by Laura Martin Bacon

On a sunny Saturday in late September, creative ideas and seasonal flavors bloomed as our Wine SIG embarked on a one-of-a-kind culinary adventure at St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery. The theme “Veggies + Vino” conveyed the essence of this vineyard-and-garden-to-table odyssey, taking us from a multi-sensory tour of the winery’s gardens to an in-depth wine-and-veggie tasting, followed by an idyllic lunch in the St. Supéry vineyard.

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St. Supery grounds. Photo by Carrie Tillie.

To share a virtual taste with fellow SFPFS members, here’s a buffet of bites and sips from this unique Wine SIG.

IN THE GARDEN: WINE COUNTRY VEGGIES

Our St. Supéry exploration began in the gardens with William Goss, the winery’s Estate Horticulturalist and Educator.

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William Goss. Photo by Carrie Tillie.

Will began by telling us a bit about his academic background as a true “aggie.” He graduated from U.C. Davis after majoring in plant genetics, fungal biology and ecology—and started a seed library of locally adapted seed sources that require less irrigation and fertilizing. After that, Will worked with kids as an outdoor educator in the Santa Cruz mountains and did honeybee and native bee research, both of which prepared him for his current job at St. Supéry.

“I’m a true plant nerd—feel free to ask me anything,” Will told us. “And please feel free to explore and engage in a sensory way with the plants around you by touching, smelling and tasting. It’s the best way I know to truly understand our gardens. Basically, it comes down to this: we all need to spend more time with plants.”

As we toured the garden, it became apparent that St. Supéry’s horticulturalist is a philosopher and storyteller as well as a scientific gardener.

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St. Supery Garden. Photo by Carrie Tillie.

A few of Will’s seeds of wisdom:

Botanical Connections: All around the winery, you’ll see eco-friendly combinations of botanicals, including edibles mingling with colorful flowers for an aesthetic experience that allows visitors to be nourished by the plants on all levels. “Gardens are a wonderful way to realize and appreciate the connections between humans and plants—and carry on traditions. By sustainably managing this landscape, we create a great habitat for plants, wildlife and creative conversations,” Will said.

A Fig of Enlightenment: As we gathered around an espaliered fig tree, Will noted that these trees are among the most amenable to propagation. In fact, he said, the non-fruit bearing variety is the same one under which the Buddha is said to have gained enlightenment—and that historic tree has since been propagated to flourish in the gardens of Buddhist temples around the world. To propagate a fig tree, all that’s required is to take a cutting and plant it in soil or an aeroponic system.

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Will with espaliered tree. Photo by Carrie Tillie.

 

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Espalier guide. Photo by Carrie Tillie.

A Growing Mission: “When you realize the power of propagation, it makes you understand how much life is in just one plant. It’s so easy to grow your own trees. You simply find a neighbor’s fig tree, say thank you to your neighbor and the plant, take some cuttings and pot them up,” Will said. “I always tell people that the best day to plant a tree is yesterday—and the second best is today.”

Embracing Permaculture: St. Supéry’s sustainable gardening strategy is based on the concept of permaculture, as Will constantly seeks new ways to make the most of the land and the plants that grow there. “We try to maximize efficiency by stacking functions. All the plants have different needs, so we arrange the gardens to ensure maximum benefit using the fewest resources, including time, water, soil and fertilizer. As you walk around, you’ll notice different layers of plants—a canopy, sub-canopy, vines, galvanized planters, an herbaceous layer and groundcover. All these work together to nourish each other and the space they’re growing in.”

 

Habitat Heaven: As we stroll around St. Supéry’s beautifully landscaped grounds, we notice small wooden structures and inquire about their purpose. “Those are bird boxes,” Will tells us. “We’re creating habitat for birds who’ll eat insects. We also have owl boxes to naturally prevent birds from eating the grapes. You’ll see lots of pollinator plants that attract bees, as well as plants that provide a habitat for butterflies (like milkweed, which is the only plant that monarch larvae can eat). We even grow a human habitat with tall, non-invasive grasses that create the outdoor room where you’ll be eating lunch today.”

