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Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Wine Country Weekend: The 14th Annual Wine & Food Affair

Autumn in wine country is something I've been looking forward to since May when I first visited Healdsburg. I was planning on going back at some point to photograph the leaves changing color but hadn't decided exactly when. So imagine my surprise when I received an invitation from Wagstaff Worldwide to attend the 14th Annual Wine & Food Affair hosted by my friends over at the Wine Road the first weekend of November. I was happy to accept their invitation.

The Wine & Food Affair is an annual, two day event. This year 103 wineries participated. Guests received a cookbook full of recipes from many of Sonoma's winery owners, professional chefs and restauranteurs along with the opportunity to sample 103 of the recipes in the book as food and wine pairings.

Three levels of tickets were available: For Saturday and Sunday, Sunday only, or at a reduced rate for designated drivers.

The event lasted for five hours each day so it was important to do my research ahead of time and lay out a driving route so I didn't end up wasting time backtracking or missing out on a winery I wanted to visit.

In the end my route was based on who was serving non-mushroom vegetarian dishes (since I don't like mushrooms). I did choose two stops serving salmon because I'm still recovering from nutritional deficiencies after being 100% vegetarian for the past couple of years and eating fish has been very helpful.

My friend and photographer Elley Ho joined me on Saturday. We made it to nine wineries. Some were large, others small, some we drove to and others were within walking distance of each other. We also saw piggies, cows, and chickens. Later I captured a gorgeous sunset, had sushi for dinner, and photographed the galaxy.

We had to register in the morning to receive our wine glasses, cookbooks and wrist bands. Then we set out to find the wineries. Most had purple or brightly colored balloons alongside the road so that we could easily identify the participating venues.

Kendall Jackson Culinary Team's
Kobe Tri-Tip Sandwiches with Cabernet-Braised Cabbage &
Blue Cheese-Buttermilk Dressing

Our check-in to register was at Kendall Jackson's Wine Center Estate and took just a few minutes. Elley sampled the wine while I was able to go up on the landing to take an overhead shot of the tasting room.

After, I walked her outside to show her the culinary gardens and vineyards I'd visited in the spring. From there we began heading north back towards Healdsburg and the Dry Creek Valley.

Peloton Catering's Dark Chocolate Dreams Truffles

This was my first visit to Foppiano Vineyards. After being greeted at the door a delicious chocolate truffle awaited us inside and much to my delight, just as we walked in, Richard Boleman from Music For Wine was playing the guitar and singing John Denver's "Poems, Prayers and Promises." I took it as a sign that we were going to have a great day. I LOVE John Denver's music and this was one of my favorite songs.

I ate my truffle and tried the port but, as expected, it was too strong for my oversensitive, supertaster, taste buds.

Zazu's Harvest Ribollita

Davis Family Vineyards was a nice surprise. I say surprise because it's literally just around the corner from the Haydon Street Inn, the B&B I've stayed at three times. They were booked this time so I found a more creative lodging choice I'll post about next week. The bar was busy when we walked in but the staff was friendly and we didn't have to wait more than a few seconds before other guests made room for us and we were greeted from behind the bar.

Elley and I had fun chatting with the bartenders behind the long, pebble filled bar. The countertop was quite amazing. I was told Guy Davis, the winery's owner, made it himself. It looked like a stream with the pebbles beneath water which was a thick layer of some type of resin. I commented I'd love to do a floor in our house this way. It was very striking.

Chef John Stewart and Sarah from Zazu were a lot of fun to chat with!

We walked to the other (wine making) side of the building to sample the Havest Ribollita soup. It was the bomb. Elley and I both agreed it was one of the best dishes we sampled by the end of the day. In fact, for me, it was my favorite dish from the entire weekend. The soup reminded me a bit of Pasta e fagioli but instead of pasta the recipe calls for bread crumbs to thicken the broth. And it was vegetarian. Something that shocked another guest who commented aloud that it didn't taste vegetarian because it tasted too good. LOL. I will definitely be making this soup.

The funny thing was we were being served vegetarian soup by a man who is a butcher and has a neat-o tattoo on his forearm of how to butcher a pig. Even though I don't eat pork I can appreciate a cool tattoo when I see one. And with a tattoo like that you know the bacon he and his wife, Chef Duskie Estes, make has got to be good. Even if you never visit Sonoma you can still try their world famous Black Pig Bacon by joining their shipped-to-your-door Bacon Club.

