The Single Thread experience: seamless Japanese omotenashi hospitality in the agrarian California

There is nothing comparable to Single Thread in the complex genre of seasonal kaiseki in America. The Chef’s Table famed N/naka in LA, curated by Japan-born chef Niki Nakayama nods to this culinary art form, but bellow the level of the Single Thread experience. The restaurant and inn are like a twin dart striking the centre of your heart where excellent ingredients, Japanese food culture and innovative culinary techniques that elevate rather than ridicule the plate are one’s passions.

Decades of expertise, dedication, and an open mind with boundless curiosity, yielded bounty of unparalleled fecundity back home in the Sonoma County. Ever since the inspectors stepped into the few months-old restaurant, the veteran of French, Japanese and molecular culinary techniques and the chef cum owner Kyle Connaughton engraved his two stars on the California Michelin map. In 2018 a third star landed promptly.

chocolate cakeSingle Thread inn HealdsburgSingle Thread kaiseki
Healdsburg is finally worthy of a special journey for fine dining voyagers. The farmers’ den of Sonoma County gathered pace, showing off what the region grows in the creative edibles served at Shed, the casual shop and event space cum café in town. Single Thread is more, a farm, luxury inn and a gastronomic eden in the agrarian California.

The husband chef and wife farmer on their home turf

Kyle and Katina Connaughton employed omotenashi, the Japanese concept of anticipating and fulfilling people’s needs in advance, so“every service is from the bottom of the heart – honest, no hiding, no pretending”, wrote Mandy Li for the Michelin guide. The Connaughtons had a taste of this cultural wholesomeness when work landed them in Japan. At Michel Bras’ Toya in Hokkaido, Kyle mastered kaiseki, izakaya, soba, and sushi. Later, as head chef of research and development at The Fat Duck Experimental Kitchen in England the chef penetrated the penchant of Heston Blumenthal for molecular cuisine. He also assisted with publication of culinary masterpiece The Big Fat Duck Cookbook. Katina developed her gardening and farming skills in Japan, learning ikebana and haiku poetry, that in her personal style – handwritten on a small card joins the menu with a seed bag to plant at your home. This gift along with the charming, mini floral arrangement inspires wonder and fascination with nature.

restaurant in Healdsburg, Californiarestaurant in Healdsburg, California

The Single Thread experience

From entering through the massive wooden doors you are visually welcomed by the kitchen hum. The smoothness of the cooks’ moves strikes you immediately. After the host strips away your coat, you are invited for the first bite and a sip by the kitchen counter. A gallery of Japanese artisan donabe pots displayed along the open kitchen’s walls evoke nature’s palette. Stone grey, clay gris, silvery steel counters, together with the chestnut, ginkgo and oak hues spanning earthenware, the later mostly unique pieces brought over from Japan personally by the team. Some cups and plates were designed by the acclaimed Shinichiro Ogata‘s Simplicity in Japan. A collector’s passion for donabes nudged Kyle Connaughton to co-author (with Naoko Takei Moore) a cookbook that most home cooks utilise more than his gastronomic complexities. Staying upstairs at the inn is a privilege, as a guest you can enjoy comforting in-room dining starring the hotpot of your choice (seafood, meat or tofu).
rooftop Healdsburg

Weather allowing, an elevator lifts you up to the rooftop. Like in a cinema veritè, the low-built Healdsburg reveals one of the smallest towns in America. Surrounded by crawling vines and ripening tomatoes, seated by a cracking fire, an aperitif of your choice marks the special occasion about to pamper you.

A few moments later, descending to the design awards-winning dining room, you are seated in comforting, cushioned chairs and double-sofas at a silky smooth walnut table. Japan-inspired linen lanterns lit the living room that feels eons more private than the communal loudness popularised by the Nordic dining concepts recently. Now, the orchestra of cooks takes over. The curtains of culinary hedonism are lifted with an assortment of small, mostly one-bite appetisers. Arranged on and around a massive, real bark tray, some cushioned on a carpet of moss, others beautified with flowers, leaves or shoots or nesting in dried grass, the Autumnal Equinox (September), Early Autumn in Sonoma (October) and other cold and warm seasonal produce whets your appetite. Plants, local and Japanese seafood caught sustainably, and a triptych of Single Thread farm eggs: a custard topped with sustainable caviar, Hokkaido uni over an egg, and an ultra-smooth potato mash with seasonal fish.

Next courses highlight local catch in its pristine rawness. Akebana kanpachi followed by shima aji sashimi course or Bodega bay wild king salmon followed by Monterey Bay abalone were flawless.
In a warm pot arrives silky Homemade tofu ladled over heirloom tomatoes, Jimi Nardello pepper, Saikyo miso and olive oil.
Squash or Tomatoes from the farm underline current harvest. The tomatoes with shiso tofu, serpentine cucumber, and charred negi (bunching white onion) were delicate and balanced.
A grilled fish course like superbly cooked Black cod, sweet corn, kohlrabi, and wild nori seaweed moves the kaiseki to larger plates. We ad cod also the previous year. Prepared as a homage to Fukkura-san with leeks, vegetables from the farm, broth of young lettuces and gyokuro green tea it was very different, but also exquisite.
Custom-handmade cutting knives by Bloodroot Blades (the waitlist is years-long) are paraded for your personal choice of tool to cut the protein about to be served. Perfectly hearth roasted lamb loin or Texan marbled wagyu in the meat course are accompanied by obscure, but delicious in exotic Japanese titles presented ingredients like Kanpyo (dried shavings of calabash gourd), Komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach), Chingensai (bok choy), Kamo Nasu (lilac, ball shaped eggplant) stirring the travel bug. You can supplement the meat for fish or vegetarian course. My Aka Amadai with spaceship spinach, Hakurei turnip, and soy cream was superb.
Sonoma Grains always come with a seasonally creative twist. The heirloom grains with lamb breast connected with he previous course, added black garlic, and Matsutake mushroom “tea” like a true gohan fill you up as the last savoury course. Better even than at the Kyoto’s three Michelin stared Kikunoi! LA’s n/naka can silently observe and note the perfection.
Golden Sesame Semifreddo with Fig and Pinot Noir Grapes
wagashi sweetstea and wagashi
The 10-course kaiseki tails off with two cold desserts and an assortment of wagashi, the mildly sweet morsels to savour with a cup of tea. Blue hyssop, Medjool date and walnut, and spearmint to freshen your mouth during our first 2017 visit, yuzu and Thai basil after Roasted fig leaf and walnut treacle perfect with the smoky roasted houjicha I sipped recently. Brooklyn’s Kettl supplies the superb Japanese tea, while the herbals mostly come from the farm. Elderflower granitè with cucumber and peach pre-dessert was a lovable treat and so was the palate invigorating melon sorbet, melon liquorice, plum marshmallow, and sunflower seed the previous fall. The desserts were all centred around being frozen, like the pennyroyal “laychee” sherbet, whipped lemon posset, fig compote, and apple this October or the richer golden sesame semifreddo with fig and Pinot Noir grapes, pickled, jellied and jammed served last September. Staying at the inn? Peak into your freezer as more frozen delectables wait for your spoon.
The wine list is very good, but the pairing is focused on curiosities than local experiences. Nevertheless, our whims were catered to as the head sommelier curated purely US-sourced wine tasting each night. A white wine from Ridge Monte Bello and Rhone-blend by Tablas Creek next to Ceritas Pinot Noir and the rare white Sauvignon Blanc by Eiselle Vineyards took even the chef into the backstage.
ikebana ikebana
Staying at the Single Thread inn turned us into fans. For three nights nesting in a luxe corner suite with a fireplace, enjoying the bounty of its farm through countless amenities, with a yoga and pilates studio across the street, cycling and running trails along the Russian River we felt like at home. Balanced, indulged and happy.
Single Thread
Bringing Single Thread to life, the husband and wife duo seem to have found their ikigai, the purpose driving their life forward. Any guest can feel the authentic, wholesome love and care invested into the project. The creation of perfection with strong emotional input. Every detail like the ikebana flowers from the farm, candles and toiletries in the bathrooms, lovable slippers, Japan meets local production curated minibar (think kombucha, yuzu soda, superfood snacks developed for Render where Kyle also lends his creative know-how with other award-winning chefs, daily ground coffee, even riesling in a can, …), daily fresh pastry from the two Michelin stared kitchen (reminds me of the best French chefs’ five star lodgings), and daily free of charge platter of local Shigoku oysters, charcuterie and cheese, seasonal fruits. Practical tolls like iconic knives by Laguiole help to cut and open anything. Only the caviar comes with an extra surcharge.Healdsburg hotel
A bottle of local wine custom-made for Single Thread by Davis Family Vineyards (a smooth, mature Syrah for us) for your in-room cravings. Still and sparkling water is filtered by the Vera system for sustainable hydration. A gem hides in your freezer, the house-made seasonal sorbet, Thai basil and pear for us ticked all the boxes of hedonism. In the bathroom, Aesop pampers your skin, binchotan charcoal towels purify your face, bath salts and candles sooth your weary travel bug, and Botnia organic gift bag hydrates your face. We soaked in the XXL bath daily. Oh, and the breakfast, otherworldly. We tried almost the entire menu – an assortment of the multi-course Japanese (the homemade yuba and tofu were extraordinary and the seasonal rice donabe filled us up), Sonoma (top notch California cheese), à la carte warm fruit scones, superb Sonoma grains porridge (wholesome) and the best avocado toast we had in California. We could have it every day – served on a sourdough, the poached running egg with sesame, flowers and green perfection. We only skipped the bacon-laden English breakfast created as a tribute to Heston Blumenthal.
donabetofu skinegg rolls
The five rooms were like the restaurant designed by AvroKO, and the entire building embodies the feeling of being “lived in, homey and residential” to Connaughton’s liking, but its far more. There is no interior like Single Thread of such artisan excellence in the Sonoma County, not even in the established riches of the Napa Valley opulence. The visuals mirror the experience.
Sonoma grain bowl breakfastLa Muse Blue enjoys her breakfastbreakfast at Single Thread
Recently, Single Thread expanded their dining options to weekend lunches, so those who do not stay in town, can savour the omotenashi without a compromise.
 SingleThread: 131 North Street, Healdsburg, CA 95448
+1 707 723 4646

