Go Figure (It Out) | In Culinary Assistant Life, Attitude Is Everything

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Happy Chefs:  Bosslady and her bossman in the Harry’s Design District kitchen, full Beer Slam event mode this past summer.

“I don’t even know where to start,” she begins as we sit in my office on a Monday morning last month.  It’s as fitting a place as any given Ms. Hess’s new role.  Megan has been pretty much everywhere over the past six months since she was promoted to Culinary Assistant, quite a departure from where we last found her on the line at Michael’s Genuine®.  Yet, she’s often still on any given number of lines these days, depending on the day, even the minute, as she can get called from one venue to the next based on what’s going on.  With Megan fresh off Oasis of the Seas and in the corporate office finishing MGFD’s recipe book (“so I don’t get pulled away…”), I thought we could catch up for a hot minute on what chef life is like when you’re a culinary assistant, and what than means exactly.

img_1991“Yeah, so relaunching 150 Central Park… That was my first project,” Megan says of her transition from line cook.  “We actually began in March.  There was a photo shoot for the new dishes, and it was the week of St. Patrick’s Day. Everyone wanted me to go out, and I had to work the next morning at 9!”

Working on the ship menus turned out to be the perfect training for Megan’s new position — not only in learning how to teach people, but giving her a new found sense of independence and responsibility where she’d have to act as ambassador for the company.  In addition to developing and formatting recipes, testing dishes and shooting how to plate them — all done in Miami in advance — she would travel to the three ships to get menus online with Royal Caribbean’s team.  Brand new Harmony of the Seas kicked it all off across the Atlantic.  Snapshots of Megan’s journey overseas to meet the ship for its maiden voyage were an invaluable peek behind the scenes of the launch through fresh eyes.

That attitude tho.

Go Time: Megan holding it down at the Genuine’s Summer Series “OMG! Picnic & a Movie” featuring an Israeli feast off Lynx Grills.

“The first time I went on my own [to the ship] it was exciting, especially because it was first time I had left the U.S.!” she remembers.  “I flew into London, then eventually arrived in Southhampton where the ship was in port. I had no idea where I was going.  I didn’t have cell service or a contact onboard, and I probably looked like a kindergartner lost in high school!  I just went to my cabin first to drop my bags and then to the venue. No one was there, because they were on break, so I just started by tasting some things.  That will tell you a lot.”

She held a meeting to hear from the staff on what was working and what wasn’t, then scheduled a full menu tasting for the second day taking lots of notes along the way and reporting back to the TGHG team through email.  Some corrections and tweaks were made. Nothing was insurmountable, she recalled thinking.

Plating a dish for Michael Schwartz Events alongside Chef.

Plating a dish for Michael Schwartz Events alongside Chef.

“My goal was that when Brad and [Eric] Larkee showed up the day after, that they wouldn’t have to fix anything,” Megan continues.  “I’ve worked closely with Brad for two and a half years now, and I feel like I have a good idea of what he wants, not just from seeing how he works, but also because he tells me.  Also having the experience and time spent in the restaurants — knowing what our standards are — helps a lot.”

Megan identifies three big takeaways that she’s applied to working with the cooks in our kitchens on land: The importance of repetition, showing and doing hands-on rather than telling, and patience. We would add trust — in your support system, but also yourself.  “Problem solving is huge,” she adds.  “Prioritizing. Just getting in there and figuring things out.”

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Head down, working hard.

Brad also points to an asset you can’t really learn, but that he recognized in Megan from the get-go, essential to all his hires.

“From the very beginning it was about her attitude,” remarks the TGHG executive chef. “Whenever I ask her to do something, the response is ‘no problem’.  She’s on it and gets it done. It’s that can-do attitude that is really the bottom line for everyone right now and why Megan is so valuable.”

Brad also talks about her “universality”.  She has a potent, diverse knowledge base and the versatility that comes with it — Megan can be called upon to jump in anywhere and know what to do — or learn how to, quick.  It could be something planned, like prep for or execution of a Michael Schwartz Events party. Then there are the guaranteed fire drills in this business, like when a cook calls out at Cypress Tavern, Michael’s Genuine or Harry’s Pizzeria® and the restaurants need coverage.  Speaking to his confidence in her adaptability, Brad notes a hypothetical. “If we needed the support there, I could go tell her to go run Harry’s for a week.”

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Getting sh*t done at MGFD.

When we spoke, Megan’s attention was laser focused on Michael’s Genuine and its recent menu changes.

“I feel like it is a lot crazier than when we relaunched Cypress last year,” she reflected. “There, they handed me the new menu and were like ‘here is what we are doing’.  At Genuine, I’ve been a lot more involved, supporting Brad, but also Saul and the team in the kitchen. It’s been everything from foundational stuff like writing the recipes, figuring out how plates are going to look, portion sizes, and making the recipes solid so that anyone can make them.  A big part of it has been getting people onboard with the changes in training.  Everyone is excited in the back of house to learn the pickups — they are a little more complex and require more skill sets than the previous menu. Time management is key since a lot of the dishes take longer to make. That’s been something fun for me, a lot of new faces in the kitchen and being able to teach them, getting them to understand the way we do things here.”

Supporting at Fi’lia, Megan is experiencing a restaurant opening for the first time and she’ll be the first to admit not quite knowing what she or Brad is getting her into, but from the looks of it the young chef is just adding another arrow into her quiver.

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Warm Up: Megan’s view last week, working the Fi’lia oven’s first fire.

“It’s very exciting that Tim is there,” she says of Fi’lia Chef de Cuisine Tim Piazza, who was a sous chef at Genuine before transitioning to get Michael’s first Italian restaurant open. “I didn’t work with him a lot, but the time I did spend with him was great.  It’s a different relationship now. I see him as a great mentor.”

For all these changes, Megan happily admits, even reassures herself, that she doesn’t feel corporate. She can still get her hands dirty.

“That’s the thing that still excites me the most.  Jumping on the line and getting to cook.”

A Harmonious Experience at 150 Central Park Sets Sail

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Harmony of the Seas captured by Eric Larkee at STX France’s docks in Saint-Nazaire (May 4.) She began her first sea trials on March 10 and and was delivered to Royal Caribbean on May 12.

