Iron Horse Blog
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!
We were dreaming of a green Christmas this year and we got it. Thank you Santa! A near average amount of rain, bringing the hills back to life.
Even more importantly, we have snowpack to the Sierras.
The Sierra Nevada Snowpack currently stands at 105% of normal - the first time above average since 2012.
This is a remarkable milestone in a state where snow was virtually absent even at the highest elevations well into February last winter, and has been consistently far below average for four consecutive years. The early season storms in NorCal have been cold ones, creating a very healthy accumulation of snow across even in the middle elevation.
Think back to April 1 when Jerry Brown at Echo Summit in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, walking across dry grass, announced the first ever mandatory water cutbacks of 25%. The Governors of California have trekked to that spot for 65 years and this was the first time there was no snow.
Snowpack contributes about 30 percent of California's water supply. This season’s first measurement was last Wednesday, December 30. The next will be April 1.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we recorded about seven inches of rain in December. The hills have greened-up. There’s water running down the creek.
We actually had flooding for two days, closing off the main entrance to the winery. All visitors, tasters, workers, the office, tasting room team, FedEx trucks had to go around the back way – a solid 30 minute detour, two days before Christmas. It was hard not to complain. We need the water. And it is amazing how many intrepid tasters there are.
The week leading up to New Year’s was old and dry with blue skies, puffy grey clouds and sometimes rainbows in our view.
We started pruning mid-month. We are pruning as if the drought will continue, deciding to err of the side of caution, though it means lowering our sights again in terms of crop sisze. The vineyard teams were given golf pencils with instructions that only shoots bigger than the pencil could be pruned down to two buds (meaning two shoots per position), anything smaller, would be pruned to one bud.
We are hoping for nice, steady, but not overwhelming rain in January. More specifically, we’d like for the storms to unfold with ideally a two-day lull between each one to allow the water to seep into the ground and not just rush off down the creek to the Ocean, please.
Wish for a good El Nino!
Happy Winter Solstice! The official start of winter. Meteorologists consider December 1 as the first day of winter, but the season's celestial start is tonight.
Though the entire day is "observed", solstice occurs at a specific time - the same time everywhere on Earth when the North Pole is tilted farthest from the sun.
It is the shortest day of the year ... and the longest night.
This certainly deserves a toast!
Winter Solstice as a celebration goes back millennia. The most famous at Stonehenge, seemingly built for this specific astrological event as the stones are aligned on a sight-line that points directly to the winter solstice sunset.
Ancient Romans celebrated with the Feast of Saturnalia - a festival that lasted seven days with banquets honoring Saturn, father of the gods. These Saturnalian banquets were held as far back at 217 BCE.
Pre-Christian Scandinavia celebrated the winter solstice with the Feast of Juul and the burning of a log, which became the traditional Yule log.
A perfect way to celebrate tonight is by cozying up with a wood burning fire (or lots of candles) and a glass or two of bubbly.
It is also a perfect occasion to say thank you for your role in making this such a gratifying year for us. Please know that we are toasting you and send our warmest wishes.
‘Tis the season for gift guides, discount codes (insider tip: use code HOLLY for $10 shipping valid through 12/15 on three or more bottles) and predictions for the year ahead.
I know it’s hard to believe, but 2016 is coming on fast. As a winery deeply rooted in our home place, we generally operate outside the trendy category, striving for classic, true to our vineyards, always in style, elegance and balance. But it is exciting to get a glimpse into the data based forecasts for where our cohorts are headed and we are tickled to find ourselves “ahead of the curve."
Since we’re in the gift-giving mood, we’ve rounded up some of the stand out themes from our future gazing friends.
One such visionary is Kimberly Charles, founder of Charles Communications Associates, who provides perspective on volume (bookmark Kimblery's blog for access to her extremely valuable insights at All the Swirl). In our data focused chat, Kimberly explains that global wine consumption is up 5.3% and she estimates we’ll enjoy 35 billion bottles in 2016. Yes that’s billion with a b … with plenty of room to continue growing in the U.S (more on that growth here). This is where the Millennials come in. They grew up watching their parents drink wine, see it as a daily pleasure, and according to a report from Canadian Investment Bank RBC Capital Markets, Millennials want premium bottles.
Trend spotter Andrew Freeman of AF & Co proclaims in his 2016 Trends Report that consumers are enjoying a case of “multiple personality disorder.” In other words, we want the best of all worlds. We participate in wellness movements favoring moderation, then swing to indulgent experiences, sometimes in just a matter of hours.
Here are some trends to watch for in 2016 in the Food World:
Vegetables are the hero, especially amongst Millennials. People want less animal protein and support veggies as a “center of the plate component.”
Hawaiian is the cuisine du-jour. It’s the latest regional “New American” food in the spotlight.
The spicier, the better! Even desserts are getting the fiery treatment as data shows that embracing the heat is not only delicious, but healthy.
Table service at upscale restaurants livens up in a response to a Millennial demand to be entertained and get a peek at what’s happening behind the scenes. Chefs themselves are getting in on the action upping the ante on engaging experiences.
Brunch becomes a main event. Even health nuts are relishing the opportunity to throw caution to the wind once a week during brunch, indulging in the carb heavy, over the top feast.
Now for the Beverage World:
Bubbles mania reigns. But we knew that! Sparkling Wine has captured the imagination of the public beyond celebrating special occasions. The growth of bubbles dwarfs that of still wines (see image). Restaurants are embracing this trend with expanded offerings. As Kimberly Charles declares, “There’s is a virality to hearing the pop of a cork, you want to be part of it.” We certainly agree! According to consumer products analyst Nik Modi at RBC Capital Markets, the rise in Sparkng Wine sales dwarfs still wine sales.
