2017 The year in retrospect

Wet West Virginia moss

I’ve started this post at least 3 times.  How to sum up a year?  My tendency is to go analytical and spin out the year chronologically.  But remembering a year doesn’t really work that way.  Even scanning through my Instagram feed, I found my mind drifting, one memory taking me to another, rarely chronologically and I would swipe from one end of my feed to the other as the thoughts took me.  The visuals, the photos, were the things that drew me in, so that is what I want to share with you.

A Year of #_______Strong and of people coming together

2017…It’s been a year. It was the year of #(currentdisasterousevent)strong. There were so many, it was overwhelming at times. These events, that used to happen in some far away place, to people we didn’t know, suddenly, as we become a global community, have become things happening to people we know in places we have often seen. I had friends in Florida, Houston, in Sonoma, in New York City, in the Dominican Republic. And then of course there was Vegas. That’s home, and while I was not on the strip that night, many people that I work with daily and care for deeply, were. It was a year of stress and struggles, but also a year of people coming together. These events reminded us what is important, they caused us to be in touch with people who are dear to us and let them know they are dear to us.

Nature and home

As I sifted through the photos from this year, the ones I found the most moving, were those I took on our family farm early this spring.  No, they have nothing to do with wine, but returning to this place during some torrential spring rains, brought some perspective to the year.  The day was wet and rainy, but it only drizzled a bit while we were there.  We watched the creek rush overflowing it’s banks, and trudged from the ridge to the meadow and were soaked to the bone by the the dripping trees and wet underbrush by the time we left, but bits of astounding beauty were everywhere.

Fungus on the Farm

Fungus on the Farm

My Waterfall.

My Waterfall

Friends and Wine in Virginia

While we were on the East Coast we were able to catch up with friends and spent a weekend with my best friend and another friend from college as well as their husbands and did a bit of exploring of Virginia Wine Country.  A few years ago, we did a girls weekend in Virginia wine country and this was a great opportunity to do  Wine Country II,  Electric Boogaloo tour with the boys.

I did a bit of research on the history of Virginia Wine Country before we traveled, and we tried to take in a few different areas starting at Chrysalis and Stone Tower in Northern Virginia.  Chrysalis Vineyards is the Champion of the Norton Grape, a grape native to North America and have their tasting room at the Ag District Center.  The Winery is the vision of Jennifer McCloud who started Chrysalis in the late 1990’s.  This is a from scratch business. In Todd Kliman’s book “The Wild Vine – A forgotten grape and the untold story of American Wine” he talks about meeting Jennifer at the Vineyards and riding out with her in her pickup to see the vines.  She is the heart and soul of this winery.

Norton Grape Vine at Chrysalis Tasting Room

Norton Grape Vine at Chrysalis Tasting Room

Stone Tower Vineyards, is something completely different.  You drive up Hogsback Mountain to find an impressive Estate with a “stone tower” hence the name.  Part of the property had been in the family for 40 years and in 2005 they added to the property when a neighboring farm was available.  Many of their vines are still too young to yield fruit, so their winemaker brings in juice from California for some of their wines, which are labeled under “Wild Boar Cellars”.  Regardless, the wines were all beautifully made and the Estate wines made from grapes grown on site are really exquisite.  The tasting room at the vineyard in Loudoun County is expansive and beautiful and as such is overflowing with wine tasters from the DC area on the weekends, so go early!

Stone Tower Winery in Virginia

Stone Tower Winery in Virginia

We ventured south from here to meet my dearest friend at Barboursville Vineyards in Central Virginia.  This Vineyard is on a historic estate between Monticello and Montpelier. On the property lies the remnants of the home designed for James Barbour by Thomas Jefferson.  In 1976 the Zonin Family, who command a portfolio of 9 wineries in 7 regions of Italy, acquired the property.

Barboursville Vineyards

Barboursville Vineyards

We then headed to Charlottesville (this was early in the year, before they needed a #CharlottesvilleStong).  We had a great dinner on the Historic Downtown Mall and then planned our morning trip to Monticello.