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Lobster Gnocchi with carrot butter sauce, herb salad (paired with Qupé, Marsanne, Santa Barbara County, California)

After a build time of 32 months, Harmony of the Seas has set sail on her maiden voyage from Southhampton, UK with a shiny new 150 Central Park for Team Genuine to call (third!) home.  Harmony features VOOM, the fastest internet at sea, so book your next trip here, make a dinner reservation, and tag #150CentralPark so we can see your impressions while onboard!

Befitting the latest — and largest — offspring in Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class fleet, Harmony’s edition ensconced comfortably on Deck 8 rolls out all new menus by Michael highlighting artisanal ingredients in a new format that offers guests more ways to experience simple, elegant American dining.  Oasis and Allure will follow suit with version 2.0 later this summer.

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Click here for the menu in full.

A straightforward multi-course menu includes Appetizers, Entrées, and Dessert or Cheese Cart, trimming from the previous six course tasting but with more dishes to choose from than ever before.  The idea is to streamline dining time, allow the guest to explore the restaurant on multiple visits and try something new each time, and maintain the thoughtful details that make an experience at 150 Central Park special.

BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE BOURBON TART salted caramel, spiced pecans, cranberry chutney, chantilly cream GRAHAMS, “SIX GRAPES”, PORTUGAL 6

Bittersweet Chocolate Bourbon Tart with
salted caramel, spiced pecans, cranberry chutney, chantilly cream
(paired with Grahams, “Six Grapes,” Portuga)

For an introduction to the menu, a three course dinner invites diners to design their meal by selecting a desired dish for each course.  Or, for an elegant evening out, opt for a four course pairing with a choice of four dishes, each expertly matched with wine by sommelier Eric Larkee.

New to the menu is a world-class cheese cart, tuna tartare service and 23-ounce dry-aged rib eye presented tableside, showcasing the importance of details and deliver the special touches and personal service in the dining room while catering to distinctive tastes.

150CentralPark_CheeseAndDessert_0523asThe result of months of collaboration with our F&B partners here at the port, but informed by what we’ve learned in the dining room since Michael first introduced his Farm to Ship program aboard Oasis of the Seas in October 2011, the changes went live under the thoughtful direction of  Director of Licensing Operations Mr. Larkee and Executive Chef Bradley Herron, who each made two trips overseas with new TGHG assistant chef Megan Hess to ensure smooth implementation and to capture feedback and respond to issues nimbly.  Harmony’s home port will be Barcelona until October 23 when she crosses the Atlantic to Port Everglades, FL.

The most dynamic wine pairing program of any Royal Caribbean restaurant, created with the direction of Michael’s Genuine® sommelier, Eric Larkee. Chef Schwartz’s passion for food and wine, combined with 150 Central Park’s comprehensive tasting program, make for an upscale and intimate gastronomic experience onboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-Class ships.

150 Central Park Dining Room

After the plastic wrap!

Harmony of the Seas spans 16 guest decks, encompasses 227,000 gross registered tons, carries 5,497 guests at double occupancy, and features 2,747 staterooms.  The ship combines the iconic seven neighborhood concept that sister ships Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas are known for, with some of the most modern and groundbreaking amenities and offerings that will appeal to guests of all ages. From The Ultimate Abyss, a dramatic 10-story tall slide, to unparalleled entertainment including Broadway’s hit musical Grease and distinct high diving, acrobatic performances in the ship’s trademark AquaTheater, sophisticated dining in venues ranging from Jamie’s Italian by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to Royal Caribbean’s whimsical restaurant Wonderland, which is a unique culinary adventure for the senses, and robot bartenders, there is an adventure for everyone onboard Harmony of the Seas.  Follow what she’s up to at #harmonyoftheseas!

Our New British Anthem | Michael’s Genuine Pub Sets Sail for Southampton

1425922434_AnthemConveyanceInfographicGet ready to be gobsmacked!  Our second Michael’s Genuine® Pub aboard Anthem of the Seas will open later this month, and we can’t wait to call Southampton, UK our first home away from home overseas!  The second in the Quantum Class fleet has made its way from the shipyard in Papenberg, Germany like big sister Quantum,  and our team here at The Genuine Hospitality Group is making final preparations to head abroad to meet her in Bremerhaven.

So, what’s new for number two?  Besides brushing up on our British English, not much, but we did feel it was important to make a few tweaks with a nod to Anthem’s home port.  The menu by and large remains the same in the snacks section.  Crispy pig ears are now called “scratchings,” and we added a great Scotch egg that chef Thomas developed in Grand Cayman, where it can often be found in myriad preparations on the menu (it’s part of the Commonweath, of course!)  Michael also added a section of larger plates including a classic Sunday Roast and grilled salmon with curried lentils.  We didn’t have to look far for amazing charcuterie and cheeses from Great Britain’s best artisanal producers, so they are highlighted in The Pub Board with accompaniments.  On a sweet note, sticky toffee pudding was a must, so it will join peanut butter pie-in-a-jar and panna cotta with mixed berries.  The Pub serves specialty cocktails, American craft beer including Michael’s Genuine® Home Brew, as well as local brews on tap and in the bottle, and a small but focused wine and spirits list. Order one of the Pubʼs three whiskey flights to sample rum from America’s east and west coasts, bourbon from the heartland, and Scotch whiskey, closer to home.  Follow along on the journey through Instagram @royalcaribbean, @mghomebrew and @mgfd_mia.

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150 Central Park’s Winter Tasting Menus Launch with a Royal Pairing

TOASTED HAZELNUT FINANCIER truffle cream, brown butter streusel, roasted strawberries. Larkee has paired this with PORT, FONSECA Late Bottle Vintage, Portugal. (photo by Jessica Gross)

TOASTED HAZELNUT FINANCIER, the dessert course in the Farmhouse Menu combines
truffle cream, brown butter streusel, roasted strawberries. Larkee has paired this with PORT, FONSECA
Late Bottle Vintage, Portugal (photo by Jessica Gross.)

Special Ops chef Thomas Tennant is on the road again, this time with the sea beneath and Wine Director Eric Larkee as first mate to introduce Michael’s winter menus to Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class beginning with Allure of the Seas this Sunday.  The two are already onboard to prepare the team for the change of seasons inside 150 Central Park.  Outside, it’s all Caribbean sunshine on Deck 8, as the ship sails back to its home of Port Everglades.

