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Oct 21, 2009

Winery Visits: Robert Mondavi Winery, Part 2

Bufano's St. Francis at the Mondavi Winery

In Part 1 of this two-part series, I explored a bit of the background of Robert Mondavi Winery. But now let's take a look at what you'll find on a visit here...

Touring Mondavi

The first part of my visit to Mondavi consisted of a vineyard tour led by Senior Wine Educator Inger Shiffler. The winery offers something fairly unique: a small demo vineyard where major grape varietals are planted in clearly-labeled, side-by-side rows. This gives visitors the opportunity during the growing season to see the difference between varietal grapes, and from late summer until harvest they can taste that difference. When you nibble on a merlot grape and then a cabernet grape, believe me: any question you had about how those two varietals differ disappears instantly.

A special touch to the demo vineyard, one that I really appreciated, is the two rows of Mission grapes. California's first cultivated grape, it was originally planted in the late 18th century by Franciscan monks at the missions. I'd read about the Mission grape, but never had the opportunity to bite into one. They're not particularly tasty, as I found out (what was the wine like?!), but I nibbled on quite a few just for the sheer historic pleasure of the experience.

Robert Mondavi Winery offers five distinct tours and/or tastings and a few wine education classes, allowing you to enjoy an experience that's perfect for you. Want something simple and inexpensive? Wine Tasting Basics is a real bargain: for $15, you'll get a 45-minute tasting led by a wine educator, covering how to read a wine label, why and how to swirl wine in a glass, and how to smell, taste, and describe wine. Curious about the Reserve wines? The $50 Reserve Tasting, in the company of a wine educator, gives you the chance to taste some of the winery's limited production, reserve, and older vintage wines in a private tasting cellar. You can read about these and other tastings/tours here.

We spent about half an hour in the impressive, multi-level, state-of-the-art To Kalon Fermenting Cellar, where Reserve, District, and vineyard-designated red wines are produced and barrel-aged. I found To Kalon fascinating in the way it combines the best of old and new. It's an architectural study in minimalistic modernism and populated with the latest technology. But the grapes were being sorted box by box, by hand---an expensive but quality-producing undertaking that you don't often see. Wine is moved from crush to fermentation to barrel aging by the ancient principle of gravity flow. The Cellar is filled with these wonderful contradictions.

The Arts at Mondavi

Emerging from To Kalon, we were met by VP of Cultural Affairs Margrit Mondavi. Originally from Switzerland, Margrit joined the Robert Mondavi Winery in 1967, a year after its founding. At that time, wineries did not entertain visitors other than to pour wine; they didn't offer art galleries, bocce ball courts, restaurants, and most didn't even have a gift shop. But, says Margrit, "I had a dream to show wine with art, music and food."

Margrit Mondavi

Almost immediately she began turning that dream into reality. Supported in her efforts by her her husband, Robert Mondavi, she founded the winery's Summer Music Festival in 1969, which is still going strong (headliners over the years include Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, and Harry Belefonte). In the 1970s, she introduced cooking classes at the winery designed to pair wine and food (Margrit is co-author with her daughter, a professional chef, of a cookbook, Annie and Margrit: Recipes and Stories from the Robert Mondavi Kitchen). She has created countless other programs and undertaken projects of all sorts, but that would take a book in itself, so we'll stop right here.

On my visit Margrit showed us a portion of the winery's Benjamino Bufano collection. If you live in the Bay Area, you can't help but get to "know" Bufano. Born in 1898 in Italy, he moved to the USA at the age of three. Eventually settling in San Francisco, his streamlined, minimalistic works of people and animals (often in marble) can be found throughout the Bay Area. Known particularly for his large sculptures---as, for example, the huge, mosaic/glass/bronze sculpture of Saint Francis that stands at the winery's entrance (shown at the top)---Bufano also produced smaller pieces, such as Dromedary and Camel, shown below, which is owned by Robert Mondavi Winery. I was told that children love to sit atop these camels.

