The French Laundry Culinary Gardens

The French Laundry Culinary Gardens Yountville

I remember first reading about Thomas Keller in Michael Ruhlman’s “The Soul of a Chef”.  Ruhlman describes his first visit to the French Laundry and the out of body experience that it was.  He includes the story that is included in the French Laundry Cookbook about Keller’s first time butchering rabbits. The experience was for him, a turning point.  The experience was awful and he vowed to ensure that these rabbits were beautiful, there would be no neglecting them as they cooked, overcooking by accident and throwing away needlessly was not to occur after taking their lives.  This story of getting back to where the food comes from, the respect for that and subsequent care for the products that he puts on the plate is part of the essence of what makes the French Laundry so special.

The history of the building

The French Laundry is a two story stone building that was built in 1900 originally as a saloon.   In the 1920’s it served as a French steam laundry.  It had a personal residence and was also a brothel and saloon in the 1930’s, before going vacant for many years, but the locals still referred to it as the French Laundry.  In 1976, one time Yountville Mayor Don Schmitt and his wife Sally purchased the neglected property and turned it into a restaurant.  In the 1990’s the Schmitt’s were ready to leave Yountville, it had grown a little too big for them and an unemployed Chef from LA saw the property and knew it was his destiny.  Mind you, Keller had already made a name for himself at Rakel in NYC as well as Checkers in LA.  When he opened the French Laundry in 1994 he had immediate interest followed by profuse praise.  The restaurant continues to set high standards and be one of the most acclaimed restaurants on the planet.

The building is inconspicuous and you can easily walk by and miss it.  Covered in vines, it is humble and elegant.  While walking by, we watched multiple cars stop, it’s occupants hurrying around to have their picture snapped in front of this iconic restaurant.

Thomas Keller's French Laundry In Yountville

Thomas Keller’s French Laundry In Yountville

When you follow the front walk to the end, you can see the beautiful new kitchen that was built in 2015.  This is modern in contrast to the restaurant building.  Thomas Keller comments that he was inspired by the Louvre, contrasting the older and traditional with the new and innovative.  There is a great video with him on the The French Laundry Culinary Gardens Facebook Page.

The French Laundry Culinary Gardens

The gardens across the street, are well kept, but also humble.  A vegetable garden, with herbs and flowers, that is not pretentious and is open to passersby.  As you stroll up the street you will see the hoop houses in the back.  At the center of the garden near the sidewalk you will find a podium with a wood and glass display box that shows the layout of the garden.  You can look about and see exactly where the tomatoes, cucumbers, squash…the herb patch and the flower bed with sunflowers are located.  Off to the side you see the chicken coop and you can wonder up and say hello to the chickens.  There are bee boxes for fresh honey as well as to provide a home for the bees who pollinate the garden. There are sun chokes, pumpkins, peppers and along the sidewalk you will see fruit trees.  Here and there you find benches to sit and enjoy the bucolic view.

The Gardens at the French Laundry in Yountville Napa North Coast

The Gardens at the French Laundry in Yountville

French Laundry Culinary Gardens and Bench Yountville

A shady tree and a bench to sit on while you take in the culinary gardens.

This is farm to table.  The produce comes in each morning and the menu can be based on what they know is going to be ready in the garden. Again, this is Keller getting back to the source of the food he is so beautifully preparing.

All in all, strolling Yountville and the French Laundry Culinary Gardens is a fantastic way to start a day in Napa.  It is stimulating to the senses, yet calming.  It quiets your mind and puts you in a reflective mindset, which I believe is the perfect way to start tasting wine.

Continue with us as we chronicle our journey through wine country and dig into some of the wonderful places we’ve already visited.  You can find us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles   or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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Flash tour Central Coast Wine Country and beyond – Day 3 – North Coast

Napa Vineyard

The flash tour continues!  Day 3 finds us Exploring Napa, more of Sonoma and then making the trip a little south to the Livermore Valley.  Much of this day takes us out of the Central Coast region and into what is considered the North Coast Region of California Wine Country which encompasses, Napa, Sonoma, Lake County, Los Carneros, Solano County and Mendocino.

Day 3 North Coast – Napa to Sonoma then the Livermore Valley

Yountville

Day 3 Started with a drive into Napa, destination Bouchon Bakery in Yountville. Yountville is a glorious place to start the day and a Café au Lait and a Pain au Chocolat eaten on a bench outside Bouchon Bakery is the way to go. We then enjoyed a stroll through beautiful Yountville where there is art around every corner.  We also made a stop at the French Laundry Gardens to see what they were growing.