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“I love Central Park,” says Larkee, reflecting on what it’s like to be back on Oasis Class after working on Quantum of the Seas to launch Michael’s Genuine Pub. “It’s the greatest amenity on any cruise ship.”

Please enjoy the new winter menus below, Farmhouse and Homestead, featuring lots of Florida produce from some of our favorite farms including Swank and Teena’s Pride.  It is that time of year! We hear WIFI is working like a charm, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed for an Instagram or two, gentlemen! Chef and Bradley will also take part in the transition over the next few weeks. Oasis implements on Saturday, February 7.

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Virtual Pub Crawl Part V | Craft American Wine

It's wine time! Chef and Eric in 2012 having a grand old time per usual in Jim Clendenon's cellar, Santa Barbara, CA, blending the first Lua Rossa. No. 2, blended earlier this year, can be found at our restaurants in Miami and is onboard Quantum of the Seas at Michael's Genuine Pub.

It’s wine time! Chef and Eric in 2012 having a grand old go at it per usual in Jim Clendenen’s cellar, Santa Barbara, CA, blending the first Lua Rossa. No. 2, blended earlier this year, can be found at our restaurants, including  Michael’s Genuine Pub.

536x1000xlow_1414691784_RC-QuantumGen-vert-10-30.jpg.pagespeed.ic.GyGxex4eDYMaiden Manhattan, at last!  Quantum of the Seas has made its way across the Atlantic Ocean to the Port at Cape Liberty in Bayonne, NJ, where Michael and I meet the ship later this evening.  Here we have our last but certainly not least in the tour of the first American gastropub menu on the high seas… wine!  View Part I | Snacks here, Part II | Charcuterie & Cheese here, Part III | Sweets here, Part IV | Craft Cocktails & Beer here, and all Michael’s Genuine Pub coverage here.  It’s time to relieve fearless mariners Ryan Goodspeed, Thomas Tennant, and Eric Larkee, and rejoin Lead Bartender Paolo Bazzani who has been doing a bang-up job keeping all of us on the homefront abreast of the news daily throughout the crossing from Southampton, UK. Please continue to follow @MGFD_MIA’s Twitter and Instagram for the latest from Quantum’s Royal Esplanade!

At this point, it’s time to let Eric Larkee take it away in his own words, including profiles for each of the wines carried at Michael’s Genuine Pub, as well as bios for the winemakers or winery owners. Yes, it’s a lot of info to digest, so this post is meant to be savored one sip at a time at your leisure:

The list is focused on wines from small, American family producers, once again, like the spirits and beers, these are what we would consider American Craft. Most of these families farm their own grapes, make the wines, and sell them by hand across the country. These are not people with large marketing budgets, you won’t see full page ads for their wines in glossy magazines or on billboards along the highway. These are people focused on putting quality in the bottle, not with maximizing quarterly dividends. These growers are creating legacies for their families while at the same time producing food-friendly wines that Chefs and Sommeliers love. That we love. For some reason wine seems to taste better when it comes from good people.

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”

― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

An Attempt at a Quick Note about Farming:

We are asked on a daily basis in the restaurants which wines are organic or natural. I will attempt to clarify a bit of that but just may create more questions than answers which I’m fine with because this is a growing and changing topic. Basically there is no Organic Wine but there is plenty of Wine Made from Organic Fruit. This technical distinction arises because once one gram of sulfur (a natural preservative which is used in much much much higher amounts in dried fruit manufacturing than in quality wine production) is used in the winemaking process the resultant wine can no longer be called organic. In part because of this, as well as the high cost of official certification, most of the producers we work with are no organic certified. I’m totally cool this for many reasons. First off, organic certification has become more and more coopted by large corporations and conglomerates. Second, this mass organic farm culture is often only possible with high usage of petroleum, in some ways defeating the base ethos of organic production. Third, organic doesn’t mean better. Just as small production doesn’t mean better production. Sometimes an organic claim is used as excuse for flawed wine. All of this said, we will note the farming techniques used because I believe we should be able to tell guests which wines are made from organic fruit and I really do feel that the producers who work with use these techniques and strategies with the best intent in mind.

Class in session! Eric training our team on his American wine list at the Pub.

Training equals tasting: Eric reviews  his American wine list with the Pub team.

A note on bubbles: Both of the sparkling wines hail from cool climates on the West Coast but are produced with the same techniques that are used in the Champagne region of France. Here is a down and dirty overview of the process, and yes, I’m skipping some details:

1. grapes are grown and picked. 2. a still wine is made and aged for a period of time. 3. the still wine is put into individual bottles and topped off with a mixture of yeast and sugar, yeast to make the bubbles and sugar for the yeast to eat. all of this sugar will be gone when the bubbles are formed and the yeast will die, becoming lees. the longer a wine sits during this period the finer and smaller the bubbles will get, the wine will also gain complexity by being in contact with the lees (yumm, dead yeast cells…) 4. after a period of time, usually eighteen to thirty-six months the wine is disgorged, topped off, sealed with a mushroom shaped cork, and allowed to rest. 5. wine is shipped, sold, chilled and drunk! this is the best part.

Just because the wines are made like Champagne doesn’t mean they are Champagne. They are fantastic American Sparkling wines. It is best, and most genuine, to not try to be something that the wine is not. That said, I find that the quality of these wines is far higher than that of Prosecco, Cava, or most other non-Champagne sparkling.

THE WINES

ArgyleArgyle EstateARGYLE: Argyle, Vintage Brut, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Key Point: about half Chardonnay and half Pinot Noir, this wine is about balance in every regard.
Tasting Notes: Lemon peel and fresh dough with a touch of creaminess. There is a faint brininess, almost an oyster-like quality, on the finish.
Pairings: Fried items, Hominy, Potato Chips, Falafel.
Background: The two main grapes in the production of Champagne are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, these are also two of the top grapes grown in Oregon. This synergy, along with the similarities in cool climate, make Oregon a great location to make Champagne-style sparkling wines in the New World. The Argyle project started in the mid-80s, and in 1987 partners Brian Croser and Rollin Soles produced their first wine. Since then they have been the only producer to make sufficiently reliable quantities of sparkling in the state of Oregon. Over the past three decades Argyle has accumulated several single vineyards which have been planted specifically for the cultivation of high quality sparkling wines. Argyle also supplements some fruit from vineyards from locals with whom they have worked with for decades. Much of the Pinot Noir is from organic vineyards but Chardonnay is difficult to farm organically in Oregon because of vineyard humidity. The wine has less than 2g/L dosage.

