explanation of the chemistry involved.

Winners, but Maybe no LosersBleating Heart cheesemakers PicmonkeySeana Doughty and Dave Dalton took blue ribbon for Bleating Heart's "Fat Bottom Girl"

A big part of these annual meetings is the awards. This year there are 1685 entries from 248 companies. Submissions come from 39 states of the US, four Canadian provinces and even the nation of Colombia. Ribbons are awarded to 325 of these entries. The awards ceremony is held Thursday afternoon in the ballroom of the adjacent Hyatt Regency Hotel. Waiting for the doors to open, cheese people gathered in the lobby and seem in remarkably good humor. An award can make a big difference. A cheesemaker from the Midwest tells me his fairly new company was out of money a few years ago when a blue ribbon was such a spur to sales that they turned the corner and are now stable in their eighth year of business. Once inside the room the audience whoops, hollers and waves pennants. They're having a great time and are partial to entrants from their own states, but they seem genuinely happy for every winner.

Festival of Cheese

Steve Graham pours at cheese tasting PicmonkeySteve Graham pours J Lohr Pinot NoirOrganizers have arranged for the media to have a half-hour head start to check out the displays at this finale. We may enter at 5:30. In this staged admission, ACS members are welcome at 6:00 and the general public from 7:00 forward. Vendors of complementary products, such as charcuterie, crackers and beer line the perimeter of this room and provide samples, but the centerpiece of this event is the cheese. Displays are attractively presented, all products are identified as to the category entered, the name of the cheese and the company that produced it. Those who've received honors in Thursday's judging proudly display their ribbons. Thirsty, I scan the tables beyond the cheeses and notice a friend of mine. Steve Graham, a wine steward for Nugget Markets, is pouring medal winners from the recent California State Fair wine judging. Nugget also has cheeses displayed and can make suggestions of which to sample with each wine. At the other end of the Nugget table are beer experts pouring tastes similarly paired with different cheeses.

All the cheeses taste good to me. Their quality is excellent and the variety is endless. I have a good time, but almost envy the cheese professionals who're here. They're so much more cheese-savvy than I am and I hope that they're enjoying the moment, more than analyzing too closely. Cheesemaking—it sounds like a pretty good gig. Sort of like a writer whose work requires he sample foods and wines.

Farm to Fork 2013 Gala Dinner Night PicmonkeyOver-the-water dinner setting

by Dan Clarke

Sacramento has declared itself the leader in a category which has no universal definition, no absolute standards. However, a persuasive case can be made that this city in the most agriculturally productive state in the U.S. deserves the title “America's Farm-to-Fork Capital.” Sacramento is surrounded by farmland. Chefs in Sacramento have ready access to raw ingredients that their brethren in bigger and more glamorous locations could only dream about.

In the past Sacramento suffered the reputation of being a cultural and culinary backwater. Local radio personalities called the city “Sacra-Tomato” (and this was not meant as a compliment). Chain restaurants predominated and residents looking for a good meal would often drive to San Francisco, rather than patronize local options.

Times change, though. As Sacramento shed its inferiority complex, it began to realize that things weren't really so bad. In fact, for those who enjoyed their food, things were pretty special.

Josh Nelson at Sellands Mkt PicmonkeyJosh Nelson got it started“Josh Nelson approached us in late summer of 2012, announcing that we should be 'the Farm to Fork Capital of America',” recalled Mike Testa, who's in charge of business development for the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau. In a matter of hours the Mayor had been contacted and soon agreement had been reached to promote the concept with “four really special events” to involve the community. Confessing to some apprehension, Testa remembers thinking, “If the locals don't buy in, then the rest of the world won't.”

Nelson is proud of his home town and is a good spokesman for it. He's part of a team that operates two fine dining restaurants in Sacramento, The Kitchen and Ella, and two wine market and deli operations. While he's quick to point out that his father, Randall Selland, is the chef in the family, Nelson has grown up in the restaurant business. “We always shopped small family farms for The Kitchen,” he recalled. “Since 1991 we've done this—not to be a 'locavore,' but to source the best product. We have a bounty of local crops. We have great product in the area.”Farm-to-Fork Festival 2013 Capitol Mall PicmonkeyEvent on Mall drew 25,000

Years ago Los Angeles Laker coach Phil Jackson dismissed Sacramento as “a cow town.” The city puckishly embraced that identity last September with a cattle drive up Capitol Mall, the first of their four Farm-to-Fork Week events. Ostensibly celebrating the availability of high quality proteins in the area, it was a natural made-for-media opportunity and created national news.

