|Surrounded by his team, David Coffaro blesses the grapes.|
I have written on a previous occasion about how I believe that the Universe conspires with us every now and then, to bring about a joyful synchronicity in our lives, such as the events that led to me to meet my long lost cousin, Syd, many years ago. I like to think of these tidbits of happy life experience as little jewels scattered along the often difficult path of life. They serve as reminders for us now and again, of the myriad and rich ways that we humans all interconnect, as we weave, in a seemingly haphazard fashion, in and out of one another's lives. This past week, I was fortunate to be present for just such an experience. I just happened to show up at the right place, right on time.
|Monica and Clarke|
I wrote at this time last year, that fall in Sonoma County is a magical place to experience. When my besties, Monica and Clarke came to dinner two weeks ago for a homemade pizza-on-the-grill party at my house, they brought a bottle of wine that gained my highest admiration once we started sipping. Monica and Clarke have great taste in wine. And not only do they share a great palate, but they have a knack for searching out small and singular wineries that make outstanding wines which are also sold for fair prices. This particular bottle was grown and bottled not far from where I live, I was most pleased to discover. Down the road a stretch in the beautiful Dry Creek Valley, David Coffaro Vineyard and Winery is making some mighty fine wines.I called the winery the next morning and Dave answered. After talking with him for a bit, he suggested that I stop by the winery tasting room at my convenience and try some wines. He and his assistant winemaker, Matt Wilson, make over 20 different varietals, so there is a lot to choose from. I told him that I planned to pay a visit on Friday, and he said that they would be busy starting the harvest that day, but to check in with Cindi in the tasting room. This year instead of my Canon Powershot, I grabbed my Canon 50D Digital SLR (she cackles happily to herself), put on a pair of jeans with my new green cowboy boots for fall, and headed out into the sparkling late summer afternoon with the sunroof wide open.
Wine tasting in West Sonoma County, is generally speaking, a whole different experience from wine tasting in Napa. West Sonoma County is off the beaten path, and thankfully absent are the ostentatious and grandiose winery tasting rooms where tour buses frequent and gift shops abound. They are often filled with throngs of tourists, all vying for a chance to taste some wine from some poor beleaguered soul behind the tasting bar.
When I wandered into the unassuming tasting room at the David Coffaro Winery after taking some photos of the gorgeous views of the vineyard just outside, I was greeted by Cindi with a warm smile. Two couples from Pennsylvania where just finishing up, and I had the place to myself. Cindi began pouring and as I savored, and she began answering my many questions. Dave had a background in finance, she explained, but discovered his true passion was in farming. He began growing grapes many years ago for other winemakers, but he eventually transitioned into making wines for himself, and boy howdy, am I ever glad that he did.
As I continued my tasting, Matt, the assistant winemaker, approached me and having seen my enormous camera, tentatively asked if I would be staying a little longer? My curious expression led him to explain that the first of the Zinfandel harvest was being brought in, and they had neglected to arrange for a photographer to document the annual gathering of the crew and the blessing of the grapes. An elated me... Miss Wannabe Professional Photographer, could barely contain her enthusiasm for the proposed project. I explained about the Salvation Sisters blog, and my wish to do a blog post on the winery... so a deal was struck.
To further add to the synchronicity of events, Matt it turns out, is from the same very small town where my son, Jordan, now lives in the scenic and mountainous Plumas County of California. I wrote about my travels to see Jordan this past spring when he and his firefighting friends grilled baby back ribs for me. Matt moved to San Francisco after graduating from high school, where he attended culinary school. In 2005, he began working for the David Coffaro Winery as a cellar hand. When the assistant winemaker left to pursue his own winery in 2006, Matt became the assistant winemaker.
With all hands on deck in front of the wine press and a huge bin of the freshly harvested grapes, Matt uncorked a bottle of the 2009 Sparking Pinot and poured a toast for all. Dave made a blessing and offering to the new harvest, and then we all cheered and clinked glasses with one another. I took photos as fast as my camera would go while trying to drink the delicious bubbly at the same time... a challenge, but one that I would eagerly accept again.
