Search Results

Healdsburg’s Journeyman gets to the meat of the matter

Cathy Seghesio at Journeyman

No one would ever accuse Peter and Cathy Seghesio (above) of mailing it in, even if their new salumeria, butcher counter, and wine-tasting shop opened in Healdsburg’s former post office back in August. Journeyman Meat Company (404 Center St., Healdsburg, 707-395-MEAT, has swiftly become the source for charcuterie in Sonoma County, and that’s hard work.

Peter Seghesio of JourneymanPeter Seghesio (right) spent much of his adult life overseeing the Seghesio Family Vineyards wine operation, bringing its old-vine Zinfandel to national prominence. When the winery was absorbed by Crimson Wine Group, he threw himself into learning traditional Italian butchery and charcuterie.

“You see a salumeria on every block in Italy,” he says. “It was something we felt our area lacked.”

Peter and Cathy also launched Journeyman wine company. They use the high-altitude San Lorenzo vineyard for their estate wines, including a 100 percent Zinfandel (Rockgarden) and a spectacular old-vine field blend called The Pearl. When Peter’s greatgrandther bought the property in 1896, it already had a young Zinfandel vineyard. Scientists at UC Davis have helped identify other varietals interplanted with the Zin, including Petite Sirah, Carignane, Grand Noir, Alicante Bouschet, Negrette, and Mataro. The Pearl has huge fruit (mainly blackberry), bright spice (cinnamon and clove), and an aromatic hint of bay laurel. (Wine Spectator scores The Pearl at 95.) Journeyman also makes a Chablis-style Chardonnay and a cherry-blackberry fruity Pinot Noir.

Salumi, sausages, and meat cuts from Sonoma herds

sausages at Journeyman

The charcuterie upholds the high standard set by the wines. In fact, the Seghesios built their own USDA-certified salumificio in nearby Cloverdale using Italian equipment imported from Parma (where they know a few things about prosciutto). The hogs, lamb, and bison are all sourced from local farms. “It was important to us that all our products have a sense of place,” Peter says.

For beef, the Seghesios purchase Angus yearlings and raise them to about 1,200 pounds, harvesting one animal per month. They also purchase some Wagyu to meet demand at the butcher counter.

exterior of Journeyman“We all want to eat better meat,” Peter says. “We want to know what goes into it.” Journeyman sausages are made, in many cases, from family recipes, and are delivered daily from the salumificio.

In addition to charcuterie boards, the shop also serves a limited food menu using a wood-fired oven. The white pizza has roasted leeks with Journeyman cured bacon and a farm egg, while the red pizza is topped with family-recipe sausage, local peppers, and soft Taleggio cheese.

If you have a bigger appetite (or want to counteract the power of several glasses of San Lorenzo red wine), order the Butcher’s Steak. It’s a small steak (3 ounces) roasted in the oven and served with arugula, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, and grilled bread.


12 2017

Wine country wildfires skipped Healdsburg

Vineyards and olive near Healdsburg

We had planned to visit Healdsburg in California’s Sonoma County long before the terrible wine country wildfires broke out in early October. We settled on the town because it sits at the junction of the Russian River Valley, the Alexander Valley, and the Dry Creek Valley wine regions. Among them, they produce some of California’s leading Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc. The Russian River Valley subregion of Chalk Hill is also famed for its Chardonnay. And where there’s good wine, there’s also good food.

After seeing the dramatic news coverage of the wildfires, we considered canceling. But prevailing winds spared most of the area around Healdsburg while scorching other parts of Sonoma and Napa. Healdsburg pitched in by housing and feeding the firefighters who finally got the blazes under control. Lodgings also gave temporary shelter to some of the people who lost their homes.

The vast majority of Northern California wineries received little or no damage. The photo at the top of this post shows some post-harvest vineyards and a pre-harvest olive tree. (That’s morning fog hovering over the Dry Creek Valley—not smoke.) Around Healdsburg, nearly 98 percent of the grapes were picked before the fires began.

