for August, 2011

August 31, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Radio Silence: Broken

Two vines diverged in a yellow wood... and I... I took the one less trav....

Feels like August, but could be September. I’ve lost track. Hard to tell, what with the oddities in temperature. The grapes are still trying to ripen – the longest Veraison in a long time, is what they say. Time falls away from me out here; the remnants lie in heaps of torn vegetation like tiny monuments in between blocks of grape vines. You look up and the sky is blue again. You like down and the earth is red, or brown, or white. I’m never too hot, I’m never too cold.

The simple truth is that in a twenty-four hour period there are not enough hours to keep up with the demands of this world. And it’s fun, I think, to be realistic and place blame. A lot of people like to say that you can’t blame others, that you’ve got to blame yourself! We’re a culture of responsibility-takers. “I take responsibility,” we all [like to] say. What a bunch of idiotic rhetoric. So I’m placing blame… but I’m gonna be vague about it and say simply that I’ve been distracted – here in the golden state of California, amidst the vineyards of the valley, because of a programed mentality and not a human mentality. I’ve been backed into corners, my creativity depleted, my existence stifled.

I was supposed to write about wine, write about my everyday experiences out here in the vast western landscape, amidst the grapes and the receding mountain-scapes. I’ve let it go. Am I sorry for it? Only if readers grew bored and skidded elsewhere among the internet-O-rama-sphere. If this was 1861, and I was chronicling my experiences, you’d have to wait a damn long time for me to come back and tell you about everything. Well, look, I’ve made it back into town, my horse is near-death and I’ve been livin on wastewater. That’s life, ya know? So let’s get on with it.


Wine, I used to think was something you bought in a wine store, to be enjoyed with dinner, or on its own, glass after glass. Living in the Napa Valley for three months now, I’ve drunk more wine than ever before and paid for less of it than I ever imagined. There’s a barter system here. There’s also a “thank you” system and thanks comes in the form of many bottles O vino. Then, of course, there is the lucky luxury of happening upon the right situation. I think this bottle of wine fits that category:

"Is this the gold I came diggin' for?" - Jonny Cigar, September 31, 2011

I said I came out here to dig for gold, but no one told me I could find it in a bottle of Vin Gris. And with the price of gold at the moment ($1800 an ounce), I was a fool to drink this. Well, it wasn’t mine to begin with. It was a Sunday afternoon and down a dead-end drive in the town of St. Helena, CA, I met with new-found friends Josh Phelps and Ross Bentley. Ross makes wine with Jayson Woodbridge of Hundred Acre. Josh makes wine with his good friend Carlo Trinchero – they call their operation TAKEN Wine Company. We were playing a bocce-like game, but with bean-bags and wooden planks with a singular hole in the center. Rather than set the ball near the polina, the object of this game was to sink the bean-bags in the hole. First team to 21 points wins. We had a hell of time and drank a good deal of wine. Josh brought out a bottle of cider – 50 cases produced – for personal consumption, and why? Because it was fucking tasty and a friend had the apples and another friend had room to ferment. There may have even been a dosage involved, but who is keeping track?

But let me tell you what happened next:

Cathy Erway called to say that she’s in San Francisco and living on a boat, and we should put something together. Dinner on a boat. Okay. And we did. And I called Josh and told him we need his wine for this and I secured a case of his white wine, called AVAILABLE. A tasty blend of Sauv Blanc and Muscat. 10 of us drank the entire case. Cathy wrote about it here. And these are photos to prove it:

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And sounds to support: boatOrama

So then, my friend(s) it was the end of August. And that means the anniversary of the day when I promised to live with a lady until forever. We celebrated by lunching it at the due-michelin starred Cyrus in Healdsburg. That looked like this:

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Now moving forward — The podcast series will launch near the end of September. I have some great interviews to share – and the show Noble Rot Talks, will be quite fun, I assure yee. Also, my “Harvest” activities will include work at Swanson Vineyards and Alpha Omega. More on that later this week. Tomorrow is #CabernetDay and I’m hosting an event with James Stolich of Cook With James.

August 20, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Wines I’ve Drunk and Lived to See Another Day(s)

“Well, Jonny, where’ve you been the last week? What happened to all the blog posts you promised you’d be posting?”
“Good question, faithful reader. I plead the Fifth!”
“Very well, Jonny, but next time you’ll end up like Jean Valjean: a slave, of the law.”
“I know the meaning of those 19 years…”
Okay, on with it!

I’ve had the exciting and fortunate experience of tasting some marvelous wines lately and this article is a photo journey with a few notes about the experience. In no particular order here we go:

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August 10, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Cochon 555 @ Charles Krug in St. Helena, CA

UPDATE: Conchon 555 recap.

