A Farmer's Wife, who loves fine food, wine and giving back

Tag: Lodi Wine Country

Take a Tour of Albariño in Lodi Wine Country

Take a Tour of Albariño in Lodi Wine Country

All signs point to Lodi Wine Country this weekend! So, pack your bags or call the babysitter because Lodi Wine is hosting a Tour of Albariño. Beginning today, August 10 through Sunday, August 12, nine participating Lodi wineries will pour Albariño and offer a unique […]

Markus Wine Co. Makes his Mark on Lodi Wine’s Legacy

Markus Wine Co. Makes his Mark on Lodi Wine’s Legacy

Niggli Releases Red Wine Line-Up, Adds to Already Stellar White Wine Collection I need you to read this carefully…Markus Niggli is a visionary. Read it again. Markus Niggli is a visionary. He is changing the landscape of Lodi Wine with his unique perspective to wine […]

The Ultimate Food and Wine Experience in Lodi Wine Country

The Ultimate Food and Wine Experience in Lodi Wine Country

Towne House Restaurant Kicks off the New Year with McCay Cellars Dinner

If you have read my blog, you know I’m a big fan of Towne House Restaurant in Lodi and their running series of wine dinners. Or, if this is your first time here, welcome! And if the first installment of this year’s dinners is any indication of how my culinary journey for 2018 will go down, I’m in for a real treat.

The first wine dinner of 2018 featured one of Lodi’s premier wineries…McCay Cellars. Owner and winemaker Mike McCay is making waves in the wine world with his sophisticated line-up of award-winning Lodi wine.

So a couple of weeks ago, I was thrilled to head to Towne House for the ultimate Wine Wednesday, pairing six courses prepared by culinary legend Bradley Ogden with six elegant wines from McCay Cellars. And now, for how it went down, and all of the juicy food and wine tidbits from behind the scenes.

The evening launched with a beautiful potato puff, in-house-smoked sturgeon, Passmore Ranch Caviar and an herbed crème fraiche. Chef Ogden crafted the potato pancake from ricing the potatoes and the result was a fluffy, delicate puff to compliment the smoked sturgeon. While I loved the dish, what I found most gratifying was the tangy, herbed crème fraiche that balanced the entire dish, mellowing the smoke on the sturgeon and acting as an excellent conductor for the 2016 Chenin Blanc. The wine is produced in stainless steel using only native fermentation, with essence of crisp stone fruit. It was delightful to drink and the best way to start out our culinary excursion.

First Course: Potato Puff with Smoked Sturgeon, Caviar and Herbed Crème Fraiche
McCay Cellars 2016 Chenin Blanc

The second course was hands-down my favorite course of the evening. The flavor profile was surprisingly intriguing, with a sweet and savory element from the chipotle glaze that coated the BBQ Pacific mussels. If my taste buds could have done a happy dance, this is where they hit the dance floor! The mussels were cooked to tender perfection and melted in the mouth. And the rye and brioche crostini with caraway seed was an effective vessel to showcase the bright flavors of BBQ essence. Now let’s talk about the wine pairing. This course was paired with the light and refreshing 2016 Grenache Blanc. With just 75 cases made from 3 tons of hand sorted Grenache Blanc, this wine disappears fast, so check out McCay’s new tasting room and pick some up before its gone. The grapes are sourced from a vineyard where McCay was able to hand select the rows he wanted to use and his meticulous methods were on display in the glass before me.

Second Course: BBQ Pacific Mussels on a Rye and Brioche Crostini, with McCay Cellars 2016 Grenache Blanc

Next up was the third course, which took a page from one of Towne House’s staple dishes, the crab cake. Only Chef Ogden reinvented the course to pair with McCay’s Reserve Rosé. Ogden carefully steamed fresh crabs and crafted a meaty crab cake with just enough celery and sweet pepper to add flavor. Served with a Meyer lemon aioli, a smoked tomato coulis, kumquats and Kara Kara orange, its bright acidity and fruit components was a delight. I thought the lemon might over power the 2016 Reserve Rosé, but it paired quite nicely. The Grenache based Rosé also contains Cinsaut sourced from the over 125-year-old Bechtold Vineyard. The result is a wine that is cloyingly light, with strawberry fruit, ruby red grapefruit and a beautiful finish. It was pressed in whole clusters with native fermentation in 55-gallon drums. At 12.5 % alcohol, this rosé is definitely one of my favorites.