A second occasion, a tasting on the Capitol lawn dubbed “Legends of Wine,” honored Darrell Corti and David Berkeley, locals with international reputations. The Convention and Visitor's Bureau considers itself a regional marketer and, especially for the purposes of defining itself as the Farm-to-Fork Capital, includes much of the surrounding area as parts of the whole. Yolo County, just across the Sacramento River to the west, is home to the UC Davis College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and lots of farm acreage.

In another gathering that was both symbolic and attention grabbing, authorities closed the Tower Bridge for a gala dinner with diners seated on the span that links the City of Sacramento and all that land to the west providing so much goodness for the table. Six hundred tickets to the $175 a plate meal went on sale in July of 2013 and sold out in a matter of hours.

The fourth and final event was the Festival on Capitol Mall and it surely was proof that locals were intrigued. The event was free and open to the public, who could meet growers, see cooking demonstrations and buy food if they liked. “We'd hoped for 10,000 people,” explained Mike Testa. “We got 25,000. The crowd was educated, engaged and eager to celebrate the Farm-to-Fork concept.”

Jim Mills in Produce Express Whse PicmonkeyJim MillsAs a former chef, Produce Express' Sales Manager Jim Mills has close ties to the area's restaurant community. “We have over 1200 accounts in the Sacramento Valley,” he commented. “These range from taquerias to the area's finest restaurants.” Mills has been pivotal in creating a liaison between specialty growers and an appreciative corps of area chefs.

One of those chefs is Patrick Mulvaney, whose Mulvaney's B&L has been in the forefront of Sacramento restaurants sourcing high-quality ingredients from nearby farms. A native of Long Island, Mulvaney worked as waiter in New York restaurants after taking a degree in English at Union College. Realizing that if he were to reach his goal of owning a restaurant, he'd need to understand how a kitchen worked, Patrick headed off to Ireland. There he apprenticed to a man who'd been Executive Chef for the P & O Cruise Line. On his return to the States, Mulvaney gained experience in the kitchens of several New York restaurants before working his way west. Eventually Mulvaney achieved a second degree in Food Science and Technology at UC Davis and later worked in the Napa Valley with the famed teaching chef, Madeleine Kammen. By this time, says Mulvaney, he had fallen in love with California and with the access to the fresh ingredients he found there. The menu at his midtown Sacramento restaurant changes daily and the chef is acutely aware of the ever-developing bounty available to him. “I moved here in 1994. It's now 2014,” he commented. “Has the percentage of iceberg lettuce to mixed baby salad greens changed in that time?”Patrick Mulvaney late May 2014 PicmonkeyPatrick Mulvaney champions local products

Earlier this year Mulvaney was invited to create a dinner for the Beard House in New York City. Named for the late chef and cookbook author, the James Beard Foundation operates a restaurant that features notable chefs who bring their own culinary styles for one-night appearances. On March 13th, he and his Mulvaney's B&L kitchen crew presented a dinner there billed as A Promise of Spring: Savoring Sacramento. “It was a seven course meal,” explained Mulvaney. “Everything but the water, bread and Irish whiskey (served with dessert) came from California and most of that from within 50 miles of Sacramento. On a cold, rainy night in New York we were giving them food they wouldn't see for months—things like green garlic, asparagus from the delta and fava beans grown at Sac High's garden. It was a proud day for California, a proud day for Sacramento.”

Special events such as cattle drives and dinners on bridges capture public attention for a while, but the goal is to create an ongoing reputation for Sacramento as America's Farm-to-Fork Capital. “The model we looked at for success was Austin, Texas, which bills itself as “The Live Music Capitol of the World,” said Mike Testa. “This year we'll spend over half-a-million dollars on this issue, though some of that we hope will be offset (by participating businesses). Year two must be more than just the four special events,” he stressed. To that end, the Convention and Visitors Bureau has hired two full-time employees, Nicole Rogers and Kari Miskit, to develop the concept. “Nicole's job is to find the next steps to move this forward. Kari's is to make sure the story's being told,” said Testa.

This September, Farm-to-Fork Week will actually expand to two weeks. No cattle will be seen on downtown streets this year, but the Capitol Mall will again be the site of an expanded food festival open to the public (Latest updates on this September's events can be found at farmtofork.com).

Farm-to-Fork is undoubtedly a clever marketing concept, but underlying the hoopla of Sacramento's branding campaign there's plenty of substance. Jim Mills of Produce Express admits there's “a little bit of smoke and mirrors,” but emphasizes there is also “a whole lot of sincerity.” Patrick Mulvaney says “My goal is just to promote the wonderful work of the farmers. In an earlier era, the rock-stars were the chefs. Now we think that in the future the stars will be the farmers. As we begin to embrace our agricultural heritage and interact with the farmers, it lifts the spirit of the whole region.”