We decided to go, and saw only a little fire damage on hilltops during the 70-mile ride north from San Francisco airport. As we explored the countryside around the town, we encountered one lush vineyard after another with big healthy leaves changing colors. The spectacle gives our New England fall foliage a run for its money. The vineyards, by the way, helped save the region from even worse damage by acting as firebreaks.

Wine posters at Sonoma Wine Library in Healdsburg

Healdsburg is wine central

Centered around a green town square with a cute gazebo, the town of Healdsburg makes a rich base to explore wine country. As the vintage posters at the Sonoma County Wine Library (139 Piper St., Healdsburg, 707-433-3772, ext 0416) above indicate, California has long been the “Wine Land of America.” But the posters also hark back to an era of generic blended wines—long before the California specialization in high-grade varietal wines. And they certainly predate the marketing of Sonoma County wines with their specific geographic areas noted on the bottle.

wine tasting room in HealdsburgBecause it lies at the convergence of so many different wine terroirs, Healdsburg is practically an open-air enoteca of Northern California wine. If your principal interest is a quick education in the potential of the Russian River, Alexander, and Dry Creek AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), you can park your car at one of the inns, B&Bs, or hotels and explore on foot. There are more than 20 winery tasting rooms in the blocks immediately surrounding the town square. Branch out a little and you’ll find another dozen or so within walking distance.

We sampled some of the wineries in the surrounding countryside and had some great meals in town. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be reporting on Healdsburg as a wine tourism destination. Stay tuned.

For details on attractions and lodging in the town, visit


11 2017

Moshin calculates exceptional biodynamic Pinot Noir

Rick Moshin of Moshin Vineyards
You could say that Rick Moshin (above) is a calculating fellow. Before the proprietor and winemaker at Moshin Vineyards (10295 Westside Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-5499, got into the business, he was a math instructor at San Jose State. The skills have served him well. He keeps the big picture of winemaking in his head like a blackboard full of calculations while still managing to pay attention to every detail. His wines are like elegant solutions to complex problems. They have a kind of Pythagorean grace.

“Biodynamic is the wave of the future,” he said when we visited him in November. He’s not doctrinaire about it. The most important principles, he believes, are those that treat the soil like a living organism that constantly recycles whatever materials will biodegrade. He makes his own compost to encourage microbial growth and plants cover crops that can be turned into the soil.

Moshin Vineyards tasting roomIn 2005, he built a winery on a hillside. All the operations flow downwhill from the crush pad at the top to fermentation vessels to tanks and barrels for aging to the tasting room (right) at the base. His estate vineyards are almost entirely devoted to Russian River Pinot Noir with just a half-acre of Pinot Blanc from Alsatian clones. Most parcels are planted in Old World clones. Moshin speaks about the vines with reverence and tenderness. And he handles the juice the same way. The gravity feed system pampers the wine, moving it through the various stages without the bruising effects of mechanical pumping.

Tastes like the music of the spheres

Moshin Brut RoséPinot Noir is clearly Moshin’s passion. He makes several versions, based on the special character of each of his estate vineyards and the vineyards with which he contracts. With only time for a brief tasting, we started by sampling the 2013 Brut Rosé Sparkling Pinot Noir. It had the lusciousness of a good Crémant de Borgogne from northern Burgundy. Three years on the lees guarantees a bready nose and a creamy mouthfeel. The pinpoint carbonation combines with the acidity to make the wine a great complement to food—or a good choice for toasting.

Moshin depends entirely on natural yeasts and adapts his winemaking to the growing conditions of each vintage. The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir comes across soft and light, with hints of clove, cherry, and orange peel. The 2014 Estate Pinot Noir Lot 4 Selection, by comparison, bursts with aroma of red fruit and rose petals. We also tasted the 2015 Estate Pinot Noir, which promises to be a truly great vintage. A dry year produced small grapes in sparse clusters, reducing overall yield to about half of normal. But less is clearly more—more intensity, more color, more depth. Just barely in release, Moshin 2015 Estate Pinot Noir is a wine to set aside to mature.


