Thursday, May 14, 2009

Off the Beaten Path in Napa Valley

My first trip to Napa Valley was when I was 14-years-old. My family was living in Northern California and one day, my parents decided to pack the car and spend the afternoon in wine country. Now, I can pretend that it was a fabulous experience, remark on the beauty of the valley, the great places we ate and so on. But, the only memories I have of that particular day are eating white paper wrapped sandwiches, sipping fruit tea outside a little market and my sister and I stealing sips of wine than from our parents during the wine tours.

I have been back numerous times since then, watching some wineries go from small construction trailer tasting rooms, to large stucco Tuscan villa replicas. My appreciation for the valley and its wine has grown with each visit just as the traffic now choking the once quite roads of the Silverado Trail and St. Helena Highway. While most of the valley is now chasing the tourist trade, selling magnet sets that match your wine label, don't let this scare you. Napa hasn't gone completely commercial. If you want a quiet, more personal approach for your visit, it does exist. Just ask Mike Hendry of Hendry Vineyards, Ted at Spring Mountain, Barbara at Forman Vineyards or even Janet Viader of Viader. Not only do they represent some of the best wines from the valley, their hospitality and personal attention their customers demonstrates their passion for their trade.
On a recent trip, we had the opportunity to experience this passion firsthand. Our first stop was a private tasting at Hendry Vineyard, a small estate winery on the southwest side of the valley. We were greeted by Mike Hendry, who walked us out to the vineyard to talk about his family's history of farming in the valley. We then headed inside through the back of the building, where we spied the winemaker, tasting from the barrel. This inspired an impromptu barrel tasting with his grandfather. We then went into the formal tasting room for a one-on-one sit down tasting of several of their wines. As we sipped our wines, Mike reflected on his family's philosophy of wine making. Aside from the fantastic zinfandel, what was most impressive was how candid he was about his curiosity to explore innovations in wine making, while not wanting to compromise the quality of what makes Hendry wines, well, Hendry wines.
Our second day included a private visit to Spring Mountain Vineyard. It had been raining non-stop in the valley prior to our trip. Everyone was happy the sun was finally out. Upon our arrival at Spring Mountain that day, Ted, wine club manager for the winery, grabbed a few bottles of Spring Mountain wines and asked us if we wanted to go for a ride around the vineyard. Of course no one objected. The four of us and Ted climbed into his Land Rover and we four wheeled to the top of the mountain. The wines were as amazing as the views of the vineyard. When we came back down the mountain, Ted took us into the cave for a private barrel tasting and allowed each of us the opportunity to use the wine thief. Only a few dribbles on my sleeve until I got the hang of it.
Our third day included a tasting at Forman Vineyards and Viader. I'd tasted the Forman Cabernet before, and absolutely loved its rich European style. I was excited to get an inside look at the vineyard. Tucked up in the hills and off the beaten path of the Silverado Trail side of the valley, Forman was difficult to find, but it didn't disappoint once we were there. Barbara our host opened the wooden gate, hopped in her car and we followed behind in what felt like a Formula 1 grand prix style dissent down a windy road leading to the wine cave. We were allowed into the private cave. We then crossed the small courtyard and sat down in the intimate tasting room inside what resembled a french stone cottage. Barbara casually poured wine in our glasses while sharing the story of what led Ric Forman to produce of the best little-known, but quickly becoming one of the most sought after, Cabernets of Napa Valley. Ric is literally a one-man band when it comes to his winery. Call him controlling, call him passionate, he doesn't care. What he cares about is his wine. We explored several other wineries, but these in particular stood out when it came to combining great wines with personal attention. We felt as though we weren't just one of the many, but special guests.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

2009 James Beard Winners Announced

Winners have been announced for the 2009 James Beard Foundation Awards, the nation's most prestigious recognition program honoring professionals in the food and beverage industries. During a ceremony hosted by Cat Cora, Emeril Lagasse and Stanley Tucci at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall, awards in 38 categories were presented, including Restaurant and Chef, Book, Design and Graphics, and special achievement awards. Industry leaders from across the country attended this year's highly-anticipated festivities, which celebrated "Women in Food" and included a post-show Gala Reception featuring some of the nation's top female chefs, sommeliers, mixologists and artisanal producers, led by Gala Chair Lidia Matticchio Bastianich.

