#Live Our Lives. . .Embracing the Culture of France

Eiffel Tower

I spent three days in Paris before embarking on the Provence tour. When my beloved, Ellen, and I walked to the Eiffel Tower, we encountered the monument above on the opposite end of the Parc du Champ-de-Mars. It is called “Le Mur pour la Paix,” or Wall of Peace. Its design is inspired by the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and the word “peace” is inscribed in glass panels in 32 languages and 13 alphabets. When we visited, the monument was not accessible; it was fenced-in and choked with weeds. It is a very powerful place, and Ellen and I lingered there. In light of the violence in Paris, it would seem to me that restoring this eloquent expression of peace should be a priority of the people of France. –gary

Over much of the year past, I have been laser focused on France, creating and rolling out a wine, food and art tour of Provence that 24 of Carpe Vino’s most enthusiastic fans accompanied me on in early October.  It was a grand adventure that sated virtually every sense and craving.  Our group bonded through the shared experience of travel, and we were all looking forward to gathering again one last time in the Carpe Vino Wine Mine this Wednesday for the “Pilgrimage to Provence” prix-fixe event that was inspired by our trip.

Then Friday evening, we were stunned along with the rest of world with the first news reports about the slaughter in Paris wreaked by ISIS terrorists, the second horrific, murderous and cowardly attack in less than in a year in The City of Lights.  Nearly all of us had spent time in Paris before or after the Provence tour, or had at least flown into Charles De Gaulle Airport.

My beloved, Ellen, and I booked three days in Le Marais, the fashion district of Paris.  Our plan was to just chill, and walk the neighborhoods; we simply wanted to relax and enjoy une noistte in street-side cafés, find restaurants randomly and, of course, see Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower



Instead, after encountering an organized street demonstration, I felt vulnerable and very, very unsafe.  I’ve never witnessed a more massive display of force in my life, with literally hundreds of Paris police, state police and soldiers turned out in full combat gear, replete with body armor and automatic weapons.  The streets were jammed with riot vehicles and dozens of buses to transport any people arrested.

All of this for what was a fairly mundane demonstration of healthcare workers.

Now, barely a month later, we are all sickened by the violence in Paris and by the seemingly random timing. My fellow Provence travelers are particularly mournful of the loss of life.  The unease I felt in Paris is now elevated to an underlying fear for what could happen anywhere at any time.

Rather than be paralyzed by foreboding, however, my plan is to continue living my life and to keep traveling. . .next year I’m leading a tour to Tuscany.  And this week, we will celebrate the culture of France–as planned and in solidarity with our friends across the pond.  Vive la France!



Pilgrimage to Provence

Pilgrimage to Provence: Chef’s Menu is Revealed

Join us all this week, Tuesday through Sunday starting at 5 p.m. each evening, for Pilgrimage to Provence, four courses with choices for $59.95 pp++.  Chef Alexander, who is trained in classical French cuisine (at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY) and has traveled in Provence, has created a menu that exploits the regional preparations and Placer County’s seasonal produce.  Reservations are highly recommend; get your table now by calling 530-823-0320 or go to www.opentable.com.

Here’s the Chef’s interpretation of each of the ten dishes featured (click here to print a copy of the menu):

First Course (choice of one):

Seared Tuna “Pan Bagnat” (Brioche, Quail Egg, Radish, Olive Tapenade):  The first stop on our tour of Provence was Nice where we stayed at the Hotel Westminster, overlooking the Promenade des Anglais, a pedestrian walkway adjacent to a beach and the Mediterranean Sea.  “Pan Bagnat” is a sandwich sold on the streets that is a specialty of Nice, and Chef Alexander is deconstructing the concept, creating a dish that incorporates the components, flavors and textures.  The composition starts with Ahi tuna seared rare, sliced and placed on toasted brioche coated with a house-made tapenade: a purée of capers, anchovy, garlic, fresh herbs, citrus zest and olive oil. Layered on top are a quail egg and see-through sliced radish.  Voila!

Chickpea Socca (Braised Lamb, Swiss Chard, Currants, Pine Nuts):  Here’s another sampling of a treat sold on the streets of Nice:  Socca is a sort of thin, unleavened pancake or crêpe that chef makes from chickpea flour, water, olive oil combined and then cooked in a crêpe pan.  For a stuffing, Chef slow braises lamb shoulder (for six hours) then he combines with cooked Swiss chard and a sweet-savory hit of currants and pine nuts.  How do you say “yum” in French?

Steamed Clams Bouillabaisse (Pastis, Saffron-Tomato Broth, Rouille Toast):  Forget about your classical image of bouillabaisse. . .this is not a “fisherman’s catch.”  Instead, Chef Alexander is interpreting the flavors of bouillabaisse through a broth comprised of fresh fish bones, shrimp shells, fennel, white wine, onions, carrots, celery. . .and crushed tomatoes and saffron.  Next he steams the clams in the strained broth and deglazes the pan with Pastis, an anise-flavored spirit from France.  Served in a bowl with Rouille toast alongside. . . baguette spread with a “rust” made from garlic, mayo, saffron and red chiles.