01 2018

Jordan captures the luscious bounty of Sonoma

John Jordan of Jordan Vineyard and Winery

You can be forgiven if you rub your eyes at first sight of Jordan Vineyard & Winery (1474 Alexander Valley Road, Healdsburg, 707-431-5250, It looks like a mirage. Tom and Sally Jordan established the 1,200-acre Alexander Valley estate in 1972 as an homage to Bordeaux. True to their vision, the ivy-covered manse overlooking gardens and vineyards appears to have been transported whole from the gently rolling hills of Entre-Deux-Mers. Now their son John Jordan (above) continues the tradition of crafting Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Russian River Valley Chardonnay in the Old World style.

Vineyard at Jordan WineryProducing two superb wines—one modeled on Bordeaux’s Saint-Julien, the other on Burgundy’s Montrachet—gives Jordan Winery a clarity of focus. But following the model of Napa, Jordan is a destination winery. The Jordan family has made it a showcase of Sonoma’s bounty. The land was originally covered in prune plum orchards. The Jordans have preserved nearly three-quarters of the property as natural habitat, full of ancient oaks and populated with wild ducks, turkeys, and rabbits. Two lakes and several pastures remain among the 112 acres of grapevines.

The estate maintains an active apiary—all the more important after so many wine country hives were lost in the fall fires. The bees pollinate the entire landscape, including the highly productive one-acre chef’s garden that produces much of the bounty for the culinary program.

Wines at the table

Chef Todd Knoll of Jordan WineryIn keeping with the Old World style of the wines, Jordan holds the philosophy that wine requires food and vice versa. The winery hosts a lot of dinner parties and culinary events as well as offering some limited food with wine tastings. We visited for a special buffet lunch, and feel pretty confident stating that Chef Todd Knoll is a pairing genius. He prepared a beautiful beet salad of mixed red and golden beets and roasted a loin of lamb to accentuate the dark fruit of the 2008 Cabernet. A pomengranate with fresh honeycomb highlighted the stone fruits—and the austere Chablis-like minerality—of the 2015 Chardonnay. The mix of Marcona almonds, estate-cured green olives, and local charcuterie rounded out the bright flavors of the 2013 Cabernet.

At the end of the meal, Knoll sent out a dessert that really spoke of place. Jordan maintains 18 acres of olive trees and presses its own luscious olive oil. The Italian Frantoio, Leccino, and Pendolino olives give the oil grassy, green-almond flavors while the Spanish Arbequina olives make it round and buttery. The olive oil cake topped with olive oil ice cream was the perfect conclusion to a taste of Jordan. The winery was kind enough to share both recipes (below).

Jordan olive oil cake and ice cream


Vanilla extract can be substituted for the vanilla bean, but the bean does give the cake a richer flavor. Made without butter or baking soda, this recipe produces a light and fluffy cake.

Serves 8


2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon salt
half a lemon, zested
half a lemon, juiced
3 vanilla beans, scraped (1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract may be substituted)
7 ounces Jordan Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3/4 cup sugar, divided in half
7/8 cup cake flour, sifted*
3 egg whites, room temperature

*All-purpose flour may be substituted, but will produce a slightly more dense cake.


Preheat oven to 350℉ (325℉ for convection).

Prepare 9-inch springform pan with nonstick spray and a round parchment liner on the bottom.

Whisk together egg yolks, salt, lemon zest, lemon juice, vanilla beans, olive oil, and half of the sugar. Sift the flour into the mixture in three stages. Set aside.

Using a standing mixer, whisk egg whites on high. Once egg whites begin to foam, slowly stream in the remaining half of the sugar, adding up to one tablespoon at a time. Whip the meringue until white, thick and shiny.

Fold one third of the meringue into the batter. Repeat until all the meringue is incorporated evenly, then pour cake batter into the prepared springform pan.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife or spatula around the edge and remove the side of the springform pan. Allow to cool for an hour, then remove the bottom of the pan and peel off parchment.

Cut into eight slices, dust with powdered sugar, top with fresh cut strawberries, whipped cream or Jordan Olive Oil Ice Cream. Drizzle with Jordan Extra Virgin Olive Oil and serve.


Serve a scoop of this ice cream on the olive oil cake—or serve it alone with a sprinkle of sea salt and a drizzle of Jordan olive oil.

