Iron Horse Blog
The allure of buried treasure beguiles us as children. We trudge through our backyards guided by maps which point us to the spot marked X. Ah! The excitement of discovering something hidden.
This is an experience which eludes most of us as adults. That was, until our cellar master discovered a cache of long forgotten, unlabeled magnums of Sparkling Wine from various vintages going back 10-15 years. A treasure trove of beautifully aged bubbly - 30 cases of this, 40 cases of that, from seven vintages and 13 different base wines. The first vintage of Joy! was a 1991, which we released in spring of 2007.
Today, the Joy! project is in full bloom. The new release, vintage 2003, makes its debut Friday, March 18th (details about Release Day Joy! at the vineyard here). Shop it here.
To sip this wine is to experience the magic of 12 years aging in contact with the yeast before disgorging. As winemaker David Munksgard explains, it takes a full 12 years for the wine’s alcohol and acid to have the time to dissolve the goodness inside the yeast’s mitochondria (break out those biology textbooks!). Once released, those "goodies" (amino acids, proteins, and fatty acids) achieve two things, both hallmarks of truly beautiful bubbles. They contribute to the umami experience and the fatty acids coat the bubbles which making the perfect, pin point, tiny orbs that accumulate at the surface of the glass creating a “foam cap” or crown. The result is an especially creamy texture and nutty, brioche aromas.
I wish I could say that we planned Joy!, but I do feel it is to our credit that we hold onto these magnums for so long. As everyone in business knows, the most expensive thing you can do is hold onto inventory.
There is no doubt in my mind that longer aging is the key to creating the greatest California Sparklings, second only to vineyard site. The longer the time en tirage, the smaller the bubbles, leading to richer, creamier and more elegant wine. Top quality bubbly is so much about texture, which can only come from extended time on the lees. When you are drinking a tete de cuvee, like Joy!, you should not even have to swallow. It should just effervesce away in your mouth. (See our blog post on The Science behind the Magic, October 2015).
David says that he doesn’t know of any other California producers nor many French houses making this kind of time investment. (Maybe we should change the name of the wine to Patience?) That said, we urge you to be completely spontaneous in drinking Joy! We’ve already held onto to it long enough and David is always quick to remind us that even the most special wines are not made to be revered, but shared and enjoyed.
Here are his tasting notes:
"By nose, yeast and toasted hazelnut lead the way to grapefruit and baked apple scents with a hint of ginger. By mouth, your first impression is more sensual than taste. Full, rich and yet youthful and bright all at once. The most perfect lemon curd; creamy richness with freshness and bright finish. It is lush and refined like a silky ribbon."
How can you resist?
It has been four long, thirsty years since we have had any Joy! to share. That was the 1999 vintage, which won a near perfect 98 point score in Wine Enthusiast, 93 Points from Robert Parker and 93 points from Wine & Spirits.
The reviews were spectacular:
“Graceful and refined, with crisp apple and yeasty lemon aromas that lead to complex flavors of toasted almond, ginger and spicy mineral. Finishes with pinpoint crispness.”
“Light gold in the glass with aromas of wet stones, lemon, and roasted nuts, this wine tastes of bright apple, lemon, buttered toast, long finish. Wonderful acidity. One of the finest made in California”
“A deft blend of richness and delicacy, offering mature aromas of spiced apple, almond and cinnamon, with opulent flavors of toasty crème brûlée, laced with notes of mineral and ginger. Great length.”
We were greatly honored when it was served to the Queen of England at a State Dinner at the Ambassador's residence in London, Winfield House, in 2011.
Fortunately, the four year “drought” has been worth the wait! The current release is 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. The disgorging date (day/month/year) is on the back of each bottle.
Spring forth and enjoy!
Never missing a reason to celebrate, today I raise a glass to International Women’s Day. #IWD2016. The theme this year is parity: 50-50 by 2030, which inspired internet sleuthing to ascertain how the wine world (and agriculture generally) is fairing vis a vis parity.
we've come a long way baby!
Most visible are the women whose names are on the bottle: Gina Gallo, Delia Viader, Merry Edwards, Kathleen Heitz Myers, Marimar Torres (Marimar Estate), Katherine Hall, Beth Nichols (Far Niente), Beth Novak Milliken (Spottswood), yours truly (Iron Horse), Cristina Mariani-May (Castello Banfi), and most famous of all, Barbe-Nicole Clicquot (biography of the Veuve Clicquot is a must read).
A recent Women Winemakers of California study called “How Many Women” shows that 29% of the lead winemakers in Napa are women, but statewide, the average is just 9.8%. There’s clearly room for growth.
Barrie Sterling in the vineyards - Vintage 2014
We can point to some key pioneers who may help the global community reach a glorious tipping point of parity. For example, the most powerful wine buyer on the planet is a woman. Annette Alvarez-Peters is responsible for more than $1 billion worth in wine sales every year in over 300 Costco stores across the country. Costco is the sixth largest retailer in the US and number seven in the world.
We are fabulously wealthy in women wine writers and influencers - Esther Mobley of San Francisco Chronicle, Virginie Boone of Wine Enthusiast, Peg Melnick and Michelle Anna Jordan of The Press Democrat, radio personality Ziggy Eschliman, TV star Leslie Sbrocco, Karen MacNeil author of the Wine Bible, Sarah Schneider of Sunset Magazine, Adrienne Shubin, The Rich Life (On a Budget) blogger, Jo Diaz and Twitter stars Amy Lieberfarb, #SonomaChat, Nannette Eaton, @Wine Harlots and our very own social media maven Shana Ray Bull ... to name just a few locally based here in Northern California.
The growing stature of women in wine is a no brainer for many reasons. Selling wine is a natural fit as it is fundamentally a relationship business. There is a long and marvelous history of women at the forefront, like the aforementioned Veuve Clicquot. An additional advantage is that women naturally are better tasters because we are generally endowed with more taste buds then men. Can’t argue with the science. (http://www.nataliemaclean.com/blog/women-wine-tasting/)
One area where we are weak is at the upper echelon of the major wine and spirits distribution companies. As big as they are, they are also family businesses, which puts an interesting slant on the question of why there isn’t a woman of my generation running any one of them. Where are the daughters and the granddaughters? I guess they don’t want to, which perhaps says something about the distribution end of the business.
