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Monday, June 16, 2014

06/16 - Vintage Napa Valley 2012


In 2012, Mother Nature produced the “perfect” growing season in California’s Napa Valley -- yielding a rare combination of quality fruit and an abundant crop load. Growers and winemakers across the Valley expressed high expectations for a classic year that would surely produce epic wines.  This outstanding vintage sets the backdrop for the new six-part public television series Vintage: Napa Valley 2012.  Each half-hour episode takes viewers into three renowned Napa Valley wineries and the lives of the people who make the wine.  The series is produced by Tribe Road Media, Inc., is a presentation of WTTW National Productions in Chicago, and is distributed nationally by American Public Television (APT).

Vintage is a unique and engaging concept, and I am very pleased APT has agreed to distribute the program,” said Daniel Soles, chief content officer for WTTW. “I believe the viewers will be invested in stories of the harvest,” he added.

“Harvest is the most action-packed part of the winemaker’s year, when some of the most important, and nail biting, decisions need to be made,” says Peter Backeberg, the show’s creator and producer. “We were granted fantastic access to follow the winemakers and their teams and I’m sure the viewers will enjoy the ride,” he added.

Winemakers Marisa Taylor (Rutherford Hill), left,
Kim Nicholls (Markham), center,
and Elizabeth Vianna (Chimney Rock),
Vintage: Napa Valley 2012 focuses on the day-to-day hustle and bustle of vineyard sampling, picking decisions and the crush pad. The series centers mainly on three wineries: Chimney Rock, Rutherford Hill, and Markham Vineyards, although the cast of characters in the show also includes vineyard managers, independent growers and even some friends and family.  “We would have loved to have shot at all the wineries in Napa, but there are 350 of them,” said Backeberg. “But by tracking the three wineries closely, we were really able to get to know the players and dig down into the culture of winemaking in the Valley.”  More information is available at

“A great growing season will produce fantastic fruit, but that doesn’t mean the harvest is without its challenges,” added Backeberg. “What the show is really about is the nitty-gritty of making fine wine. It is hard work, with long hours and a lot of pressure. But the people are dedicated and passionate and they have a lot of fun. Hopefully we captured that and will give viewers a glimpse of what really goes into the birth of a vintage.”

 The Featured Winemakers

Kim says it feels "weird" to say she is a winemaker.

Kimberlee Nicholls is the winemaker at Markham Vineyards, a venerable Napa institution.  At Markham Winery, Kim runs a cellar crew that consists primarily of two families, both of which have been with the winery for generations.  Rounding out the team, Kim works closely with her boss and Markham President, Bryan Del Bondio, who cut his teeth alongside the valley's trailblazers in the 1970s,  and has seen and played an integral part in the rise of Napa Valley to the upper echelons of the wine world.

After graduating with a degree in Biology from Willamette University, Kim moved from the small coastal town of Long Beach, Washington, to California. Her desire to use her biology degree led to the position of laboratory technician at Napa Valley's Stag's Leap Wine Cellars in 1989.

In 1993, Kim came to Markham Vineyards as enologist to establish an extensive laboratory program. After four years of hands-on experience in the vineyards and in the winery, she was promoted to associate winemaker in 1997.

Kim's passion for all facets of the industry, from grape growing to wine blending to lab work, coupled with 12 years of experience at California wineries, led to her appointment as winemaker at Markham Vineyards in November 2001.

Marisa Taylor
Rutherford Hill

Marisa explains the team effort and commitment required to make wine.

Marisa Taylor is the winemaker at Rutherford Hill. This daughter of the soil grew up surrounded by the wine industry in neighboring Sonoma County. Like most people who grow up in Wine Country, wine was a typical fixture at her family's dinner table.

Every harvest Marisa and her team take part in an elaborate juggling act between incoming fruit and available tanks. There is a tight family atmosphere at the winery which includes Marisa's young son Ian, who is a frequent 'helper' at Rutherford Hill.