Dromedary and Camel, by Bufano

Food at Mondavi

Then we were off to enjoy lunch with Margrit on the patio of the Vineyard Room, sitting 'neath huge umbrellas and soaking in the vista of vineyards, mountains, and sky. Winery chef Jeff
Mosher prepared four courses paired exquisitely with Mondavi wines.
Beet, Carrot & Navel Orange Salad
Pickled Shallots, Pistachio Citrus Vinaigrette
2006 Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley Chardonnary Reserve

Seared Loch Duart Salmon
Garden Eggplant Puree
Grilled Late Summer Vegetables
Aged Balsamic Vinegar
2006 Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley Pinot Noir Reserve

Pan Seared Niman Ranch Ribeye
Mashed Purple Potatoes
King Trumpet Mushrooms, Butternut Squash, Cipolini Onions
Bordelaise Sauce
2005 Robert Mondavi Winery Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon

Apple & Huckleberry Galette with
Amaretti Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
2008 Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley Moscato d'Oro
Throughout the meal I was reminded anew of how incredibly drinkable Mondavi's upper-end wines are. Excellent on their own, but when paired with the right food they are unbeatable (I particularly liked the Ribeye/Cabernet pairing).

You, too, can enjoy such a meal at Mondavi. Three days a week the "Harvest of Joy" program includes a winery tour followed by a three-course lunch paired with signature wines in the Vineyard Room. Other food and wine programs available include the ultimate "Four Decades" Tasting and Dinner---you'll taste wine from the 70s on up to today and enjoy an all-out dining experience.

So...I ended my first post by wondering how the legacy of Robert Mondavi has held up in the 1.5 years since his death. I'm not wondering any more: this winery continues its adherence to excellence with wines, the arts, and the visitor experience. What more can you want on a trip to Napa?

==========
Want to learn more? These books are a start:

Harvests of Joy by Robert Mondavi

From Publisher's Weekly: In 1965, Mondavi and his brother were doing well running the Charles Krug Winery, which his family had bought some 20 years before. He was 52, hardly the age to start grand schemes such as an entirely new winery; and by his own admission, he's something of a monomaniac, which obviously helped him to establish Robert Mondavi Vineyards, a powerful and revolutionary force in the American wine industry. This book is a fascinating blend of autobiography and the story of how a nascent winery became a formidable challenger to the greatest names in wine making the world over. It assuredly has a place in the Mondavi marketing strategy of educating potential customers about wine. Mondavi also fashions himself a homespun Peter Drucker, dispensing advice on achieving excellence and management success. Despite occasional efforts to acknowledge his overpowering ego, Mondavi is portrayed as a thoroughly driven, egocentric individual who has destroyed much on his road to success. Yet the descriptions of his parents and their immigrant life, the transformation of Napa Valley from sleepy backwater to tourist and boutique winery haven, his relations with many celebrated names in wine and the insider track on 50 years of the American wine business are well worth reading.

Buy Harvests of Joy: How the Good Life Became Great Business
---------------------------------

Annie and Margrit: Recipes and Stories from the Robert Mondavi Kitchen

From the Publisher: The wines of the Robert Mondavi Winery are acclaimed the world over. Less well known is the fact that the winery features a private dining room to rival the best restaurants in the Napa Valley. Here in the Vineyard Room, innovative chef Annie Roberts brings a refined sense of taste and balance to her creations, always designed with the perfect wine in mind. The winery is also home to elegant music and art events, all planned to perfection by Annie’s mother, Margrit. And so a mother and daughter come together to deliver a wine country experience like no other. In Annie and Margrit, renowned cookbook author Victoria Wise shares behind-the-scenes stories of Annie and Margrit’s collaboration over time, along with Annie’s fabulous recipes, reflecting treasures and traditions from her mother’s cooking and influences from life in the Napa Valley. From the start, Margrit and Annie cooked with one another, Annie learning at Margrit’s stove. Years later, Annie became the first executive chef of a winery in the Napa Valley, and developed a repertoire including Squab with Cabernet Sauvignon–Onion Marmalade and Spatzli; Salmon Fillets with Whole Grain Mustard Beurre Blanc; Poussins with Swiss Chard Gratin; and Fresh Plum Galette. Annie and Margrit takes you inside the Mondavi experience, evoking the tastes, sights, and sounds of a day’s visit to the winery.

