Rattlesnakes in Sonoma
Napa mountain vineyards, foodie Hamptons fete and an all-star ladies lunch
Anyone who knows me well knows of my snake phobia. It’s gotten worse with age. I used to go fearlessly on safari in South Africa where attacking black mambas abound or to East Africa where aggressive Mozambique spitting cobras terrorize the land. In fact, I even once traveled to Pattaya on the Gulf of Thailand, the capital of snakes. No more. I think I chose wine writing as a field so I could travel to see safe rolling hills of vineyards and taste wine in enclosed high-design wineries without the fear of wild animals.
So to my surprise the snake problem resurfaced in, of all places, Sonoma. I sat at dinner with glamorous Kimberly Pfendler of Pfendler Vineyards, high up on her mountain property of the Petaluma Gap of the Sonoma Coast AVA and listened to her tell me that she kills at least two rattlesnakes a week with a shovel. I knew that after dinner, there would be no moonlit walk for me around her lush Mediterranean property. Anyway the heavy fog had moved in and we could hardly see in front of us. Kimberly cited the classic line, “The rattlesnakes are more afraid of you than you are of them.” And I replied with my classic response: “They couldn’t possibly be more afraid of me than I am of them.”
When her winemaker Greg Bjornstad added that they also see an occasional mountain lion, my fear reached a high pitch—but fortunately another glass of Chardonnay calmed me down. We were drinking Pfendler unfiltered Chardonnay ($38) made from grapes grown on Kimberly’s 19 snake-ridden acres on the western slope of Sonoma Mountain and later, her elegant Pinot Noir ($45). She brought in the chef and owner, Matt Strauss, of the new Heirloom Café in San Francisco to cook a multicourse dinner—cuisine so good that it further distracted me from the idea that only thin walls separated me from the wildlife. Taxidermy was ubiquitous in her gorgeous villa. Not only did I confront a life-sized stuffed leopard upon entering the living room but I was also treated to the photo album, pages upon pages of African big game, which her late husband, Peter, had shot before his own untimely death.
Just when I thought I was done with nature tours, my host of the Napa trip insisted I see one of Napa’s newest, steepest and most remote vineyards on the western slopes of Spring Mountain in the Mayacamas range. We took the trip up in heavy-duty four-wheel-drive vehicles to Hidden Ridge Vineyard. Lynn Hofacket and Casidy Ward, a married couple from Oklahoma, cultivate Cabernet Sauvignon in vineyards on mountain slopes, some with a 55 percent slope, at elevations from 900 to 1700 feet. How relieved I was to arrive safely at the top where they had built a deck overlooking a rugged panorama of gnarled oak and Manzanita forest. They often camp out there. Then Casidy dropped the dreaded news that there are rattlesnakes there. When my summer tan turned white, she quickly added, “They don’t come on the deck.”
So, we sipped the 07 Hidden Ridge 55% Slope Impassible Mountain Reserve ($75), an exciting Cabernet with forest floor notes, of which they make only 1000 cases. For a moment I was calm and happy until Lynn mentioned the bears. That was it for me on this unwanted camping excursion. I asked that we caravan down the mountain tout suite.
Back in the Hamptons at one of the season’s most highly anticipated food and wine events, Dan’s Taste of Two Forks, taking place under a huge white tent in Bridgehampton at 154 Snake Hollow Road—there’s no getting away from snake references this summer—I enjoyed the best cuisine from restaurants on both the South and North Forks of Long Island. All the greats—Almond, Nick & Toni’s, Savanna’s, Georgica and Tutto Il Giorno—turned out with celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson of the Blue Parrot (and Red Rooster in Harlem) hosting.
Perrier-Jouet Champagne flowed throughout the evening and didn’t run out, even with a capacity crowd of 1600 people. And this was a wonderful preview of the Long Island wines—23 wineries were present—along with a little French contingent mixed in, wines from Languedoc. I met up with several people who had read my recent “Cocktail Crawl through the Hamptons” article in HC&G and a few said they are planning to follow my crawl. Always a thrill to meet enthusiastic readers.
In no particular order here’s what I drank: Perrier-Jouet Champagne (more glasses than I care to admit), Wolffer and Bedell’s Corey Creek roses (both dry and lovely), Sherwood House Chardonnay (fond of this Burgundian Chard.), from Languedoc Blanquette de Limoux (a real discovery of a lightly sparkling wine) and Picpoul de Pinet (ideal for oysters), and maybe a few more glasses of Perrier-Jouet. Who’s counting? I had a great time.
Here’s an economically priced excellent Languedoc list for summer drinking:
· Esprit du Sud AOC Blanquette de Limoux NV
· Plan de L’Homme Sapiens Blanc AOC Languedoc 2009
· Domaine Felines Jourdain AOC Picpoul de Pinet 2009
· Château Ollieux Romanis Classique Rouge AOC Corbières 2009
· Château de Lancyre Vielles Vignes Rouge AOC Pic Saint Loup 2008
· Les Vignerons de la Méditerranée Les Petits Grains AOC Muscat de St Jean de Minervois NV
BACK IN MANHATTAN … probably the event of the summer was a lunch at Millesime Restaurant at the Carlton Hotel themed “A Woman’s Place is in the Kitchen: Breaking the stainless steel ceiling.” Top women chefs each presented a course—Ariane Daguin (of foie gras fame), Barbara Lynch (James Beard Award winner; No. 9 Park, Boston), Gabrielle Hamilton (chef/owner of Prune), and Helene Darroze (restaurants in Paris and London). The attending media aristocracy: Martha Stewart, Ruth Reichl and Florence Fabricant—as well as some select notable restaurant men, Drew Nieporent and Jean-Georges.
At the start it was dandy hobnobbing with Martha Stewart over the oysters and caviar display. We sipped Champagne Laurent Perrier Brut and I told Martha that I had recently made a guest appearance on her Living Today show on Martha Stewart Radio on Sirius. She smiled when I mentioned that I had spoken about last year’s Chefs and Champagne in the Hamptons when she was honored. (My rule: Flatter and faun over the bold names. Tell a story that involves them—their favorite subject—and they will immediately like you.)
Soon we sat down to a feast of foie gras, butter shellfish soup, grilled quail with Sicilian pistachios, pan-roasted Berkshire pork (from the Ozark Mountains, cooked eight hours in a big pot on low heat), and panacotta and almond crumble. The wines were eye-opening: Clos Uroulat from Jurancon (a late harvest wine with the perfect acidity to match the foie gras); Domaine du Tariquet, a discovery wine from Gascogne; Montus from Madiran (SW France, getting lots of attention now); and a wonderful dessert wine, Brumaire from Pacherenc.