The Charter Oak: "simple is the hardest thing in the world", declares the culinary star of Napa Valley

The Charter Oak restaurant is a relative newcomer to the indulgent Napa Valley dining scene, yet the historic farmhouse has already lifted up, literally, the ceiling of culinary experiences around Saint Helena. The massive hearth headlining the triple high-ceiling dining room injects rustic simplicity to almost everything edible on the sharing-style menu. Ready yourself for something special. Enveloped in the pursuit of the highest quality produce, chef Christopher Kostow of Meadowood confessed: “Simple is the hardest thing in the world”

Three star Napa chef goes simple: essential respect for ingredients

Charter Oak is overseen the Meadowood’s three Michelin star chef, yet the accent at his new, pared down restaurant is on the essence of the ingredients highlighted by hearth cooking and on dining conviviality. “This was the greatest challenge of my career”, announced the chef at the International Chefs Congress in Brooklyn recently. Adding that, “Cooking over roaring fire cannot be controlled as easily as in the modern three Michelin kitchen. Plus, you can hide more ingredient imperfections in complex cooking”. The inconsistency of the fire element must be embraced with openness Charter Oak, hence this is not three, two or one Michelin star restaurant. You cannot compare the hearth mastery with that of the Etxebarri master in Spain, but the Napa Valley ingredients are respected with bare-it-all honesty.
International Chefs Congress Charter Oak Saint Helena
The minimalist cooking is directed by skilled female hands of Katianna Hong (Korean roots). The former sous chef at the Restaurant at Meadowood befriends the hearth in stripped-down, abundance of local, seasonal, and sustainably-grown produce.
Switching from the three Michelin cooking to simplicity was challenging for both chefs. The two restaurants could not be more technically different, but sharing only the impeccable produce connects them. I made it to The Charter Oak three times, to the Restaurant at Meadowood once. Formal, tiny-sized, multi-course tasting menus contrast with the loud mood and generous helpings at the Charter Oak. Yet, they share the same top-notch organic produce from the Meadowood farm. As the chefs explained during their cooking demo in Brooklyn: “Respect all that nature gives us. Our job is to show it as best as we can.”
farm to table Napa ValleyVegetarian dining Napa Valley

Rustic provisions: bread, dairy, eggs and fire

The country levain baked at the Charter Oak is offered to fill you up before moving to the deserts at the three star Restaurant. The loaf is superb, moist with a crunchy crust, worth paying the extra 5 or 10$ for large as you rarely get this quality at your local US bakery unless you for to San Francisco’s Tartine. At the Charter Oak it can charred too much to my taste (lately it was blackened),  served with house “cultured” butter, the bread was presented perfectly at the Meadowood.
Local dairy like buffalo butter and mozzarella from Petalumba, browned butter, fermented soy whipped with crème frâiche, fresh cheese, herbed cream and buttermilk elevate most plates. Butter tops steamed white rice, spreads over the Pretzel bun sandwich with hearth-roasted ham and horseradish. Locally renown Andante dairy supplies cheese accompanied by honeycomb and grilled bread. Most “Vegetables and Grains” on the menu incorporate cheese to fatten your palate for more vino or beer. Like in the decadent POLENTA under vegetable bolognese sprinkled with fresh cheese that we enjoyed at brunch.
The lunch and dinner menus are identical, but the weekend brunch introduces more breakfast-style, funked up bowls and plates like GRAPEFRUIT grilled over the fire with rosemary sugar, GRILLED TOAST with either tahini, honey or goat cheese, kumquat marmalade, APPLE PANCAKE with brown sugar, SUMMER SQUASH and cheese baked omelette, Soft SCRAMBLED EGG with avocado, furikake seaweed with Danish rye bread, BUTTERED ENGLISH MUFFINS jazzed up with crème frâiche, celery and spring onions. “The eggs taste different depending on the time of the year”, alerts Katianna Hong pointing at the natural seasonal variations. To show this, the simply boiled eggs are served with top quality local olive oil.

Balancing animal and plant cuisine through quality with original twists

Sparely anything garnishes the roasted plates at The Charter Oak. GRILLED yellow and green CUCUMBERS were simply matched with dill and sea beans. Sliced into biteable chunks we relished the well-oiled, toasted levain TARTINE, dressed with succulent sun-dried tomatoes, roasted crushed almonds and ricotta, sweetened with fermented honey from their farm’s bees, fresh basil and mint. American sizes would be a feast for an Asian family and one-plate-is-enough for most Europeans.
Root-to-frond or a holistic use of plants is now popular on the US menus. The FERMENTED SOY DIP paired with all edible parts of seasonal raw vegetables delivered fresh from Meadowood’s farm is so delicious that the recipe was featured in Dine & Wine. The sour, yet lighter than typical créme fraîche dip has its umami accentuated by a dash of house-infused chive oil.
The hand-cut, skin-on fries authentically taste of superb potatoes, and for $8, they should! Crisped to such a perfection, that Gott’s Roadside, the temple of fast food nearby, is seriously challenged.
napa valley organic farm to table
From the hearth emerge smoked, with dripping fat-layered beef RIBS, aged RIBEYE, BUTTERMILK CHICKEN, BLACK COD grilled in corn leaves, even vegetarian plates like FIGS with LOCAL HONEY, CHARRED AVOCADO with rhubarb, ember oil and mayo, buttered CAULIFLOWER with raisins, or EGGPLANT with PEA SHOOTS and TOASTED ALMONDS. Sides like MUSHROOMS, SUNCHOKES and CARROTS are roasted in its throbbing fire, are well oiled to satisfy your cravings. Not all the produce comes from the 2.5 acre Meadowood farm or from California though. The monthly special BBQ WINGS were trucked from Colorado recently.
The Family sharing, multi-course dinner is a feast, but good value for the quality, and it differs from the à la carte.
feast in Napa Valley
At Charter Oak, their locavore wine list is segmented by growing areas — Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain, Saint Helena, Oakville, and more. Gewurztraminer from the Stony Hill winery was as fragrant as its Austrian model, while Dunn‘s Cabernet Sauvignon had a modest alcohol level (13.2) and mellowing, supple tannins after two decades of bottle age. The cocktails also cater to large eight-table setups. For $100 each choose from the original punch, gin and lavender, a pitcher of margarita, mezcal and hibiscus,. The mulberry shaded courtyard hosts winemakers dinners, so keep an eye on them.
Local and imported beer like the decadent, dark, coffee and chocolatey Fuller’s London Porter I ordered on tap suit the hearth wholesome flavours. The dark beer felt as if I ate a loaf of bread, filling up to the top of my head, no growler for me, a small glass was enough. Broadening the choice, cans and bottled beers round the hearty meal. Truly sustainable jars of local tap water are distributed free of charge.
Napa restaurants
A meal at the Charter Oak comes with caveats. By no means this rustic eatery is cheap, but the land for cultivating in Napa is expensive (with gratitude to the vines), so be generous. Twenty percent will be added to your bill as an involuntary gratuity that swept the American dining scene recently (following the British model). The enthusiastic, but inefficient service did not deserve such a reward at our meals. Delivering twice cold grilled mushrooms, and lukewarm “coal roasted” cabbage with clams was not worth the generous tip. We will be back, demanding more attention to the prompt delivery of the exquisite produce. Respect.
Charter Oak Avenue 1050, ST. HELENA, CA 94574
 +1 707 302 6996

Golden Door: let in inner peace, recharge and upgrade yourself at the iconic California retreat

Golden Door is the blueprint for holistic spa retreats in the Americas. More than just a detox launderer of life’s dirt, here you will be able to connect to your authentic self though supportive environment, challenge your fitness and the mind, perhaps even your life’s purpose. Each retreat is personally tailored, when almost eight decades of a wellness knowhow guarantee a transformative, holistic health supporting experience. On every step of your journey, you will be reminded of the golden moments to happiness.
Golden-Door-spa-Californiameditation labyrinth
The Golden Door story started in Tecate, Mexico in 1940. From there, the eco-friendly rustic grounds of Rancho La Puerta founded by Deborah Szekely and her European husband evolved into an exclusive venture to California. Just about two-hours from the Hollywood glamor of Los Angeles, close to the San Diego airport and a stone throw from the healing waters of Carlsbad (hydrating you for the entire stay), you are encouraged to “turn your dreams into your story”, as the golden pen in your spacious zen room reminds. The green gardens facing patio enshrines all the comforting aspects of a ryokan, the Japanese country inn where weary urban travellers have recharged in the healing hot springs, soaked in the enlivening spirit of kami residing in trees and nature, and nourished their bodies though balanced, generous, seasonal cuisine for centuries.
The loving, soulful embrace of the superbly maintained property and the generous, passionate staff comfort you within hours of stepping through the majestic golden door gating the living grounds. No more than 42 guests at a time support solitude or communal rejuvenation if that is what your heart desires. Precious Japanese art fills the serene property and your Tv-free room soothes you with unique paintings. Above a flower ikebana arrangement hangs a scroll typical for Japanese tea houses. You can meditate or mindfully enjoy this altar of zen while eating your breakfast (a choice from vegan porridge, yogurt with granola or daily changing savoury dish such as an egg frittata) always in the room. All meals can be served in privacy or communally outdoors – at lunch by a koi pond, exercise pool, and once per week in the biodynamic garden, while dinners encourage socialising in the dining hall. I recommend checking out the scene the first night and then decide what comforts you more – solitude or community? A wifi access and phone can be used in your seclusion, but technology is discouraged in the public spaces.

