A Master Class, Lots of Good Bites, Wine & Music, Bubbling Up with Rack & Riddle, Half a Glass and More in This Edition of Woody’s Whine

Writing from the edge of the Russian River in Sonoma County

A Masters Class on Matching at Kendall Jackson

It was a beautiful sunny weekend between rainy days for this year’s California Artisan Cheese Festival and the tasting team took full advantage of being outdoors.

We began on the grounds of the lovely Kendall Jackson Winery and gardens where we sampled through a selection of limited production Kendall Jackson wines and artisan cheeses produced in and around Sonoma County. The wines poured were tastes from four of Kendall Jackson’s 50 holdings across California and Oregon, not the 11 buck KJ Chardonnay from your grocery store. The wines were paired with a cheese and an accompaniment that really helped make the match work. I came away with a with a new view regards having a third element besides cheese or wine as a matching component.

The talent behind the pairings is Jackson Family Wines Executive Chef Tracy Shepos Cenami who I will simply refer to as “Chef”. She leads a team of over 200 managing events for multiple locations and presents over 400 events a year at Jackson Family Wine properties. She provided interesting insight as to how she matches food and wine and how you gentle readers may use her thought process to, in fact, discover what really does go with what.

“I moved to Sonoma County as restaurant chef but when I realized where I was I really started thinking about how food and wine pairing was being influenced by my surroundings,” Chef offered.

“As a chef at a restaurant I’d create a dish, a really good dish and then say what wine should I pair with it? The problem is as a chef at a restaurant you’re limited to what wine is on the menu so you’re going to try to find something that suits your dish as best as possible.” She continued, “Now working for a winery I start with the wine and then think about what’s fresh from our gardens as part of the season”.

“It a bit of challenge when it comes to food and wine matching,” Chef comments, “Jackson Family Wines own 50 wineries around the world so the arsenal of wines is almost endless though sometimes challenging, for example today we’re doing this event at Kendall Jackson (our tasting) but I’ve got a team down the street at Hartford court and they’re making food that matches with Hartford court wines, tomorrow we have a dinner at Cardinale Winery so we’ll be focusing on their wines, a bit challenging but for me as a chef and for my team it’s really exciting,” she offers with a smile.

What components do you consider when trying to match a wine with a cheese or recipe?

“I start with the wine, Chef begins, I smell the wine, I taste the wine and I think about what I want to eat with it, what parts of the wine are really interesting, what can I play up here, what’s a dish that I can make that’s really going to enhance the elements of the wine that I find interesting.”

Delving further into the matching process Chef offered this concept, “You can stay in the same lane, for example if you’ll be drinking a richer, oaky Chardonnay, then lobster or something with a butter sauce will match up really well, or you can contrast by saying what else would really complement the dish, but there needs to be balance because if everything is the same, the same, the same, (slapping her hands together for emphasis), it’s not very interesting. Every dish needs a balance of acid and texture as it’s very pleasing to the palate and should always be considered when matching wine and food,” she stated quite factually.

I wondered aloud if one can you have too many cheeses…

“Well”, Chef begins, “We have maybe 25 cheeses in our walk-in cooler but I still like to add maybe three new ones every year which seems like a lot for a winery but that’s part of our program and I want to continue to learn and to support the creameries in Sonoma and California.”

Executive Chef Tracy Shepos Cenami shared, “I’ve always loved cheese and since I’ve moved to Sonoma County I’ve really been able to embrace more of being able to work with cheese as very much part of my career and my personal growth.”

Well matched I thought.


Lots of Great Cheese Bites

We finished up our big cheese weekend at the California Artisan Cheese Festival tasting event on the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. The festival “brings together more than 100 artisan cheese and food producers, winemakers, brewers, distillers, cidermakers and chefs who offer their hand-crafted cheeses, delectable products that complement cheese, boutique wines, artisan-brewed beers and handcrafted ciders”.

Comprised not only of cheese makers but related and complimentary vendors, the festival is a juried event so unless you are a member of the Cheese Guild or have been a previous vendor you must submit samples of your product or service to be judged as compatible with other vendors presenting at the show, i.e. no tube socks or brass cleaner.

Judy Walker is the Artisan Cheese Event Producer who I spoke with after the event to get her perspective on the festivals returning to normal status after Covid. “It’s darn nice to be back to our three day format with the farm tours and off-site tastings events”, she responded when asked for her first impression of the weekend’s events. “Our attendance was at 1,500 just where we were hoping it to be and we had more cheesemakers this year along with 30 other new vendors such as wineries and cider makers.” Walker pointed out that one of the great things that happened this year was a nice synergy when new vendors get to meet other vendors who want to carry their products at their own locations, “It’s a really nice outcome of the event for everyone,” she commented.

Good weather provided success to the “cheese crawl; held on Saturday night at The Barlow, a local 12-acre outdoor market district featuring local food, wine, beer, spirits and crafts in Sebastopol where ticket holders, using a treasure map, find that each stop is hosted by a cheesemaker offering samples plus a featured food or beverage samples.

Cheese makers are a different sort than wine makers, they seem to be happier with sharing what they’ve made and perhaps it’s a result of working with the animals that provide the dairy that they’re making into delicious cheese.

“I look at the event from different angles,” Walker responded when asked for an overall review of the event. “It’s nice to see all the pieces fall into place, the vendors were happy, people attending were happy and I spoke to several people who filled their goodie bags and went out to their cars to unload and returned to sample more and to buy more products. It’s always great to see people take advantage of our local vendors and to make new satisfying connections, hope we see more of your readers next year.” She stated pleasantly.


