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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Peter Michael Winery

is a collection of properties in Sonoma and Napa counties. The original and main property is a 650 acre tract of land located on part of Mt. St. Helena in Calistoga, CA.

The land was purchased by Sir Peter Michael in 1983. He may be best know for his foray into the film and television industry with his company, Quantel. They were vanguards of analog to digital video conversion in the early 1980's. They became very well known in the industry with their Paintbox technology, which was an industry video standard for close to two decades.

The property is located in the Knight's Valley AVA. For those that do not know, an AVA, according to the latter link, denotes the "pedigree of origin" geographically of a wine and is a term used in the United States viticulture industry.

The powers that be covet this area environmentally, and do not allow public tasting rooms. This is done in an effort to limit the amount of people and vehicles in the area. At PMW, tours are restricted to those on their primary buying list or those in the wine industry. It can take up to 2 years to be one of their customers.

Our tour guide that day was Peter Kay, Director of Sales and Marketing for the winery. A most gracious host, he told us in any one year, perhaps 1000 people would tour the property in Calistoga. In contrast, he conjectured that 1000 people may tour Robert Mondavi Winery on a Saturday in August.

I recorded Mr Kay for the approximately 2 and 1/2 hours we were there. As head of Sales and Marketing, he told us he had to be fluent in many aspects of PMW's operations. He gave me so much material to write about during our tour. As a relative ingenue in the world of wine and wine making, I will just touch on the highlights which I can talk somewhat intelligently about and that I found interesting.

PMW is a very interesting property. It came to be very much by careful planning but as much by serendipity as well.

Although the property is 650 acres, only 20% or so of it is arable land viticulturally. Mt. St. Helena has contributed two different soil types to this property. Rhyolite, or soils which support verdant growth and Serpentine which is very acidic, and favors pine growth. This is obvious from a vantage point above the vineyard.

The initial vision was to grow the Grapes of Bordeaux producing wines in the Bordeaux style. These are wines produced from these grapes with artisinal methods with crop that reflect its Terroir, or the grape's agricultural and environmental influences.

This vision was expressed on the lower part of the property. This part of the vineyard is relatively sheltered and warmer, which is what Bordeaux varietals prefer.

We were fortunate to see some plantings before they were put into the vinyards.

About 1500 feet away, paradoxically, Chardonnay grapes, that preferred a cooler temperature, were being grown. This, simplistically, can be explained by the coastal geology.

The water of the Pacific Ocean is very cold. The inland valleys, where the air is warmer, are separated from this cool, marine air by mountain ranges. Where there are holes in the mountain ranges, warm air draws the cool marine air in. A familiar example of this is the San Francisco Bay. The "famous" fog in the area happens as the moisture in the cool marine air condenses under the warm inland air.

I bring this up as through serendipity, PMW found that just 1500 feet or so above their Bordeaux Varietals, they could grow world class Chardonnay due to the situation of the property and it's exposure to cooler marine air currants.

As we were touring the winery, there was some replanting being done.

Originally, the vineyards were planted with the vines being horizontal to it's slopes to offset erosion. This was not the best orientation for them as both sides of the plantings did not get good sun exposure. This is a major undertaking. All the top soil is removed, the exposed subsoil reconditioned and the topsoil evenly put back. In their new north-south (perpendicular to slope) orientation, the grapes will receive sun on both sides of the plantings, and be protected from it during the heat of the day. The time frame for this project was anticipated to be 20 years.

Almost everything here is done by hand. The grapes for white wines are picked in clusters, and their juice separated from their skins immediately. This is done to minimize the extraction of Phenolic compounds which can add bitterness to the final product.

Red wine grapes are picked individually, and hand sorted twice to remove under and over mature fruit. The grapes are then fermented whole. The Free Run, or run off from the fermentation process as the grapes pop under their own weight and the fermentation process itself is used to make their wines. The remaining skins are pressed and the juice from this generally is sold on the bulk market.

