Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Cakebread Cellars Dinner at North Ranch Country Club

North Ranch Country Club
At the end of March Devon and I attended the second wine pairing dinner of the year at North Ranch Country Club. Cakebread Cellars wines were featured and I covered the event on assignment for Conejo Valley Lifestyle Magazine.
Jim & Leslie Biekkola, Ed Pope and Jordan Sweeney
This was one of the five special wine dinners that social and golf members of the club have available on the 2016 social calendar. Each dinner matches wine from a winery, a country or a theme with inspired food pairings. The first wine dinner was held in February and featured Silver Oak wines; March’s dinner featured Cakebread Cellars. Next up are Grgich Hills wines, a Somm’s wine dinner, and a Taste of France dinner.
Jodi Foss and Jordan Sweeney
The talented and friendly Food and Beverage team at North Ranch delivers a sophisticated culinary and wine experience. The team consists of Director, Jodi Foss; Assistant Director Jordan Sweeney, a Level 2 Sommelier; Executive Chef Karl Gustav Holst, a Level 1 Sommelier; and Maitre 'D, Bernardo Queiroz. The team is supported by a dedicated pastry chef and core group of service professionals. The service staff provides a warm welcome to club members as they arrive and creates a comfortable atmosphere.
It is no surprise that North Ranch Country Club’s wine dinners are top-notch events. As Jordan pointed out, North Ranch scored a 95 out of 100 last year and was awarded the coveted CMAA International Wine Society Award of Distinction. North Ranch was one of only fourteen clubs in America to score 90 or above in 2015. The award is prominently displayed next to an impressive wine cellar that holds more than 500 bottles. 
The collection contains wines from the major wine producing regions of the world, easily accessed with different color-coded tags for each country. North Ranch pours over thirty wines by the glass in addition to a wine list that features their high-end collection of bottles, half bottle and large format selections, and vintage verticals.
Sommelier Jordan Sweeney’s experience spans Food & Beverage and Wine management roles at Presto Pasta, Spanish Hills Country Club, and Birnam Wood Golf Club. Jordan is one of a handful of Level 2 Certified Sommeliers in Ventura County and he knows you can’t serve just any wine with any dish. His goal is to introduce contrast, balance, and harmony in food and wine pairings. Jordan, who is also a musician, composer and recording artist, knows how to hit the right note whether he’s playing an instrument or pairing food and wine.
Executive Chef Karl Gustav Holst attended the Culinary Program at Santa Barbara City College and developed his unique farm-to-table philosophy after exploring culinary delicacies and traditions around the world. His fusion menus combine global flavors with products from local artisanal farmers. Karl has worked in many of the best restaurants and private clubs in Ventura County and currently leads the culinary team at North Ranch Country Club. An avid cyclist, Karl has competed in United States Cycling Federation races on the west coast since he was 13 years old.
Jordan and Karl spent days creating, preparing and executing a Cakebread pairing dinner. They tasted each spice, herb and ingredient featured on the menu and sampled Cakebread wines to match the flavors perfectly. Their objective was to balance the food and wine of each course to create a symbiosis of culinary harmony, each dish surpassing the previous one until it reached a food and wine crescendo!
The sold-out, $125 per person Cakebread Dinner began with approximately one hundred members gathering in the clubhouse with musical entertainment from a talented solo guitar player. People met old and new friends and sipped a glass of nicely chilled, crisp and clean Cakebread 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley
The wine’s nose and taste of honeydew melon and citrus were complemented by the Chef's Selection of Hand Passed Canapés: Macadamia Crusted Chicken with Basil Pesto and Apple wrapped in Prosciutto.
During dinner Jordan and Karl spoke about their efforts to select the right wines for pairing and background about the food selection. Karl recalled that his family often ate rutabagas when he was a child and that later in life he discovered smoked collard greens during his travels in the South -- these memories and others influenced his menu. Spencer Cruse, the Los Angeles/Central Coast District Manager for Kobrand Corporation and Matthew Lapides, Account Manager for The Estates Group shared additional information about Cakebread Cellars wines. 
The Five Course Dinner began with a spot-on pairing of Cakebread’s 2013 Chardonnay, Napa Valley and Charred Scallop & Cold Smoked Hamachi with Almond & Garlic Gazpacho, Chervil, Chive Pearls, Calabrian Chili Oil, and a colorful Micro Orchid.
The subtle spice with an accumulating kick, and smoky flavors of the scallop and hamachi went very well with the Chardonnay’s apple, melon, pear and oak spice in the nose, plus the flavors of honeydew melon, and mineral and a spicy oak finish. This spicy dish was a great way to begin the meal, but it could have been a complete and satisfying meal by itself with a larger serving.
Some Pinot Noir fans prefer a large bowl wine glass to bring out the wine’s flavors, while others believe that the wine is what really matters, not the wine glass. And then again, if you are lining up four wine glasses to taste four different wine styles it may be better to use a uniform wine glass style. The Cakebread 2014 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, Two Creeks Vineyards was served in the same type of glass as the other wines and it was still impressive in both aroma and taste. The “Two Creeks Vineyards” refers to a blend of grapes from the Annahala and Apple Barn estate vineyards in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County. 
The second course accompanying the Pinot Noir showcased a Seared La Bella Farms Duck Breast with Duck Confit & Sweet Potato Tempura Roll, Thai Basil Beurre Blanc, Charred Iceberg, and Thai Chili Gastrique. The rich, full-bodied Pinot Noir, complemented the duck breast and tempura roll perfectly with its aromas of berry and cherry plus flavors of black cherry and plum with a long spicy finish.
The Blanquette De Veau combined Wisconsin Veal Baked in a Sweet Onion with Sundried Tomatoes and English Peas in a Creamy Cognac Sauce topped with Gruyere and Served with Local Asparagus & Heirloom Carrots.  The sweet onion container cleverly appeared to be a solid food rather than a stew.
Cakebread’s 2012 Merlot, Napa Valley had a black cherry nose and hint of toasty oak. It stood up beautifully to the rich flavors of the veal and cognac sauce. The wine was rich and juicy with dark cherry, plum and blackcurrant flavors supported by big tannins and balanced acidity. Not to be overlooked were the local asparagus and heirloom carrots—both very tasty and served in a stylish coat of arms crossed swords arrangement over the Blanquette De Veau. This third course pairing of wine and food was the best! Until the fourth course was served …
The final pairing of Cakebread 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley with Oak Grilled Prime Dry Aged Rib-Eye was excellent, especially for those who like smoky flavors. The aromas of dark cherry, black fig and scent of oak toast plus flavors of blackberry, boysenberry and fig with a hint of dark chocolate were a perfect match with the last dish. The accompanying Beef Cheek & Smoked Collard Green Ravioli were a nice contrast to each other and the Rutabaga & Carrot Purée made a very flavorful base. The Roasted Shallot & Bourbon Sauce on top of the Oak Grilled Prime Dry Aged Rib-Eye with the Cabernet Sauvignon was a perfect example of the genius behind the pairing. 
As club member Dr. Ed Pope commented, “This is great with the smoky flavors in both the smoked collard green ravioli and the cab!”
The Pistachio Torte with Browned Butter Pistachio Jaconde, Beet Root Gelee, Chocolate Panna Cotta, and Meringue Matchsticks deliciously concluded the five-course dinner. Not only was it just the right amount of chocolate, it was the most decorative arrangement of the night!  Coffee was served with this course.
Attending a dinner like this one underscores North Ranch Country Club as an outstanding venue for private dining or larger events. Facing mountains to the north, the club has some of the best views in Westlake Village. 
Members enjoy the club’s warm atmosphere, five-star dining and exceptional wine program. Club management has reached their goal of being an ultimate wine and dine experience with one of the best wine programs in the nation.

