Summer 2022 Adventures in Napa Valley–Great Food, Wineries, and The Fabulous Solage Calistoga, An Auberge Resort

Napa (Part II of the California Wine Country Adventure)

Continuing through Carneros, we crossed into Napa County, which shares this AVA with Sonoma. Our first stop was Domaine Carneros, which is known for their sparkling wines.

Domaine Carneros Estate and Tasting Room on the Napa side of Carneros.

 

Domaine Carneros
Domaine Carneros is known as a small grower-producer of Méthode Traditionelle sparkling wine, Pinot Noir, and a breathtakingly beautiful Château overlooking the rolling, sun-drenched vines of Carneros. Founded by the noble family behind Champagne Taittinger, Domaine Carneros was established in 1987 when Claude Taittinger selected a 138-acre parcel in the heart of Carneros, Napa Valley, wisely choosing Eileen Crane-often referred to as America’s doyenne of Sparkling Wine, to oversee the development of the Taittinger style in Carneros. In 2020, after 33 years, Crane passed the torch to a new CEO, Remi Cohen, whose role carries on the Taittinger tradition of visionary female leadership. Ushering in a new era of Domaine Carneros, Cohen brings two decades of experience in all facets of the wine industry to Domaine Carneros. The heart of Domaine Carneros has always been méthode traditionelle sparkling wines, with distinctive styles ranging from the classic vintage-dated Brut cuvee to the luxury Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs. In 1992 rich, complex Pinot Noir was added to the portfolio. All the wines proudly hail from the Carneros appellation, and 100% of their fruit comes from their six estate vineyards comprising 400 acres. As anyone who has driven between Napa and Sonoma can tell you, the Domaine Carneros Château is a stunning regional landmark—tasting on the terrace is heavenly! “Those who know our sparkling wines speak of their balance, depth of flavor and wonderful finish; their great aroma, elegant style and little, tiny bubbles,” says Founding Winemaker Eileen Crane. “Classic. Sophisticated. Timeless. Think Audrey Hepburn in a little black dress.”

Carneros della Notte
Carneros della Notte was founded in 2003 by wine.com founder David Harmon, a good friend we met years back as a longtime supporter of Florida Winefest in Sarasota. His Pinot vineyard is chemical free and the grapes are harvested by hand and exclusively at night while the juice chemistry is more stable. The winery’s name reflects this practice and translates to “Carneros of the Night.” Carneros della Notte is also the first producer to use a glow-in-the-dark wine label to further articulate the winery’s unique approach to Pinot Noir production. Engaged in viticulture and hands-on farming, Dave commits himself to the vines throughout the growing season, doing labor-intensive management and timely harvest. The result is balanced, fruit and spice-based wines with the structure and depth to age gracefully. One of our favorites, “LPR” (Late Pinot Reserve) is a delicious dessert wine that insiders know as “Liquid Panty Remover,” a testament to his sense of humor! David Harmon is also the founder of Own a Napa Vineyard, where you are invited to purchase your own vine(s) for the year, attend a harvest party, and have bottles made with your own labels with grapes from that year’s harvest. Each “owner” gets a name tag on their vine(s) so they can visit their vines.

With Winemaker Justin Preiser at Shadowbox in Downtown Napa.

Shadowbox Cellars
Shadowbox Cellars in downtown Napa features exceptional wines in an area known for extraordinary wine. Shadowbox began as a passion project for Founding Vintners Monty and Sara Preiser and Ira and Eydie Holz. Today, Shadowbox is known for age worthy Cabernets, Bordeaux Blends, Chardonnay, Semillon, and more, producing small lots of acid-driven and food friendly wines made from grapes sourced from vineyards in Napa and Sonoma counties as well as Lodi, Paso Robles and the Sierra Foothills that produce superior fruit. Monty Preiser earned his law degree in 1976 and before he semi-retired to spend his time in the wine industry he litigated major cases in about 20 states involving the safety of vaccines, tools, and medical practices. Sara Preiser graduated in 1973 with a degree in drama, and then became a spokesperson for DuPont and women’s fashion when Lycra was invented. After they became empty-nesters in South Florida, they decided to write about food and wine as a joint hobby, which not surprisingly led them to the Napa Valley. Soon they were well recognized wine writers and founders of The Preiser Key, the most complete guide to Napa wineries and restaurants. From there it was a short step to making wine, which they first did in 2006. Ira and Eydie Holz share this love and appreciation for wine. Eydie works in interior design and enjoys travel and the arts. Ira Holz was a longtime member of the Chicago Board of Trade and The Chicago Board Options Exchange and brings years of wine knowledge. In 2009, the couples joined forces and Shadowbox was born. Justin, Monty and Sara’s son, grew up in South Florida, attended college at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and moved to Napa Valley and began his day job as Director of Operations for The Preiser Key before becoming winemaker at Shadowbox. His philosophy is “Begin with fantastic vineyards that display the best characteristics for a particular variety, then, don’t screw it up.”

Brix Napa

We stopped for a light lunch at Brix, a well-known restaurant along Route 29 in Napa. I enjoyed my salad with fresh local peaches and plums that were ripe and bursting with flavor! Brix is a popular venue for weddings and parties, with beautiful gardens and seating areas overlooking the vineyards and Mayacama Mountains.