Bliss from sunrise till sunset

After a drive through the desert, the lush surroundings sustainably irrigated from reclaimed water surprise and cocoon at the same time. Leaving my husband behind the door, I poured myself into each moment at the Golden Door mindfully and effortlessly, steeped in the flow of authenticity encouraged by journaling every day. I stayed at the chalk-pale, gravels art adorned Azalea court, facing a wooden swing recalling my childhood. The sway of an effortless, regular movement pacified my mind in turbulent times, and now the seven-years-old me was awakened reminiscing about the sheer simplicity of happiness.
For most of the year, the Golden Door welcomes women only (staff includes men), but coed, and six men-only weeks let the male competitiveness in. The female weeks are very special though. Unnecessary worries drop off your brain – make-up free and wrapped in a Japanese yukata (summer kimono) thrown over your clothes you are sheltered from any sartorial faux-pas and liberated from judgement. I enjoyed this decisions-sparing mindset previously during my Ayurvedic retreat in the Maldives, where I wore nothing but a blanc cotton tunic over a bikini. At the Golden Door, I was not on a sandy island but in a shaded desert valley (chilly mornings, hot midday and cool nights) so slippers to treatments, yoga and meditation, daily washed leisure and workout clothes (provided in your rooms), and my own sneakers for hikes and workouts sated my humble cravings for dressing up. You also get a water bottle, a mini line of Golden Door natural beauty care, and a sunscreen to splash on inside the bathhouse. My jewellery never left the safe, and my mind and physical body had not crossed the gate of the property for the entire week, how strangely liberating!
Golden-Door-spa-CaliforniaGolden-Door-spa-CaliforniaJapanese art
Connected to nature ahead of the spark of a sunrise wonder, the five-mile, daily changing 5:45am guided hikes or gentle three mile walks start each precious day outdoors. Trailing the avocado, pomegranate (ripening in October, I hit the right time!) and olive orchards up on the mountain on the 600-acre private property, you watch the Pacific fog dissipate, the fauna awaken and the sun lightening up the horizon. An eastern jet lag for most guests eases the strain from such an early morning. I woke up naturally before the dusk illuminated each day, while others (locals, some living on the same street!) were nudged by a phone alarm. The rewards on the top of the mountain were postcard-worthy. All the voluntary participants loved the hikes.
The Golden Doorhiking CaliforniaCalifornia hikeshiking California

Listen to yourself and do what you love

Empowering my desire for space, the oasis of the Golden Door replenished my thirsty soul. I was literally levitating at the end of the “women’s classic week”, and my private yoga teacher Madhu deserves all the credit for this energetic awakening. Some ladies have been returning for decades for the “feeling more at home at the Golden Door than in the hectic world outside”. Arrive open to whatever arises from your essence, show up at the life-changing afternoon talks lead by distinguished authors, doctors, even shamans, and if exercising (four gyms, two small pools, plus a yoga studio) or hiking bring two pairs of sneakers (the trails are quite dusty). At the Japanese ryokans bathing, dining and a mindful refuge from the taxing urban noise take priority, but the Golden Door also caters to the Western intensity so newest fitness trends entertain the movement-hungry get-goers. This is neither America nor Japan, but a spiritual place supportive of manifesting your authentic goals. You decide what you really want it to be, as only you know what your needs are. Each week the program changes slightly, but there are so many activities that you will feel over-catered to. Athletic swimmers will find the lap pool too short, yet the daily rotating water classes will improve your fitness and strength more holistically than just crawl or breast strokes. My favourite discoveries were the Aqua tabata (HIIT joint-gentle water exercises), Aqualogix with watermill-like ankle straps and helmet-shaped hand resistance tools, and the elegant dance moves of Taichi with DJ, a master of his craft. “Don’t think, just move like me”. The best advice anyone has ever given to my organic movement craving mind.
Challenge strengthens us, but woking out hard in a gym was not on my to do list. Jet-lagged and seeking solitude, recharging in nature though hiking, and gentle yoga for my injured (too much writing, boxing and Chaturanga Dandasanas) wrist, next to meditation and a mind-opening talks were all I set to do. Yet, I felt such a tremendous rush endorphins from the HIIT training interrupted with focused strength exercises that my fit trainer Sandra prepared for me, that I did not skip a session with her. Like all the Golden Door trainers, at the departure day she gave me personal training plan adjusted to my current needs. Most classes and sessions last 45 minutes so you catch the starts of your next thing. Still, some women came for a marathon and squeezed in as many classes as possible. I was in the different realm, though, pacing myself according to what my body and mind whispered. Empowered by the daily meditation, I listened.
Golden-Door-spa-Californiasunrise hike

Good for all at The Golden Door

Every little detail was perfected over the six decades since the Golden Door spa opened to the rich and/or famous in 1958. Recently, the property was bought by an American billionaire to his wife and a longtime Golden Door guest Joanne Conway who upgraded the facilities without taking away anything essential as those returning for their X-teenth time revealed. “It’s just getting better”, many agreed. The $2000 all inclusive day excludes the less fortunate from the pampering, self-improving or hard training, yet all profits are donated to charity alleviating child abuse, so the karma of both the owner and your own is balanced by simply staying here. The paper key cardholder is fully biodegradable, further it contains an embedded seed from the property that you can sow in your garden or a flowerpot with a surprise growing from this remnant of your retreat.
healthy bento

Balanced and personalised meal plan

During a phone interview preceding your stay, amended on daily menus delivered to your room in print nightly, you specify your diet. Cross off the dessert, ask for seasonal organic fruit instead, demand more cheese or no tofu in the vegetarian meals. Inspired by Italy, Japan, Mexico and the estate’s produce, the food is good enough to enjoy, for the ingredients are exquisitely sourced. The young, passionate chef is charming, and someone not accustomed to dining at the best restaurants around the world will be thrilled. A guest nicknamed him the “the chef yam-yam”. In spite of the 1,200, 1,400 or 1,600-calorie meal program offered, he encourages indulgence. Pre-hiking gluten-free mini-muffins (taste as they sound), succulent organic berries, almonds and cheese wheels are served in the lounge, a potassium-rich vegetable broth, berries and juicy vegetable sticks for a mid-morning snack, while a juice for insulin boost in the afternoon kept us cravings-free until dinner at 6:30 each evening. Well, I sneaked some chocolate into my suitcase, just in case. Weight-loss is not the selling point, but returning women of all ages have transformed their body radically. The activity-packed schedule and healthful meals shed the fat pounds naturally. Sugar is included if you want it, although in-house honey is served with your breakfast, so is poultry and other white meat, but red meat is not provided. Addictive substances like alcohol is tolerated (a wine list can be delivered discretely to your room), while smoking is heavily fined.

Steve Jobs’ former gardener harvests biodynamic bounty at Golden Door

Much of the food is sourced from the biodynamic garden and orchards, the hens lay superb eggs on the property (ask for a boiled or poached egg to calm hunger pangs) and the rest comes from local providers, hunters and seafood from sustainable fishermen.Honeybees provide the golden nectar. The culinary highlight of my week were foraged strawberry guavas ripening in fall, and my co-hikers joined in for a Vitamin C boost that was more exciting than the sweet slice orange moons offered to us by our guide. Most of us loved the chef’s vegetarian eggplant “meatballs” with his marinara sauce that was also demonstrated during the cooking workshop after dinner and nightly digestive walk to on Thursday night. We snatched the recipes with ravenous gratitude. From the aperitif snacks served prior to each dinner, the red lentil hummus with orange zest pampered our palates the most. The cocktail was not a martini but a fruit-based mocktail.
Unlike at Miraval in Arizona, bursting with group activities in a much less intimate environment, the Golden Door does not offer many artistic endeavours, but clay work and creating your mandala vision board felt extremely liberating, clarifying my deepest intentions through their visual results. I will hang mine in my office to remind me of my ikigai, the purpose to live. The books in your room move the wheel of happiness, heath and longevity in your mind. I’d read the Buddha’s Brain by PhD neuroscientists and the wise philosophy of the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh already, but the Japanese concept of ikigai was new to me. The book now supports my continued quest for the flow in doing what I love without any distractions. My attitude boost.
The Classic Week programming includes in-room massages, four facials or body treatments (scrub and body butter – my favourite was the relaxing hinoki bark scent), unlimited rosemary (grown on the property) hot towel wraps to detoxify and release muscle tension, three sessions with a personal trainer, daily sports clothes laundry service, low-toxin manicure/pedicure, a hair treatment or blow dry, talks, sound bathing, meditation, and an endless list of fitness classes, outdoor activities like archery, bootcamp circuit and specials like forest bathing, shaman healing and tarot.
Even seasoned spa junkies I met during my weeklong stay admitted that the Golden Door is a spiritual place most worth your hard-earned money. Transformative on all levels – from physical, mental to social and spiritual. The last night, after a farewell dinner and a glass of wine (for some like myself) under the spell of silence we were taken to the candlelit labyrinth. These meditative circle-paths lead to a centre and the focused walk in and out clears your mind. Symbolism can powerfully encourage some. In a central flame we burned a piece of paper on which we had confided what we discovered wanted to release from our lives or move beyond. After this ritualistic cleanse we retired to our rooms where we wrote a letter to ourselves that the staff posts in about five months to remind of what you discovered and learned, so you reignite your purpose or come back to Golden Door again!