Pat Coffaro, Dave's wife, and Cindi, kindly gifted me with a bottle of their 2009 Block 4 to take home. I had tried it in the tasting room prior to taking the photos and had given my two thumbs up to the silky and fruity blend with bright flavors. So I suppose that this bottle represents my first paid gig for photos. Wonders will never cease. And in the future, if anyone should ask… I will work for great wine.
Linda's Heirloom Caprese Salad
Heirloom tomato season comes late to Northern California. An heirloom tomato comes from an heirloom plant, an open-pollinated (non-hybrid) cultivar of tomato. This year especially, because the spring was very rainy, and the summer was cool. All of these factors have contributed their part to the heirlooms just finally hitting their stride mid-September.
I wait all year for the heirlooms to arrive. The dazzling array of colors and sizes is a feast for the eyes. What's more...you can actually smell them. Yes...their fragrance perfumes the air around them like ripe melons or pineapples will do at their peak. The flavor of an heirloom is that of a tomato that does not exist in the rest of the year. Sorry, Hot House Cuties, but your flavor pales in comparison.
|My seed saving technique. Allow the paper towel to dry. Once |
dry save in a place protected from moisture.
My version of a Caprese salad evolved from the traditonal layering of tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and basil, to including my favorite ingredients of summer. And my favorite heirloom is that gorgeous yellow monster grown by Durst Organic Growers in my photos. It is meaty, yellow and has a red blush on the edges. The flavor is just the best. I am saving the seeds of this tomato for someone with a sunny spot next year. The seeds of your favorite heirloom are easy to save by sprinkling them onto a paper towel and then allowing to air dry. Once the paper towel is dry, fold the towel up and store seeds in an envelope or container, away from moisture until you are ready to grow them next spring. Next year you can moisten the whole towel and allow the seeds to soak overnight before planting the next day.
I do variations on this salad all of the time. When Monica and Clarke were here, I made a large composed and layered salad starting with whole leaves of butter lettuce placed around the edge of the plate. The the rest of the head of chopped butter lettuce was then layered with heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, onion slices, shaved fennel and fresh mozzarella with lots of fresh basil chiffonade thrown liberally on top. Make sure to season with salt, pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar as you go. This is the time to use your best olive oil, good aged balsamic, your finest fleur de sel and freshly cracked pepper. I use good quality bufala or fior du latti mozzarella. It is a simple salad that achieves greatness from the quality of its components.
Make whichever variation you wish and enjoy. I recommend it alongside a juicy New York steak, or as a great salad showpiece for a homemade pizza party. It is a wonderful salad to bring to a gathering, and dress just before serving. Whatever you choose, you will experience the essence of summer on a plate.
|Mise en place for the salad and pizza dough rising in bowl.|
Everything else is optional:
fresh mozzarella (I use slices or ciliegine/bocconcini)
red or white onion
butter lettuce or your favorite lettuce
fresh fennel, sliced very thin or shaved on a chef's mandoline
fresh basil (save some for the garnish)
sea salt or fleur de sel
fresh cracked ground pepper
1.Peel one large cucumber. Slice in half lengthwise and then slice into rounds. Place in a medium bowl and spinkle with olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper. Peel a medium red onion and cut in half. Cut the half in half, almost to the end of the root end with the cut side down on the cutting board. Then slice thinly across the face of the onion until you have your desired amount, about half an onion. Toss together with the cucumbers. Add fresh ciliegine to the top of the bowl. Sprinkle on more olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and combine very gently.
2. Place 3 or 4 slices of tomato around the edge of your plate. Cut the rest of the tomato into large pieces and place on top of the cucumber mixture. Again, drizzle the tomatoes on top of the cucumber mixture with more of the olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper. Place a generous sprinkle of basil chiffonade on top. Blend together VERY gently. Do not allow your tomato pieces to break up.
3. Pour the cucumber/onion/mozzarella/tomato and basil mixture gently on top of the tomato slices on your serving plate. Arrange the mixture so it is evenly distributed and looks attractive. Top with another handful of basil chiffonade and garnish with a large piece of fresh basil. Then drizzle the entire plate with a final application of the oil, balsamic, salt and pepper. Serve immediately. This salad does not keep well, so only make the quantity that you will need for the day.