Buy Annie and Margrit: Recipes and Stories from the Robert Mondavi Kitchen

Oct 20, 2009

Winery Visits: Robert Mondavi Winery, Part I


Robert Mondavi Winery and Vineyards (Credit: Mondavi Winery)

One day earlier this month I turned off Highway 29 and headed down the long drive toward Robert Mondavi Winery. It was late morning, a crisp and cool day, and well into the autumnal harvest and crush. Before me the earth-toned winery, which resembles one of California's ancient missions, melded beautifully with the landscape; beyond, the extensive Mondavi vineyards stretched north and south, backdropped by the rising hills on the Valley's western side.

Even though Mondavi is one of my favorite Napa destinations, I hadn't been there in ages. As a travel, culinary, and wine writer living in wine country, it seems there is always something new that I need to check out: a winery resembling an ancient Persian capital (Danioush Winery), a stunning vegetarian restaurant (Ubuntu), the latest martini on the Martini House menu. By necessity, old faves often get pushed to the back burner. Over the last couple of years I'd driven past Mondavi countless times, thinking: "You need to visit again." Now, thanks to an invite from the winery, I was joining a few other writers for a tour, followed by lunch with VP of Cultural Affairs Margrit Mondavi.

Unless you're a vinophile, you may not realize the impact this particular winery and its founder have had---not just in Napa Valley but across the entire world of wine. Established in 1966 by Robert Mondavi, it was the first large-scale winery built in the Valley since pre-prohibition. Mondavi knew what he was doing: the son of a winemaker, he'd been involved in the making and business of wine all his life. Before long, the new Mondavi winery gained worldwide recognition for the excellence of its wines. In Mondavi's wake a new generation of winemakers began moving into the Valley.

Napa Valley was much different in 1966 than it is now. Prohibition and the Depression had killed off much of the once-prosperous wine industry, and the area had become something of a backwater. I've talked to people who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s in the Napa town of Yountville, which they describe as being, then, an extremely poor farming community. Today Yountville is one luxurious town, home to some of the finest resorts and best eateries in Northern California. It's also where you'll find the three-star French Laundry, considered by many to be the best restaurant in the world.

Although there had been a slow-but-steady re-emergence of Napa winemaking after World War II, there weren't really that many wineries in the Valley in the 1960s. I once heard Jack Cakebread talk about the first couple of years he and his wife, Dolores, spent on their land back in the very early 1970s, establishing the highly-successful Cakebread Cellars. There was so little traffic on Highway 29---now a busy, busy road---that when they heard a car coming they'd peer out the window to see who it was.

At any rate, in Napa and even in the much larger world of wine Robert Mondavi is invariably credited with kicking off and then guiding Napa Valley into the pre-eminent position it holds in today's world. When Mondavi died in 2008, the Wine Spectator called him a "visionary winemaker and brilliant marketer" who was:
"One of the most influential and admired winemakers in California history...His name, influence and passion for wine and life spread well beyond Napa and California. Winemakers around the world credited Mondavi with encouraging them to set higher standards and make better wines...Mondavi's love of wine spilled over into what he termed a gracious way of living. He showed a deep appreciation for music and the arts, and he embraced fine cuisines of the world and elegant dining, in which food and wine enhanced each other. As Mondavi's reputation grew, the stylish Mondavi winery became a mecca for visitors to Napa. Its educational tours and tastings, art shows and summer concert series became a focal point for many tourists."
As I parked and headed toward the winery, I was curious to see how the great Mondavi legacy had held up in the year since his death.

