Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Day Four: "Napa Valley Rocks" Cakebread Cellars

We were lucky enough to spend two days with the folks at Cakebread Cellars, which remains one of the most popular visits we did, because of the people we met and because of our involvement in the 2010 vintage via lots of muscle usage!

Day One of Cakebread Cellars:

We met for coffee and pastry (because, really, we need more calories to start the day) while talking to their in-house Chef, Brian Streeter. Although Napa law prevents wineries to have commercial kitchens or private events (aside from very few grandfathered-in properties), Cakebread has Brian around for "entertainment that lends itself to the property." For example, Brian leads cooking seminars for guests that visit the winery, and he cooks for private family or business dinners. But today, Brian is taking us on an excursion to meet some Cakebread producers. Usually, Kopf Scholars get to spend two days working with 5 chefs and winery staff putting on the American Harvest Workship, but we missed it by a month this year because they were celebrating an anniversary of the event. None of us felt like we missed out!

Our first stop was Gourmet Mushrooms; you guessed it--a purveyor of delicious mushrooms! Have you ever thought about how mushrooms are grown? Aside from the wise-crack answer "Yeah, in shit," think about it for a second. Well, the process is amazing! At GM, they grow mushrooms in small jars that they have created a natural habitat for our funghi friends. Their beautiful, and we look just a well wearing hair nets and gloves to see the grow rooms.

Second, we head to Bellweather Creamery. This place is just as impressive because, let's be honest, they let us try some cheese! Before that though, we see pasteurization, ricotta cheese making, and then the separation of curds and whey. It's amazing how quickly the cheese forms once the curds are combined. Liam, the second generation of cheesemakers explains the aging process to us in the stinky, freezing cheese room--which we all loved!--and then we taste. We taste fresh ricotta, creme fraiche, Crescenza (a style of burrata), and aged sheep and cow milk...and it makes you wonder why you ever at anything produced by Kraft.

Afterword, we head for sandwhiches at Della Trattoria, where we eat vegetables from the garden and enjoy what the farm-to-table style agriculture really has to offer. I relish in freshness, because I know it's limited and will be almost non-existent when I get back to New York. Also, I think it's the most vegetables I've eaten in days. I'm just fine on the cream intake, though!

We spent that evening at La Toque at the Westin in Napa with Bruce Cakebread. Bruce is mainly responsible for international distribution and he gets to travel a LOT. He's also quiet and reserved, but we pick his brain anyway. I remember being most fascinated by the sheer level of his humility; Cakebread wine is widely known and on many, many wine lists. He's also a founder of the Napa Vintners Association which runs one of the highest-grossing wine auctions in the world! Yet, he asks us questions about what we like to do (he's got a 22 year old daughter and a rebellious son), and you can see that fatherhood suits him.

He treats us to a delicious dinner, and we head home satiated and happy to have learned many new things! Tomorrow is hard work, we've heard, so it's time to count sheep.

Day Two of Cakebread Cellars:

We split up into two teams of three. Three of us will be in the vineyards sampling fruit (it's not quite time for full harvest yet), and three of us will be in the cellar. I'm in the cellar; I just can't get enough of that smell. We wear rainboots and jeans, but it isn't enough protection for what we are going to be doing. Kosme, the cellar manager/head honcho, tells us we get to rack the wine. Awesome! Oh, boy we were in for it. Barrels of wine are lined up, ready to be emptied and we are going to help empty and clean them all. And then they are going to bring more. And more.

Sara, one of the other cellar managers explains how to connect a racking line, water line, and ozone line. What's ozone? It's O3 turned back into water; it cleans and protects the barrel from microbacteria. All I know is that if I get dizzy, I'm supposed to go straight outside. Racking the wine basically means that you take the wine in a barrel (that is currently sitting on dead yeast cells, also known as lees) and pump it into the nearest large tank for blending. Obviously, every barrel creates a different wine, so before we rack, we barrel taste every one to make sure no oxidation as occurred. Racking the wine is the easy part; the real work comes when you have to clean the barrel and get it ready for the next stuff. So, my job is to flip each empty barrel, then clean them first with water, then Ozone. This is a job that involves, legs, arms, lower back, etc. but we all love it! Later that week at the pool hall in Napa, the guys from the cellar tell us that we did better than interns that had been there for 2 weeks or more. Not to stroke the female ego or anything...

By the end of a very long day, the three of us are covered in water, bright purple lees, and stickiness. Time to go change then get ready for dinner.

We expect to be eating with interns and winery staff, but instead, we meet 30 other representatives for Kobrand from different states. I meet someone from Empire Merchants, where I plan to work when I get back to NYC. It reminds you that this is one of the smallest industries there is! Watch those eggshells...We all eat a wonderful meal created by Brian, which includes some great food from our visits to purveyors the day before, and we learn about the stories behind Cakebread wines. Dennis Cakebread, a natural entertainer, is the mirror opposite of his brother. He laughs and is a clear presence in the room, but no less agreeable!

All in all, we have a great night for networking and getting to know more about what I plan to enter into. I even got some great career advice!

Onto Day Five tomorrow.

