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Tag Archives: Porter Creek

Frills on Frills on Frills

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Bon Appetit released their ‘comfort food’ issue last week, and it’s very nearly everything. From soups to pantry meals to pastas, I dog-eared 5 pages and 14 recipes. One recipe that stood out was their Reginetti with Savoy Cabbage and Pancetta. Since I was already buying pancetta for my massive batch of minestrone soup, I figured I might as well add a few more ounces and work this recipe into my week’s grocery shop. And then Miriam’s Tuesday night plans suddenly fell through and I invited her over for dinner so that I could share this batch of frilly pasta with someone who would equally appreciate it.


Bon Appetit March 2015, p. 55


Campanelle with Savoy Cabbage and Pancetta (serves 3)

raw pancetta strips

raw pancetta strips

  • 10 oz Campanelle pasta
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 4 oz thinly sliced pancetta
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry
  • 1 small head of savoy cabbage, tough ribs removed, leaves torn
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 cup finely grated pecorino or parmesan
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • kosher salt


This recipe suggests “Reginetti, or other short pasta.” I didn’t see anything short and frilly enough after checking out the pasta aisle in a few routine grocery stores; I decided to swing by Genova Deli on my way home, because I knew they would have what I was looking for. Sure enough, they carry Barilla’s Campanelle pasta, the perfect substitution for “Reginetti” – whatever that is.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and a pinch of salt and cook for 8 minutes, until very al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking liquid.

cooked pancetta

cooked pancetta

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. Add half of the pancetta and cook for 2 minutes, then turn and cook for another 2 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain, then cook the second batch in another tablespoon of olive oil and transfer to paper towels.

Deglaze the pan with dry sherry, then add the cabbage and cook undisturbed until deeply browned in some spots – about 3 minutes. Using tongs, toss the cabbage then cook undisturbed for another 2 minutes. Continue to cook and toss until cabbage is charred in some spots and bright green in others and beginning to wilt. Add butter and thyme and continue to cook, tossing often for 2 minutes.


Add cheese, pasta, and 1 cup pasta cooking liquid and cook, tossing often until sauce is thickened and emulsified and coats pasta, about 5 minutes. Add pancetta and toss to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper, then serve immediately in shallow bowls.


IMG_1267Miriam devoured this pasta; she didn’t even speak for a few minutes other than “mmmm” and “ommmggggg”. After I was finally through with snapping photos, I dug in and joined in the chants of “mmmm”. It was almost like a carbonara, but much lighter and greener and just as delicious. The addition of the sherry not only worked to clear the burnt oil from the pan, but also added some braising liquid to the cabbage. Also, this dish just looks good with all the frills.

Miriam (unaware of the fact that Porter Creek is my favorite Sonoma winery) brought over a bottle of 2012 Porter Creek Timbervine Ranch Syrah. We enjoyed it before, during and after dinner. The wine is soft enough to be enjoyed on its own without food, but made the perfect companion to the pasta dish. With soft earth tones, hints of raspberry and meaty spice it worked well with the salty pancetta and sweet cabbage.

All in the Family

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As some of you know, I tend to gravitate towards small production, family-owned wineries. There are several reasons for this preference: a) small production lends to a higher standard for quality control, b) privacy makes for a more personal visitor’s experience, and c) the sense of authenticity that you feel when each member of the family is doing their part for the winery. I’m constantly seeking out wineries that fit into this category, and some areas of Northern California wine country are more plentiful than others in this regard. For example, Russian River Valley and Dry Creek Valley provide many opportunities to go off the beaten path, whereas you need to dig a little deeper in Napa Valley. Perhaps this is due to the cost of land, or simply the way the history of wineries has evolved in different areas. I’m hesitant to share my list of favorites with the blogosphere if only so that these places can maintain their low-key status, but I’ve vowed to support these little wineries in every way that I can. So here are just a few of my recommendations from my two favorite Sonoma County appellations.

