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The Sweet Smell of Success – Our Maple Syrup Weekend

After a week of intensive wine tasting in Napa Valley, we decided to treat ourselves to a maple syrup weekend in the Hudson Valley. We picked two farms to visit in nearby Dutchess County: Madava Farms, producers of Crown Maple Syrup, and Soukup Farms.

A “farm” can be many things much like a “country house.” The large stone sign at the entrance to Madava Farms was followed by a long driveway opening up to a vast property still covered with snow and surrounded by a forest of maple trees linked by sap tubing. The large sap production building and company store was packed with visitors coming for the weekend of maple syrup tastings, maple inflected cocktails and lunch offerings such as maple chicken tacos, maple pork sliders, fried chicken strips with maple syrup waffles and maple shakes. Outside, kids (and one big kid) roasted marshmallows over a fire pit.

David at Madava Farms, home to Crown Maple Syrup
Fool the eye photo: The sign is actually down a long driveway leading to the sap house.

Madava Farms started as a family retreat for Robb and Lydia Turner. They’ve turned it and their sought after maple syrup into quite a business! Madava Farms has 20,000 trees over 800 acres, plus 4000 acres in Vermont.

Just a short drive away and a world apart in style but equal in substance when it comes to a quality product lies Soukup Farms. It’s more of a farmstead with all the Soukup family members living in separate houses on the property. Originally a cattle farm, the Soukups started tapping maple syrup in 1955 as a hobby. Today they produce over 2000 saps from two sugarbushes (a cluster of sugar maple trees).  Pat Soukup gave us a tour of the small facility where we met her husband, son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter.

Three generations of the Soukup Family Farm in their store.

The maple season is short, roughly 40-50 days depending on the weather. It takes freezing nights and thawing days for the best sap. Higher temperatures can affect the quality. This year’s warmer winter was a curse; the recent blizzard and colder temperatures were a blessing. As Pat Soukup told us, “We are farmers first. We learn to deal with the weather and the outcome.”

Demand for maple syrup is on the rise. Health and wellness gurus promote it as a preferred natural sweetener (in moderation) and filled with antioxidants to fight inflammation, among other benefits. Chefs and bartenders are adding maple syrup to dishes and drinks. There’s even Drink Maple water which we tasted at the Summer Fancy Food Show.  We learned at our tasting at Crown Maple that lighter grade maple syrup is better for diabetics and the darker grade for athletes. We learned at Soukup Farms that the tree holds the secret to the color of sap that will seep out as demonstrated by this rainbow of saps collected this winter.

Saps at Soukup Farms

Listen to our interview with Michael Cobb, CEO at Crown Maple Syrup. The Connected Table LIVE! on iHeart.com

 

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Spring (Bud) Break In Napa

The spring buds are breaking in Napa Valley which puts everyone in a good mood after recent rains. Driving along Highway 29 gazing out at expansive wine estates, it’s hard to envision the ranch towns of the 1960’s when Napa Valley’s earliest vintners scooped up farmland for a fraction of what it would cost today.

Sign at Freemark Abbey Winery

It was an investment that paid off, and a gamble that hit the jackpot with international media attention from promotional stunts like the 1976 Judgement of Paris and numerous accolades for Napa Valley wines.  Still, in spite of its international reputation, Napa Valley is still among the world’s smallest wine regions with just 4% of California’s wine grape harvest and only one-eighth of the planted acreage of Bordeaux, according to the Napa Valley Vintners Association.

 

View from Joseph Phelps Vineyards

Stewards and Successors

Napa’s first commercial winery was established in 1861. America’s first designated Agricultural Preserve in 1968, Napa was established as an A.V.A. in 1981; today there are 16.  95% of Napa Valley’s wineries family-owned. Meet founding families of Napa who are working hard to preserve their legacies:  Janet and Hailey Trefethen, Trefethen Vineyards, and Bill and Will Phelps, Joseph Phelps Vineyards.