A visit to Zazu restaurant in Santa Rosa is definitely in my future!

Chef Donnis Topel's ‘Baked Comfort’ Tomato Bread Pudding

Next we headed to Downtown Healdsburg parking near the Plaza and ditching our car to walk to our next four stops. We began at Topel which served a divine, savory, tomato bread pudding. Due to health regulations it was served at room temperature but hot or cold it's definitely a winner. I can't wait to try to bake this myself. For meat eaters you would serve it as a side dish. For vegetarians it could be the main course with a risotto or white truffle infused roasted brussels sprouts on the side. At least that's how I'm planning on enjoying it.

Chef Amanda Malm's Devil’s Zin Cake

Malm was a few blocks away but well worth the walk. We had to go because they were serving the moistest, most chocolatey little cupcakes.

All weekend I'd explain to each bartender or server that I'm only able to drink very sweet, dessert wines due to my taste buds being so sensitive so if they were pouring a sweet wine I'd be happy to try one. Dry wines just don't work for me. Most weren't but many offered me samples of something behind the bar, not on their event tasting menu for the day.

Malm was, among other choices, pouring a 2010 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. I tried it and pretty much swooned. It tasted like sweet, silky smooth, sunlight captured in a bottle. It is easily my most favorite wine I've ever tasted. And the bottle itself is gorgeous with a silkscreened (not paper) label. 

I had to buy one. A bottle, not a case. I would have liked to have purchased a case but at $50 a bottle a case was out of my budget. Though, I did rationalize that by not beginning to drink alcohol until this year I've saved hundreds, possibly thousands of dollar over the past couple of decades so I could justify why it would have been ok for me to spend more :)

And if hubby is looking for Christmas gift ideas for me a case of Malm's 2010 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc would be a good one. You don't even have to have it shipped to the house. I'll go pick it up. LOL. 

Oh drool!

Elley also purchased a bottle though now I realize I don't even know which one. But I do know it was the only stop we both made purchases at. And I ate two cupcakes. First one without the chocolate wine sauce then another with it. Both were excellent. I will use this recipe for sure. Maybe I'll bake them this week to enjoy with my bottle of wine.

Chef Emma Uribe's Spicy Crab Arancini

Having been to Hawley's vineyards and tasting room just two months ago we had to stop. Elley loved the Spicy Crab Arancini Balls and their wine. If I had to guess I'd say, based on her reaction, this was her favorite dish of the day. We had fun chatting with the staff set up curbside to greet and feed event guests. Hawley has great hospitality. The last time I was there I thought it was so cool that they'd set out extra garden produce and a sign encouraging anyone walking by to take some home with them.

Jane Portalupi, co-owner of Portalupi Wine's Cannelloni con Spinaci e Salmone

At Portalupi we found owner and wine maker Tim Borges pouring behind the bar. The dish his wife Jane Portalupi prepared was a salmon cannelloni. The portion was large and the flavors delicious. I will definitely make this recipe at home as well. Elley purchased her second bottle of the day at Portalupi.

This was also the only location that had a flat screen tv on in an adjacent lounge area where several men were watching some sort of game on tv. So if your significant other ever drags you to Healdsburg when you'd rather be watching sports cross your fingers the tv is on, head over to Portalupi, order some wine, and saunter on over to the tv lounge.

Peloton Catering, Smoky Autumn & Bacon Truffles

Windsor was not on my list but as we were walking by we did a double take and popped in. Elley sampled a wine and the Smoky Autumn & Bacon Truffles and commented there was no bacon in the one she had in case I wanted to try one too. But I was so full from my cannelloni I declined. My apologies to Windsor for neglecting to photograph a truffle but they were kept behind the counter and I didn't want to trouble a bartender for one as I wouldn't have eaten it after photographing it.

Chef Katerina Bonde's Swedish Gravlax with Mustard Sauce

Visiting West Wines was in order because I really wanted Elley to experience being in one of the valley's while she was there. Sonoma Wine Country is comprised of the Dry Creek, Alexander and Russian River valleys. She was taken with the views and happy we decided to leave the city behind.

The Swedish Gravlax at West Wines was delicious. I made gravlax years ago using a Martha Stewart recipe. The first thing I said after biting into the toast corner was "There's a lot of butter in this." Which of course means it was delicious. The slice of salmon was a nice contrast to the crisp, buttery toast with a rich flavor and texture that blended together perfectly. The sweet corn and squash relish was an added and unexpected bonus as were the scalloped potatoes. At least I think they were scalloped potatoes. If they were they were the most elegant I've ever had.

