Monthly Archives: September 2010

Just a turkey sandwich

A proper turkey sandwich served up by the pros at the Broadway Market in Sonoma. I enjoyed the sando with a little Italian proseco, very tasty.

It’s not that interesting, not that gourmet but there’s just something great about a good turkey sandwich. I’m talking about the ones from some of the best delis in Sonoma or Napa. This is kinda weird, but around here a solid turkey sandwich is expected and respected. I’ve never really thought of them as special until I traveled the world a little bit and couldn’t find that same combo of a fresh smoked or peppered turkey on a hard sourdough role with pepper jack cheese, tomatoes (when in season) onions, peppers, lettuce, pickles (not for everyone but those folks are weirdos, yes Cody, I think your pickle aversion is a little weird) mustard and mayo.

The meat is stacked high, the ingredients on top make a heady mix of flavors and the bread is key. You can’t have a great North  Bay deli sandwich without the sourdough. The crusty bread can be a little messy because the sandwich fillings can kind of slide out when you bite down, but that’s just part of the fun of eating the sandwich.

My current favorite in Sonoma is the venerable Broadway Market, but the Sonoma Market is also solid. In Napa, I’ve got to go Genova’s for the best but Vallerga’s Market is a close second. Brown’s Valley Market, also in Napa, has a solid sando but their butcher is really the only reason to shop there.

Up valley, in St. Helena you’ve got to go to Giugnis. Simply awesome. When I worked at Beringer I had to make a lunch run at Giugnis at least three times a week. They used to have a Cajun Turkey that was just amazing. It was smoked turkey with a rind of peppers and spices that was awesome. Cajun turkey, sour roll, jack cheese, sprouts and yes the juice. You always have to get the Giugnis’ Juice, a savory mix of olive oil, herbs and a little vinegar that’s the final complement to the sandwich.

In Lodi, there’s a great butcher shop called Fiori’s. Good meat and the best sandwiches in town, although they couldn’t do a proper turkey. They didn’t have the right bread or the right toppings. My Lodi friends would vehemently disagree with me, but I remember my first impression was  not bad but it ain’t what they got back home in the North Bay.

I don’t know, am I off base here? Is the turkey sandwich something special in the North Bay or is it just my own personal affinity. I think the deli sandwiches are just better around here, but I’d love to hear about great sandwiches elsewhere.

(Congrats to longtime friends of the blog John and Heather on the wonderful addition to their family, a healthy baby girl.)

Dairy of a cellar rat: Wine class

This harvest continues to surprise me. I’m not really sure when it’s going to start in earnest. I mean we’re working 10, 12 hour days six days a week, but the winery doesn’t have that true, chaotic feeling of crush yet. The cool weather has just slowed everything down to an amazing degree. Today I took my dog CoCo on a run and I could not believe how much Sauvignon Blanc is still hanging and we’re almost in October. Sauv B is usually the done by the start of September.

Not really a bad thing I guess as this fall I’m taking a class at the Napa community college in the fundamentals of oenology. The class is interesting but the best part is that as we discuss the art of winemaking I spend most of my days doing the exact same operations that are the focus of the class.

For example, my most recent class dealt with yeasts, fermentation, inoculating grape juice and the fermentation/yeast cycle. Prior to the lecture, I spent the day at the winery preparing yeast, inoculating must and monitoring fermentations.

It’s a wonderful combination of work and life as well as a little ironic when you’re taking a vocabulary quiz on such terms as yeast, starter solution and must (the unfermented mixture of grapes, grape skins, seeds, juice and other material) and your pants are covered in yeast, yeast starter and must.

Drinking Jungle Juice in Harlem?

A man known as Kool-Aid mixing multiple alcohols and juice at his home in Harlem to make a drink called nutcracker. He said he could make $700 in profit on every $200 to $300 in supplies. (Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times)

Summertime, sitting on the stoop in the heat of Harlem sipping on an icy Nutcracker.

Not how I spent my August, but according to this great article in the New York Times, many folks in Harlem are doing just that. The Nutcracker is a heady mix of different liquors mixed with fruit juice and sold for $5 a pop by neighborhood bootleggers.

