Growing Their Own
Restaurant gardens are popping up all over Wine Country—to raise exquisite fresh food and to give back to the community.
by Martha Ross
He may be the property manager, not the chef, but Guillermo Rodriguez has a lot of say over what winds up on the menu at Brix.
That’s because he oversees the Yountville restaurant's two-acre garden, which provides many of the fresh vegetables and fruits that chef Anne Gingrass-Paik uses in her cooking. In the winter, Rodriguez makes sure that one of the garden's 20 raised beds is filled with kohlrabi bulbs, which Gingrass-Paik likes to slice and sauté into a tapenade. For summer, he’ll grow Roma and heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, and watermelon among other products. Sometimes, he’ll get inspired to plant something new, and the chef will find a tasty way to use it.
A similar story is being told in a growing number of Wine Country restaurants. Besides offering the superior flavor of ultrafresh vegetables, kitchen gardens provide chefs with their own source of less common ingredients. For the restaurant at Bardessono, a luxury resort in Yountville, gardener Noel Lopreore raises such specialty items as pineapple guava, chocolate mint, and lemon grass. But the benefits of kitchen gardens reach beyond the culinary. As Lopreore explains, Bardessono’s on-site garden and nearby farm allow the LEED Platinum–certified resort to cut down on the carbon footprint associated with buying transported produce.
Social concerns have inspired other restaurateurs to get into gardening. Dry Creek Kitchen, Barndiva, and other Healdsburg venues now partner with Dry Creek Valley's Quivira Vineyards and Winery (pictured). Quivira’s biodynamic farm follows a holistic, nature-based philosophy in growing the restaurants’ fruits and vegetables, and in lieu of pay, the winery asks participants to donate to a local foundation providing medical insurance to vineyard workers. "One of the core ideas of biodynamic farming is community engagement," says farm manager Andrew Beedy.
Unveiled last year, the program is already gaining attention, and not just from tourists. Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible and chairwoman of the Culinary Institute of America’s Professional Wine Studies Program, takes her students to the Conn Creek barrel blending as part of a course she teaches. "It's an extremely educational program that Conn Creek offers, and they do it in a way that really respects the integrity of the wine," she says. "Not to mention, it's just a lot of fun to get to try to blend your own wines."
Seminars are held twice daily except Wednesdays, by appointment only; $95 per person, $65 for club members. For info, go to conncreek.com.