Carpe Vino Invades Raffinè, a Newcastle Chocolatier

chocolatier

I knew I was impaired, but that didn’t stop me from getting on my Vespa for the short ride home.  The price for overindulging was overwhelming. . .I felt light-headed, my stomach churned and my hands trembled.

I should have known when to stop, but though I was surrounded by a dozen co-workers, no one tried to take my keys.  I suspect that’s because everyone had a buzz on. . .after overdosing on chocolate for 90 minutes at Raffinè in Newcastle, Carpe Vino’s new source for tasty delights of all manner. . .chewy caramel, creamy ganache, fancy nuts and more, all chambered in exquisite Swiss chocolate.

Owners Mona and Jim Keady invited Carpe Vino’s staff to their shop last Saturday in Newcastle (at the Indian Hill Rd. exit adjacent to Denny’s) for a tell-all session about the sweet science of everything chocolate—from harvesting and processing beans to crafting incredibly scrumptious treats.

Mona & Jim

Mona is the artisan in the handsome new kitchen, crammed with expensive chocolate-making equipment.  She trained for more than 18 months at prestigious chocolate academies in France and Belgium before returning home and opening her first chocolate shop in San Ramon.  After a lengthy remodel, they reopened up in Newcastle in 2013.

Though they have an awesome retail shop, the Keady’s are focusing their business on wholesale clients—hence Jim’s visit to Carpe Vino to Carpe Vino last year.  It didn’t take much to convince Drew to start selling Raffinè chocolates.  We’ve got five different selections that can be ordered at the wine bar and online, plus we acquired a small refrigerator to store the chocolates at the perfect serving temperature: between 60 and 68 degrees.

The highlight of our visit was being herded into the kitchen to make chocolate turtles.  Mona had molds lined with chocolate all ready for us.  We added a dollop of caramel, squeezed on a layer of chocolate and then gently pressed in a perfect pecan.  After they were chilled briefly, we removed them from the molds and divided them up to take home.  Each person was also given a package of samples and was invited to take home pretty much whatever they wanted.

Chocolate

We also were indoctrinated about all of the types of Raffinè chocolates we offer at Carpe Vino.  We learned how they were made and we got to taste them all.  Just another day at the office. . .talk about sating your inner Willy Wonka!

So, next time you visit the Friendly Confines, don’t be surprised if one of our staffers recommends the chocolate.  They’re addicted!

Whatcha Selling?

Raffine “Wine Lovers” Chocolate Confections Nine Piece Tasting Assortment – $14.50/box  Consisting of Espresso, Palet d’Or and Cabernet (3 pieces each)

Raffine Palet d’ Or & Cabernet Ganache Quartet (4pk) – $9.75/box (2 pieces each)

Raffine Cabernet & Dark Chocolate Ganache (w/white chocolate shell) Quartet (4pk)  – $9.75/box (2 pieces each)

Raffine Caramel Ganache & Caramel Fleur de Sel Quartet (4pk)   -  9.75/box (2 pieces each)

Raffine Palet d’ Or Ganache & Caramel Fleur de Sel Quartet (4pk)  – $9.75/box (2 pieces each)

BE ON THE LOOK OUT FOR CHOCOLATE BARS COMING SOON!

Chocolate is like wine and must be stored properly.  Per the Keady’s recommendation and your satisfaction these chocolates are kept in a temperature controlled unit set between 60*F-68*F.

Cheers,

gary, Drew & The CV Crew

Against All Odds, a Winery Thrives on the Kenai

Gary and Louie

Believe it or not, there is at least one wine cellar in Alaska: at Bear Creek Winery in Homer on Kachemak Bay near the tip of the Kenai Peninsula. Here’s Gary with Bear Creek’s winemaker, Louie Maurer.

A few years ago, it dawned on me that I needed to visit just three states–Maine, New Mexico and Alaska–to have made it to all 50.  So, I traveled to New England and crossed off Maine in 2013 and hit New Mexico on a tour of the Southwest in January of this year.

In mid-July, I spent a week hiking the Kenai Peninsula with my beloved Ellen; the trip was her gift to celebrate my 65th birthday (not till November, but that’s an awkward time of year to assault the “Final Frontier” of Alaska).  And it marked the culmination of my journey to every one of these United States.