PMW gained considerable acclaim last year being selected as 2015 Wine Spectator's (WS) Wine of the Year. I asked Peter Kay how they judge wines. He told me that they were the only ones that specified when ranking wine, it be done at WS's property. The wine editors are told of the vintage, varietal and region, but the rest is a blind tasting and ranking based on 100 point scale. After unblinding, they cannot change their score but can retaste and add contextual content such as "best wine ever from xxx winery",

After our tour, we tasted some of PMW's wines.

They have a very nice tasting room,

where we sampled 5 of their wines.

A 2011 Chardonnay, a 2012 Pinot Noir from their sister property in Sonoma, a 2014 Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon blend, a 2011 Cabernet Blend and finishing with their flagship Cabernet Blend. It was interesting that their Chardonnays, in some cases, are blends of different Chardonnay Clones, showing attention to detail at the vine level.
The wines were very nice. Even the wines from 2011, which was one of the worst Vintages on record, shined from PMW.

This was a lovely tour given by PMW's very affable and knowledgeable Director of Sales and Marketing. I would also like to thank the principle, Paul Michael, for making this tour possible. These will be very nice memories from a great Fourth of July weekend.

That's that for another post on Forks.

Peter Michael Winery
12400 Ida Clayton Rd.
Calistoga, CA  94515

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Dinner at Blanc

is a restaurant in Fort Myers, FL located in Cypress Square.

The exterior of the restaurant is somewhat dissonant with the interior atmosphere and the fare served here.

They occupy the space where the Oyster Shell restaurant resided for 37 years. There is not much Affichage outside at present so it was a bit hard to find at first. The principles are seasoned local restaurant Veterans, and the restaurant, at the time of this writing, has only been open about 9 weeks.

The interior space of the restaurant is small, seating about 32 diners at any one time.

The small interior space and ambient noise level from the diners feed into the proprietors concept of Blanc. This is a highly social and interactive dining experience with mostly plates meant for sharing.

An open air kitchen only accentuates this.

I really believe this type of kitchen arrangement helps diners connect with their food as they can see it being prepared. As I have said before, the Japanese have successfully used this concept for many years with their Teppanyaki dining.

I had heard many good things about Blanc, so my dining companion and I decided to sample a number of items from their Menu.

The first thing sampled was the French onion soup.

This was absolute heaven and some of the best French onion soup I have had.

The tuna cones were next.

These were tortilla cones filled with tuna ceviche, garnished with nori and served with Remoulade or soy/ginger sauce. Very good and an interesting presentation

The octopus was also ordered.

Cooked on a Robata grill, it was served with what appeared to be the restaurant's signature garnish of grilled yellow squash and zucchini, snow peas and potato. Remoulade and sweet habenero sauce finished the dish. Not bad.

Two more menu items were sampled,

I love pork belly, so we ordered the five spice Pork Belly.

Pork belly was marinated in 5 Spice Powder and cooked Sous Vide. The flavors here were very good. I just wished there could have been more of it.

The Brussels sprouts were amazing, fried and served with a miso glaze.

The food at Blanc ranged from very good to excellent. It was made even better by the service and conviviality very much apparent in the restaurant itself. Just be sure to make reservations!

It's a wrap for another post on Forks.

13451 McGregor Blvd.
Fort Myers, FL 33919

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Dinner at the Conservatory at Greystone

For those that do not know, The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) is one of the premier culinary arts schools in the world. 

The school was established in the mid 20th Century, and became significant with the start of it's Hyde Park, NY Campus in 1970. Associate and Bachelor's degrees are awarded from this institution, with tuition for a bachelor's degree approaching $130,000 for it's 4 year course.

Additional campuses are in San Antonio, Singapore and California. 

is located in a historic building in St. Helena, CA.

This building has a very interesting history. Greystone was originally constructed as a cooperative wine cellar in the latter part of the 19th Century. At the time it's moniker was Greystone Cellars.