Second Course (choice of one):

Fall Vegetable Soup Au Pistou (Root Vegetables, Coco Beans, Basil Purée):  Provence is noted for its wonderful soups made from garden vegetables, but seeing how this is November, Chef Alexander is substituting fall harvest items:  carrots, celery, turnips, celery root, rutabaga, parsnips and fall greens, augmented with canned chopped tomatoes and cooked in chicken stock (house-made, of course).  Chef adds white “coco beans,” popular in the south of France which is where he has sourced them.  This rustic, hearty peasant soup is finished with a dolop of “pistou,” a purée made from basil, garlic and olive oil (but no Parmesan or pine nuts!).

Warm Chèvre Flan (Mesclun Salad, Pickled Summer Peppers, Black Garlic):  The focus of this dish is a goat cheese custard–chèvre flan–slow poached in a ramekin in a water bath.  The flan is served on a plate with mixed baby lettuces combined with pickled red peppers (from Chef’s Four Tines Farm), lemon juice and olive oil.  For an amazing pop, “black garlic,” an intense purée made from slow-cooked for so long it turns black, is spread on a plate.  Salad lovers are gonna want more!


Main Course (choice of one):

Sautéed Pacific Sea Bass (Artichoke and Fennel Bariguole, Squid Bourride Emulsion):  Chef starts by pan roasting beautiful portions of Pacific sea bass, plated on top of a layer of “barigoule,” baby artichokes, carrots and fennel slow braised in olive oil, white wine, garlic herbs and onion; this is then combined with sautéed squid.  Then the dish is surrounded by a “bourride emulsion,” created from Provençal fish stew and shell fish stock that has been emulsified with aioli for creaminess.

Herbs de Provence Roasted Chicken (Riz Rouge, Turnip, Chestnut, Rosé Poached Figs):  Roasted chicken and guinea fowl were on menus all over Provence, so Chef has allocated an entrée staring role.  Chef covers chickens with herbs de Provence–marjoram, rosemary, thyme, lavender, oregano, tarragon and parsley.  Portions are half chickens (breast and leg) and plated on top of “riz rouge,” red rice from Provence chef has imported from Camargue, a marshy region south of Arles.  This whole grain rice is prepared in the normal way, but mixed with chestnuts and turnips.  Served with figs that Chef has rehydrated and poached with rosé and seasonings.

Beef Short Rib Daube Provençal (Red Wine, Carrot, Olive, Crispy Panisse):  This is another classic Provençal stew that traditionally is prepared in a vessel called a “daube.”  Beef short ribs are slow-cooked in a braising mixture of red wine, vegetables, black olives, herbs and orange zest.  Garnished with glazed baby carrots and Nicoise olives imported from France.  What could be the most challenging element of the dish is preparing the “crispy panisse” served alongside.  Chef combines chickpea flour, water, olive oil, salt and garlic cooked like he would polenta. When this cools, he spreads on a sheet pan, chills and then cuts into squares.  These are then fried as served as garnish.


Dessert Course (choice of one):

Tarte Au Citro (Pine Nut, Créme Chantilly):  Provence is citrus country in France, and this simple tarte is prepared with Meyer lemon.  Chef Courtney McDonald makes tarte shells from butter and pastry dough baked golden brown and then filled with lemon curd made from butter, lemon juice, sugar and eggs.  Served with candied pine nuts and créme chantilly (whipped cream with vanilla).

Olive Oil Chiffon Cake (Lavender Ice Cream, Lavender Honey):  Chef McDonald prepares French chiffon cake with four, eggs, sugar, vanilla and extra virgin olive oil instead of butter.  Whipped egg whites are responsible for making the cake rise (instead of baking powder).  For Mediterranean flair, Chef is serving the cake with house-made ice cream with locally sourced lavender.  Completing the dish is lavender honey that is, of course, imported from France.

Savor this prix-fixe, because you have to wait until mid-January 2016 for the next one.

Pilgrimage to Provence

Your “Provence” Prix-Fixe Demands French Wine

Chef Alexander’s “Pilgrimage to Provence” prix-fixe dinner–our final event for 2015 from November 17 to 22–begs to be accompanied by French wine.  A large part of my mission during our Wine Club tour of Provence in October was to seek out great wines to pair with Provençal cuisine.  We encountered wonderful wines everywhere, but we were frequently confronted with the vexing problem of limited production or no distribution in the United States.

Through the unrestrained diligence of your Carpe Vino wine hustlers, however, we’ve been able to source a broad array of wines from the places we visited in Provence and the Southern Rhone region.  Over the next few days, we’ll introduce you to the inventory we’ll have available for your enjoyment next week (or, you can order online).

