by Courtney Dabney
At first the bistro-style menu was just a side venture, offering visitors something to snack on and hoping to give them a reason to relax and stay a while after a wine tasting.
Then it became apparent that the lovely tree-lined property and outdoor terrace provided a perfect spot for parties and receptions. Next came the wildly popular Jazz Sunday brunches. By that time, the warm hospitality and intelligent menu items had become as big a draw as the wine itself. Now dinner is served by candlelight in the barrel room.
Caris Turpen takes the lead as head chef and incorporates many local and seasonal items into her menus.
The Cheese Plate ($18), however, is sourced internationally. It included a buttery St. André Triple Cream Brie from France, a creamy Cambozola Blue from Germany and a taste of Humboldt Fog, the ashen goat cheese from California. It was a mouth-watering presentation with crispy crostini fanned out like wings and dried cranberries mixed with fresh strawberry, blueberry and garden tomatoes, all garnished with freshly cracked black pepper and a few slices of prosciutto.
The Light Catcher Salad ($8) was a classic mix of field greens, tossed with bold, heavily spiced pecans, tangy dried cranberries, colorful halved grapes and salty feta crumbles. It was lightly dressed with the house White Goddess. The name Light Catcher actually came to Caris in a dream.
The delivery of my main course of Pan Seared Pacific Diver Sea Scallops ($25) was well displayed on a long rectangular platter. The base was a creamy Parmesan and asparagus risotto, which was rich and flavorful. Four large scallops were arranged on top, glowing with a golden sear. Black Trumpet mushrooms were sautéed and lay neatly across the front, and the whole dish was then drizzled with browned butter from the pan. The mushrooms are a delicacy, but they are so black that you have to convince yourself that they are actually edible. The scallops were tender and tasty, but between the brown butter and the strong taste of Parmesan in the risotto, the overall dish was a little salty.
The Crab Cakes ($24) were a large portion, served with a Spanish smoked paprika aioli. They were light and fluffy with crispy edges and served alongside rustic mashed potatoes. Grilled asparagus was dusted with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
A Molten Chocolate Cake was presented with sections of blood orange around the edges of the plating, reinforcing the passion fruit flavor of the warm ganache that is poured over the top. The texture of ours was slightly grainy, but the rich Valrhona chocolate made up for it.
The utilitarian warehouse space, which is the same room the winery uses to crush the grapes, then blend and cask its wines, is softened by light music, white linens and candle light in the evenings.
The walls are lined with stacked aging barrels, which are themselves decorated with wrought iron candelabra. It is a destination worth exploring for many occasions.