ROEDERER ESTATE: Roederer Esate, Brut Rosé, Anderson Valley, California.
Key Point: : More fruit to it than the Argyle but this is a very dry sparkling wine with almost no residual sugar.
Tasting Notes: floral strawberry and sugar cookie, citrus, tart cherry with a touch of creaminess.
Pairings: Fried items, Falafel, Hominy, and Potato Chips.
Background: Louis Roederer is one of only a few small, family-owned Champagne houses. Many people will recognize them as the producers of Cristal but besides making super expensive rapper Champagne (which was originally designed for Russian Tzars) they have an incredible project in the Anderson Valley of California. Roederer uses only estate-grown fruit from vineyards which were designed specifically to yield fruit with the necessary acidity for high quality sparkling. The wine is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. About 5% of still Pinot Noir is added before the secondary fermentation (where the the bubbles are created) to impart a slight salmon hue. In sticking with Champagne techniques, only the first pressing (which yields about 600 bottles per ton of fruit) is used. No malolactic fermentation is used, preserving the crisp acidity in the wine and there is about 10 to 20 percent of older oak-aged reserve wines added for complexity and texture. The finished wine has about 1 gram of sugar per bottle, if it were Champagne it would qualify for the lowest sugar classification, Ultra Brut.

Illustration from the satirical poem Das Narrenschiff (Ship of Fools) published in 1494 in Basel, Switzerland, by Sebastian Brant.

Illustration from the satirical poem Das Narrenschiff (Ship of Fools) published in 1494 in Basel, Switzerland, by Sebastian Brant.

CGT ECLECTIC: CGT Eclectic, Ship of Fools, Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan.
Key Point: easy to drink, quaffable but with more character than a Pinot Grigio.
Tasting Notes: apple and citrus with a touch melon, soft acidity, and enough of a touch of sugar that some people will taste the wine as a little sweet.
Pairings: This wine handles of touch of spice well, pair with the Polenta Fries and Chile Chicken Wings.
Background: Chateau Grand Traverse was started over forty years ago by former Olympic gymnast Ed O’Keefe. The winery is located in the northwest of the lower peninsula of Michigan. The CGT Eclectic brand was started by Ed’s winemaker son, Sean O’Keefe, with the goal to remove any possible pretension or oldness associated with the brand because of the use of the word Chateau. The wine is mainly made from Pinot Blanc with small amounts of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, it’s a Pinot family reunion! Both Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris are used extensively in Alsace which is a region in eastern France on the border of Germany. Pinot Noir is the only red grape grown there, so, this wine could be called an Alsatian-style blend from Michigan.

IMG_5587QUPÉ: Qupé, Marsanne, Santa Ynez Valley, California
Key Point: Unique medium-bodied white made from a grape originally from the Rhone Valley.
Tasting Notes: green pear and orange rind, herbal tea and a touch of flintiness.
Pairings: Fennel, Orange & Arugula Salad, Chicken Liver Crostini.
Background: Since the early 1980s Qupé (pronounced kyoo-pay) has produced wines focused on the grapes of the Rhône Valley. This white offering is 75% Marsanne (which is the minimum amount of a grape needed in a California wine to call it that grape) with 25% Roussanne. The Roussanne adds the herbal tea elements and increases the body of the wine. This blend is most common in Côtes du Rhône Blancs. The Central Coast of California has become one of the most successful and popular regions in the New World for the cultivation of both white and red RhÔne grapes. Other grapes include: Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Syrah, and Grenache.

LUNA: Luna, Pinot Grigio, Napa Valley, California
Key Point: The wine is richer than your average Italian Pinot Grigio.
Tasting Notes: Pale straw color with ripe pear, guava and honeysuckle on the nose. Green apple on the palate with a round body and a crisp, refreshing finish.
Pairings: Pickles, Olives, and Deviled Eggs.
Background: Luna is one of the top California Pinot Grigios. Rather than being modeled on the average Italian Pinot Grigio, the inspiration for this wine is from higher quality producers in northeastern Italian region of Friuli. The average Pinot Grigio producer does not make decisions to produce high quality wine, rather their strategy is to make as much wine as possible. With a wine like Luna you can see the potential for the much maligned grape when quality-minded decisions are made.

VERDAD: Verdad, Albariño, Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, Edna Valley, California.
Key Point: The top New World example of this Spanish wine.
Tasting Notes: Orange blossom aromatics, white peaches and gooseberries with stone minerality and a touch of bitter almond. The wine finishes with crisp citrus flavors.
Pairings: Ricotta Crostini, Greek Faro Salad, Fish Dip.
Background: Albariño is originally from northwestern Spanish region of Rias Baixas where it has been cultivated since the 12th century. For its first 700 years Albariño was commonly blended with other local white grapes and didn’t start to get bottled on its own until 1986. Plantings were first brought to California in the mid-1990s. The Verdad Albariño is fermented half in stainless steel tank with the balance in neutral barrels, which added a round, lush texture. The Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard is farmed biodynamically, earning Demeter certification in 2009. The vineyard has three large ‘beneficial plant gardens’ which are located in different areas of the vineyard. The gardens are filled with low maintenance native plants that have been proven to attract bees, butterflies, ladybugs and other helpful insects. There are six owl boxes located throughout the vineyard. These boxes are where owls nest and live. The owls are natural predators to gophers and ground squirrels and their residence on the vineyard help us reduce the overall population of these pests. During the vines dormant months, a flock of about 150 – 250 sheep grazing through out the vineyard to help with the weeding and fertilizing of the ground between the vines. Starting in 2009 the wines from this vineyard were made according to the Demeter biodynamic standards and certified.

HONIG: Honig, Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California.
Key Point: Riper and fruitier than Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or France.
Tasting Notes: Clean with peach, lemon grass, hints of jasmine and pea shoot are balanced by grapefruit and lime.
Pairings: Ricotta Crostini, Fennel, Orange & Arugula Salad, Cheeses.
Background: The Sauvignon blanc grapes are treated using two different methods. To enhance the delicate tropical fruit flavors, a portion of the fruit goes directly into the press as whole clusters. The remaining fruit is de- stemmed and left in contact with the skins for several hours before pressing, amplifying the grapefruit/citrus components. All of the juice is fermented in stainless steel tanks with 90% of the wine aging in tank and 10% in neutral oak tanks (the oak tanks help develop mid-palate texture without adding any oak flavor).