Editor's note: If you're planning on visiting this part of California's heartland, check out the Central Valley listings in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to area craft beer purveyors and to nearby wineries.

Chenin Blanc Tasters at Revolution PicmonkeyClose inspections before the first sips

TASTE News Service May 23, 2014 - Chenin Blanc may be considered the signature grape of Clarksburg.

Though trendier varieties account for more vineyard acreage in the Clarksburg region, this area just southwest of Sacramento is believed to be one of the few areas in the world capable of producing great Chenin Blanc. Grown in other parts of the world, too—most notably in France's Loire Valley and in South Africa, where it was first planted in 1655 and is also known as “Steen,” this white wine variety is versatile and can be made into sparkling wine, both dry and off-dry table wine styles and even late-harvest dessert wines.

On Tuesday, Chenin fans in the know visited Revolution, an urban winery near the corner of 29th and S Streets in Sacramento, where they had opportunity to sample an array of Chenin Blanc wines. All were grown in the Clarksburg area, though some were actually vinified by wineries in other parts of the state. While Revolution Wines also makes other varieties, its overall production is small. Their 2013 Chenin Blanc (about 300 cases produced) scored quite a coup recently when it was chosen as one of the 10 best West Coast wines to enjoy with oysters. The annual competition, sponsored by Taylor Shellfish in Washington, is usually dominated by leaner versions of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, with an occasional Pinot Grigio or Semillon in the mix. A frequent winner in past years has been a Chenin Blanc made from Clarksburg fruit by the Sonoma's Dry Creek Vineyard. This year Dry Creek was not among the top ten, but Revolution's entry was. It was poured at the Sacramento tasting, as were Chenin Blancs made in various styles from other producers. A few of them blended with the white Rhône grape Viognier showed a more aromatic side to their personalites.

Slow Food rep and David Baker PicmonkeyCharity Kenyon of Slow Food and David Baker share concerns about sustainability

One of the sponsors of this tasting was GRAS, an acronym for “Green Restaurant Alliance Sacramento,” whose mission includes educating both the public and the restaurant community about sustainable practices for the restaurant industry. David Baker, who heads the wine program for Selland's Market and Café, is also the director and a co-founder of GRAS and has the ambitious goal of returning all the community's restaurant waste to the land via composting.


Editor's note: Want to learn more about this wine region? In the Central Valley sections of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory you will find links to the websites of Clarksburg and Delta wineries, as well as links to hundreds of Lodging and Dining options in the Sacramento area. The Directory has recently added a section for craft beer purveyors, too.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014 00:23

Zinfest at Lodi Lake

 Zinfest PickmonkeyZinfest arrivees picked up their glasses by the lakeby Dan Clarke


Lodi grows about one-third of all the Zinfandel grapes in the U.S. While justly famed for its Zins, the area also produces a diverse array of other varietals. Curiously enough, it was Lodi's just-concluded Zinfest that showcased many of these wines.

Zinfest has a ten year history. The cornerstone event is an outdoor tasting held at Lodi Lake. On Saturday over 40 area wineries poured samples of their Zinfandel, of course, but many had other wines to taste, too. The festival actually is more than a one-day affair, as many wineries welcome visitors with tours and open houses on Sunday. A few wineries even arranged special dinners for the evenings preceding the big Saturday tasting. Beyond the tasting and the socializing, attendees had other diversions, as they could drop by tents devoted to the Zinfest cooking and wine schools. Separate areas were home to barbecue and barrel building demonstrations. Music was played on a main stage, and at a comfortable, outdoor piano bar. The Vintners' Regatta featured a parade of vessels made from wine barrels and “sailed” by local winemaking teams. Food was available from about a dozen local restaurants and purveyors.

Woman pouring at ZinfestBusy, but not too crowded

While the Lodi wine region has experienced huge growth in recent years, it retains a family farm and small winery feel. Many of the booths were staffed by people whose vineyards supplied grapes for the products being poured. In some cases the pourers were also the winemakers or winery owners.

Offerings at Bokisch Vineyards included a delightful white wine made from the Verdelho grape, which is grown in Lodi, of course, but is a variety native to Portugal. Another white, an Albariño, traces its ancestry to Spain, as did their two reds varieties that Bokisch poured—the Graciano and the Tempranillo. E2 Family Winery also had a Verdelho and Estate Crush, Harney Lane Winery brought their own bottlings of Albariño. Tempranillos were also offered by d'Art Wines, Harney Lane and m2 Wines.