Dry Creek Valley

A. Rafanelli – I’d been hearing about this place for the last year or so, when GGD mentioned that a former co-worker was part of the Rafanelli family. Then when I was in Dry Creek with my parents in February, they saw a sign for the winery and we tried to go, but could not get an appointment at such late notice. So this was one of the first appointments I made when I planned my recent trip to Healdsburg with GGD, Starry and J³. Not only did we get to meet Shelly, the fourth-generation winemaker, but also her father, David, who coined himself the “winemaker emeritus”. It was his grandmother that started the winery with her husband, Alberto Rafanelli, in the early 1900’s when they settled from Italy. After prohibition, their son Americo (David’s father) took on the winemaking duties and moved the winery to where it is today, planting Zinfandel and beginning to sell the wine commercially in the 1970’s. The winery is very private, with a gate code that is given to you upon making an appointment. And it’s no wonder because Shelly lives on the property with her husband and four-year-old son. During our visit they did not have many wines available to taste because most were sold out, but we did get to sample a delicious Cabernet and their upcoming Zinfandel that had just been bottled. Our host, Bob also gave us a tour of the facility and the wine caves, including their event room where Shelly’s son had constructed his own mini vineyard made of wine corks and plastic play trucks – indeed, it runs in the family.

The mini vineyard, built by Shelly's son

The mini A. Rafanelli vineyard, built by Shelly’s son

The wall of family photos at A. Rafaenelli

The wall of family photos at A. Rafaenelli

Preston of Dry Creek – This is a new favorite of mine, and I have a feeling it will continue to be for a long time (especially since my father is a new wine club member). Preston focuses on estate grown Rhone varietals, sustainability and farming. They even make their own olive oil and bread that is available for sampling (and purchase) in the tasting room. The property features beautiful picnic grounds, farm animals, artwork, and some very friendly outdoor cats. The tasting room is brightly colored and artfully decorated with a long bar, usually staffed with 3-4 people, all of whom do a great job providing attention and friendliness during your experience, even when the tasting room gets crowded on the weekends. All of these elements make it a great place to spend the afternoon, but it’s the wine that keeps bringing me back. Their list changes frequently based on what is available, but be sure to sample their Vin Gris (if it’s not already sold out), Rousanne, Grenache Blanc and Madame Preston of the white varietals. As for the reds, my favorites are the Cinsaut, Barbera, Carignan and L. Preston. It’s certainly a nice change of pace to sample such unique varietals in the midst of the more common Cabernet, Zinfandel and Pinot Noir that are abundant in this area.

The Preston tasting room

The Preston tasting room

A selection of Preston wines

A selection of Preston wines

Nalle – Open by appointment only during the week, and to the public on Saturdays, Nalle produces small-lot Chardonnay and Zinfandel. The land has been in the family since the late 1920’s, and is the winery is run by husband and wife duo, Doug and Lee Nalle along with their son and winemaker, Andrew – all of whom live on the property. I have only been to the tasting room when it was open to the public, but I imagine a private appointment is a more personal experience. That being said, I did get to talk with Andrew and Lee during my visit, both of whom were very friendly and informative about the history of the winery and the land surrounding them. The atmosphere is casual and rustic; the wines are served inside a converted barn with a living roof, at a long card table covered with a colorful table cloth, and cases piled up in the backdrop amongst an old basketball hoop mounted on the back wall. As for the wines, I particularly enjoy their Reserve Chardonnay and Vinum Clarum.