Marisa began her college career at Santa Rosa Junior College and by the age of 25 was making her own wine, using Pinot Noir from Carneros. She graduated from the University of California in Davis, first with a B.S. in Chemistry and then an M.S. in Food Science-Enology. A self-described "lab rat," Marisa continues to have a passion for the analytical detail needed for monitoring yeast cultures, barrels, fermentation, blending and ultimately, bottling.

After initially honing her skills in the lab at Piper Sonoma and J Winery, she became an enologist at S. Anderson Vineyard in Yountville, where she learned to make Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and sparkling wine. Her natural curiosity led Marisa to work abroad for the harvest of 1999 at the Colognole Winery in Rufina, Italy, where she immersed herself in winemaking and learned to vinify Sangiovese.


Elizabeth says the term "winemaker" is a misnomer.

Elizabeth Vianna is the winemaker at Chimney Rock, a "Cab House" which sits nestled amongst 100 acres of estate grown vineyards and right in the heart of Napa's Stag's Leap district. Elizabeth is a 15-year veteran in the wine industry who is both respected and esteemed. A creative soul and prodigious musician, Elizabeth is calm, smart and confident. She runs a modern and high-end facility and where the wines exhibit a certain class... hers.

Elizabeth originally hails from Brazil and came to Napa by way of New York, where she was working as a clinical toxicologist. A biology major at Vassar College, Elizabeth first fell in love with wine as a consumer, she attributes her career in winemaking to a glass of 1985 Sociando Mallet, which she enjoyed at a pre-auction tasting at Christie's in New York.

Elizabeth first came to Chimney Rock as a harvest intern in 1999, while completing her Master's degree in enology at U.C. Davis. Upon graduation, she became an enologist at Napa Wine Company and was soon named assistant winemaker there.

Elizabeth was named to the position of assistant winemaker at Chimney Rock in January 2002 and advanced to the position of winemaker in 2005. In 2009, Elizabeth was honored by the University of California – Davis School of Graduate Studies when she was invited by the Dean of Graduate Studies to deliver the commencement speech.

Elizabeth has also served as President of the Stags Leap District Winegrowers Association.





About WTTW National Productions

WTTW National Productions, a division of Window to the World Communications, Inc. -- the parent company of WTTW11 Chicago -- is a premier producer and presenter of original, high-quality television programs for both public and commercial television broadcast.  For almost 60 years, WTTW Chicago and WTTW National Productions have introduced a wide array of ground-breaking television programming – reflecting the world’s rich and diverse arts and entertainment scene as well as education, politics, public affairs, business, and religion – to a national audience. Its landmark innovative series and original productions include the critically-acclaimed performance showcases Soundstage, Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis; Proclamation of Hope and David Broza at Masada: The Sunrise Concert; cultural series Grannies on Safari; MEXICO – One Plate at a Time with Rick Bayless and Pedal America; the business series CEO Exchange; the documentary series Retirement Revolution; the weekly movie review series Ebert Presents At the Movies; the creative arts series The Artist Toolbox; the transmedia online educational childrens’ properties Mission to Planet 429 and UMIGO, and the award-winning childrens’ series, WordWorld. For more information, please visit


About American Public Television (APT)

American Public Television (APT) has been a leading distributor of high-quality, top-rated programming to America’s public television stations since 1961. In 2010, APT distributed nearly half of the top 100 highest-rated public television titles. Among its 300 new titles per year are prominent documentaries, news and current affairs programs, dramatic series, how-to programs, children’s series and classic movies, including For Love of Liberty: The Story of America’s Black Patriots, A Ripple of Hope, Rick Steves' Europe, Newsline, Globe Trekker, Simply Ming, America's Test Kitchen From Cook’s Illustrated, Lidia's Italy, P. Allen Smith's Garden Home, Murdoch Mysteries, Doc Martin, Rosemary & Thyme, The Rat Pack: Live and Swingin’, Johnny Mathis: Wonderful, Wonderful! and John Denver: The Wildlife Concert. APT also licenses programs internationally through its APT Worldwide service. In 2006, APT launched Create® – the TV channel featuring the best of public television's lifestyle programming. APT is also a partner in the WORLD™ channel expansion project.