PEJU Winery
PEJU Winery in Rutherford began in 1983 when Tony Peju and his wife Herta (H.B.) bought a 30-acre property in Rutherford and moved to Napa Valley to raise their two young daughters. Peju began selling wines in the garage at their vineyard estate—a lengthy legal battle ensued and Peju prevailed, leading to Napa County creating the legal definition of what constitutes a winery. Next? Reinventing how wine is marketed. Peju embraced the concept of Direct-To-Consumer Wine Marketing, and featured weekly ads in the San Francisco Chronicle. Starting in their garage, they worked to see their dream come true with completion of the iconic PEJU tower in 2003. In 2006, daughter Ariana Peju spearheaded the installation of solar panels, which provide almost 40% of the winery’s energy use. PEJU’s Rutherford Estate Vineyard is California Certified Organic (CCOF), with the family focusing on sustainable practices. Today, Winemaker Sara Fowler oversees 5 vineyards comprising 515 acres. Each site produces grapes with distinct attributes that reflect the variations in soil, terrain, microclimate, and exposure. PEJU’s Estate Vineyards, of which 200 acres are planted, convey a special sense of place and a growing tradition. PEJU winery and HB estate vineyard are situated in the heart of the famed Rutherford appellation. The 30-acre certified organic vineyard is planted to five Bordeaux varietals. Rutherford is famous defined by the phrase “Rutherford Dust” which lends unique qualities to locally produced Cabernet. Classic Rutherford Cabernet flavors include cocoa, chocolate or coffee flavors. Our tasting at PEJU unexpectedly turned into THE most entertaining wine tasting any of us have ever experienced. Enter “Vintnertainer” Alan Arnopole, a long-time area musician and regular entertainer at PEJU—we were treated to a private performance of his iconic Napa Rapa, a rap song inspired by the history and winemaking culture of Napa Valley!

Caymus Vineyards
Caymus Vineyards, part of the Wagner Family of Wines, started in 1972 by Chuck Wagner and his late parents, Lorna and Charlie. They were a family of farmers with roots in Napa Valley dating back to the 1850’s. Today, the family’s two Cabernet Sauvignons, Caymus Napa Valley and Caymus Special Selection, are among the region’s most celebrated wines. Chuck now works alongside two of his children, Charlie and Jenny, and the family produces diverse wines from Napa Valley, other parts of California and beyond. Charlie Wagner (Chuck’s older son) now leads Conundrum, showcasing some of the best wine regions California has to offer. In addition to Conundrum, Charlie produces Mer Soleil Chardonnays from the Santa Lucia Highlands and Monterey County. Another of his creative endeavors is Red Schooner, a rich, dark Malbec made from grapes grown in the Andes Mountains of Argentina, shipped chilled to Caymus and produced in the supple Caymus style. The newest addition to the Wagner Family of Wines is Caymus-Suisan. Only 30 minutes from Napa, Suisun Valley is still largely undiscovered. With its warm days and cool nights, this pastoral region reminds folks of Napa Valley in the 1960’s. Known for delicious stone fruits and walnuts, it is also gaining recognition for exceptional wine, including the 2019 Caymus-Suisan Grand Durif, a Petite Sirah, the widely grown grape in the region. If you get a chance, visit the new Suisan tasting room. Jenny Wagner, Chuck’s older daughter, is winemaker for Emmolo, which is named for her maternal side of the family. Emmolo offers a fresh take on Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. In 2019, Jenny introduced Emmolo Sparkling, a wine worthy of celebrating that is serious, fresh and creamy.

Frog’s Leap
Frog’s Leap, located in the heart of Rutherford, was the dream and life’s work of John Williams. With the 2019 harvest Frog’s Leap entered its fourth decade of making wine. While an undergrad at Cornell University, he made the trip to Napa Valley via Greyhound Bus where he met Larry Turley while camping on his property, a former frog farm. Larry helps John get a job with his friend Warren Winiarski at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. As the only employee at Stag’s Leap, John kept cellar notes and helped bottle the ’73 Stag’s Leap Cabernet, which won the famed Paris Tasting! While quaffing almost the entire batch of fizzy Chardonnay John made from grapes he borrowed from Warren, the two coined the name Frog’s Leap as well as the inexplicable clever phrase “Time’s fun when you’re having flies!” John, along with Larry sold their motorcycles to raise the cash to launch their winery as no bank would loan them the money. Frog’s Leap was bonded in 1981 with the winery making its first wines, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel, with grapes purchased from Spottswoode. In 1993 Larry Turley sold his interest in Frog’s Leap to the Williams family to start Turley Wine Cellars. John and wife Julie found a new location for the winery, at the current 40-acre site with its historic Red Barn in Rutherford, which they purchased from Freemark Abbey. Over the years, Frog’s Leap has become a favorite among wine enthusiasts, and one of the most recognized wine labels, undergoing a new fresh and refined look with the release of the 2017 Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2018 Chardonnay ‘Shale and Stone.’

Reynolds Family Winery
Reynolds Family Winery in the Stag’s Leap District began when Steve and Suzie Reynolds purchased a run-down chicken farm in 1995 after relocating to Napa from Stockton, CA. Steve continued his work as a dentist for the first two years in Napa, initially planting the property with Cabernet Sauvignon hoping to make a few cases and sell some fruit. It wasn’t long before the couple decided to go all in on this “wine thing.” Steve sold his dental practice and they began sourcing fruit and started construction on the winery. In 1999, they released their first vintage. In 2011, their Cabernet Sauvignon was named #10 wine in the world by Wine Enthusiast. Today, their wines were distributed across the country and have received numerous awards.