If you wanted to venture beyond the Iberian varieties, there were several wineries whose lineup included wines made from grapes native to the Rhône Valley of France. Acquiese Winery specializes in white wines made from such grapes as Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Viognier. H-G Vineyards also produces a Vigonier. Estate Crush makes a Cinsault. Syrahs were offered by Berghold, Klinker Brick, Kidder Family and Michael David. Petite Sirahs were available at the booths of Ironstone Vineyards, McConnell Estates, Peltier Station and Viñedos Aurora. There was even a Rhône blend made by The Dancing Fox. Their “Cote de Renard” comes from grapes grown in the Clements Hills area in the southeastern part of the Lodi Appellation. It is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mouvèdre (sometimes called a "GSM), with the addition of 3% Viognier, a white variety.

Larry Mettler at Zinfest Larry Mettler poured Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon from Mettler Family Vineyards

Wines made from more familiar but-not-Zinfandel varieties, included Chardonnays, Pinot Grigios, Sauvignon Blancs, Barberas, Sangioveses, Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots. Toasted Toad Cellars even brought their Primitivo.

Visiting an event named “Zinfest” and concentrating on experiencing everything but Zinfandel might seem to be missing the point. However, you can't taste everything in one afternoon and I already know that Lodi is home to greats Zins. Saturday's Zinfest and the Red & White Night that preceded it were the most recent evidences of Lodi's continuing evolution and that it deserves to be taken seriously for more than just its Zinfandel.

Editor's Note: If you're planning to visit this wine region, we suggest you check out the Central Valley section of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of all the wineries, as well as links to the sites of Lodging and Dining options.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014 22:54

A Red & White Night in Lodi

Crowd Shot at AcquiesceThe evening began at Acquiesce

by Dan Clarke

When invited to an evening in Lodi billed as “Red & White Night!” I was intrigued. Two wineries, Acquiesce and Macchia, planned to put on a progressive dinner with each pouring its own wines. Macchia specializes in red wines, mostly Zinfandels. The winery produces several bottlings of Zin each vintage, each of them expressing the virtues of specific vineyards. Some years ago I served on a panel of wine writers that was charged with picking a dozen Zinfandel wines to represent Lodi. We judges worked our way though many wines in what is called a “blind tasting” (bottles covered so that we could not identify the producers). My recollection is that four or five of the Zins selected for our final dozen turned out to be Macchia wines. Obviously, winemaker Tim Holdener has a special touch with this variety and I thought any other reds he makes were also likely to be good.

I'd never heard of Acquiesce, whose wines would provide the white contribution to the event. They were fairly new and, frankly, I didn't expect much. But they had chosen to make only white wines. That was unusual enough in this area, but they were making only wines from grapes native to France's Rhône Valley. White wines—but not the ubiquitous Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. This could get interesting.

About 60 people would be attending the red and white dinner, many of them members of the wine clubs of these wineries. Acquiesce would host the evening's first segment and winemaker Sue Tipton suggested I arrive a little early to taste her wines. All were from the 2013 vintage. They included a Grenache Blanc, a Vigonier, a Grenache Rosé and the Belle Blanc (a blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Viognier). The latter wine is Sue's version of the little-known white wine of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. All four of these wines were of surprising quality.

Guests began to gather in the Acquiesce tasting room and soon were all enjoying glasses of Belle Blanc and snacking on the goat cheese and smoked trout appetizers. Conversations were animated and an apparent good time being had by all when the word came that it was time to move on to Macchia, a couple of miles to the west. Ten minutes later we were entering the shady Macchia courtyard adjacent the winery where the rest of our evening would be spent. Ordinarily, a May event like this would be held out of doors, but temperatures reached the mid-nineties earlier in the day prompting the move to air conditioned surroundings.

Red and White Centerpiece

I was fortunate to share a table with Sue and Rodney Tipton where I found out more about these people who have charted such an innovative course. The short story is that Rodney's career necessitated they make frequent moves earlier in their married life before settling in Lodi about 15 years ago. The couple lived in many parts of the world prior to that time and along the way Sue developed a fascination with Rhone whites. Though she has made wines at home since 2003, she has been making her own versions of these white wines professionally for just three years. The Tiptons grow 12 acres of Zinfandel on their property, but those grapes go to Gallo's winery, not theirs. Two other Acquiesce wines—the Grenache Blanc and the Viognier—were paired with the first two dishes at this sit-down segment of the evening. These were followed by three courses paired with wines from Macchia—a Barbera, a Zinfandel and a Port-style wine. (see menu below)Short Rib Pairing at Red and WhiteShort Rib Pairing with Macchia "Serious" Zinfandel was brilliant

Sacramento caterer Community Tap and Table provided a creative dinner menu. The food was tasty and helped show the wines to good advantage. For me the most successful course of the evening was the beef short rib with candy carrots accompanied by Macchia 2012 “Serious” Zinfandel. It was splendid. Chef Emily Baime and both winemakers gave the diners brief background on the ingredients and preparation of each course and the wine accompanying it. Sue and Rodney Tipton, Tim and Lani Holdener and their staffs created a very cordial environment for the evening.