Monday, June 9, 2014

06/01/2014 - Garden to Table: Cooking at Robert Mondavi Winery

We've all heard of "Farm-to-Table", the phrase coined by a growing breed of chefs keen to support and incorporate produce from small local farms on their menu.  Many fortunate chefs are also able to boast "Garden-to-Table", where they have the luxury of planting and nurturing their own gardens.  There is nothing fresher or better for the environs than that, and we celebrate them this week with the chef from Robert Mondavi Winery, Jeff Mosher and his sous chef, Chris Stillwell.  Jeff involves all his staff in each stage of the gardening, giving them a true sense of the produce they work with, much like Thomas Keller has done at his garden/farm opposite The French Laundry restaurant in Yountville.

"Piccolo" To Kalon Garden

Robert Mondavi Winery is renaming its culinary garden as the “Piccolo” To Kalon Garden at a twilight dedication ceremony and dinner on Tuesday, June 10th.  The new name reflects the precious soil ( a little piece of the To Kalon Vineyard) upon which the garden stands, and Chef Jeff Mosher’s unswerving devotion to nurturing/restoring the garden to a bountiful, year ‘round source of exceptional ingredients for his seasonally-inspired menus.  

Robert Mondavi Winery Chef Jeff Mosher toasts
"Piccolo" To Kalon Garden with Margrit Mondavi

Jeff Mosher

Winery Chef
Robert Mondavi Winery

Jeff Mosher’s love affair with cooking began amid the flying flour and lively camaraderie of a local pizzeria in Oberlin, Ohio.  The thrill and adrenaline rush of working on the line hooked Mosher, who also loved the hands-on nature of the work.   “I’d liked cooking since I was a child,” he says.  “I like that it is practical, creative and has limitless learning potential.”  An undergrad at Oberlin College, Mosher furthered that learning with a junior year abroad studying—and eating—in Strasbourg.

Shortly after graduation, Mosher moved to San Francisco in 1997 and began working as a line cook at E and O Trading Company.  From there, he moved to Clouds where he was promoted to Sous-Chef, responsible for creating specials and handling daily operations.  Next up was North Star where, as lead line cook, he managed the lunch and brunch shifts. In 2000 he joined the team at Campton Place, cooking four-star contemporary French cuisine under chefs Laurent Manrique and Daniel Humm. 

There could be nothing fresher than a meal at Robert Mondavi Winery,
such as this dish of sublime vegetables we enjoyed at the launch.

Having laid the groundwork for his culinary career in San Francisco, in 2004 Mosher moved to the Napa Valley—arguably the epicenter of American wine and food culture—to become Sous-Chef at Copia’s Julia’s Kitchen, working with Chef Victor Scargle in running daily operations from butchery and sauce production to writing tasting menus.

Becoming Winery Chef at Robert Mondavi Winery in January 2009 is a dream come true for Mosher, who draws inspiration from the winery’s long history of championing wine, food and art as part of a gracious, healthy lifestyle. “Being here is a perfect fit for me—I’m surrounded by people committed to great wine and to providing the best experience to our guests,” he says.  “Great food and great wine go hand in hand, each should complement the other with flavors in the food bringing out and enhancing characteristics of the wine, producing a beautifully balanced meal and an exceptional dining experience.”

Chef's Slow Cooked Local Salmon with Garden Squashes and Peas
Napa Valley’s abundance is in harmony with Mosher’s philosophy: “Cooking, to me, is about obtaining the highest quality local and sustainably grown ingredients harvested at the peak of freshness and manipulating them in exciting new ways in accordance with classical techniques.”

The Bay Area’s richly diverse cuisines combined with the different positions he has held throughout his career have helped shape Mosher’s cooking and management styles.  “I try to foster a kitchen environment where everyone can be creative and share ideas—hopefully we can inspire each other on a daily basis,” he explains.  “I’m constantly thinking about new dishes and flavor combinations. I just can’t help it!”