 

Ballentine Vineyards
Ballentine Vineyards in St. Helena has been family-owned since 1906, representing four generations of history. As a winery with deep roots in Napa, Ballentine is a farm-to-bottle winery, growing all of their own grapes to make limited truly exclusive Napa Valley wine on 80 acres. Ballentine’s specialties are Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon but also produce a diverse range of wines, from refreshing and bright white wine to big, bold red wines. Ballentine Vineyards has been dedicated to sustainable farming for over 100 years. The winery was designed to collect the rainwater from the rooftop and be used for both frost protection and irrigation and has been a solar-powered winery for over a decade. The latest innovation is a treatment plan that recycles every drop of water used in the winery and place it back into the field for irrigation. The story of the Ballentine and Pocai Families began in Lucca, Italy, and Omagh, County Tyrone, Ireland, into the beautiful Napa Valley. Libero Pocai, an Italian immigrant acquired the 115th winery bond in the state of California. Today, Betty Pocai Ballentine along with son Frank Ballentine continue to produce delicious award-winning wines and provide authentic experiences of a working boutique winery. Frank Ballentine has a passion and drive to find new, exciting breakthroughs in the food and wine industries. Fueled by his birthplace and childhood stomping grounds in Napa Valley vineyards, Frank began combining his interests in wine and business while attending UC Davis Enology Program. After a few years as a winemaker, his passion grew to include food; he built a successful food manufacturing and distribution career and was in senior management at Odwalla. In 2012, Frank began managing the vineyards. As he worked shoulder to shoulder with winemaker Bruce Devlin, they both decided to explore the pinnacle of incredible viticulture and wine-making fit for the future of a changing Napa Valley. Frank and Bruce constantly experiment with the 100+-year-old vineyards to discover their ever-evolving potential to create new gems from each vintage.

With Katie Simpson at Chase Cellars.

Chase Cellars
Chase Cellars in St. Helena has been in the Chase family for five generations. In 1849 Captain George Chase sailed to San Francisco in search of gold. When he came upon shore, George wrote to his good friend and business partner William Bourn, saying “San Francisco promises to be a most lucrative center for men of imagination and business enterprise.” William, who had an eye for good deals and ventures, couldn’t refuse and traveled west to work with George, and became a successful banker. He was so successful that the business community coined the phrase “Bourn Luck.” The property, now known as Hayne Vineyard, was purchased in 1872 by William Bowers Bourn and his wife Sarah Esther Chase Bourn as a summer retreat. While here, they would stay in the white cottage next to the winery and always remarked on how beautiful and peaceful it was. The youngest of Sarah and William’s six children, Maud married William Alston Hayne—who became the namesake for what is now known as the Hayne Vineyard. During this period, William’s son William Bourn II, also a visionary businessman, used his father’s wealth to further develop the Empire Mine, which turned out to be the largest hard rock gold strike in California. Not content to stop there, he also created San Francisco’s first water and gas utilities. As part of his legacy, he built two of the most iconic buildings in the Bay Area: the Filoli mansion, and Greystone. Today, the winery is run by Katie Hayne Simpson, Vintner (great-great granddaughter of William and Sarah Chase Bourn). Over 115 years old, Simpson says their vines “are wise and storied—they are the heartbeat of Hayne Vineyard, and the soul of the wines we produce.” While the vineyard has been around for five generations, Katie’s brother, Andy Chase developed the Chase Cellars brand back in 1998. Russell Bevan, Winemaker at Chase Cellars has countless number of 90-to-100-point scores from the most respected wine critics in the world. You can taste Russell’s energy, passion, creativity, and love for the vines!

Pride Mountain Vineyards
Pride Mountain Vineyards, a 235-acre estate with 85 vineyard acres is located some 2,000 feet above the floor of Napa Valley on Spring Mountain, the crest of the Mayacamas—one of the most unique winery locations in both Napa and Sonoma (it spans both counties, with a line of demarcation through the parking lot). People immediately understand why the winery estate was previously named “Summit Ranch.” The twisting twenty-minute drive west from St. Helena, or east from Santa Rosa, rewards visitors with a stunning view of rugged Mount St. Helena to the northeast and verdant vineyards rising skyward in all directions. Due to their elevation and exposure, these vines receive roughly 27% more ultraviolet light compared to vines on the surrounding valley floors. More light exposure results in tannin and phenolic anti-oxidant levels in their red grapes that are measured to be roughly 25% higher than red grapes in the surrounding valleys; this is the main contributor to the broad-shouldered “mountain character” Pride’s red wines possess. Although the location receives a lot more sunshine, it is about 10% cooler high atop Spring Mountain than in Rutherford on the floor of the Napa Valley. While Pride produces boldly-structured and flavored reds due to the sun exposure, the fruit does not ripen as fast as in the valleys, allowing for nice acidity levels and varietal character. Founders Jim and Carolyn Pride met in their junior year at Chico High School. Jim became a dentist, and the couple married. Leaving dental practice, Jim started a private business teaching dentists how to manage and build their dental practices. This business eventually became known throughout the world as The Pride Institute and Jim established many innovations and practices for the dental management industry that are still in wide use today. In the late 1980’s, after raising their children, the Prides decided that having a little vineyard and selling grapes to local wineries would be perfect. Neither had ever dreamed this idea would turn into a world-class winery! The couple purchased the Historic Summit Ranch in December 1989 and began restoring the estate and planting and tending their own vines, while Jim continued to work. In 2004, Jim passed away from cancer. Their children stepped up and Pride truly became a Family Winery.

 

Solage Calistoga, An Auberge Resort

Solage Calistoga, an Auberge Resort
We enjoyed winding down our week at Solage Calistoga, a gorgeous, exclusive resort at the north end of Napa Valley, near the charming town of Calistoga. Napa Valley is a World Class destination, and staying at Solage is THE perfect way to experience the very best of what Napa has to offer, in a glorious setting, with unparalleled service and amenities which the Auberge Collection of hotels and resorts is known for.