Vineyard and cellar work are physically demanding, but no harder than being a firefighter. In the vineyards, 25% of the workers are women. My parents recall that many of the harvest crews they hired in the ‘70s included women, often young mothers who brought their little children to work. In fact, my mother set up an ad-hoc daycare, hiring our foreman’s teenage daughter to watch over the children and read to them in English.
Today’s vineyard workers are a different generation. Rightly so, the pay scale is rising and will continue to rise to ensure we have qualified, highly trained teams to bring our products literally to fruition. The demanding nature of this work in no way discriminates against women, especially in the judgement and professionalism required to bring in the best grapes.
My personal experience is atypical in that I am without doubt the luckiest person walking. Just read my bio. I have had every conceivable advantage. As I always say, the first smartest thing I ever did was pick my parents. But I feel very strongly that the wine and food world along with agriculture in general ARE and SHOULD BE very attractive for women.
My advice to young women entering the wine world is to start in a winery tasting room, wine retail store, or a country club, golf club or yacht club. Constantly put yourself in a position to be tasting new, exciting and diverse wines. Join or create a tasting group. I strongly support the Sommelier Guild primarily because of their commitment to mentorship.
For additional perspective, we reflected on this day with three women I admire: Karen Ross, California State Secretary of Agriculture, Helene Dillard, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis, Anita Cook Motard, who (full disclosure) heads Strategic Account Sales for our Texas distributor, Glazer’s Wholesale Co and serves on the advisory board for Women of the Vine, each recently interviewed by our ace blogger Tarin Teno. These women are leaders who have accomplished great success. Their end goals are diverse, but the common theme in each interview is the importance of a network.
Three Cheers for our Three Interviewees!
Karen Ross, California State Secretary of Agriculture
Tell us a bit about your professional path to this point: I grew up on a farm in Nebraska and spent my early years fighting my place in agribusiness. But as an adult, each job I took brought me back closer to that world (Note: prior to Secretary Ross’ appointment to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, she was chief of staff for US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and also served as President of the California Association of Winegrape Growers from 1996-2009). It all came full circle when I was able to buy out my dad’s share of our farm. There’s a connectivity to nature that you can’t deny, it reflects the seasons of our lives and the lessons of hard work.
Who is your role model?: My dad was the most influential force in my life. He was all about positive thinking and instilled the belief that you can achieve anything you want. He was raised by a strong female, my grandmother, who ran the business on the farm in his childhood years.
Give us a snapshot of where we are in the parity struggle from where you sit: Today, the vast majority of people working on agricultural matters in Sacramento are women. I surmise that this over 50% skew has to do with women deftly grasping the issues and having strong communication skills. But while there has been a large transformation in the group working as advocates in the capital, the legislative body has changed more slowly. The elected bodies are still not 50-50 despite the fact that Governor Brown’s governing body is quite diverse.
What is your proudest accomplishment to date?: The creation of the California Sustainable Wine Growing Program. We brought the wine community together and set the tone for other farming communities like the almond growers. I’m also proud to have been part of children's wellness initiatives, particularly the Let’s Move partnership with the First Lady.
What woman (in any field, in history or thriving today) do you most admire?: It would be really easy for me to say Mother Theresa because of the compassion with which she lived.. I believe in a principle which drove her - if we don’t take care of the weakest link in our chain, we will have nothing.
What advice do you have for young women who are interested in food, wine and agriculture?: I get to spend a lot of time with young people n high school and college across the state. I see so many women getting involved, there is definitely a renaissance of interest at the intersection of agriculture, food, and the environment. I encourage this injection of energy, which is at our foundation. Agriculture has always been innovative; the wine industry is a great example of that. This new generation, of women and men, have a passion for a larger mission of being connected to our natural resources and producing what humanity needs as our populations expand. I tell them to explore their interests; You just have to be willing to work hard.
Helene Dillard, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis
Tell us a bit about your professional path to this point: I grew up in California, born and raised in San Francisco. At an early age - I knew I wanted to be a biologist but wasn’t able to pinpoint what I wanted to do within that. So I went to UC Berkeley as an undergrad and majored in biology of natural resources where I gravitated towards agriculture. It was in a Ph.D. program at UC Davis that I found my passion in soil and plant pathology (and a Ph.D. to add to her M.S. degree in soil science). I was fortunate to land a professorial job at Cornell. I had a 50% research and 50% extension assignment and kept very busy with the plant diseases in the North East for 30 years. I was chosen for many leadership positions during my time there and before I knew it, I was recruited for the position of Dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis in January 2014.
Who is your role model?: I owe my success to my parents who identified my childhood interest in science. I received things like chemistry sets at Christmas. Though my parents weren’t traditionally wealthy, they were rich in understanding and they pushed to foster my early proclivities. I remember looking through that first microscope at onion skins and being captivated.
Give us a snapshot of where we are in the parity struggle from where you sit: UC Davis is a premier branch of the California State University System. The average grade for incoming freshman last fall was 4.0. There are four undergraduate colleges. The College of Agriculture has an enrollment of 7,000 students - 69% are female … and we are growing. The trend is quite interesting and I often wonder what was the tipping point.. It’s something that we’re looking to evaluate with more data points. As educators, we’re also interested in maintaining a balance as is important in any ecosystem. We want to make sure that we’re nurturing young men as well as low income, first generation, and minority students. I’m proud to say we’re doing well with that last contingent. 50% of UC Davis students receive financial aid.
What advice do you have for young women who are interested in food, wine and agriculture?: Today at UC Davis, the competitive pressure is intense. As Dean, one of the things I do at orientation is encourage kids to enjoy their education and learn about what experiences to prioritize. It’s more important to get to the finish line and be able to contribute to the world than submitting to an A+ obsession. (We tell their parents the same thing!)