Third Course: Dungeness Crab Cake with Kara Kara Orange
McCay Reserve 2016 Rose

Up next was a big, bold, meaty piece of Colorado Lamb loin, cooked sous vide to 115 degrees. Chef Ogden then wrapped the lamb loin in thin country bacon, seared the meat to a perfect 125 degrees and plated atop cheesy grits with andouille sausage. The grits creamy, flavorful and may have led several guests to request that Chef add them to the regular menu (update: the grits made their official debut last week)! Ogden also hit a home run with the wine pairing, marrying this dish with McCay’s 2013 Jupiter Zinfandel. Rated one of the top 100 wines from the San Francisco Chronicle, this wine is fruit-forward with highlights of dark cherry and soft tannins. Sourced from an east side Lodi vineyard, the Jupiter Zinfandel is balanced, with roughly 200 cases produced.

Fourth Course: Colorado Lamb Loin, Homemade Andouille Sausage, Grits, Creamy Winter Garlic
McCay Cellars 2013 Jupiter Zinfandel

At this point I’m in a food coma, but I know I have two more courses coming out top tease my taste buds, so I brace myself for the rich flavor bomb of beef cheek, fried Kumamoto oyster and tarragon hollandaise. The Zinfandel braised beef cheek absolutely melted in my mouth like butter, only further developed by the creamy tarragon hollandaise. And while I said earlier the mussels were my favorite dish of the night, the delicately fried Kumamoto oyster was my favorite single component of all the dishes. The briny, herbaceous oyster is imprinted in my memory bank for life. And to stand up to the hearty fifth course, they poured the 2015 Bonotto Zinfandel. passion. McCay had the chance to purchase the last eight rows of the Bonotto Vineyard, on the South bank of the Mokelumne River. Traditionally, the grapes had been sold to a major wine producer, but McCay wanted to see what he could do with the fruit and he was thrilled with the results. He describes this wine as defining a true sense of place. The Bonotto is big, rich, juicy and made using native fermentation. Absolutely delicious!

Fifth Course: Organic Beef Cheek, Oscar Style Fried Kumamoto Oyster, Tarragon Hollandaise
McCay Cellars 2015 Bonotto Zinfandel

And alas, the final course made its way to the dining room and it’s a doozy. The kitchen delivered with a twist on banana foster. Chef roasted fingerling bananas in butter, brown sugar and lemon. He plated them on top of a milk chocolate drunken prune ice cream garnished with crumbled sugar cookie. The bananas, ice cream and crunchy cookies made for the finale of our meal. The dessert was paired with the 2013 Vintner’s Blend White of Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Albariño, Vermentino and Pinot Noir. While I can definitively say the pairing wasn’t a perfect pair, each on its own was worthy of mention. There may have been a miscommunication on which wine would be served to complete the evening, but it didn’t affect my reflection of the meal.

Sixth Course: Banana Foster, Milk Chocolate Drunken Prune Ice Cream
McCay Cellars 2013 Vintner’s Blend White

Dinners like this one make me so grateful to live in Lodi Wine Country. It is so rewarding to see the hard work of our wine grape growers, vintners and restauranteurs come to fruition. If you want to learn more about the 2015 Wine Enthusiast Region of the Year, check out Lodi Wine or Visit Lodi for more information. If you think you might be interested in attending one of Towne House Restaurant’s Wine Dinners, check their website and social media pages for announcements and upcoming dates!

Owner/Winemaker Mike McCay and Chef Bradley Ogden
Enjoying the evening’s food and wine!
Towne House Sommelier Scott Reeseman presenting a bottle of McCay to guests


Suzanne Ledbetter

Fine Foodie Philanthropist


Shakin’ it Up: a Cocktail Class with Master Mixologist Teresa Perry

Shakin’ it Up: a Cocktail Class with Master Mixologist Teresa Perry

Girl’s Night Out: Cocktails 101 at Wine and Roses It’s time to shake things up! Seriously. You know I always love a beautiful glass of wine, but sometimes the Fine Foodie Philanthropist needs a good cocktail! And when I do, I normally end up at […]

Fē•nix Rises for Bokisch Harvest Wine Dinner

Fē•nix Rises for Bokisch Harvest Wine Dinner

With harvest in Lodi Wine Country winding down, I finally have a some time to share some of my most recent food and wine adventures with all of you! A few weeks back I joined a few dozen foodies for an over-the-top Harvest Winemaker Dinner at […]

Bradley Ogden and Bokisch Vineyards- A Spanish Foodie’s Dream: Wine and Roses Wine Dinners Part One

Bradley Ogden and Bokisch Vineyards- A Spanish Foodie’s Dream: Wine and Roses Wine Dinners Part One

Two weeks ago I had an opportunity to spend a few hours in the kitchen with a world renowned chef right here in Lodi, CA. Over these past couple of weeks I have reflected on what it meant to me and my future with this blog. Anyone that knows me, knows my late father loved to cook. Every time we went to a fine-dining restaurant, my father asked for a tour of the kitchen. While admittedly, it embarrassed me a bit, it piqued a curiosity for the culinary arts and those gifted masters of the craft.