Napa

We had not set appointments ahead of time and wanted to do a bit of driving and sightseeing, so we got back on Highway 29 and stopped for photo ops at Opus 1, Robert Mondavi, Gott’s Roadside (where you really have to have lunch), and Chateau Montelena. The drive through Calistoga and into Northern Sonoma on Rt 128 is stunning with Spanish moss dripping from the canopy of the trees over the road and the smell of cedar in the air. The roads here are curvy, so it’s best if you have not overindulged in tastings before making the drive, but the slower driving allows you to roll the windows down and soak in the air.  The North Coast is noted for it’s redwoods and cool climate.

Sonoma – Russian River Valley

We jumped back on the 101 and made our way south to the Russian River Valley and to Balletto Vineyards. In conjunction with Sonoma County.com they have a self guided walking tour where you can learn about the local wildlife, grape varieties, soil types water conservation and see the baseball field built on the property.

Livermore Valley

From here we left the North Coast and drove on to the Livermore Valley arriving in time to enjoy a tasting at the gorgeous property at Wente Vineyards. This stunning property has a full concert series in the summer, they have an 18 hole golf course and an award winning restaurant. Founded 130 years ago they are the country’s oldest continuously operated family owned winery. The grounds are stunning and there are tables outside where servers will bring you tastings or wine by the glass.

Thus ends Day 3!

Day 4 sees us making the pilgrimage to Bonny Doon on the Coast then driving to Paso to visit Tablas Creek. Come back for more of the trip!

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Gravity flow wineries. Isn’t this just common sense?

Halter Ranch Gravity Flow

Gravity flow wineries.  Lately it’s a high tech term, but really it seems like common sense doesn’t it?  In Bordeaux Chateau Lynch-Bages built a tank house that employed a railed gravity flow system in 1850. The lower level held the vats and the upper level was for de-stemming and crushing so that the juice would flow (via gravity) into the vats below.

Gravity flow these days is seemingly expensive with huge complexes built to support this method.  The Palmaz Winery in Napa is the ultimate example of this. This is  the ultimate in gravity flow winery design.  This winery is built in Mount George in Napa.  The wine cave is 18 stories tall with fermentation tanks that rotate on a carousel under the crush pad.

 

Halter Ranch Wine Making Facility

Halter Ranch Wine Making Facility

Halter Ranch in Paso Robles just finished a beautiful new facility that is designed for gravity flow and ease of work flow for winery workers.   On top of that the place is stunning. ( more on Halter Ranch Soon)

Of course there are simpler methods.  Take Willakenzie Winery in Yamhill Oregon.  This winery is simply built to be 3 stories down the side of a hill.  The top floor is for sorting and de-stemming, the middle floor for fermentation and tank storage and the bottom floor for barrel storage.  The juice/wine flows from one floor down to the next via gravity.

But even small wineries can make this system work.  You just have to have your tanks higher than your barrels!  A simple hose from the tank to the barrel will work!  You save the expense of the pumping equipment as well as the maintenance and energy costs.  This method is a bit more time consuming though.  You can fill a barrel in 4 to 5 hours, but…if you don’t wish the gravity to push too hard on your wine, you might adjust your hose to allow the juice to flow more slowly taking 7 to 8 hours to fill a barrel.  So if you are a big mass producing winery you probably don’t want to take the time to do this.  But…if you are in the business of making good wine…

So what kind of damage can pumping do to wine?  From the top you want to gently press the grapes and have them release their juice.  Crushing is actually a pretty harsh word.  In crushing the concern is breaking the seeds and imparting the astringent tannins into your wine. (of course there are winemakers who utilize the tannins in both seeds and stems to great result! ie Brewer/Clifton)  Pumping can force through solids and then requiring additional filtration for your wine.  Pumping also imparts oxygen into the wine and this can affect the aging of the wine.  Pumping can be especially unwanted with the more nuanced varieties of wine like pinot noir as it can disturb the subtleties in the wine.

From an environmental standpoint it is reducing the energy use.  You don’t have to pay for gravity on the electric bill!  Building a gravity flow winery in the beginning will save you energy and equipment cost in the end.

So does it make the wine better?  Well, it treats it more gently and after we torture the grapes on the vine, that seems to be the preferred method of treating them post harvest.  It is energy efficient and seems to be kinda common sense (work smarter not harder!).  In the end there are so many variables.  When you use gravity flow you are again trying to have as little outside influence on the grape as possible.   After that it is in the winemaker’s hands.  And…well before that it is in the vineyard managers hands, as well as the weather.  So many variables.  All in all, a gravity flow system is an ideal, that can be put into practice with a little forethought in building.  It is environmentally better and should in the long run be cheaper.  As to it making the wine taste better?  Maybe it’s time for a comparison test!?  (Any excuse to taste more wine!)