I have always had a fascination with cowboys after spending a few nights on a cattle station in the Australian Outback and at a dude ranch in Arizona. But I’ve never met a real-life cowgirl. Janet Trefethen is a top ranked equestrian and a member of the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. She’s also the first women CEO of an American Corporation. Janet and John Trefethen oversee the winery established by his parents Eugene and Catherine in 1968. The historic farm property located in Oak Knoll  was originally built in 1868 as “Eschol,” which is a biblical term for “lush cluster of grapes.”

Janet Trefethen, Trefethen Vineyards

Janet’s daughter and son, Hailey and Loren Trefethen, have joined their parents in running the winery. Hailey  has been overseeing the restoration of the original 1868 building which was damaged in the earthquake on April 24, 2014. The building is reopening this May (2017). Recently we spoke with Janet and Hailey on The Connected Table LIVE.

Hailey Trefethen

 

1973 was a big year for both the Trefethen and Phelps families. It was the first vintage for Trefethen and it was the year Joseph Phelps purchased a 600+ acre cattle ranch on the east side of St. Helena to create his namesake winery. Phelps, who owned a construction business, worked with architect John Marsh Davis to build the winery of his dreams to produce the wines he desired. He’s credited with being one of the first California producers to focus on Rhone style blends as well his signature Bordeaux blend, Insignia. We visited Joseph Phelps Vineyards for the first time this week. It was like visiting a sanctuary for fine wine.

Bill and Joe Phelps
Bill and Joe Phelps

Bill Phelps joined his father’s winery after a career in law and finance. Like his father, Bill takes a long-term strategy to producing wines and maintaining the Phelps legacy. One of his most notable initiatives was to transition the entire winery portfolio to estate grown. Bill will be joined by son, Will Phelps, who is the winery’s Director of Marketing.

Will Phelps
Joseph Phelps flagship wine, Insignia

 

Listen to our show with Janet and Hailey Trefethen and Bill and Will Phelps on iHeart.com

 

 

Listen anytime on iHeart.com and the iHeart and live Wednesdays, 2pm EST on W4CY.com. Connect with us on Twitter@connectedtable, Instagram@theconnectedtable and Facebook@connectedtable

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“Phenomonal Femmes”- Women Making History

In our March Women Making a Mark spotlight we have two very dynamic guests March 15th on The Connected Table LIVE!  Both are passionately devoted to promoting diversity and collaboration within the industry and to giving back.

First up is Karen Hoskin, president and co-founder of Montanya Distillers based in Crested Butte, Colorado. Montanya utilizes old world artisan traditions to make its collection of rums which have been awarded 18 Gold and Silver Medals in International Competitions. In 2013 the company was named Craft Distiller of the Year by the American Distilling Institute (ADI) who has tapped Karen to be its keynote speaker for its upcoming conference April 3-6 in Baltimore.

Karen Hoskin, Montanya Distillers, is the first woman to give the keynote address at the American Distilling Institute Conference (ADI). Photo credit: Nathan Bilow

Our second guest is making history with her Phenomenal Femmes winemaker dinner series with The Ritz Carlton  Central Park in Manhattan. Marika Vida is the hotel’s Wine Director. She is also a sought after speaker, adviser and educator through her company, Vida et Fils. Phenomenal Femmes, now in its fourth year, spotlights women winemakers around the globe.  Proceeds from the dinner series benefit the women’s shelter at Crossroads Community Services in New York which provides food, shelter and other aid to individuals in need regardless of national origin, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disabilities. www.crossroadscommunitynyc.org

Marika Vida created Phenomenal Femmes to spotlight women winemakers and to give back to help women in need. Her next dinner March 28 at The Ritz-Carlton Central Park will feature Stacy Vogel, Winemaker at Miner Vineyards in Napa. Photo credit: Doug Young

Listen live on W4CY.com 2pmEST and anytime on iHeart.com

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Sonoma Stars

It had been awhile since either of had spent much time in Sonoma Valley, so we felt lucky to add three nights for a visit following our stay at Meadowood in St. Helena for the Professional Wine Writers Symposium. Where Napa feels gentrified and sophisticated, Sonoma feels bucolic and achaten-suisse.com laid back. It’s like comparing cashmere to fleece; they both feel great and will keep you warm outside, and you want both for different reasons.