AU BON CLIMAT: Au Bon Climat, Chardonnay, Santa Barbara, California.
Key Point: Oaked but not overly oaky, while Californian in build, the balance is Old World inspired.
Tasting Notes: Buttery brioche bread with tropical fruits, citrus, custard apple and lemon verbena.
Pairings: The Pub Board, Fried Gnudi
Background: The fruit comes from primarily Santa Maria Valley (Bien Nacido, Rancho Vinedo) and Los Alamos Vineyard. It is whole cluster pressed and fermented in neutral Francois Freres French oak barrels and was matured sur lie in the same barrels for 9-10 months. It was bottled without filtration. This natural, non-technological, stylish and traditional winemaking consistently produces elegant, textural, complex and food-enhancing Chardonnays. This wine should please any New World Chardonnay drinker.

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The man, the myth, the legend.

CLENDENEN: Clendenen Family Vineyards, Tocai, Santa Maria, California.
Key Point: Unique, dry Northeastern Italian white wine has nothing to do with the sweet wine from Hungary.
Tasting Notes: Vanilla and cream with juicy pear, dried grass, apples and butter on the nose. On the palate the wine is dense with notes of coconut, banana, vanilla, honey, and brioche.
Pairings: Tomato-Bread Soup, Pork Slider
Background: Jim Clendenen planted this vineyard at Bien Nacido Vineyard in 1994. The wine is barrel-fermented in neutral oak and aged through malolactic and bottled unfiltered. This is the biggest, baddest, oakiest wine we have on the list. If the ABC Chardonnay isn’t oaky or rich enough, have them try this off-the-beaten-path white. Tocai Friulano is actually an illegal name for the wine! In 2007 the European Court of Justice set the prohibition on the name so that dry wines wouldn’t be confused with sweet wines made in the Hungarian region of Tokaji. Producers are supposed to just use the name Friuliano or the name Sauvignon Vert. Ever the rebel, Clendenen continues to label and sell the wine as Tocai Friuliano…

BRANDBORG: Brandborg, Gewürztraminer, Umpqua Valley, California.
Key Point: This is our sweetest white wine.
Tasting Notes: rose petals and lychee with a touch of grapefruit.
Pairings: Point Reyes blue cheese, anything with a touch of spice.
Background: Gewürztraminer finds a good home in cool growing climates across Europe (Alsace, Germany, Northeastern Italy). Experiments in Oregon are very promising and this fruit comes from the Bradley Vineyard in the town of Elkton. The Umpqua Valley is in southern Oregon, on the opposite side of the state from the Willamette Valley. This is best balanced and most expressive New World Gewürztraminer I have ever had.

CLENDENEN: Clendenen Family Vineyards, Mondeuse Rosé, Santa Maria Valley, California.
Key Point: Another quirky varietal under the CFV label, this is a dry, crush rosé, very much in the Provencal style that is the most popular.
Tasting Notes: Crisp and fresh with a bit of strawberry, black tea leaf and salinity on the finish.
Pairings: Everything.
Background: Mondeuse is a varietal that is indigenous to the Savoie region of France. In California, it’s sometimes found in old vineyards but isn’t bottled much on its on. It is almost hard to believe that this is a domestic rosé.

ICI/LA-BAS: Ici/La-Bas, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Key Point: This wine is on the flashier, fruitier side for Oregon.
Tasting Notes: Dark cherry and earth. Pairings: Tomato-Bread Soup, Olives, Pickles
Background: While based in Santa Barbara California, Clendenen is constantly curious. He has used the Franco-named label Ici/La-Bas for his Pinot Noir projects outside of his home base. The name essentially translates to Here/There. 2009 was a hot and prolific vintage in Oregon and the wines are a bit bigger, lusher and higher in alcohol than is typical of the region. In short, they tend to be a little bit more Californian…

AU BON CLIMAT: Au Bon Climat, Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County, California.
Key Point: Classic California Pinot Noir, the richest of the Pinot expressions.
Tasting Notes: Dark cherries and sassafras (the spicy bark used in root beer) give the wine a distinct California fingerprint with dark raspberries and clove spice. The wine is well balanced with soft tannins and is extremely versatile with the food, that said, here are some specific.
Pairings: Chicken Liver Crostini, Pâté.
Background: It is difficult to mention Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir without mentioning the movie Sideways. Prior to Side- ways, Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir was getting better. A new generation of vineyard managers had come on the scene and many understood what needed to be done in the vineyard to improve Pinot Noir and winemakers were getting a better idea of how to deal with Pinot Noir in the winery. The convergence of better grapes, better winemaking and a very popular and enter- taining movie led to an explosion in the popularity of Pinot Noir and mainly Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir. Even though the movie was a 2004 release, the affects are still felt a decade later. Au Bon Climat has been making Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara County grapes since 1982, 22 years before Sideways. In the 1980’s and 90’s the product mix was at Au Bon Climat was 75 to 80% Chardonnay to 20 to 25% Pinot Noir. Chardonnay was king and people had not discovered the joys of Pinot Noir. All this began to change in the late 90s and now Au Bon Climat makes an equal amount of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir is a blend of Pinot Noir from six vineyards: Bien Nacido, Rancho Vinedo, Garey and Le Bon Climat which are all in the Santa Maria Valley and two vineyards in the Los Alamos Valley: Los Alamos Vineyard and Kick-On Vineyard. There is also 15% Mondeuse from Bien Nacido blended into this vintage. The Mondeuse makes the wine darker and helps to add more spice to the wine.