The Poppy Den – Angelo Sosa’s Eclectic and Amazing Creation

Poppy Den Booth

We are Top Chef watchers here.  Kinda fans of the show.  Enough so that when Kristen was knocked off this past season we went online to complain.  We were not giant fans of Angelo Sosa when he was on top chef in Season 7.  So….going into his restaurant, he did not have a free pass.  We left with a whole new respect for the man.

A friend of mine had recommended the new restaurant “Poppy Den” at Tivoli a month or so ago.  Michael and I actually dropped by to see the menu after our lunch at the View earlier this month. Today, we went back for a late lunch to try it out.

First the hosted was friendly and asked a few more questions than I was used to.  She asked where we would like to sit, booth or table, my first name, my last name…and then walked us to our booth.

Poppy Den Architecture

Poppy Den Architecture

The restaurant is eclectic and beautiful.

White walls with white washed beams, I-beams on the outside walls with spray painted orange and factory numbers, tufted curved booths with lovely white and gray upholstery, clean dark brown wooden tables, mismatched china on the table, painted white branchy chandeliers…orange, dark brown (almost black), with greys and various tones of white….very hip and very well thought out.  So, atmosphere from the top was pretty good.  Then I listened to the music…this could really be my Pandora channel..Florence and the Machine, Mumford and Sons…I was feeling at home.

April was the afternoon bartender who was doubling as our waitress.  We ordered the PuPu platter which included the Sweet pea soup, Jarred Tuna, Watermelon Salad, Meatballs and fish fritters.  Then we added the Tuna Deviled Eggs and the Tabouleh lettuce wrap with sesame dressing.  Michael ordered the Lunatic White Blend and I was trying to decide between the Justin Sauvignon Blanc and the Zaca Mesa Chardonnay.  April was so kind as to bring me a sample of each so that I could decide.  I went with the Zaca Mesa Chardonnay.  It had just the right amount of oak, balanced with perfect acid.

Poppy Den Devil Tuna & Tabouleh lettuce wrap

Devil Tuna & Tabouleh lettuce wrap

April brought a small dish of kimchi pickles as a gift from the chef to begin.  They were crisp and spicy without being too hot. Then the Tabouleh lettuce wrap with green apple, bean sprouts and bulgar arrived with the Tuna Deviled eggs with scallions, paprika oil and cilantro.  The tabouleh lettuce wrap had the perfect dressing.  The oil was subtle, making the dish softer without adding any heaviness, the acid was low and Michael’s Lunatic white blend paired perfectly.  The Tuna Deviled Eggs was really lovely, chopped raw tuna along side chopped egg whites.  Perfectly seasoned this was stunning with the Chardonnay.

Poppy Den Pupu Platter

Poppy Den Pupu Platter

Then the towering PuPu Platter arrived on a three-tiered tea-tray stand.  The top held two portions each of the sweet pea soup with edamame and basil chilled, and the watermelon salad with goat cheese.  The next level held  2 portions of the Jarred tuna with celery, red onions, scallion and sriracha served with a toasted slice of baguette and the bottom level held two dishes, one with 4 of the Aunt Armen’s fish fritters in a kimchi relish with dill and lemon and the “meatballs and tomato “my style” with basil and parmesan cheese.    The presentation was lovely and we started with the warm dishes before they got cold.

Aunt Carmen’s fish fritters were lovely and paired wonderfully with the Chardonnay.  The levels of aroma’s that opened in my mouth just kept going.  The Meatballs were wonderful with the Lunatic blend, the sweetness paired nicely with the spice in the meatballs.  We moved onto the sweet pea soup, which was wonderful and cooling after the heat of the meatballs.  It paired wonderfully with the Lunatic blend.

Watermelon & Pea Soup

Watermelon & Pea Soup

The Watermelon salad was simple and sublime and went wonderfully with the Lunatic also.  The Jarred tuna was really glorious with both wines in different ways.  Each wine pulled up something different in the dish and highlighted it!

April came back with the desert menu and suggested her favorite the Chips and Ice cream.  She suggested the lemon poppy-seed ice cream.  She had not steered us wrong yet, so we said, of course.  The dish came out and she warned us that the potato chips were hot, right out of the fryer.  Dipping into the lemon poppy-seed ice cream with the warm salty handmade chips was the perfect blend of sweet and salty and was delightful.