Anita Cook Motard, Strategic Accounts, Glazer’s Wholesale Co., Women of the Vine Advisory Board, Founder CHEERS
Tell us a bit about your professional path to this point: I started with Glazers as a spirits sales rep but quickly moved to wine which I deemed to be more “safe” for a woman and required fewer late nights. After four years in that role, I was promoted to sales team manager which created mixed emotions for me. Few women had occupied that position and I was nervous about overseeing friends. I took the job but had no one to guide me. I was on my own, working my way up through management.
Who is your role model?: I sadly can’t point to an influential woman who impacted my career. There are some men, bosses who directed me professionally, but women in high up roles just didn't exist.
Give us a snapshot of where we are in the parity struggle from where you sit: I feel very strongly about the importance of mentorship in early career moments, and have taken a leadership role for women’s causes internally at Glazer’s. I spoke with our Senior Vice President of Human Resources about starting a women’s group with a mission to champion diversity and inclusion. And from that conversation, CHEERS was founded. CHEERS joins a number of business resource groups within the company and is focused on connecting hardworking women while empowering them to educate, respect, and support each other. We host panel discussions with major influencers and are looking to formalize the mentoring program by this time next year. It’s our top priority.
What advice do you have for young women who are interested in food, wine and agriculture?: The industry was in a different place when I was building my career. I encourage women to connect and support each other through informal check-ins whether it involves lunch dates or bubbles. As a woman in a leadership role, it’s my responsibility to fill the void and encourage women who have the will to work their way through the ranks.
And so, a toast on this International Women’s Day, March 8, 2016 - ideally with Iron Horse 2011 Brut X (for the X chromosome!), honoring the pioneering spirit of the women who have made significant inroads for future generations, celebrating progress and cheering the continued momentum to achieve parity. It’s our responsibility, and joy, to be part of the movement.
Leap Day is upon us. For members of the Leap Year Baby Society, this extra day is an existential threat to annual birthday celebrations. To all those born on February 29, we toast and thank you for restoring balance to our seasons.
For us, balance is key … in wine as in nature. In that ongoing pursuit, Iron Horse Ranch & Vineyards General Manager Laurence Sterling is engaged in restoring Green Valley Creek, which bisects the Estate. As you’ll read in his recap below, there has been a “leap forward” thanks to a rich pool of experts. Because of this commitment to balance and conservation, we find ourselves the happy beneficiaries of one of Mother Nature’s sweetest gifts. Our open windows at night bring in the enchanting chorus of singing frogs living in “harmony” along the creek.
For a number of years The California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Marine Fisheries Service have been engaged in a complex effort to restore Coho Salmon and Steelhead Trout in the Russian River and its tributaries, including Green Valley Creek that runs through Iron Horse. Their plan has been to recover, recover, hatch and release thousands of carefully selected fish, many of which were released at our bridge. But, as Kermit the Frog pointed out so presciently, “it’s not easy being green.” Obviously the drought, which is far from over, hasn’t helped. Another problem has been decades of human interference with the riparian habitat, some good and some not so good.
Pic from April 15, 2015 @CASeaGrant
In 2014 a senior biologist from California Department of Fish and Wildlife came by with some aides. They had been going through old files and found a picture of a dam on the creek that might be interfering with the fishes’ migration and asked if they could look for it. They found a dam. Not the same one as in the picture, but nonetheless a significant impediment. Our vineyard team was able to get it raised, which has helped, but it is still a problem and has to be removed.
The next problem is what happens when it does rain. When the flows are too fast the juvenile fish can often be swept out to the river and then eaten by the Sea Bass. So we’ve now met with a number of CDFW and the Gold Ridge Resources Conservation District biologists, engineers, project managers and even a Johns Hopkins trained Senior Fluvial Geo-morphologist (she studies how rivers and creeks change and can be changed) to begin a four to five year plan, starting with removal of the dam and then progressing with the creation of an off-channel fish habitat in our floodplain. The goals are to make it easier for the fish to pass through Iron Horse on their way up and down the creek, and to improve their chances of surviving. Execution isn’t easy, but if successful we may also be able to harness some of the seasonal flooding, which now is simply wasted water.
The next project is to see if we can restore an old storage pond once known as Duck Lake (a bit of an exaggeration) which is now overgrown with willows and other vegetation for possible storm water storage to feed various pools in the summer and keep the water temperature cool enough for the health of the fish.
Our hope is to go beyond being ‘fish friendly.’ We can’t return the creek to what it was before the Gold Rush. There are too many roads, bridges, culverts, artificial lakes and reservoirs to think we’ll be able to go back to some golden age. But with proper aforethought, design, and execution; it may be that not too long from now our creek will be vibrant and alive.
For more information about the University of California SeaGrant monitoring program, check out their webpage here. You’ll find an in depth explanation of their scientific methodology including information on the PIT tag technology which allows us to so carefully monitor the return of adult fish in the Russian River basin. Scroll to the bottom of the page for an archive of of related news pieces on this topic which ran in the Press Democrat in years past. This collection of news stories effectively establishes the chronology of the problem as well as the strategies employed to address it. Please reach out for ways you can help. And, Happy Leap Day!
There’s so much to love at Iron Horse this month. Our Valentine’s Day Blog expounded on perfect food and wine pairings and today we’re honoring another pairing that’s near and dear to our hearts as the marriage of Winemaker David Munksgard and Iron Horse Vineyards marks its 20th anniversary.
The match was brokered by Iron Horse co-founder Barry Sterling all those years ago and ushered in an era of perpetual momentum at Iron Horse. David remembers it as a moment of kismet. And the magic continues.
Two decades in one role is a rarity. But for David, it hasn’t eliminated the element of freshness. “In many way, it’s like I just got here,” he says. “With each vintage, the excitement of taking on something new and all the challenges that come with a new adventure are still energizing.”
The key is his continued curiosity. David has more questions now than he did in his first year of making sparkling wines in 1982 at Chateau St. Jean. His track record of excellence is linked to his humility and his openness to new and improved methodologies.