Red & White Night


Mint-Smoked Tahoe Trout Tarts with Goat Cheese-Crème Fraiche & Chives

Acquiesce Winery 2013 Belle Blanc


San Joaquin Spring Lettuce and Tarragon Soup with Green Apple Chip

Acquiesce Winery 2013 Grenache Blanc


Cauliflower Salad with Honeyed Onions and North African Olive-Harissa Dressing

Acquiesce Winery 2013 Viognier


“Minnestrone” Pesto Pasta with McFarland Heirloom Beans, Fingerling Potatoes and Blistered Tomatoes

Macchia 2012 “Infamous” Barbera


Lucky Dog Ranch Braised Beef Short Ribs with Candy Carrots

Macchia 2012 “Serious” Zinfandel


Decadent Chocolate Fudge Brownie “Sundae” drizzled with Port

Macchia 2011 “Dangerous” Port


Friday, 16 May 2014 14:04

May 16, 2014 Wine Pick of the Week


Belle Blanc from Acquiesce Picmonkey

2013 Belle Blanc


Acquiese Winery & Vineyards


Alcohol: 13.5%

Suggested Retail: $26


“Lodi is known primarily for its red wines. This grapegrowing region 35 miles south of Sacramento produces outstanding Zinfandels and decent, if unspectacular, Cabernet and Merlot. Lodi also grows white grapes and many wineries in more prestigious wine regions are happy to bolster their Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc bottlings with fruit sourced from Lodi.

“But there's more to the story than that . . .

“At Acquiesence, Sue Tipton makes wines from white grape varieties native to France's Rhône Valley. Production is small, but all her wines are selling out, so she and her husband, Rodney, are about to convert more of their Lodi Zinfandel vineyard to these whites. Yesterday Taste California Travel experienced three whites and one rosé from this winery—all were excellent. Today's 'Pick' is comprised of Grenache Blanc (45%), Roussanne (45%) and Viognier (10%). It is the winemaker's homage to the relatively rare white wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

“The 2013 Belle Blanc has much of the minerality and lean, racy quality of the winery's Grenache Blanc that makes it such a good food wine. However, there is a bit softer and rounder mouth feel and a lovely, though subtle, floral and spicy aroma likely contributed from the Viognier.”

Food Affinity: “Smoked trout and crème fraiche canapés, Salade Lyonnaise, salmon in almost any preparation.”

Yosemite USA PicmonkeyYosemite Valley in June as captured by Guy Francis

TravMedia April 30, 2014 —Yosemite National Park in Northern California is popular year round, but in summer and autumn its popularity swells with full hotels, campgrounds and queues at entrance points.  Many visitors aren't aware of the abundance of lodging options in communities at three of the park's main entrances. 

The park and its surrounding Gold Country communities offer visitors easy access to attractions such as El Capitan and Yosemite Falls, and offer insight on lesser known, yet worthwhile experiences both inside and outside the park.  The communities to the north, west and south of Yosemite provide visitors a local perspective and helpful tips on great places to stay, best times to visit and other visitor services such as vacation planners and maps. 

Dispelling a major myth--cars are allowed in Yosemite National Park.  Visitors are welcome to drive to the park and within it, including the Yosemite Valley.  For those who prefer not to drive, transportation companies, like Yosemite Areas Regional Transit (www.yarts.com) and private tour companies provide a round trip to and from the park for visitors staying at various gateway lodging locations. In an effort to reduce entrance wait times and parking issues during peak season, the National Park Service is recommending that motorhomes use designated Park and Ride locations outside park gates or in selected campground facilities and ride YARTS or tours into and out of the Park.

When visiting Yosemite during the peak summer season, it's a good idea to plan on early entry through the park's gates to avoid queues.  Head to the Yosemite Valley floor either early or later in the day (busy times are between 10 am and 2 pm, especially on weekends).  Park in the day use area and take advantage of the free Valley Shuttle to see all the iconic sites like Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Merced River, Vernal Falls and Yosemite Chapel.


Tuolumne County – North Entrance – Highway 120Groveland Main Street PicmonkeyGroveland's colorful Main Street

Tuolumne County is the North entrance (Highway 120) to Yosemite National Park.  Highway 120 is the shortest route to Yosemite from San Francisco and all points north.  Driving time from San Francisco to the Yosemite Valley floor is approximately four hours, traffic dependent. Visitors heading to Yosemite via the Highway 120 entrance can stop by the Tuolumne County Visitors Center in Chinese Camp to the latest information on activities in around the Park as well as on Tuolumne County and the surrounding Gold Country.