Staying at Solage gives guests the opportunity to custom plan their stay and incorporate personalized experiences like a Primordial Sound Bath Floating Massage or Signature Mudslide Treatment at the renowned spa, partake in a yoga class, enjoy a private poolside cabana, a private Chef’s Favorite Pizza Experience on your patio, a game of bocce, a hike along historic trails, guided swim lessons and activities for kids, evening s’mores, a personal Peloton, a hot air balloon ride, and more! Rooms and suites are among the most comfortable and inviting I have had the pleasure of experiencing. Solage was designed with a deep respect for nature and the place—putting a fresh spin on wine country style with clean lines, natural materials, and loft-like layouts ranging from 515 to 1,900 square feet. Guests will appreciate the thought that went into the design and décor—starting with the spacious feel of a vaulted ceiling, pebble-stone floor shower and furnished outdoor patio that opens out to all the secret gardens of Solage. Suites emphasize casual elegance with their outdoor shower and soaking tub (or jetted hot tub), and cozy fire pit and comfortable seating.

The cuisine is a perfect complement to the lavishly appointed, yet totally relaxed resort. The signature restaurant, Solbar, is a local favorite for gathering over craft cocktails, unwinding over a leisurely dinner. The restaurant features extensive outdoor seating overlooking the landmark pool, and is beautifully illuminated at nights with a 20-foot fire pit which beckons guests to enjoy the romantic ambience with a special someone, lively conversation with friends, or relaxing over cordials. The best aspect of working at Solbar, according to Executive Chef Gustavo Rios, is being part of a “food culture that respects local produce, farmers and ranchers.” Chef Rios showcases that back-to-the-land reverence with farm-fresh Napa Valley produce. But while the sourcing may be local, the menu’s influences are global, resulting in flavorful, inventive border-crossing cuisine. Solbar divides its menu into light, delicate flavors to stimulate your palate, and bold, savory dishes to comfort your soul, all with ingredients that showcase the best of what’s fresh and seasonal in the Napa Valley. Enjoy outdoor dining on the sunlit newly expanded Solbar patio, which has doubled in size. Solbar serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

After a long day tasting wine, nothing could have beat a leisurely dinner at Solbar. As the sun set and lights came on, the air cooled and the ambience became that of a lovely garden party. For starters, we enjoyed the Crudo of Hamachi with aguachile, mint, avocado, Sourdough Parker House Rolls, Pacific Oysters, Roasted Cauliflower with Rancho Gordo chickpeas, garbanzo beans, cashew-tahini butter, mint, and cilantro, and Uni Carbonara with squid ink bucatini, kombu butter, calamari, Hobb’s pancetta, and furikake—a fabulous fusion of Asian and Italian! Entrees included Grilled Wild King Salmon with roasted baby squash, tomato chutney, charred baba ghanoush, and yellow curry sauce, Rockfish with coconut-lemongrass broth, red quinoa, clams, mussels, shrimp, and herbs, and Liberty Farms Duck with California pistachio porridge, Lacinato kale, duck butter, and cherry jus. For dessert, the Caramelized Apple Tart with Fuji apples, cinnamon-Verjus syrup, and vanilla bean ice cream was totally decadent!

Two other meals we enjoyed in Napa that are worth mentioning are Gott’s Roadside in St. Helena, a gourmet “fast food” drive-in with picnic tables out back (order online in advance—be sure to get the Tuna Burger, it’s sensational), it’s the perfect stop for a quick bite in between tastings! There are several locations.

Bistro Jeanty, in downtown Yountville is the epitome of French bistros. Having been many times over the years, I still have a hard time deciding whether to have the classic French Onion or Tomato Soup en croute. As the passion project of Chef Philippe Jeanty, the restaurant fully embodies his culinary philosophy: fresh, quality ingredients, meticulously prepared and graciously served in a comfortable, informal setting. Born in Champagne, chef Philippe Jeanty learned the basics of French home cooking while helping his grandmother and mother prepare meals for their large family. Between visits to the neighbor’s dairy for warm milk and special evenings with his family at the local bistro, memories of food permeated his childhood. A summer position working under chef Joseph Thuet at Moët & Chandon when he was 14 quickly turned into three years of intensive training. It was this life-changing experience that confirmed Philippe’s calling to become a chef. Philippe first came to Napa in 1977 with a team from Epernay to open Chandon Restaurant, where he stayed and garnered numerous accolades until 1998 when he realized his dream in opening Bistro Jeanty.

I am honored to recognize the following restaurants as Fred Bollaci Enterprises Platinum Palate recipients: Solbar and Solage Calistoga, an Auberge Resort, and Bistro Jeanty. The following have been recognized as Golden Palate recipients: Brix and Gott’s Roadside.

We are so thankful for the wonderful friendships we made in our travels through Napa and Sonoma, and look forward to returning to discover and enjoy more great wineries, restaurants, and places to stay. Our goal is to introduce you to some of the amazing folks whose hard work and dedication make this one of the most incredible destinations. These great folks in wine, food, and hospitality in wine country have had to endure a lot lately, between the fires and shutdowns due to the pandemic, and they want you to know they are ready to welcome you and show you the very best! If you’re ready to open a bottle of wine and plan the wine country trip of a lifetime, to one of the most renowned regions for wine, food, and breathtaking beauty in the world, we’re glad to have been of service! Bon Voyage et Santé!

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Summer 2022 Adventures in Sonoma County! Exploring Great Restaurants & Wineries

 

The rolling hills of Domaine de La Riviere vineyard in the heart of the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County.

