Kathleen Hill: ‘Sideways’ with Rex Pickett, Vanessa Robledo’s label, Paella & Pinot and more

Longtime food and wine columnist Kathleen Hill is back this week with tasty tidbits like a feast at Suite D, sushi at Roche and so much more.|

Many readers might remember Rex Pickett’s first book,“Sideways,” was first published in paperback by St. Martin’s Press. To Pickett’s delight, it was published more recently in hardcover by Blackstone Publishing of Oregon. It was made into an enormously successful movie called, surprise, “Sideways.”

Rex Pickett, who wrote the original novel “Sideways.” (Via Regia Productions)
Rex Pickett, who wrote the original novel “Sideways.” (Via Regia Productions)

All of this and the traveling lifestyle fills Pickett’s own life with so much adventure and fun that he has set off to write a series of sequels, the first of which he will launch and sign at Walt Winery’s tasting room on First Street West this Sunday, Aug. 13. Tickets for wine tasting only: $35; tasting and signed “Sideways: New Zealand” book $50, and $100 for tasting, signed book and bottle of 2019 Walt Clos Pepe pinot noir wine. Tickets at Eventbrite.com. 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

In one of our conversations, Pickett said that during his month of research for “Sideways: New Zealand,” he mentioned giving Miles, his alter ego, a challenged cat and suggests they traveled both the south and north islands in a camper. Turns out in our previous radio conversation that he had a local driver and they sometimes stayed in hotels.

On Aug. 19, Pickett will show his original film, “Sideways,” on the big screen at the Sebastiani Theatre, possibly our last chance to see the original film this way, especially with a pinot noir tasting with wines from Buena Vista, Nicholson Ranch, Arista, Patz & Hall and Walt wineries. $30 wine tasting and film, $45 for winetasting, film and original “Sideways” book signed in person by Rex Pickett. Wine tasting 4 p.m., film screening 5 p.m.

Chef Catherine Venturini and Michael Muscardini. (Photo: Muscardini Cellars)
Chef Catherine Venturini and Michael Muscardini. (Photo: Muscardini Cellars)

Last chance Muscardini-Venturini dinner

Tomorrow, Aug. 12, is our last chance to enjoy the combination of Catherine Venturini’s fine cuisine and Michael Muscardini’s fine wines this summer. Muscardini’s wines are the first from California sold in restaurants in Florence, Italy.

An entrée by Catherine Venturini. (Photo: Muscardini Cellars)
An entrée by Catherine Venturini. (Photo: Muscardini Cellars)

The five-course al fresco dinner in the garden at Muscardini’s tasting room in Kenwood will include passed appetizers of seared Ahi tuna on flatbread; grilled quince with jamon (ham) and Manchego little sandwiches; and Spanish beef empanadas with Muscardini’s 2022 Rosato di Sangiovese wine.

The first course brings Gulf shrimp and mussels in garlic lemon broth, followed by lemon sorbet, then roasted almond saffron Mary’s chicken with Barcelona rice and fresh peas, tomato and chorizo, plus an artichoke and Romano bean tagine, with Muscardini’s red blend.

Dessert follows with vanilla bean panna cotta and Rhubarb and Kenwood strawberry compote with 2019 Fortuna proprietary blend.

All of this is accompanied by the romantic music of John Burdick. Both Burdick and Venturini of Cuvée Wine Country Events were well known at her former Olive & Vine restaurant in Glen Ellen’s Jack London Village. $145. 5:30 to 8 p.m. Tickets quickly at muscardinicellars.com.

Guests arrive for tastings at Deerfield Ranch Winery. (Jeremy Portje / For The Press Democrat)
Guests arrive for tastings at Deerfield Ranch Winery. (Jeremy Portje / For The Press Democrat)

Pinot & Paella at Deerfield Ranch

The same evening on Saturday, Aug. 12, Robert Rex will be whipping up his favorite paella for a Pinot & Paella event at Deerfield Ranch Winery, where Michael Muscardini and others make their own wines.

Dinner includes paella, salad, dessert and, of course, pinot noir wine. $65. 6 to 9 p.m. 10200 Sonoma Highway, Kenwood. Reserve quickly at 707-833-5215. Deerfieldranch.com.

Vanessa Robledo has her own wine label with Vintner’s Diary.
Vanessa Robledo has her own wine label with Vintner’s Diary.

Vanessa Robledo launches own winery and label

Sonoma native Vanessa Robledo has taken the giant step to start her own winery and label after 25 years in the wine business helping other owners become successful.

