The next installment of my series on transitioning to California from Tampa, Florida. It’s been a wild ride… Here’s a list of the first seven here.
Having just finished making basil arugula pesto and homemade tomato sauce from the garden, I’m beginning to think I’m channeling Julia Childs after she arrived in France. I cooked all the time before I moved from Tampa but now, the urge to cook — especially with local and homegrown produce — has become a mission or even a mantra. I think California is sinking in and maybe even changing me (for the better). And, I’ll admit, a satisfying happiness has overtaken me like a warming buzz.
I’m a Little Bit Country…
Because of the dreamy romanticism of wine, many who visit don’t actually realize it’s an agricultural product. It’s incredibly easy to forget that the people who grow grapes normally aren’t super sophisticated, retired lawyers (that’s the winery owners over in Napa) but farmers who love the land and the challenges Mother Nature throws upon them. They’re some of the most “real” people I’ve met, refreshingly lacking pretension and ego. The winemaker at Foppiano Vineyards, where I work, falls into this same category. Natalie West grew up in Healdsburg, about 10 minutes from the winery and her family has grown Zinfandel grapes in Dry Creek Valley for decades.
So I wasn’t surprised when she gave me a lead on who can provide whole animal, grass-fed meat. (Warning: vegetarians might want to skip this next part). We bought a whole lamb, raised on Sonoma County grass, custom-cut and arrived in frozen packets destined for the freezer. Tender and shockingly not gamey at all, we’ve been grazing on it a couple of months now. Came out to be around $5 per pound. Next up: a half of a pig, but not until spring, unfortunately. They need the winter to fatten up to become my bacon.
Heading Back to My Roots
And speaking of country, I judged a Greens Cook Off held at the downhome working winery (read: not fancy) of stupendous Pinot producer Vision Cellars. Mac McDonald — a warm, honorable winemaker originally from Texas — trusted me (and several others) to assess collard and turnip greens prepared by various chefs scattered around the San Francisco Bay area. The preparation ran the gamut from true southern to Indian. Oddly, I went old school and my ordained winner was a southern preparation, which turned out to be made by Susan and Jeff from Zin Restaurant in Sonoma County. After tasting their incredible collard greens, I now darken their doors often.
Grape News Network Launch
Since we have nothing better to do (that’s tongue-in-creek, by the way), Scott and I started doing wine country videos together. He’s spent the past 15 years of his life behind a video camera at television news stations across the country and makes his living currently with his own video production company, Smiling Tiger Video. Why not, right? Our first installment: An interview with Judy Jordan and Winemaker Melissa Stackhouse at J Winery and Vineyards. I was invited to their 25th anniversary celebration and Scott and I traipsed around looking like TMZ producers. It’s funny what happens to people when faced with a television camera — they either shrink away or embrace it like Madonna. See the result of our fun, maybe-not-so-groundbreaking first installment of Grape News Network.
Not sure when the next one will be but we should have taken the video camera to our evening of deliciously wine country see-and-be-seen scene at this year’s western-themed True Grit Halloween party at Jordan Winery (to answer the inevitable question, Judy Jordan — who owns J Winery — and John Jordan, who owns Jordan Winery — are brother and sister — this is a really small industry). The hottest ticket in town, it’s invite-only, the RSVPs fill up within days and the costumes are seriously the bomb. I mean, really the bomb. Not to mention the free-flowing liquor and wine. The coolest party I’ve attended since we moved here. Check out the pix. (We’re on page 2 on the bottom row in the middle)
As the daylight gets shorter and the air cools off, I’m reminded that friends back in Florida are just now emerging from the air-conditioned wilderness of their homes into the outdoors. I miss that feeling of relief. But perhaps I’ll experience that once the rainy season ends. I’m told that the downpours start towards the end of November and don’t cease until spring. Great for grapes but I can’t imagine it being good for the human soul. Perhaps I’ll find out the bad part of living in northern California. Stay tuned.