As promised there was an array of wood-fired whole animals, butchery, wines & brews. The butchery demonstrations were incredibly fascinating. If you’ve ever wondered where your Ribeyes, Strip Steaks, Flank Steaks, Steak Tartare, Tri-Tip Steaks, on and on Steaks come from… the butchers at Cochon’s Heritage Fire event would have satisfied your wonderment.

Wine was in abundance… certainly plenty of Charles Krug to go around and from what I recall: Hill Family Estate and Failla, and plenty others.

The grounds at Charles Krug are enchanting, and there’s plenty of room. There were hundreds of people chowing down on wood-fired pulled pork and chickens and vegetables smothered in chicken fat and duck dogs (oh my duckgod – see photo below) and lamb and potatoes and salt-encrusted whole ham-hocks and burgers and ducks and sides of slaw and succotash. Wow. A feast and a half.

The best part was seeing some of the SF/Napa friends I’ve come to know: Laiko Bahrs, Susan Quinn (striking blue party dress) and Didier Loustau (sporting a beret!) from TouteSuite Social Club were there and I met Nora from Scribe, and Stephanie from KQED, and ran into a Napa Valley legend: Hunter Boon.

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This couldn’t have come at a better time: Cochon 555 arrives in St. Helena this Saturday, August 13 – at Charles Krug Winery (a five minute drive down the road pour-moi). For anyone else in the Bay Area, this is an event, absolutely not to miss. Do not miss this event. If you miss this event you should never go to another event again. At least, not until the next Cochon 555 event. I’ll be there tasting and sipping away and will update this post with a recap of the experience.

Brady Lowe, the Founder of Cochon 555, Taste Network & Primal will present Cochon Heritage Fire at Charles Krug Winery in St, Helena, CA. This is the second largest COCHON event, and will move beyond pigs to honor heritage breeds in general with 25 chefs, 10 star butchers and over 2000 pounds of different heritage breed animals from rabbits to chicken to goat. The event includes wood-fired whole animal theatre cooking, butcher demos, cured meats, wood-fired cheeses, hand-made sausages, heirloom vegetables, craft cheese and boutique brews.

WINE: There will be an array of amazing wineries pouring: Charles Krug – Peter Mondavi Family, Chase Cellars, Failla Wines, Elk Cove Vineyards, Long Meadow Ranch, ACME Fine Wines, Cimarossa, Signorello Estate, Hill Family Estate, Arnot Roberts, Terra Valentine, Zacherle, Blakeslee Vineyard Estate, Green Barrel and Melka Wines. Appellation St. Helena will be pouring a slew of other wildly interesting brands. This is a great opportunity to taste and experience the valley.


August 10, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Hiking: Mount St. Helena & Robert Louis Stevenson

A Madrone Tree near the Summit of Mount St. Helena

“Let’s go hiking,” I said.
“That would be great,” said Daisy, my wife. (To protect her identity I’m calling her “Daisy”).
“Will you pack my copy of The Great Gatbsy?” I asked.
“No,” said Daisy. And just like that, we were off to the mountaintops.

If you’ve never hiked five miles up a mountain, you may not think about the fact that you’ll then hike five miles down the mountain. It is simply one of those thoughts that doesn’t set in until you realize no helicopter will be landing anytime soon on the summit to portal you down to champagne and caviar along, say, the Napa River. Okay. Fair enough. I’m still feeling the post-hike-ache as I type this, three days later.

On Sunday, I took a break from panning for gold out here in these here hills and Daisy and I packed a lunch (from the Oakville Grocery – we spent $234.45 on sandwiches, chips and water) and then drove north on Highway 29 toward Calistoga. Passing through the town, famous in the earlier part of the last century because of its springs – the wealthy consumed with consumption came to breathe in the fog and soak in the springs – we arrived about ten minutes later at a small clearing in the woods, a decent drive up Mount St. Helena where a plaque told us we were now in “Robert Louis Stevenson State Park.”

From there we locked the car and put our valuables in the trunk – a place no car thief would ‘er think to look! Onward!

Trail of the ages.

A brief lull at the place where (supposedly) Robert L. Stevenson and his faithful wife and entourage lived in an abandoned cabin that used to be living quarters for the mine-workers who were diligently digging for gold and such before Stevenson arrived in the valley. He too suffered from ailments of the mind, body and spirit and so the mountain was the right place for him. I cannot imagine how they trekked up there – though you can read about it in Silverado Squatters – still, seeing the terrain and thinking about the lack of freshly paved highway and easily navigable, well-trodden trails, must have been… interesting for them all.

On the site where RLS once lived.

The hike was reinvigorating. The air smelled sweet. The views were magnificent and I was humbly put in my place: we’re small people living in this big world and ya know what else? Our activities, our needs, our wants, our expectations are just as insignificant – at least they were for the twenty minutes Daisy and I peered out over the California landscape from atop a volcano that, at some point in time millennia ago spewed forth molten rock and left for us a mound to mine and climb. How thoughtful.

Daisy peers out over the California Landscape.

Jonny Cigar: a pensive man.