Igniting the female power

One afternoon we were encouraged by the author of Twelve Mindful Months, Cindi Peterson, M.A. Ch.t. to embrace the Japanese philosophy of “kaizen“, embracing small steps of consistent improvement, to connect with ourselves and others through awareness and compassion, to do what brings joy, eat mindfully (high quality, smaller portions), rest and reflect in solitude, and to get rid of what we do not want – such as negative emotions – through deep breathing. She advised creating daily and weekly rituals that bring us to our flow, happiness and reaping success to keep up with what we committed to at the Golden Door.
The women-only weeks empower you by asserting your place in life, while encouraging manifestation of your true nature. Be and do what you love and you will be happy ever after. The Golden Door is very special.
 Golden Door, 777 Deer Springs Road, San Marcos, California
+1 760 744 5777

Corison winery: making wine sustainably by the best female winemaker in America

Cathy Corison is widely viewed as the best female winemaker in America. She parades an elegant stride of Napa Cab as nobody else in the valley. Her wines are always gracefully done well below the recent 15 alcohol levels gushing throughout the heating up California. Not merely flexing its muscles as a vinous bodybuilder, her wines patiently reach the maturing age through smoothness and balance already in their youth. The laudable virtues of the Corison wines are underlined by the rare soil on which the Kronos vineyard roots deep down. Four decades in the winemaking business have proved that Cathy Corison’s wines age with poise but without flashy stunts. Visiting the winery annually, I kept on inquiring about the secrets of her trade and the special land she owns.
Corison winery

Making Cabernet that speaks of place

Cathy Corison pursues winemaking in synchrony with nature through attentive viticulture, acknowledging that: “Mother Nature does the heavy lifting, but we are out in the vineyard all year taking care of the vines so that they produce the best grapes possible. I can’t make a wine any better than the grapes that come in the door, but it takes fastidious attention to detail to allow them to shine.” The sustainably committed winegrower and winemaker still buys some grapes from trustworthy local viticulturists (that she binds in contract allowing for her direct involvement), but she owns the estate vineyard. Corison elevates its strengths: “[The] Kronos Vineyard is 50 years old. Old vines all over the world make very special wines. It also grows in a singular corner of the world – benchland (alluvial fans) in the heart of the Napa Valley. The soils are loamy and gravelly so the vines have the water they need to grow but extremely well-drained soils which encourage the vines to stop growing and get busy ripening their grapes at the beginning of the ripening season. The climate is perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon.”  She further explains: “Cabernet is a late-season variety and needs a lot of heat to ripen fully. It also needs cold nights to produce inky color, complex flavors and maintain good natural acidity. There are very few places in the world that share this huge diurnal temperature shift and also enjoy rainless summers. Napa Valley is rare in these attributes.” This is precisely the reason why so much wine money has nested in the region and why so many Americans and the French chase the Cabernet grail in Napa.
Cabernet SauvignonKronos by Cathy Corison
On a much smaller scale than the big local players, yet still with each sold out vintage her fortune increases reflecting the high scores of her wines, so she is purchasing more of the local vinous land. Her greatest desire is “anything on the “bench” between Oakville and St. Helena because they have the potential to make some of the best Cabernet in the world.” Minus the annual climatic whims, owning the vineyards allows for an almost absolute control over her crop. Still, at her “small family farm” she makes “Cabernet Sauvignon that speaks of place“. In other words Cathy Corison tries to reflect the terroir of her chosen Napa heartland. The Kronos vineyard flatly rolls away from the St. Helena Highway. These old vines yield limited bunches of deep purple grapes with an immense concentration that invites time in. These wines are best enjoyed after about five years of ageing in medium toast French oak barrels. Corison does not release them before she feels they are ready. The concentration of Rutherford Cabernets is characteristic by their casis and plum density and is often encouraged with a restrained use of heavily toasted oak.
Located right next to the winery, the Sunbasket Vineyard bottling will soon change its name, because Cathy Corison recently bought the vineyard from which she sourced for a quarter of the century.
Her Napa Valley blend of selected vineyards shows better her crafting skill and by experience driven prowess reflecting on Corison’s idea of how a great Cabernet should taste. Powerful, yet elegant.

Cathy Corison wineryCorison wine
Corison: sustainable as possible in a changing climate

Daily walking from her home in nearby St. Helena, Corison checks her crop and makes necessary hand touches to the vines. During winter, legumes are planted between the rows for more nitrogen to be naturally injected into the depleted soil. Sustainable pest management instead of spraying pesticides was a smart choice. In fact, she has never allowed any chemically manufactured herbicides and pesticides on her plants.
Located on the left side of the St. Helena Highway across from the Zinfandel Lane, Corison has – due to the momentum in America – never aspired to make much wine from other varietals. When I got out of school over 40 years ago with the intention of making wine, the Napa Valley was one of the only wine regions and certainly the most famous [in America], even then. I make Cabernet Sauvignon because I live in the Napa Valley. I believe we can make Cabernet as well, or better, than anywhere else on earth”, she proudly asserts.
Nevertheless, she also sources some Gewurtztraminer and each tasting at her cellar is kicked off with this fresh and aromatic white wine starter.
Cathy Corison vineyardNapa Valley
With the horrific wildfires raging across California over the past years, an immense challenge to the local winemaking and viticulture stepped in. Uninvited, yet with the halo of the climate change, the situation sadly confirmed Corison’s words: Great grapes make great wine. Period. We have amassed a huge experience making wine in the Napa Valley under all kinds of situations. In my experience, it’s paying attention and working with what Mother Nature hands us each year that makes the difference.” Although she believes that “technology is the answer to anything” in great winemaking, in managing the fires it might become the saviour. Someone has to invent some efficient fire containing system yet!

You will find Corison wines at the most notable Bay Area restaurants but also in London and at Spain’s best restaurant El Cellar de Can Roca. Her fame sailed across the Atlantic. We first tasted her extraordinary 2001 vintage Kronos Cabernet Sauvignon at the three Michelin starred COI in San Francisco and were caught on her line ever since!

987 St. Helena Highway, St. Helena CA 94574
+1 707 963 0826
Tastings by appointment only; open daily 10am-5pm (call for holidays).

CLOSED – SHED: connecting the land and table sustainably in Healdsburg, California

It tears my heart, when a superb, forward-looking restaurant shuts down. Ahead of its time in its particular location, SHED CLOSED just before the global mayhem of 2020. In my review bellow, perhaps some other restaurant sources its inspiration once this challenge to humanity, namely the Covid 19, passes. We will need way many more Earth-friendly dining options in the years, decades, hopefully millenia to come. Noma has transformed already, yet we need more everyday eateries like SHED built sustainably, sourcing locally.

SHED was a locally sourcing superb eatery, farmers’ community centre, event space, and a sustainable food market under one roof in Healdsburg. The up and coming rural hub draws millennial California techpreneurs, families, and globetrotting wine lovers to Sonoma County.

Healdsburg on the rise and challenged

SHED materialised in the peek of the blooming season for the farming town. Since 2013, the gourmandise-inspiring space has been casually connecting the local farmers, fishermen, guest chefs, winemakers and artisans with the town’s visitors. The local community needs the life-vest after the unfortunate wildfires hit the region this autumn. Natural calamities savage whatever steps in their way, so many hectares of vines and cherished farmland were burned to ashes. SHED and other leading local businesses like its neighbour, the incredible two Michelin-starred restaurant – Silver Thread, contributed to the disaster relief for the affected small farms.

Green-flagging sustainability at SHED

Envisioning a transparent modern grange, Doug Lipton and Cindy Daniel created the imprint of the complete food cycle – from growing, preparing, to the enjoyment of food through their SHED dining, event and retail space in Healdsburg. Being established local farmers themselves, they found inspiration in the words of Wendell Berry: “An agrarian mind begins with the love of the fields and ramifies in good farming, good cooking, and good eating.” This affirming quote is also used on each bottle of the SHED branded produce sold at the Larder and Pantry space in the building. There is even a mill where the flours are freshly and gently ground.
Jensen Architects took over the sustainable design as “a utilitarian pre-engineered metal building, conceived as a barn that is contemporary rather than nostalgic, authentic and honest, resonating with Healdsburg’s past while also engaging in its present-day culture”. Local salvaged wood, reconstituted scrap clay,  70 percent recycled steel, Photovoltaic panels for energy, natural ventilation scraping air-conditioning for most of the year and trees were planted to cast shade from the sun radiating through the glass front. Read more about the fascinating use of eco-friendly building materials, techniques and even the purpose of having a Rain Garden on the architects’ website. There is plenty of outdoor seating in front and at the back garden, where composting facility turns uneaten leftovers into a biodynamic fertiliser.
Flour Mill inside the ShedSHED Healdsburg