Russian River Valley

Scherrer Winery – It was J³ that introduced me to this winery when we attended the Spring Release Party. You would hardly know this place existed if it wasn’t for Google maps, and even they can point you in the wrong direction if you’re not careful. The warehouse space is located at the end of a dirt road off of Ross Station Road in Forestville (the same road that takes you to Iron Horse). On the day we went – probably because there was an event – there was a sign directing us to parking and entrance around the back of the warehouse, though J³ said this wasn’t there the last time they visited. Scherrer typically does tastings by appointment only, hosted by the winemaker, Fred. But they also host four release parties a year, where guests get to sample new wines, tasty bites, and mingle with the family. Fred’s father, Ed was hopping back and forth between two pouring stations of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, while Fred’s wife handled all the administrative duties. I believe their teenage son was helping with packaging the wines that guests purchased, while Fred’s mother was showing and selling beautiful watercolor paintings and cards. Not only do I love how family-oriented this operation is, but also that Fred and Ed both make themselves so accessible to guests. As Fred tells it on their website, he is at the winery every day doing nearly all of the work, with some help from friends and family here and there. And it certainly pays off! Their wines are elegant and true to form; particularly delicious are the Helfer Vineyard Chardonnay, King Family Vineyard Pinot Noir, Old and Mature Zinfandel, and Scherrer Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. The experience at Scherrer is warm and authentic, and I am so happy to add them to my list of favorites.

Ed and Fred taking a break to pose for a family photo

Ed and Fred Scherrer taking a break to pose for a family photo

Joseph Swan – My father introduced me to this winery many years ago when I first moved to the Bay Area. I remember being the only ones in the barrel room (also acting as tasting room) on a Spring Saturday morning. Fruit flies floated around us while we tasted multiple consecutive vintages of Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Syrah. Although their wines are some of the best in the valley, there are no pretentious vibes or fancy frills here – just real good wine served by real friendly people. As Joseph Swan said it himself, “there are few more Civilized pleasures in life then good company, good food and good wine.” When he began this winery, he believed passionately that small wineries were the best kind of wineries. Since the wine carried his own name, he insisted on overseeing every aspect of fermentation to bottling, and considered himself personally responsible for every aspect of production. As a pioneer of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, he paved the way for the current winemaker and co-owner, Rod Berglund, who is married to Joe’s daughter and co-owner, Lynn. When visiting the winery, it’s likely that you will get to sample an older vintage of Syrah or Zinfandel, and you will taste the depth of ageability that comes from small crops and persistent care.

Their logo is taken from a Thomas Bewick engraving

The Joseph Swan logo is taken from a Thomas Bewick engraving

Porter Creek – Last but not least, Porter Creek is ultimately my favorite winery in Russian River Valley. Whether it’s the friendly conversation with Jonathan (a fixture in the tasting room), the excellent and affordable Pinot Noir and Carignan that I can’t seem to get enough of, the outdoor deck where the sun is always shining, the award-wining chicken coop that’s tended to by the owner’s granddaughters… how can you not love this place? The winery is run by father and son, George and Alex Davis. George started the winery back in 1977 and handed the reins over to Alex twenty years later. Committed to the growing conditions in Russian River Valley, Porter Creek focuses on hillside grown, vineyard designated wines of Burgundian and Rhone varietals. Their Estate Pinot Noir is, to me, the best valued Pinot in Russian River Valley, and their Carignan is available at several restaurants and wine bars in San Francisco, which is convenient for my palate. Fortunately, they do not require an appointment for small groups, so you can pop in the next time you’re driving down Westside Road. Tell Jonathan I say hi.

The tasting room at Porter Creek

The tasting room at Porter Creek

So there you have it. Some of you serious wine collectors may have heard of a few of these places, and I encourage you to visit them the next time you’re in the area. Bring some new friends, especially if they like small wineries as much as you and I. I’ve intentionally left a few other favorites off this list, but I would be thrilled if you posted some of your favorite family-owned Northern California wineries in the comments section. And soon enough, I’ll let you in on some of my favorite Napa Valley hidden gems. Until then, keep supporting the small guys!


Girls Getaway to Sonoma, and My Introduction to V.M.L.

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GGD and I went on a girls getaway to Sonoma this past weekend, and we were fortunate enough to have somewhere to stay for free. My manager generously offered his cottage in Kenwood to me, and I graciously took him up on it. So we drove up to Napa on Saturday morning to check out Oxbow Public Market and pick up some stuff for dinner. We then decided to take Silverado Trail all the way up to Calistoga and visit Summers for a picnic tasting in the beautiful, sunny weather. I had tried their Charbono before and liked it, but had never been to the tasting room so I was excited to taste the rest of their collection. GGD and I particularly liked their Checkmate 2007 Bordeaux, and considered buying it, but decided to save our money for the next day when we would be in Healdsburg, my favorite area of Sonoma.