The Nutcrackers reminded me of the Jungle Juice I drank at many a party during my college days at UO. The “Juice” could be a ruinous cocktail for naive young undergrads.

Myself and my friends Dex, Ken and Sarah threw a party one time and fixed up two 10 gallon coolers of the drink and mixed in fresh fruit. The fruit soaks up the booze and it was truly the brave who “ate the fruit.”

I think our recipe went something like this:

1 bottle of 151 grain alcohol like Everclear or 151 rum

1, 750 ml of citrus vodka

1, 750 ml. vodka

1 750 ml. gin

1 bottle each of pineapple juice, orange juice and cranberry juice.

Ice and water to top as well as fresh fruit.

I can’t remember if the recipe was split into both coolers or if was four bottles of liquor for each cooler, probably the latter.

Well I ever throw a Jungle Juice party again? Perhaps not, but it could be kind of fun to make a small batch for sentimental reasons.

Who knows, maybe I could make a little money on the side selling cups of Carneros Nutcracker out at the marina.

Beer tour on the North Coast

A tall frosty pint of Lost Coast Pale Ale, a welcome start to a North Coast brew tour.

If Portland, Ore. is the undisputed capital of America’s brew culture, than I have to say California’s North Coast is its sleepy, oft-ignored younger brother. The North Coast, which includes Humboldt County and its two largest cities Arcata and Eureka, may be best known as a pot grower’s paradise but the region is also home to some of the finest small breweries in the nation.

I recently got a chance to skip out of Napa for a quick weekend to savor the last bit of my summer freedom before the onslaught of harvest begins at the winery. My tour guide for the weekend was my good friend Brendan who has lived in the Arcata area for almost a decade. He’s a fellow Sonoman and was the best man at my wedding. He’s usually hunting on fall weekends, but decided to put down his bow and arrow to show me the brew scene in his neck of the woods.

I arrived late on Friday night, and after a night of reminiscing and talking about how country music lost its way, Brendan and I woke up early in the morning for a quick round of golf at the Eureka municipal course. Golf is a fickle pursuit. I try to play about every two weeks so I was feeling confident. Brendan plays about once or twice a year and he beat me by seven strokes. It was one of those days out on the links when about anything that could go bad did, and when something went good I was just making ground back from the last mistake.

Needless to say by the last hole I was ready to start the brew tour. Our first stop was Lost Coast brewery, probably the best known and most celebrated of the North Coast brews. This brewery is located in downtown Eureka and serves a wide selection of ales that includes their well-known Downtown Brown and Great White. The brown is a wonderful example of the classic Brown Ale variety that packs a subtle hop punch in the finish. The Great White is ostensibly a Belgian white but it has less aromatics and coriander spice taste with more German hoppiness. The Great White can fluctuate in quality but on the whole it generally is a crowd pleaser. I couldn’t believe the number of folks who joined us at the crowded Lost Coast bar and when deciding what to drink asked if the brewery had “anything light?” I don’t know why you would got to a brewery and inquire to drink something light. I guess they just wanted to try something new, but didn’t want to get to far out of their comfort zone. Most of them seemed to be making road trips on 101 and actually most of them seemed like they were from southern California. Probably Dodgers fans. And they probably prefer lite beer. Bastards.

Downtown Eureka is home to the Lost Coast brewery, one of the best and best known beermakers in the area.

Our next stop was Humboldt Brewing, but we quickly learned they no longer make their own beer, but do offer about 30 beers on tap. We had a quick pint and got to talking about the strangle hold pot growers have on the economy and society in Humboldt. It’s a shame that a small group of ponytailed oligarchs are holding the region back, but Prop. 215 may change all that.

The next stop was Mad River Brewing. This brewery is located in the small community of Blue Lake just outside of Arcata near the 101 intersection with 299. This turned out to be my favorite spot of the day. The brewery is located in a small industrial park situated near a pulp mill. It seemed truly emblematic of the North Coast to be sitting in a beer garden with a bunch of college kids almost in the shadow of a mill drinking craft beer. Mad River is a hop head’s type of brewery. They have a wonderful selection of IPA’s that all exhibit the full range of hop flavor from grit your teeth bitterness to wonderful notes of citrus. They have a limited distribution but if you can find a 22 ounce or six pack in your store give it a try.