Ingredient-driven cooking

Sourcing the produce within 10 miles, the Californian food at the SHED Café is fresh, seasonal, sustainable (organic or biodynamic), and brought to spark by the executive chef Perry Hoffman, stared 1 Michelin at the former étoile restaurant at Domaine Chandon in Napa Valley. I was smitten by his cooking back then, but now he has a wood-burning oven to play with (pizza in unexpected seasonal transformations like Summer Squash, Nettles and Porchetta with Espellette and a blend of mozzarella with Parmigiano Reggiano or Jimmy Nardello, Eggplant, Aztec Spinach with Fontina, Giardiniera, Chile Oil) in his open kitchen and supplied by dozens of Sonoma County farmers.
Enjoy the generously portioned à la carte seasonal plates on your own or share daily from breakfast (in fall try the wholesome SHED Porridge with chestnuts, Medjool Dates, Apple Cider Syrup, Butter or I loved the Anson Mills Stone Ground Polenta with Slow Poached Egg, Garlic Scapes, Wild Mushrooms, Swiss Chard Conserva) with a slight tweaks of the menu through lunch until dinner (Tue & Sun closed from 3pm). The brightly white turnips, as if ink touched their core with purple and pink pigments feather out towards their olive hued skins. Physallis joined the palette of house grown herbs, melon puree and freshly ground black pepper in the Summer Melon Salad. River trout cured in-house, Mendocino sea urchin, local seaweeds, wild foraged mushrooms in summer and fall, Channel Island yellowtail, Liberty Farms Braised Duck Leg, even green strawberries, they all join the seasonal bounty at the SHED Café. Pickling and fermenting is embraced wholesomely to preserve seasonal fruits, vegetables and mushrooms for the less fortunate months. Fermented Kumquats, Pickled Shiitake Mushrooms, and some more typical roots served in an appetiser plate. The weekend brunch blends the weekly breakfast and lunch offerings. Picking three plus cheese mezze from the Larder is still very popular kick off at most tables. For dinner, the chef offers a four-course prix-fixe offering “Let Us Cook” ($68 per person, beverage pairing for $32). We have been returning annually from the opening, but always for brunch or lunch only.
Fall fruits and vegetables

Eat quality when time pressed in the wine country

To go the Larder and Pantry offer warm prepared dishes, original salads, charcuterie, artisanal cheese plates in the daily changing selections. You will find plenty of biodiversity sourced from sustainable California farms such as Rancho Gordo, Koda Farms, but also from some European purveyors such as the rare pinecone bud extract syrup by Muglio and real balsamic vinegars from Italy at the market corner at the SHED. From tomatillos, through fresh hibiscus flower to freshly milled flour from the ancient grains, all grown locally in California. If chai to go or other liquid caffeine boost is what you crave, the Coffee Bar is a quick answer. Roasted by Healdsburg’s Flying Goat Coffee the brew is also locally made.

At the communal tables and the long Fermentation bar sip original organic or biodynamic juice blends, cider, mead, beer, kombucha and local wines on tap, sparkling by the glass and bottles of local vinous delectables. The SHIMS (off the beaten track low alcohol cocktails) such as Roederer Brut, Jardesca Aperitiva, Sea Buckthorn with Grapefruit or Wakatake Sake, Elderflower Tea, Ume Plum Syrup with Lemon or Lillet Blanc, Ginger Juice, Mint, Berry and Bay Syrup with Lemon Kefir, are worth pondering over the lunch time. Fermented Purple Sauerkraut or Fermented Celery Paprika shots inject probiotics into your gut. Even the beverages are sourced mostly from local, organic, or biodynamic producers.
House products like high quality spices, SHED’s own unique herb mixes, dehydrated seasoning like Kale Togarashi, Smoked Onion Powder, Purple Sauerkraut, Shiitake Mushroom and Charred Eggplant Powder that I bought and recommend, but also house-made fruit shrubs like Blackberry and Cilantro, Plum and Shiso, Strawberry and Tarragon, Peach, Geranium and Rose tease curious foodies.
SHED HealdsburgSHED Healdsburg
In the tools part of the store, the now in Japanese affection stretches from buy seedlings, donabe earthenware for a shared meal in one pot (nabemono), artisanal knives and even garden tools. These artisanal garden helpers are carefully selected from around the world and that is reflected in the higher price. There is so much practical house-ware like a jean pie carrier, soba cutter, that won’t leave you without being tempted to buy just little something.
donabe Japanese noodle making
Sustainability promoting events – Zero Footprint Dinners (the Perennial chef came from San Francisco), workshops – from vinegar and shrub making, through practical kitchen tricks shared by the local chefs and cookbook authors, biodynamic farming know-how, to wellness or local wine indulgence (Scribe winery, Davis Family winery will bring their bottles over soon). Cultural events welcome happy hour concerts and food-related film screenings, while seed exchanges between the farmers complete the sustainable cycle exhaustingly. Thumbs up for the SHED team to do so much for reducing food waste, energy and to support committed artisans and the stewardship of the local land responsibly. There should be more spaces like the SHED.
25 North Street, Healdsburg, Ca 95448
+1 707 431 7433
Daily from 8am-9m; except for Tue & Sun till 3pm
Larder, Coffee Bar, and Shop open 8am – 6pm daily.

Tartine Manufactory: baking slow bread trendy in San Francisco

Tartine Manufactory was long overdue in San Francisco. California’s most famous bread baker Chad Robertson should have expanded his rustic temple of slow bread years ago. After 15 years in business, the enviably equipped Tartine Manufactory was born. The space is like a foodcourt run by geeky bakers. A counter café, soft serve and gelato parlour, bakery, seductive bar, and a coffee kiosk – everything glutonous well-done under one roof. Attracting their devote tribe of bread connoisseurs, but also finer palates enjoying honest food in pretty places. Tens of thousands of foodies endured the long, slow moving lines, standing in rain, scorching summer sun, gusts of wind, or freezing cold outside of the Tartine’s original tiny bakery in the hip Mission district. Most wondering if they could expand to cut the wait a bit. So, once the virtual news was out this year, I summoned my husband, trolled in and ordered half of the menu. Ending with clear plates, empty glasses and a loaf in my bag, the overindulgent orgy stamped “go back”, so Tartine Manufactory is now our favourite casual lunch spot in San Francisco.
rye bread bread

Tartine: inverting the role of bread when eating out

Despite the popularity of the locally conceived Acme bread, Chad and Elisabeth of Tartine were more daring. The oven adorning duet opened up the California palates to new flavours in bread and pastry (the later a touch of Elizabeth’s female hand) and a respect for patience. The persevering lines of waiting customers honour the time spent by making any of the loaves baked inside.
Compared to most cafes and restaurants, the bread is the star here, not a side game. After all this is the expansion of the famous Tartine Bakery that could manage to bake bread only once per day, but now in its grandiose high-tech manufactory it is possible to make fresh loaves three times in the 24 hours span, guaranteeing a warm slice for most.
Tartine Bread sandwich

Clean, lean and trasnparent design

The San Franciscans have been keen on showing their handwork recently. Perhaps it is the anti-tech syndrome, but it seems to me more the locals’ desire to enjoy the process of making something splendid, like bread. The contemporary fresh design of the Manufactory is the logic left brain sharing the artsy right hemispehere with another warehouse space of the locally made and world famous Heath Ceramics. The high factory style windows let in plenty of sunshine on the fog’s days off and the nakedness of the design itself reveals transparency in what will be served to you. The sacks of milled flour bear their labels, the hands of bakers shape the loafs while the kitchen around the cashier corner assembles every plate together to your visual gustatory delight. The basics of the bread are still done behind the walls, yet the glass windows from the ceiling to the mid-height keep the connection with the raising bread tangible.
Tartine Bar
In a very San Francisco casual style, no reservations are taken for breakfast and lunch. Either is ordered (crossed like in a Chinese dim sum eatery on a handed out paper menu) and paid at the counter, then you get your order number scribbled on the menu and keep it visible on the table so your items keep streaming in. Still, the Tartine Manufactory offers more comfort than its midget old bakery cum kitchen. With the dinner tables available to book and waiters on call, the secure comfort of reservation draws new customers in. The curious new diner, dressed bohemian chic or cal-artsy, ventures into its brighter, comfortable and casually on the move space.
Before the day wears off though another line at the coffee counter inside, and during the warm months at the ice cream window pandering to the little ones forms regularly. Later in the afternoon the vibrant bakery turns into a wine bar. Nesting on wooden stools, sipping on the signature house ferments, cocktails made from Tartine’s mixologist original shrubs, a glass of wine or a bottle from the long beer menu, make a great company if you wait for your date here.
Although much of the food was prepared through the long process of fermentation, raising and setting, the pace of the service is fast food efficient. The difference between a Tartine Manufactory server and a Burger King employee though is that the later probably does not know much about the food and its provenance.
Tartine Bread

Making of an extraordinary sandwich

Tartine takes inspiration from the global food cultures, mostly European, but sources the ingredients locally and makes almost everything in-house. Eastern European pickles adorn many sandwiches, while the Trout Smørrebrød borrowed from Scandinavia (the dark rye bread versions from Denmark precisely). These tiny open bread tapas with toppings like cold cuts, seafood and pickles can be devoured day and night. Central Europe has also its version of the convenient smørrebrød. In Switzerland Sprüngli makes my favourites, while the Czech chlebíčky are made by my grandmother on festive days, but at most delis and pastry shops you will find plenty of these mayonnaise ladden and calories restoring savory white bread treats. Bite into it with a glass of wine as the Austrians do at Zum Zchwarzen Kameel in Vienna or as a starter at the Tartine Manufactory when waiting for the main plates. We had the exquisitely smoked trout bathing in mayonnaise spread on Danish Rye bread. To sooth our lunch hunger pangs, the vegetarian Eggplant sandwich was called in. Grilled eggplant on an oozing strachiatella cheese with greens and red calabrian chiles sauce, all squeezed between country big eyed white bread that was toasted to a charred crunch, did sattisfy. The sandwiches are all ultra generous, but do not come cheap. Correclty price quality canot be discounted.
Tartine Bread Tartine Manufactory Cafe in San Francisco
Farro and cheese vegetarian bowl Tartine Grapes and gem lettuce salad