Click here to visit CoonToonStudios YouTube to see how many pictures I really took.

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Monday, May 2, 2016

Casa Pacifica Best In Fest Brewery Competition 2016

The Casa Pacifica Best In Fest Brewery Competition took place on April 30th at the Twisted Oak Tavern, home of The LAB Brewing Company. Owner of the Twisted Oak Tavern, Jeff Walker, hosted the event. Roger Bott, LAB Brewing Company Brewmaster (AKA Dr. Hops) and winner of the 2015 Best In Fest award was not in attendance, but his latest beer entry was there. The Best In Fest award will be presented to the winning brewery at the Casa Pacifica Wine, Food & Brew Festival in June.
Curtis Taylor, Certified Cicerone®, coordinated the beer judging event. His website and blog,, focuses on beer and food pairings.

The entries were judged by a panel consisting of cicerones, certified beer judges and industry experts that included:
Monie Wickenden, Beer Specialist at Wine Warehouse Beer.
Erin Peters, Beer Judge & Journalist, known online as “The Beer Goddess.”
Kevin Pratt, involved in the brewing industry for over 20 years is a BJCP Grand Master V and Certified Cicerone®.
Jorge Alem, owner of the Ojai Beverage Company.  

Kevin Pratt, Erin Peters, Monie Wickenden, Jorge Alem, Curtis Taylor, Ryan Carroll, Jeff Walker, Matt Tobin, JC Lombardo and Anna Coulson
Chair JC Lombardo along with Kristin Lombardo, Ryan Carroll and Matt Tobin helped organize the beer collection and pouring for the blind tasting. Anna Coulson and Carrie Hughes represented Casa Pacifica.