Continuing south from Chinese Camp on Highway 120 towards Yosemite for approximately 30 minutes you will encounter the quaint town of Groveland. The Groveland Hotel offers comfortable accommodations with each room dedicated to a famous, and sometimes infamous, character of the past.  The hotel's Cellar Door Restaurant has held the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence since 2011.

A stop at the Groveland Museum will give visitors insight into the colorful past of this Gold Rush town.  Just a couple minutes south of Groveland on Highway 120 (towards Yosemite) is the popular Rainbow Pool swimming hole.

Madera County – South Entrance, Highway 140

The south gateway to Yosemite National Park, on Highway 41 in Madera County, is the most traveled year round entrance for visitors who wish to self-drive, or sight-see on a tour bus, to experience this awe inspiring region of California.  From Los Angeles, drive time is approximately 5 hours.  Madera County offers convenient and affordable lodging options from full service resorts to local hotels/motels, vacation rental homes and bed & breakfasts.

Papagni tasters PicmonkeyBevy of tasters at Madera's Papagni WineryWhen you're leaving Yosemite plan to depart in the early afternoon and take advantage of the long summer days to explore the many south gate attractions like the popular Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.  Ride back in time on the one-hour narrated tours that depart several times a day and enjoy the Thornberry Museum, gold panning, gift shops, and more. 

More popular south gate attractions include the Madera Wine Trail, art galleries, museums, Fossil Discovery Center and an abundance of outdoor recreation.


Yosemite Mariposa County --   West Entrance, Highway 41

This region of the Gold Country offers access to Yosemite National Park from Highway 41 through the West gate is one hour north of Fresno, and is the shortest distance to the popular Mariposa Grove, a square mile home to the Earth's largest and oldest living organisms. 

More than 500 Giant Sequoias keep the grove cool on even summer's hottest day.  You can explore the area on foot or take a 75-minute guided tram tour from May through October, with programming in English, German, Japanese, French and Spanish.  Tip:  To avoid parking lot jams, visitors may park their car at the historic Wawona Hotel and take the free Wawona-Mariposa Grove shuttle to see the Sequoias.

Model A at Yosemite Falls PicmonkeyFord Model A at Yosemite Falls The town of Mariposa, first settled in 1849, is the southernmost in the Gold Rush chain of towns.  The streets follow the original street grid laid out by John C. Fremont in 1850.  Several disastrous early fires convinced settlers to rebuild with stone, brick and adobe.  Consequently, many of today's existing structures in the historic downtown had been built by the late 1850s, with most of the remaining ones completed by 1900.  Because they have always been in use, the old buildings haven't had to be restored or recreated.

The old west is historically represented on Main Street with the wooden sidewalks, a tour of the oldest court house west of the Rockies still in continuous operation since 1854 and the Mariposa Museum and History Center at 5119 Jessie Street, named one of the best small museums in America by the Smithsonian Institute, where you can see remnants of the gold rush, a Sheriff's office and miner's camp, early Miwok Indian life, early frontier furniture and player piano and one-room school house.  (Open daily year round, Adults $4, children under 18 are free.) http://mariposamuseum.com.

The Mariposa area has vineyards and wineries where you can taste or pick up a bottle to accompany your afternoon picnic.

A unique way to explore the area is in an historic, original Model T automobile with the top down. Visitors may choose from a variety of vintage vehicles, from a 1915 Touring car to a 1929 Model A Roadster with Rumble seat for children (www.driveamodelt.com).


Editor's note: To help you understand California better, we identfy our features as relating to one of a dozen separate regions of the state. Sometimes these regions have exact boundaries such as Los Angeles and San Diego Counties. Sometimes they are more general, such as “North Coast” or “Deserts.” At Taste California Travel we define Gold Country as that foothill land between California's great Central Valley and its High Sierra Mountains to the east. Since there is not precise dividing line, we consider our High Sierra section to start somewhere above 2500 to 3000 feet. Yosemite National Park would fit that definition. Other attractions mentioned in the article above might be at lower elevations in areas we call either Gold Country or the Central Valley.

In any case, we suggest you check out the Central Valley, Gold Country and High Sierra sections of our Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to area wineries and craft beer specialists.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014 00:07

Winemakers Discover Lodi Natives


Lodi Native six wines and brochure PicmonkeyOur first tastes came at Wine & Rosesby Dan Clarke

Lodi is both an old region and a new one. Though some of its century-old vineyards are still productive, much new planting has been done in recent years Lodi is now home to between 110,000 and 120,000 planted acres of winegrapes. It produces about 40% of all the Zinfandel grown in the state.

