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Tuesday, 13 February 2018 23:55

Cakebread Launches Phoenix Rosé

Cakebread Phoenix Rose bottle Picmonkey

TASTE News Service, February 13, 2018 - What do you do when Mother Nature hands you fires and smoke during the 2017 California grape harvest? Cakebread Cellars, one of Napa Valley’s signature wineries, responded to the challenge by making a limited-edition rosé wine, specially crafted to support the Napa and Sonoma Valley wildfire recovery efforts.

Wednesday, 01 November 2017 11:34

Nearly Back to Normal

By Dan Clarke

Three weeks ago fire broke out in the wine country of Northern California. It wasn’t just one fire, but several fires and unusually high winds spread them quickly.

International Wine Challenge Picmonkey

TASTE News Service, May 11, 2016 - Winemakers from the USA showed they are a force to be reckoned with at the International Wine Challenge 2016, with a serious haul of medals.

Langham Huntington Pasadena PicmonkeyPasadena's Langham Hotel will host an October dinnerTASTE News Service, September 5, 2015 -- In celebration of 50 years of producing world-class sparkling wines, Schramsberg Vineyards will convene a nationwide series of winemaker dinners.

The dinners will occur in eight cities across the country, educating consumers about the wines produced by Schramsberg and demonstrating how well sparkling wines pair with food. The Napa Valley winery has long created educational opportunities on the topic, including the bi-annual Camp Schramsberg program, hosting food and wine events at its property and developing winemaker dinners at top restaurants nationwide; it will use this special moment in its history to build on this tradition.

"We are very excited to find that more and more restaurateurs, sommeliers and consumers are really starting to understand how delicious and food-friendly sparkling wines are," says Hugh Davies, Schramsberg's second-generation vintner. "With this tour, we have the chance to develop a series of extraordinary dinners with outstanding chefs, to create dining experiences that will be remembered for years to come."

Schramsberg first came to the nation's attention at President Nixon's 1972 summit with China, when the 1969 Blanc de Blancs was poured for the "Toast to Peace." The wines have continued to be served at presidential dinners while winning many awards, including the James Beard Award in 1996. The winery has maintained its dedication to preserving its attachment to local land, culture and history, while remaining a family operation.

Hugh Davies' parents, Jack and Jamie, revived one of Napa's most historic wineries back in 1965 to establish Schramsberg Vineyards as the nation's first craft sparkling wine house. Dedicated to maintaining the property's historical and natural integrity, the family has preserved and restored the century-old buildings and caves on the property, as well as taken rigorous steps to be certified as a Napa Green Winery on Napa Green Land. At the same time, the Davies have achieved something unique: quality sparkling wine evocative of California's terroir. By sourcing grapes from a deep range of North Coast cool-climate sites, Schramsberg has come to be known as California's premier producer of sparkling wine.

At the time of Hugh's father's death in 1998, the family established the Jack L. Davies Napa Valley Agricultural Land Preservation Fund "to preserve, protect and promote agricultural land in the Napa Valley," continuing to put into practice words passed on from his father: "This place was created long before any of us were here, and our job is to ensure that it will last long after we're gone."

Eight dinners will be held during October and November 2015 in the following cities:

Houston, TX: October 8 | Table on Post Oak

Boulder, CO: October 13 | Flagstaff House

Pasadena, CA: October 15 | Langham Hotel

New York, NY: October 27 | Chef's Club

Seattle, WA: November 4 | Loulay

Chicago, IL: November 12 | RPM Steak

San Francisco, CA: November 20 | to be announced

Bonita Springs, FL: December 3 | Angelina's Ristorante


Editor’s note:  Clicking on the picture of the Schramsberg cave below will take you to a short video narrated by Hugh Davies.

Schramsberg Vineyards cave and bottles Picmonkey

Carneros Wine Alliance logo Picmonkey

TASTE News Service June 18, 2015 - The non-profit Carneros Wine Alliance will host a “Year of the Ram” 30th Birthday Bash on Saturday afternoon, July 25. The event will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the group’s founding as well as the 2015 Year of the Ram (“carneros” in Spanish) in the Chinese zodiac calendar. The Carneros wine region has American Viticultural Area (AVA) status and includes land in the southern parts of both Sonoma and Napa Counties.

Though famous for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which represent approximately 90% of planted vineyard acres in Carneros, the remaining 10% includes varietals ranging from Syrah and Merlot to the more unusual Marsanne, Roussane, Albariño, Petit Verdot, Pinot Meunier, Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, and Tempranillo.