Makes 1 quart


1 3/4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup cream
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup Jordan Extra Virgin Olive Oil


In a medium saucepan, heat milk, cream, sugar and salt over medium heat until the mixture reaches a slow boil.

In a medium bowl, temper the eggs by slowly whisking half of the hot liquid into the yolks. Slowly whisk the hot liquid and egg mixture back into the saucepan. With the heat on low, continue whisking until the ice cream base thickens slightly.

Using a chinoise or fine strainer, strain the base into a medium bowl set directly over an ice bath. Stir in olive oil.

Allow the base to cool completely (or refrigerate overnight for a creamier texture). Spin in an ice cream machine, following the manufacturer’s directions. Transfer ice cream to an air-tight container and freeze for 3-4 hours, or until firm.


12 2017

Costeaux proves one cannot live on wine alone

Costeaux Bakery cake

The most famous of Persian poet Omar Khayyam’s quatrains suggests that “paradise enough” consists of a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and his beloved beside him in the wilderness. Healdsburg has dozens of potential wine suppliers to the paradise picnic, but the loaf have to come from Costeaux French Bakery (417 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-433-1913,

French toast at Costeaux BakeryWe were already well-acquainted with Costeaux’s breads before we ever stepped foot in the downtown bakery and cafe. Honor Mansion makes most of its breakfast goodies from scratch, but there’s no homecooked substitute for the Cinnamon Walnut loaf from Costeaux. (We know. We tried and failed to get the recipe.) It’s a hand-rolled eggy bread dense with chopped walnuts and aromatic cinnamon. Sweet icing glazes the top of each loaf. The bread is surprisingly versatile. Costeaux’s cafe uses the Cinnamon Walnut bread for French toast, bread pudding, and in sweet and savory sandwiches. (It makes a mean croque monsieur.)

The bakery is a Healdsburg fixture. Founded in 1923, it was sold to Karl and Nancy Seppi in 1981. Their son Will is now in charge. A few years back, he started displaying Nutcracker figures at Christmas. Soon Costeaux became the shelter for unwanted Nutcrackers. Now more than 500 line the walls and every available flat space during the holiday. Known as much for its big, luscious breakfasts in the cafe, Costeaux carries the torch for traditional French pastry such as croissants and pain au chocolat. The bakery is also celebrated for its exquisite custom cakes. A staff member holds one proudly at the top of the post.

If you want to see the Nutcrackers (below), be sure to visit by January 6, 2018. They go back into storage after Epiphany.

Nutcrackers along wall at Costeaux Bakery


12 2017

The Nectary serves delicious juice to chew

Gia Baiocchi in doorway of The Nectary in Healdsburg

Other than drinking a strawberry mango smoothie for breakfast every morning, I haven’t really embraced the “juicing” trend. Sure, I know that juicing is an easy way to consume a greater variety of fruits and vegetables that will give your body a good dose of nutrients. And those nutrients may raise energy levels and promote clear, healthy skin.

I also figured that California would be the perfect place to see what juicing was all about. I was right. The Nectary—and its founder Gia Baiocchi—provided the perfect introduction. Baiocchi opened the first Nectary in Sebastopol in 2014 and opened her second location in Healdsburg (312 Center Street, 707-473-0677, in July 2017.

Juices at The Nectary in HealdsburgThe shop offers a multitude of products, including smoothies, chai, some prepared foods, and juices for one-day or multi-day cleansings. But I decided to ease my way in with some of Baiocchi’s cold-pressed juices, which are made by hand with organic ingredients and no refined sugar. “Swheatgrass,” for example, combines apple, cucumber, lemon, mint, and wheatgrass. It is, as Baiocchi described it, “like a green lemonade.”

Baiocchi is particlarly fond of “G-Love’s Special Sauce,” a combo of pineapple, pear, romaine, spinach, chard, cilantro, mint, lemongrass, ginger, and orange. Noting the sweetness from the pineapple, Baiocchi pronounced it “a green juice with training wheels.”