Half a Glass

Wine and Music –What a Concept

Chateau Ste Michelle Partners with Live Nation as First-Ever National Wine Sponsor

The wide-reaching, multi-year partnership encompasses on-site activations, digital marketing, social media campaigns, ecommerce initiatives, influencer collaborations, consumer sweepstakes, national retail programming, and official wine sponsorship at 78 of Live Nation’s venues and three music festivals across the country.

Perhaps this might be the way to introduce a younger audience to wine…   

Through Live Nation’s unmatched live music platform, Chateau Ste. Michelle will reach over 18 million fans annually as the official wine sponsor at 46 amphitheaters, 32 clubs and theaters across 39 cities nationwide. Fans at popular music festivals including Two Step Inn in Texas, The Governors Ball in New York and III Points in Miami, Florida can enjoy Chateau Ste. Michelle’s wines in an on-site lounge inspired by its iconic French-style Chateau.

“Since our first concert in 1984, Chateau Ste. Michelle has welcomed people from all walks of life to our Woodinville winery for memorable summer nights celebrating a shared love of music and wine,” explains Guillermo Sanchez, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Chateau Ste. Michelle.  Through our partnership with Live Nation, we are excited to share our passion for wine and music with a new generation of fans across the country. We’re thrilled to be partnering with the world’s leader in live entertainment to take our concert series to the next level and deliver elevated experiences for music fans in our community.” visit ste-michelle.com.


Are You Afraid of Your Wine – A Gallo Thinks So

Part of the challenge with wine marketing is that many shoppers venture into the wine section of the grocery store without a specific brand in mind, according to the chief marketing officer for the world’s largest wine company who spoke at a recent Napa Valley business event.

“The reason why people don’t engage in our category really comes down to fear, uncertainty and doubt,” said Stephanie Gallo, chief marketing officer for E. & J. Gallo Winery, at the Business Journal’s Women in the Wine Business Conference. “And the only way we can overcome those fears and get people to engage in our category is to create brands that people trust and really deliver on the expectations.”

The power of a brand, Gallo said, is in its ability to deliver consistency and comfort. And that power became evident during the pandemic, when shoppers wary of getting sick would quickly enter and exit stores, scooping up trusted brands, rather than lingering to explore various options.

She also wants wine marketers to start pricing wines so they’re affordable for both consumers who are doing well and those who haven’t yet experienced the economic bounce back from the pandemic. And it means making wines easier to shop for and more appealing to different palates.



Rack & Riddle Takes a Big Step


You may recall that we visited with our friends at Rack&Riddle on January 1st of 2023 outside at a tasting event. Well they, the largest custom producer of sparkling wine in the U.S., plans to be an even bigger player in the bubbly business via a deal with the owner of the trend-setting Sofia brand.

Rack & Riddle Wine Services has inked a multi-year deal with Napa-based Delicato Family Wines to lease the Geyserville facility where the Sofia sparkling wine is produced, bottled and canned. Under the deal, Rack & Riddle will produce Sofia for Delicato while being able to expand the facility to offer clients new options for sparkling wine.

Three years ago, the Coppola operation transformed the east side of Virginia Dare into a Sofia sparkling winery, employing the méthode Charmat process as well as having a canning line and in-line carbonation bottling line. The Charmat method differs from méthode champenoise and is employed in the U.S. by top bubbly bottler Korbel in Sonoma County and by Rack & Riddle.

Put simply, the champenoise method — also called the traditional process — builds bubbles through fermentation of the wine in the bottle, while Charmat uses pressure tanks to dissolve the carbon dioxide in the wine until bottling.

Two key differentiators between the methods are price point for the resulting sparkling wine and the time it takes to produce them, according to Mark Garaventa, general manager of Rack & Riddle. Charmat-made bubbly hits the bottle in 45 to 60 days, while champenoise can take one to two years.

“For someone who has more of a price point and timing in mind, it gets them into their sparkling wine products very quickly,” Garaventa said of the Charmat process.

Some of Rack & Riddle’s clients and prospects have asked about adding Charmat production, Garaventa said.

Delicato CEO Chris Indelicato said he expects the Rack & Riddle deal to be a “successful and long-term relationship and will create value for both parties.”

Business Journal


The New McCrispy Chicken Sandwhich is really NBD

McDonald’s has rebranded its crispy chicken sandwich with the McCrispy brand.

“This crispy, juicy, tender sandwich is a special kind of delicious—with our crispy chicken fillet made with all-white meat, crinkle-cut pickles and buttered potato roll—did we mention it comes in Deluxe and Spicy and a Bacon Ranch.”

Oh did I mention that the potato bun is pretty decent and may be the best thing about the sandwich as the chicken flavor is bland. It comes with two pickles and “salted butter”, no other sauce or flavor unless you upgrade.

“McDonald’s McCrispy underscores the company’s intensified focus on gaining market share in the chicken category. The McDonald’s crispy chicken sandwich was first launched in 2021 and has performed well for the chain amid the so-called “chicken sandwich wars.” CEO Chris Kempczinski noted, “Chicken is a big opportunity for us.”

If it’s such a big opportunity why does the other member of the tasting panel have this comment; “I like the spicy sauce, the bun and the pickle but the chicken texture is odd, but thought the sauce has a kick in a really good way.”  I thought sauce was spicy just to be spicy with no other flavor to it.

The McCrispy is truly a waste of time and calories when there are better products in the market place; it appears to be competing at the Chick-fil-A level, quite average.


That’s My Whine and I could me wrong…

Here are a couple of recipes for Parmesan and Fennel Crusted Chicken Strips and Polish Pickle Soup from my tasting partner, are in fact right here. Enjoy!

Woody Mosgers, cooks, caters, writes, drinks, matches wine and food and offers wine country tour information and planning in Santa Rosa Sonoma, CA.