Earlier this summer, I enjoyed my first visit to California wine country since COVID with my colleagues and friends, Tracey Thomas, Owner|Publisher of VENU Magazine, where I am the Food Editor, and her husband Matt Sturtevant. It was wonderful to see old friends and to make many wonderful new acquaintances. As excited as we were to be in wine country, it was bittersweet. I couldn’t help but notice mile after mile of devastation from the wildfires that have ravaged both valleys and the adjacent mountainsides. There literally was not a person my friends and I met that wasn’t personally affected by the fires and their devastation. To experience firsthand the human side of the story, hardworking folks who had minutes to get out and lost everything was heart wrenching. Thousands of homes were destroyed and numerous wineries burned to the ground. The scars run deep, even on the sunniest and most beautiful of early summer days.

 

We began our adventures in Sonoma, starting in Healdsburg. Healdsburg is a storybook-town, New England meets California at the northern end of Sonoma County. It has an air of sophistication yet doesn’t lose the fact that it is a town whose main industries center around winemaking, which, as all the winemakers told us, is farming—growing and nurturing the grapes that will be crafted into the next great vintage. Napa and Sonoma welcome visitors from around the world to experience not only the wines, but the food—which reflects the local bounty. The area is fortunate to have given birth to and attracted some of America’s finest chefs, who proudly pay homage to this region.

In Healdsburg, we stayed with friends Marla and Geoff Bedrosian at their gorgeous 25-acre estate in the heart of Russian River Valley’s Middle Reach, where the grapes are grown that are crafted into Domaine de la Riviere wines. The Russian River Valley is a narrow stretch of land that along the Russian River’s banks, known for its mix of fog and sun, promoting a long, well balanced growing season and wines with rich, velvety fruit flavors. The Bedrosians fell in love with the area after many visits, and purchased their property in 2011. At first, the couple sold their grapes, but after a few years and extensive involvement nurturing the vines and an emotional interest in the resulting fruit, they began to create their own wines, employing the expertise of vineyard manager Matt Reilly and winemakers Kale Anderson and Erin Miller from Twomey Cellars. Their boutique wines include luscious Pinot Noir, supple Chardonnay, and summery Rosé. While the wines were phenomenal, it’s all about the people—being guests at our friends’ home, playing with their Labrador puppies Windsor “Winnie” (named after the nearby town) and Bear and sipping wines on the sun-drenched back terrace overlooking the shimmering pool, golden vineyards, and setting sun was magical!

We are fortunate to have made great friends over the years and travels to California and to food and wine events across the country. It definitely helps to know Shari Gherman, President and Co-Founder of The American Fine Wine Competition, of which we are a proud media partner. Shari introduced us to some amazing wineries—her wealth of knowledge, contacts, and suggestions helped put together an itinerary that harmoniously blended very special boutique producers with household names.

With Chef|Owner Dustin Valette at The Matheson

 

Smoked Salmon Pizza with Caviar and Creme Fraiche at Roof 106 at The Matheson in Healdsburg.

The Matheson
The Matheson, featuring two unique restaurant concepts and a wine wall all shining under one roof, is the most talked about restaurant opening in Sonoma this past year! Dustin has been recognized as one of VENÜ’s esteemed Fearless Chef’s and was featured in our Spring 2018 issue. I had the pleasure of meeting Chef|Owner Dustin Valette and dining at his first restaurant, nearby namesake Valette when I visited Sonoma in 2016, and knew that while he was already a celebrated chef with numerous awards and a hometown hero, he was destined for further greatness, which was evidenced by every facet of our experience at The Matheson. From the décor—how the century old building that housed his great grandfather’s bakery was transformed into the modern, comfortable multi-level restaurant while paying tribute to the building and the Valette family’s heritage and history in Sonoma County, to the legendary wine wall, featuring over 80 selections available by the ounce or glass—this is world class! Chef Matt Brimer’s menu is a modern ode to Healdsburg’s micro-seasonal ingredients, exploring the possibilities of a locally foraged fungi from a secret stand on the slopes of rolling forest, or the range of a Purple Heart tomato cultivated from a farm within walking distance to the restaurant, finding the limitlessness in the specific moment is a play of craft and passion. The menu is progressive American and hyper-local. Don’t miss Roof 106, the stylish rooftop bar and sophisticated al fresco seating area where guests indulge in handcrafted cocktails made with seasonal fruits, flowers, and herbs, pizza and small plates from the wood-fired oven in open-air seating amidst planters and fire-pits that reminded me of a hip restaurant in the Parioli neighborhood of Rome. Dustin has hit it out of the park!

 

Dry Creek Kitchen
Dry Creek Kitchen, by legendary Chef Charlie Palmer is set on Healdsburg’s historic tree lined Plaza, and mixes Chef Charlie Palmer’s vibrant American cooking and world class bottlings with the intimate charm of a small town and true wine country hospitality. Known for progressive American cooking rooted in Sonoma County, Palmer brings his signature style to ingredients grown and raised by farms up the road, and wines by vintners visited earlier in the day. Chef Palmer “was drawn to Healdsburg because of what grows here. Incredible produce, world-class wines, and a sense of community borne from what’s shared at the table.” The inviting dining room is punctuated by sculptural floral arrangements, floor-to-ceiling windows and oversized doors which open to a lovely patio, evoking wine country’s indoor-outdoor lifestyle. Palmer received critical acclaim for his signature Progressive American cooking, a style built on rambunctious flavors and unexpected combinations with a deep and lasting infusion of classical French technique. Born and raised in upstate New York and trained at the Culinary Institute of America, Palmer started his executive chef career at The River Café in Brooklyn. In 1988, Palmer made a landmark commitment to creating dishes featuring regional American ingredients at Aureole in Manhattan. Over the next 20 years, Palmer went on to open critically acclaimed restaurants across the country. Wyatt Keith worked at Palmer’s Harvest Table in St. Helena, and quickly climbed the ranks at Dry Creek Kitchen, becoming Executive Chef in 2021.