The Joy of Herbs: “I want to encourage you to start developing stronger relationships with plants that bring you joy—and this is one of those plants for me,” Will said as he picked a sprig of lemon verbena. We stopped to revel in its refreshing citrus scent as Will pointed out other culinary herbs that make wonderful tisanes: fragrant mint, basil and lemon balm. “Drinking the essence of aromatic herbs is a reminder of the traditional culinary, medicinal and cultural uses of plants that have gone on for centuries. And of course, they taste great!”

Delicious Diversity: “When it comes to a healthy, thriving garden, diversity is key,” Will noted. “We have over 50 varieties of plants here in our culinary garden.” Wandering through the garden confirms a colorful bounty of culinary possibilities, including heirloom tomatoes, summer and winter squashes, melons, root vegetables, asparagus, chard, lettuces and eggplant—just to name a few.

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Heirloom tomatoes. Photo by Carrie Tillie.

The Ways of Water: One of the most vital resources in any garden is water. Will describes his management of this precious resource as “making water walk.” The garden’s low-pressure irrigation system relies on drip tape controlled by timers, slowing the dispersal of water so that it’s efficiently absorbed into the soil (which is comprised of fill dirt from the vineyards). A layer of redwood mulch preserves moisture—especially important during a long, hot Napa Valley summer.

From Garden to Table: When Will meets up with winery chef Brittny Sundin, their conversations revolve around making the most of the gardens’ freshest and most abundant seasonal produce. “It’s all about being flexible and understanding that plants have their own sense of time,” Will said. “The menus evolve organically, imaginatively adapting to the day’s harvest to create a harmony of flavors that pair well with the wines. It’s another example of the way humans and nature interact, working together to do great things.”

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photo by Cynthia Traina

AT THE WINERY: PERFECT PAIRINGS

After our exploration of the culinary gardens, we gathered in a private tasting room to savor a signature menu of pairings, featuring estate-grown veggies and hand-selected St. Supéry wines. Our eloquent guide was Tom Markakis, St. Supéry’s Trade & Education manager, who provided a general introduction to pairing food and wine, followed by a sip-by-sip journey through the flavor synergies of Chef Britny Sundin’s Vino + Veggies menu.

First, here are Tom’s expert tips and tricks for pairing food and wine:

Simple Secrets of Pairing: “When it comes to food and wine pairing, the main thing is to make sure certain elements are in harmony,” Tom told us. “Think of acidity and tannin with wine—and fats and proteins with food. The simplest and best way to do that? Taste the wine, then taste the food. If you’ve paired them correctly, the wine tastes a little better and the food tastes a little better. You’ll know you’ve hit the mark when your palate feels refreshed and ready for the next sip of wine or bite of food.”

Flavors Can Fool You: People can go wrong with food and wine pairing by thinking of flavors first, Tom noted. Wine labels can characterize flavors using subjective language and emotional descriptors. That’s why tasting is essential. “It just takes a minute—and it can make all the difference. When you get that ‘happy feeling’ on your palate, you know you’ve got the right pairing.”

Sensory Sensibilities: Pay close attention to what you’re sensing as you sip a wine—and observe your tactile cues. If you feel as though you’ve missed the match, Tom advises either adjusting the food or choosing another wine to accompany the dish. Generally, what works for you will also work for your guests.

The 3-Sip Rule: Tom revealed that the pH of wine is close to our body’s own pH. “When the first sip of a wine doesn’t taste great, your palate is usually out of sync. So I recommend using a 3-sip rule: the first sip is the shock to your palate, the second indicates your palate getting used to the flavors—and by the third sip, you’re really tasting the wine. The science of this is that your palate is lining up with the pH of the wine.”

Fast Fixes for Food: What if the dish you’ve prepared isn’t an ideal partner for the wine you’ve chosen? Tom gave us a restaurant chef’s trick for adjusting your food: add a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of fresh herbs. “Typically, the main fix for food will be acidity, which can be added with lemon or lime juice, vinegar or tomatoes. Another way to balance flavors is to add a bit of salt or drizzle of olive oil, which will bring out umami character. Other ways to elicit more umami are bacon, pancetta, olives or cheese.”

Exclusive Bonus Pairings: We asked Tom how to pair some of our favorite casual indulgences with wine—and he kindly obliged with these suggestions. “My preferred pairing for a hot dog would be a rosé that straddles territory between red and white wines. Another great partner would be a big chardonnay. If you’re looking for a wine to invite to your next barbecue, I’d suggest a good zinfandel—the zin has the residual sugar and jamminess you need to complement rich, smoky flavors. And as for your request for an overall junk food fix, I’d stick with the classic goes-with-everything pairing: champagne!”