You could easily make the argument that I saved the best for last.  What a spectacular place. . .vast, imposing, gorgeous. . .yet darkly ominous with the ever-present reality that a grizzly bear or monstrous moose could be blocking your path around the next turn.

We joined a group of 18 hikers on a tour organized by a firm called Back Roads (www.backroads.com) that started at Land’s End Resort on the Homer Spit, continued to Seward and Girdwood and ended in Anchorage.  Along the way we were challenged by rugged, steep trails (one gaining 2,000+ feet of elevation in 1.7 miles) and rewarded with stunning, up-close encounters with blue-stained glaciers; improbable mountain vistas; and dreamy, rainforest-shrouded, soundless paths lined with delicate ferns.

Bear Creek Winery

Ellen MacInnes meets Bear Creek Winery’s Rag Doll cat, Morgan. Making the introduction is Winemaker Louie Maurer.

As a first-time visitor, the experience was at once thrilling and indelible.  Beyond all the natural miracles of Alaska, though, what I found most unbelievable was the improbable presence of a thriving enterprise on the outskirts of Homer—Bear Creek Winery & Lodging.  Here, in the most inhospitable and vine-free agrarian locales was a contrarian operation producing—and selling—85,000 bottles of wine each year.

There are bonded wineries in all 50 states, and Alaska is home to just two by my count—Bear Creek and another facility in Denali.  Bear Creek’s sweet spot is making wine from all types of fruit—raspberries, blue berries, strawberries, apricots, peaches, kiwi and even rhubarb.  It also produces what it calls “blended wines,” made from a combination of imported grape juice and its own fruit wines.

I sampled a dozen or more wines in the nicely appointed Bear Creek tasting room, and while I found two appealing enough to purchase—a very limited Golden Raspberry wine and Alaskan Port (19% alcohol but unfortified)—I’m just never going to be a fan of sweet wines.   A parking lot full of cars, however, was testament to the fact that lots of people do enjoy this style and queued up with their credit cards.

Bear Creek winery

The modern and efficient Bear Creek winery building could be anywhere. . .until you notice all of the equipment is of a smaller scale.
The mini fermentation tanks have enough horsepower to produce 85,000 bottles of wine annually.

It’s a given:  if you live in Alaska, you are a hardy soul and there is a high likelihood that you embrace adventure, distain convention, are manically independent and, above all, a balls-to-the-wall risk-taker.  Though I did not have an opportunity to meet him during my visit, there is probably no more apt description for Bear Creek Winery founder Bill Fry who started making fruit wines in five-gallon carboys in his kitchen in the mid-1990’s.  After walking away from his job in Alaska’s oil industry, Bill and his wife, Dorothy, raided their 401k and opened a tasting room in 2003—a truly gutsy move.  Launching a winery even in prime locations is insane. . .but in Alaska, come on!

Since 2010, the winemaker for Bear Creak has been Oregon-native Louie Maurer, who graciously interrupted his afternoon to give Ellen and me a tour of the tasting room and then drove us to the nearby winemaking facility.  Louie, who has a degree in mechanical engineering, met the Fry’s daughter while in college.  They married and settled in Homer.

The Bear Creek tasting room is as nice as any you’ll find in the Sierra Foothills AVA, and it is unusually well stocked with gift items.  It is difficult to comprehend that you are in Alaska, everything is so similar to what you would expect to find in a small, family-owned, west coast winery.  I toured the back of the shop with Louie, and visited the Winery’s cellar. . .a perfect 58 degrees year ‘round.

Unlike a single crush in grape-based wineries, winemaking at Bear Creek is perpetual because fruit is frozen and stored after harvest and then defrosted and crushed in small batches throughout the year.  Remarkably, the winery facility is indistinguishable from what you expect to see in the lower 48, albeit everything is of a smaller scale—from fermentation tanks to the press to a complete laboratory.

A testament to the success of Bear Creek is the level of construction activity this summer.  To accommodate increased wine production, a large, separate building is going up to house a giant freezer.  An outdoor pavilion is also being built to augment the entertainment side of the business as a venue for weddings and private events.

Bear Creek

ust across from the Bear Creek tasting room is a beautifully maintained garden with a new pavilion under construction. It’s fenced in to keep the moose out.