Anne Moller RackeAnne Moller Racke“When we founded the Carneros Wine Alliance 30 years ago we saw the potential for The Carneros AVA to be considered a leading appellation for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay,” reflected Anne Moller-Racke, CWA president and president and winegrower of The Donum Estate in Carneros. “Now, Carneros is known around the world as a producer of world-class wines and a wine capital in its own right. I’m so very proud and honored to have been part of this history and I’m looking forward to the next three decades of promoting our beautiful appellation and the wines that are created here.”

The 30th Birthday Bash is open to the public. A broad selection of Carneros wines is to be paired with locally sourced appetizers while participants enjoy live music and art at the stunning di Rosa property in the heart of Carneros. Tickets to the 30th Birthday Bash are limited and available at $100 a person. A portion of the proceeds will benefit di Rosa, a non-profit contemporary art museum celebrating the artists of Northern California. For further details visit: carneros.com/yearoftheram-30anniversary.

About the Carneros Wine Alliance:

The Carneros Wine Alliance is a non-profit association of wineries and grape-growers in the Carneros American Viticultural Area (AVA). Carneros is located at the crossroads of two major wine regions, the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. A cool-climate appellation influenced by the waters of the San Francisco Bay, Carneros has long been known for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sparkling wine production.

About di Rosa:

Located on over 200 acres in the Carneros region of Napa Valley, di Rosa celebrates the artists of Northern California through a wide array of exhibitions and educational programs for all ages. The permanent collection features nearly 2,000 works by 800 regional artists working from the 1960s to the present. A wide range of styles, media, and subject matter provide an overview of the creative energy and freedom to experiment that characterize this region of California. For more information, hours, and tour schedules, visit diRosaArt.org.

Sutter Home White Zinfandel 40th Ann Picmonkey

TASTE News Service, February 24, 2015 – The creation of White Zinfandel dates back to 1972, when Bob Trinchero was experimenting with ways to make his acclaimed Amador County Zinfandel even more robust. Emulating the French rosés he greatly admired, Bob fermented the free-run, drawn-off juice of his Zinfandel to dryness and barrel-aged it before bottling the pale pink elixir as a curiosity item for his tasting room clientele. He called this wine “White Zinfandel.” 

In 1975, the White Zinfandel suffered a stuck-fermentation, which occurs when the fermentation stalls before all the grape sugar could be converted into alcohol. Despite his best efforts, Bob could not restart the fermentation, so he bottled, with about 2% residual sugar and a tinge of pink color. As a result, Bob created a new category of wine and White Zinfandel was the first wine “varietal” created in the U.S. 

The sweeter tasting profile and approachable style helped White Zinfandel to instantly become a crowd-pleaser. Bob invented a wine that appealed to the masses, and Sutter Home quickly became a house-hold name. This change transformed the American opinion of wine, and gave people an option beyond the traditional varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Suddenly, people were asking for it, buying bottles and then cases.

During the 1980s, Sutter Home White Zinfandel became the single most popular premium wine in the United States, with sales growing exponentially from 25,000 cases in 1981 to more than 4.5 million by 1987. This unprecedented sales success spawned numerous emulative "blush" wines.

Originally founded in 1890, the Sutter Home Winery was closed during Prohibition, and reopened by the Trinchero family in 1948. The winery remains family-owned.

In 1994, Wine Spectator credited Bob Trinchero with the prestigious “Distinguished Service Award” “for inviting a whole new segment of the population to try a glass of wine.” Today, an original Sutter Home White Zinfandel bottle lives in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014 19:15

Napa Vintner Recovering from Bike Crash


Dario Sattui PicmonkeyDario SattuiTASTE News Service February 26, 2014 – The Napa Register reports that Dario Sattui is recovering from a serious bicycle accident that occurred just over a month ago. Sattui is the owner of the V. Sattui and Castello di Amorosa wineries in the Napa Valley.

According to the Register, he had nearly completed a 10-mile ride on Diamond Mountain Road when the accident occurred on or near Highway 29. The crash may have been a result of his hitting a piece of wood on the roadway. First taken to St. Helena Hospital, Sattui was transferred to UC San Francisco Medical Center where he underwent a five-hour operation that resulted in twelve screws being inserted in his neck.

The 72-year old fitness buff is getting back to work at his home office and is said to be using a walker to assist in his daily three-mile walks. He's giving up bicycling but his future exercise plans include swimming and continued walking.