Juicing like a chef

Gia pouring at The NectaryI was struck by the subtle blend of flavors. Baiocchi, in fact, brings a similarly perfect blend of skills to her operation. She has studied herbalism and Chinese medicine and “thinks of food as medicine” that can “empower people to take their health into their own hands.” Prior to becoming “queen bee” of The Nectary, Baiocchi was also was a chef at the vegan/raw food Blooming Lotus Restaurant on the island of Kauai in Hawaii.

She brings a chef’s sensibility to her juices. “My background in cooking comes in handy,” she agrees. “I look at the fruits, vegetables and herbs available and think about how to create a complex flavor profile. It is as if I’m was making a soup or a salad.” (She passed on the recipe for her delicious veggie analog to tuna salad below. It’s a great example of the chef’s mind at work.)

Nutrition and flavor go hand in hand for Baiocchi. “I always tell people to ‘chew your juice,’” she says with a smile. “Digestion begins in your mouth.”


Gia buys her almonds direct from local farmers, but American almonds on store shelves are pasteurized and therefore won’t sprout. Look for raw organic almonds from Spain, such as those packed by Terrasoul.

Ingredients Part 1

1/2 cup almonds (soaked & sprouted)
1/2 cup sunflower seeds (soaked & sprouted)
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons dried dill

Ingredients Part 2

1/4 cup dill pickles (diced)
3 tablespoons celery (minced)
2 tablespoons red onion (minced)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons dulse flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons nori flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt


Blend “Part 1” ingredients in blender until smooth. Mix “Part 2” ingredients in mixing bowl. Stir “Part 1” into “Part 2.” Enjoy as is or as a dip with your favorite crackers!


12 2017

Thomas George evokes Burgundy in Russian River

Vineyard at Thomas George

Westside Road in Healdsburg is the cool end of the Russian River Valley. That’s just fine by Thomas and George Baker, founders of Thomas George Estates Winery (8075 Westside Road, Healdsburg, 707-431-8031, When geography gives you cool vineyards in this part of Sonoma, you focus on the stars of Burgundy: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

concrete eggs at Thomas GeorgeSince launching the winery in 2008, the Bakers have assembled four select vineyards to grow both varietals. These small-lot artisanal wines tend to spotlight individual vineyards, although the winery does make one blend from each grape. The winery tunnels into the hillside beneath the Baker Ridge Vineyard. Although the operation does have some stainless steel tanks and oak barrels, the dominant vessels are concrete eggs. The vessels have been gaining a lot of traction in Burgundy, and U.S. winemakers have been adopting them, especially for Pinot Noir and Burgundy.

Nico with tanks at Thomas GeorgeDuring fermentation, the corner-free eggs allow the wine to circulate naturally, constantly stirring itself. This movement keeps the cap submerged without having to punch it down. By submerging the skins, the winemaker can extract maximum fruit flavor and—with reds—maximum color. Aging in concrete provides micro-oxygenation to the wine in a manner similar to oak, but without the added wood flavors. The resulting wines have the mouthfeel of barrel fermentation with the neutrality of steel. Winemaker Nicolas “Nico” Cantacuzene, shown at left, jokes that the wine “makes itself” in the eggs. But judging by the few we tasted, there’s a lot more of the winemaker’s art involved.

Tasting in the vineyard

:auren Helm at Thomas GeorgeSince it was a nice fall day, we followed hospitality director Lauren Helm to the top of the hill above the winery for an open-air tasting. We were looking down the hill (photo at top of the post) from the Baker Ridge vineyard. The first wine she poured was the 2015 Estate Chardonnay Sons & Daughters. Made from grapes entirely from the Sons & Daughters vineyard in the Chalk Hill sub-region, it is a splendid example of everyday unoaked chard. Whole clusters of the handpicked fruit were racked off to a mix of stainless steel tanks and concrete eggs. The resulting wine stock aged on the lees without secondary malolactic fermentation before blending to bottle. The nose shows a lot of peach and plum with a bright citrus zing that hints at the wine’s minerality. In the mouth, it’s a full, lush wine with notable lime and green apple flavors. The acidity makes it a great food wine at only $20.