The beer judges did a blind tasting of 13 beers arranged in an order that considered the styles and the level of alcohol in each.
The judging criteria were a combination Brewers Association Guidelines and BJCP (Beer Judge Certificate Program) Style Guidelines. Each judge evaluated the brews in five categories for a total score of 50:
  * Aroma: 12 points
  * Appearance: 3 points
  * Flavor: 20 points
  * Mouthfeel: 5 points
  * Overall impression: 10 points

They also could comment on pairing suggestions of different food types and specific pairings relative to Breakfast, Dessert, or Cheese. (Those comments will be released later on.)
Once all thirteen beers were rated in the first round, three top beers were chosen for the second round. The competition was close though, and two of the entries tied for third.

The Final Four - my personal favorite was the MadeWest Pale Ale
The judges discussed the round two beers and what makes a “Best Of Show” (or “Best In Fest”) winner as they tasted the four final beers. The conversation covered thinking about your favorite beer, pondering different beer styles (or not), and considering each beer like who you want to date, or take home.
Best In Fest Brewery Competition 2016
Maybe the Belgian Triple from The Twisted Oak Tavern / The LAB Brewing Company had an edge with the name “Take Her Home Tripel.” The LAB’s Belgian Tripel has 10.8% ABV, 25 IBU and is a classic Trappist brew with citrus and spice flavors from Belgian yeast. Apparently all of the judges agreed that they’d all take this beer home.
Twisted Oak Tavern/LAB Brewing Company's Tree of Brewing
Congrats again to Roger and Jeff! Two years in a row! And congratulations to the other twelve breweries for submitting a range of interesting and tasty beers. Now I have an updated list of local breweries to visit.
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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Sierra Pelona Valley Wine Fest 2016

The 4th Annual Sierra Pelona Valley Vintners Association Wine Festival
Last Saturday I took a scenic drive up the Antelope Valley Freeway and through Agua Dulce to the Sierra Highway for the Fourth Annual Sierra Pelona Valley Wine Festival. The event at Reyes Winery is always a fun way to get to know local vintners, sample their wines, and taste some authentic local food. There are plenty of handmade crafts and jewelry from  artisans and a stage with live music; all surrounded by vineyards in the early growing season. The visual impact of the mountain vineyards is absolutely stunning.
This year the festival supported the Senior Center of Santa Clarita Valley. The goal was to help the center acquire at least one new bus to serve the Santa Clarita community.  Judging by the good attendance, enthusiastic auction, and the rowdy raffle it seems like they may have achieved it!
The featured wineries included Agua Dulce Winery, Alonso Family Vineyards, AV Winery, Bouquet Vineyard, Chavez Cellars, Charles Wine Company, Coruce Vineyards, CPB Winery, Du Nasi, Golden Star Vineyards & Winery, Hearthstone Vineyard & Winery, Iconic Wines, LA International Wine Competition (featuring California wines from Strey Cellars and Sagebrush Annie’s), Reyes Winery, San Antonio Winery and Stephen Hemmert Wines.
The Rhone-style wines from Paso Robles by Stephen Hemmert were a real treat. The Viognier, Rousanne, and " Entwined," a blend of the two, were all excellent! 
Agua Dulce Winery
I enjoyed the Syrahs from Agua Dulce Winery, Alonso Family Vineyards, Hearthstone and Reyes. Other memorable red wines included the Purple Haze from Golden Star, the Red Blend (50% Barbera, 25% Primitivo, 25% Syrah) from Charles Wine and the Cabernet Sauvignon from Bouquet Vineyard.
Brown Knows Cider
In addition to these fine wines, there was a little something for those not interested in wine. A refreshing cider was available from Brown Knows Cider, AGWA Cocoa Leaf Liquer attracted many tasters, and the popular trio of Belgian beers -- Leffe Blonde, Hoegaarden and Stella Artois -- were on tap.
Best of Belgium
Truffles N Toffee
I enjoyed some of the gourmet food in the VIP area and many of the specialty foods offered by The Broken Bit, Gourmet Blends, Le Chene French Cuisine, Persia Restaurant and Hookah Lounge, Porto’s Bakery & Cafe, Tochigan Farms and Truffles N Toffee. My favorite snacking foods were the Tochigan Farms Hot Salsa (and a little of the Very Hot) and the Truffles N Toffee Almond Praline Bar samples.
Just Us
Throughout the festival you could hear the live entertainment that began around noon. The musical acts were Just Us, Sierra Highway, The Still Moving Project and The Sean Hughes Experience. Nice to hear the original tunes by some of the groups. It was great that they continued playing until 5:00 this year.
Click on this link to view a time lapse video of the Sierra Pelona Valley Wine Fest  (in Ultra High Definition / 4K). You can watch the whole event in a few minutes and maybe spot yourself! Music from The Still Moving Project and The Sean Hughes Experience is featured in the video...
And The Crowd Went Wild!

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