Redon Wine

Three Entries from Chateau Mont-Redon. . .

Throughout 10 days of the tour (and 20 days in France altogether), the wine that impressed me most was Chateauneuf du Pape, and we’ll have at least three examples for sale, including two vintages from Chateau Mont-Redon, an estate our group visited.  The winery is located between Avignon and Orange near the left bank of the Rhone River.  The vineyards are laden with rock, providing an incredibly stressful growing environment that is impacted by an additional challenge:  the Mistral, a strong, cold, northwesterly wind that blows from southern France from the northern Mediterranean, with sustained winds often exceeding forty kilometers per hour.

Here’s what’s on offer (as they say in France), all from Chateau Mont-Redon:

2010 Chateauneuf du Pape, 375ml bottles, $29.95.  Wine Spectator Review, 91 points:  “Dark plum, currant paste and steeped cherry notes are lined with fruitcake, anise and ganache accents. Offers a fleshy feel through the finish. Drink now through 2020. 2,500 cases imported.”  — James Moleworth.

This is an opportunity to enjoy a couple of glasses of a stunning wine without having to invest in a full bottle.  Chateau Mont-Redon creates this red wine using 13 different grape varietals.

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2012 Chateauneuf du Pape, 750ml bottles, $54.  Wine Advocate Review, 89 to 91 points:  “It offers up a modern profile with plenty of cassis, licorice and hints of vanilla all emerging from the glass. Nicely concentrated, with sweet tannin and solid length on the finish.”— Jeb Dunnuck

VinousMedia.com Review, 93 points:  “Fragrant, complex scents of ripe cherry and red berries, with deeper licorice and dark chocolate nuances adding complexity. Round and pliant in the mouth, offering appealingly sweet black raspberry and cherry compote flavors that become livelier and spicier with air. Finishes sappy and long, with sneaky tannins adding shape and grip.”— Josh Raynolds

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2013 Côtes du Rhône, 750ml bottles, $19.99.  Winery Tasting Notes:  “The wine is deep violet red in color and the nose is intensely fruity, with mineral notes. This vintage brought remarkable freshness, as well as balanced tannins, for a wine that offers 3 to 5 years of aging potential. Dark berries and raspberries on the palate are offset by slight grilled notes and nuances of licorice.”  This wine is a blend of 80% grenache and 20% syrah.

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Join us from November 17 to November 22, starting at 5 p.m. each evening for Pilgrimage to Provence, four courses with choices for $59.95 pp++.   We suggest you make reservations now by calling the restaurant at 530-823-0320 or go to www.opentable.com.



MR Tasting Room

Just what we love to see. . .rows of nice clean wine glasses. . .waiting to be filled at Chateau Mont-Redon.

MR Vineyard

The vineyards in Chateauneuf du Pape are among the most formidable in the world. It’s amazing life can be supported, but the vines love the stress.

Pilgrimage to Provence

“Pilgrimage to Provence:” Memories in a Glass

Saint Pal de Vence.

Twenty-six close friends enjoy a leisurely lunch al fresco at Restaurant Le Tilleul, a sweet, hilltop spot in Saint Pal de Vence.

Our final prix-fixe event of the year, “Pilgrimage to Provence,” has a very special meaning for me and the two dozen Carpe Vino Wine Club members who journeyed to the south of France in early October.  We spent 10 days eating, drinking and touring our way across one of the most alluring regions of this dazzling country.  And for all of next week, you’ll have the opportunity to experience the epicurean delights we encountered–from fanciful rosés, to lusty Chataeuneuf du Papes to stunning cuisine.

Join us from November 17 to November 22, starting at 5 p.m. each evening for Pilgrimage to Provence, four courses with choices for $59.95 pp++.  Chef Alexander, who is trained in classical French cuisine (at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY) and has traveled in Provence, has created a menu that exploits the regional preparations and Placer County’s seasonal produce.

Designing the menu was a challenge:  The Thanksgiving holiday forced us to move the prix-fixe schedule up a week; and the classic Provencal dishes focus on fresh produce available in the summer that, of course, are no longer in season (think tomatoes, squash and the like).  So, Chef Alexander is capitalizing on what is available in the market now.

Click here for the full menu that features dishes such as Steamed Clams Bouillabaisse, Fall Vegetable Soup Au Pistou, Herbs de Provence Roasted Chicken and Tarte Au Citron.  Sounds very much like my four course program next Wednesday when my fellow Provence travelers gather for a reunion in the Wine Mine, complete with multi-media presentation of the trip.  Oh mon dieu, it’s going to be a four-star evening!