With Roger and Donna Beery at J. Cage tasting room in Windsor.

J. Cage Cellars
We began our first day of tasting in Windsor, and would spend the next several days enjoying the Russian River and Dry Creek Valleys in northern Sonoma. J. Cage Cellars is a true family affair by Roger and Donna Beery, transplants from Austin, Texas. For the Beery’s, winemaking is their “second act,” Donna a “recovering CPA” and Roger involved in radio and a well-known wine blog. The couple started visiting Sonoma in the 1980’s, and 90’s and fell in love. We began our tasting, which was paired with locally made Bean to Bar Chocolate and breadsticks. Their passion for wine rubbed off on their kids—son Conch came on in 2015 as their winemaker, while the Beery’s began by consulting with Adam Lee of Siduri. 2022 marks their 14th vintage—like many, they became captivated by Sonoma and never left. We enjoyed Sauvignon Blanc, which mimicked a French Sancerre with grassy grapefruit, pineapple, and refreshing acidity without the tartness. The vineyard for this wine pre-dates prohibition. The Vandercamp Pinot Noir from 1,600’ elevation on Sonoma Mountain showcased juicy black fruit, rose petal, and forest floor on the palate—a Pinot lovers Pinot!

Ben Papapietro at Papapietro Perry

Papapietro Perry
Papapietro Perry, in the heart of Dry Creek Valley was founded in 1998 by Ben and Yolanda Papapietro and Bruce and Renae Perry. Ben, whom we had the pleasure of joining for a tasting and charcuterie pairing is a warm, welcoming host, with a great personality! Like many successful ventures, Papapietro Perry Winery was hatched in a garage. A handful of friends in San Francisco committed to making their own Pinot Noir to drink, and to have a bunch of fun in the process. Fortunately for them, they had Ben Papapietro as their home winemaker, first as a hobby and an outlet to relieve stress. As word of mouth grew about the Papapietro Perry Wines, it became clear the next step was to fully embrace that this should be more than a hobby. Both Ben and Bruce took jobs at area wineries and learned all they could.
By the 1990s, Bruce realized the wines he and Ben were making could compete with other premium California Pinot Noirs. Armed with his passion and the support of family and friends, Bruce located a winemaking facility in Sonoma County where he and Ben could start producing wine in commercial quantities. Papapietro Perry Winery was born. The approach to winemaking was and remains minimalist. The Papapietro Perry cellar is simply a more elaborate version of Ben’s garage where he started making such compelling wine more than 35 years ago. “Authentic, not pretentious,” says Ben. “Confident, but not too serious. “We make wine that we want to drink. We take our wines seriously but not ourselves.” Sadly, Bruce passed away earlier this year, but the proud legacy of Papapietro Perry continues in the wine, food, and hospitality, right down to being greeted by Nola, the Perry’s winery dog.

At Wilson Family

Wilson Family
Wilson Family, also in Dry Creek, is distinguished not only by its outstanding wines, but also the twin pillars of family and tradition on which its reputation rests. The tradition pre-dates the winery’s founding in 1993 and is evident in the century-old tin barn that houses the Wilson’s facility. One of the oldest structures in Dry Creek Valley, the barn has been lovingly restored by Ken and Diane Wilson to provide a state-of-the-art venue for their award-winning winemaking. Diane Wilson started her winemaking career by winning Best of Class for her wine, unusual for someone without formal winemaking training. The instant success she experienced with her first vintage has continued for over twenty years, recently taking home dozens of medals for her wines at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair. Although she learned the basic elements of wine chemistry as a Biochemistry major in college, she says her degree isn’t what makes her a great winemaker. Instead, she credits her hands-on learning along with relying on her senses during the production process to know when it’s time to blend or bottle. The family planted their first vineyards high in the mountains of the northern part of Dry Creek, naming of their vineyards after their children. Today, some 22 years later, each of the children has a role in the business.

Ferrari-Carano Winery
Ferrari-Carano Winery is one of Sonoma’s most recognized producers. Located in Dry Creek Valley and home to Ferrari-Carano’s Villa Fiore Wine Shop & Tasting Room, the Estate Winery was built in 1981 and focuses on producing Ferrari-Carano’s stellar white wines. At Ferrari-Carano, the grapes are harvested at night, when temperatures are the coolest, resulting in crisp and intense fruit flavors. From the moment the grapes enter the winery, the winemaker’s objective is to interpret the individual characteristics of each vineyard block, based on the growing techniques, soil, clonal differences and flavor. Ferrari-Carano has two acclaimed winemakers—Sarah Quider oversees whites: “As a winemaker, it’s my goal to make complex, intense, seamless and delicious wines that reflect the diversity of our vineyards and are balanced in richness and delicacy.”Rebecka Deike oversees reds: “I love the seasonal experiences and connection between seeing the vines develop in the vineyards, the grapes ripening and witnessing the transformation of grapes into wine.” I highly recommend enjoying “La Colazione Italiana” (Italian-style Sunday Wine Breakfast/Brunch)—sit outside on the lovely Sycamore Grove terraces overlooking gardens and beautiful estate and enjoy a flight of the reserve wines with a seasonal, Italian-inspired menu featuring dishes prepared with ingredients from the estate gardens.