After a relaxing evening of watching rom-coms, cooking dinner, planning our trip to Italy this summer, and soaking in the hot tub while listening to the sound of the creek flowing behind the house, we hit the hay so we could get an early start on Sunday. It was GGD’s first time in Healdsburg so I was very excited to show her some of my favorite wineries, such as Iron Horse and Porter Creek. But she also requested that we visit two places I had not been to: Portalupi and V.M.L. I tasted the delicious wines of Portalupi in November at Vintners Market in San Francisco, but I did not realize they had a tasting room in downtown Healdsburg.

Palm trees with grapes at Iron Horse

Palm trees with grapes at Iron Horse

After picking up some lunch to go at Oakville Grocery, GGD and I walked over to Portalupi and waited about five minutes for them to open their doors at 11am. Once open, we were greeted by the winemaker, Tim Portalupi and his wife. We decided to share one tasting so that we could ease ourselves into the day. He gave us generous pours of their white blend, two different Gold Medal Pinot Noirs from Russian River Valley, their Barbera, (which I previously purchased at Vintners Market), Zinfandel, “Vaso di Marina” (red blend), and their Port. We loved all of the reds, particularly the second Pinot Noir and Port. We also thought the Vaso di Marina – named after the wife’s Grandmother – was very smooth and approachable, and the larger size makes it perfect for big groups or parties. Tim also gave us some great advice on regions to go in Italy, as his whole family is from Italy and he has been making Italian-style wine his entire life. We were both very pleased that we took the time to stop at Portalupi, and we each walked away with a bottle of our favorite Pinot.

photo 2

The next stop that GGD suggested was V.M.L., which is right off Westside Road, about a mile from downtown Healdsburg. Upon walking onto the grounds, we were excited to see many tables and chairs set up on the patio for outdoor tastings or picnics. There was also a beautiful garden and fountain, elevating the appearance of the grounds. We walked into the tasting room and were greeted at the bar by a very nice young lady who immediately poured us two glasses of their 2011 Russian River Gewurztraminer. We noticed the beautiful photographs on the walls, and she told us they feature a different local artist every month. We also noticed the intricate and stunning label designs on the wine. Evidently, they hired an artist to move all the way from London to do exclusive design work for their wine labels (it just so happens he’s also dating the winemaker, Virginia Marie Lambrix).


photo 2

photo 1

The Gewurztraminer was fantastic, and so were the 2010 Russian River Chardonnay and 2012 Rose of Pinot Noir. In fact, the first three wines were SO good, and the estate was SO beautiful, that both GGD and I decided to join the wine club right then and there, before we even tried the rest of the wines. There were a few special perks that sweetened the deal; for example, they have an on-premise guest cottage with full kitchen and deck that sleeps four people, and each member is able to rent the cottage for two nights any time out of the year at no charge other than the cleaning fee. Yes, please! The cottage was actually open because the cleaning crew had just finished up after some guests checked out, so I poked my head in and took a look around. Where do I sign up?

photo 5

photo 2

photo 3

We did of course manage to get through the rest of the wine list, and some of my favorites included a Zinfandel that was off the list and pretty new, as well as the Floodgate Pinot Noir and the Late Harvest Riesling-Chardonnay blend. The addition of the Chardonnay in the dessert wine was perfect because it wasn’t too sweet, but actually had a nice balance of acidity to it. GGD and I grabbed some glasses to sit outside with while we enjoyed our lunch – she opted for the Zinfandel, me the Rose (obviously). We will both be going back this weekend for the club members Pinot & Panini Pick Up Party. Does one need a better excuse to go to Healdsburg two weekends in a row? I think not.

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