Editor's note: Both Dario Sattui's Napa Valley wineries are worth visiting, but Castello di Amorosa, his homage to the family's northern Italian heritage, is really spectacular. Links to the websites of Napa wineries, as well as links to hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, can be found in the North Coast section of Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

cyclist on Napa Valley Vine Trail PicmonkeyScenic stretch of trail in summer

Yountville, CA February 17, 2014 – The Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) and Visit Napa Valley (VNV) have announced they will each provide $2.5 million in funding toward construction of the Napa Valley Vine Trail, a pedestrian and bicycle path spanning 47 miles from the Vallejo Ferry Building to Calistoga. The combined $5 million contribution provides 40 percent of the local funding needed to build the hiking and biking trail.

"The entire Vine Trail Coalition and our 30 community organization board members are so thankful for the generosity and support that NVV and VNV are providing today," said Chuck McMinn, executive director of the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition. "We now have $7.5 million of our $12 million local fundraising goal in hand. This will be used to complete the Vine Trail from South Napa to Yountville within the next two years, inviting residents and visitors to experience our county in a healthy new way."

Vine Trail Will Benefit Locals and Visitors

The goal of the Napa Valley Vine Trail is to provide a healthy, safe, scenic, free and family-friendly hiking and biking trail for Napa County locals and visitors.

The NVV's contribution to the Vine Trail comes from earnings on long-term investments from the trade association's annual community fundraiser, Auction Napa Valley. "Community health is the Auction's number one funding priority," commented Linda Reiff, president and CEO of the Napa Valley Vintners. "As part of our commitment to community wellbeing, we're thrilled to make a significant donation that has the potential to positively impact the lives of so many in Napa County. And, because our donation is designated for the section of the trail from Yountville to American Canyon, it will be especially beneficial for children who ride their bikes or walk to school.” To date, the NVV has given more than $120 million to local nonprofits through Auction fundraising. The Vine Trail donation will not affect the NVV’s regular annual giving to these grantees. VineTrail Partners Picmonkey(L-R) Clay Gregory of Visit Napa Valley (VNV), Chuck McMinn of the Vine Trail, Linda Reiff of Napa Valley Vintners and April Gargiulo of the Vine Trail celebrate the news that VNV and NVV pledged $5 million toward completion of the 47-mile walking and biking trail

VNV's commitment is being made on behalf of the Napa Valley lodging community, including funds from local tourism improvement districts and area hotels. "Tourism matters to the economic sustainability of Napa County," said Clay Gregory, president and CEO of Visit Napa Valley. "Access to better, safer cycling, hiking and outdoor activity is important to our visitors, and the Vine Trail will give us a strategic advantage in building awareness of the many wellness assets in our region." Vine Trail officials project that half of its use will be by locals and half by visitors who together will generate $165 million in additional spending each year in the county.

The announcement, made at a Vine Trail celebration event on Friday, furthers the collaboration between NVV and VNV that started when vintner members played a key role in reinventing the tourism marketing entity in 2008, and continued during the recent America’s Cup events in San Francisco.

Editor's note: The 47-mile Vine Trail will stretch from the Vallejo Ferry north to Calistoga. You can learn more at vinetrail.org and if you're planning a visit to the Napa Valley, you'll want to check out Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. There you'll find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to the websites of the Wineries.


Kelli White Sommelier at PRESS PicmonkeyKelli White decantsSan Francisco, CA February 11, 2014 - Stags Leap District,famed home to great American Cabernet Sauvignon, has announced that 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of this region as one of the first sub American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in the Napa Valley. Recognized as an official AVA in 1989 by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the Stags Leap District was the first sub-AVA to be defined completely by soil, climate and natural barriers. Its AVA status and distinctive terroir are a result of the combination of rolling hills, cooling wind, loam and clay soils, and the west-facing range of the Vaca Mountains. The Stags Leap District is the smallest producing Napa AVA by acreage, and wines from this region remain limited, highly allocated and collected. Approximately 90% of the 1,200 acres currently planted to grapevines in the district are Cabernet Sauvignon or other Bordeaux varietals.

“The Stags Leap District produces some very age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines,” said Kelli White, Sommelier at PRESS Restaurant in St. Helena. “The region is truly a place of distinction. The geography of Stags Leap District makes it different than any other place in the Napa Valley and results in the seductive, soft tannins for which Stags Leap District wines are highly regarded."

Stags Leap 73 Paris PicmonkeyStag's Leap Wine Cellars '73 Cabernet While 2014 marks the silver anniversary for the AVA; Stags Leap District has been a grape-growing region since the mid-1800’s. The first Cabernet Sauvignon vines were planted in 1961 by pioneer Nathan Fay. His fruit was in high demand and sourced by winemakers throughout the valley in the early 1970’s. In 1976, the famed “Tasting of Paris” catapulted the region into the global spotlight when French judges awarded a 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars first place over legendary Bordeaux producers.