Vanessa first worked in the wine business after school in her family’s vineyard at age 8. After U.C. Davis she led Robledo Family Winery from 100 cases a year to 20,000, creating their wine club and translated for her father during presentations and sales meetings across the United States.

After leaving the family winery Vanessa helped two Napa Valley wineries achieve similar success. She also runs her Vanessa Robledo Wine Consulting, while her daughter Jocelyn films videos of the wine growing and winemaking processes for their new website, vintnersdiary.com. Jocelyn is a film school graduate who currently focuses on sports videos in Chicago. Vanessa has also been honored by a wide range of organizations for her entrepreneurship.

Striking out on her own, Vanessa is joined by her mother, Maria Robledo, and her own daughter, Jocelyn Solis, in the new business, called Vintner’s Diary. It is called that because these three generations of Latinas have seen firsthand and lived the need for understanding among people of all generations and backgrounds of the whole wine business, from dirt to table.

The trio begins with their first vintage, a lovely bottle of Vintner’s Diary 2022 Rosé of Grenache, of which Vanessa only made 150 cases, available while they last for $36 per bottle with free delivery to Napa, Sonoma, Marin and Solano counties. Order at vintnersdiary.com.

Full disclosure: The Robledos and I have been close friends for many years since I wrote the first story on Mrs. Robledo in print. I had the honor of planting “my” vine at Mrs. Robledo’s Maria de la Luz Vineyard beside her and Vanessa as they planted theirs.

Ahi Tuna Poke by chef Ed Metcalfe. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)
Ahi Tuna Poke by chef Ed Metcalfe. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

Sushimotos on the move again

Sushi Chef Ed Metcalfe has a busy August roving locally to Roche Winery and Pomme Cider here in Sonoma.

Metcalfe and his Sushimotos presents an Izakaya (Japanese pub night) at Roche Winery’s West Spain Street tasting house with two seatings on Aug. 17.

The menu will include an amuse bouche of “local” Yellowtail tuna, followed by white corn and miso soup with crème fraiche; sunomono salad with cucumbers, beet purée and pickled seaweed; poached “local” Albacore tuna with cauliflower purée and shiso oil; Yakitori of pork meatballs, tare glaze, and Napa cabbage salad; all followed by white peach and Watmaugh strawberries with Kaffir lime sugar and fresh cream. $65. According to Metcalfe, guests are expected to purchase one glass of Roche wine. Tickets at sushimotos.com.

At Pomme Cider on Broadway on Aug. 24, Metcalfe will offer all-you-can-eat sushi in one hour to include edamame, Asian noodle salad, cucumber salad, assorted nigari and rolls. Ciders available. Times and reservations to come at sushimotos.com.

Grand Marshals Lauren and Charles Cotner in the 2022 Sonoma Valley High School homecoming parade. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)
Grand Marshals Lauren and Charles Cotner in the 2022 Sonoma Valley High School homecoming parade. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

Lauren Cotner resurfaces – on top

With her husband Charles Cotner, Sonoma native Lauren Cotner and her Delicious Dish somehow survived the pandemic, suffering the ups and downs and occasional closures like many other food and wine businesses throughout the wine country.

The did have the advantage of Microsoft, one of Lauren’s San Francisco catering clients, paying Delicious Dish to feed people in need on certain dates, which they did, including selling some of those meals to Sonoma Overnight Support (SOS).

As staff eventually moved on to other near or far opportunities, the Cotners found themselves doing all the cooking themselves in an older building on Arnold Drive with a hot kitchen, in which most people could only last for just so long. They decided to sell when an offer came in to purchase the business and the company van, the latter of which had been stolen at least once and is still parked next to the vacant building where remodeling and painting are happening.

As a longtime friend of more Sonoma natives, Elaine Bell and John Merritt, we often have dinner together when they are at their Elaine Bell Catering kitchen and building in Napa.

So a couple of weeks ago they took me to The Mill in Glen Ellen’s Jack London Village to catch up on lots of personal goings on and after an hour of trading family news Elaine said they had finally hired a general manager.

After they sold their Craig Avenue house here and survived the pandemic, they bought a house and horse property near Sparks, Nevada and divide their “at home time” between there and a ranch in Idaho. There they coordinate all things Elaine Bell, cook for neighbors and take care of farm animals such as cattle, horses, and an ever-multiplying gaggle of feral cats. The big news at the Mill dinner was that they hired Lauren Cotner as general manager of Elaine Bell Catering. At Elaine Bell, Lauren will be managing and not cooking.

