Kathleen Hill: La Prenda’s thinnings, plus Father’s Day preview

La Prenda’s ‘Thinnings’ and new tasting room

Speaking of Ned Hill and his La Prenda Vineyards, he loves working in the dirt and driving a tractor, which he started doing with his dad, Steve Hill, who managed Ed Durrell’s vineyard. During the 30 years of Steve’s management, the Durrell Ranch became renowned for its quality grapes and it now belongs to Bill Price, who also owns Three Sticks Wines.

Ned graduated from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo in fruit science with a minor in plant protection, becoming an Outstanding Fruit Science Graduate, and then moved back to Sonoma to work with his dad at Durrell Ranch. Soon he was named Outstanding Young Farmer at the 2005 Sonoma County Harvest Fair.

As Ned said on my radio show on KSVY last Friday, “I’m kind of a ‘whole hog’ sort of guy,” a reference to the practice of utilizing every part of an animal for food.

He meant he realized every part of the wine grape plant can be used, including the “thinnings.” Thinnings are the grapes that normally are cut out of a cluster of bunches to allow more thorough growth and maturation of the best wine grapes. “There is a use for everything we grow.”

La Prenda’s “thinnings” wines have lower alcohol and lower sugar content than normal California wines, and are much more like inexpensive French countryside wines. He thinks they make a great lunch wine you can drink and not have to go home and take a nap afterward. You can find these wines at Broadway Market, Sonoma Market and Sonoma’s Best.

And watch for Ned and Erika Hill to open their first tasting room with a wide selection of wines from their own 100 acres and those made with grapes from their many clients. They will take over the spot in the First Street West space opposite the Red Grape in the breezeway, which has most recently housed the tasting room Jeff Cohn Cellars, he of Rosenblum winemaker fame, focusing on zinfandel and Rhone varietals and blends. 535 First St. W. Sonoma.

Father’s Day – June 20

Father’s Day is next Sunday, June 20, which seems far off, especially to restaurateurs who are just trying to survive today and this week.

There seems to be a broad assumption that all men and dads are big carnivores and therefore therefor restaurants must offer big steaks and other meats, possibly a throwback to our hunter-gatherer days. Remember the chant: “real men eat quiche”? Some do. And even salads.

A few businesses have responded already to my Father’s Day inquiry; here they are:

Cochon Volant

First off the blocks as usual was owner Rob Larman who says, “The whole restaurant is a Father’s Day special.” Larman’s Cochon Volant, which translates to “flying pig,” features smoked beef brisket, ribs, giant Guy Fieri-favorite burgers, fried chicken and terrific sides.

Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn

Of course the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa offers golf, massage, spa and wine packages, but here’s the skinny on the food offerings.

Their CaliForno Food Truck chefs will offer a “Blues, Brews, & BBQ” lunch in addition to the truck’s regular menu. Barbecue specials will include a Memphis-style barbecued pulled-pork sandwich with chipotle slaw, beer-battered onion rings, and Lagunitas seasonal beer ($24), and a half-slab of slow roasted baby-back ribs with potato salad ($20), all served with live music on the front lawn on Sunday, June 20, from noon to 3 p.m. Reserve at 938-9000 or

Hanson of Sonoma

Hanson of Sonoma, a local organic distillery, offers tastings of its American single-malt whiskey for dads to taste in the “spirits garden,” along with cocktails for moms and wood-fired pizzas for everyone.

Hanson also offers a “DIY Old Fashioned Cocktail Kit” as a gift that includes a bottle of Hanson’s whiskey, a bottle of Bitter Girl bitters, a package of brown sugar cubes, and a package of dehydrated organic blood orange slices for garnish, with prices starting at $225. 22985 Burndale Road, Sonoma. 343-1805. Reservations at

Labor shift or labor shortage?

We all hear locally and on national and world news that restaurants, wineries and some hotels are having trouble getting people to apply for new jobs or just to come back to assume their old jobs.

Some people prefer to shrug it off as lazy people who are getting too much money from the government.

Stephanie Ruhl, senior business editor of NBC News and former editor-at-large of Bloomberg News, suggested last week on MSNBC that maybe we have a labor shift and not a labor shortage.

During a year’s confinement with some people getting government money, many people had time to think about what they really wanted to do.

Ruhl asked: What would you do? Go back to work with changing schedules as a dishwasher or server at minimum wage that is $2.50 an hour in some states, plus tips and no benefits? Or go to work in a warehouse (Amazon) for $15 an hour with a regular schedule and benefits?