Ten years later when the same wines were tasted blind a second time, top honors again went to a Stags Leap District wine, the 1972 Clos du Val Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, Stags Leap District is represented by one of only two American wines in the Smithsonian National Museum of History.

"The beauty and lushness of the wines produced in this region were around long before Stags Leap District was named an AVA,” said Doug Shafer, President of Shafer Vineyards. “It was a privilege to be here in the early days when my dad, John Shafer, helped organize our neighbors to pursue official recognition. Over the past 25 years the appellation has continued to evolve and is now widely recognized as a special site for world-class wines. Even so, it really feels like we're just getting started."

“Stags Leap District was the first area to be recognized for its world-class American Cabernet Sauvignon and really was the birthplace of America’s Cabernet culture,” said Michael Beaulac, General Manager and Winemaker at Pine Ridge Vineyards and President of the Stags Leap District Winegrowers Association. “Stags Leap District is one of only a handful of Napa Valley appellations that matter and the producers in this region continue to be visionaries committed to crafting the best quality wines.”

About Stags Leap District Winegrowers:

The Stags Leap District Winegrowers is comprised of 19 wineries and 10 grower members. Wineries include:  Baldacci Family Vineyards, Chimney Rock Winery, Cliff Lede Vineyards, Clos Du Val, Hartwell Vineyards, Ilsley Vineyards, Lindstrom Wines, Malk Family Vineyards, Pine Ridge Vineyards, Odette Estate Winery, Regusci Winery, Shafer Vineyards, Silverado Vineyards, Robinson Family Vineyards, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Stags’ Leap Winery, Steltzner Vineyards, Taylor Family Vineyards, and Terlato Family Vineyards. More information about the Stags Leap District can be found at stagsleapdistrict.com.

Editor's note: Planning a visit to the Napa Valley? In the Resource Directory of Taste California Travel, you'll find links to the websites of hundreds of Lodging and Dining options, as well as links to the sites of all the wineries.

Monday, 23 September 2013 23:31

Dinner as a Surreal Experience


Bob Blumer with glass of wine PicmonkeyBob Blumer, Surreal Chefby Dan Clarke


By any measure, Jessup Cellars is an unusual operation. When we visited for a Surreal Meal with Bob Blumer, it was especially so.

Once known for its home for veterans and not much else, the little town of Yountville continues to evolve. It now boasts very comfortable lodging and some of the best restaurants in California. In fact, the Jessup Cellars tasting room is just a couple of blocks up Washington Street from The French Laundry, an establishment Restaurant Magazine has twice named “The Best Restaurant in the World.” It's a propitious location for encountering wine buffs visiting the Napa Valley.

While Jessup has long-term relationships with excellent Napa vineyards, it does not have an estate winery where visitors can sip a glass of wine on the deck overlooking the vineyards. Winemaker Rob Lloyd makes the wines in an efficient, but decidedly less bucolic location south of downtown Napa.

When the opportunity came to attend an event in the winery's speaker series, I hesitated. But just for a moment. Bob Blumer would be creating a “surreal” dinner at the Jessup Tasting Gallery, read the invitation. He had starred in cooking shows for Canadian television and and prepared meals for the Salvador Dali Museum. Was this guy a chef? An artist? It didn't matter. I was hooked.

Bob Blumer Champagne Toaster PicmonkeyThe dinner was one of several gatherings in The Tastemaker series, which the winery defines as “Thought Leadership Forums Primed with Wine, Art, Food & People.” Arriving a bit early, I joined other guests in the tasting bar for glass of Sauvignon Blanc and some finger food. These were delicious, but not surreal. Most of the guests this evening seemed to be familiar with Jessup Cellars, many of them members of their wine club. All seemed in good humor. In an adjacent room in which dinner would soon be served was a display of some of Bob Blumer's art. At this point the evening began to get whimsical and was on its way to the surreal. Among the pieces were wine glasses whose stems were actual roots of young grapevines, “rosé colored glasses,” whose lenses were made of glass taken from the bottoms of French rosé wine bottles, and a special electrical appliance for Champagne toasts.

Though the recipes were created by the guest chef/artist, their execution was handled (deftly) by a local catering company, which allowed Blumer to interact with the diners, explaining inspiration for his dishes and the techniques for preparing them. Earlier in his life he aspired to a career in the music business, he said, and looked for a managerial role. For a while he toured with a band as a sort of roadie-factotum whose duties included selling souvenirs. His career didn't match that of Colonel Tom Parker or Bill Graham and apparently he didn't even ingratiate himself with the band members, who referred to him as “The T-Shirt Puke.”