Here we are with John Jordan in the barrel room

The first two nights were spent at Jordan Winery in Alexander Valley tasting wines, exploring the expansive estate and enjoying a quiet dinner with Lisa Mattson and her husband, Damon, at BarnDiva in nearby Healdsburg. Lisa was a guest on The Connected Table LIVE! to talk about her book, “The Exes in My Glass.” We met proprietor John Jordan whom we learned has a thing for “Star Wars” movies.  Jordan specializes in Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay and does both well.

 

 

Another night took us to The Shed Cafe, a restaurant located in a cookware shop and bakery. Most of the food is locally sourced within 10 miles of Healdsburg. We suggest checking out the four- course tasting menu for $58 with a $25 wine pairing option.  Address: 25 North Street, Healdsburg. 707-431-7433  www.healdsburgshed.com

 

Winter Citrus Salad with Avocado, Miners Lettuce, Sea Buckthorn and HomeFarm Olio Nuovo at The Shed in Healdsburg

 

Our final night was spent at Valette whose chef-owner, Dustin Valette visited with us on The Connected Table LIVE March 8th. Dustin began his restaurant career at the age of thirteen washing dishes at Catelli’s in his hometown of Geyserville. A Culinary Institute of America grad, he worked at several top restaurants to fine tune his skills, most recently spending six years as Executive Chef of Dry Creek Kitchen, a Charlie Palmer restaurant in downtown Healdsburg.  With his brother and fellow restaurant worker, Aaron Garzini, Dustin hatched a plan to open Valette in a building which housed his great grandfather’s bakery.  The two brothers opened Valette in 2015 spotlighting their deep passion and dedication to Sonoma Country and its food and wine purveyors and producers.

 

Chef Dustin Valette opened his restaurant in the same location where his great grandfather ran a bakery.

 

Valette is located at 344 Center Street, Healdsburg, CA  Phone: 707-473-0946 www.valettehealdsburg.com

The restaurant is hopping!  We dined there the night of the “Oscars.” David noshed on Dustin’s house made charcuterie and Coriander Crusted Liberty Duck Breast with tart pickled cherries and dick + foie grad torchon.  Little Miss Healthy Me enjoyed a vegetarian “beet Wellington” described on the menu as Tangerine Infused Beets en Papillote with preserved lemon, farro risotto, baby carrots and Laura Chenel goat cheese and Hawaiian Ahi Poke.

 

Tangerine Infused Beets en Papillote

 

 

Hawaiian Ahi Poke Styl

 

Give This Gal a Forklift!

Katie Madigan, is winemaker at St. Francis Winery.  Like many women winemakers I’ve interviewed, Katie started out planning on another career path not realizing the great opportunities for women in wine. She was a chemistry major intent on going into the pharma business. She took an internship as a lab technician at St. Francis in 2003 to pass the time and never left.

Katie Madigan has worked at St. Francis Winery for 14 years

Now 14 years later Katie is in charge of making St. Francis’s award winning wines. She says she’s most proud of making great wines widely available for everyone to enjoy.  I asked Katie for career tips for aspiring women winemakers. She says: 1. get your experience working in the cellar, 2. learn to run a pump and forklift  3. be ready to get your hands dirty 4. be confident on your palate and 5. be very patient.  Careers in wine, like the wine itself, can take time to mature.

While we did not make it to St. Francis Winery in Santa Rosa, we are very familiar with the wines. David has written about St. Francis Winery for Tasting Panel Magazine, and many years ago my former PR firm, M Young Communications, produced St, Francis’s Big Red chef events in New York and Los Angeles. You can arrange a visit, and we hope to next trip. www.stfranciswine.com

 

Here is our show with Chef Dustin Valette and Winemaker Katie Madigan on iHeart.com and the free iHeart App.