Jefferson wanted so desperately to grow grapes and make his own wine.  He was a renaissance man and as such tended to get wrapped up in some things to the detriment of others.  The property is beautiful, the house unique and quirky, with it’s wine elevator among other things and the gardens are lovely, if filled with non native species.  The vineyards speak to the longing to make his own wine and on this spring day, in the mist, they seemed to echo this.

 

Monticello

Monticello

Vineyards at Monticello

Vineyards at Monticello

We had lunch at the historic Michie Tavern and visited a few other wineries, a standout being Blenheim Vineyards, owned by Dave Matthews.

How much California Wine Country can you see in 6 days?

August took us on a Flash Tour of the California Coast and it’s wine regions.  We spent 6 Days traveling the coast hitting Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, Monterey, Napa, Sonoma, the Livermore Valley, and Santa Cruz. You can check out our travels here. The trip was amazing, here are some visual highlights.

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Other highlights

Those are the big highlights, but we were busy all year.

At the beginning of the year I did a tasting of Natural Wines with Matthieu at the farmers market.

We did a Superbowl Wine Party How to pair with Everything!  And we did pair with everything!

In April we did a Virtual trip to the McLaren Vale in Australia with our friend Dean being our Wine Reporter at Large

In May and June we dove into Rosé with some basics and tastings.  July saw us drinking lots of bright whites, as you would expect in the summer in Vegas, and then

We found ourselves back in Santa Barbara again in October and spent time in Lompoc in the Wine Ghetto, Solvang and downtown Santa Barbara.

Beyond that we traveled closer to home and did some amazing at home pairings.  Including a wonderful Grenache Vertical and some Wine and Chocolate bark pairings.

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Onward to 2018

And what about 2018? I love the New Year. It always feels like a clean slate. Will there be good wine and some wine travel? Yes! Adventures and meeting new people and sharing their stories is what we are all about, and we get better at this all the time. Plans are in the works for this year, but who knows where the wind may blow us. I look forward to more spontaneous trips this year.

And I have been inspired seeing people post their “power words” for the new year.  Mine…”Exploration”.  I love research and if I want to be more spontaneous this year, it actually probably means chasing tangents down the research rabbit hole, and I’m okay with that!  I do have a few things on my list.  Expect to see more on French wines and wine regions this year.  Between trips to wine regions, we will be taking some virtual trips to France and digging in deeper to it’s wine regions. There is a reason that when people think of wine, they first think of French wine.  I am also anxious to search out more “natural wines”.  I know, I know, it’s a really open term, but I love pét-nat and I want to explore deeper into this movement and I’m anxious to see how this category of wines develops and evolves.  And then of course there will be the tangents.  I always start the year with plans, and I will be sitting down soon to create my list for 2018.  By the end of 2018 I am sure that I will have happily strayed from it.

Happy New Year!  I’m off to make my exploration planning list.  I should probably pour a glass of wine as I head down the rabbit hole.

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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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Coffee, Art and a Morning Stroll in Yountville

Morning in Yountville

When in Napa, the best place to spend your morning, before heading out for wine tasting, is Yountville.  Bouchon Bakery….Ahh… I live in Vegas and there are two Bouchon Bakeries at the Venetian, so I am luckier than most to be able to have these delicious pastries closer at hand than most, but really there is nothing like a Café au Lait and a Pain du Chocolat while sitting on a bench outside Bouchon Bakery in Yountville in the morning.  You often start outside on the sidewalk, making friends as you exchange the duty of holding the door for the line that trails out of the tiny building.  Once inside you can watch the bakery though the glass windows as they make the bread and pastries, while you await a close enough spot in the line to see the pastries in the display case.  Once there you are mesmerized by all the beautiful pastries, which to choose?  Then you must quickly decide on your drink (this part reminds me of the Starbucks in Time Square).  The staff bustles behind the counter, maneuvering around each other in their morning game of twister as they fill orders.  You politely duck back to await your name being called and move 5 or 6 times to allow others to grab a napkin or a fork from the counter behind you.  This bustle could feel stressful anywhere else, but you’re in Yountville, so everyone smiles sweetly with an underlying sense of bliss for the deliciousness that is coming and the wonders of the day ahead.