When asked about his proudest Iron Horse moment, he didn’t hesitate. He immediately reflected on this past harvest, which presented challenges he’d never before encountered. Find the complete 2015 fall harvest recap blog here. David fought for every grape this year with Laurence’s support and the vineyard team’s dedication. “I don’t know of another winery that could have pulled something like that off. It goes back to being an Estate Winery. The word “Estate” means you can pull off extraordinary efforts when a vintage isn’t delivered to you with a ribbon on it.”
David has a very romantic connection to his craft and he loves interacting with fans in our Tasting Room who gush over stories of engagements and marriages that have been celebrated with bottles of Iron Horse. “Wine is incredibly romantic. So much poetry has been written about wine and I understand why."
So, as we celebrate David, we take a moment to celebrate this gracious gentleman whose work is an exercise in balance, finesse and elegant restraint.“Winemaking is all about tiny, nuanced differences,” he says.
On David’s first day, he promised Joy that every vintage would be better than the last. And he has been true to his word. When I asked him about his favorite vintage, he didn’t dare chose one. “I don’t live in the past, but in the future. I’m always most excited about the wines we haven’t bottled yet. I have a lot of plans for the next harvest.”
David has just completed assembling the 2015 blends. There’s a special excitement around the 2015 Winery Block Pinot Noir and how the wine from that Single Vineyard on the Estate has evolved as the vines themselves mature.
He is also in the midst of disgorging 2003 Joy! A project which has occupied David’s imagination for years. The new vintage gets released March 17 (event details are here).
Please join us in raising a flute to David and drink in the passion that he infuses into each bottle. “For those of us fortunate enough to be making wine, it is not that we should be winemakers, we simply MUST be winemakers. Nothing else will satisfy that need to craft; to imprint onto and into our wines what we feel and see when we walk the vineyard and dream of what it might be.”
When something is meant to be, it comes easily. Effortless, perfect pairings are on our mind this Valentine’s Day. Since matching people is decidedly more challenging than picking the ideal Iron Horse bottle for a magical moment - say a sip of sparkling with a sumptuous bite, we’re taking on the latter in a display of our affection for you. So, as you embark upon the all-consuming act of kindling love new or tried and true this Valentine’s Day, Iron Horse & our team of expert friends are here to provide fuel for your sensory expression of devotion.
Leslie Sbrocco, co-founder of WineToday.com was nothing short of poetic when we called her up to chat about the topic. The expert whose resume includes a James Beard Award, three Emmy’s and three Taste Awards, was travelling to a Today Show segment touting Valentine’s wine menu suggestions when she told us, “It’s very easy to fall in love with Iron Horse wines that’s for sure.” From there we were off to the races., “ I’m sure many a romance has been started and nurtured over bottles of Iron Horse bubbles.” When Leslie thinks of this holiday, she always thinks about bubbles first, specifically rosé bubbly. (In fact, our expert has honored her love of rosé bubbles with a tattoo!).
Leslie says she would start her evening with our 2008 Brut Rose, which is bold and exciting and surprisingly dry. In terms of food pairings, she is a big fan of potato chips and popcorn. “I recommend styling a playful popcorn bar. Pop up your favorite popcorn and pour on truffle oil with sea salt and cracked pepper. This goes beautifully with the Rose or the 2012 Wedding Cuvee. If you want spicy, add peanut oil and paprika. I’ve even tried Espelette peppers from my recent trip to Basque country.” An enticing, spicy spread to woo your lover.
When Leslie thinks in terms of preparing a main course, the Iron Horse UnOaked Chardonnay (lovingly described as “naked chardonnay”) is a very easy match for food. Our winemaker agrees. In fact, David’s affinity for this new vintage feels a lot like new love. Anyone who goes to visit him after a trip to our tasting room has heard him describe the 2014 production as our best ever. Leslie advises something as simple as picking up a whole roast chicken at the market and preparing a quick and easy Dijon sauce as an accompaniment. You won’t break a sweat…. until you want to of course!
And chocolate. There must be chocolate! How can one avoid its allure?? Leslie certainly goes in for the kill when guiding this denouement to the Valentine’s Day experience. “Iron Horse’s 2012 Estate Pinot Noir pairs with darker chocolate because it’s fruity and not overly tanic, a role taken care of bythe chocolate.” She suggests a more bittersweet style with higher cacao concentration. She would personally select our Rose which can hold up against this richness. A creative pairing on her recent trip to Sydney led to her final dessert suggestion. “Everyone knows about chocolate dipped strawberries during this season. But I recently had seedless red and green grapes coated in dark chocolate and white respectively. The green grapes with white chocolate goes extremely well with Chardonnay.” Go ahead, be bold!
Our next expert, David Glancy of San Francisco Wine School, explained his take on St. Valentine celebrations. His trick for readers exploring their own pairing selection is to keep things simple. When chosen properly, the perfection of your pairing (and your date!) should be the standout. For the wine, he regularly declares something we feel passionate about as well -- “Sparkling is NEVER wrong!” He recommends crafting a sparkling tasting which can progress along with your meal. This starts with our 2012 Wedding Cuvee which is pale golden rosé and dangerously easy to drink, next onto our 2008 Brut Rosé, and finally onto a more mature vintage, like Iron Horse 2000 Brut LD. For those looking to stick with just one option through the meal, he agrees with Leslie on the point that Brut Rosé is phenomenally versatile.
When David thinks about a main course, he turns to our UnOaked Chardonnay as well. Due to the crispness of a wine that’s all about the purity of the fruit rather than the “smack of oak” as Leslie described it, he would recommend pairing a medium weight food with some creamy components. This could be anything from a brie cheese or a cream sauce. Or he would advise a second angle which is to look for fresh and crisp things to match. “Oysters on a half shell or a progression into a baked oysters and oysters Rockefeller would be great here. In fact any type of shellfish is appropriate - the in-season Dungeness crab would be a fantastic way to go.” The Iron Horse 2012 Estate Pinot Noir has a unique finish thanks to the col, foggy climate in our Green Valley. According to David, this distinctive, delicious and versatile red would go well with fish, poultry, and meat. “Salmon is a sure thing. Seared Ahi tuna could also stand up, , especially with a pepper crust. And the bright acidity of the wine could cut through the fattiness of a duck dish. Choose a sauce with red fruit and the Pinot will pop.”