Day Three: Perspective from Corison Winery

I truly created this blog with the intent to update everyday, but tasting wine is extremely time consuming!!

Lucky for me, I worked at a steakhouse this summer in NYC, which led to my inherently California-connected boss to pass on his connections to me for use on this trip. I had met Cathy Corison during a wine tasting this summer, and was very interested in her approach, and her history in the business! In fact, she is one of the first woman winemakers to come out of Napa Valley with such a resume.

When entering the business, a prominent male in the industry told her that she couldn't make wine because she was female, even though she had the same accreditation as many of the men int he industry at that time. Not discouraged--and probably a little peeved--Cathy found work at wine house Chappellet Winery--a high-end producer in Napa that worked with legendary Andre Tchelistcheff as their original consultant. In addition to making wine for Chappellet, she helped produce wines for York Creek, Long Meadow Ranch, and Staglin Family Vineyards. When she felt her career in creating wine for others had reached it's plateau, she moved on to open her own vineyard (another taboo at the time!) on a great piece of property in the heart of Napa Valley. Cathy says of her first vintage--1987--"There was wine inside me that needed to be made."

Since our group is all females, it was interesting to me to watch everyone else's reaction to her accomplishments, and to read the level of intimidation! By the end of the week, the other girls were proud to say we had visited Corison on our free day. People would say, "oh, isn't she great? She really has her own style... old world, bold, true to herself more than anything/anyone else..." It's true; Cathy's Cabernets stand out against many of the other Napa Cabs we tried this week as Old World, earthy, expressive, and long-lived; and they're of course delicious.

The best part is, she did it all when everyone else said she probably couldn't...that, and she's a badass!

Wines: We did some of her limited production and a library tasting
Cabernet Sauvignon Rose "Corazon" 2008--earthy, sherry-like
Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2000--blackberry jam, pencil, leather, smooth tannin
Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2001--grip. more fruit, dried fruit, restrained but elegant, "feminine"
Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2002--dark tea and rasberry, bell pepper, complex, smooth concentrated,persistent, time to age, austere, "male"
Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2003--dark fruit, spice, bell pepper, medium tannins, ready to drink, elegant
Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2006--great right now. medium+ tannins with just a hint of age on the nose, typical Cab aromas of bell pepper, dark fruit, and slight tobacco
"Kronos Vineyard" 100% Cabernet Sauvignon 2006--Aged in French Oak for 22 months, then bottle aged two years. Earth, concentrated forest fruit, vanilla stick, pepper. Layered and complex.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Day One: "Hear Me Roar"

Today was an introduction to what will be one of the most exciting trips of my life—I’d assume the five others feel that way too. Here’s the breakdown: six weeks of non-stop travel to wine regions in beloved California, Italy, and France; we will travel to suppliers and partners of Kobrand Corporation.. Recipients of the award are sponsored by the R.C. Kopf foundation and are males or females that plan to pursue a career in the restaurant or beverage industry and are, not to mention, pretty good students! Recipients come from the Culinary Institute of America, Cornell University’s Hotel School, Boston University’s hospitality program, and Johnson and Wales University. But enough with the technicalities!

To start, last night I found myself sharing drinks across from a very unique individual-picture vibrantly colored blue hair with a devil-may-care attitude—thinking, wow, I LOVE this industry! Let’s be honest, you cannot be a part of the restaurant scene and get away with being boring. That doesn’t always mean someone is fun; consider Chef Ramsey at his peak moments: screaming while throwing pots and pans…exciting, but not necessarily fun. I guess what I’m saying is that you can almost always expect an interesting back-story from the people you meet along the way as a young person pursuant of this type of career

So this morning we have a meeting with our sponsors, and we find ourselves sitting in a room discussing the fact that the Award has hit its 15th year anniversary. But the larger milestone I see is that this is the first year in the history of the scholarship that all recipients are female! In a profession overwhelmed by the supply of ambitious men, here we are representing a field in which more and more women find themselves as head honchos, VPs of marketing, General Managers…the boss man if you will! I’m not a feminist, but pride definitely defines the feeling we all felt with the certainty of tomorrow’s flight to California.

The foundation implores us to be ambassadors for the future of the industry, and I can’t help but think that it is already impossible not to be. The competition to receive the award, let alone the amount of hard work and dedication it takes to get there, shows that this group has earned their right to forge ahead professionally and personally as the trip unfolds and thereafter.

Sometimes I see this scene in my head where I am lowering myself into one of those circus canons, closing my eyes, and lighting the match. That’s what it feels like today—like we’ve all hit a huge milestone--personally and for women in the industry--almost before we've even started, and it is full speed ahead.

So, as the trip moves forward, I’ll try to capture the best moments, stories, brief experiences, and of course, all of the wonderful food and wine!
Ai Fiori (NYC, Setai Hotel 5th  Avenue btw 36th and 37th): Awesome presentations and flavor executions. Great place for romantic dinners but not averse to groups!
Wine:“Le Reve” Blanc de Blancs, Domaine Carneros, 2005: Made in Method Champenoise, this is a benchmark sparkler not only for the winery but for the west coast in general.