Category Archives: Just For Fun
Now that Heirloom tomato season is here, I’m planning meals around the ultimate tomato dish in our house…the Caprese Salad. But our summer meals with Caprese on the table most often go to Mediterranean flavors. Lately, I’m loving sipping our 2009 Sauvignon Blanc before sunset, with its crisp refreshing acidity and bright citrus notes. So I had to tweak the Caprese to pair with this wine and the light summer fare I serve along with it. It was an easy variation, of course. Instead of fresh mozzerella and snipped basil, I use deliciously salty and acidic fresh local sheep’s milk feta and fresh garden mint. Along with a splash of balsamic I layer a squeeze of lemon, and drizzle all with a lively green olive oil.
For four servings, you’ll need:
2 medium to large ripe heirloom tomatoes
6 oz. fresh sheep’s milk feta cheese
½ cup fresh mint leaves, washed and patted dry, then snipped
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
A splash of aged balsamic vinegar
A squeeze of ½ lemon
Fresh “green” olive oil, to taste
Slice the tomatoes and pepper liberally. Sprinkle the feta over the tomatoes, then top with snipped mint. Splash with the balsamic and lemon, then drizzle with olive oil. Serve at room temperature.
It is no secret that I love chocolate. I even have a “chocolate stash” in a secret compartment of my desk (saved only for those moments when the sweet tooth rages it’s ugly head, which is often…usually daily). I really enjoying discovering new chocolate brands and/or flavor combinations, particularly chocolate of the dark variety. Just this past weekend, I discovered this amazing little candy, made by Cadbury (because many of life’s most delicious treats are made by Cadbury – why is that?) called a “Crunchie” bar. Being milk chocolate, I wasn’t sure that I would love it…but this little piece of candy bar heaven is my new favorite dessert. The description: “golden honeycomb centre surrounded by delicious Cadbury milk chocolate” and delicious it is! I enjoyed this tasty little bar with a glass of our 2003 Zinfandel (Zin and chocolate – it doesn’t get any better).
So tell me, what is your favorite chocolate treat? And what do you drink with it?
We had a special guest here yesterday. Jerry Luper stopped by to say hello after many years of living in Europe, and just about 30 years after turning Chateau Montelena Winemaker responsibilities over to Bo Barrett, now our Master Winemaker. So it was fun to get them together with current Winemaker Cameron Parry for a group photo. What strikes me, other than the idea of the shared history represented here, are the smiles on their faces. It’s fun here at the old Chateau…and it’s the people who make it so.
As I conclude the July 4th holiday and get ready to head out for a real R&R vacation in the beautiful state of Montana, I’ve realized that among my many friends, I’ve grouped them into two categories. There are those that are wine collectors, or “snobs,” and those that aren’t. Don’t get me wrong; when I say “snob,” I mean that in an endearing way. I, myself, am lumped into that category by all my friends. I live by the creedo, “life’s too short to drink bad wine,” and have even taken it a step further. If I’m gonna take in the calories on a beer, I’m going for the good stuff – Microbrews all the way! If I opted for a lite beer, I’d just assume drink water; far better for the body if I’m just putting flavorless liquid in it. If I opt for a burger, I’m not going to a place that wraps it in wax paper in a styrofoam box and offers drive-thru; I’m sitting down to a $15 gourmet Wagyu or premium ground sirloin with Maytag blue melting down the sides. You get the point.
So back to my friends. My guests for the July 4th barbecue were the non-snobs. Yes, they appreciate the good wine when it’s there, but most will settle for whatever’s white, whatever’s red. They love it when I break open a good bottle; but when my back is turned and I’m out the door, they’re back to sipping the stuff in a box. I occasionally turn a few of them towards the other side; they curse and thank me at the same time. With these friends, a great time is had by all, regardless of what we drink.
Now to my Montana trip. Going with close friends, and all are “snobs.” When we normally get together, we all bring some prize bottles to share, knowing this is the group of friends who we like to brag to each other about what we have; and that they can appreciate the nuances of some of these subtle, yet, intriguing wines. We’ll all bring 4-6 bottles each for a group of 6 of us; and we’ll return home with 4 or 5 of what we brought. We’ll leave knowing we’ve drunk to our fullest of some of the finest wines from each other’s cellars. In fact, a good portion of our conversation is dominated by what we consumed. We soak in the moments with food…and great friends.