Williamson Wines
Williamson Wines in Healdsburg is known for their generous and full flavor due to the exceptional fruit grown in our twenty-plus vineyards located in specific sites across Napa and Sonoma. The winery and vineyards are sustainably managed to minimize chemical use so these natural wines are produced with minimal intervention retaining the integrity of flavor and sense of the place where they were grown. Bill and Dawn Williamson are 4th generation winemakers, whose family settled in Australia in 1788 and became farmers, establishing their own vineyards in 1919. In 1980, the couple came to California for a business trip, visited Sonoma, and decided to stay! Creating healthy wines from sustainably farmed vineyards without additives makes them natural. Ensuring they have low sulfites reduces the risk of histamine headaches. Not using any of the usual animal products qualifies them as vegan. Perhaps the most unique wine in the Williamson portfolio is the Sparkling Shiraz, with deep purple color, made in the traditional Méthode Champenoise, resulting in an elegant sparkling wine great for summer afternoons as well as Thanksgiving dinner! Join the Williamson’s for a delicious wine and food pairing in their downtown Healdsburg tasting room.

Moshin Vineyards
Moshin Vineyards, in the heart of the Russian River Valley is a story of unlikely beginnings, hard work, and a passion for winemaking. Founder Rick Moshin went from being a San Jose State University math instructor to a pioneer of Russian River winemaking. He literally built the brand from the ground up—keeping ownership solely within his family. To this day, you can still find Rick tending vineyards, tasting barrels in the cellar, conducting virtual wine events, building furniture for the tasting room, or making repairs. Since 1989, Rick has been producing natural terroir-driven, and delicious wines in the Russian River Valley. Rick focuses on sustainable vineyard practices followed by light-handed fermentation techniques—utilizing native yeasts, no additives, and the gentle movement of gravity for moving select Pinot Noir lots from tank to barrel to bottling line. The early 1990’s found Rick teaching mathematics at San Jose State University during the week and farming his 10-acre Pinot Noir vineyard on the weekends. During this time, he connected with local winemaking icons and grape growers such as Davis Bynum, Gary Farrell, and Joe Rochioli, gleaning knowledge, grape cuttings and even selling some of his own grapes to Davis Bynum for a Bynum-Moshin bottling. These deep roots have built a solid foundation upon which Moshin Vineyards has grown, culminating in 25 acres of Estate vineyards.

Next on our Sonoma itinerary was a visit to the town of Sonoma and the Carneros district, at the southern end of Sonoma County.

Santé at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn
Santé at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn is best described as “California fusion with a Sonoma passion,” which showcases enviable number of regional artisans and producers in this stunningly beautiful area. Executive Chef Jared Reeves oversees the kitchen and delivered a flawless experience. Chef Reeves brings “passion, creativity, and high energy to the kitchen. I’ve an eye for local and sustainable produce; I’m overwhelmed by all that Sonoma has to offer, from the fruits and vegetables at roadside stands or crab and salmon from the Pacific. Local cheese makers provide the perfect accompaniment to Sonoma’s greatest produce, its stunning wines. Sonoma is a chef’s dream locale, and I’m proud to call this area my home.”

We were fortunate to dine al fresco on a gorgeous evening, overlooking the Olympic sized pool, gardens, and historic water tower. Our sumptuous multi-course meal, paired with wine began with Tsar Nicolai Select Caviar and house made Potato Crisps, and Pacific Oysters. For the next course, we enjoyed Local Halibut Crudo with smoked trout roe and wasabi, salt roasted baby beets with macadamia tofu and sorrel, and BBQ Spiced Heirloom Carrots with “Ranch” and pickled mustard seeds. For Entrees, the Wagyu Chateaubriand was outstanding—cooked to perfection! The Squid Ink Linguine with mussels, shrimp, and sea urchin butter, and Seared Black Cod with green garbanzo, sprouted cauliflower, and mole beurre blanc were excellent as well. In addition to the wonderful cuisine, the hotel itself is one of the top resorts in Sonoma County, with a world class spa, situated on land Native Americans revered as a sacred healing ground. With beautifully landscaped grounds and majestic trees, this is truly an oasis!

The Girl and The Fig
The Girl and The Fig has been a long-standing wine country favorite in the heart of downtown Sonoma since 1997! Chef|Owner Sandra Bernstein is legendary for her exceptional Provence-inspired seasonal farm-to-table cuisine. The restaurant was named for the fruit that embodies passion, the fig—representing Bernstein’s passion for local ingredients and French cuisine. The restaurant features a gorgeous antique bar, perfect for a aperitif. Enjoy dining at one of the outdoor tables, or inside, where walls are adorned with colorful art by local artist Julie Higgins. The wine list is Rhône-centric, featuring labels from France, as well as California, many of which are hard to find. We started with a beautiful charcuterie platter, followed by delicate West Coast Petrale Sole Meunier, Steak Tartare, Moules Frites, and Niçoise Salad. The Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Vineyards Otto’s Grenache (2020) from Sonoma was an excellent pairing!

Fulcrum
Fulcrum, whose tasting room is in lovely downtown Sonoma began in 2006 as a hobby by David Rossi from New Jersey, who attended UC Davis to learn about winemaking. Fulcrum’s focus is on Pinot Noir, currently producing 2,000 cases, and sourcing grapes from all over California. We tried the 2020 Brut Rosé of Pinot Noir, which features melon, white pepper, and strawberries. Next was the Madman blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Chardonnay, featuring stone fruit, apple, pear, grapefruit, and apricot notes with a refined, floral nose. Our third wine was Chardonnay (Alexander Valley), which reminded us of rich European butter, due to barrel malolactic fermentation. The 2019 Pinot from Petaluma Gap, which is known for onshore wind which nails the vineyard, stressing skins, allowing grapes to thicken and have a longer hang time, more fruit, and darker, bolder fruit was light, and luscious. Pinot Noir is considered the toughest grape to grow, preferring short warm days and cool nights to ripen and preserve the fruit. Chill this one an hour and enjoy on a warm day!