The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir was made more traditionally. The hand-picked, destemmed grapes were allowed to soak cold for five days in open-top fermenters. Fermentation proceeded slowly over 16 days, and the skins were pressed after draining the tanks. The wine aged on the lees for nearly a year, mostly in French oak. (A small portion was aged in concrete before blending and bottling.) The resulting wine is very fruit forward on both the nose and the palate. Wild berries, cherries, and Damson plum are tempered by notes of thyme and rosemary. The tannins are nicely structured, though the wine should soften nicely with a little more age. Pricing ranges $37-$43.

Wine tasting is available at the winery and its picnic grounds without reservations daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Notably, Thomas George has good national distribution.


12 2017

California cuisine comes full circle at Dry Creek Kitchen

Dining room in Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg

What began in northern California when Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in 1971 has evolved into the easy sophistication of Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen (317 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-431-0330, Chez Panisse launched so-called California cuisine, the forerunner of the farm-to-table dining revolution. A generation younger than Waters, New York-born and trained Palmer became the leading apostle of progressive American cooking by the late 1980s. In 2003, he opened Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg to celebrate Sonoma’s bounty and wine country lifestyle.

Wine at Dry Creek Kitchen in HealdsburgIt’s a pretty place. Located in the Hotel Healdsburg (another Palmer Group property), Dry Creek Kitchen has garden terrace dining when the weather cooperates and a striking dining room when it doesn’t. Some of the tables sit by the semi-open kitchen, where diners can peek through vertical white blinds to catch glimpses of the cooks at work. (That’s a table by the kitchen window above.) Executive chef Scott Romano, a veteran of other Palmer restaurants as well as Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, oversees the menu. Predictably, most of the fruits and vegetables grow locally, and the extensive wine list celebrates Sonoma County.

Perfect pairings

We enjoyed a four-course tasting menu with wine pairings. In each case, the dish and the glass spoke volumes about Sonoma argiculture.

Ken’s Asian Pear Salad

This beautiful little salad started off the meal with a pucker. The thinly sliced Asian pear had the sweetness and acid of fully ripe fruit. (We rarely taste them that good in the East.) Pickled table grapes provided a surprising twist to the salad with a nice nod to wine country. The fruit was tossed in a bee pollen vinaigrette, which combined with finely chopped walnuts to give a punchy counterpoint to ricotta crème fraîche beneath. The pairing was a 2016 Étude Pinot Gris from the Sonoma sector of Carneros. The vines are certified Alsatian clones and the winemaking style followed suit. The vineyards are cool and foggy, and the grapes were left on the vine to slowly mature. The resulting wine has both the fruit and the acids to hold up to a pickled fruit salad,

Butternut Squash Soup

Squash soup at Dry Creek Kitchen in HealdsburgTo call this a soup course is almost misleading. We were served shallow bowls with perfectly seared bay scallops tossed with cilantro sprouts. The waiter then poured on the butternut squash bisque, which was infused with coconut and contained small crispy bits of fried ginger. It was a rich and spicy combination. The 2015 Gary Farrell Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley represents what we think are the strengths of Sonoma Chardonnay. Its generous fruit in the mouth is tempered with just a hint of French oak. On the palate, the zing of Meyer lemon and apricot balances with a pronounced minerality.

Charbroiled Lamb T-Bone Chops

lamb t-bone at Dry Creek KitchenIt’s hard to improve on a thick, juicy lamb loin chop grilled over wood charcoal. A good piece of meat cooked perfectly needs little embellishment. But Dry Creek Kitchen figured out how to improve on perfection. As you can see at right, it’s served with crispy Jerusalem artichokes and some escarole on a puddle of Madeira-truffle sauce (sauce périgueux). The wine pairing was a glass of 2014 A. Rafanelli Merlot from the Dry Creek Valley. A rich and intense red, it seemed to embrace the lamb flavors with a ruby glow. A bit of black pepper in the wine brought out the truffle in the sauce. That’s making the most of both partners in the pairing.