For several years, Delicious Dish had won the “Best Caterer” award from the Index-Tribune’s Sonoma Valley People’s Choice Awards through 2022, and this year Elaine Bell won the award, voted on before Cotner joined her company. As Elaine Bell texted me recently, “We’re all on the same team now.”

And yes, Delicious Dish is re-starting their meals, to be delivered only. Lauren’s husband, Charles Cotner, and Alexis de Tessan are renting a kitchen part-time from Elaine Bell Catering in Napa to cook their meals as we knew them. All of the meals offered for this week (sesame chicken salad, French onion beef stew with Green Goddess salad, and Baby Back ribs with the works) are priced at $27.50, all fees included. Meals are delivered only in Sonoma Valley between 3 and 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. Order at the same ole familiar website, deliciousdishsf.com.

Consultant and NPR host Clark Wolf of Guerneville and Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters at Adubon Canyon Ranch’s fundraiser at M.F.K. Fisher's Last House in Glen Ellen. According to Wolf, the two have been friends for 50 years. (Submitted photo)
Consultant and NPR host Clark Wolf of Guerneville and Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters at Adubon Canyon Ranch’s fundraiser at M.F.K. Fisher's Last House in Glen Ellen. According to Wolf, the two have been friends for 50 years. (Submitted photo)

Alice Waters at Last House

Famed restaurateur Alice Waters, founder of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, brought herself and her crew to the late M.F.K. Fisher’s Last House in Glen Ellen two Saturdays ago, July 29.

The occasion was a fundraising luncheon for the Audubon Canyon Ranch, formerly locally known as David Pleydell-Bouverie’s ranch and the Bouverie Preserve. Audubon Canyon Ranch includes a collection of 5,000 acres of nature preserves throughout Marin and Sonoma counties. Bouverie left his Bouverie Preserve to ACR when he passed away.

That property included M.F.K. Fisher’s home, which she called Last House, and which Bouverie built for Fisher to her specifications in 1971. She told me that he did that on condition that the house would pass to the preserve along with his property.

Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse chefs prepared a luncheon that began with aperitifs under the famous oak tree off Mary Frances’s kitchen, followed by chilled Sungold tomato-cucumber soup, halibut grilled in fig leaves with Ross Cannard’s potatoes, Romano beans and garden lettuces, all followed by raspberry ice cream with Swanton Berry Farm strawberries and summer flame nectarines.

ACR staffer Suzie Allen organized the event at Last House and gave special thanks to Seven Moons Farm (Ross Cannard), Tallgrass Ranch (Nancy Lilly), Benziger Family Winery, Oak Hill Farm, Chez Panisse Restaurant (Alice Waters), The Edible Schoolyard Project (Alice Waters), Swanton Berry Farm, Acme Bread Company, Monterey Fish Market, Heath Ceramics, Sierra Orchards, Frog Hollow Farm and Riverdog Farm.

Many of you know that I spent lots of weekdays for seven years with M.F.K. Fisher at Last House, but I did not attend the luncheon. Those who did donated $2,000 each and appeared to have a fabulous time throughout. Funds went to Audubon Canyon Ranch. Egret.org.

Remember the Fig Rig? You can get favorites from its menu at Suite D Aug. 16. (Index-Tribune file photo)
Remember the Fig Rig? You can get favorites from its menu at Suite D Aug. 16. (Index-Tribune file photo)

Fig Rig Favorites dinner at Suite D

Oh for that gooey and gushy cheeseburger, or slushy or loaded poutine fries.

I, for one, really miss the Fig Rig, meaning the girl & the fig’s food truck that we often saw parked in front of Sonoma Valley High School on Broadway.

My first experience with their loaded poutine fries was at the now-discontinued Marin French Cheese art, music and food festivals. John Toulze, executive chef and now girl & the fig company president and managing partner, really piled up the poutine to shareable servings for several people.

On Aug. 16 at 5:30 p.m. you can enjoy those food memories at Suite D on Eighth Street East and Schellville Road. Samples of what the buffet will offer: fig and arugula salad; heirloom tomato and watermelon salad; blue cheese fries with Point Reyes blue cheese and green onions; herb French fries; fried mac-in-cheese with barbecue sauce; fried green tomato sliders with arugula and sweet corn relish; Angus burger sliders on brioche bun with white cheddar cheese and Balsamic onions; and a fried chicken slider with slaw and pickled onions.

And of course there will be It’s It’s. $45. Wines available for purchase by glass or bottle, $10 corkage for your wines.

Check out other August events at the girl & the fig’s Suite D including Pizza & Grenache evening on Aug. 23 and a summer lobster boil on Aug. 25.

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