A working restaurateur who sets high national standards in restaurant operations and entrepreneurship. Candidates must have been in the restaurant business for at least 10 years. Candidates must not have been nominated for a James Beard Foundation chef award in the past 10 years.

Drew Nieporent
Myriad Restaurant Group, NYC

Presented by All-Clad MetalcraftersA working chef in America whose career has set national industry standards and who has served as an inspiration to other food professionals. Candidates must have been working as chefs for at least the past 5 years.
Dan Barber
Blue Hill, NYC

A restaurant in the United States that serves as a national standard-bearer for consistent quality and excellence in food, atmosphere, and service. Candidates must have been in operation for at least 10 or more consecutive years.

Jean Georges NYC
Chef/ Owner: Jean-Georges Vongerichten

A chef age 30 or younger who displays an impressive talent and who is likely to have a significant impact on the industry in years to come.
Nate Appleman
A16, San Francisco

Presented by LexusA restaurant opened in 2008 that already displays excellence in food, beverage, and service and is likely to have a significant impact on the industry in years to come.
Momofuku Ko, NYC
Chef/Owner: David Chang

Presented by All-Clad MetalcraftersA chef or baker who prepares desserts, pastries, or breads and who serves as a national standard-bearer for excellence. Candidates must have been pastry chefs or bakers for at least the past 5 years.
Gina DePalma
Babbo, NYC

A restaurant that displays and encourages excellence in wine service through a well-presented wine list, a knowledgeable staff, and efforts to educate customers about wine. Candidates must have been in operation for at least 5 years.
Le Bernardin
NYC Wine Director: Aldo Sohm

Presented by Southern Wine & SpiritsA winemaker, brewer, or spirits professional who has had a significant impact on the wine and spirits industry nationwide. Candidates must have been in the profession for at least 5 years.
Dale DeGroff
Dale DeGroff Co., Inc. NYC

Presented by Stella ArtoisA restaurant that demonstrates high standards of hospitality and service. Candidates must have been in operation for at least the past 5 years.
Daniel NYC
Owners: Daniel Boulud and Joel Smilow

Presented by American Express®Chefs who have set new or consistent standards of excellence in their respective regions. Candidates must have been working as chefs in any type of dining establishment for at least the past 5 years. The 3 most recent years must have been spent in the region where the chef is presently working.
Best Chef: Pacific (CA, HI)
Douglas Keane, Cyrus Healdsburg, CA
Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic (D.C., DE, MD, NJ, PA, VA)
Jose Garces, Amada, Philadelphia

Best Chef: Midwest (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, WI)
Tim McKee, La Belle Vie, Minneapolis

Best Chef: Great Lakes (IL, IN, MI, OH)
Michael Symonm, Lola, Cleveland

Best Chef: New York City (Five Boroughs)
Gabriel Kreuther, The Modern

Best Chef: Northeast (CT, MA, ME, NH, NY STATE, RI, VT)
Rob Evans, Hugo's, Portland, ME

Best Chef: Northwest (AK, ID, MT, OR, WA, WY)
Marie Hines, Tilth, Seattle
Best Chef: Southeast (GA, KY, NC, SC, TN, WV)
Mike Lata, Fig, Charleston, SC
Best Chef: Southwest (AZ, CO, NM, NV, OK, TX, UT)
Paul Bartolotta, Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare at Wynn Las Vegas
Best Chef: South (AL, AR, FL, LA, MS)
John Currence,City Grocery,Oxford, MS

About the James Beard Foundation
The James Beard Foundation is dedicated to celebrating, preserving, and nurturing America's culinary heritage and diversity in order to elevate the appreciation of our culinary excellence. A cookbook author and teacher with an encyclopedic knowledge about food, James Beard, who died in 1985, was a champion of American cuisine. He helped educate and mentor generations of professional chefs and food enthusiasts. Today, the Beard Foundation continues in the same spirit by administering a number of diverse programs that include educational initiatives, food industry awards, scholarships to culinary schools, and publications, and by maintaining the historic James Beard House in New York City's Greenwich Village as a performance space for visiting chefs. For more information, please visit
Source: The James Beard Foundation