Category Archives: Wine

A Visit to the California Vineyard Nearest to the Pacific Ocean

Mediterranean summer flatbreads to enjoy with wines at Fort Ross Vineyward's new tasting room.

Last month after three years in the making, Fort Ross Vineyard opened the doors to its brand-new tasting room in Jenner — less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean.

That also makes it the only tasting room in the newly established Fort Ross-Seaview AVA on the Sonoma Coast that was approved late last year.

It’s an appropriate location for it, given that Fort Ross, a historic Russian settlement, was where the first grapes were planted in Northern California in 1817.

Husband-and-wife, Lester and Linda Schwartz, who met as students at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, started their Fort Ross Vineyard 12 years ago. The winery produces Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and the signature varietal from the Schwartz’s native land of South Africa, Pinotage. Indeed, it’s one of the few producers of Pinotage in the United States.

All in all, they produce 5,000 cases in total annually. Their winemaker is the acclaimed Jeff Pisoni. The first vintage by Pisoni, the 2009 Fort Ross Vineyard Chardonnay was chosen as one of the top 100 wines of 2011 by Wine Enthusiast.

The exterior of the tasting room.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the Schwartzs in the new tasting room, set amid redwood forests and boasting views of the ocean.

Owners Lester and Linda Schwartz, originally from South Africa.

Their personal story is as intriguing as their wines. The couple fled South Africa 40 years ago because of the political unrest during the apartheid era. They settled in the Bay Area. Linda was a pianist and classical music composer. Lester became the first South African licensed to practice law in California.

He happened to be driving up this hilly area one day when he spotted the property and just fell in love with it.

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A Food Gal Giveaway: Two Seats at A Special Tomato and Wine Pairing Dinner in Los Gatos

Indulge your summer tomato cravings.

Two of my favorite places in Los Gatos are joining for one night to celebrate “Fruits of the Vine,” a salute to summer heirloom tomatoes and stellar wines.

Sept. 15, the owners of Enoteca La Storia wine bar will be supplying copious amounts of their 25 varieties of home-grown, organic tomatoes to Restaurant James Randall for a vine-to-table five-course feast.

Chef Ross Hanson’s menu will include dishes such as Dungeness crab croquettes with tomato relish; tomato braised beef with creamy polenta and Pecorino; and roasted tomato and peach shortcake.

The  6 p.m. dinner is $95 per person, which includes wine pairings. Tax and gratuity are not included.

Advance ticket purchase is required.

Contest: One lucky Food Gal reader will get a chance to attend the dinner with a guest — for free (though a tip for the servers would be appreciated, I’m sure). Entries, limited to those who can make it to Los Gatos on the evening of Sept. 15, will be accepted through midnight PST Sept. 8. Winner will be announced Sept. 10.

How to win?

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Wine 101 at the International Culinary Center in Campbell

My class "assignments'' at the International Culinary Center wine class.

To get in the mood for this post, open a bottle of wine, pour yourself a glass, take a well deserved sip, then see if you can answer the following:

A) What are the three grape varietals typically used in the making of Champagne?

B) What common drug store item can help rid your wine glasses and decanters of red-wine stains?

C) Cool climate growing regions produce white wines with a tinge of what specific color?

D) What unusual aroma is often associated with Australian and New Zealand Pinot Noirs?

Over the course of a week, I learned the answers (find them at the bottom of this post) to these questions and so much more as a student in the “Wine Foundation” class at the International Culinary Center in Campbell.

The class, which I was invited to take gratis as a guest of the school, stretched over seven nights for four hours at a time. I figured by the end of it, I’d either be an expert or totally tipsy.

Fortunately, it was bordering more on the former. Although, I’d taken one or two wine classes before, they were more truncated. Getting the opportunity to take such an intensive and comprehensive class really gave me a grasp on wines like never before. Indeed, over seven days, we learned not only how wine is made, but wine-tasting techniques, what goes into wine service at a restaurant, the basics of food and wine pairing (complete with food prepared by culinary students), and an overview of what varietals are found around the world.

Our classroom.

It says a lot that the ICC is the first school to ever be approved by the renowned Court of Master Sommeliers. How rigorous is the process for becoming one? Consider that only 3 percent who take the final exam to become a master actually pass — and that’s usually after failing on multiple previous attempts.

Our instructor was a certified Master Sommelier, one of only 197 in the world: Jesse Becker, who began his sommelier career at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, most recently put together the wine program at AQ restaurant in San Francisco, and runs his own wine importing business, PWMWINE.com.

Jesse Becker, one of only 197 Master Sommeliers in the world, pulling bottles from the cellar for us to try

There were 10 of us in this particular class, only one of whom was a man. Most had high-tech backgrounds of some sort, too. A few were toying with career changes, but more were there just to educate themselves about a topic that’s long fascinated their palate and mind.

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Gravensteins Are Here & More

Get them while you can -- beautiful Gravenstein apples. (Photo courtesy of the FruitGuys

Gravenstein Apple Time

With peaches, plums and strawberries galore at farmers markets, it’s hard to think about apples already.

But don’t dawdle, as it’s prime time for Gravensteins.

The heirloom apple is beloved for its juiciness, as well as its wonderfully balanced sweet-tart flavor. It’s perfect for turning into apple sauce or pies. But it has a very short growing season, and doesn’t keep long unlike other apple varieties that can last quite awhile in cold storage.

Gravensteins once were the main apple crop in Sebastopol. But as vineyards moved in, orchards soon dwindled.

Slow Food has worked hard to make sure Gravensteins don’t ever disappear.

For the past couple of years, the FruitGuys, a produce delivery service, has partnered with Gravenstein farmers to offer these storied apples — but only through Aug. 24. A box of Gravensteins start at $24, while a box of organic ones start at $40, depending upon your zip code, as they are shipped overnight. Each box is accompanied by a few Gravenstein apple recipes, too, to get you started.

Moreover, the FruitGuys are donating 17 percent of all profits from the apple boxes back to the participating Gravenstein farmers to  help ensure these apples never cease to exist.

Grape to Glass in the Russian River Valley

If you’ve been looking for an excuse to take a drive to Sonoma County’s picturesque Russian River Valley, there’s no better one than the 17th Annual Grape to Glass Pre-Harvest Party, Aug. 18 at 4 p.m. at Richard’s Grove & Saralee’s Vineyard in Windsor.

The party kicks off with a tasting reception, showcasing more than 50 wineries, as well as gourmet noshes by local restaurants and caterers.

But save room for the barbecue dinner that follows, which will be prepared by Smokehouse Bistro. Dessert will be apple pie a la mode made with Gravensteins.

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