PageTitle

Additional Articles

Find additional articles by Robert Farmer



The Winery and The General

A Partnership Tale About Healthy Food and a Healthy Planet

Call it organic. Call it green. Call it sustainable. Whatever you happen to call it, one thing is sure: you can’t avoid it. It’s safe to say we’re achieving critical mass when it comes to the topic of conserving and protecting the environment. Concern for and stewardship of the planet reaches into every corner of our lives now, from the flower shop to the auto mall to Walmart. And as a certain high-profile parolee might say, it’s a good thing.

The phenomenon is increasingly prevalent in restaurants, where chefs are setting their sights are preparing and serving food that is not only healthier for the planet but also for those who consume it. Not surprisingly, Wine Country restaurants are blazing the trail. Indeed, several places in the Napa and Sonoma region have been practicing sustainability since long before it was a cultural mandate.

During a recent trip to Sonoma, I stopped in for dinner at The General's Daughter (400 West Spain St., Sonoma; 707-938-4004; www.thegeneralsdaughter.com), a venerable restaurant with historic appeal that belies a refreshingly forward-thinking mentality. The historic appeal is thanks to its setting in a gracious 1864 Victorian manor. The structure was wonderfully restored and is cared for by owners Jim and Bettie Hall, who manage to maintain not just their historic building, but also a sense of welcome hominess more commonly associated with a holiday visit to your aunt’s house in the country. Many of the original aspects of the house are preserved and easily noticeable, including the beautiful staircase and the large windowpanes that allow open views of a lovely garden patio.

However, the sense of contemporary thinking is thanks, in no small part, to the efforts and talents of executive chef Preston Dishman, who has overseen an ongoing renaissance of the restaurant and reinserted it into the vital dialogue of Wine Country Dining. Dishman is passionate about his cooking – which may not seem an earth-shattering idea, given that most chefs of this caliber are fully engaged in their profession. But fewer are the number of chefs who are so visible in the dining room during the dining process.

During my recent visit, chef Dishman could be seen visiting tables throughout the dining room, each as if he was stopping over to welcome a table full of long-time friends who were visiting from out of state. Personable, charming, and eager with a firm handshake, he was inclined to expound upon the night’s menu and its fresh ingredients; even more excited to discuss his assortment of artisan and farmstead cheeses, many locally sourced. Presented personally with Dishman’s intricate descriptions, the cheeses took on new taste sensations, as if eating with signposts on the tongue. Meanwhile, the menu deftly blends his distinct influences and mixes in a palpable Wine Country aesthetic. With French training and Southern roots, he stays close to the earth while cooking with soul.

Of course, Dishman is in the kitchen as often as the dining room. But he’s also quite frequently in the garden. The restaurant’s on-site garden produces the seasonal vegetables and herbs used in Dishman’s recipes. There are also four types of olive trees on premises as well as persimmons, lemon and pomegranate trees. Similarly, Dishman ensures all his meat purveyors practice hormone- and antibody-free farming methods.

In the effort to carry his earth-friendly practices further still, the restaurant recently announced a partnership with Benziger Family Winery (800-989-8890; www.benziger.com), known in Sonoma as trailblazer in biodynamic wine making. The partnership will allow Dishman to direct the planting and management of some twenty organic garden beds on the Benziger’s Demeter certified-Biodynamic estate. The garden will be tended alongside the vineyards and with the same attention to purpose that has placed made those vineyards among the nation’s standard-bearers in the biodynamic movement. Benziger has long been of the mind that natural farming yields better wines and better preserves the growing terrain. The partnership with Dishman and the General’s Daughter exemplifies the commitment.

As part of the deal, Dishman and a gardener employed by the restaurant are operating under Benziger’s Biodynamic parameters to create the winery’s inaugural vegetable, fruit and herb garden, creating the ecosystem necessary for the produce to flourish. This is actually the third organic garden directed by Dishman and will become yet another source for the restaurant’s garden-fresh cuisine. The restaurant’s goal is to bring in 90 percent of their produce from these three sources within the next year.

This kind of partnership is not that uncommon in these parts. But it does make for some uncommon dining and The General’s Daughter is happily and tastily helping the movement grow.

Click Here to view previous articles by Robert Farmer