Tomorrow: Part 2 of my visit to Robert Mondavi Winery

==========
Want to learn more? These books are a start:

Harvests of Joy by Robert Mondavi

From Publisher's Weekly: In 1965, Mondavi and his brother were doing well running the Charles Krug Winery, which his family had bought some 20 years before. He was 52, hardly the age to start grand schemes such as an entirely new winery; and by his own admission, he's something of a monomaniac, which obviously helped him to establish Robert Mondavi Vineyards, a powerful and revolutionary force in the American wine industry. This book is a fascinating blend of autobiography and the story of how a nascent winery became a formidable challenger to the greatest names in wine making the world over. It assuredly has a place in the Mondavi marketing strategy of educating potential customers about wine. Mondavi also fashions himself a homespun Peter Drucker, dispensing advice on achieving excellence and management success. Despite occasional efforts to acknowledge his overpowering ego, Mondavi is portrayed as a thoroughly driven, egocentric individual who has destroyed much on his road to success. Yet the descriptions of his parents and their immigrant life, the transformation of Napa Valley from sleepy backwater to tourist and boutique winery haven, his relations with many celebrated names in wine and the insider track on 50 years of the American wine business are well worth reading. Buy Harvests of Joy: How the Good Life Became Great Business
---------------------------------
Annie and Margrit: Recipes and Stories
from the Robert Mondavi Kitchen

From the Publisher: The wines of the Robert Mondavi Winery are acclaimed the world over. Less well known is the fact that the winery features a private dining room to rival the best restaurants in the Napa Valley. Here in the Vineyard Room, innovative chef Annie Roberts brings a refined sense of taste and balance to her creations, always designed with the perfect wine in mind. The winery is also home to elegant music and art events, all planned to perfection by Annie’s mother, Margrit. And so a mother and daughter come together to deliver a wine country experience like no other. In Annie and Margrit, renowned cookbook author Victoria Wise shares behind-the-scenes stories of Annie and Margrit’s collaboration over time, along with Annie’s fabulous recipes, reflecting treasures and traditions from her mother’s cooking and influences from life in the Napa Valley. From the start, Margrit and Annie cooked with one another, Annie learning at Margrit’s stove. Years later, Annie became the first executive chef of a winery in the Napa Valley, and developed a repertoire including Squab with Cabernet Sauvignon–Onion Marmalade and Spatzli; Salmon Fillets with Whole Grain Mustard Beurre Blanc; Poussins with Swiss Chard Gratin; and Fresh Plum Galette. Annie and Margrit takes you inside the Mondavi experience, evoking the tastes, sights, and sounds of a day’s visit to the winery. Buy Annie and Margrit: Recipes and Stories from the Robert Mondavi Kitchen

Oct 15, 2009

Recipes from The Golden Door

The Golden Door Cooks at Home
The Golden Door has been the premier destination spa in the USA since the day it opened its doors back in 1959. With architectural elements modeled after 17th- and 18th-century Japanese inns, and with programs incorporating Zen philosophies of balancing physical and spiritual health, it has revolutionized the way America thought of the spa experience.

Bold and innovative cuisine has always played a major role at the Golden Door. Eschewing food fads and fleeting diets, the spa’s ever-evolving menus have always been grounded in timelessly healthy and delicious whole foods, reminding guests that a healthy lifestyle can be a pleasurable choice. And now---in the new Golden Door Cooks at Home: Favorite Recipes from the Celebrated Spa---the spa’s executive chef Dean Rucker shares his most sought-after recipes and cooking tips.

With a focus on lean proteins, whole grains, fresh vegetables, and other wholesome foods, the book’s recipes combine ingredients in remarkably delicious ways. The book also includes a detailed list of SuperFoods, and sidebars on mindful eating, meditation, and fitness.

Try out this recipe from the book:

Adobo-marinated flank steak

Adobo-Marinated Grass-Fed Flank Steak
with Spinach Salad and Roasted Poblano Dressing
This recipe serves 4

Notes: (1) Adobo seasoning is a mixture of onion powder, garlic powder, pepper, cumin, oregano, and cayenne---delicious on beef, poultry, and grilled vegetables. It can be found in the Mexican or Latino foods section of many supermarkets. (2) You can use the grill to roast the red bell and poblano peppers for the salad and dressing.