To wrap up his expert guidance, David advises not to discount the power of an experiential theme. He once had a lovely lunch in the Iron Horse gazebo featuring tomatoes sourced from Barry Sterling’s renowned vegetable garden, served with our Chardonnay. “The match didn’t necessarily follow any of the food pairing theories that we teach, but it was that fresh crisp cool climate California Chardonnay with a succulent and slightly acidic tomato that pulled me in, amidst the beautiful setting.” We encourage you to mine your past experiences, replicate a moment ripe with nostalgia. The result, though perhaps not “by the book” has the potential to seduce.
And trust us on the sparkling.
Go get em Tiger!
Chinese New Year, the Year of the Monkey, starts February 8. The festivities continue for 15 days. San Francisco’s Chinese New Year parade, the biggest and oldest in the U.S., is February 20. Delicious food is the centerpiece of Chinese celebrations, so we were especially happy to get to chat with our special chef friend Ming Tsai, who gifted us with a recipe for his delicious and very lucky pot stickers. (See below.)
The Monkey is the ninth animal in the 12 year cycle. People born in the Year of the Monkey are characterised as lively, quick-witted, curious, innovative and mischievous. In addition, their gentleness and honesty bring them an everlasting love.
To celebrate, Iron Horse has created a special production of Year of the Monkey Cuvee. $5 a bottle goes to the Leakey Foundation to help protect the natural habitats of primates like the Golden Snub Nosed Monkey featured on the label.
It is a perfect birthday present year long for people born in the Year of the Monkey and as a good luck gift for parents expecting babies this year.
And here to help us understand more about the time honored Chinese New Year celebrations is Chef Ming Tsai, famed restaurateur and culinary visionary born in the Year of the Dragon. Read on for our complete interview.
You’re a very special chef friend for Iron Horse. We’re very proud that our Year of the Dragon was featured on your February 2014 menu for the State Department lunch with the former VP Xi of China. Can you recount any specific memories about the toast that day and what it meant for you to be part of it?
It was an amazing day. To be able to cook for the now President Xi and Vice President Biden was a great honor. My father was there along with my wife and he was tickled pink that cooking could bring a man so far. Biden and Hillary Clinton thanked me personally for the meal, Hillary believed that negotiations went better because of the thoughtful menu and the bonding ritual of coming together over a delicious meal. It was this positive experience which provided the impetus to create the now famous “Chef’s Core” at the State Department, Hillary saw the merit in leveraging American chefs as diplomatic aids.
I was able to meet all three leaders at the end of the meal. Because I speak Chinese, I greeted President Xi in his language. My 3-4 minute conversation had to be translated for Hillary and Biden and touched on my philosophy as a chef. I was humbled and amazed that he took time with me.
So, in addition to a career highlight, you could call this the unofficial kick off of the Chef Core!
Yes, and I’m proud to have been at the forefront of the ongoing program. The State Department recruits chefs who understand the culture of the visiting diplomats. For my part in this first dinner, I brought my understanding of Chinese preferences. Protein like duck along with hot soups are a favorite, so I took the opportunity to weave in those elements. I also served an interpretation of my signature butter fish using soy marinated butter instead of miso which is a Japanese ingredient.
Tell me a little bit about your background and what inspired you to dive into this business as a restaurateur and renowned chef.
I’ve cooked my whole life. I had a natural love for food which grew during summers in Paris while I was in college. I immersed myself in French cuisine & pastry and immediately decided I had to merge French with Chinese food. For me, these are the two master cuisines of the world which have been around for the longest time. From then on, I explored a blend of these two top techniques.
This appreciation of French production techniques is a natural point of intersection with Iron Horse!
That’s true. It’s part of why I appreciate the Iron Horse bubbles, they’re made in the US but with a French style.
You have a TV show called "Simply Ming" which airs in Boston, do you have any other interesting projects that you’re currently working on?
One cool project I’m working on is called FoodyDirect. It is a web based food delivery service offering regional favorites from over 100 different restaurants, delis, and bakeries. You literally get Blue Ginger food sent to your home with simple instructions on how to finish it off. I’m excited because FoodyDirect is now offering my signature butter fish dish which goes out goes out authentically from my hands in my kitchen. We’re also serving our pot stickers especially for the Chinese New Year, they bring good luck.
Chinese New Year is fast approaching. How do the menus that you concept reflect Chinese New Year celebrations at your restaurants?
We’ll prepare a couple special dishes and always include dumplings. The proper dumpling has a crescent shape and is said to bring prosperity. Some families hide a coin in a dumpling, the lucky bite promises an exceptionally great year. We’ll have a “whole fish” dish at Blue Dragon. Wholeness is a major theme at this holiday, it signifies completeness into the New Year. Especially with fish, have to keep a good head and tail, it suggests a great beginning and end.
How integral are bubbles in marking calendar milestones? How do your guests react to the popping of a cork in your dining rooms?
Chinese are just learning how to drink wine and I think they’ll learn as I did - that champagne is great for everything - breakfast lunch and dinner! It’s unfortunate that many think it’s only appropriate at special occasions, it should be enjoyed every day. It seamlessly cuts through fat like french fries or tempura on my menu. And the well made Iron Horse Blanc de Blancs hold up against some serious food very well.
It’s clear that you’re passionate about wine as a perfect compliment to the food portion of a celebratory meal, what will you be drinking tonight at your Chinese New Year celebration?
Iron Horse is a staple, they don’t make a bad champagne. I’ll be popping the special production Year of the Monkey Cuvee. After cooking all day at Super Bowl 50, it will be the perfect way to unwind with family and lots of dumplings.
Can you provide some guidance on a Chinese New Year inspired recipe that Iron Horse readers can create in their own home with Year of the Monkey Cuvee?
