07 September, 2016

Deliciousness in the Delta - Favorite Things from #IFBC16

Gowan's Cider = fun
This summer's International Food Blogger's Conference was as tasty as it was fun.  Joining about 300 fellow writers in the Sacramento area was a great way to discover wonderful things I had been passing by in my day-to-day life, since I travel to SMF at least once a week.  The keynote by John Ash was inspiring as he shared insights from his friendships with Julia Child, MFK Fisher, Wendell Berry and his own experience. Julia's advice to "Chew with your mouth open" might not be acceptable in all social settings, but her example of connecting with food, with people and with her passion were great tips.

Here are my top 10 Favorite Things in no particular order (because it would be too hard to stack rank this rich and wonderful experience)

Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates
Care and artistry goes into the products at Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates.  Headed up by the wonderful Ginger Elizabeth Hahn, those silky chocolates make great gifts or just a luxe indulgence for yourself.  The Parisian Macarons were insanely delicious with vivid flavors and a tender perfect texture.  The Ladureé cart at CDG has nothing on the SMF.  When made into a salted caramel ice cream sandwich, the flavors were amazing. Care is also taken that producing these heavenly treats is managed sustainably and responsibly.  So you are doing good supporting this delightful purveyor of yumminess

Hyatt Regency Sacramento
The view from my room was postcard perfect of the State Capitol, but the view I will remember is plate after plate of amazing food at our dinner.  The Hyatt transformed J Street into a flower filled garden party.  Celebrating the theme of Farm-to-fork, the catering staff took fresh ingredients and summoned the magic necessary to transform them into perfect dishes for 300 and drop them on a table simultaneously. Perfect Black Prince tomatoes, juicy chicken and polenta and the crescendo of white peach shortcakes for dessert.  Elegant, yummy and an example of perfect hospitality

California Produce
California figs are the most photogenic, but California Peaches, California Almonds and a host of fresh, delicious everything made eating a joy at every meal.  I got to meet producers of California Endive and learn how they are grown.  I came away with a surprisingly easy salad recipe made from canned peaches, mozzarella and basil.  The California Almond folks provided a cool single portion tin I keep with me to do quick, healthy snack/meals on the go.  Figs inspire me to grill and put in salad or make into ice cream for a fresh, creamy dessert.  Meeting all the producers and hearing their stories was amazing.

 Marin French Cheese has been in business since 1865 producing award winning cheese like their famous Breakfast Cheese.  It was delightful to try at the opening reception.  Laura Chenel with the marinated Cabecou was something I hadn't tried, but now keep in the fridge.  Laura Chenel cuts their fresh goat cheese into disks, then dries them for about a week.  Then they are packed in tubs with infused olive oil. The disks soak up the great flavor of the oil.  Seasoning the oil enhances the delicious cheese even more.  Bonus for us busy hostesses:  the disks come out of the container ready to delight your guests. No last minute slicing.

About a Bite Bakery
Bars, bites and sandwich cookies.  Each more temptingly delicious than the one before.  I am a little ashamed how may of these I packed away, but to my credit, they are all amazingly tasty.  The bakery's philosophy that variety is the spice of life is aided and abetted by their smart portioning.  These tiny treats make amazing gifts,

The Old Sugar Mill
Eleven wine producers have tasting rooms in this lovely brick building in Clarksburg.  I wrote about the wine more extensively yesterday, however I have to claim it as a favorite. Especially because I really want to go do a comparative tasting of wine slushies, which, given my predilection for frosé, is way overdue.  Only fifteen minutes from Downtown Sacramento, yet in the heart of a fun American Viticultural Area, it's a great place to visit and get a survey of what the AVA has to offer.  Bring a picnic lunch, a friend and even your canine companion

Gowan's Heirloom Ciders
Gowans have been growing wonderful apples in Anderson Valley for 140 years.  In 2015, they started making hard cider with a farmer's dedication and ciderist's expertise.  Our founding fathers drank this frizzante beverage for breakfast. Lovely apples make this refreshing drink with a sense of place delicious.  Sierra Beauty, Gravenstein and 1876 Blend are three varieties that I tried.  I liberated about a dozen Gravenstein apples and enjoyed their perfumed aromas all conference long.  Now I seek out Gowan's  Cider every chance I get