What to pair with bread at Tartine Manufactory

To go with the bread entourage, the California meets Southern cuisine of chef Sam Goinsalvos is served in glazed Heath Ceramics bowls and flame plates designed by Travis McFlynn. Ideal for sharing, so dig in and get messy.
Make sure you get the LITTLE GEMS lettuce with buttermilk dressing, corn crumble, fresh herbs, grapes and bread crumbs. Although this refreshing bowl gets little twists witch changing seasons, so much is going on there – sour, sweet, crunchy and creamy, all in one bite. Superb! It reminds me the food at the now gone Bar Tartine on Valencia street.
The GREEN FARRO, SUNFLOWER SEEDS, ROASTED CARROTS, POMEGRANATE, FETA, VADOUVAN salad was a bit of a dark sheep next to all the food bombs, since it felt too boring. Middle-eastern spices, marinated olives and grilled string carrots, cheese, that all is now trendy from London to New York but not the strongest plate here.
With the food court diversity, more talent was called in to help. The most important role was given to Richard Hart, the Head of Bread, and he took on the gargantuan task bravely.
The Tartine Bread Service is a fun tapas style assortment of small snacks, pickles, ham, cheese and dips to accompany the daily bread selection. Country loaf is the only bread daily available, and the rest rotates: Ancient Grains, Grain Porridge, Danish Style Sprouted Rye, Sprouted Grains, Olive, Sesame, Walnut.
Tartine bread tapas Tartine Manufactory fruit preserves

Roasting, fermenting, proving, baking, brewing all inhouse

The Coffee Manufactory, Tartine Bakery’s coffee company directly sources and roasts its beans, while the handmade Mavam espresso machine from Seattle, Oregon freshly brews espresso. You can also get your regular filter coffee, cappuccino, latte, the Aussie flat white, Italian macchiato, cortado, or Gibraltar. Directly sourced tea leafs from the London-based Rare Tea Company are also brewed hot. I was sipping on the Turmeric keffir that was outstanding!
To take home, get some of the unusual preserves like the Dapple jack Pluot & Elderberry jam. The cakes, scones and cookies call your naughty fingers in, so get one for office. More, you get a convenient freeze box for the ice cream to go. The gelato base is made with fresh water buffalo milk from the local Double 8 Dairy and swirled on the spot.
best cookies in San FrancsicoTartine cafe
Artisans hive in and around the Mission these days, this is more real than Brooklyn though, at least for now, no scandal tarnished the “Mission made” brand yet. Social tensions between its latino population are vented out on the street walls, while the rest gets employed by many of the blooming businesses. As rents go up almost everywhere in the creatively affluent Bay Area, if one does not want to change the relative safety of North America to the wild South, has to adapt and ride on this creative rocket of quality that is now flooding like a tsunami the streets of the Mission. Be part of the boom, at least by savoring and witnessing it.
Tartine has opened a cafe in Los Angeles, so now the Angelenos can finally taste the real European-style bread with a touch of the wizard Chad.
 595 Alabama St, San Francisco, CA 94110
 MANUFACTORY: Mon-Tue: 7:30am-5pm & Wed-Sun: 8am-3:30pm
Wed-Sun: 5:30pm-10pm
COOKIES & CREAM: Mon-Thurs: 12noon-5pm & Fri-Sun: 12pm-8pm

Littorai: expressing Sonoma through biodynamic viticulture

Driving to the Littorai winery feels like you trespassed into someone’s apple orchard, while getting lost on the dirt roads winding up the endless hill from Sebastopol. There are not many signs around, but when question marks start to arise in your mind, just ring up the winery to navigate you to the correct gate. Inconspicuous and hardly advertising its presence, Littorai is the ultimate expression of the understated pioneers of Sonoma winemaking.

Finicky climate and the Sonoma fog

The drive can be especially daunting when the hazy summer mornings cast a shroud of the Pacific fog sneaking into the surrounding valleys. Despite our visiting day late in October being as clear as the Calistoga water springs, we passed it and still had to call to confirm ringing on the right place. Here we were! Yet, as you get out from the car the temperatures send shivers on your Napa Valley warmed up skin. Therefore, a good GPS and a warm coat, add scarf, will make the best companions to any tasting at the Littorai wine cellar. Now, all just gets better as the welcome greeting is performed by the happy resident dog, who at first whiffs his tail around you and then assumes his favourite spot by the front door. Before you step in though, walk around the estate and allow to be shown the biodynamic know-how, because here you will get the clearest display of this biodiversity, ecology and sustainability following land management and winemaking philosophy coined by the Austrian scientist Rudolf Steiner over a century ago.

Embracing biodynamics: sustainable care of the land

It was in Sonoma, where sustainable winemaking became without a preposterous halo integrative into the vineyard management practices. The winery, like many other great local growers, has been practicing biodynamic vineyard management and winemaking ever since 2001 vintage when it upgraded from the original organic viticulture. Biodynamics does so much more for the soil and the environment than organic viticulture. Giving back to the Earth is the underlying philosophy of being in harmony with the nature’s cycle, which will in turn yield vines and grapes of an utmost complexity and it is believed by its proponents that it best expresses the site. Many of the world’s most iconic vintners, Romanée Conti (DRC) included, manage their vineyards biodynamically. Read more about biodynamic viticulture in my interview with Lenka Sedlackova, MW, this week.

Complicated Coastal puzzle of AVAs

Littorai means literally “the coasts” and the name illustrates the ruffled diversity of this breezy coastal region North of San Francisco, in fact the coolest vineyard land in California. The seemingly haphazard topography of its vineyards, scattered throughout the Sonoma and Mendocino Counties may confuse lay wine drinkers but also the experts. The winery itself rises on the crossroads of Sonoma Coast, Green Valley, a small AVA inside the Russian River Valley, which was also partially tagged into the sprawling Sonoma Coast AVA. The Sonoma Coast American Viticultural Area, aka the more bureaucratic than terroir driven unit of the US appellation system, is being revised under the pressure of many of the reputed local wine producers. Ted Lemon of Littorai is one of the members of the West Sonoma Coast Vintners association (Failla is also part of it). In their enlightened effort they try to bring more clarity and balance into the regional distinctiveness, where one feels as much as twenty degrees (Fahrenheit) difference within just a few minutes drive.
Sonoma is “where fine wine started in California, early in the 19th century” notes Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson, the highly distinguished British vinous duet of Masters of Wine and the authors of The World Atlas of Wine, the wine bible. A notable gap during the Prohibition and some decades after it, apple orchards took the spotlight off the original vineyards in the Russian River Valley. Yet, even most of the Napa big shots realised the cool climate potential of the diverse pockets of Sonoma. Despite the Chardonnay grapes during the legendary Judgement of Paris tasting, when local wines won the palates of the French critics over the Old World classics in a blind wine tasting, came from Sonoma, Napa stole all media attention. The flip side being that thanks to the marketers diversion of praise, the area now feels much less commercial, beautifully rugged, attracting a more authentic farming lifestyle than any of the limousine wine bashes of the Napa – St Helena – Calistoga crawl. The young and savvy San Franciscans have recently grasped the authentic weekendering in the small township of Healdsburg, so hurry on before the cool becomes just too much of it. Joseph Phelps was one of the pioneering big Napa names realising the potential of the vinous land in Sonoma and his Firestone Vineyard is just slightly more south and closer to the Pacific Ocean than the Sebastopol edging estate of the Littorai winery, where the Pivot Vineyard envelops the wooden edifice. The husband (Ted) and wife (Heidi) winery has been since 1993 run with patience and an impeccable sense for harmony with nature.

Littorai Wines

Starting easy and crisp with the Chenin Blanc from the 2014 vintage of the Haven Vineyard, we enjoyed the stone-fruit and mineral quality, but seeking more for the price, we concluded that the Loire varietal offers more for the bucks in its native France.
Then came Charles Heintz Chardonnay 2014 fitting under the Sonoma Coast AVA, where the Goldridge loam defines its characteristic honey richness. Littorai makes also Chardonnay (as well as Pinots) from the elevated B.A. Thieriot vineyard, the north-facing Mays Canyon of Porter-Bass vineyard, and Tributary from the Haven vineyard site. Lemon’s low-intervention, very little sulphur addition, delicate stirring of lees, and natural malolactic fermentation allow for the site expression despite one fourth of the new oak barrel ageing during the 12-16 months in-house maturation period.
The Pinots display the sensitive, site specific, Burgundian skills of the chief winemaker Ted Lemon. Sharpening his winemaking grip at Burgundy’s Domaine Roulot, Lemon is “obsessed with detail, but he rarely makes two wines the same way”, as writes Jon Bonné, the editor of San Francisco Chronicle in his book The New California Wine. For a wine geek like myself, risking but letting letting the vintage express itself, still with alcohol below 14% is wonderful. Back at home from our cellar I tasted the Anderson Valley Cerise vineyard Pinot 2010. One day before the supper moon of the 14th November, 2015, and right after after the opening I savoured cured meat with just a hint of bright strawberry in the background on the nose, and gamey, sweet round fruit on the palate. As the wine opened the second day, when, according to biodynamics it was the perfect day to drink it, its bright acidity and succulent fruit came to the the forefront. Was it the breathing period or the magic of the moon? Personally, I am not sure what was the cause of my joy from the wine, but it was great.
Once the northernmost AVA in California, Anderson Valley is next to its more inland neighbour Mendocino and to its North two new but comparably tiny AVAs of Dos Rios and Covello. The cherry scent typical for his Savoy vineyard Pinot is also grown in the Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley, as are the Roman and One Acre Pinot Noirs.
Perhaps the most iconic for Littorai is Ted Lemon’s expression of the Hirsch vineyard Pinot Noir. Now part of the coastal Fort Ross Seaview AVA, where the first vines in Northern California were planted by the Russian immigrants in 1812, this pioneering estate was founded by David Hirsch. He took upon the challenges of the remote ghastly land just strokes away from the San Andreas Fault Line. The soil diversity is the magic of the meeting between the two earthly plates – the Northern American and the Farallon Plate beneath the Pacific ocean. It is said that Littorai makes the best Pinot from the Hirsch treasure throve spoiled by the occasional rusty coins in its vast acreage. Its complex, age worthy herbal, graphite, and deep berry taste can swing into more deep floral and tannic in cool years when Lemon typically patiently waits for full maturation and picks later than most of his neighbours. Each vintage is different.
Littorai wines Sonoma
Closer to its headquarters just outside Sebastopol, The Haven vineyard Pinot from nearby estate where gravel and loam define the grapes’ character is being bottled and directly from the winery’s plantings is the young Pivot vineyard exudes attractive chamomile scent.
The partial use of whole grape clusters, open steel tank fermentation is also typical of Burgundian approach and it gives the wines more brightness. The single estate wines are not cheap even by California elevated standards, but his blended wines are very good deal for the quality they hide in the bottle. Even the label design is true to its sense of place, an old pencil drawing of the local area has been glued on the bottle, and when you judge purely with your eyes it evokes nostalgia of carefree Sonoma. Now is time for you to judge with a glass full. In Littorai you will taste the genuine purity of the coasts of Northern California.
 788 Gold Ridge Rd, Sebastopol, CA 95472
 +1 707-823-9586