The building changed hands many times, ending up being the sparkling wine production center for The Christian Brothers from 1945-1989. The business was sold to a very large alcoholic beverage Conglomerate in 1989. This was very bad timing due to The Loma Prieta earthquake, which rendered much of the building unusable. A mandated earthquake retrofit was financially unreasonable. The property was sold to the CIA for about 10 cents on the dollar, and brought up to code by the CIA. Greystone became the second CIA campus after Hyde Park, NY.

I had eaten at NAO, the restaurant on the San Antonio campus, which was fabuloso. I was anxious to sample the fare here.

There are a number of dining settings at Greystone, but my dining companions (DC's) and I decided to try the Conservatory at Greystone.

This is the campus's flagship restaurant, and is open Friday and Saturday for dinner from mid May to the end of July.

The restaurant is populated mostly by Hyde Park students taking the Farm to Table course at Greystone which is executed at Greystone,

The Charles Krug Winery and other locations. The program is run by chef Larry Forgione, a legend himself.

The Conservatory has a very pleasant dining area

for diners to enjoy the innovative food served here.

My Dining companions and I decided to sample the prix fixe menu

Keep in mind these dishes are very complex and I will touch on the highlights.

The Amuse was a wonderful in house cured charcuterie plate.

Guanciale (cured pork jowl), Lonza (cured pork loin), Coppa (cured pork shoulder), duck prosciutto, chicken pate, squab Soprasetta (squab salami), olives, peach chutney and homemade Chevre. Although my dining companions picked at this, I had the lion's share and as such, in some cases, I was in hog heaven.

Course two was an ale braised Wakefield Cabbage (heirloom cabbage) salad.

Seneca Blue Dancing Corn meal, an heirloom variety, was made into polenta and plopped atop a smoked Goldmine squash puree and topped with cabbage salad. Garnishes were radishes, fennel fronds, Cipollini onions and Purple Carrot Dust.

This was really good but the polenta was cold by the time it got to us. One dining companion, who was gluten free, received a rice flour cake that burned the palate when eaten. It's ok, they're learning.

Round three was a seafood dish.

Plated out were prawns, mussels, squid, octopus, Dungeness crab, Sea Beans, whipped lemon juice and Lovage crema. Dashi Broth, which simply is a broth made from dried kelp and dried bonito (fish) flakes, was added after serving. The problem was the dashi was cold. Well, they're learning. The flavors were very good here but would have been better if finished properly.

A pasta course was next and was a chicken raviolo, a singular ravioli dish.

My dining companions had fun with this, being unfamiliar with Italian grammar. It's ok, I am illiterate in this language also!

The raviolo, stuffed with chicken and in house made ricotta, was topped with garlic butter and Parmesan. Very, very good and the starch was an intelligent and well thought bridge between the previous soup dish and the upcoming main dish.

The main dish was brilliant.

A Five Dot Ranch seared strip loin was served with a bone marrow/merlot sauce, arugala, merlot/plum butter, potatoes, onions and chicharrone crumbles. Heaven!

The dessert was a knockout. Caramelized Semi Freddo, which is kind of a frozen mousse still spreadable.

This was served atop a strawberry and nectarine compote and garnished with rhubarb/strawberry dust and puffed Sorghum kernels. So we had this wonderful caramel "gelato" dessert with the citrus and tart (rhubarb) strawberry notes and popcorn. Brilliant and exceptional.

Greystone is a very interesting property. It has a robust history and now has the "cache" of the CIA. The food, with a couple of flaws, was very good. I am intrigued by the depth and complexity of the offerings at The Conservatory. So much so I would like to go back next year.

That's that for another post on Forks.

The CIA at Greystone
2555 Main St.
St. Helena, CA 94574

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Dinner at India's Grill

is a restaurant in Fort Myers, FL serving Indian Cuisine. There are many types of Regional Indian Cuisines but the fare here is eclectic and draws from many of these. The restaurant, at the time of this writing, has been open about 6 months.

