Friday, June 15, 2012

FĂȘting the Reds at the Monterey Wine Festival {Edible Monterey Bay}

My piece about the Monterey Wine Festival went live on the Edible Monterey Bay blog this morning. Click here to go there. Or, read on...

Taste. Sip. Swirl. Enjoy. Those were the orders from California's longest-running wine festival, which celebrated its 36th anniversary this year.
The festivities at the Monterey Wine Festival kicked off on June 8 with a Friday evening event—“A Night to Celebrate Reds”—at Monterey State Historic Park’s Custom House Plaza and continued through the weekend with more food, more wine, and more fun, including the West Coast Chowder Competition and the Bartenders Fedora where local bartenders competed for the title of “best cocktail.”

While the festival does not come close to descending into bacchanalian madness, it is a celebration of the vine that would make Bacchus proud.

On Friday evening, when I attended, it was a celebration of red wines from more than twenty different vintners, hailing from all around the state. After waiting in line to enter the gated waterfront plaza, and then waiting in line to get my wine glass, I headed off to do as charged: taste, sip, swirl, and enjoy.

The featured reds ran the flavor-gamut from the accessible to the aggressive. Pelican Ranch Winery, from Capitola, poured a Pinot noir with subtle undercurrents of cherry while D & L Carinalli Vineyards, from Sebastopol, presented a smokier version of the same varietal. Pierce Ranch Vineyards, located between Bradley and Lockwood at the southernmost tip of Monterey County, offered a limited production Graciano with strong notes of blackberry and olallieberry. And Hollister’s Pietra Santa Winery put forward a plummy Vache.


Festival attendees had the opportunity to taste not just wines but also edible morsels. Carmel’s Forge in the Forest offered platters of innovative treats such as sesame-encrusted seared ahi atop deep fried lotus root with a dot of wasabi cream. Columbus Salumeria, based in San Francisco, sliced up several varieties of its classic and artisan salumi. And, perhaps the busiest table in the plaza housed the Morro Bay Oyster Company, which was shucking and serving up its Pacific Gold oysters right next to KORBEL Champagne Cellars. Oysters and champagne. Yes, please! As busy as he was, Neal Maloney, the owner of the Morro Bay Oyster, took some time to chat with me.

Monterey_Wine_Festival_June2012-FINAL_Page_2_Image_0001Maloney founded his company in 2008 and has formed strong ties with local chefs, loading up his bounty each week and driving to provide numerous spots with hand- harvested oysters. He described his typical Thursday morning: at 7am, harvesting begins; by 9am, he’s loaded up, and until 3pm, he’s delivering to restaurants such as Lokal, in Carmel Valley, and Schooners Coastal Kitchen and Bar, on Cannery Row. The schedule is arduous, but it ensures that the oysters make it from bay to plate in less than twelve hours. And if there are any oysters that aren’t sold and served, Maloney retrieves them the following week, returning them to the bay where they are allowed to grow for at least another month before he re- harvests them.

His environmentally sustainable techniques have led Morro Bay Oyster to be recognized and highlighted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program.

Monterey_Wine_Festival_June2012-FINAL_Page_2_Image_0002The farm lies on 134 acres that Maloney has leased long-term from California’s Department of Fish and Game. In the shadow of Morro Rock, a unique volcanic formation that was once an island and now stands sentry at the mouth of Morro Bay, smaller rocks have eroded from the behemoth, forming jetties and creating an estuary in which Maloney’s crop thrives.

Maloney explains that the flavor profile of the oysters changes throughout the year, depending on the salinity of the water. During the spring, when fresh water gushes from an underwater volcanic aquifer, the oysters are mild, sweet and have a melon finish. During the summer, when the water grows increasingly concentrated and salty, the oyster flesh gets creamier and pairs well with a salsa fresca that is heavy on cucumber. But, Maloney asserts, “For oysters this good, you don’t really need anything beyond a squeeze of lemon.” I nodded in agreement as I swallowed another oyster.


As I made my way around the festival, I stopped to sip some brandies from Osocalis, an artisanal distillery in Soquel, on the Santa Cruz side of the Monterey Bay. The name Osocalis is the original, Native American name for Soquel. Osocalis's small production team, headed by Daniel Farber and Jeff Emery, adheres to Old World methods of production, using an antique copper alembic still imported from Cognac.
Monterey_Wine_Festival_June2012-FINAL_Page_3_Image_0001Because my knowledge about brandy bordered on nil, I was lucky to get a quick distillation education while tasting the three brandies they were pouring. Brandy, in case you are as unfamiliar with it as I was, is a distilled wine and short for “brandywine.”

Owen started me off with their youngest offering, the Rare Alambic brandy. The Rare is blended from brandies distilled from several varietals with an emphasis on Pinot noir, Semillon and Colombard. After the bright and floral Rare, I moved on to their XO, which consists mostly of 15-year-old brandies and has a softer, nuttier flavor. Finally, I sipped the Heritage. At least two decades old, the Heritage teems with an alluring spiciness that was delightfully subtle. Owen called that complex flavor “rancio.” Part spicy, part fruity, part nutty, there were notes of clove and cinnamon with hints of cedar and leather. I am a brandy-convert. This is definitely a libation to sip and to savor.