12 2017

Trattore: a little bit of Rhône, a whole lot of rock and roll

View of Dry Creek Valley from Trattore tasting room

Walking into the tasting room at Trattore, it’s easy to expect that the sound system might be blasting Kenny Chesney’s 1999 country hit “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.” A beautifully restored 1967 Huber tractor greets visitors as they come in the door. Tim and Mary Louise Huber have about a dozen tractors, half of which work the land. And their Trattore Farms (7878 Dry Creek Road, Geyserville, 707-431-7200, is simply named after the iconic farm vehicle.

The Hubers’ 40-acre operation sits on the steep hillsides of the Dry Creek Valley just over the line from Healdsburg in Geyserville. Those hills look a lot like the Côtes du Rhône, and Rhône varietals dominate in Trattore’s vineyards. The other prominent grape in the 4,000-case annual production is Zinfandel. (Trattore also brings in Pinot Noir grapes from the Russian River Valley and Cabernet Sauvignon from Atlas Peak.) Olive trees are nearly as prominent as grapevines. Under the Dry Creek Valley Olive Company label, Mary Louise Huber mills and presses a variety of high quality extra-virgin olive oils.

Comme ça!

Karla Laird pours at Trattore tasting roomTrattore follows the Côtes du Rhône tradition by producing several wine blends. The mR Rhone White Blend combines Marsanne and Roussanne grapes in a very pleasant sipping wine—or a good companion to white fish. The nose shows the floral qualities of the Roussanne grape and the honeycomb aroma typical of Marsanne. Apricot and pear are evident on the palate. Zinfandel dominates the blend in Tractor Red. But more than a quarter of the grapes are Rhône varieties: Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Mourvedre. The wine spent 15 months in French oak. It comes across like a California version of Châteauneuf-du-Pape: big, round, red, and ready to party. The glass at the top of the post is Tractor Red. An olive tree is in the foreground, and some of the vineyards stretch out down below.

Oil from heritage orchards

Dry Creek Olive Co. oils at Trattore tasting roomTrattore’s land was originally part of a vast orchard of Mission olive trees planted in the 1850s. Only a handful of those trees remain, but olives have been a mainstay of the property for more than a century. About a quarter of the olives pressed by Dry Creek Olive Company are grown at Trattore Farms. The remainder come from heritage groves at five other nearby farms.

While many of the oils are blends of different olives, we were especially taken with the Heritage Orchard oil, milled entirely from the ancient Mission olives. Sweet and buttery, it is a perfect seasoning oil or a light dip for bread. The California Tuscan oil features Frantoio, Leccino, and Pendolino varietals—Tuscan cultivars that flourish in northern California. Picked late in the season, they produce a soft and smooth oil with a balance of ripe olive and toasted nut flavors.

While we are not by nature fans of flavored oils, we were also struck by the Cara Cara olive oil. Rather than add flavors after pressing, Mary Louise Huber mills and presses Hojiblanca olives (a variety from Spain) and Cara Cara oranges together. The resulting bright oil can dress a salad by itself or with an accompanying drizzle of balsamic vinegar.


12 2017

Sonoma Cider stands out in heart of wine country

The 20 or so downtown wine-tasting rooms in Healdsburg are almost an embarrassment of riches. Sometimes there’s just too much of a good thing. That’s what the folks at Sonoma Cider thought when they opened Taproom (44F Mill Street, Healdsburg, 707-723-7018, in a former warehouse about a block south of the plaza last October.

There’s a no-nonsense air to the building that houses several 3,000-gallon and 6,000-gallon fermentation tanks, a bar with a giant screen TV, and a casual restaurant. Father/son duo David and Robert Cordtz launched Sonoma Cider in 2013. They take their cider seriously, but Taproom is free of pretense.

Cider on tap at Sonoma Cider Taproom“This is less upscale than wine-tasting,” says Taproom manager Kole Christen. “People can try something crisp and fresh. This is a place where people can cut loose. And,” he adds with a smile, “we’re open later than wine-tasting rooms.”