Another great brewery in the area is Six Rivers. Brendan and I visited this joint during a hunting trip last year so it wasn’t on our itinerary this time around but on my most recent visit I was able to try their porter and found it to be delightful. Most porters can be just a little too much smoky malt and little hops. Six River’s porter had a wonderful balance and a really crisp finish.

The view from a hillside a few miles outside of Blue Lake in Humboldt County.

But a trip to Humboldt wouldn’t be complete without heading up into the mountains. Brendan is a field biologist for a resource company in the area and took me out to a remote area where he’s conducting a study on spotted owls. We had a box of mice in the back of the truck and I was all jazzed for some great photos of me feeding a wild, Humboldt spotted owl, but after about 20 minutes of hooting, screeching, whistling and whooping on Brendan’s part to call in the owls we had no luck.

After the brew tour, Brendan and I went to downtown Arcata for a great dinner at the Plaza Grill. I had a huge platter of ribs and he had the sensible, heart-healthy seared tuna served over wild rice. As we made our way around the plaza, I was able to talk him into a quick drink at Everett’s. Well, a “quick drink” is never really that quick and after I had started on the Jameson’s and bought him a shirt, I tried to get him to go for a visit to the Tip Top club, but it was to no avail. I guess that’s why they call me full throttle.

They've got big trees up there dude. No really, like totally huge bro.

The next day I woke up to find the fog breaking up early, at around 9 a.m. Usually the coastal towns can stay socked in until 3 p.m. I took the opportunity for a quick five mile run to savor the fresh air and ocean breeze. The pleasant and clear weather made for a wonderful drive back down through the Redwoods on 101.

I always love visiting the North Coast. It’s definitely not part of the Bay and it’s not really pure Northern California — like Redding, Chico or Red Bluff — and it’s also got a much different vibe than Southern Oregon. I’m not sure if I’d love it that much if I lived there year round, the politics and marijuana growers would get old, but it sure is nice to visit. A big part of making those visits pleasurable is the vibrant and creative brewing scene.

(Update, Sept. 21, 2010, correction that’s Prop 19, not Prop 215. I do recall voting from Prop. 215 back in the day, actually it may have been my first election. I also voted for Dennis Peron too.

Also, the Tip Top Club reference was a joke. The place has always been a joke every since I first started visiting the North Coast. Unfortunately, my wife didn’t get the joke. Evidenced by the fact that after she read this post she sent me a text that started with “Your a pig!!!” and didn’t get any nicer. Women just don’t get jokes sometimes.)

Harvest 2010 is here

Today at 9:36 a.m. my colleague Diego, using a forklift, tipped a bin loaded with Sauvignon Blanc grapes into one of the presses at Starmont and harvest had commenced.

It’s been a bit of a slow burning fire this year. A cooler than normal summer has pushed us a few weeks behind a “normal” harvest schedule. A lack of a good long heat spell has also meant there doesn’t seem like there will be an onrush of early ripening fruit. Instead, it seems like a measured march into what could be very busy October and November. (There’s even some talk that we won’t get Thanksgiving off.)

I’ll be working in the lab and the cellar this harvest and I’m looking forward to not only seeing the production side again, but to see more of the analytical processes involved with harvest.

The start of harvest is always a fun, although bit tense time. While we’re all looking forward to the overtime and extra money the grueling hours and stress are not fun. Simple traditions, however, help keep you excited. This morning, us cellar guys gathered around with the winemakers, vineyard managers, lab staff and folks from the administrative office to toast another vintage with a glass of sparkling wine. It’s a nice tradition, practiced at many wineries, although some break out champagne to toast the last load of grapes for that harvest.

This harvest could well go deep into late November and perhaps even December depending on weather.

In the weeks leading up to today, many of my coworkers in the cellar would joke around with each other asking if “you’re ready for harvest?”

As our cellarmaster reminded us this morning: “It doesn’t matter if you’re ready or not. Harvest is here.”