 Jimboys Tacos
Jimboys have been serving tacos in the Sacramento area since 1954.  Why I never had one till 2016 at #ifbc, I cannot explain.  Their tag line is "Get out of your Shell" urging you to try their exotic flavors, which are tasty.  However, the powerful allure of the Classic ground beef taco, is one that entranced me.  Rich and flavorful the taco had a homemade taste that reminded me of tacos we made when I was a child.  And paired with a Due Vigne Nebbiolo, it was very tasty.
Mother - Sacramento
"Serving Southern style American food that happens to be meatless" is how the restaurant describes themselves.  When I tasted the plum farro salad I was blown away by the freshness and balance of the flavors.  I did not miss the meat and am always on the prowl for new places to go.

Vanilla Garlic and BCL
Okay, so I misled you.  With the plethora of wonderful food and beverage, interesting historical and social perspectives at the sessions, and luxurious surroundings, I have to say I did have a favorite favorite thing and that is getting to hang out with other bloggers. This conference was so friendly and I learned so much.  Learning is always more fun when you are accompanied by other kindred spirits and IFBC was packed with those

Many thanks to the organizers, Foodista and Zephyr, as well as all the attendees and presenters.  You made my IFBC16 experience memorable and productive.  See you next year when I will again enjoy the reduced conference rate for writing about the conference! #Whatadeal

06 September, 2016

Winetasting in California's Clarksburg AVA - #ifbc16

Phil (L) & Dave Ogilvie 4th gen Clarskburg Farmer/Vintners
The Clarksburg AVA or American Viticultural area is tucked into three counties (Sacramento, Solano and Yolo) near California's capital, Sacramento.  It quite literally nestles into the freeway system as a heart is surrounded by veins and arteries.  Well, that's the view you see on a map, however in person the AVA is the heart of the Delta region.  Hidden off those bustling highways,  is a bucolic countryside where delta breezes tame the valley heat and grapes have become a major crop in the clay and loam based soils.  Delicious Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay wines are made here.  Other kinds of grapes are cultivated by the 17 producers located in Clarskburg, however, you may find wonderful examples  of Clarksburg grapes used by  winemakers in other regions, like Napa.  Excellent quality and great value drive experimentation.  The AVA has one large producer, Bogle .  However there are sixteen other producers in the AVA doing interesting things and best of all creating delicious wines

During my excursion at the International Food Blogger's Conference held earlier this summer in Sacramento, I was lucky enough to be part of a wine safari to Clarksburg that opened my mind to this great region right under my nose.  I actually had visited once before, but it happened nearly by accident on a girl's trip to Reno.  One intrepid friend insisted we exit off 80 to look for wine.  As implausible as it seemed to dart off the highway, we did find some fun wine and a great lunch.  This time, I passed through the town of Freeport in a coach full of fellow bloggers, which was led by Dave Ogilvie of Wilson Vineyards .  Along with his brother Phil, these brothers lead their family business and are part of the area's history.

Wilson Vineyards Unoaked Chardonnay
Dave told us most of the fertile land in Clarksburg had been reclaimed from sloughs as part of the Arkansas Act of 1850, when Dutch engineers came in to create levees, then sold tracts of arable land.  The twins are the fourth generation of a farming family that started with onions, a crop whose first harvest paid for the land.  In the late '60's, the Ogilvie family started growing grapes.  Taking advantage of the cool air generated from the Sacramento river as it wends its way to the San Francisco bay,  the climate is able to produce delicious wine grapes.

We tried the Wilson Vineyards  wines in a lovely special events facility famous for its parties and weddings.  A rustic space set in leafy riverside garden, it was a fun place to try the wines. I particularly enjoyed the Wilson Vineyards, 2014 Chardonnay ($14.99) This unoaked Chardonnay. has an almost creamy texture; Phil uses a  batonage technique to clean up the  wine , making it crisp and fresh, at the same time as it holds a lovely body.  The pale lemon color lets you know it's unoaked.  It had nice balance and a long vinous finish.  This wine is made at the Old Sugar Mill, which hosts the Clarksburg Wine Company's custom crush facility as well as the location of 11 tasting rooms and was our excursion's next stop.