We personally know servers who have moved on to bookkeeping, giving wine tours, cooking and starting their own businesses out of their homes. At the same time, restaurants and wineries now owned by large corporations can “poach” dishwashers from small independent restaurants, since the former can pay more than the latter.

Some chefs who have lost their jobs when restaurant owners were forced to close during the pandemic have started cooking, selling and even delivering meals privately.

Many owners say they can’t pay more or they will go out of business. But if they did pay more, it’s likely that they would just raise their prices, which many have done so anyway due to rising food costs and perhaps to make up for lost revenue during shutdowns.

Layla then and now

A friend and I gave ourselves and our senses to Layla so she could show us what she’s got now. After all, Urgo hotel management company has theoretically taken over operations at McArthur Place, although onsite management really doesn’t know what might change.

We know from the CEO of Lat33 Capital, which now owns the hotel, that the plan is to spend millions to expand the pool and spa and add a yoga studio, but we were interested in the food as reimagined after our pandemic confinement.

Breakfast and lunch are priced as they were before pandemic closing, while the menu selections are fewer.

We especially enjoyed the cumin-roasted carrots and their curried crunchy granola topping. Our favorite was the flatbread, which changes every day, and the falafel burger was surprisingly tasty. The roasted Pacific halibut was outstanding. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, halibut is being easily caught by both recreational and professional fishers in San Francisco Bay.

Try Layla again.

Nibs & Sips

Cowgirl Creamery of Petaluma and Point Reyes made Florence Fabricant’s column in last Wednesday’s New York Times for its “Inverness” cheese. Cowgirl is no longer owned by the “cowgirls,” Peggy Smith and Sue Conley, who sold it to Emmi of Switzerland. Emmi also bought Cypress Grove and Redwood Hill – all nearby cheese-producing companies owned by women.

$1 billion to Food Banks

The Biden Department of Agriculture apparently will send $1 billion to various food banks thanks to the American Rescue Plan and other congressional appropriations. Hopefully, these funds will “trickle down” to Sonoma County food banks and nonprofits that try to feed our seriously hungry neighbors.

Petunia gets the scraps

Chef Lisa Lavagetto’s pet pig, named Petunia, loves her compostable scrappy treats from James Cannard and the Epicurean Connection.

According to Lavagetto, Petunia is a Kunekune pig from New Zealand who “has all of us trained. One night we went to dinner and when we got home we found her reclining in the living room with the dogs! No mess at all! Somehow she has figured out that the dogs get a cookie after breakfast. Now she comes to the back door after she eats and oinks until I bring her some goodies.”

Lisa also has special feeders for neighborhood raccoons.

Alice Waters to open in Los Angeles

Alice Waters, grand dame of California cuisine (whatever that is) and founder of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, will open a new restaurant at the Hammer Museum in West Los Angeles’ UCLA campus in the fall. David Tanis will join her again in the enterprise. She also announced via New York magazine that New Jersey tomatoes are better than California’s because “we don’t have a climate that is humid enough.” Just maybe our soil is different too.

Food and wine influencers?

What are influencers, anyway?

Think Kardashians.

When I accidentally fell into doing public relations (PR) for some of San Francisco’s top restaurants by saying yes to a friend’s request to fill in at a PR firm while the principals went to London to open a Trader Vic’s restaurant, I had no idea what the job was.

Soon I learned that I needed to publicize a fundraiser at Laguna Honda Home for the elderly where Trader Vic Bergeron was donating the food and putting on the event, even though he was in England. So I called then-Chronicle “society editor” Frances Moffat and asked her what to do. I followed her advice, she published what I sent her, and that happy relationship continued for years.

My job was to tell writers and other media what clients were actually doing with colorful, but real facts. It was a serious business, and we got paid to do it by the people we publicized while not pretending to be an expert in anything.

Pretty simple.

Enter social media.

While those roles still exist, “influencers” have expanded the field since the creation of social media.

Most often young and attractive, influencers may or may not be experts in fields where they expertly market themselves as knowing a lot about their subjects. They can attract millions of followers by saying they like something, with a goal of eventually getting paid to like things or events and even attract advertising.

Many influencers might start out just actually liking something and eventually get paid to like other things, so it is difficult to distinguish what they actually like and what they are paid to like.

Old time radio required hosts to sell ads to sponsor their shows and their own incomes, which sometimes required the host speak in the commercial or heap praise on the advertiser. A few times I substituted for columnists at the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco magazine where mentions turned out to be paid advertisements.

So maybe the practices of influencers aren’t so new after all.

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