Lua 2LUA ROSSA: Lua Rossa 2.0, 50% Nebbio- lo, 25% Refosco, 15% Petit Verdot, 10% Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, California.
Key Point: The wine was created in the wine cellar of Au Bon Climat with Winemaker Jim Clendenen, Chef Michael Schwartz, and Wine Director Eric Larkee compiling the blend from ABC’s stock.
Tasting Notes: Highly aromatic with the Nebbiolo showing up first with classic rose petal and anise notes. Although dark fruited, the wine has a rustic, earthy note, unusual for a New World wine. The wine is medium bodied on the palate with medium tannins and food friendly acidity.
Pairings: The Pub Board, Pork Slider, Fried Gnudi.
Background: This is the second addition of the wine, the first was created to be a friendly, approachable pizza wine for Harry’s Pizzeria. The finished wine exceeded expectations and came in to use in all of Chef Schwartz’s restaurants. Nebbiolo is the core of the wine and takes the stage first. The Petite Verdot adds color and tannic structure. There are actually two Refoscos in the wine, one which adds color and spice complexity and a dash of 2003 Refosco that gives the wine that baseline funk of Old World earthiness. The Pinot Noir adds depth and complexity and is kind of the wine’s secret weapon.

QUPÉ: Qupé, Syrah, Central Coast, California.
Key Point: This is more of a Northern Rhône-style Syrah rather than Australian or typical Californian.
Tasting Notes: Very fresh wine, red fruited with ripe strawberries and raspberries, spicy and savory with a bit of leather and licorice.
Pairings: Charcuterie, Smoked Fish Dip, Pâté.
Background: Lindquist started focusing on the wines of the Rhône Valley in the late 1980s and has always had a style that was more French than the other extreme of Australian. This means that the wines tend to be higher in acidity, fresher, and eartheir rather than fruity. These qualities help to make the wines more friendly with food since they don’t overpower the dishes and they also tend to be easier to sell a second… and third glasses.

VERDAD: Verdad, Tempranillo, Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, Edna Valley, California.
Key Point: Tempranillo is the most popular grape in Spain including regions such as Rioja, Toro, and Ribera del Duero. This is one of the best New World versions.
Tasting Notes: This wine has pretty perfume of cardamom and cherries with hints of herbs de Provence. On the palate it is full bodied with pure flavors of sour cherries layered with hard spice, cocoa and a touch of delicious toasted oak. It is a nicely balanced, elegant example of cool climate Tempranillo, closer to a Rioja than the other regions.
Pairings: Chile Chicken Wings, Polenta Fries, Hominy (Tempranillo tends to like a touch of spice)
Background: This wine is made with Demeter certified biodynamic grapes (beyond organic certification). It is aged in about one-third new wood to give it notes of baking spices but not to make it oaky. This is a wine that is not only rich and delicious but also reunites the current California wine industry with its historical roots. Spanish settlers were some of the first to plant grapes in California but they planted the Mission grape, Pais (photo below is from 1825) and not their top grape Tempranillo.

CELANI FAMILY: Celani Family, Merlot, “Siglo”, Napa Valley, California
Key Point: 100% Estate fruit Merlot from the heart of Napa, this is as good as California Merlot gets.
Tasting Notes: aromtics of raspberries, juicy plums and dark chocolate. On the palate there are red and black raspberries and dark cherries with velvety tannins. Round and mouthfilling.
Pairings: Pub Board. We’re starting to get into the wines which are more in the “cocktail wine” category. The rest of these are really going to overpower most the food and are very enjoyable on their own.
Background: The 2012 Celani Siglo is 100% Merlot made, a selection from the Celani Family Estate Vineyard. The wine sees 1/3 new oak, helping to give richness while still maintaining the softness associated with high quality Merlot. Wine- maker Mark Herold is one of the top consultants focusing on ripe, supple, intense Napa wines. The Celani estate is in the heart of the Napa Valley floor, a perfect position for growing high quality, fruit-forward Merlot. Merlot is originally from Bordeaux in France and became popular with the American wine drinking public in the 1990s. Overproduction led to large amounts of low quality juice and getting panned in the movie “Sideways”. That said, when Merlot is planted and grown with care it can make tremendous wine in California.

SBRAGIA: Sbragia, Zinfandel. Dry Creek Valley, California
Key Point: Zinfandel grown in the best AVA in California.
Tasting Notes: Blackberry, raspberry and pomegranate with brown sugar, molasses, vanilla and cocoa. Rich and mouth filling, fruit-forward but with more acidity than Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon.
Pairings: Pork Slider, Tomato-Bread Soup.
Background: When Italian immigrants started planting grapes in the North Coast they planted anything they got their hands on. Zinfandel was the primary grapes along with Petite Sirah and Carignan. Today many blends will include these are other grapes and the Sbragia has 5% Petit Sirah, this adds color and density to the wine. While making a fairly dense, mouth-filling wine, Zinfandel has more acidity than other big wines. This has to do with a high variability in the grape cluster ripening. In the picture to the left you will see some fairly underipe grapes. When Zinfandels are huge, pruny and overipe it is because the those underipe grapes were allowed to fully ripen, meaning that the perfectly ripe grapes have become overripe. When Zinfandel is harvest- ed with some green grapes and the most underripe of these are sorted out a fresher, but still big, style is made. You will find this typical of the Sbragia wines. Recent DNA analysis has shown that Zinfandel and Primitivo are clones of the same grape and that one of them is the parent of the Croatian Plavac Mali. Zinfandel and Primitivo are also related to Crljenak Kaštelanski, sometimes the three grapes are referred to as ZPC. When Crljenak Kaštelanski was discovered there were only nine vines found, today it is being propagated along with another related clone, Pribidrag, by Ridge Vineyards.

POWERS: Powers, Cabernet Sauvignon, Coyote Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington
Key Point: Earthier and more food friendly than Napa juice.
Tasting Notes: sweet cherries, blueberries with pomegranate and a touches of eucalyptus, sage and lilacs.
Pairings: Pub Board, Desserts
Background: The Washington state wine regions are east of the Cascade Mountains in what is technically a dessert. Before the Grand Coulee Dam gave the region an abundance of inexpensive power the major agricultural crop was growing potatoes. The long dry growing seasons with the ability to meter out small amounts of moisture is a perfect recipe for fully ripe but balanced Cabernet Sauvignon. The long growing season allows the grapes to develop deep and concentrated flavors before the sugar levels spike. Powers’ Cabernet Sauvignons all represent great values and are some of the best bang- for-the-buck in the Cab Game. 100% French oak, 65% new.