Once handed your parcel of pastries, you scoot outside to find a seat.  This trip had us there on a Saturday, and we were lucky that a bench opened up quickly.  Immediately the sparrows stop by to demand crumbs.  I’m so blissful, I can’t deny them. Then suddenly my pain au chocolate is gone.  I nurse my café au lait to extend my reason for staying.  Finally, we vacate to allow someone else a little of this bliss.

But the morning doesn’t end there.  It’s cool and comfortable.  The birds are chirping and Yountville is the perfect place for a morning stroll.  The city is dotted with public art, and grapevines and then there is the French Laundry Culinary Garden.  And strolling is part of what this place is about.  If you visit the Yountville website, the first words you read are “Welcome to Yountville! Here we embrace the old world Italian custom “Passeggiata” – an appreciation for the art of stroll and all the discovery and comfort that comes with it.”  So, to embrace the local culture, we strolled.

First…a little history on Yountville.

Yountville and the surrounding area, in the early 1800’s was owned by Mexico.  In 1836, George C. Yount, the city’s namesake, got a land grant from Mexico that ran the width of the Napa Valley from the current city of Yountville, north to the southern edge of St. Helena.  George named the area Caymus Rancho.  He was the first to plant grapes in Napa Valley and laid out a village with a public square that he called “Yountville”.

Art Walk

The city is dotted with public art.  You can find a map for the Art Walk on the Yountville City Site.  I was enamoured with the Rock Mushroom Garden by Napa Valley Artists Rich Botto.

V Marketplace

As you stroll through town, you will find the V Marketplace across the street from Bouchon Bakery (and of course Bouchon, the restaurant).  This Marketplace houses Michael Chiarello’s restaurant Bottega as well as multiple specialty shops.  This spot has some history also.  In 1874 this was the site of the first winery in Napa Valley built by Gotteib Groezinger. The three massive stone buildings Groezinger built now house beautiful specialty shops with apparel, home decor, jewelry, art as well as restaurants and tasting rooms.  The structure encompasses gardens with fountains and often hosts events.

The city is also dotted with grapevines here and there, it is after all, their biggest industry, and the vines were beautiful with grapes in veraison as we strolled.  There is also a large oak tree in the in the center of town, branches shored up by posts, that provides shade over a park. We were strolling, but there is plenty here to side track you, tasting rooms, shops, galleries, bistros and then of course, some of the finest restaurants in the country.

And this was just the beginning of our stroll.  Next we will stroll down Washington Street to visit the Culinary Gardens of the French Laundry.

For more on Yountville visit the Yountville site where you can find details on places to stay, things to do and upcoming events.

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!

Keep up to date on all of our posts by following us on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Superb Owl Snacks, Chardonnay and Popcorn

Game Day Pairings

Game Day Pairings

It’s Game Day and I’m off.  This is a rare thing for me, typically I would be working on a Sunday, but in Vegas….the only show that goes on today is the Superb Owl!  Michael is working so I have the day to myself.  So game day snacks and a wine pairing seemed in order!  I had a couple of inspirations today.  First was an article by Mark Oldman on Game day snacks and wine pairings 7-pairings-to-supersize-your-big-game-wine-experience.  The second was an article on WineFolly (love her!) on How to Improve your wine smarts in one month.

So…I have been delving into French wines this month, researching and learning more about them and I love popcorn.  I don’t often indulge, but Mark convinced me.  And inspired by Madeline, I will compare a couple wines.  And…to up the ante a little (it is game day) we are inspired by the Judgement of Paris.  If you haven’t seen Bottleshock, you should rent it.  Any way…I am off to find a Chablis from Burgundy and…a Chardonnay from Grgich Hills.  In addition to the popcorn…I’ll search for some other lovely Chardonnay Pairings.

Alright…back from shopping. Here’s what we have.  a 2012 Pascal Bouchard Chablis Le Classique,  a 2010 Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay, and a 2010 Chateau de Rully.  My favorite guy at the wine store was in, so while it was crazy, I managed to pick his brain for a moment.  He gave a nod to my Chateau de Rully pick and suggested the Pascal Bouchard Chablis.  While it is unoaked, it has gone through secondary fermentation so it has a richer mouthfeel while still keeping the acid.  I was eyeing the Montrachet, but mentioned that I didn’t think I should invest in that without Michael home and he agreed.  So…Montrachet for another day.