Clarksburg Wine Company's Custom Crush
A custom crush is a place that offers winemakers a shared space and allows winemakers to get up and running quickly and make use of the specialized equipment needed to make wine without having to invest in it all on their own.  The Old Sugar Mill is a historic brick building that has found a new career after being decommissioned from producing sugar.  The structure now houses not only the custom crush facility, but also twelve great tasting rooms.  Much as I love touring wine regions, I also appreciate a place where you can get a great survey of different producers.  This is an easy day trip from the Bay Area and I can't recommend it highly enough.  Your hardest act will be finding a designated driver. Or a better suggestion is to factor in sobering up time and bring a picnic
Delta produce at catered lunch

Clarksburg Wine Company's  custom crush follows the Lodi Rules protocol.  Since lots of people and fruit come through, they are meticulous about cleaning and maintaining to avoid contamination and its spoilage issues.  This facility balances overhead costs for small producers.

Things get busy at the custom crush about two weeks or so after harvest.  Then, the loads of grapes start to come in.  It usually starts with Chardonnay for sparkling wines. Then come the Rieslings and Chenin Blancs, and finishes with the reds in order of phenolic ripeness.  The delivery vehicles range in size proportionate to the size of the producers, so you see all kinds of trucks from giant tankers to a single Ford F150.  The dedicated workers at the custom crush make sure they defy Murphy and his law and maintain the equipment carefully.

Visit to see and taste for yourself.  The Old Sugar Mill is only  fifteen minutes from Downtown Sacramento and opens from 11 am to 5 pm all week.  It's a dog friendly place with a picnic space available.  Hosting 11 wineries, The  Old Sugar Mill is also a wine mall where novice wine tasters will feel confident and experienced wineaux can try new things.  Here are some of my favorites:

Three Wine Company
Headed up by a familiar name: Matt Cline (we love his Mourvedre!), this label celebrates the serendipity of the number three in Matt's life.  His serendipity of threes includes a 3rd winery,  3 daughters and 3 grape blends.I tried a red blend called Established 1885 Red Blend, Three Wine Company ($38)  This blend of 31.6% Carignane, 28,5% Zinfandel, 23.8% Mataro (the Italian name for Mourvedre )  9.8% Petite Sirah and 2.9% Black Malvosie combine to produce a lovely wine with deep red fruit, undercurrents of forest and herb and a solid feel.  120 year old vines in the Spinelli Vineyard grow fruit described as "ethereal" which are combined in this luscious wine

Elevation 10 at The Old Sugar Mill, Clarksburg 
Elevation Ten
is named for Clarksburg's position above sea level, which is ten feet.  Led  by winemaker Marco Capelli,  here three families strive to make wines they love in a place they love. They buy fruit and vinify at the custom crush.  I tried the Elevation 2014 Reserve Chardonnay ($34) and found it delicious. 14 months on the lees in 49% new french oak makes the most of this natural yeast whole cluster wine.  It had nice acidity as well as savory and citrus notes.

Due Vigne
Haunting cherry luscious DueVigne Barbera, 2014, El Dorado County ($? Wine Club Member Only) was a dark yummy wine with mouth watering acidity that made me glad I had some meat and tomatoes to pair with it.  The Barbera grapes are grown in nearby El Dorado county in a vineyard named La Colima, which means "high hill" in Spanish.   In fact, the vineyard is so steep. if you let the clutch out on a tractor it would fly down,  They use a Barbera clone from Asti Italy, which delivers warm, old world-ish aromas and luscious red fruit flavors.  "Wines sing when you have total control over the fruit", I was told.  I also tried their Nebbiolo at the IFBC event the next day and made a very satisfying pair with a classic Jimboy's taco.  These wines love food almost as much as I do.  Started by a retired firefighter whose family has strong ties to San Francisco, these are delish wines worth seeking out.

Clarksburg Wine Company Cab Franc
Clarksburg Wine Company
Clarksburg Wine Company claims to have America's favorite Chenin Blanc.  I had sourced several bottles in anticipation of my visit.  Lucky me as I got hold of the sold out Chenin-Viognier blend and can vouch for the tastiness of their Chenins.  At lunch, I got to try the Clarksburg Wine Company 2013 Cabernet Franc, Clarksburg ($29).  Redolent with dark fruit aromas, and a touch molasses set off by a hint of salinity in the flavors, I enjoyed this wine and its lovely tannic structure.  Vinous led fruity notes in finish with touch of vanilla celebrated a Bordeaux influenced style of California winemaking. My favorite part was the hint of jalapeño. Their 2013 Chenin Blanc, Clarksburg ($18) was great with cheese, since the flavor is so fruity I thought there might be that touch of residual sugar, which contrasts so nicely with cheese.