Monterey_Wine_Festival_June2012-FINAL_Page_3_Image_0002Michaud Vineyards is the only winery I’ve ever seen bring a mason jar full of soil to a tasting. Yes, soil. Dirt. Maybe it’s because I am a perpetual inhabitant of testosterone land—with a husband and two small boys in the house—but that jar of dirt drew me to their tasting table a few years ago, the first time I ever encountered their wines. Intrigued, I remember that I placed my wine glass on the table and was instructed, “Swirl that. Take a whiff of the dirt. Then taste the wine.”

This time around Michaud didn’t have a mason jar of dirt with him, but, when I asked, he fished a vial of the substrate from his vineyard out of his bag. He talked to me about the minerals below his vines—decomposed granite, limestone formed from the decay of marine organisms, and pink feldspar—and he discussed how they affect the character of his wines.

Michaud does all of the winemaking and most of the farming himself; he relishes getting his hands dirty and stays involved with the wine production from beginning to end. He says, rightly, that that’s the only way he can guarantee the quality of his wines, which are a tribute to the elements that make up their composition. The aroma and taste, he claims, should reflect the soil, the sun, and the grape varietal. Though I tasted all of the wines Michaud brought to the festival, his Syrah was my favorite. Racy and peppery—Fantastic. Give that a swirl if you have the chance.

Vintners arrived from all over to be a part of the festival—from the Alexander Valley in Sonoma to Bend, Oregon—but on this night honoring reds, I wanted to do just that. I wanted to savor the wines and tastes from around the Central Coast. Though I thoroughly enjoyed everything I tasted, the Morro Bay Oyster Company, Osocalis Distillery, and Michaud Vineyard impressed me. Bravi. Thank you for the fabulous evening. Until we meet again...

Monday, June 11, 2012

Flower Power at 1650 Gallery {Catch-Up}

In December 2010, a juried photo exhibit opened at the 1650 Gallery in Los Angeles; it was titled Flower Power  - click here for all of the selected images - and featured one of my photos. It was taken at a lavender farm in Los Olivos where Jake and I went for a quick weekend birthday trip in April 2010.

Kid Stuff at 1650 Gallery {Catch-Up}

Since I am just getting this going - an online portfolio of sorts - forgive me while I play catch up on photos and writing that have been published in the past few years.

In June 2011, a juried photo exhibit opened at the 1650 Gallery in Los Angeles; it was titled Kid Stuff  - click here for all of the selected images - and featured two of my photos. Both were taken during our Spring Break 2011 trip to the snow with the Novaks.

We bundled up the kids and headed up the hill to a golf course blanketed in a fresh layer of powder from the previous day's storm. Riley was so excited to play in the snow, he just launched himself into it. Bliss.
~ Arnold, California. March 2011

We arrived at the resort to complete darkness. The power had been knocked out by a storm and they weren't allowing anyone to check-in. "I'm sorry, we just drove 4 hours to get here and have 4 anxious kids in the car. Please let us check-in and we'll rough it." They did. And we did. We did skits by flashlight and played games by candlelight.
~ Arnold, California. March 2011

Tickets in Hand

Mid-week, last week, I saw this in the Monterey County Weekly's (in)Box Lunch:

"And, without further ado, Camilla Mann has won our wine photo contest (and two Monterey Wine Festival tickets), edging out Jenn Gerard and Beverly Van Pelt. The shot is titled 'Cheers' and was taken during a trip down the River Road Wine Trail."

Here's the winning shot...

So, on Friday evening, we dropped the boys off with a sitter and I whisked my love and a friend away for a wine adventure. They drank while I ran around and interviewed vintners, oyster farmers, and brandy distillers at the Friday evening kick-off event of the Monterey Wine Fest - "A Night to Celebrate Reds." I penned a piece about some of the local vintners and the rest of the fest for Edible Monterey Bay. Keep an eye out for it...and once it's live there, I'll post a link here.

Several Careers Ago...

My resume reads like a college class catalog - a little bit of this and a little bit of that. If you think I'm joking, think: au pair, waitress, cafe manager, office manager, divemaster, editor, freelance writer, personal trainer, stroller fitness instructor, professional fundraiser...the list goes on. I'm not joking.

But back before kids, I found that I have a passion for, and some talent with, capturing moments and telling stories with a pen and a lens. As Jake and I settle into lives with children who are less dependent on us for every little thing, I'm making headway back into writing and photographing.

I've hung images at the 1650 Gallery in Los Angeles in two different juried photography exhibitions, one about flowers and one about kids.

I've earned a few commissions with Trazzler, an online travel guide that focuses on unique perspectives and visions of places, especially those off the beaten path. And I've racked up some accolades, including two first place finishes in their photo contests and numerous honorable mentions - in both photography and writing.

I am, also, now a contributing writer for Edible Monterey Bay; I was commissioned for one story about their pop-up supper club at Ventana Inn and Spa and have another in the hopper. I actually said "I'm a writer" without stuttering when I introduced myself to, and interviewed, an oyster farmer at an event on Friday. Progress.

So, I hope you'll follow along and take a look at whatever stories and images catch your eye and tickle your fancy.