Many customers opt for a six-cider flight (shown at top of post) from the multitude of choices. Sonoma Cider’s basic hard cider starts with a blend of five apples grown organically in Washington State. Simply fermented, it’s called The Hatchet. It’s clean, refreshing, and apple-y. The same juice is blended with bourbon flavoring and fermented in bourbon barrels to produce The Anvil. It can also be sweetened with eucalyptus honey and fermented in whiskey barrels for six months to produce The Imperial. (At 10.3 percent alcohol, The Imperial could be classified as apple wine or apple mead.) The cider makers also blend the fermented juice with selected flavors (like blackberry juice) to create flavored ciders.

Delving into nuances

Cider glass at Sonoma Cider taproomHard cider is traditionally made from a blend of apples, but the folks at Sonoma Cider have been exploring the possibilities of single-varietal ciders. Their Gravenstein is tart and fresh, their Winter Banana light and spicy, and their Dry Golden Delicious bone dry and a little tart. With such distinct characters, they offer real potential for food pairings.

The single varietals are often made with Sonoma County apples. One of our favorites of this group was an old-fashioned orchard blend called Westcider. The orchard sits on Westside Road, southwest of Healdsburg. Fermented from a mix of Pink Permain, Winter Banana, Macintosh, Mystery, Crispin, and Baldwin Striped Gentlemen, Westcider has a balance of sweetness, fruitiness, and slightly ashen bitterness characteristic of good French ciders.

In addition to the taps of standard ciders, reserve ciders, and micro-releases, Taproom also crafts cocktails, many of them using Sonoma Cidery Apple Brandy. This 85 proof barrel-aged spirit is distilled from the same base blend of apples used in The Hatchet. Since the production facility had just received a fresh batch of juice, we did a taste test of juice, hard cider, and brandy—sort of vertical tasting of rising alcohol levels. The flavor is remarkably consistent in all three. It makes a good base spirit for cocktails, but it’s also smooth enough to drink neat or on ice. Unlike “applejack,” it has no added neutral spirit so the apple flavor is very pronounced.

Cider with food

Chef Josh Schauert at Sonoma Cider TaproomExecutive chef Josh Schauert has devised a menu to complement the ciders. “When I’m designing dishes, I keep the ciders in mind,” he says. “But this is not your typical bar food.”

He points out that pairing cider with meals is new territory in the restaurant industry, but relishes the challenge. Compared to wine, he says, “cider has a broader flavor structure.” That opens the door for more pairing options beyond the usual “red meat calls for red wine” mindset. Moreover, there are fewer preconceptions about what might be appropriate.

Schauert also finds lots of opportunity to cook with cider. “Cider has a very similar flavor profile to vinaigrette,” he says. “That makes it easier to cook with.”

His menu during our visit was Exhibit A. The seafood ceviche of shrimp, octopus, and salmon was marinated in Crowbar cider, which is flavored with habañero peppers and organic limes. The green beans accompanying baby back ribs are sauteed in garlic butter and deglazed with Apple Cider Brandy.

The brandy is also a key component in Schauert’s take on French Onion Soup. He caramelizes the onions in butter, then deglazes the pan with brandy before adding a housemade bone-broth beef stock. The sweetness of the onions and the fruity richness of the brandy make this winter warmer an surprisingly elegant soup for a casual tavern. By substituting large croutons for the conventional toasted baguette slice on top, he makes the soup much easier to eat. Schauert generously shared the recipe.


Makes 1 gallon
Prep and cooking time 1 hour


1/4 cup butter
3 lb yellow onions, sliced
4 cloves garlic, peeled/chopped
2 bay leaves
1 quart Sonoma Cider Apple Brandy
1 bunch fresh thyme
2 teaspoons dried oregano
3 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce
2 quarts fresh beef stock
2 quarts water
salt/pepper to taste
croutons, toasted light brown in 425°F oven
2 cups mixed shredded Gruyère, cheddar, and jack cheese


Melt butter in stock pot. Add sliced onions and cook down to caramelize (about 15 minutes). Add garlic and bay leaf, cook until aromatic.

Deglaze pot with Sonoma Cider Apple Brandy, scraping fond (black bits) off of bottom of pot. Add herbs and cook until aromatic. Add Worcestershire sauce, beef stock, and water. Bring to low boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes until reduced about 20 percent.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with toasted croutons topped with mixed cheeses. Enjoy!


12 2017