What is the moral of this story? Life is about diversity; you can’t live on a bland, predictable diet. Having friends with differing interests keeps me healthy. My picnic friends make me realize there’s more to life than just great wine. They enjoy the knowledge that I can share with them, and make me feel good about what I know; and at the same time, laugh and talk about other worldly and not so important topics. My snobs? They rejuvenite the juices in me to further learn, as I realize I really don’t know everything about wine there is to know. We learn to appreciate the finer things in life; the details. Both sets of friends are truly loved and appreciated.
And yes, there are other friends that are “tweeners.” A whole other, but appreciated category!
Looking to pair our new release 2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay with fresh fish? I love pairing this visually stunning first course of fresh ahi tuna and avocado with the luscious texture, citrus and tropical notes of the 2009 vintage. Traditional island style poke usually contains kukui or macademia nuts as an ingredient. Here, I’ve married a bit of California to the recipe…with avocado as a middle layer in a stacked presentation. The roasted seaweed adds some salty sweetness and a wonderful crispy texture component. This should be prepared within hours of serving, but once stacked and plated, it’s really done and ready to go*. Preparation time is about 20 minutes, including plating. Serve with plain water crackers.
16 ounces sashimi quality ahi tuna, medium dice
2 teaspoons low sodium soy sauce
2 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil
Pinch chili flakes, or siracha sauce
2 Tablespoons green onion, sliced very thinly
1 teaspoon garlic, chopped
1 Tablespoon black sesame seeds (optional)
2 medium Hass avocados, halved and pitted
Juice of one small lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste
Kim Nori (roasted salted seaweed), as garnish
Hoisin sauce (optional), for plating
Combine first eight ingredients in a stainless steel bowl and gently mix. In a separate bowl, combine avocado, lemon, salt and black pepper, mashing to a chunky consistency. For each serving, rub the inside of a 3 inch ring mold with sesame oil; set on serving plate. Gently press about 2 oz of ahi mixture into the mold using the back of a teaspoon. Spoon a layer of avocado mixture gently on top. Finish with another 2 oz. of ahi and gently press. Keeping pressure on the spoon, lift the ring mold off of the stack. Garnish with the dried seaweed. I
*Tip: If you don’t have a ring mold, try using an oiled large ice cream scoop, stacking per instructions above, and then inverting on a chilled plate.
If you have ever visited Jade Lake to enjoy its tranquility – and especially if you are a CellarMaster Wine Club member who has reserved one of its two islands for personal use – you are familiar with our pavilions. These structures were originally built by Yort and Jeanie Frank, whose family owned and lived in the Chateau in the mid-20th Century. It was in fact Yort who excavated the lake, created its enchanting gardens, and named it all after his wife, whose nickname was Jade. After decades of exposure to the elements, even with our careful upkeep, it finally became necessary to replace the pavilions. This work was recently completed, faithfully replicating the original design, and even incorporating beautiful roof tiles sourced directly from China. Here is a picture of the left island pavilion, taken just before guests arrived for our annual Movable Feast event in late May. Next time you visit, we hope you take in the view. Better yet, after your visit maybe you would have a picture or two to share with us (hint…hint)?
I’ve been a big advocate of local farmer’s markets for many years. While I do ponder why the costs of fruit and veggies at these direct-to-consumer venues is as high, if not higher than, some of your finest grocery chains, I’ve also come to realize that it’s still money well spent. Here’s why:
*Quality. Just as in buying wine directly from the source. You know you can count on the quality of it. Did it drive across country and back on warm, summer days? Did it sit next to a furnace in some building? No, it was stored best by the people who know how. For produce, you know where it’s coming from; you meet the farmers and get first hand information. You understand the TLC that went into it. Tasting tree ripened fruit or fresh cut veggies from the ground is so much better. This is as close as most can get in an urban surrounding. And, you’re often getting true organic or non-genetically modified produce; which translates to better for the earth, better for the body.
