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Kathleen Hill: Server signing bonuses, new Cline wine and more...


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Not all food news is good

Remember when I wrote that some McDonald’s franchises were offering $500 signing bonuses to entice potential workers to join the McDonald’s workforce in Texas? Well, that strategy has hit home.

Last Friday Mary’s Pizza Shack in Boyes Hot Springs had a window sign facing the patio and entrance offering a $200 signing bonus for pizza delivery drivers.

Why is this happening? Local American and immigrant workers leaving town? Going elsewhere for cheaper housing? Finding higher paying jobs elsewhere?

High cost of housing, business rental location increases, and just plain local government obstacles to starting and running food-related businesses are all hurting local restaurants and food purveyors.

Those who pay more have less trouble finding and retaining workers.

Last weekend Lorene Reed and Marc Sloop canceled their Divewalk Café pho pop-up at Rancho Maria Winery’s First Street West tasting room for lack of ticket sales. The reason they are trying to do pop-ups is because they say they got priced out of the old Nicholas Turkey Farms offices.

Lorene says that she is now looking to locate the pho, banh mi sandwiches and crepe business somewhere where rents are apparently cheaper for both businesses and residences

In any case, most Sonoma restaurants are hiring and are a great place to start a career, even driving a delivery truck. You can assume that those that have low turnover of employees probably pay better and treat staff well.

New wines from here to there

Last week we had the pleasure of a fabulously informative tour and dinner at Fred Cline’s Green String Farm on Adobe Road just around the corner from Frates Road outside Petaluma.

Fred and Nancy Cline own this ranch and several others around northern California, including one near Red Bluff where they grow cattle and the original family vineyard near Oakley. Fred Cline’s mother was a Jacuzzi. This writer spent my high school years living next to his cousin, Kenny Jacuzzi, for whose ailments Kenny’s father and Fred’s uncle got the bright idea for a bathtub pump to relieve Kenny’s polio pain.

Starting with the $9,000 Fred said he inherited from the Jacuzzi side of his family, the Clines restored the Dillon Beach Resort, the Mizpah Hotel and Tonopah Brewing Company in Tonopah, Nevada, and the Villa Laura in Tuscany, to say nothing of raising a bunch of kids, all successful in their own rights.

Megan Cline works as a “cellar rat” for the winery and its new Farmhouse label, while Hilary toils for Pernod Ricard, having worked their last harvest in New Zealand, learning everything she can from the bottom up.

Fred told the history of his association with renowned grower Bobby Cannard, whose philosophy of growing everything is extremely interesting. Bobby is the son of the late Edna and Bob Cannard. Bob was a one-time Ortho employee, former owner of the property where the General’s Daughter and Ramekins are today and the barn in back, and a historian and auctioneer with strong opinions on everything that went on in Sonoma and the world.

For years Bobby has been growing vegetables for Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, and helped introduce Clines’ use of sheep to “mow” weeds in Cline vineyards to avoid using chemicals. Bobby now oversees the farm at Green String and other properties including his own and still grows for Chez Panisse. Several restaurants pick up their orders at the Green String Farm shop right on the property. While there I bought a dozen “just laid today” eggs, available until they run out.

Bobby has all sorts of knowledge far beyond organic farming including the composting of dead animals to fertilize. He even advocates dedicating our own bodies to be composted, or putting composting toilets in homes, which he says are illegal in Sonoma County.

Served on the porch of the original farmhouse on the property, huge colorful salads arrived, loaded with Green String veggies dressed with Olive Press basil and lemonato vinaigrette and shaved Vella Dry Jack cheese. Breads came from Revolution bakery in Petaluma. Throughout the evening we sampled and enjoyed Farmhouse wines, all blends and all interesting and wonderful.

Bruce Riezenman of Park 121 and Park Avenue Catering grilled filet mignon from the Clines’ Meadowbrook Ranch near Red Bluff with roasted whole garlic bulbs, roasted salmon from the Pacific ocean with Aurelio’s olive tapenade, Yellow Finn potatoes with salt, chili, garlic and rosemary, and vegetables from practically off the end of our dinner table, followed by Carneros Caves cheeses aged on Cline property. All to introduce their new label, Farmhouse wines, and great red and white blends, pinot gris, pinot noir, Chiaro Blanco, and Furvus Rosso.

You can shop at the store and possibly contact Aurelio Lofaro at Aurelio’s Old World Ironworks near the farmhouse to see his work and gallery collection of old world iron objects.

Ironically, Riezenman and Weisswasser, who each catered one of these events, also work together to cater large events and barbecue whole cows as Stellar Catering.