Pork and Apple Pot Stickers with Dim Sum Dipper
Makes 20 to 25 pot stickers
½ pound ground pork, (not too lean)
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 green apple, peeled, finely diced
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
1 ½ tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon sambal oelek
2 tablespoon naturally brewed soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 ½ teaspoons salt
Purchased Pot-Sticker Wrappers
2 tablespoons canola oil
Dim Sum Dipper*
1. To make the filling, combine the pork and the butter in a large bowl. Knead the butter into the pork until it is fully incorporated. Add the apple, ginger, garlic, sambal, soy sauce, sesame oil, egg and salt to the pork and mix.
2. To fill the pot stickers, place about ½ tablespoon of the filling in the center of each wrapper. Avoid getting filling on the edges of the wrapper, which would prevent proper sealing. Fold each wrapper in half to form a half-moon shape. Seal the top center of each dumpling by pressing between the fingers and, starting at the center, make 3 pleats, working toward the bottom right. Repeat, working toward the bottom left corner. Press the dumplings down gently on the work surface to flatten the bottoms.
3. Heat a large non-stick skillet over high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat. When the oil shimmers, add the pot stickers, flattened bottoms down, in rows of five and cook in batches without disturbing until brown, about 6 minutes. Add about ½ cup of water and immediately cover to avoid splattering. Lift the cover and make sure about 1/8 inch of water remains in the pan; if not, add a bit more. Steam until the pot stickers are puffy, yet firm and the water has evaporated, 8-10 minutes. If the water evaporates before the pot stickers are done, add more in ¼ cup increments. If the pot stickers seem done but water remains in the pan, drain it and return the pan to the stove top.
4. Continue to cook over high heat to allow the pot stickers to recrisp on the bottom, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the pot stickers to a platter and serve with the dipping sauce.
*Dim Sum Dipper
Makes about 1 cup
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1/3 cup scallions, green parts only, sliced 1/8 inch thick
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon sambal oelek
In a medium bowl, combine the soy sauce, vinegar, scallions, sesame oil and sambal oelek. Stir to blend and use or store.
Are you curious about your birth year in the Chinese zodiac?
The Chinese animal zodiac is a repeating cycle of 12 years, each year is represented by an animal and its reputed attributes. In order, the 12 animals are: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig.
The Iron Horse family wishes you a great Year of the Monkey filled with with happiness, bright colors, beautiful blossoms, the excitement of fireworks and, of course, delicious food and wine. Gung Hay Fat Choy!
Carnival is not a day, but a whole season in New Orleans, and who better to celebrate with than the Executive Chef at Commander’s Palace. For the past 20 years, Commander’s Palace has served our special production Commander’s Cuvee at their iconic restaurant and we’ve enjoyed visiting our Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs at the renowned landmark for even longer. Tory McPhail graciously spared some precious moments during this busy time to explain what the festivities mean for New Orleanians and how the rest of us can invoke this spirit in our own homes with Creole dishes paired with Iron Horse.
We’re feeling especially festive today following the Krewe of Cork’s picture perfect parade. This wine-centric social club celebrates the fruit of the vine, food and fun. A group after our own hearts. So today especially, we honor their motto “T.G.I.C.D.” (Thank Goodness It's Cork Day).
Tarin: The Carnival season started on January 6th and runs through February 9th, can you explain a bit about what the city looks like from your prime Commander’s Palace location?
Tory: That’s right, 12 Days after Christmas, on Twelfth Night, we kick off the fun with the Parade of the Sunny Phunny Phellows. They commandeer four street cars with an arsenal of alcohol and then run up and down the street car line from Charles Avenue down to Canal Street and back again in a Paul Revere style. This krewe heralds the coming of Mardi Gras through the most exclusive neighborhoods and from then we’re off to the races.
Tarin: How do you prepare for this and for Mardi Gras in your restaurant?
Tory: This year Mardi Gras is on February 9th, so til then it’s all about revelling in the Carnival spirit. There’s fantastic music all over the city and tourists flooding in. I try to educate our servers about the season. Our restaurant plays a key role in perpetuating what this special time means to New Orleans.
Tarin: What’s the ideal schedule for a tourist visiting during this period?
Tory: Tourists can ride the streetcar which connects the entire city together. They can walk around the Garden District and stroll by the mansions before stopping in Commander’s Palace which is right in the middle of Mardi Gras parade routes. We provide an elegant lunch set up with our curated wine menu and as the parade starts up with the clatter of drums, we encourage guests to leverage our open container laws by diving in with a bourbon cocktails to go.
Tarin: What can a guest typically find on your menu during this season?
Tory: Our staff is rejuvenated after the holidays and ready to deliver on our twice daily menu changes. We update the offering for Carnival time and offer some of our signature dishes. This includes a King Cake for dessert. But we also do savory versions which can include seared foie gras toppings and vegetable purees that invoke the colors of Mardi Gras (purple, green, and gold). We call this Mardi Foie. Overall, we don’t take ourselves seriously at all, instead we try to mirror the spirit of the city.
Tarin: Can you tell me about signature flavors and styles associated with New Orlean’s Creole cooking?
Tory: I like to say that out of towners should understand that New Orleans food is not Cajun food. Cajun is country cooking established before the days of refrigeration when hunters needed to preserve meats with heavily salting and smoking. The resulting food was hearty and rustic. But New Orleans is a port town so from the beginning, we were a ground zero for trade. Cooks and chefs in town could visit a market daily for more diverse ingredients and Creole cooking emerged with more refined styles through equally flavorful.
Tarin: This tradition of daily market trips seems related to your current strategy of produce sourcing, can you explain that a little?
Tory: I took over as an executive chef 14 years ago and always wanted to make sure that our food screamed Louisiana. So it was important to me to source produce locally to provide a fantastic product on our menus. Because we’re farmer driven, often working with groups who have been our partners for generations, we have a sous chef position dedicated to maintaining relationships with the guys out in the Bayou who provide resources like catfish. Dishes have authentic New Orleans roots which adds a lot of different dimensions of life and history. It’s this understanding of the unique virtues of small producers and a reverence for multi generational businesses that drives us to continue our great relationship with Iron Horse every year.
Tarin: You have an award-winning sommelier in Dan Davis (@cpwineguy), how does wine come into play with your big, flavorful menu items?