Game Day Chardonnays

Game Day Chardonnays

I headed to the store and picked up some brie, some fontina cheese, peppered goat cheese, green beans almondine, lobster macaroni, popcorn & butter.

So a little about the Wines…where they come from etc and the pairings.

When Michael and I first visited Napa, Grgich Hills was the second winery we visited.  They were warm and friendly and open to educating wine novices, which we were at the time.  If you have not yet seen Bottleshock, and want the suspense, you might skip reading this next part.  Mike Grgich worked at Chateau Montelena as the winemaker in 1973 when that famous Chardonnay was made that beat out the French whites at the Paris tasting.  At 91 he is still active at the winery and in Napa and can be seen sporting his signature beret.

Grgich Hills 2010 Chardonnay

Grgich Hills 2010 Chardonnay

The Grgich Hills 2010 Estate Chardonnay; ($33)  Certified Organic and Biodynamically farmed, the 2010 vintage has good acidity with a definite butteriness from 10 month in French Oak (40% new).  This sits on the high side at 14.1% alcohol.  The butteriness of the wine lent itself to pair nicely with all of the cheeses, adding a depth of richness to the Fontina and Brie and unexpectedly taming the pepper in the peppered goat cheese.  It brought out the richness in the sauce in the green beans almondine.  But the Piece de resistance was pairing it with the buttered popcorn!  Heavenly!

Buttered Popcorn

Buttered Popcorn

Chablis is the northernmost area in Burgundy and they grow Chardonnay almost exclusively here.  Chardonnay’s here you will find unbaked. The soil here is Kimmeridge Clay which is a mixture of limestone, clay and fossilized oyster shells.  Chablis is so well known for it’s Chardonnay that when vintners in California fist began growing Chardonnay, they actually called it Chablis.

Pascal Bouchard is a family run winery with an Estate that sits in 4 appellations in Chablis : Chablis Grand Gru, Chablis Premier Cru, Chablish and Petit Chablis.  They use no new oak here and only the Grand Crus are aged in 100% oak.  The Petit Chablis and Chablis (like the Le Classique that we tasted) are 100% stainless steel.

Pascal Bouchard Chablis

Pascal Bouchard Chablis

The Pascal Bouchard 2012 Chablis; ($23) This wine is clean and bright with pear and fresh cut apple on the nose as well a a bit of chalk and dust.  This made for a bright clean pairing with all of the cheeses, making them feel lighter.  The acid was perfect to cut through the fat.  This wine would allow you to enjoy brie outside on a hot summer day and not have it be too heavy.  This paired nicely with the beans and  with the Lobster macaroni made for a lovely contrast.  The alcohol on this sits at 12.5%.

Chateau de Rully is a 12th century medieval fortress located in Cote Chalonnaise.  The vineyards here are maintained by Antonin Rodet, who sells these wines all over the world.  Cote Chalonnaise is south of Cote d’Or and Cote de Beaune.  The wines here are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Chateau de Rully 2012

Chateau de Rully 2012

Chateau de Rully 2010 ($25) 11-14% alcohol; This wine had acid on the nose than the Grgich with a little effervescence.  I got butter and creme on the nose and a little dust that was not chalky.  Round and mellow on the palate, but with great acid for a wonderful palate cleanser.  This wine brought out the nutty character in the Brie and gave me interesting nuances when paired with the Fontina.  With the goat cheese?  Not so much.  But this was my favorite pairing with the Lobster Mac.  It compliments nicely the dish nicely making everything more aromatic in my mouth.

These three Chardonnays were all very different.  The Chablis was crisp and clean and lighter in color.  The Chateau de Rully has a little butter with good acid and lots of nuance and the Grgich Hills was by far the biggest wine in the bunch and really was a piece of heaven with the buttered popcorn.

Oh..and I did watch a little of the game and some of the commercials.