Rewind to a few months before I started this blog, and Towne House Restaurant, the on site restaurant at Wine and Roses in Lodi, announced the hiring of Chef Bradley Ogden as Culinary Director. This was a huge move for a Lodi establishment, and one that locals and tourists alike were thrilled to hear. Chef Ogden is a James Beard Award winning chef. He is the man behind One Market, Yankee Pier, Lark Creek, and Bradley Ogden in Caesars Palace, Las Vegas. Shortly after his hiring, they launched a series of four wine dinners that Chef Ogden would pair with four local Lodi wineries. Unfortunately, I missed the first dinner featuring Michael David Winery, so I immediately signed up for the next three. I was so excited to experience a winemaker dinner highlighting Bokisch Vineyards wines. Knowing it would be great fodder for the blog, I asked the owners of Wine and Roses, Russ and Kathryn Munson, if I might be able to take some pictures and observe Chef Ogden during the meal prep for the wine dinner.

Long story short, they invited me into the kitchen and I introduced myself to Chef Ogden. His Midwestern hospitality settled my nerves as he welcomed me in and immediately showed me around his prep station, complete with diagrams and lists taped to a wall as a sort of working checklist.

I spent the next few hours asking him questions about his culinary perspective, influences and techniques. I watched him work meticulously with each course, crossing items off of his blueprint on the wall. I watched him guide the other chefs in the kitchen with just enough authority to get the job done well but also allow them to use their own creativity or style in each dish. I watched him tell a story, his story; of growing up in Michigan hunting, fishing and cooking from the land in which he was raised.


Later that evening, guests gathered at the outdoor patio at Towne House Restaurant where we were seated under market lighting and monstrous magnolia trees. There were two parallel farm house tables simply set for guests. Hosts Markus and Liz Bokisch of Bokisch Vineyards and Russ and Kathryn Munson each grabbed the seats at the head of the table to guide attendees through the dinner. The rest of us all settled in, becoming fast friends, chatting about Lodi’s incredible rise as a wine region and our favorite travels around the world.

The professional staff at Wine and Roses began to pour our first wine of the evening, Bokisch Vineyards 2015 Clay Station Vineyard, Borden Ranch Verdejo. Moments later, Chef Ogden greeted guests with our first dish, a Sofregit of Smelt with an organic cornmeal crusted Vidalia onion, julienned chorizo salad and a simple, but flavorful Romesco sauce.

If I am being honest here, I had never eaten Smelt, but I am game for anything, and Chef showed me how he soaked them in milk and dredged them in cornmeal. They were caught fresh from the Bay that morning and I couldn’t wait to try them!

I was mind blown. The smelt rested delicately on a baked tomato vinegar crostini topped in micro greens and served with a chorizo salad of olives, celery, herbs, lemon and vinegar. The dish was packed with flavor, and the crispy crunch of the Smelt was a dish I will never forget. It also was a perfect match for the Bokisch Verdejo, a light and beautiful white wine, which has become a definite favorite of mine. 

Our second course was a Bacalla Fresh Salted Cod Cake garnished with a white bean Samfaina, and a toasted Spanish paprika aioli. This course was paired with the Bokisch Vineyards 2014 Terra Alta Vineyard, Clements Hills Albarino. Earlier, Chef Ogden showed me how he brined the cod for two days with salt, kefir leaves and lemon peel from an orchard just down the road. He loosely molded the cod into cakes with potatoes, onions and herbs.

The cod cakes were then seared in a healthy amount of butter, until they turned a beautiful golden brown before he finished them in the oven. The white bean Samfaina was cooked much like a ratatouille, with capers, garlic, zucchini and tomatoes. The thinly sliced garnish of lemon peel and parsely salad complemented the bright acidity of the Albarino. You could tell there was a deep understanding of food and wine.