Muddy Boot Wines

Muddy Boot
The name Muddy Boot Wines connects their brand to farming, which they believe is the  key to quality wine.  The three principals, twins Phil and Dave Ogilvie along with lifelong friend, Tom Merwin , all returned to their Clarksburg farm roots to continue farming tradition through wine.  They capture the deliciousness of the area.
Photo Credit David Ogilvie, Facebook
The Muddy Boot Red Blend  uses a blend of 45% Syrah, 35% Petite Sirah, 11% Merlot, 5% Cab Sauv and 4% Cab Franc to blend a red wine that is fruit forward, but not sweet or stewed. It has a touch of baking spice in the aroma and juicy red fruit in flavor and more spice on finish.  The 2013 Muddy Boot Red Blend, Clarksburg/Lake County California never loses its vinous character though fruit led.  The only note I have for their Chenin Blanc is "yummy".

Follow their exploits on Facebook at Muddy Boot for great pictures like the sunset above and a glimpse into farming life

Many thanks to all the wineries that hosted me at this wonderful event as a part of the International Food Blogger Conference.  I can't wait to return to Clarksburg!

02 September, 2016

Wine Discoveries by the Bay - Family Winemakers Tasting 2016

Family Winemakers is the voice for small production, family-owned wineries here in CA. Established in 1990 this organization advocates and lobbies for these small businesses. They have two tastings a year in Southern and Northern CA respectively, and I love to go and support this organization and it's wineries.

The annual Northern California tasting took place at Pier 27 on the picturesque San Francisco Bay. The site was spacious with excellent views from every direction. This is a prodigious tasting of over 100 wineries so I didn't get to sample every wine even though I was spitting. Fortunately they provide bread, cheese, charcuterie and chocolate to balance out your wine-tasting experience.

I visit my perennial favorites such as Navarro for Pinot Noir and Alsatian whites (the late harvest Gewurtzraminer was so pretty); Lagier Meredith for Syrah, Zin, Malbec and the obscure Mondeuse; Delectus for classic Bordeaux varieties from Napa. And of course the Cabs from Ladera and the Pinots from Sojourn.

And then there are my new favorites: Thirty-Seven from Sonoma showing their crisp Albarino and a delicious red blend featuring Blaufrankisch, amongst their line-up of Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs. And then I found the soulful, balanced Pinot Noirs made by winemaker Atilla Telli under his label Tilla. He learned the trade from Scott Rich, owner and winemaker of Talisman Wine, one of my fave Pinot houses in Sonoma. He featured Pinots from the Tina Marie Vineyard in the Russian River Valley and the Spring Hill Vineyard of the Sonoma Coast. Atilla is a winemaker to watch.

And then there was Hawk and Horse Vineyards which were developed from a former horse-breeding ranch in the Red Hills of Lake County AVA. I was initially attracted to their bottling of 100% Petit Verdot but was really taken in by the Latigo which is winemaker Tracy Hawkins' award-winning Port style dessert wine made of Cabernet Sauvignon. Latigo is a wine made for chocolate and cigars and so tasty. Hawk and Horse is also one of the few wineries that is completely biodynamic, organic and even Demeter certified. They also raise Scottish Highland cattle on the property along with the eponymous Red-tail Hawks.

And then there was Bella Grace an Amador County winery which was the new darling of the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference held in Lodi this August. They have a stellar line-up of whites including Vermentino, Roussane and Grenache Blanc. The reds included Zinfandels, Barbera and a GSM blend. These wines are worth the trip to the Sierra Foothills.

I love going to this event not only to taste wines but also to speak with people who are passionate about their wines and the crafting of them. Family Winemakers is a worthwhile tasting to explore the great variety of wines California has to offer by producers you might never find anywhere else. Thanks to Family Winemakers for this opportunity to taste at their event. --Xandria