You may have heard about the drought in California. We have experienced it at our Sonoma wine farm, where we rely on nature rather than irrigation to keep our vines hydrated.
Due to the dry conditions, our vineyard’s leaf canopies, bunches, and berry sizes were smaller than usual this year. Our volume of fruit at harvest was down by about a third.
By the measure of any typical industry, these factors might be worrisome. But in the wine world, a low-yield harvest can be a very good thing. We don’t aim to reap more fruit; we want better fruit. And it turns out that smaller berries, with more skin-to-pulp ratio, make for intensely flavorful wines. Less, in this case, is more.
This is not to say that we’re in favor of droughts. From a business perspective, it would be preferable to have more bottles of the 2021 vintage to sell. But as they say, when life gives you lemons, make… superb wine.
Wishing you a very happy Thanksgiving,
My mother, Antoinetta, brought a treasure trove of traditional southern Italian recipes with her when she moved to the United States. I grew up cooking with her, and I can say unequivocally—with apologies to our friends down South—that her way with dark leafy greens and cornbread is just better.
To begin with, I will never understand kale salad. No matter how lovingly the leaves have been massaged, they’re gritty, bitter, and overly fibrous. Kale, in my opinion, should be braised until it’s caramelized, silky soft, and sweet.
As for cornbread, the American version is too sticky and crumbly for my taste. I grew up eating crisp pane di mais baked from coarsely ground Italian polenta. It’s as firm as a biscuit or even a cracker, so you can pick it up without it falling to pieces all over your lap.
It took Michael a while to see the light, but I have him converted to crispy cornbread now, and there’s no going back.
Growing up, we always had homemade Italian sausage in the house, but autumn was the peak season for kale and Swiss chard—which also performs deliciously in this recipe—in our garden. So I crave this hearty, warming dinner every fall.
3 cups cracked corn polenta
kosher salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
2½ cups boiling water
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
Preheat oven to 450°.
Combine polenta, salt and pepper in a pot. Slowly incorporate boiling water, stirring, until consistency is doughy and pliable. Set aside and allow to cool. Mix with baking powder and coconut oil.
Grease an 8-inch aluminum pie pan. Add the polenta mixture. Press down the center of the dough to form a hole, which will ensure even baking. Bake at 450° for first 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 400° for 30 minutes until crispy and golden.
1/3 cup ghee
1-2 pounds fresh Italian sausage, cut into 3-inch sections
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
kosher salt, to taste
freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 bunches Tuscan kale, collard greens, or Swiss chard, ribs and stems removed, leaves torn
2 cups water
2 ounces Parmesan, finely grated
½ lemon, squeezed
Preheat oven to 350°. Melt ghee in a medium Dutch oven over medium-to-high heat (note: butter may be used, but ghee is preferable for high-heat searing). Add sausages and sear 3-5 minutes, turning, until lightly browned. Transfer sausages to a sheet pan with tongs, then bake for about 25 minutes, until cooked through.
Arrange garlic halves, cut side down, atop ghee and sausage drippings in Dutch oven. Add onion slices and season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Sauté on medium-high heat, stirring onion occasionally but keeping garlic cut side down, until onion is deep golden, 6-8 minutes.
Add kale by the handful, stirring and letting it wilt slightly before adding more. Season generously with salt and continue to stir until kale is entirely deep green and just wilted, about 3 minutes. Add 2 cups water, cover pot partially with a lid, and cook until liquid is reduced by half and kale is tender, 12-15 minutes. Add Parmesan to braised kale and stir to melt and incorporate, about 5 minutes. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if needed. Dress with lemon juice before serving.
Roco’s Blend—a spicy cuvée of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon—has heady herbacious aromatics that complement the fennel seeds in fresh Italian sausage. This red’s earthy, fruity core marries deliciously with caramelized onions and greens, while its velvety texture is a counterpoint to crisp Italian cornbread.
We’re loving this blend right now… Get a bottle for your autumn table, try it alongside the recipes, and let us know what you think of this pairing!
It has been scientifically proven that there are more terrible puns about wine than any other subject.
We’ve ignored them for years, but que Syrah Syrah. We might just be making puns this year about a certain seasonal root vegetable that sounds a lot like a technical cellar term.
YAN is not something that should ever be mashed with marshmallows or maple syrup (and, really, should anything?). Because YAN is shorthand for yeast assimilable nitrogen.
YAN is the first thing we test for after we harvest our grapes. It’s a component of fruit, and it’s the engine behind fermentation in the winery. But it originates in the soil.
Nitrogen occurs naturally in the earth beneath our feet, and is absorbed by plants. Most farmers these days add nitrogen to their soil, via conventional fertilizers, to plump up their crops. We don’t do that. Instead, we grow cover crops, such as winter peas, between our vine rows. These plants are very good at taking nitrogen from the atmosphere and naturally “fixing it” in the soil.
Too much nitrogen in a conventionally fertilized vineyard can be a bad thing for grapevines. The leaves grow like crazy, while the fruits are shriveled—almost like a weightlifter who has taken too many steroids (did we really just make that comparison?). And while the fermentation process requires some nitrogen, fruit that’s tweaked out on excessive nitrogen from chemical fertilizers doesn’t ferment properly.
We’ve been thinking a lot about YAN this year because droughts can make for undernourished grapes, and these nutrient deficiencies can slow down or even stop the fermentation process. In the biz, we call this unfortunate occurrence a “stuck fermentation.”
But no matter how dire the drought was in 2021, we never broke down and added chemical fertilizers to our vineyard. We proudly farm organically and Biodynamically, and we don’t till. The only “additives” going onto our soil are organic composts and herbal tea sprays.
In the winery, we don’t bring in outside help, either. That is, we do not inoculate, or add yeasts that have been created in labs.
So the 2021 vintage has been a real nail biter for us. Where some wineries might complete fermentation in 4 or 5 days thanks to chemical additives, we’re looking at weeks, if not months, until our process is complete this year.
That said, we pride ourselves on our non-interventionist philosophy in the cellar. And we have learned, over the years, that the fermentations that last the longest make for the most interesting, nuanced wines.
So we will sit, and we will wait, for fermentation to finish. And while we are doing that, we will feast. On yams. Not YANs.
Between November 9 and December 7, 2021, get your corporate, family, and good-neighbor shopping done by ordering our delicious gift boxes of Mila wines!
At the Park City Wine Festival, Sept. 30 through Oct. 3, we teamed up with The Lodge at Blue Sky, an Auberge Resort, for a private dinner as well as a sipping-and-pairing event for serious collectors and enthusiasts. We had a blast, as you can see from this photo!
And by the time you receive this newsletter, we will be recovering from our next big push, the Gran Fondo Hincapie in Greenville, SC. For reasons that are inexplicable to us now, we agreed to bicycle 50 miles through the Blue Ridge Mountains the morning after cohosting a celebrity chef dinner.
What were we thinking?!