Next up was the third course of Monterey Squid served with an Oyster and Sausage Stuffing and “Arros Negre.” Squid is a Spanish staple and was perfect match for the Bokisch Vineyards 2014 Terra Alta Vineyard, Clements Hills Garnacha. The Granacha is a medium-bodied, bright crimson wine with rasberry and wild stawberry notes.

Personally, I think pork is a gift from the heavens…so I was so excited for the fourth course of Long Ranch Suckling Pig and Pork Belly with pickled samphire vegetables and saffron fideus. Chef told us of his venture a few miles south of Lodi to Long Ranch, where he picked out the perfect pig for the dish. He marinated the suckling pig in an ancho pepper rub, and local roasted stonefruit.

The Pork Belly was brined and rubbed with in house BBQ and sweet and sour sauce. Surprisingly, my favorite part of the course was the samphire pickled vegetables with saffron, carrots and celery. The golden color of the veggies was kin to a culinary magic trick. I also loved the creative use of fried noodles as a garnish for texture. Bokisch winemaker Elyse Perry addressed the dinner guests with details of the Bokisch Vineyards 2014 Belle Colline Vineyard, Clements Hills Monastrell. This was one of my favorite wines of the night, with a soft and round finish, dark cherry fruit and hints of vanilla. What made this wine so special was the fruit, and sadly, 2014 was the last year of production for this vineyard. My tip of the day would be to visit Bokisch Vineyards immediately and pick up a bottle before it is all gone.

At this point, we all needed a walk around the block, but the staff at Towne House swiftly rolled out with the fifth course. We were treated to Skirt Steak marinated in capers, golden white raisins and gazpacho. When Chef Ogden showed me the marinade, I was reminded of how golden raisins were the special treat for kindergarten snacks of my childhood. They were abundant in the Central Valley growing up.  Markus then explained how in Spain, locals love to sear their skirt steak over a large open flame of vineyard cuttings (if you are in the grape growing business, you may want to remember to save cuttings when redeveloping a vineyard). Towne House Executive Chef John Hitchcock meticulously executed his version of this traditional Spanish dish, with a dark sear on both sides, leaving the interior of the steak a tender medium rare. And…if you are going to have a traditional Spanish dish, you must pair it with one of the most well known Spanish varietals, the Bokisch Vineyards 2014 Lodi Tempranillo. The deep purple hue of the wine lent itself to flavors of dark plum, and bing cherry with hints of smoke and dark chocolate. It is delicious and can be enjoyed now or for years to come.

And just when you think dessert is on its way, Chef Ogden surprised us with a cheese course of Manchego Cheese. It was appropriately paired with a beautiful honeycomb courtesy of Golden Bear Ranches just a couple of miles from the restaurant. Also with this course was an almond milk shooter. The Bokisch Vineyards 2014 Graciano is Markus Bokisch’s favorite variety and one can certainly understand why. The wine is deep in color with an earthiness and bold juicy fruit. By the sixth course I am left realizing that Bokisch Vineyards are masters of their craft and ask myself why we haven’t joined the wine club. I make a mental note to sign up immediately.

For the final and seventh course, the culinary team presented a Catalan “Burnt Cream” Flan with macerated wild berries, a reduction of Vi de Panses and micro-lavendar greens for garnish. Earlier in the day, I watched as Chef Ogden marinated the local berries and worked with the pastry team to execute this course. The berries were plump with wine and bursting with sweetness. Naturally, the course was served with the Bokisch Vineyards 2015 Terra Alta Vineyard Clements Hills Vi de Panses. This wine has hints of honey, apricot, orange and caramel, that made for the perfect ending to our multi-course meal. And with only 16 cases produced, you can understand why this vintage is sold out.

After dinner, the small crowd mingled and gathered for pictures with the chefs, winemakers and owners. It was a memorable evening, and one that needed to be captured on camera.

In reflecting on the wine dinner, I am amazed at how Chef Bradley Ogden, whose culinary perspective leans heavily toward New American cuisine, executed a beautiful Spanish meal of seven courses. Then again, I shouldn’t be. I guess I just can’t imagine LeBron James hitting a home run on the baseball field, but Chef Ogden did just exactly that. I am also more impressed than ever with Lodi Wine’s Bokisch Vineyards. Lodi is so blessed they decided to set up shop here after years of learning the trade of grape growing and winemaking. It was such a treat hearing them tell their story and how they forged their way into the top tier of the Lodi wine industry. If you want to learn more about their history, I suggest you join their wine club! Rumor has it they throw a heck of a pick up party!


Fine Foodie Philanthropist

Suzanne Ledbetter