Though maps will show Lodi just about in the middle of California's very warm Central Valley, its growing conditions belie that fact. Lodi benefits from a marine influence that travels eastward from San Francisco Bay, making its climate considerably cooler than the interior growing regions south of it.

As wine consumption in America has grown in the last couple of decades, Lodi has become a valuable resource for California's wineries, producing good quality varietal grapes at reasonable prices. However, much of each harvest has gone to large wineries outside the area, often to be blended into wines carrying the identities of more prestigious coastal regions.

Todd Maley in Wegat Vnyd PicmonkeyTodd Maley explains the nature of head-trained vines to his visitors

The Lodi region is diverse and grows more than 60 different grape varieties commercially with more planted experimentally. Two thirds of the production is reds, but the signature grape here is Zinfandel and some of those old Zin vineyards are absolute gems.

As the quality of Lodi fruit has become better known, the area has attracted artisan winemakers. At the moment there are more than 70 wineries in the area, most of them small and family operated. Many of the winemaking newcomers have sought out those old Zinfandel vineyards that are the heritage of the region.

What are the best of Lodi's Zinfandel vineyards capable of producing? At the instigation of wine writer Randy Caparoso, some of the area's best winemakers and growers put their heads together to explore that idea. After a considerable number of meetings, the group devised the “Lodi Native protocols,” which defined what the winemakers could do—or perhaps not do—in making that fruit from these vineyards into wine. The vineyards were already known to the six participating winemakers and had supplied grapes for some of their best wines. But this was about the vineyards, not the wineries. It was decided that the vinification would involve minimal intervention from the winemakers. Only the ambient (native) yeasts on the grapes would be used, no new oak would be employed, no alcohol reduction techniques, no fining, no filtering. As Caparoso put it, “the objective was to make the most vineyard-expressive wines possible.” Each winemaker agreed to make a quantity of wine in this manner from the 2012 harvest. Ultimately, 120 six-bottle cases would be made available for sale—every case containing a bottle from each of the half-dozen winemaker/grower collaborations.

St Amant Marians Vnyd bottle PicmonkeySt. Amant label shows vineyard sourceAs part of The Lodi Zinfandel Experience, a few journalists joined a larger group of Zinfandel fans to hear from the growers and the men making wine from their heritage vineyards. Visitors who gathered in the ballroom of Lodi's Wine & Roses Hotel recently had half a dozen glasses in front them, allowing tastes from the products of each of these six vineyards as it was being discussed. Later in the day attendees boarded buses to visit three of these Lodi Native vineyards, where they could again sample the wines expressing their essence while hearing about the viticultural practices from the growers themselves.

Locals speak of “West Side” and “East Side” vineyards, with the division being Highway 99, which bisects the area in a north-south line. Asked about this East-West difference, Maley Brothers winemaker Chad Joseph replied as a winemaker at first, saying vineyards to the east tend to produce fruit that is more spicy, giving clove and cinnamon qualities. In those to the west, he believes fruit tends to produce wine with more baked cherry aspects and pronounced herbal notes.

Todd Maley's family has been farming in the area since the 1850's. Our group got first hand experience at his Wegat Vineyard, which is located on the West Side. It was field-budded onto St. George rootstock by the Maley family in 1958 and was one of the three vineyards our group visited in the afternoon. There we again tasted the wine that the Wegat Vineyard has produced and got a chance to hear Todd Maley tell us more about how he farms the property while we walked among his vines.

Stuart Spencer, winemaker at St. Amant, related that he and his father started using the Mohr-Fry Ranch's Marian's Vineyard in 1999. The relationship with Bruce and Jerry Fry has been felicitous. “We had no written contract, we just worked it out,” remembered Spencer, who added, “which I think is what Lodi is all about.” The 113 year-old, eight-acre vineyard is about in the middle of the West-to-East divide, but shows more of the sandy soils typical of Lodi's East Side vineyards. Marian's Vineyard yields the more classic big Lodi cluster with big berries, he said.

Tim Holdener at Noma Vnyd PicmonkeyTim Holdener gestures toward encroaching properties

Macchia is known for producing an array of vineyard-designated bottlings and its proprietor-winemaker Tim Holdener chose the Noma Ranch to source grapes for his contribution to the Lodi Native project. The vineyard, planted in the early 1900s, is half-a-mile east of Highway 99 and is described as one of the East Side's sandiest sites. It is dry-farmed and yields only about one ton per acre on scraggly, low-lying vines, but its small Zinfandel berries provide powerful flavors. The 15-acre vineyard is becoming surrounded by commercial neighbors and, at such tiny production, doesn't return much on the ever-increasing value of the land. Its future agricultural viability may be in doubt, but for the moment the Noma vineyard remains the source of Macchia's most intensely concentrated fruit.