For the steak:
  • 1 pound grass-fed flank, skirt, or strip steak (about 1/2 inch thick)
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice (from 1 orange)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1 lime)
  • 2 teaspoons adobo seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
For the pickled red onions:
  • 1/4 small red onion, thinly sliced (1/4 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon
  • sherry vinegar
  • Pinch of sugar
For the spinach salad:
  • 2 ears corn, husked
  • Olive oil, grapeseed, or canola spray
  • Roasted Poblano Dressing (recipe below)
  • 1/4 small to medium jicama (5 ounces)
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 12 cups baby spinach leaves, washed and dried (about 12 ounces)
  • 1 large red bell pepper, grill-roasted (page 74), peeled, seeded, and diced, or 1/2 cup diced store-bought, drained, roasted red peppers
  • 1 medium avocado, cut in 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 ounce queso fresco, crumbled (1/4 cup)
  • Kosher salt (optional)
  • Fresh cilantro leaves, for serving
Preparation:
  1. Prepare the steak. Place steak in shallow pan just big enough to hold it. Whisk together orange juice, lime juice, adobo spice, cilantro, and garlic. Pour over the steak and turn the steak over to fully coat with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  2. Prepare the pickled red onions. Place the red onion in a small bowl and add the sherry vinegar and sugar. Stir to combine. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours.
  3. Prepare a medium-high grill or set a grill pan over medium-high heat. Lightly spray the corn all over with oil and place on the grill. Grill until nicely marked on all sides, turning with tongs as necessary, about 5 minutes total. Remove from the grill and let cool. When cool enough to handle, use a sharp knife to cut the kernels from the ears and set them aside. Discard the ears.
  4. Prepare the roasted poblano dressing (recipe given below).
  5. Remove the steak from the marinade and season on both sides with salt. Grill until the outside has nice grill marks and the center is pink, 2 to 3 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes before slicing.
  6. While the steak is resting, finish the spinach salad. Peel the jicama and cut it into 1/2-inch dice; you should have 1 cup. Toss with the lime juice and set aside. Put the spinach in a large bowl. Add the roasted peppers, the reserved corn, and the jicama. Add the avocado and queso fresco. Pour half of the roasted poblano dressing over the ingredients and toss to coat well. Taste and season with a pinch of salt if desired. Thinly slice the steak against the grain.
  7. Mound the salad in the center of a large serving platter. Fan the steak slices on top of the salad. Spoon the pickled onion with its juice on top and sprinkle with cilantro leaves. Serve.

Roasted Poblano Dressing

Mildly spicy poblano chiles are roasted to soften them and add delicious, smoky flavor. When blended with the other ingredients the peppers become a creamy, emulsified dressing. Makes 1 cup
  • 2 whole poblano chiles, roasted (page 74), peeled, and seeded
  • 4 teaspoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves
In a blender, combine the poblano chiles, vinegar, agave syrup, garlic, salt, and 3/4 cup water. Blend until well combined but not completely smooth, about 20 seconds. Add the cilantro and pulse a few times until it is chopped. Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Buy Golden Door Cooks at Home: Favorite Recipes from the Celebrated Spa on Amazon

Oct 8, 2009

Riskiest FDA-Regulated Foods

Leafy greens, eggs, and tuna are on the top of a list of the 10 riskiest foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, according to a new report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
  • Leafy greens: 363 outbreaks involving 13,568 reported cases of illness.
  • Eggs: 352 outbreaks with 11,163 reported cases of illness.
  • Tuna: 268 outbreaks with 2,341 reported cases of illness.
  • Oysters: 132 outbreaks with 3,409 reported cases of illness.
  • Potatoes: 108 outbreaks with 3,659 reported cases of illness.
  • Cheese: 83 outbreaks with 2,761 reported cases of illness.
  • Ice Cream: 74 outbreaks with 2,594 reported cases of illness.
  • Tomatoes: 31 outbreaks with 3,292 reported cases of illness.
  • Sprouts: 31 outbreaks with 2,022 reported cases of illness.
  • Berries: 25 outbreaks with 3,397 reported cases of illness.
These 10 foods account for nearly 40 percent of all foodborne outbreaks linked to FDA-regulated food since 1990. That's no reason to forgo the occasional salad Ni├žoise, says the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which authored the report, nor need one pass up tomatoes, sprouts, and berries, even though those foods are also on the list. But the nonprofit watchdog group says the presence of so many healthy foods on such a list is exactly why the United States Senate should follow the House and pass legislation that reforms our fossilized food safety laws.