A note on Cabernet Sauvignon: One of the world’s most widely recognized red wine grape varieties. It is grown in nearly every major wine producing country among a diverse spectrum of climates from Canada’s Okanagan Valley to Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley. Cabernet Sauvignon became internationally recognized through its prominence in Bordeaux wines where it is often blended with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. From France, the grape spread across Europe and to the New World where it found new homes in places like California’s Santa Cruz Mountains, Napa Valley, New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay, Australia’s Margaret River and Coonawarra regions and Chile’s Maipo Valley and Colchagua. For most of the 20th century, it was the world’s most widely planted premium red wine grape until it was surpassed by Merlot in the 1990s. The classic profile of Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be full-bodied wines with high tannins and noticeable acidity that contributes to the wine’s aging potential.

HONIG: Honig, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California.
Key Point: Napa juice. The wine is aged in American oak which should satisfy your Silver Oak drinker while being a better value. Tasting Notes: Plenty of ripe, wild berry and plum aromas and flavors, framed by vanilla, spice, and toasty oak. Lush mid-palate tannins flow into a lengthy finish accented by bright fruit.
Pairings: a second glass of Honig.
Background: The fruit for this wine comes from Honig’s sustainably farmed vineyard in Rutherford, and from local sustainable producers in Napa Valley. The wine also in- cludes small amounts of Cabernet Franc which adds aromat- ics and finesse along with Petit Verdot which adds backbone, structure and deeper color.

THE PEOPLE

The Sage: Jim Clendenen
If one were to climb a mountain seeking an oracle of wine knowledge there would be no shock to find Clendenen sitting on the top. Besides already knowing you were coming, he also would hold all the answers, at least his answers to your questions. After college graduation a month in Burgundy and Champagne convinced Clendenen that he would be better at making wine rather than law. In 1978 he started as an assistant winemaker at Zaca Mesa, and in 1982 he branched out on his own starting Au Bon Climat (which means “a well exposed vineyard”). While never a favorite of the magazine critcs, Jim’s wines have found appreciation with Chefs and restaurant guests who seek wines to compliment and not overpower their foods. Chef Michael Schwartz and Jim first met almost twenty years ago and have maintained a close and convivial relationship since. Back then Chef Schwartz had a haircut much closer to Jim’s wild mane. Like a musician with his regular band as well as side projects, Jim has the the Ici/La-Bas and Clendenen Family Vineyards brands which he also produces under. Jim also makes our own Genuine Hospitality Group wine, Lua Rossa.

The Rhône Ranger: Bob Lindquist
While attending U.C. Irvine in the early 1970s, Bob sipped quality wine for the first time and instantly was hooked. After working for various wineshops Bob met the assistant winemaker at Zaca Mesa, a guy named Jim, who got him a job as a tour guide at the winery. Tourists were rare so Bob was able to learn the winemaking craft and in 1982 he founded Qupé and produced Chardonnay, Syrah and a dry rosé of Pinot Noir, for a total of 900 cases. Bob struck out on his own and left Zaca Mesa Winery following the 1983 harvest, renting space in other area wineries to make wine for Qupé. As Qupé’s production grew, Bob focused his efforts on Syrah and other Rhône varieties. In 1989, Bob joined his old friend Jim to build a winery of their own under a lease agreement with Bien Nacido Vineyards. The two continue to produce their wines at the elegant facility, located on the Santa Maria Mesa. With his wife, Louisa Sawyer Lindquist, as winemaker, Bob has partnered in a second winery, Verdad, which specializes in Spanish varieties.

Spanish Revivalist: Louisa Sawyer Lindquist
Louisa has worked in the wine industry since college but it wasn’t until 2000 when she was pushing by her husband Bob Lindquist to fulfill her dream of growing and produces wines from Spanish varietals. The grapes are sourced from organic and biodynamic vineyards and are minimally processed in the cellar. The philosophy behind the winemaking is to grow the best fruit possible, pick at optimum balance and let the wines reflect what the vineyards have created. There are two primary vineyards that Verdad sources from. The Ibarra-Young Vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley, which is organically farmed and the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard in Edna Valley, which is Demeter certified biodynamic. She strives to produce pure, expressive and balanced wines that convey the flavors of the unique cool climate vineyards sites she sources from on the Central Coast.

Next Generation Maverick: Sean O’Keefe
Sean serves as Vice President at Chateau Grand Traverse. As a second-generation winegrower, he oversees the family’s 120 acres of estate vineyards, 90 acres of contract vineyards, and coordinates with head winemaker Bernd Croissant to make sure everything’s on track to make the best vintage wines possible. In addition, he is the winemaker responsible for the CGT Eclectic Wine. Riesling has always been his idée fixe and he has worked actively over the last decade to promote a drier, more balanced style of Riesling that is best suited to the unique growing conditions of Northern Michigan’s Old Mission Peninsula. His formal wine training began in the Pfalz Region of Germany where he apprenticed at Weingut Jakob Pfleger while studying viticulture at the nearby wine school in Neustadt. He continued his academic studies at the renowned wine college in Geisenheim, where he experienced first hand the resurgence of great German Riesling in the early 1990’s by winegrowers such as Georg Breuer, Johannes Leitz, & Helmut Dönhoff. The secret to their success was their intense personal attention to detail in their vineyards, and an artist’s intuition to know when best to leave well enough alone in winemaking. He brought this simple message back to his family’s winery in 1998 after various stints as vineyard grunt, cellar rat, and wine importer. International critics such as Stuart Pigott, Jancis Robinson, and the wine editors of Food & Wine have singled out Sean’s CGT Eclectic wines (and Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink for being a place to find them!) for praise in recent years, considering them to be on the vanguard of high quality North American Riesling, and great harbingers of Northern Michigan’s winegrowing potential.

The Stash: Rollin Soles
Texan Rollin Soles received a Bachelor’s Degree in Microbiology from Texas A&M and a Masters of Science in Enology and Viticulture at the University of California at Davis. During his early winemaking years Rollin honed his knowledge and skills at some of the worlds’ finest wineries in California, Switzerland, and Australia with the Champagne producer Bollinger. He went on to create Argyle Winery in 1987 and quickly gained a dedicated following.  Rollin approaches winemaking with a personal passion and desire to continue to learn from experience and research. Since his early days in Oregon Rollin has helped to reinvent the Oregon Wine industry working to increase the quality of Oregon’s viticulture and winemaker. His personal attention to the vines, and his perfectionist attitude towards harvesting, crushing and fermentation has produced some of the most artistic and praise-worthy of Oregon Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, and sparkling wines. While now in more of a Winemaker Emeritus status at Argyle, he does maintain the final say on all blends.  One of the most important things to remember about Argyle Brut is that it makes a perfect moustache conditioner.

