Iron Horse Blog
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!