Without substantial credits as an artist, a chef, or a writer, Blumer didn't lack for creativity and ambition. A little over 20 years ago he approached a publisher. “I managed to trick the people at Chronicle Books and I managed to walk out with a minor deal,” he recalled. In creating his Surreal Gourmet persona, Blumer parlayed an idea into a career that has included other books and television shows, as well as his art.Bob Blumer Flower Pot Salad Picmonkey

The first two of the evening's four courses were paired with Jessup Cellars 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, which winemaker Rob Lloyd said had white peach and pink grapefruit qualities, likening it to “summer in a bottle.”

Our first course, Cereal Killer Soup, looked just like the residual in a bowl when a child has polished off most of Cheerios and left the milk. If it tasted like that, it would have been an inauspicious start to the evening. No worries, though. It was a very tasty soup in a potato vein, but actually made of Jerusalem artichoke and celery, I believe (here's where I may fail the reader, as ingredients and prep directions are impressions and recollections, rather than precise details—better to get Bob's book for the accurate story).

The Flower Pot Salad was attractively presented. “You can eat the flowers,” announced the chef, “but not the pot.” Actually, you could eat the surrounded bits of “dirt” on the plate beneath the pot. It was a tapenade—or something very close to that definition.

Bob Blumer Lamb Cup Cake Picmonkey

The main course, Lamb Cupcakes, was initially inspired by fish cakes, said Blumer, a theme that evolved to salmon and mushroom versions, before the dish became lamb-based. The general idea (though not precisely the recipe) is to slowly braise lamb shanks until the meat can easily be pulled off the bone. The pan juices are saved to make a demi-glace. The meat is put into small pieces, then roasted with carmelized onions, some rosemary and salt and pepper. With some egg and panko breadcrumbs to bind the mixture, it is shaped into “cup cakes” and baked in a 425-degree oven for 10 minutes. The “icing” was composed of sugar, butter, mashed potatoes, some salt and pepper and a roasted and pureed red beet for color. This main course was a whimsical notion whose appearance really was like a cupcake. However, its rich flavors, paired with the Jessup 2009  Petite Sirah, made it a winner on taste alone. Winemaker Rob Lloyd said the grapes came from a warmly-situated vineyard, which accounted for the soft tannins. Other Jessup reds tasted before or during the meal included a Pinot Noir and a Cabernet Sauvignon. All were enjoyable and did seem to pair well with Bulmer's surreal creations.

Poured with the final course, Existential Eggs, was a Late Harvest Chardonnay Rob made for Handwritten Wines, a St. Helena winery under the same ownership as Jessup. The 2011 vintage was perfect for making late harvest wine, said the winemaker, with a combination of rain and sun that created fully-ripe grapes with a touch of Botrytis (Botrytis cinerea, a mold sometimes called “the noble rot,” which attacks the grape skins in such a way that flavors become concentrated, leading to a delicious honey/apricot quality).Bob Blumer Existential Egg Picmonkey

That lovely Late Harvest Chardonnay and Blumer's Existential Eggs provided an elegant conclusion to a most unusual evening. The dessert was presented in actual egg shells from which the original contents had been removed (an interesting and labor-intensive process, better discussed elsewhere). Blumer moved from diner to diner, removing the top of the individual egg shells to reveal what looked just like perfectly soft boiled eggs. Playing the roles of whites and yolks were white chocolate mousse and passion fruit, delicately inserted in the shells, then placed in a refrigerator for two hours to allow them to set.

While I never met Salvador Dali, I remember seeing him do guest appearances on television long ago. To me he seemed witty, but weird and I suspect many of the adults watching felt that way, too. Dali may have been an inspiration to Bob Blumer (along with the Belgian surrealist René Magritte), but while assuredly talented and very creative, the former “Tee Shirt Puke” has a low-key and likable personality. Artist or chef? I'd say he qualifies in both categories.

Editor's note: There is more to the story of this unusual winery. Later this week, we will bring you part two of this article. The final event in The Tastemaker 2013 Speaker Series will be the evening of October 17th when Sandor Ellix Katz, author of the best-selling The Art of Fermentation, is in conversation with Sunset magazine Food Editor Margo True. Following will be a tasting of Jessup Cellar wines served with pickled creations of Alex Hozven of the Cultured Pickle in Berkeley. Seating is limited. More information can be had at www.jessupcellars.com.

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