Chez Panisse: Berkeley farm to table movement mothered by chef Alice Waters

The renaissance of farm to table dining in the 20th century America hailed from the opening of Chez Panisse in 1971 in the university town of Berkeley. Less than half an hour drive from San Francisco “environmental harmony and delicious flavour” were unified in the restaurant co-founded by a young, francophile chef Alice Waters. More than that, she put the names of her ingredients’ purveyors on the daily changing menus!
The legendary food activist cum chef does not need much introduction. The author of eight publications and frequently awarded Waters is now the Vice President of Slow Food International, founder of Sustainable Food Program at the American Academy in Rome and Yale Sustainable Food Project, as well as the mind behind The Edible Schoolyard and the School Lunch Initiative in the US.
Chez Panisse in Berkeley CaliforniaChez Panisse Cafe Berkeley

New England meets Japanese architecture at Chez Panisse 

The café bistro (upstairs) cum restaurant was inspired by Honoré Panisse, a character in Marcel Pagnol’s 1930s movie trilogy about life in Marseille (Panisse was sailmaker frequenting a bohemian local café). Waters sees this gesture “as an homage to the sentiment, comedy, and informality of these classic films”, and you will spot plenty of posters from Pagnol’s movies on the enveloping walls.
Renovated right after recent fire about three years ago, the wooden building’s original architect Kip Mesirow added a Japanese pagoda-style facade, and reshuffled the dining rooms. The salvaged red wood was cut by the eco-minded wood artisan Paul Discoe (he also designed San Francisco’s Perennial), renowned in the Bay area hands-on design sphere. Inside it feels very cozy, and the competent and friendly staff is quite fairly divided between the two genders. The head chefs at both parts are yin & yang, a male and female, but the pastry hands were assigned to two women Mary and Carrie. You will feel like eating at home, and fed very well, no cheating and tiny portions. The slowly raised sourdough bread is succulent and the butter so intense, that it recalls the Brittany cows grazing richness. A white and whole-wheat slices are served, with their crust bending like the elastic, honest bread of my Czech grandmother’s.
Chez Panisse
Local provenance rules the entire restaurant. The dinnerware is sourced from Heath Ceramics based in the nearby Sausalito, and the rustic, countryside evoking cotton clothes of the staff are made by Dosa.
Perhaps to reflect on the Berkley University intelligentsia frequenting their locale, a sophisticated jazz music sleekly taps in the background in the dimly lit and by wood warmed interior. The bar in the centre of the corridor long restaurant separates the café’s two main dining areas.

bread, butter and water at Chez Panisse Chez Panisse Cafe in Berkeley California

Setting a culinary precedent in America: Chez Panisse authentic cooking style

Waters’ revolutionary approach to California cuisine has a humble foundation. It is based on the freshest ingredients from personally selected purveyors. The sustainable, organic, and seasonal produce from local farms, orchards, and fisheries is turned into original but still earthy Mediterranean plating at both dining rooms. There are two separated kitchens. Downstairs is the smart multi-course set dinner restaurant, that still after four decades in operation has to be booked weeks in advance. Yet, my first encounter with the Chez Panisse cuisine was at the more casual café, where dining à la carte from the daily changing offering is available. Opened in 1980, the more casual Chez Panisse Café also has an affordable three course daily menu (“Menu du Jour“) for $32 and you will rarely dine on the same dish at Chez Panisse. The staples include an hors d’oeuvre pasta with seasonal variations, a daily version of pizza and pizzetta. Our second meal the pizza was vegetarian: preserved red peppers with a scant handful of cheese, very crispy yet dry to my taste, but my husband loved it. The thin crust 00 flour pizza baked in a wood-burning oven in the open counter kitchen, and there is also a charcoal grill where late evening popular offer of Steak-frites sizzles.
vegetarian soup California foodwood-fired oven baked pizzaChez Panise Cafe in Berkeley
After entertaining my palate with the exquisite bread, that was too similar to my grandmother’s homemade loaf, I chose to start with the Golden tomato and beet salad with tonnato sauce & fried capers for my early fall dinner dinner. The Italian tonnato sauce of mayonnaise and tuna spread thick under the veggies was very rich, yet balanced with the acidic tomato slices and sweet cooked golden beet. The simple white plate was sprinkled with tiny leafed basil and decorated by halved baby ball orange tomatoes. Nice with white wine like an oaky Chardonnay from Macon, France. Always on the menu is the Baked Andante Dairy goat cheese with garden lettuces sourced from their own farm. I tried it on my next visit to Chez Panisse, and must nod to its balanced European lightness over the usual California, put more to make it shout. Most veggies except some special seasonal findings and herbs like basil are now sourced from the Chez Panisse farm.
The main course is only slightly larger than the already substantial starter, so do not spoil your appetite with too much of the superb sourdough bread as I did. Too good to leave alone! I was recommended the Monterey Bay Squid roasted in the wood oven with heirloom tomatoes, shaved fennel salad fried herbs and aioli. So came the large plate of three stretching, tender and delicate squids with separately cut tentacles. Topped by fried herbs including sage and rosemary, on the bottom large slices of succulent red tomatoes, roasted baby orange tomatoes, and a perfectly crisp shaved fennel mixed with yellow frisée salad on the side, this was a wholesome dish. The aioli rich and lemon rind yellow sauce was just too oily and heavy for me though. I actually needed another bite of that bread!

Fruit bowl Cake and fruits at Chez Panisse

You can go light with the dessert. Seasonal fruits are served in a a brass bowl with fork and knife, so you still eat it in style. I had Bob’s Black Mission figs and Frog Hollow Farm Warren pear. Yes! Even the humble pear and fig have their farmer’s names attached. The fruit plate at a restaurant reminded me of the French seaside restaurants that I frequent. Just the French skip the names. The shrivelled, almost dry and ultra-sweet dark figs with a whole yellow pear were served on lotus leafs. I loved them.

Tea potThe wine list changes daily, but majority of the offerings are the old world staples, some of older vintages. Interesting California wines are also featured. The Wine List’s Reserve pages might please the serious connoisseurs with some interesting North American bottles. Most wines are served also by the glass – California, Oregon, Italy, France, Manzanilla sherry, and Madeira from Savannah Rare Wine Co. They even have an exclusivelly made Chez Panisse Zinfandel by Green & Red Vineyards in Napa.

Sightglass coffee from San Francisco that is also served at the Museum of Modern Art, is brewed at Chez Panisse. Organic teas and tisanes for the zen minded or as a perfect after dinner pacifier. My favourite rare Silver needle white tea was served in cast iron Japanese pot, steeped properly. Water is poured sustainably from a glass jar, and important gesture in the drought stricken California where water should not be wasted. 

 1517 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94709
 +1 510 548 5525
Mon-Thurs: 11:30am–3pm; Dinner: 5–10:15pm
Fri & Sat: 11:30am–3:30pm, Dinner: 5–11:15pm; Sunday: closed