Tory: I really enjoy wine and just as we want our food to provide an exciting bite each time, we want our wines to do the same thing. I like floral notes, wines with balanced acidity and a lot of ripe fruit, or a decent amount of oak or vanilla. It’s important to me that the wines we chose tell the story of the vineyard, another reason that our philosophy integrates so well with the Iron Horse product.
Tarin: You pour our special production Commander’s Cuvee and have been dear friends for many years. What about these bubbles pairs perfectly with your menus?
Tory: These bubbles go with anything. A lot of our food has serious spice to it or involves a lot of richness and butteriness. So the cuvee perfectly cuts through with the right amount of acidity and effervescence. It achieves this better than any other sparkling wine out there and our guests love enjoying it year after year.
Tarin: You have a classic dish you’d like to share with our readers who want to infuse the Carnival season spirit in their own kitchens. What’s your secret recipe and what would you pair this with?
Tory: I’ve got a recipe “Crawfish Boil” Fried Chicken which goes wonderfully with sparkling wine, particularly Commander’s Cuvee.
For the Chicken:
2 – 3 ½ - 4 lb chickens (8 pieces each)
2 quarts cold water
4 tablespoons Zataraines Crab Boil
3 cups flour (divided)
3 teaspoons salt (divided)
1 ½ teaspoons black pepper (divided)
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning
Combine the chicken, water and crab boil in a large pot and marinate chicken overnight or at least 16 hours.
Remove chicken from brine & pat the skin dry. Combine 1 cup flour, 1 teaspoon salt & ½ teaspoon black pepper and coat the chicken with the mixture. Place coated chicken on a sheet pan in a single layer and allow to sit in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (this will help pull excess water from the chicken and create a crisper skin.)
Season 2 cups of flour with 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper, and 1 tsp Creole seasoning. Toss the chicken in the new flour mixture to coat liberally and shake off excess flour. Fry chicken at 350° for 12 – 14 minutes. Strain and season with more salt and pepper to taste.
For the Crab Boiled Vegetables:
3 celery ribs, cut in 1 ½ - 2 in pieces
3 ears of corn (leave on cob) cut into 1 inch thick rounds
2 small red onions (peeled) and cut into 8 pieces each through root top to bottom
4 med red potatoes cut into 4 pieces each
1 lemon cut into 8 wedges
1 orange cut into 8 wedges
1 cup Crystal hot sauce
2 tablespoons Zataraines crab boil
1 tablespoon salt
½ tablespoon black pepper
3 bay leaves
3 qts cold water
¼ cup lemon olive oil
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Combine all ingredients through bay leaves in a pot of water and marinate overnight in refrigerator.
Place pot on stove and bring to a boil over high heat. Then lower heat and simmer for 25 – 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
Strain vegetables and discard liquid. Place strained vegetables in a bowl and toss with ¼ cup of lemon olive oil and 1 bunch of roughly chopped flat leaf parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Place vegetables on a large serving platter and arrange the fried chicken over the top.
Serve with Iron Horse Commander’s Palace Cuvee
We hope you enjoy celebrating Mardi Gras with this fantastic food and wine pairing. And we’d like to send a friendly shout out to our lovely Commander’s Palace somm, Dan Davis, who is riding in the King Arthur Parade on Sunday. This is the largest krewe of the first parade weekend with over 1,000 riders but you can’t miss Dan’s winning smile and superb bead throwing skills….
“Many wine terms that are thrown around in the industry do cause some significant consternation.” This was how my discussion began with wine industry expert Andrew McNamara, The Director of Fine Wine / Master Sommelier at Breakthru Beverage Florida. That seems to be an understatement after reviewing a flood of recent to not-so-recent articles about the failed mainstream command of industry verbiage.
If prose doesn’t crystalize the “winespeak” issue for you, there are a host of somm cartoonists who have created visual satires. We’ll share a few of Maryse Chevriere’s most popular works in this blog via her inspired instagram account: @freshcutgardenhose.
The growing conflict is driven by the fact that the wine experience has become more casual, but at the same time the related language has failed to evolve along with it. With the consumer at the intersection of this disconnect, we dove into the roots of the seemingly impossible with some Iron Horse friends and experts.
When you conduct a quick search, you’ll find wine publications and mainstream periodicals alike reporting on a language breakdown along with countless “insider guides” trying to bring clarity. For example, The Drinks Business conducted a survey at the end of last year which revealed the top ten wine terms that customers are least likely to misunderstand when deciding which wines to buy. One in three don’t understand what “tart” means as a descriptor. Just 23% of people polled understood the term “terrior” and only 20% of drinkers could define “legs.”
The result is that 25% of wine drinkers found shopping for wine to be intimidating; a nightmare for the wine business. Andrew told me, “Niche terms certainly make wine less approachable than it should be. So the role of the wine expert is to make things as simple as possible.” But he also noted that it helps for consumers to get themselves into the right learning environment. It’s key to be able to pair learning about the term while actually tasting a wine with those specific characteristics.
In The Drink’s Business article “Top Misunderstood Wine Terms Revealed” their expert explains, “People want to learn more about wine and discover new tastes without being confused or awkward when buying it or talking about it with their friends.” However in order to do this, we are saddled with a limited (and some argue antiquated) lexicon including words like “herbaceous, unctuous, and quaffable” (source). Master Sommelier, Lindsey Whipple, shared real word instances where customers grasped for their own termss to describe a sensory experience. She had one man try to describe “dry”by employing the word “wet” -- justifying his choice by describing a wine that made his mouth sweat.
In an effort to decode the “jargon”, Wall Street Journal wine columnist Lettie Teague recently published “An Insider’s Guide to Weird Wine Words.” Her mission was to help bridge the gap between oenophiles and non-pros. Her guide includes words like creamy, dumb, foxy, lifted, reduced, and volatile. For now, it seems that quite a bit of effort is directed at translating rather than socializing new descriptors with greater mass appeal.