India's Grill shares a building with a national doughnut/coffee chain and has a low profile (especially during daylight hours). It was confusing at first but I eventually managed to find it. 

The interior dining space is simple, and low key. 

My dining companion (DC) and I ordered a few items from their Menu.

I ordered the Chilli Chicken as a starter.

It was not bad, but a bit heavy for an appitizer. The fried aspect of this dish was very filling and cut into our 2 main courses a bit.

Goat dishes are uncommon in this area, and I was pleased to find out virtually everything on the menu could be prepared with this meat.

I ordered the goat Saag. Saag is a type of Indian curry and refers to the green leafy vegetables in it such as spinach.

It was very good and served with Basmati rice.

DC ordered Lamb Nihari.

This is a very flavorful curry dish made that much better by the addition of a bit of red wine. It was served on made in house Naan to soak up all that deliciousness. 

They also have a daily lunch buffet.

India's Grill buffet offerings include 4 vegetarian and 4 non-vegetarian items, 2 types of Pakora, or Indian vegetable fritters and 2 types of rice among other items.

On the whole the food at India's Grill was very good and I would come back without hesitation. 

That's that for another post on Forks.

India's Grill
4724 S. Cleveland Ave.
Fort Myers, FL 33907

Friday, July 8, 2016

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Preserve and Lunch at Solbar

are the tallest living things on earth. They can grow up to 400 feet tall, be 30 feet in circumference and 1200-1800 years old. Unfortunately, about 70% of old (first) growth has been decimated by environmental changes or logging.

Their natural habitat runs from Monterey, CA to Southwest OR. Their range is about 500 miles long and from 5-50 miles in width on this western coastline. Fires seems to help the growth of these magnificent trees as they are fire resistant and fires decrease competing species.

The tallest trees are in foggy areas. As the redwoods grow taller, the leaves are more challenged to obtain water from their roots. When there is fog, the canopies of these trees can absorb water directly from the leaves aiding their growth.

On a recent trip to Sonoma County, CA my dining companion (DC) and I arrived at our destination early. We happened upon Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Preserve.

This is a state park that is about 800 acres and is located north of Gurneville (Gurn-vil), CA. It was bought by the County of Sonoma in 1917, turned into a State Park in 1934 and was opened to the public in 1936. We hiked about 5 miles through some very nice trails

and experienced the beauty of the redwoods.

DC and I got lost, and ended up hiking about 5 miles on some really steep grades. This was not the best plan as I walked the whole way in driving shoes. By the time we got back to the car, a rest and a good meal were in order.

From here, we headed north to Calistoga, CA for lunch at Solbar,

a Michelin-Starred restaurant that is part of the Solage resort in Calistoga. What is a Michelin rating all about? I was told by a friend that to understand the rating system, start with the Michelin Inspectors, or the anonymous foot soldiers who provide the restaurant evaluations. Here is a really good account of the process published in the The New Yorker a number of years ago, Lunch with "M".

The restaurant has that understated elegant feel to it in the bar,

restaurant proper

and outdoor dining areas.

DC and I sampled a number of things from their lunch Menu.

The first was the beet salad.

Red and yellow beets were served with frisee, avocado Green Goddess dressing, red grapefruit, watercress and beet chips. Very nice.

We then moved on to the Yellowfin Tuna sliders.

These were served with cilantro, black garlic sauce and kohlrabi slaw on in house made steam buns. Not bad.

We split a Cobb salad and here was one of the splits, very generous.

If you can never remember what makes up one of these salads, remember the acronym, EAT COBB (egg, avocado, tomato, chicken, onion bacon and blue cheese ( Point Reyes ).

This was a very nice lunch in a relaxed, elegant setting with excellent service. Highly recommended.

That's that for another post on Forks.

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Preserve
17000 Armstrong Woods Rd.
Guerneville, CA 95446

755 Silverado Trail
Calistoga, CA 94515