Kathleen Hill: Farewell Al Minero, welcome Vintage Festival and more...

Nestle reportedly paid $500 million for a majority stake in Blue Bottle Coffee.


Al Minero leaving Sonoma Market

Probably to few people’s surprise, everyone’s current favorite grocery store manager, Al Minero, is leaving Sonoma Market on Saturday.

A couple of friends and I happened to have lunch Tuesday at the Swiss Hotel, and the charming Minero was there with three Nugget Market officials. They came over to our table and gave us the news. Minero introduced his replacement, Cody, who starts today, Friday, and comes from one of Nugget’s Marin County stores.

With his usual upbeat great smile and bubbly attitude, Minero said he is “going on sabbatical,” which might mean temporary leave. When I pressed him on that, he said, “Well, maybe I’m retiring. My wife retired and we are taking off for Hawaii and who knows where else.”

Bon voyage, Al!

Vintage Festival is here

And so is the Vintage Festival’s annual gala tonight, Friday, Sept. 22 with 40 wineries pouring and restaurants offering nibbles behind the Barracks and Toscano Hotel with music by Notorious. ($125)

Then in Sonoma Plaza on Saturday and Sunday you will find loads of live local music by good bands and great wines from nearly 40 local wineries. Food will be available from Barking Dog Roasters, Homegrown Bagels, Mary’s Pizza Shack, Maya, Saddles, Sonoma Cheese Factory, Sonoma Harvest, Sonoma Market, Supreme Sweets, and the classic Swiss Hotel, plus a “Wine and Spirits Garden.” Love the Grape Stomp on Saturday.

Rhône Room opens wide

For 20 years Sondra Bernstein has specialized in “rhône alone” wines and cheeses in her Girl and the Fig restaurants.

Last weekend she quietly opened her new cozy Rhône Room for a few hours and opened wide daily on Monday.

Part wine studio, part lounge, part working farm, the tasting room features 90 Rhône wines from the Girl and the Fig’s rhônes made for her in France, in addition to exclusive and

lesser known offerings from local rhône producers, as well as French varietals and blends from the Rhône region of France.

Bernstein’s refined rustic ambiance of warmth and sophistication throughout her establishments continues into the Rhône Room with an antique wood tasting, picture windows that showcase the Fig’s expansive culinary gardens outside, a lovely “au naturel” patio facing the farm, and a comfy booth strewn with brightly colored pillows. Leo, Mark and Alana host visitors in the Rhône Room daily.

Bernstein explained, “With the farm here, it just felt like a fun project; and since we are doing more with our own wines now, it made sense. I think of it as being a first stop for people coming to town so that we can help them plan their stay and greet them with a taste of Sonoma.”

In June, 2017, Bernstein received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhône Rangers for her dedication in the support and advancement of California rhônes.

Since the 1997 opening of the original Girl and the Fig restaurant in downtown Glen Ellen, Bernstein’s “figgy” endeavors have expanded to include two busy restaurants, a catering division, event venue, organic farm, and food truck.

The Rhône Room is located at the Sonoma Roadside property where one can also visit

Harvest Home and the Fat Pilgrim, 20816 Broadway, Sonoma. Rhône Room is open daily - 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 935-2133.

Harvest Fair champs

B.R. Cohn earned Best of Show in both the vinegar and olive oil competitions at the 2017 Sonoma County Harvest Fair, and were the only Sonoma Valley entries that won Best of Show. Cohn’s Pear Chardonnay Vinegar and California Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Oliver’s Market won several awards, and Redwood Hill Farm and Creamery got Best of Show Cheese for their Redwood Hill Farm Goat Milk Cheddar. Burtonz Bakery of Windsor was the surprise winner and Sweepstakes Exhibitor in the bread category and took Best of Show French Bread for its Our World Sourdough and Best of Show specialty bread for its Kalamata Olive and Asiago Sourdough.

Foie gras ban upheld

Last Friday’s decision by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds a ban for sale of foie gras made from livers of force-fed geese and ducks. The original ban came in a 2004 measure passed by the California state legislature, saying the forced feeding by insertion of a metal or plastic tube down the bird’s throat was cruel and inhumane.

The law gave producers seven years to develop a new way to produce foie gras.

In France, some famers throw out the feed on the ground and let the birds eat as they wish, which means in abundance since they often gorge to store fat in their livers for the winter.

Such rulings have put some California farmers out of business, while giving producers a grace period of more than seven years to find a new method of making foie gras. Marcus Henley of Hudson Valley Foie Gras in New York will lead the appeal along with chefs such as Ken Frank of La Toque restaurant in Napa, who continue to serve the delicacy and are organizing to sue to take the next legal appeal.

Nestle buys Blue Bottle Coffee

Nestle just paid up to $500 million for 68 percent of Blue Bottle Coffee, according to the Financial Times. Blue Bottle’s previous deal with Tartine bakery crumbled. The last time we saw the single cup Blue Bottle coffee in Sonoma was at Sonoma’s Best when then-owners Gayle and Tom Jenkins were told by Blue Bottle that they were ceasing to distribute their coffee and reverting to selling direct through their cafés. El Molino Central used to serve Blue Bottle, as well.

Founded in 2002, the Blue Bottle deal reminds many of Krave Jerky’s sale to Hershey after just a few years in business, and many wineries’ sales to big corporations as well.

Blue Bottle says with the investment it can expand its packaged goods such as cans and paper cartons of ready-to-drink cold coffee, apparently in hot pursuit of Starbucks.

Winemaker Piotter releases Gallo wine

Sonoma grown Aaron Piotter just released a new zinfandel wine under Gallo’s Bear Flag label, and is also winemaker and spokesperson for Ghost Pines wines. As his mother, Sandy Piotter, said in an email of a very local twist, “He has some interesting information about the raising of the Bear Flag – most likely learned from your husband when he played baseball on Gerald’s (Little League) team.”

Yet another twist, Aaron’s father, Alan, former minister at Faith Lutheran Church, will officiate at the Blessing of the Grapes on Saturday to start the Vintage Festival.

Bedrock buys Evangelho Vineyard

Locally grown Morgan Twain-Peterson, son of the great zinfandel leader Joel Peterson, and well know winemaker and owner of Bedrock, has bought Evangelho’s vineyards near Antioch in Contra Costa County.

Twain-Peterson bought the 10 acres of zinfandel and took over Frank Evangelho’s lease on 26 acres that are owned by PG&E. Seeing vineyard foreman Manuel Carranza as vital, Twain-Peterson will keep him on the job.

Since 2011 he has been making wine from Evangelho’s 130-year-old now organic vineyard, which Frank’s father started farming in 1938, and Frank couldn’t bear to let the vineyard go to developers.

Twain-Peterson seems to specialize in rescuing and protecting historic vineyards since he bought the Bedrock Vineyard in 2005 and is a founding member of the newish Historic Vineyard Society.

His new project, Evangelho Vineyard is surrounded by utilities: PG&E power lines and Amtrak train tracks, but they are integrated with Mourvedre, Carignan, Palomino and Muscat of Alexandria vines.

Beckstoffer buys Carneros vineyard from Treasury

That would be Treasury Wine Estates, not the U.S. Treasury.

Beckstoffer just bought a 121-acre vineyard called Beaulieu Vineyard Number 5 from Treasury Wine Estates Americas Co., according to

Beckstoffer owns the 44-acre Carneros Creek Vineyards and the 128-acre Carneros Lake/Las Amigas Vineyard as well as some 1,000 acres of vineyard in Napa County.