The six vineyards providing grapes for the 2012 Lodi Native wines are part of the heritage of this winegrowing region. It's expected that others will join these pioneering growers and winemakers and that The Lodi Native project will continue in each subsequent vintage. Stuart Spencer called the development, “very encouraging,” adding “I think we'll keep looking at it to raise the profile of the Lodi region and help tell its story.”

Editor's note: More detailed information about the Lodi Native project can be accessed at www.lodinative.com. If you're planning a visit to this growing region check out the Lodi listings in the Central Valley section of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you will find links to the websites of area wineries, as well as links to Wine & Roses and other Lodging and Dining options. 

Wednesday, 05 March 2014 17:45

Shack Fest Celebrates Beer Week 2014

by Dan Clarke


Sacramento is in the middle of Beer Week. Actually, the week seems to run from February 27th through March 9th, but why limit a good thing to that narrow seven days definition?

Dan Scott at Shack Fest 2014 PicmonkeyDan Scott at Shack FestCalifornia's capital may not have created America's craft beer renaissance, but since hopping on the bandwagon it certainly has helped it grow. The Sacramento News & Review estimates there are now 37 breweries within a 50-mile radius of downtown. More are rumored to be opening in 2014. Hops to Table, a bi-monthly tabloid billing itself as “a magazine dedicated to covering the Greater Sacramento and Chico beer and food scene,” is celebrating it's first anniversary. The current issue contains lots of good editorial and seems to have strong advertising support. May they live long and continue to prosper.

Dan Scott created Sacramento's first Beer Week five years ago. San Francisco had already done such a promotion, so Dan may have been capitalizing on their good idea, but there's no doubt his work has been a major contribution to the phenomenal growth of craft beer in the Central Valley. The local breweries have happily participate in Beer Week, of course, but so have many bars and restaurants. Most have created events of a style that will appeal to their own clientele and even some upscale places known to serve their plates on white tablecloths have put some effort into beer-pairing dinners.

Orange Jeff and Johnny Beer PicmonkeyOrange Jeff and Johnny Beer stayed dry talking hops under refuge of the eavesThe Shack on Folsom Blvd has the most diverse beer program in town. It doesn't brew its own beer but has frequently-rotated tap handles, exposing its customers to a broad spectrum of quality products. While you can find such esoterica as a Belgian sour or farmhouse ale, most of those handles tend to dispense variations on the West Coast IPA theme. These are big beers, often high in alcohol and high on the IBU (International Bittering Units) scale.

When a customer is unsure whether he's going to like the taste of something new, a server is usually happy to offer a taste. Between the bar taps and bottles in the refrigerated walk-in box, there's ongoing availability of about 100 brews.Crazy Mtn Rep PicmonkeySarah Langston poured Crazy Mountain beer

Sunday afternoon was the occasion of their annual Shack Fest. For a fixed price ($30 in advance, $35 at the door), beer fans can have access to food, music and unlimited tastings. Though space inside this building that's been serving beer since repeal of Prohibition is limited, there's ample seating and standing room on the patio. In addition, the small parking lot in back is fenced off for the event, giving more room for pouring, tasting and mingling. Thirteen breweries were represented, most of them showcasing multiple offerings. From the Sacramento area were Auburn Alehouse, Berryessa, Bikedog, Device, Loomis Basin, New Glory, Out of Bounds, Track 7 and 2-Rivers Cider. The Brewing Lair from a couple hours north in Plumas County came down and Dustbowl, a similar distance south of here also arrived to pour. Oregon's Beer Valley was here, as were two Colorado entrants, Boulder Beer and Crazy Mountain.

Band at Shack  Fest 2014 Picmonkey 2The Schwamigos, One Eyed Reilly and friendsWho knows what weather in early March will be like? Prior editions of this event had been blessed by sunny and spring-like conditions. Not so this time. It was merely overcast when things began at noon, but there was serious, steady rain falling a couple of hours later. While it may have kept away some would-be tasters, the rain didn't dampen spirits of the 200 or more who did show up. In fact, it added a What the hell. We're all in this together—let's have fun!  quality to the day. Hunter Merritt and the Schwamigos, abetted by some members of One Eyed Reilly and the occasional talented guest from the audience, played under a small tent, but there was plenty of water near the microphones, cords, amps and speakers, adding potential electrocutions to the scheduled entertainment. Trouper that he is, Hunter played on through the rain and was seen alive and nattily attired at The Shack's Mardi Gras party two days hence.


Editor's note: The Resource Directory of Taste California Travel now includes links to the websites of most of the brewpubs and craft beer purveyors in the entire state. 

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