The Veteran: Ed Sbragia
When Ed Sbragia was growing up, wine meant both livelihood and quality of life to his family. Ed’s grandfather, an immigrant from Tuscany, had naturally gravitated to the wineries flourishing in California at the turn of the century. Ed’s father acquired his own vineyards near Healdsburg, growing Zinfandel grapes for sale and home winemaking.  Ed majored in chemistry at the University of California at Davis and with his family background he was a top candidate for a job in a winery laboratory upon graduation. After a year working in Sonoma he became the assistant winemaker at Beringer. Over Ed’s tenure Beringer grew upon and built its reputation for quality wine production and become one of the most sought-after publicly traded wine assets. Ed is now a consultant for Beringer after 32 years as Winemaster.  Ed purchased the old Lake Sonoma Winery facility in 2006 and this is where Sbragia Family Vineyards started its very own winery. The winery is small, family-owned and is known for making wine from a single vineyard designate.  All of the wine is limited production and made in the big, rich, polished Sbragia style.

Mr. Sustainable: Michael Honig
At the age of 22, Michael Honig took the reins of his struggling family vineyard and winery. With an old meat locker for an office, a shoebox marked “misc” for an accounting system, and without any formal training, he began canvassing the streets of San Francisco, selling wine and delivering it himself.  Honig now well-established and is one of the most consistent small producers vintage to vintage for both Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon.  A leader in sustainable farming, he chaired the first California initiative to develop a “Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices,” a voluntary program establishing statewide guidelines for sustainable farming and winemaking, and in 2005, took part in an innovative pilot program to help train yellow lab puppies to detect vine mealy bugs in the vineyard, thus, lowering the need for pesticides. The winery is a leader in solar panel usage, placing them in less desirable vineyard locations.

Second Career: Terry Brandborg
Terry Brandborg was a former longshoreman who started out his wine making career in California, crafting Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley, Santa Maria Valley and Anderson Valley. He started a small garagiste winery in San Francisco in 1986, producing 300 cases of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. He met his wife Sue at a wine tasting event in Wyoming on Memorial Day weekend in 1998 and they immediately bonded over their love of wine.  Soon thereafter they came together to search for the perfect spot to grow Pinot Noir. They fell in love with rural Elkton in the Umpqua Valley, which is located south of the better known Willamette Valley in Oregon and relocated there in 2002.. Pinot Noir had been grown there since 1972.  The Brandborgs chose a site 4 miles southeast of the town of Elkton where the marine sedimentary sandstone soils are well-drained, the elevation (750-1000 ft) is above the fog line, and the southern exposures are ideal. They planted the 5-acre estate Ferris Wheel Vineyard (after the “ferris wheel ride” that led them on a search to find a perfect place to grow wine grapes) primarily to Dijon clones of Pinot Noir that came into production in 2005. Small amounts of Pinot Gris, Riesling and Syrah are also grown on the estate. A winery was built in time for the 2002 vintage and a tasting room opened.

The Garagiste: Mark Herold
Mark Herold’s fascination with wine started in his childhood home in Panama City. On his twelfth birthday he liberated a bottle of Port from his father’s cellar. Undeterred from the horrendous hangover that followed the next morning, he set about to learn as much as he could about wine. After completing his aca- demic career at the University of Davis with a Ph.D. in Ecology with an emphasis in nutritional biochemistry, he started his first foray into the wine world at Joseph Phelps Vineyards as the Research Enologist. Here Mark was able to bridge the scientific method with winemaking to determine the best approach to making the best expression of wine quality and seamless oak integration. Merus was a labor of love that Mark started in 1998—a Cult Cabernet Sauvignon that he made in his garage in downtown Napa. His first vintage was extremely challenging weather wise as well as having limited access to equipment. Aside from all the challenges the 1998 Merus received 93 points from Robert Parker. In 2007 Mark sold Merus to Bob Foley for undisclosed amount rumored to be in the tens of millions, not bad consideing he owned no vineyards or winemaking fa- cilities. Mark started his consulting business soon after with a client list that has included Hestan, Kamen, Harris, Buccella, Kobalt, Celani Family Vineyards, Maze and The Vineyardist.

Industry Giant: George Vare
Vare began his career in wine by convincing the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co. to buy an old vinegar works in northern Sonoma and turn it into a winery, creating Geyser Peak. He was president of the winery from 1972 to 1979, during which time it grew into one of California’s bigger wineries, producing 700,000 cases a year. While there, he introduced bag-in-box wines. After his success at Geyser Peak, he created the Shadow Creek Champagne label in the 1980s, buying leftover sparkling wine made by Chateau St. Jean. He eventually sold the brand to Corbett Canyon. In the 1990s, Vare formed a partnership with former Beringer president Mike Moone and two others called Silverado Partners. Working with Texas Pacific Group, Silverado hatched a deal to buy Beringer from Nestle, taking the company public in 1997, and then brokering the sale of Beringer Wine Estates to Australian drinks giant Foster’s in 2000.  In 1996, Vare and Moone established Luna Vineyards, buying the old St. Andrews winery north of Napa. They focused on Sangiovese and Pinot Grigio before later adding Cabernet and Merlot. During those years, Vare became fascinated by Italian whites, including an obscure, old Friulian variety called Ribolla Gialla. “He wasn’t satisfied with the mainstream of wine, and his interest in the unusual caused him to look for the truth about wine in some very interesting parts of the world,” said John Kongsgaard, winemaker at Luna during its first five years. “Determined to get the Pinot Grigio right, George, [his wife] Elsa and I went all over Europe visiting the producers and vine- yards—Alsace, Alto Adige, Slovenia, and especially Friuli. In Friuli, we met [producers] Radikon and Gravner, with whom George maintained close friendships, and through them he got so interested in Ribolla.”  Vare smuggled some Ribolla cuttings into the United States and planted 3 acres at his home in Napa, where he made wine under the Vare label and sold grapes to a handful of vintners, including Michael Chiarello of Chiarello, Mark Grassi of Grassi Vineyards and Dan Petroski of Massican.