Joseph Phelps: iconic winery in Napa goes green

As the new visitor centre at the Joseph Phelps Vineyards flowers up in the backyard of the old redwood winery, its time for a little nostalgia. With its first 1973 vintage, the Spring Valley property has swirled on the roller coaster of Napa’s successful boom like the Heitz, Caymus, Mondavi, Stag’s Leap and other vintners with a cheerful spirit in the California’s post hippie era. The 600 acre ranch that Joe Phelps bought near to a charming town of St. Helena breaths a verdant carpet of vines as they run over the mellowly rolling hills.
However tranquil and charming it seems though, because of the Joseph Phelps winery’s well-deserved reputation, further uplifted by its 2002 Insignia titled as the “Wine of the year” in the annual Wine Spectator’s pick of Top 100 global wines (R. Parker gave it and the 1991, 1997 vintages full 100 points!), and ever-increasing popularity of Napa as a tourist destination, the weekends and late summer season in particular, turn the sunny terrace into a buzzing wine bar with chirping drinkers lounging in deep chairs set up for them.
New Joseph Phelps Vineyards winery
The now sprawling winery is in no way a one’s man business as its name can suggest. Four winemakers (two female) and a French-born viticulturist in charge of the vineyard operations are responsible for the viticultural expert side of the business. Its founder, owner and the former Chairman Joe (Joseph) Phelps stepped down in 2005 after over thirty years in his winery’s helm, handing the day-t0-day running of the property and presiding over the vineyards to his ex-lawyer son Bill. The new generation was heralded with an opening of a new winery in 2007 Sonoma.
Joseph Phelps Firestone winery in Sonoma
The Firestone winery not only widens the portfolio of wines produced under the umbrella of the Phelps family, but its cool climate and also immensely diverse soils of the Pastorale and Quarter Moon Vineyards, allow for the two Burgundy varietals grown there – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, to shine.
Biodynamic and sustainable farming together with gravity winemaking assist in creating terroir distinct wines that in a very short time attracted praise from the most distinguished critiques. Natural humidity and temperature control in the underground cellar pinpoint the winery’s environmental credentials. The Green approach is furthered by embracing biodynamic vineyard practices that include pesticide-free natural treatments. Recycling of the packaging, corks, and office material has become a daily routine.
Insignia by Joseph Phelps Vineyards
The iconic Insignia wine by Joseph Phelps Vineyards gained a historic status symbol since it was the first proprietary Bordeaux blend released in California. This full-bodied wine aged for 24 months in new French oak is made from the best crops of its five red varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Franc grown at six Napa estates (all of their own since 2004). Parker described his three 100 points scoring vintages with these notes:
“1991 – white chocolate, crème de cassis, spring flowers, liquorice and a touch of graphite. Magnificent in the mouth with an opulent and voluptuous texture, and not a hard edge to be found, it reveals mind-boggling purity and vigour.
1997 – bouquet of violets, charcoal, crème de cassis and a hint of toast, opulent and full-bodied.
2002 – A juicy American Cabernet blend with aromas of graphite, violets, blackberries, crème de cassis and hints of charcoal and barbecue in addition to a full-bodied, multilayered mouthfeel that builds incrementally with great purity, staggering fruit concentration, and a long, velvety, 50+-second finish.”
This vintage also marked the beginning of above 14% alcohol succession of vintages for Insignia.
Freestone Pinot Noir
The Chardonnay made in Sonoma’s Freestone Vineyard, despite being only recently planted (during the new millennium) already shows a captivating complexity. Stone fruit, white flowers, mineral and rocky aromas with refreshing citruses balance its creamy texture and toasted nutty flavours from the 14 months of the French oak barrel ageing. An earthy, spicy, black cherry jammy, and mineral Pinot Noir is made also in this cooler coastal region only six miles from the Ocean. The latest vintages of both Sonoma bottlings are already overshadowing the Phelps’ Napa beauty, and have been recently scoring even better than the Insignia.
Joe Phelps’ dream of creating wines in Burgundian style finally materialised and once all of his wines were estate-grown (2004) he could happily retire to travel the world.
Eisrebe by Joseph Phelps Vineyards
A sweet ice wine Joseph Phelps Eisrébe made from the ranch estate grown Scheurebe grapes did not wait until the first frost hits Napa, but the grapes were after picking frozen to minus 5 Degrees Fahrenheit and then slowly pressed. A concentrated sweet juice that is converted into about 8%Alc. dessert wine (24.4% residual sugar in 2013 vintage) is popular with the locals and ladies with a sweet tooth. Honey, apricot, marmalade, vanilla and tropical fruit aromas can easily substitute a generous cake.
Current estate vineyards are:
Spring Valley Home Ranch outside St. Helena, Banca Dorada in Rutherford, Backus Vineyard in Oakville, Las Rocas and Barboza vineyards in Stags Leap, Yountville Vineyard in Oak Knoll, Suscol Vineyard in South Napa and beginning with the 2011 growing season, Larry Hyde & Sons Vineyard in Carneros – Syrah.
The winery also makes Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Napa Valley  and single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons and other wines, but the Insignia and the wines from the two vineyards at the Freestone estate I highlighted stand out and will lave their mark in the California winemaking history books. The new visitor centre at the Joseph Phelps winery is scheduled to be open this year (2015) and with its new kitchen it will surely provide even a more enjoyable tasting experience than ever before.
 200 Taplin Road, St Helena CA 94574, USA
 +1 800 707 5789; +1 707 963 2745
 Mon-Fri: 9 am – 5 pm; Sat & Sun: 10 am – 4 pm

Heitz Wine Cellars: tradition without opulence in winemaking Napa Valley

The family-owned Heitz Wine Cellars winery in Napa Valley, has been around long before the limousine tours arrived into this sunny Californian region. More than a half century heritage in making wines in their St. Helena winery converted from an old ranch swirled it to the current of the booming 1960s and 70s, when a forceful tsunami of serious wine producers hit the area. Many of them are now well-established names in the American wine business – from Robert Mondavi, through Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Caymus, Cakebread to Stag’s Leap – they ring loud in the wine world’s ears. Heitz Wine Cellars was one of the forerunners of this golden renaissance in California through producing top quality, globally praised wine. Unlike the “cult” wineries of the new millennium, their wines were, and most remain, more price conservative and welcoming to new, not just millionaire, customers.
Vineyards at the Heitz winery in Napa
The winery’s nearby tasting room offers a lovely scenery to every visitor. Cozying up with a glass of red by the fireplace inside during the cooler winter, catching the aroma from a glass of fragrant oaky Chardonnay outside on the breezy terrace when the sun shines, or grounding to the zen of the place that streams out of a stone water fountain, might be more enjoyable than sipping wine at a wine bar. Located next to the historic Louis M. Martini winery dating back to 1922 and not far from Charles Krug Winery, the oldest winery in Napa Valley founded in 1861 by a German immigrant, the area is the most historically important in the Valley. The Heitz Wine Cellars tasting room itself is build on the location of the family’s first vineyard.
Heitz Wine Cellars Zinfandel
Joe Heitz started it all in 1961 with his first vintage made from grapes harvested on his ranch. I remember my first sip of Heitz Wine Cellars Zinfandel very clearly. I was in London, tasting wines during one of the Decanter Fine Wine Encounters, when my wine loving Swiss friend grabbed me saying, that I must come to taste the best American Zinfandel. And there we were, at the Heitz cellar stand waving our empty glasses on the local importer. I was grateful and I still am for this tasting, because a couple of years later it magnetised me half world over from Europe to California, to visit the winery and bring back those joyful moments sipping the succulent and fruit-packed Zinfandel as a student in London. I felt in my early twenties once again!
Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon by Heitz Wine Cellars
Sustainably farmed with most of their wines now certified organic, the Heitz family shows its respect to nature as well as their customers by not exposing them through their products to unnecessary pesticides, excessive sulphites and other potentially harmful chemicals for their health. The bugs are usually seduced by the beautiful rose trellises planted at the edge of each vine lane. Owls and lady bugs also help to naturally control the pests. The winery is also open to new technology and uses GPS to manage the vines and precisely assess their needs. You can learn more about their farm practices on their website.
Vineyards owned by the Heitz winery
You can see all the vineyards under the Heitz Wine Cellars coverage on the map above, they span across six appellations:

  • Howell Mountain
  • Los Carneros
  • Napa Valley
  • Oakville
  • Rutherford
  • St. Helena

Their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a pure single varietal blend of various family estates and has been in production since the beginning in 1961. The lesser known varietal grown is Italian Grignolino, the California distinct Zinfandel (DNA tests revealed it to be related to the Italian Primitivo), alongside the ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The winery itself is set in Saint Helena appellation in the Spring Valley, where the Grinollino was planted by the Heitz first vineyard previous owners.
Martha's Vineyard cabernet by Heitz
Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet by Heitz is the most praised and also the most expensive. The 2007 vintage now asks 300 USD out of your pocket for a bottle bought at the winery. The 2004 we tasted was almost half of it. The single vineyard production in the Oakville AVA, is the main pride of the Heitz Wine Cellars. Although it has been farmed by the May family, the Heitzes have always had a very close friendship with them. The vineyard bears the name of Tom May’s wife Martha. It was the first vineyard-designated wine made in Napa Valley. Aging in French and American oak for 3 and half years creates an integrated mint and black cherry aromatic wine worth ageing.
Another treasure of the Heitz Cellar is the Trailside vineyard, where their Cabernet Sauvignon grows in the Rutherford AVA. the vineyard was purchased by the Heitz family in 1984. The Ink Grade vineyard in the Howell Mountain AVA, has a long history, but it is the single vineyard Zinfandel made by Heitz that stands out for me with its medium body round tannins and plump wild berry fruit. Its volcanic soils stress the vines naturally, leading to a very small yields promoting complexity, that shows later in spicy, berry-rich wines made from the local grapes.
Trailside vineyard of Heitz Wine Cellars winery in Napa
Some critics point out that the winery sticks to old-fashioned practices of the founder Joe Heitz, yet judging from the high sales and outstanding ratings, some wine drinkers prefer leaner, rather than the beefy Cabs of America, which I think will lose their hype as the nation will drink less coca-cola and overtly seasoned diet thus refining their taste more towards more elegant wines.
The tasting at the winery is possible without appointment and is free of charge. If you buy some wines, you can be treated to some special wines to try. Mostly though these will be newer or more abundant vintages, but you can purchase some older labels at the tasting room’s shop.
Its cosy setting with a fireplace, a fountain on the terrace overlooking the vineyards and friendly staff, casts a visit of the Heitz Cellars on everybody’s list when trailing through the Valley. Joe’s children Kathleen Heitz Myers and David Heitz are now presiding (Kathleen) and making the wines (David), continuing so his father’s heritage. It was David in 1994, who masterminded the now popular fortified red wine, that was not my personal favorite, but the locals seem to love it and you might as well come and try it yourself.
 436 St. Helena Highway, Saint Helena, CA 94574-9537, United States
 +1 707 963 3542
Daily 11am – 4:30pm

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