Signorello, Stags’ Leap, White Rock… some of the most iconic names in the California/American wine industry. Now these wineries and many more are smoldering ruins, and in the wake of these fires a piece of our collective history, our living history, has gone too.
Those in British Columbia, Canada, like me, understand too well the powerful devastation that wildfire can cause in a society; 2017 was a devastating year for us or, at least, we thought it had been devastating until we witnessed the Napa Fires. A level of catastrophe that we had not let ourselves believe possible; in less than a week over 5,000 buildings were destroyed, over 30 lives extinguished, with hundreds of people missing and countless lives changed forever.
But I know these people. Some of them, like Ray Signorello, Jr., I’ve known for years. And I know that this is a group of people who will not bow beneath the weight of this terrible turn of events. It is unfathomable how much they have already lost—and how much more stands in peril—but it’s inspiring to see how quickly they have come to each other’s aid and how fiercely they defend each other.
It is humbling to bear witness to their courage and I dedicate this piece to them, and am proud to share a small part of their story with you.
A classic and original dish of San Francisco; there are countless “authentic” recipes for this hearty tomato-based soup and most of them I dare-say are fantastic… use what’s fresh, what’s local, what’s in season… this is the heart of all “peasant” food, and when the Italians came to San Francisco this was the style of cooking they brought with them.
- 2 Tbsp EACH: canola oil and extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup onion, sliced
- ½ cup fennel, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup celery, chopped
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 3 bay leaves, fresh
- 1 cup dry California white wine (Sauvignon Blanc works well)
- 2 Liters seafood or vegetable stock
- 1 Tbsp Sriracha
- 1 Tbsp tomato paste
- 2 Tbsp roasted garlic, mashed
- 1 large tin plum tomatoes, torn by hand
- 1 8-ounce bottle clam juice
- 1 lb fresh clams, soaked in water for 1 hour
- 1 lb fresh spot prawns (when in season) peeled and deveined
- 1 lb fresh mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
- 1lb fresh white fish: halibut, rock cod, shark, etc, skinned & cut into 1-inch pieces
- Kosher sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- fresh Italian parsley for garnish
- In a large pot over medium heat, heat oil. Add onion, fennel, celery, oregano and bay leaf and sauté lightly, stirring occasionally, until onions start to turn translucent and herbs release their aromas (about 5 minutes).
- Reduce heat to medium-low and add wine to deglaze pot. Continue stirring until wine is mostly evaporated
- Add stock, tomatoes with juice, clam juice, tomato paste, roasted garlic and Sriracha
- Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, covered, 30 minutes. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning.
- When ready to serve, heat the pot to medium and add clams, cover, and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the shrimp and mussels. Arrange the fish on top of the stew, cover, and simmer until shellfish opens and fish and shrimp are firm and opaque, about 5 minutes more. Garnish with fresh Italian parsley.
2016 Clos Pegase “Mitsuko’s Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc, Carneros
$22 USD at the winery, 91+ points
So beautiful even just to look at; the faintest blush of pink rose blossoms tint the wine and hint at the extravagant bouquet… typical New Zealand grassy notes give sway before layers of ripe apricot, wild summer flowers, exotic fruit tones and a slight green olive tint from the Carneros terroir. Zippy/full young acid springs to life and carries a terrific concentration of flavors that mimic and compliment the aromas. This is a stunning example of an under-appreciated varietal from California, offers superior value and is dynamite with any prawn/crab dishes… try this with your next prawn California roll!
2016 Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley
$22 USD at the winery, 91+ points
Bright, brisk, clean, elegant… such a different example of what Sauvignon Blanc can be! This wine revels in aromas of warm hay/straw, golden apple, toasted almonds and more of that briny-green-olive finish. Medium+ youthful acid is bright enough to pair with richer foods and yet balanced consummately to allow enjoyment on its own with need of nothing more than great company and a fine evening. Perfect for white fish; this finds harmony next to halibut, cod and even West Coast shark most commonly known as “dogfish” which is incredibly tasty and very reasonably priced if one can find it… try your local fisherman’s dock. Land-locked readers will want to bring a bottle of this the next time you’re fishing for trout and fry some up for lunch!
2015 Signorello “Hope’s Cuvée” Estate Chardonnay, Napa Valley
98 points Robert Parker, 98+ points Chef Kristof
To me this is the crux of what Napa Valley is truly about: family. Ray Signorello, Jr. sadly lost both of his parents years ago and about that time he began to coax a small parcel of Chardonnay grapes on the hillside of the estate which had been planted years ago but never really produced the wines that he knew could be made from it… Ray believed he could make some of the finest Chardonnay in California. Several years ago, an accountant came to Ray one day and said “Ray – I know you don’t want to hear this but we need to rip out the “Hope’s Cuvee” vines… they just aren’t producing what they should be and we can’t as a business afford to keep losing money on such prime real estate!”.
Ray looked at the man for a moment and replied “This vineyard is my testament to my mother (Hope). If you ever suggest tearing it out again it will be the last thing you say as an employee of this company.” Ray walked away from the man; the idea of tearing out the vineyard was never brought up again.
My humblest and profound thanks to all the California winemakers and winery principles I have had the pleasure of coming to know over the past 10 years. I cannot hope to imagine how difficult the fires and aftermath has been for you individually or as a community but it is my sincere hope that you know how many lives you have made a little brighter with yourhard-work, passion and commitment to excellence.
As always, I look forward to continuing our conversation:
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