One of the best parts of having a winery is all of the fabulous customers we’ve met over the years. I always say my favorite thing is when customers turn into friends, which actually happens quite regularly. We say that when you join the R. Stuart Wine Club you become part of the family. And that’s not just marketing mumbo-jumbo. I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that it’s absolutely true.
So, what’s this Club thing all about? Three times a year we send packages of wine to the members and in it are a selection of three to six wines, depending on the Club. We actually have four different Wine Clubs, to cater to different people’s tastes. Along with the wines we send tasting notes and a recipe paired with each wine.
As you might imagine, I’m the one who comes up with the recipes (reason #572 why I love my job). And even though I love it, it’s a pretty significant project each time. If we’re sending three to six different wines to four different Clubs, that comes out to somewhere between nine and twelve unique recipes that are well-matched to a wine and have never been sent to the Club before.
And this, friends, is how I justify my huge (and always growing) collection of cookbooks.
In all seriousness, people often ask me how I approach this undertaking, so I thought I’d take a moment to tell you about it here.
When Wine Club time rolls around, I take the list of wines on the docket and make some notes as to the kinds of dishes I imagine would go well with them. I then spend several hours poring over my cookbooks and often the internet as well. I tag all kinds of recipes that I think might work. Since producing wines that are food-friendly is a cornerstone of our winemaking philosophy, I have a lot of options. In fact, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris – the wines we tend to focus on – are perhaps the most food-adaptable wines there are.
Once I have my ideas and recipe possibilities lined up I start cooking. Every night for a couple of weeks I make a dish (or sometimes several) that is a potential match. At dinner, we taste each dish with the wine I have in mind. If its early in the process we also taste it with all the other wines in the running too, to see which one is the best fit. When its Wine Club time there are always at least half a dozen bottles of wine open on the table. And sometimes as many dishes going at once. My kids used to really dislike living through this process, but now they kind of get into it.
There was a funny episode last year when one of our teenage sons had three or four friends over, since I’d made several dishes to try that evening and there was plenty of food, I invited them to stay. They were a little amazed and watched us with amusement as Rob, the kids and I tasted each dish, and then the wines, offered our critique to each other and moved on to the next, all the while I’m scribbling notes on a pad nearby. And just like any other night, all of this interspersed with “how was school today?” and “what’s on the docket for the weekend?” These kids are already kind of amazed by a normal week night dinner at our house, but this version of family dinner was really quite a surprise. “This is what your parents do for work?”
Every once in a while a dish is a direct hit, matching perfectly with the intended wine on the first go round. Sometimes its a bust and it doesn’t go with any of the wines – or heck, maybe we just don’t like it. If its not delicious, I won’t send it. Most often the dish requires some tweaking (adding acid or salt, maybe more or less spice) and so its a series of tasting, tweaking and tasting again – sometimes repeated for a few cycles until we finally arrive at the ideal.
Once all the recipes are complete and each wine has a match, I send them off to our graphic designer who makes them look pretty for me.
Eventually they all go out with the respective tasting notes and a letter from me talking about what’s going on at the winery and in the vineyard.
Each Wine Club member receives a special notebook when they join – the thought being that this is where they’ll collect all the info we send them so they can refer to it later. It’s so much fun to get feedback from our Club members on which wine or dish they’ve loved. I know there are a few members out there who organize parties around their Club shipments and assign each guest to make one of the dishes and bring it to share. That sounds fun to me. And it’s also the kind of thing that makes my job worth doing.
If I can help bring joy to people’s lives through food and wine, I consider my day a success.
If you’re interested in learning more about our Clubs, you can read all about them at this link.
Here’s one of my favorite recipes that is going out with Club shipments this week. It’s a simple but elegant salmon dish, dressed with a really lovely curry cream sauce.
- 1 T curry powder
- 1/2 t ground ginger
- 1 T fresh lemon juice (perhaps a little more, to taste)
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 t salt, plus additional for the fish
- pinch of freshly ground black pepper, plus additional for the fish
- 6 salmon fillets, about 6 ounces each
- olive oil
- Mix the curry powder, ginger and lemon juice into the cream. Season with salt and pepper. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until just boiling, stirring occasionally. Watch this carefully as the cream will suddenly boil over and you don't want that, it's a big mess. Just as its about to come to a boil immediately reduce the heat and simmer until reduced by a third.
- Meanwhile cook the salmon. Preheat the oven to 450. Put the salmon on the baking sheet, brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake the salmon until just cooked through, 5-7 minutes.
- Check the seasoning of the sauce, this is where you might add just a touch more lemon, salt or pepper.
- Serve the salmon with the warm sauce, passing the extra sauce in a small pitcher.