Mosher lives in Napa with his wife Jessica and three boys, Sam, Elias and Atticus. When not in his whites, he thinks about recipes, bikes with his kids and admits to watching Top Chef.

The Ribeye, sat on lush faro studded with produce from the garden,
a deep fried zucchini flower, and just picked herb pesto.
(I convinced him to add a shaving of fresh Australian winter truffle,
they go so well with summer produce!)

About Piccolo To Kalon  Garden 
 Robert Mondavi Winery today celebrates the dedication of the “Piccolo” To Kalon Garden. The culinary garden, located on a little (“piccolo”) piece of the historic To Kalon Vineyard has been renamed and rejuvenated under the watchful eye of Winery Chef Jeff Mosher during a five-year revitalization. The precious plot provides an abundance of seasonal, sustainably-farmed produce the year ‘round for the exclusive use of the winery kitchen. The garden is also the site of the winery’s recently revamped “Piccolo” To Kalon Garden to Table Tour, a unique culinary experience for visitors to the Napa Valley and to Robert Mondavi Winery.
“How wonderful that a little slice of the To Kalon Vineyard – a parcel that Bob loved so dearly -- is devoted exclusively to the culinary arts and to dishes that are authentically of this wonderful place,” noted Margrit Mondavi, vice president of cultural affairs at Robert Mondavi Winery.
For over 40 years, Robert Mondavi Winery has been at the forefront of creating delicious, seasonal recipes designed to perfectly complement the wines from its celebrated Napa Valley estate. As a result of the revitalization effort by Mosher and his team, the garden now contains a delicious array of produce, herbs, assorted berries, fruit trees, limes and more. Sustainable farming practices in the garden such as: vermicomposting (worm farming), honey bees, composting and other environmentally-friendly protocols ensure the health of the garden, and deliver a bounty of flavorful ingredients to his door.

Bees from the winery hives enjoy the nectar of the garden's artichoke.
Yummy honey!

Visitors to the Napa Valley can experience the abundance of the garden with the “Piccolo” To Kalon Garden to Table Tour, a special wine and cooking experience set amongst the vineyards. The tour begins with a walk through the garden and a harvest of in-season produce. Chef Mosher then leads guests through a cooking class utilizing the garden-fresh ingredients. After the kitchen team adds finishing touches to the meal, the wine-pairing dinner is enjoyed al fresco with a view of the To Kalon Vineyard and Mayacamas Mountains.
The “Piccolo” To Kalon Garden to Table Tour is offered Thursday evenings, May 1 through October 31, from 4:30 to 8:30pm (appointment required). The program is limited to 10 guests and tickets are $150. All tours are held at the Robert Mondavi Winery at 7801 St. Helena Highway in Oakville, Napa Valley. For additional information and to purchase tickets, visit

Chef and Margrit Mondavi garden in style! Robert Mondavi would have approved!
About Robert Mondavi Winery
Founded in 1966 by winemaking pioneer and icon Robert Mondavi, the winery that bears his name is an enduring presence and shining symbol of California’s Napa Valley. The first major winery built in Napa Valley in the three decades following the repeal of Prohibition, Robert Mondavi Winery created the foundation for the modern-day California wine industry. An ardent believer that wines should reflect their origins, Mr. Mondavi charted a winemaking course that is now legendary. Today, Robert Mondavi Winery continues to pursue the fullest expression of the terroir of Napa Valley in wines that are also varietally authentic. At the heart and soul of the Robert Mondavi Winery is the To Kalon Vineyard, a 440-acre parcel of exceptional provenance that contributes to the winery’s Napa Valley, Oakville District, To Kalon vineyard-designated and Reserve wine programs. The site famously includes the five-acre I Block. Planted in 1945, it is believed to be the oldest Sauvignon Blanc vineyard in the New World.

A Harvest Dinner at Robert Mondavi Winery

Monday, June 2, 2014

02/06/14 - : Disovering Wine, Food and Life in Lombardy

Jeff Prather, Wine Ambassador for Ca Momi Enotica in Napa Valley, goes on a mission to Lombardy, Italy, to find Franciaorta and other unique wines of the region.