In addition to leveraging these existing language guides, expert Andrew McNamara pointed out that blossoming wine lovers should be patient. “We spend decades going through school, but how many classes did we take on how to taste or smell. We didn’t pay any attention to it! So to go into wine and expect to understand it intuitively is naive. Understanding your senses takes time and practice.” Of course, with wine, the practice part is fun!
It seems that times may be a-changing. In fact, Lindsey Whipple regularly experiences signs of consumers pushing back on tradition and coming up with their own verbiage. Working in Las Vegas, an international dining hub, she’s in a unique position to engage with new lingo auditioning for the mainstream. She hears people refer to wine as “slutty”, when a drink is very open and out there, showing itself as a heavy hitter. Or she is told to bring a “baller wine” which conveys a desire for an instagram worthy showstopper. “Guests are definitely not using brash terms like ‘Magnum Night’ in San Francisco or New York, so there is also a regional component to this,” said Lindsey. But who’s to say they are not as or more helpful than words like hollow or vegetal?
It should be noted that both Andrew and Lindsey voted the term “legs” off the wine island.. Both citing the fact that few know (or think they know) what this refers to, so the meaning has become universally diluted. And Lindsey herself offered up a word to the “common core” - to be quickly rejected. At a blind tasting with “old guard” master somms, she referred to gewurztraminer as “hooker perfume”, which based on the reactions of her colleagues might have to wait for the next generation….
It has become my tradition to write a "State of the Winery" letter ... timed to the President's State of the Union (January 12) and Governor Brown's State of the State (January 21). The tradition commences with an enumeration of accomplishments:
The great success of Summit Cuvee, commemorating the unprecedented free climb of the Dawn Wall of El Capitan almost a year ago to the day.
Jerry Brown speaking at our Earth Day event.
The honor of Iron Horse being served for the toast at the State Department luncheon sealing a milestone climate agreement between the US and China in September.
These were some of our finest moments:
Never missing an opportunity to celebrate, I am very excited to announce the release of a special, one-time only bubbly called Cuvee 50, timed for the Super Bowl.
But, least you think this wine is just a label, I recommend you come to the Tasting Room and try it. The blend is 69% Chard, 31% Pinot Noir estate grown in Green Valley, vintage 2010, freshly disgorged after four plus years aging and finished with a unique dosage. This is an outstanding bubbly, brut level dry, which we feel is a must-bring to the Super Bowl parties you will be attending from now through February 7.
Insider tip: Like all of our limited production wines, Cuvee 50 first went out to our wine club members.
I am extremely proud Sonoma County is the wine destination partner for The Super Bowl. Our wines are being featured in the Sonoma Wine Lounge on Tuesday Feb 2 and Saturday Feb 6, promising a perfect opportunity to be at the heart of Super Bowl City sipping Iron Horse.
So, this is how we are kicking off the New Year ... along with rain, which is most welcome. After our rain dance we do our happy dance!
The storms have been fairly manageable. Only a few days of flooding here and there. Those days, can be a little challenging when the bridge is flooded ... like today. There's a plastic box nailed to the fence at the entrance with a map of how to come around the back. Please enjoy the adventure of a small detour. You will have earned a sip of wine when you arrive at the Tasting Bar.
Being flooded is nothing new to my parents who amazingly are celebrating the 40th anniversary of when they purchased Iron Horse. We plan to celebrate July Fourth Weekend because of the obvious tie between 1976 and 1776 ... with the added fun that the original Victorian, my parents' home at the heart of the property, was built in 1876. So, there's a theme and a certain kismet that we celebrated the official opening of the winery on my father's 50th birthday and the 40th anniversary of them finding this special place in the year of my mother's 85th.
2016 also happens to be Winemaker David Munksgard's 20th anniversary at Iron Horse. We are going to have a cellar gathering on the actual anniversary of his first day here, but most exciting and impressive and gratifying to me is listening to David enthuse about the new base wines he is putting together for the 2015 Sparklings, which he says are stunning and our finest to date.
How lucky are we that it never grows old.
Happy 2016! The New Year comes with shiny new resolutions for many of us to improve body, mind, and spirit. Here’s one that covers all the bases - drinking more Iron Horse! Whether it’s red, white or bubbles, the latest scientific research points to a myriad of positive health benefits. We’ve catalogued the findings that will empower you to live your best year yet.
Let’s not forget that mankind has been making and drinking wine since 6000 B.C. Ancient Egyptians employed wine as medicine. Roman cities boasted wine bars on every street. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, was prescribing red wine to aid digestion in 400 B.C. Fast forward to the 1850s and find our great grand parents choosing wine over water, citing alcohol’s ability to kill bacteria.
In the last 30 years, the French have led the charge for daily wine intake (not surprising!). Their scientists were responsible for directing the current discourse related to wine’s healthy attributes. They found that red wine could prevent heart disease while increasing levels of good cholesterol and antioxidants. Danish scientists then backed this up with studies that suggested moderate red wine drinking correlated to a lower death rate, a claim strengthened by the 2003 discovery of resveratrol (source). From this point on, the body of research pointing to positive health effects of moderate wine drinking has only grown.
Today, red wine’s resveratrol still has everyone talking, especially as some say it can extend the human lifespan by 30% (source). No wonder wine industry experts point to a consistent growth line in the red wine sales category globally! Red wine’s all star component could also help prevent dying from Alzheimer’s disease, according to a Copenhagen study (source). Other reports show that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a decreased risk of colon and kidney cancer along with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (source). And red wine tannins have been associated with heart disease prevention (source). All that with one glass a day? This could be your best resolution ever!
Bubbles should not be forgotten…. especially because recent studies suggest that a glass of bubbly could help prevent memory loss. This includes possible prevention of degenerative brain disorders like dementia. The pinot noir grapes used to create sparkling wine support proteins in the brain which are linked to storing memories. While they diminish naturally as your age, drinking sparkling apparently slows or prevents this process, while improving spatial memory (source).
Of course, all of the doctors and scientists are clear about drinking in moderation. Like any medicine, alcohol can be a tonic if dosed properly. How lucky to produce a natural panacea which has the power to promote longevity and boost memory. And, so every day, we are happy to raise a glass .... to good health … and to good cheer, which may be the best medicine of all!