And adding to the decadence will be a remarkable selection of wines from Provence and the Southern Rhone.  Not to worry about me going all Francophile on you, but we’ve brought in some tasty, 90+ point Chateauneuf du Papes that will knock your crew socks off.  We’re bringing back Atmosphere Brut Rosé, a sparkling wine from Provence, and we’ll have a rosé from Mas de Cadenet, an estate we visited owned by the same family for nine generations.

So, take my advice and make reservations now by calling the restaurant at 530-823-0320 or go to www.opentable.com.  This is the last blowout dinner of the year and the menu is gonna be–to borrow a phrase from a Republican presidential candidate–HUGE.



Here’s Our New Approach to Celebrate the Holidays:

Wine Club Group

This photo is from August 2004, and though not our Christmas party, it is representative of the turnout that year.


Is it too soon to talk about Christmas?  In this instance, absolutely not. . .

That’s because we want to let you know that, sadly, we are ending a cherished Carpe Vino tradition that began more than a dozen years ago.  Our annual Holiday Party–what started as a simple gathering of about 50 people at the Carpe Vino bar on the Sunday before Christmas–has ballooned into a massive event that is simply no longer sustainable.  The victim of its own success, we simply do not have the horsepower and resources to continue producing this monstrous event during our busiest time of the year.

That doesn’t mean we won’t celebrate the season.  This December, Carpe Vino will donate $5,000 in the name of our Wine Club to the Placer Community Foundation, with the funds earmarked for food-based initiatives and programs directed at the homeless.  The Placer Community Foundation is a broadly based philanthropic organization that does an amazing job of helping fund local charities and non-profits.  It has the expertise to disperse dollars efficiently and effectively in our community.

We’ve struggled with this decision for many months, but we believe it is the right choice for our business because it removes a huge burden that has become weightier with each passing year.  With an average of about 400 people joining us at the Blue Goose Events Center in Loomis in recent years, it has become impossible to handle the crowd without contracting with others.  And that’s something we are loathe to continue because this is a Carpe Vino event.


Holiday Party

We didn’t know it at the time, but this is a scene from our last Holiday Party at the Blue Goose Events Center in Loomis where nearly 400 Wine Club members joined the celebration.

We didn’t know it at the time, but this is a scene from our last Holiday Party at the Blue Goose Events Center in Loomis where nearly 400 Wine Club members joined the celebration.

The result is we’ll be better able to serve the overwhelming demands of customers during December for fine dining in the restaurant and private parties in the Wine Mine.  We’ll be able to maintain peak form throughout the holidays and our staff won’t be burned to a crisp by January 1.

We understand some of our loyal members may be disappointed by this change, but we also have the confidence to know most will approve of and our decision and value the impact our holiday donation will have on our less fortunate neighbors.

What won’t change is we’ll continue to conduct our annual Holiday Tasting–this year on December 2 from 6 to 8 p.m.–and we’ll always strive to be the welcoming place you rely on for great wine, outstanding cuisine and excellent service. . . all year ’round.

Please accept our best wishes for a great holiday season.

gary, Drew & the Carpe Vino Crew


“Pilgrimage to Provence” is Next Prix-Fixe Theme

Gary in Provence

This was dessert one evening in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. I can promise this won’t be on the Pilgrimage to Provence prix-fixe menu, but we’ll have something delectable! That’s my beloved, Ellen, intend on her dinner (photo by Jacklynne Riley).

Our final prix-fixe event for the year is something special and very personal for me:  “Pilgrimage to Provence” will present dishes similar to those I discovered with 24 other travel mates during a 10-day wine, food and art tour of the south of France in early October.  Chef Alexander has sampled Provence in person, so the menu will be a mash-up of our combined experiences.

Pilgrimage to Provence is set for November 17 to 22, starting at 5 p.m. each evening.  The program is four courses, with choices–10 dishes in all–for $59.95 pp++.  Don’t risk this event selling out early; call 530-823-308 to make reservations now, or go to www.opentable.com.

This is the second international tour I have led, and as with our trip to Spain in 2013, the follow-up prix-fixe will also feature wines that we encountered on the road.  Our group visited nine wineries and we enjoyed local wines at dinners and lunches along the way.  The best of these–including killer wines from Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas, will be available for purchase and open for tasting.

Next week look for the complete Pilgrimage to Provence menu and an overview of the Provence tour in Window on Old Town.  We’ll be hosting a trip to Tuscany next year, and this just may whet your appetite.



Group Shot Provence

Here are the 25 intrepid travelers to Provence in early October (with our Earthbound Expeditions guide, Cesar Esquin, back row, second from right) stopping for a photo near Chateauneuf du Pape


More information
Carpe Vino (Find Us) 1568 Lincoln Way Auburn, CA 95603
Phone Number: 530-823-0320
Get Directions to Carpe Vino
Bar & Restaurant Hours Tuesday - Saturday
4:00pm - 10:00 p.m.
Closed: Sunday and Monday
Dining Room 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.