By the way the wine glass capturing the reflection of the vineyards and sky while sitting on the fence post in the second photo of this post, it was taken in the vineyards at West Wines.

  Peloton Catering's Zinfandel-Braised Pork with Vella Dry Jack Polenta

At the last minute we decided for our final stop we would head further into the valley, through more acres of vineyards, and visit Quivira, one of my favorite wineries. I knew Elley would find it interesting as it was the only biodynamic winery we visited that day. The staff at Quivira are real pros when it comes to hospitality. They are friendly and they were the only winery that day where you could use the wine glass you'd carried around all day, or, use a fresh Quivira glass. It was a very nice touch.

It was my third trip to Quivira and I was hoping against hope if we walked out to the pig pen we would catch a glimpse of Ruby, the winery's pet pig out of her shed.

Not only was she there and awake, she walked right up to us for scratches! LOL it sounds cliche but she really dirty/filthy/muddy. That didn't stop us from petting her and scratching behind her ears, pretty much the only part of her body without a layer of dried or fresh mud encasing her.

Can I just say from this point forward I think the cure any time I'm depressed is to watch baby piglets, hopping, leaping, bounding and scampering around a green pasture making little oinking, squealing, and grunting piggy noises? They were literally over-the-top, off the charts, adorable. Though I gave it up years ago I now know I can't ever eat pork again after experiencing the sheer joy of being around those little piggies.

And look! Pigs really do have corkscrew tails!

We also saw pasture raised chickens, baby piglets, cows, and Ruby's pen-mate, a pig with no name as eventually it will be slaughtered. I will say this, if I were going to eat pork this would be the only kind I'd want to eat. Pigs kept in humane conditions where they have plenty of fresh air, sunlight, room to walk and run, companionship and even a mud wallow so they can enjoy their lives while they're still living. It's a very natural and ethical approach to animal husbandry.

With that, Elley and I parted ways as she had a fundraiser dinner to attend that night. The Wine and Food Affair was over for the day so I had to find something else to do. I'll give you one guess where I went. . . One of my most favorite places. . .

Thomas George Estates was not part of the event but I'm always drawn to the property whenever I'm in Healdsburg. That night I went to photograph the sunset up on Baker Ridge. LOL I feel as if I should call it "my beloved Baker Ridge" because I really do love it up there. The leaves had begun changing to their autumn hues, the weather was warm, and the sky blue. What more could I ask for?

 It was late in the day so there were no birds or butterflies. But there was solitude. . .

. . . peacefulness. . .

. . . and serenity.

As the sun set the sky turned a beautiful golden color.

A little later it began glowing pink.

I thought it was over and headed down the mountain only to realize once on the road the pink was intensifying. So I looked for a photo op, pulled over, and waited for that final moment of intense color in the sky just before the light begins to fade.

I went to Sake'O for dinner and ordered the Agedashi Tofu and the Chef's Specialty "Tropical Roll" Sushi filled and wrapped with avocado, mango and salmon. I really love the food here and would definitely recommend it to you if you're ever in Healdsburg and yearning for Japanese food.

Cloverdale at night

When I got back to my lodging it was dark out but I wanted to try some long exposure photography taking pictures of stars. At first I couldn't get the camera to work so I had to call hubby for help. He reminded me I needed to set the focus to manual. Bingo! It worked. So this is my picture of "space, the final frontier." It was taken with my 14-140mm zoom lens on a tripod with my shutter speed set for 30 seconds.

As you can see I had a pretty fantastic day.

In closing I have to say one of the things I love most about Sonoma is you don't have to be a wine aficionado to go there. I have yet to run into the snooty kind of attitude often associated with wine experts. Everyone from the vineyard owners, to winemakers, the hospitality managers, to bartenders and restauranteurs have always been very kind and informative when I've asked questions to learn more.

But this was only day two of a three day trip! Just wait until I show you where I stayed. You'll probably LOL but I had a great time. Sunday didn't go quite as smoothly but I didn't give up and it ended on a very high note. Stay tuned.

Follow the Wine Road on Facebook to find out when the 2013 Wine & Food Affair will be.

Want the cookbook? They're available until they sell out. Contact the Wine Road at 707-433-4335 for details.

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