If you fall in love with this idyllic place, you can also stay overnight in one of two guest rooms, complete with outdoor spa and a large deck overlooking a gorgeous vegetable and flower garden as well as adjacent orchards.  Room rates range from $200 to $275 per night, depending on the season.

You have to truly admire what this family has accomplished.  Though I was at Bear Creek for barely two hours, I felt a deep, personal connection because of my own similar experience in starting a business against long odds with limited knowledge of what I was getting into.  It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you are naïve about the realities of embarking on a venture.

All of those qualities that are necessary to survive in Alaska, especially perseverance, can help overcome just about any challenge.  Bear Creek is a testament to this notion:  it’s all about family united with one simple goal—building a future.

Cheers,

gary, Drew & the Carpe Vino Crew

Carpe Vino is No Longer Cloaked in the Darkness of Night

CV sign

 

Visit Old Town Auburn after dark, and with the exception of neon beer signs peering through restaurant windows, the limited illumination comes from building interiors, street lamps and the iconic California Club neon sign.  Signage restrictions—especially banning of neon lighting–have made it very difficult to even marginally identify businesses in “Lower Town”.  That all changed last night when we turned on the LED backlights illuminating four new signs featuring our current logo, which was updated several years ago.

When we petitioned Auburn’s Historic Design Review Commission during its June 16 session, members agreed unanimously to approve our plan, one that had been endorsed by city staff of the Auburn Planning Department.  Because signs are backlit with LED bulbs instead of neon, both entities agreed the lighting was subtle, attractive and did not diminish the ambiance of Old Town.

So last night, Auburn photographer Keith Sutter was on hand to take photos of the updated façade to use with our marketing materials.  This is the third time Keith has recorded changes we’ve made to the exterior.

With the improved signage, in front and on the side of the building, we’re confident that with this enhanced visibility, customers will now be able to locate Carpe Vino with ease.  And certainly, the new look is stylish and elegant!  We’ll be publishing Keith’s photos soon.

We’d like to offer a big “Thank You” to Jeff Stewart of River City Signs for all of his hard work in completing this complex project. And Kudos to our intrepid designer, Michele Tuggle, for her creativity with the designs.

 

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Lip-Smackin’ Pulled Pork at the Bar All Week

pulled pork

For three years, I lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, just long enough to produce an heir and business partner, my son, Drew.  One of my early culinary experiences there was having lunch at a venerable restaurant called “The Hardware Store”.  Yes, the joint was housed in a former hardware store, and it was way cool.

I ordered a pulled-pork sandwich, which the menu said was a specialty, and was served with house-made coleslaw.  I had very high expectations because I am immensely fond of both of these dishes that were at one time high on my list of essential food groups.

After a lengthy wait—everything takes time in the South—my lunch was presented and I was immediately disappointed.  The sandwich was gorgeous and accompanied by beautiful French fries.  But, alas, there was no coleslaw.

“Excuse me, miss. . .I understood that coleslaw comes with this,” I said to the server.”

“And you got it,” she replied.

My retort, with an obvious note of Northern irritation was, “It appears to be invisible.”

“Lift up the bun,” she said, and retreated to assist more knowledgeable customers.

Chef Alexander’s latest bar menu-only special served all week is constructed similarly.  The foundation of his North Carolina-style pulled pork sandwich is Niman Ranch pork shoulder, smoked for eight+ hours in our Traeger smoker behind the restaurant.  Seasoned with a Southern-inspired vinegar-based sauce, it is piled on to a sesame seed bun, which is the same resting place for house-made, cool and creamy coleslaw (with a crunch on the end!).  It is served with French fries and house-made cucumber pickle spears.

Join us at the bar tonight through Sunday and enjoy our August bar-only special for $12.  (This dish was modified after the first go-round on Tuesday night; we added French fries and adjusted pricing. . .full disclosure!)

More information
Carpe Vino (Find Us) 1568 Lincoln Way Auburn, CA 95603
Phone Number: 530-823-0320
Get Directions to Carpe Vino
Retail/Wine Bar Hours Tuesday - Saturday
Noon - 10:00 p.m.
Closed: Sunday and Monday
Dining Hours Tuesday - Saturday
5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Closed: Sunday and Monday
Make A Reservation Guests must be 21 years of age or older.
Reservations are suggested for preferred seating, especially on weekends.