What a crock. The living's no easier in the summer. Work goes on every day as normal, tourists flood the farmer's market and a thick blanket of fog ensures that I lose my hard-earned trucker tan. Summer, feh.
But it is easy to get a small taste of the simple life, to bask in a carefree afternoon of food, friends and frivolity under a balmy summer sun. Certainly chief among the reasons we love living in San Francisco is fast and easy access to the wine country.
DPaul and I make excursions pretty frequently; in fact, we explicitly joined a few wineries' clubs just to have the excuse to get out of town once in a while. We've long been big fans of the Dry Creek Valley area in Sonoma County, but for the last year and change we've been enamored with Carneros, the region alongside the north side of San Francisco Bay that straddles the southern ends of both Sonoma and Napa counties. And even more specifically, we're best buds with Bouchaine.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Bouchaine rocks. I won't pretend to be any kind of wine expert, and certainly cannot rank their wines against comparable quaff from more esteemed producers (though their rosé of syrah got good marks in our taste-off). All I know is that I enjoy their wines immensely. But what Bouchaine does excellently, better than most, is deliver a flawlessly enjoyable wine country experience. No tour buses and limos, no snotty bling-laden tourists and harried winery staff. Just a sun-dappled back deck overlooking vineyards and serenity interrupted only by a cooling bay breeze.
Bouchaine is an ideal spot for a picnic, and so for DPaul's birthday last week, that's precisely what we did. Ten of us met to enjoy a flight of tastings alongside some tasty treats. Bouchaine does offer a picnic program, where you can purchase baskets of meats, cheeses and other goodies, and that's all well and good. But I thought it would be fun to bring our own picnic of wine-friendly foods to enjoy.
Planning a picnic menu has its own foibles. I wanted to make sure there was balance and diversity in the various dishes, while keeping them wine-friendly. Each dish had to be portable, in the sense that ideally it wouldn't require special serving pieces. It must also be durable -- though we did have a cooler, I didn't want to grapple with anything too delicate or perishable. And ideally, as much as possible could be made ahead so we weren't scrambling to get up to Carneros.
I made the following (recipes to follow in separate posts):
- Quinoa salad with shrimp, cucumber, mango and mint
- Herbed potato and green bean salad
- Muffuletta, and
- a few jars of Jane's (Sorta) Homemade Pickles
We invested in some inexpensive but reusable plastic containers for the salads, as well as a bunch of colorful bags for festiveness, and arrived at Bouchaine a little ahead of the crowd to set up.
Mind you, we didn't try to do everything ourselves. Delegation is one of the keys to any successful event. The dishes I had lined up were good on protein and veg, but we had no fruit, so I tasked Anita with making something with that -- but not dessert, which I had already delegated to Jim. Ever resourceful, she made a wonderful savory salad of watermelon over peppery arugula and sprinkled with creamy feta cheese.
Jim, dessert-maker extraordinaire, brought a lovely strawberry tiramisu spiked with Cointreau.
Did I mention Bouchaine is dog-friendly? Reese of course joined us, as did handsome Marcel.
The pleasantly warm weather, and of course the wine, had a calming effect on everyone, human and otherwise.
At an adjacent table, guests of the owner of the winery were having their own fête, followed by a tour of the vineyards. As they got up to leave for their tour, one looked over admiringly at our spread and said, "I want what you're having."
If I were you, I'd want what we were having, too.
One year ago today ... Tres Agaves served up lackluster guac, and everything else for that matter.