Poppy Den Dessert

Poppy Den Dessert

April was finishing downstairs and was heading up to do a second shift at the upstairs bar and invited us up to see it. Up stairs is stunning, with a great 2nd floor view of Tivoli the sun setting, soft sheer drapes on the walls and rich burgundies of the plush rugs the clean crèmes and browns of the other plush seating and a high ceiling the lounge is stunning, the upstairs patio is over the side of the restaurant and with it’s curved seating feels so exclusive.  And they do have a room set up for dinner service upstairs that can be booked for private events.  When we walked upstairs one of the staff members who had passed us downstairs asked how our late lunch was and if now that we were upstairs during happy hour if we would like to have cocktail or sparkling wine?  One of the staff out on the patio said we should see the place on Friday night when the lounge and patio are full and there is a DJ playing.  They were all very proud of the restaurant that they work in.

I have no complaints and you will have to put a hand across my mouth to keep me from gushing.  This was a really wonderful experience, great design, great food and a warm friendly and attentive staff.  If you are in Vegas, don’t miss this place!

A Cloudy afternoon at the View (Winebar not the talk show!)

View Bar Tivioli Village

I spent an afternoon with Joey at the View Wine Bar (420 South Rampart Las Vegas at Tivoli Village) awhile ago and shared with you  in my Adventures in Sauvignon Blanc blog. Well today I took Michael along for lunch at The View.  The weather was about the same, cloudy and a little windy, but the view was better because the fountain was full and working (as opposed to dry and filled with men in yellow vests cleaning it!).  The location is a little hard to find, which is why we are talking about it here and giving you directions.  You will find it above Brio at Tivoli Village. To get there, walk past the entrance to Brio and around the corner and look for LV Market!  Enter there and cross through the downstairs bistro and take the stairs to the 2nd floor. Head to the front of the building and relax in the industrial decadence of the “View”.

View from View Bar

View from View Bar

You can see the fountain out the front windows and the mix of industrial architecture with exposed ceilings and ducts and tufted couches and seats with natural woods and wine bottle light fixtures in plumbing pipes is enchanting in my opinion.  My advice is to go on a weekday mid day and sit at the bar.  Joey will be working and she is full of great advice on food and wine.  If you like a little more action, well then hit it in the evenings when Joey tells me the place is hoppin’!

Michael and I strolled up and had a seat at the bar to enjoy the view.  The menu is full of great small plate items so you can order a bunch and enjoy.  We ordered the risotto cakes (which I enjoyed last time) the tuna tartare tacos, the Tivoli wrapped dates and the Gnocchi Gratin.  Michael started with the S.A. Prum, Essence Riesling from Germany and I started with the Cloudline Pinot Noir.  The S.A. Prum is from Mosel, and the Cloudline is a Willamette Valley Pinot.  We both enjoyed the wines and felt both were good food wines.  We tasted with the Tivoli wrapped dates which are dates stuffed with goat cheese and almonds wrapped in prosciutto and  then set in a balsamic reduction.  We moved on to tasting with the Tuna tartare tacos, which were mini hard shell tacos with raw tuna, avocado, fresh lettuce and a little creme fraiche.  Then the gnocchi gratin, which went surprisingly well with the Pinot! The acid cut through beautifully with the cheese and paired nicely with the risotto cakes which are breaded fried squares of risotto topped with grated parmesan and lemon zest.  The lemon zest added a wonderful fragrance!  Michael moved on to an Italian Pinot Grigio called VOGA which again paired great with the food.  We talked about European wines and how they are meant to pair with food which makes them different from many new world wines that are blended to drink alone.  As we moved on to dessert, we settled on the Dark Chocolate Nutella Cake and paired it with the Condundrum Red (which obviously is a whole lot of Zinfandel and a bit of Petite Sirah) and Joey’s favorite (that she let me taste when we walked in) Earthquake Petite Sirah from Lodi.  The Earthquake was beautiful on it’s own while the Conundrum was a little hot.  When paired with the Chocolate Nutella cake, both were stunning!

View Wine Bar Tivioli Village from Crushed Grape Chronicles on Vimeo.