Chef Kristine Schug


Schug Carneros Estate
Schug Carneros Estate began by Walter Schug in 1980 and spans 50 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. We enjoyed a tour and food pairing prepared by Chef Kristine Schug. Carneros is located just north of San Pablo Bay and is known for its breezes, the only AVA which spans both Sonoma and Napa Counties. The adjacent hillside site acts as a wind tunnel, which cools and stresses the grapes, resulting in thicker skins and more full-bodied wines. Walter Schug was the founding winemaker for Joseph Phelps before following his passion and starting his own winery. The family’s German heritage is evident throughout the winery, from hand carved barrels, to the Bavarian style architecture and design. Today, the family is in its third generation, with Walter’s son, Axel Schug as Managing Partner, his wife Kristine, a graduate of the CIA at Greystone preparing beautiful cuisine as a delightful way to explore and enjoy the family’s wines. Winemaker Johannes Scheid was raised on a small family winery in the Mosel Valley of Germany and studied Viticulture and Winemaking at Geisenheim University, Germany’s premier college for the wine industry, which was also Walter Schug’s alma mater. Johannes first met Walter after an annual presentation at Geisenheim, and was hired on the spot for a 2009 internship at Schug. While in Sonoma that fall, he met fellow Schug intern Jennifer, a California native who would become his future wife. In 2016 he became Schug’s Assistant Winemaker, returning to the winery where his California winemaking career began after garnering more experience in New Zealand and at Benziger. Today, as Winemaker, Johannes is dedicated to preserving the legacy of terroir-driven and European-style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The 2021 White Pinot, Ricci Vineyard was one of the most unique wines we tried all week, where grape skins were briefly put in the barrels to add complexity, resulting in a bright, delicate wine with stone fruit flavors and honeysuckle nuances. The 2019 Heritage Chardonnay (limited to 150 cases) contains the best fruit from the estate, with some from Wildcat Mountain. The Heritage Reserve Pinot Noir had a rose and quince quality, and paired beautifully with Kristine’s charcuterie.

I am honored to recognize the restaurants we visited, The Matheson (and Roof 106) by Dustin Valette, Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen, and Santé at The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn as Platinum Palate dining destinations by Fred Bollaci Enterprises!

Stay tuned for upcoming posts from our Napa Valley portion of the trip, showcasing more great wineries, restaurants, and an outstanding luxury resort!

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FALL INTO SAVINGS ON 1:1 COACHING WITH FRED! Now through September 15th, 2022, Receive 25% off 1 Month OR Pay for 2 Months, Get 3rd Month FREE! 6 MONTH PROGRAM 50% OFF! ONLY A FEW SPACES REMAIN! Don’t wait!

 

FALL INTO SAVINGS–NOW! Get a Jump Start on Getting in Shape before the holidays! Starting Today, August 25th, 2022, Fred is offering a limited number of spaces for 1:1 coaching clients! There has been a waiting list for 1:1 coaching with Fred since 2020, with only a few spaces opening up as clients achieve their goals, allowing new folks the opportunity to enroll.

To ensure the attention you deserve, we only offer 1:1 coaching to a very limited number of clients. Coaching is monthly and includes DAILY access via Messenger or e-mail to Fred (ask any questions and Fred will respond within 24 hours), an initial 50-minute Phone or Zoom introductory session, copies of Fred’s two books (Kindle or hard copy versions), and weekly 30-minute phone or Zoom sessions. 1:1 Coaching is $495 per month, LESS the 25% discount on one month packages, or Pay for 2 Months, get the 3rd Month FREE, or the BEST VALUE (we only offer it a couple times a year), 50% OFF OUR 6-MONTH PACKAGE! Must enroll and pay by September 15th, 2022 for the discount. This enrollment period begins October 3, 2022–initial consultations will take place before. If you’re looking for guidance and motivation, make an investment in yourself that your future self will thank you for! Kick those unwanted COVID pounds to the curb and look and feel your best. This WILL sell out!

 

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Outstanding Summer Menu by Chef Christopher Covelli and Cocktails and an Awesome Rooftop Bar at Sage SRQ, Sarasota, Florida

 

We recently enjoyed dinner at one of our Sarasota go-to’s for a fun, fashionable evening with great global cuisine by Chef Christopher Covelli (who recently competed on Alex vs. America on Food Network), show-stopping cocktails, and a stunning rooftop bar that is the talk of the town, refreshing the historic Times Building.

Zucchini Flowers

Skate Wing was excellent!

Foie Gras Appetizer

The Sarasota Times Building is a century old and has been beautifully restored and is now home to one of the hippest restaurant and entertainment destinations in the area.

Be sure to check out Sage SRQ in downtown Sarasota, across from the Ritz-Carlton and Westin, near the Florida Studio Theater, and Art Ovation hotel–and be sure to tell them that Fred Bollaci sent you!

 

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The Generous Pour Antinori Family Wine Event at Capital Grille Locations Nationwide–Thru September 4, 2022

 

 

The Generous Pour wine event is going on through September 4th at Capital Grille locations nationwide. $32 for tastes of six Antinori wines, two standouts from USA (WA State Col Solare and Napa Cab, Antica), Villa Antinori Tuscan Red (Italy), Tormaresca Rose’ and Chardonnay from Puglia, Italia, and Pinot Grigio from Veneto (NE Italy) available with dinner (they accommodate for lunch also—must ask). 2 Oz samples of six wines and then you can revisit any/all and with tasting notes. Had with the Seared Tuna (without Sesame Seeds or Rice) but with Trio of Sauces and Creamed Spinach. The Salmon with Salad of Greens, Mango, Tomato, and Vinaigrette is another nice light option. Fun to go with friends and blind taste, compare notes, and rate your favorite!

 

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