*Price. Yes, it isn’t “as cheap,” but you know it comes directly from the source, and no middlemen taking their shares. Think back when how farms struggled, and the government had to subsidize to make sure we have food on our tables. They’re not getting the same subsidies. This tremendously helps them to eek out a living. After all, when was the last time you drove by a farm and saw their mansion on the grounds? It’s not high-profit careers until it gets to the hands of conglomerate grocery chains. These folks stress every year about how the weather will be; they’re up at the crack of dawn till sunset; and they don’t often get two days off a week.
*Uniqueness. Some, if not all of these markets will have things you’ve never seen or heard of. Every July, I crave the candycots that are only available at the famous Ferry Plaza farmer’s market in San Francisco on Saturdays. These little gems, appropriately named, are like eating candy. They are exclusively grown in the Fresno area, and just through the months of end of June and July. Being far from where I live, I tracked down the farm and asked them if there’s any way to get these. Their response, “either come to our farm, or the SF Farmers market, that’s it!” Can’t ship, no stores.. And, I’ve never found as sweet boysenberries; heck, haven’t found boysenberries, period; except there, for a 4 week window. And the variety of Asian pears! Oh my, I can go on… You just have to go frequently and find these unique things.
*Fun Factor. It’s just plain fun to walk around with friends and family; sample the “fruits” of their labor, be outside, and eat at the adjacent food tents.
So support these farmers, bring your wallet, and bring home of nature’s goodness!
This Friday, on June 24th, we’ll be celebrating the beginning of summer by cooling down with some refreshing glasses of Sauvignon Blanc in honor of #SauvBlanc Day. To participate in the online festivities, simply use the hashtag #SauvBlanc when you are sharing/tweeting/Facebooking information about this beloved summer wine. Visit the official page for more information: http://sauvblanc2011.eventbrite.com
We have a new face on the blog! Lynn Pedone will be working in the vineyard, with Dave Vella and his crew, as she pursues her studies in Viticulture at Santa Rosa Junior College. A little background on Lynn: she’s a recent East Coast transplant, has lived all over the world growing up in a military family and has previously worked in the world of business and finance. She’s now hoping to settle into her “last career stop until retirement” in the wine industry and is looking forward to the opportunity to learn more about vineyard maintenance with Dave. Lynn will be writing a weekly blog post about her experiences working in the Chateau Montelena vineyards. Read her latest post below:
I can’t move….
Yesterday was my first day of work in the Chateau Montelena vineyard – my “dream job” – ? Wow, this old body isn’t used to physical labor – especially not for 8 hours! The last time I worked this hard was back in the day (emphasis on “back”) when I was a gym rat, body building and power lifting, and learned “muscle has memory” – in this case, it had better be a long one!
We started off suckering the vines – pulling unwanted green shoots off of the trunks below the drip lines. No problem. Then someone handed me a shovel – !? Oh yes, using a shovel to break up/dig out weeds in the berms. If you have ever pounded a metal shovel into hard, dry dirt, you know it’s not a lot of fun! But I persevered. I couldn’t keep up with the men (incredibly hard workers), but at least I had their respect that I wanted to pull my weight and do my share. The heat did not help matters – yesterday was the hottest day of the year so far, 90. Fortunately there was a breeze and I took my share of shade breaks. The good news is that I probably sweated off at least a pound – at this rate I’ll be back into most of my wardrobe by September! Also, the foreman told me there wouldn’t be any more shoveling – they were pretty much done with this for a while. So now we will be doing other typical summer vineyard activities – tucking the vines up into the wires, pulling leaves in the fruit zone, etc. Anyway, it was a good day – the workers are all very kind, seemingly tolerant to have me in their midst, and willing to take the time to explain how and why we do certain things in the vineyard… Placido, Paulino, Heriberto and Beto – those are the names I learned yesterday.
In the famous words of one of the greatest bands of our time, thank God it’s here! I won’t talk much about the weather, as that’s been beaten down in blogs and articles everywhere; so if you’re wondering what it means to vintage 2011, ask us in the Fall. It’s still too early.
What I can say, however, is my tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash may have a chance after all. Without warmth and sun, they were showing signs of doom.
I can put away the jackets I had already stashed in April, just to dust them off for May and June.
Vacation in Montana looks promising.
A day at the beach may be a reality now.
Farmer’s markets can start showing off some real Summer fruit.
After all man has done in modern technology, we’re all still at the mercy of Mother Nature in so many ways. I love California!