In July, the House of Representatives passed the Food Safety Enhancement Act with broad, bipartisan support. That measure would give FDA authority to require food processors to design and implement food safety plans, provide specific safety standards that growers would have to meet, and require FDA to visit high-risk facilities every 12 months or less, and most other facilities every 3-4 years. In the Senate, similar legislation, sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), is pending.

Download a free PDF from the Center for Science in the Public Interest that details the ten riskiest foods regulated by the U. S. FDA.

Oct 5, 2009

NY Times' sad and shocking cautionary tale

If you buy frozen ground beef patties, or regularly consume fast-food burgers, you must read "E. Coli Path Shows Flaws in Beef Inspection." The article appeared in yesterday's New York Times, and its revelations about the the fast-and-loose manner in which many meat processing plants play with our health are nothing short of shocking.

Author Michael Moss introduces the piece by telling the story of Stephanie Smith. A children's dance instructor, she was 20 years old in 2007 when she ate a hamburger grilled by her mother. The patty was part of a batch of frozen burgers made by food producer Cargill and labeled "American Chefs Selection Angus Beef Patties." Stephanie contracted E. coli (O157:H7) from the burger, developed seizures, and entered a 9-week coma. Ultimately, as a direct result of eating the burger, she became paralyzed from the waist down. She will probably never walk again.

The label of the contaminated burgers specify Angus Beef Patties, but as Moss makes clear in his article:
"Yet confidential grinding logs and other Cargill records show that the hamburgers were made from a mix of slaughterhouse trimmings and a mash-like product derived from scraps that were ground together at a plant in Wisconsin. The ingredients came from slaughterhouses in Nebraska, Texas and Uruguay, and from a South Dakota company that processes fatty trimmings and treats them with ammonia to kill bacteria."
Moss traces the various routes of the meat, fat, and trimmings that comprise the burger, discussing the lack of inspection along the away. It's an infuriating eye-opener about a system that's supposed to protect the American consumer but---what else is new?---has fallen down on the job. Badly.

More Info

Oct 1, 2009

Sommelier's Guide to Single-Malt Scotch


The current Sommelier Journal has a great tutorial on Scotch whisky. Entitled "A Sommelier's Guide to Single-Malt Scotch," you can read it online or download a PDF.

The 8-page article, nicely illustrated, covers such things as how to choose a glass, terroir, modern trends, pairings (e.g., cured pork belly with crispy polenta and tarragon paired with a peaty whisky like Laphraig or Lagavulin), and more. Check it out!

You may be interested in my earlier post, Single Malt Whisky Tasting Map. This free download helps you coordinate your particular whisky taste with specific brands. It's a great tool for anyone in the early stages of single-malt appreciation, or even old hands who want to try something new.


The Culinary Gadabout Recommends:

A set of 4 Glencairn Whisky Glasses: Winner of the 2006 Queen's Award for Innovation and the first glass to be endorsed by the whisky industry and members of the Scotch Whisky Association, the Glencairn offers aficionados of Scotch whisky a special vessel to appreciate its nuances. Comfortable in the hand, it has a full bowl that tapers at the rim to enhance color, body, aroma, taste, and finish. That's why the Glencairn Whisky Glass is used by every whisky producer in Scotland. Machine made from fine lead-free crystal by Glencairn Crystal in Europe. Size: 4-1/2"H, 6 oz.