August Sebastiani introduces Gehricke wines

Aug Sebastiani hosted a winemaker luncheon last week to introduce his new Gehricke line of wines, all at a house he and wife Allison now own at the foot of Gehricke Road and within eyesight of the home of his parents, Don and Nancy Sebastiani. With the house came five rows and 125 vines just to the west in the Cherry Block vineyard.

We met Gehricke winemaker, Alex Belos – a Chicago native who luckily landed his first winemaking job with MacRostie winery 20 years ago, and eventually helped Aug launch his Gehricke brand in 2015. Aug explained that his 3 Badge Beverage Corporation (formerly The Other Guys) is so named for the three badges awarded to his grandfather and namesake, August Sebastiani, for his service as a volunteer firefighter. 3 Badge is located in the former firehouse on Patten Street near Broadway.

Ari Weisswasser of Glen Ellen Star prepared the luncheon served under an elegantly draped tent. Lunch started with a salad grown by Mike Benziger of greens, pita chips, pickled ramps, radishes, and cured black olives, all topped with Dungeness crab, and served with Gehricke 2016 Russian River Valley Chardonnay.

Second course was Snake River Farms’ wagyu ribeye, a cross between black angus and wagyu beef, bordelaise with spring vegetables and a fricassee of fava beans, chickpeas and chili with baby spinach and anise hyssop. Ari cooked the Loomis, Washington beef “sous vide” and then grilled it on site. We enjoyed tastes of both the 2015 Los Carneros Pinot Noir and 2016 Knights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

There were really two desserts: wood-baked sourdough bread with Vella Pacific Blue cheese and housemade 2017 Huckleberry Preserves with a 2015 Russian River Valley Zinfandel, and assorted Glen Ellen Star ice creams.

What is sous vide cooking?

From Bonappetit.com: “Sous vide cooking is the process of sealing food in an airtight container — usually a vacuum sealed bag — and then cooking that food in temperature-controlled water. Chefs vacuum seal a protein with marinade, sauce, herbs, or spices and drop it in a large pot of water.”

Food News with chocolate

Anette’s Chocolates has just remodeled and downsized its First Street location in downtown Napa. After 27 years at this location, and a few lonely years following the Napa/Sonoma earthquake, Anette’s now occupies about one-fourth of the space if once did, as the rent escalated on her location.

But in Anette’s case, that’s good news. She had a sprawling old fashioned store with old murals which, to me, combined for part of the old Napa charm she offered. Staff approached customers offering trays of chocolate samples as soon as you had been inside for 30 seconds. Anette, a former teacher, always wanted to own a candy shop and bought the old Patrick’s candy at this location.

Originally Anette Madsen Yazidi and her brother, Brent Madsen, made chocolates in the back. In 2012 they moved the production facility to Napa Valley Gateway business park where they now crank out chocolates, peanut brittle, peppermint bark, other candies and chocolate sauces for the likes of Williams-Sonoma in Sonoma and their own Oxbow Public Market shop and this modernized store on First Street in Napa. Some of their peanut brittle flavors include chili lime tequila tortilla, beer brittle, triple nut bourbon and chardonnay.

In a Napa Valley Register story, Anette said: “It’s very difficult to find the staff you need to fit the shift,” with a 2.8 percent unemployment rate in Napa County. Sound familiar? Anette’s is at 1201 First St., Napa.

Meanwhile Betty and Caroline Kelly’s Wine Country Chocolates is doing just fine, thank you, with shops and tastings in both Glen Ellen’s Jack London Village and in downtown Sonoma’s El Paseo courtyard off First Street East.

Anne McKibben sold her Cocoa Planet building to Ken Mattson and moved her chocolate production machines to Arizona. McKibben lovingly remodeled the former Sonoma Print Shop, ran a modern French café briefly, made thousands of chocolates, and may move closer to her husband’s office in Phoenix.

Flatbed Farm back in business

Having suffered huge losses in our October wildfires, Flatbed Farm has risen again like the Phoenix, growing lovely vegetables like crazy across from the Bouverie Preserve of Audubon Canyon Ranch on Highway 12.

Flatbed chickens are laying lots of eggs, strawberries are ripening, and emotions are improving. You can get all sorts of vegetables and rejoin the community gathering that regulars and even one-time visitors enjoyed.

Having lost their fabulous barn, which ended up in a leaning tower of metal walls, owners Sofie and Chris Dolan currently operate out of a handsome airstream trailer and don’t really plan right now to recreate the barn. Chef Amie Pfeifer makes gluten-free pastries, preserves, and jams enjoyed by many who drive out to Flatbed just for those specialties. Currently open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays, expanding hours as weather warms. 13450 Sonoma Highway, Glen Ellen.