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Wines I can’t forget, part two

More on great wines that I can’t forget.  We started this in the last blog with my list of the 15 wines that I want to drink again.  These are wines that stand out in my memory.  Most were tasted at the winery and perhaps some of why I like them is because of the atmosphere or the day.  Any way we are back with 5 more of those wines and today we begin with

Grgich Hills Fume Blanc

Grgich Hills if I remember correctly was only the 2nd winery we visited in Napa.  The experience was good and informative (when I say informative you can read: Robin liked the people in the tasting room!).  We left with a split of the Fume Blanc and directions to Gott’s Roadside with directions to pair with the Ahi Burger.  It was raining and we were in the tent with tables behind the place and I was very happy.  Perhaps I was just really hungry, perhaps it was that I love ahi, perhaps because I was just learning about pairings and the guidance made me a little giddy.  At the time I only new a little about Mike Grgich (like that when you watch bottle shock…he was the winemaker behind that historic wine!) and I knew nothing about Joel Gott.  This was a memorable wine for me, I think, due to the place and time in my wine education.

Carhartt Pinot Noir

Carhartt Vineyards patio at the "Worlds Smallest Tasting Room" Los Olivos California

The tiniest tasting room on the planet is in Los Olivos, CA and I have waxed poetic on this place quite often.  So yes…the atmosphere and the people play a big part in why I love this wine.  But this one I will go on the record for saying, even if you take all that away, I would still be enamored by this wine.  I love bold Pinots with smoke, meat and barnyard.  This Pinot on the other hand was elegant and delicate and smelled of violets.  I was completely taken off guard and transported.  I adore this wine and cherish the experience of this tasting.

Tablas Creek Vermentino

Tablas Creek Tasting Room Paso Robles, CA

 

So this wine we did not taste at the vineyard!  I love Tablas Creek and we have been there twice and are very proud to be wine club members, but this particular wine was given to me as a gift from a friend.  I cannot thank Laurie and Al enough for giving me this glimpse into Vermentino.  This simple Italian white is not fancy but really fulfilling.  We make sure to pick up a bottle whenever we visit now.

Terry Hoage Syrah

View from Terry Hoage Vineyards Paso Robles CA

We stumbled upon this vineyard at the recommendation from someone in another tasting room.  The property is lovely as you can see by the vineyard view. They are on a hilltop with chickens running free and a lake on the property.  Terry Hoage played footbal at the University of Georgia in the 80’s and then played 13 seasons in the NFL as a free safety.  They moved to Paso to build a home and put in a small vineyard for landscaping.   That evolved into a love for growing grapes and then making wine. The tasting room was elegant and the staff well educated on wine.  This was the last wine we tasted that day and we left with a split that I covet in my wine cellar.  I’m afraid to drink it!  I don’t want it to be gone!

Vino Robles Petite Sirah

Vino Robles Paso Robles CA

 

It’s a struggle to get me on the Petite Sirah bandwagon. I find it often inky and sometimes cloying.  Our tasting at Vino Robles included the cheese pairings and that might have set me over the edge.  It was heaven.  I know it is here in a previous blog post, but we had a cheese with coffee and lavender that was stunning and this Petite Sirah was gorgeous.  Was I affected by the elegant surroundings, by the informative and friendly staff, by the gorgeous cheese, by the comradery with other patrons during our tasting?  Perhaps, but I still want to drink this wine again.

Stay tuned for the last 5 of my wines I can’t forget in the next post!

 

Winery’s off the Beatin Track, Part 2

Another Wine Maker not to miss while visiting Paso Robles. On our last day this trip in Paso Robles we stopped at:

4:00 pmTerry Hoage Vineyard

 

 

Carol at Vina Robles suggested we stop here.  She said they have great wines and not enough people get by their tasting room.  The tasting room, while small was Beautiful!  Terry Hoage played football for GA Bulldogs and then the Eagles, as a safety.  His College GPA was stellar and he is a brilliant man.  He and his wife settled her to raise their family.  They have chickens in the vineyard eating the bugs and a lake.  The wines here are lite bodied, but full of flavor, nuance, texture and depth.  Evan in the tasting room was warm and knowledgable and filled us with great information on the wines and vineyard!  A guy in the tasting room (lawyer) suggested Evernote as a great application for taking wine notes. Michael will check it out.  It allows you to take label photos.

Evan was the pourer, and very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their wines. This was a passion not just a job, was encouraging, because we had been at a couple of previous stops where the winery just hired a body, who had no real knowledge except how to pour the wine. We tried 2008 Tranche Cuvee $48, 2008 The Pick, Granche Cuvee  $48,  2007 The 46, Grenache Syrah based on the 46 defense of Buddy Ryan, 2008 5 Blocks, Syrah Cuvee $48,  all Very good complex wines that had body, structure, taste, and subtle nuances.  A great find we never would have tried or put on our list without a recommendation.

Terry Hoage Tasting Room Paso Robles California

Have you found any Hidden Treasures?  Let us Know?