Note: In economists' terms, C0nsumer Value = the ratio of product price to product benefit
Stylistically, white wines are showing more restraint - lower alcohols, less oak, brighter acidity - a trend that’s part of our core values at Iron Horse.
Chardonnay is America’s #1 selling varietal, showing double digit growth. Even traditional red wine drinkers are exploring more white wines.
Coffee gets a modern makeover. New techniques and flavors create balanced and “treatful” beverages.
Instagram worthy embellished cocktails dominate. Think gold dusted flowers, sugar stirrers, designer straws, even perfectly smoked pork belly pieces. Andrew Freeman posed the very apropo question, “If we don’t Instagram it -- did it even happen?” (By the way, we’re on Instagram @IronHorseVyds)
The Bloody Mary is having a moment. Could there be a better way to recover after a late night sampling of our “Brilliant Bubbles Collection”? We don’t think so! And none are more delicious than Diane’s Bloody Marys featured at Michael Mina’s Tailgate at Levi Stadium (mentioned on recent our Star Chef Spotlight in Michael Mina).
As we take stock of a fantastic year at Iron Horse, and give thanks for your great support and friendship, we are already looking forward to a new year of success and innovation in our continued pursuit of toast-worthy excellence.
We’d love to hear your delicious predictions for 2016. Chime in on social media and in the comments below!
Last month, we started a recurring blog series of dispatches from our Iron Horse Winemaker David Munksgard who thoughtfully selects his favorite bottles for the special circle of friends and fans in his “Winemaker’s Choice Club”. We’re excited to share his December wine recommendations, perfectly timed as we dance into the holidays. Find out what our winemaker is drinking and thinking as we get a sparkling start to Christmas and New Year celebrations!
The final 2015 Winemakers Selection of the year includes the 2010 Cuvee M (sorry to say we’re now sold out … just another reason to join the club, so you don’t miss out in the future) and the 2012 Estate Pinot Noir.
2010 Cuvee M is made entirely from a single vineyard block called Block M, planted to Stony Hill Clone of Chardonnay. This wine has great meaning to me on a very personal level. In the winter of 1974, I was visiting my father-in-law in Napa. He arranged for a visit to Stony Hill Winery in the hills above Napa Valley. On that chilly, foggy, rainy day we were greeted by Stony Hill Winemaker Mike Chelini. This was my very first visit to a winery and Mike took his time and explained things in such a way as to not intimidate anyone. Heck, he even taught me how to swirl a glass of wine. We climbed on barrel stacks, tasting from them with a glass wine thief. That first winery experience could not have been better. And I fell in love with that specific clone of Chardonnay.
Twenty-two years later, I arrived at Iron Horse to be their new winemaker. I quickly learned that they had two blocks planted to the Stony Hill Clone; one was Block M. In 2010, I decided to pick block M early and use it for bubbly. The wine from this picking was so stunningly unique, it screamed to be bottled on its own.
Soon after, both blocks of Stony Hill were pulled out due to old age and replanted to Pinot Noir. Though I lost the vineyards of Stony Hill Clone, I still had the wine in time capsule fashion.
Stony Hill Clone to me has always been a benchmark, displaying lean citrus elements along with a signature of wet stone minerality. This is the only vintage we made of this wine. Total production was a mere 200 cases. Ready to impress now, this rarity will continue to gain in complexity well over the next eight to ten years with proper storage.
The 2012 Estate Pinot Noir is the still wine I chose for the December Club shipment. This wine’s evolution has been fun to follow as it continues to gain complexity and supple structure. Enjoy with your holiday meals or stash it away for three to five more years to enjoy those dried rose petal and herbal tones that bottle age brings.
All my very best wishes,
We’re starting a monthly blog series of dispatches from our Iron Horse Winemaker David Munksgard who thoughtfully selects his favorite bottles for the uniquely fanatical wine club members in his “Winemaker’s Choice Club”. We’re excited to share his November wine recommendations, perfectly timed as much of the country is already bundling up for winter. Find out what our winemaker is drinking and thinking as we get a propitious start to Thanksgiving celebrations with the full moon on the 25th!
For the November 2015 Winemaker’s Selection I’ve chosen a Sparkler and a Pinot Noir.
The bubbly is the 2011 Winter’s Cuvee. As I write, much of the country has received an early start to winter. The Northeast has just received its first snowfall, in some places, while the fall colors were still at their peak. The pictures I saw on the Weather Channel were amazing.
Winter’s Cuvee is my vision of the perfect bubbly for cold weather sipping. The dosage for the 2011 Winter’s Cuvee is unique. In order to give it a bit more of an aged tone, I made a sugar-wine syrup from 1980 Blanc de Blanc that was just disgorged off its fermentation lees (yeast). That along with a bit of estate 1987 Pinot Noir brandy gives this wine a toasty, yeasty creaminess that lingers deliciously in your mouth. Winter’s Cuvee sells out very quickly every year. If you plan on doing any holiday celebrating that involves bubbly, you might want to place your orders for extra ASAP. The drinking window on this wine is from now for the next two years, if properly stored.
The still Pinot Noir in this shipment is the 2013 North Block. Comprised solely of the Calera Clone, this wine displays a bright red fruit focus that is extraordinary for a wine this young. Supple and brimming with ripe flavors, every sip demands yet another. Drinking window on this wine is now to the next four to five years (possibly much longer), again, if properly stored. I’m going to be enjoying some this winter, and then age the remainder for three years and try it again.
All my very best,