It is officially as hot as the inside of a volcano in Houston, and I dreaming of my week away in Sonoma. I last left you with part 1 of this amazing Superior Farms pasture tour, but now I get to tell you about even more things we got to see and do! From a beautiful food and wine pairing dinner in the Russian River Valley, to herding sheep down a mountain with a 4 year old giving the ranch dogs commands, it was nothing short of incredible.
I have always associated lamb with a gamey flavor, which I mentioned before, was one of the main reasons I wanted to go on this trip. But once I learned that I had just been purchasing the wrong type (American lamb is bred for its meat, whereas Australian lamb is bred for its wool, hence gamey flavor), I was all game to start tasting what I had been missing out on! Lucky for me, there was a chef preparing a dinner full of lamb and wine pairings next on our schedule :).
The second part of our Superior Farms Pasture Tour took us to Gracianna Vineyard for a wine and food pairing dinner by Chef Tom Schmidt. Located in the Russian River Valley, the setting could not have been more beautiful and serene, and Lisa Amador (the wine makers wife) could not have been more welcoming. From the moment we arrived, she made us feel right at home, giving us full reign to photograph and explore the grounds… although I’m not quite sure she knew how over the top we bloggers like to get with our photo-taking, but she was a great sport :).
This was the entrance to their home, which is located right beside the tasting room. I highly suggest if you are ever in the Healdsburg/Sonoma area, you take a tour here. Gracianna is a much smaller, more intimate winery, which is sure to make your experience so much more special. I loved it so much I even signed up for their wine club when I got home…
A little bit of history on this vineyard – Gracianna Lasaga emigrated to the U.S. from France as a young woman, and along with her husband, raised sheep in California. This was a hard life, and involved managing thousands of sheep at a time. Gracianna would prepare simple but gracious meals that always included wine, a food staple as necessary as lamb. As soon as I heard this, I understood why the Amador’s felt passionately about hosting this Superior Farms tasting dinner, almost as if a tribute to their roots.
The inside of the home had high ceilings, insane natural lighting, and looked like something out of Architectural Digest magazine.
Table setting goals…..
The Spanish style architecture was beyond stunning.
The courses were all beyond incredible, but I had to share this one with you – herb crusted saddle of lamb (recipe here) with fresh morels, romano beans, sweet onions, and creamy front porch farms red floriani polenta, paired with Gracianna Pinot jus…. oh my goshhhh!!! So good I wanted to lick my plate after, but I tried to mind my manners…
The dinner was so beautiful, and all the pairings couldn’t have been more perfect. Okay, now my mouth is watering so we will need to move on to the final part of the tour :).
The final leg of our tour was one of the most exciting. We got to spend the full day with lamb rancher Robert Irwin and his family at Bonterra Winery, learning vineyard biodynamics 101. You are probably asking yourself right now, “What in the world is vineyard biodynamics?” Well….. it is really freaking cool and I can’t wait to tell you about it. Basically, Robert explained to us a system that they created where the lamb are used to keep the vineyards as sustainable as possible, eliminating tractors, and instead using sheep to leaf pull off the vines, fertilize the soil naturally with manure, manage the lands, and protect natural water areas. Pretty amazing right?
Bonterra is an organic winery that is using this new method of vineyard biodynamics, and we got to see the entire process first hand. First Robert, and his trusty daughter Claire, herded the sheep down the mountain. This was one of the coolest things I have ever seen – as he gave the dogs commands they guided the sheep all the way down…
Here is Robert, and you can see his little girl Claire in the bushes managing the process to make sure it gets done correctly :).
Here they comeeee!
At this point, we all stepped out of the way, a little nervous that they would trample us over, but alas these smart sheep knew exactly where to go.
Robert then proceeded to tell us exactly how the sheep in the vineyards are productive. They are able to eliminate the human factor of pulling all the leaves from the vines, because the sheep find the grapes so sour that when they graze, they will only eat the leaves not grapes – GENIUS! So not only are they fertilizing the soil, but they are doing the work of leaf pulling, and getting fed at the same time.
He also brought up another really good point. By eating American lamb, you are choosing protein from farmers and ranchers who care for their animals and environment, and you are supporting sustainable practices like these. It was really clear to us how much he did care too – this is his families life. His wife is the scientist, constantly testing the nutrient content of their soil to prove the good they are doing to the environment, while Claire learns first hand invaluable life experience most children can only dream of. It was such a beautiful thing to see.
Some however, will eat the grapes, no matter how sour they are… because what little girl being raised in a vineyard wouldn’t have fun doing that!?
Another thing I learned on this tour…. I want to come back in my next life as a ranch dog. Or Claire.
Here you can see the sheep hard at work!
Here are a few facts about lamb ranching and vineyard biodynamics:
- As consumers become more and more aware of where their food comes from, they are more interested in choosing proteins from farmers and ranchers who care for their animals and environment.
- Sheep are skilled grazers. They are naturally efficient, and can easily replace tractors and other machinery that not only have negative effects on the soil, but are sometimes hard to navigate through narrow or small areas.
- Sheep prove to bring significant value to farmers and ranchers for natural fertilization, land management purposes, noxious weed control, post-harvest crop clean up, and reducing the risk of severity of wildfires.
- It was estimated that their targeted grazing saved more than 11,700 gallons of diesel through reduced tractor use.
This really was the trip of a lifetime. It was so difficult for me to write about this trip because of all the information and things I learned, but I hope you took away some of the same things that I was able to!
Now, go make an awesome lamb recipe inspired but this Superior Farms tour, and tag us all in it! Can’t wait to see what you come up with!
(This is a sponsored post. All opinions are completely my own, based on my own experience.)