ON THE MENU: VINO + VEGGIES

A tasting of St. Supéry’s vino and veggies, guided by Tom Markakis and Chef Britny Sundin.

St. Supéry Garden Melon, Skyhill Farms Feta, St. Supéry Garden Mint, Citrus Vinaigrette
2015 St. Supéry Napa Valley Estate Rosé
Britny’s notes: “This dry rosé has fresh, fruity notes of watermelon, so I’ve kept the pairing simple, letting the melon from our gardens speak for itself. I toss it with a little fresh mint and add tangy feta for richness, finishing the dish with fresh citrus juice and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.”
Tom’s notes: “This is a robust, deeply colored rosé that transitions beautifully from summer to fall. Its heft and power comes from Merlot grapes grown specifically for this wine, rounded out with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.”

Curried St. Supéry Garden Carrot Soup, Brioche Crouton, Carrot Top Pesto
2014 St. Supéry Napa Valley Dollarhide Estate Vineyard Chardonnay
Britny’s notes:
“This wine has a rich, round style without being overly manipulated. I like to complement the wine’s creaminess with a pureed carrot soup spiced with curry and ginger. Coconut
milk adds delicate sweetness, while orange juice adds brightness. It’s finished with crisp, buttery brioche croutons and a dollop of pesto made from the bright green carrot tops.”
Tom’s notes: “This Chardonnay is barrel-fermented and barrel-aged for a short time only—about 10 months. It exemplifies a classic California style that’s leaner and showcases more of the fruit, making it a perfect pairing for the fresh vegetable flavors of the soup.”

Port-Braised St. Supéry Garden Leeks, Beehive Cheese Co. Barely Buzzed Cheddar, Roasted St. Supéry Garden Fig, Cranberry Currant Toast
2012 St. Supéry Napa Valley Rutherford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Britny’s notes: “This is one of my favorite wines because I love the rich, dense bite of the ‘Rutherford dust.’ Those flavors are pulled forward by the cheddar, which is brushed with coffee and lavender. Cranberry currant toast complements the wine with rich notes of dried fruit, while caramelized leeks braised in port add a savory-sweet component. Roasted fig tossed with olive oil, salt and tarragon finishes the dish with a hint of herbaceousness.”
Tom’s notes: “This is the proverbial big cab. It’s mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with a bit of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The unfiltered qualities of the wine lend a great mouthfeel and distinctive sense of place—that legendary Rutherford dust. It works beautifully with the Barely Buzzed cheddar, which plays into the wine’s spicy, earthy, herbal flavors—and the cheese’s fats and proteins perfectly balance the tannins.”

Spicy St. Supéry Garden Salsa, Crostini
2014 St. Supéry Napa Valley Estate Moscato
Britny’s notes: “Even though this is a Moscato, I like to show how well it partners with spicy food. The wine’s residual sugar is key to knocking through the heat. I’ve paired it with a spicy salsa of peppers, tomatoes, leeks and herbs from our garden. Each sip of Moscato cools and refreshes your palate, so that you’re eager for the next bite.”
Tom’s notes: “This is a very fragrant wine—Moscato is the most aromatic of all the white grapes. Its fresh, fruity notes and perfect balance of sweetness and acidity make it an ideal pairing for spicy dishes. Other great partners include everything from pungent cheeses to chocolate. Or try it frozen—a Moscato granita or sorbet is a guaranteed winner.”

IN THE VINEYARD: AN UNFORGETTABLE LUNCH

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photo by Cynthia Traina

After our Vino + Veggies tasting, we headed out to a shady table in the vineyard for a family-style lunch, featuring a special menu and wine pairings orchestrated exclusively for the San Francisco Professional Food Society. Throughout the lunch, Tom regaled us with insider wine tips and anecdotes that partnered perfectly with the wonderful food, wine and company. As for the menu, it speaks for itself—you can check it out below. Cheers!

 

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photo by Cynthia Traina

 

 

MORE INFO: If you’d like to experience St. Supéry’s wines for yourself or take the winery’s Vino + Veggies tour, please visit their website at stsupery.com.