Treating yourself and a friend to a scrumptious wine and food pairing that includes a fun yet informative winery tour is one of the most delicious and delightful ways to enjoy a day in Sonoma County. Valley of the Moon Winery at Madrone Estate offers a variety of wine and food tasting options and a multitude of exciting events to attend.
Touring with James at Valley of the Moon Winery at Madrone Estate
Every tour should begin with James, a congenial and conversant member of the staff at Valley of the Moon Winery at Madrone Estate. James’s tours are tailored to meet the informative expectations of both wine newbies and experts. He is miraculously capable of conveying the simplest wine concepts to those with minimal wine understanding while simultaneously delving into the finer and more sophisticated nuances of vineyard growth, grape harvesting, and wine tasting.
My friend, Connie, and I enjoyed one of James’s tours this August while visiting Valley of the Moon Winery at Madrone Estate. Toting a wine bag loaded with five delectable wines, James began the winery tour at the stone cellar. He proceeded to inform us about the history of the winery, explained various operations that took place around the grounds, pointed out the different grape varietals, and, of course, poured a new wine at each stop allowing us to savor it next to its origin. After the tour, James deftly handed us off to Debbie Timm, the winery’s Director of Hospitality.
Wine and Food Pairing at Valley of the Moon Winery at Madrone Estate
Debbie led Connie and me to a table inside, and we waited to meet Estate Chef Samuel Badolato. Chef Sam introduced himself and presented a brief overview of what to expect for our summer wine and food paired lunch. He explained the offerings as four appetizing courses paired with four reserve selected wines. Chef Sam departed to prepare the first course, and Debbie amused us with spirited conversation.
The First Course—Caprese Salad
Sam returned with the first course, a luxurious over-the-top caprese salad. The white plate functioned as a canvas for this artistic salad comprised of a thick slice of heirloom tomato, a plump dollop of creamy homemade Burrata peppered with lemon zest, and a few slices of grilled summer peach. The heavenly salad was drizzled with honey from the chef’s personal honeycomb, reduced and aged balsamic vinegar, and a touch of extra virgin olive oil. This course, complimented by a glass of Valley of the Moon 2014 Pinot Blanc served slightly chilled and containing fresh tropical notes, harmonized perfectly with the salad and peaches creating the quintessential start to a summer lunch.
Chef Sam Badolato’s Story
Sam joined us at the table and divulged the story of his culinary upbringing, which began in his grandmother’s kitchen. He shared how one day his southern Italian grandma brought all her grandchildren into the kitchen. She took each child’s hands into her own and made a judgment that would change Sam’s life forever. She soon sent everyone away except Sam who was only six at the time. She said, “Sam, you have warm hands, you will knead my dough.”
According to Sam, that was it. From that moment on she would not instruct anyone in the kitchen except him. He said, “It was always me. I was sautéing veal when I was seven. It was just one of those things.” She would say, “Here’s how you pound the veal, here’s how you knead the dough.” Sam learned all of her recipes and uses them today.
Sam traveled throughout Italy, France, and Spain perfecting his trade. He explained how, when you live in a small Medieval village in Europe, you live off the land. He said, “There is no Safeway truck pulling up. You cook with what you can find, and everything is from scratch. You get what you get at the farmers market.” Sam now shops at the local farmers market, which is open for most of the year on Tuesdays and Fridays, and that is what he serves.
He worked in restaurants for 35 years in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and owned four different ones with his brother featuring four unique concepts, and then he spun off on his own. Sam says, “It’s been a lot of fun, and I landed here at the winery. I love working at the winery and putting together wine and food pairings, it is just awesome .” Sam did not attend culinary school, but he says that cooking is a labor of love and his passion.
The Second Course—Grilled Artichokes
The second course, a grilled artichoke stuffed with Bellwether Farm’s sheep’s milk cheese and toasted breadcrumbs, arrived steamed in lemon juice. Typically, Chef Sam steams the artichokes in orange juice, the same way they do in southern Italy; however, oranges were out of season. Chef Sam being uncompromising about using only seasonal ingredients in his cooking, opted to steam them in lemon juice. The plump stuffed artichoke, drizzled with Meyer lemon aioli and accompanied by droplets of carrot-top pesto, lay enticingly on the plate.
The southern Italian pesto was made with basil, carrot tops, and pecorino cheese. Pistachios replaced the predictably used pine nuts, one of the distinctions between northern and southern pesto. Chef Sam paired the dish with a chilled Stewart Family Estate 2014 Reserve Chardonnay. Creamy aromas intermingled with the lemon while an essence of pear and white peach balanced the acidity leaving us with an enjoyable lingering finish.
The Third Course—Braised Beef Short Ribs
The entrée of braised beef short ribs arrived accompanied by a creamy polenta and a jam assembled from Madrone Road Zinfandel and estate berries. The berries supplied a sweetness in the jam, and the Zinfandel shone through by generating a tartness that mingled deliciously with the beef.
Chef paired the beef course with a Madrone 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel. This Zinfandel, made from estate vines dating back 128 years, paired eloquently with the dish, but Debbie stepped back in for a moment and suggested that we try the Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe wines as well.
The Ms. Audrey is a 2014 Madrone Old Vine Zinfandel with notes of sweet berries, white pepper and anise. This zin retains a balanced structure and a long finish. The Ms. Marilyn is a 2012 Madrone Zinfandel, Old Madrone Road from Sonoma Valley. It radiated aromas of raspberry, vanilla, cola and spice. This juicy wine won as my personal favorite.
The Finale—Chocolate and Ice Cream
As we neared the end of this perfect lunch, Chef Sam served five distinctly different dark chocolates. The five added ingredients were dried cranberries, dried blueberries, toasted pistachios, rosemary, and dried strawberries. A scoop of Zinfandel ice cream drizzled with olive oil supplemented the chocolates.
We sipped a Madrone 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, which brought forth flavors of ripe blackberry and cocoa complimenting the distinctive chocolates and luscious ice cream.
History of Valley of the Moon Winery at Madrone Estate
Valley of the Moon Winery is located in the city of Glen Ellen in Sonoma County. This historic winery began in 1863 when George Whitman planted grapes on the 60-acre estate. His success was realized in just four short years when the winery produced more than 50,000 gallons of wine and 2,000 gallons of brandy.
The winery changed names and passed between many influential hands over the years—Eli T. Sheppard, Senator George Hearst, Hearst’s widow, the Union Trust Company of San Francisco, and Louis Engelberg. The 1930s prohibition years were tough, and the winery was forced to close along with many others.
In 1941, the now recognized Madrone Vineyards came back to life when purchased by Enrico Parducci and Peter Domenici, two Italian sausage makers. These two men quickly renamed the estate “Valley of the Moon.” Today, Valley of the Moon Winery at Madrone Estate is considered one of Sonoma Valley’s celebrated wineries. Owned and operated by the Stewart family, they now yield higher-quality wines but produce smaller quantities.
This historic winery is the oldest in Glen Ellen. The well-situated patios offer exemplary settings for guests to sip distinctive estate wines while viewing the 100-year-old vines.
The staff and owners at Valley of the Moon Winery at Madrone Estate take pride in their wine, food, and customer service. Treat yourself and a friend to a delightful day touring the estate property and indulge in a scrumptious lunch prepared by Chef Samuel Badolato the next time you visit Sonoma County.
Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided meal and tour compensation for the purpose of this review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.