January 2, 2011

Chef Sarah’s culinary continuum

Filed under: News — burke @ 7:37 pm

Chef Sarah Scott, Continuum Estate

I remember when I first started cooking for the Mondavi’s and, in particular, one occasion with Tim and his family in the mid-80s. It was at his then, newly constructed home in the Stag’s Leap District. I was in the kitchen prepping for dinner, head down, peeling garlic and shallots, picking fresh thyme and parsley and tending to the sauce. I looked up and saw that I was surrounded by a small sea of red- and blonde-haired children. They weren’t even tall enough to reach the top of the marble counter. And, they were all staring at me!
“Who are you and what are you doing?” one of them bravely asked.
“I’m the chef and I’m making dinner,” I said.
They considered this.
“Can we help? We know how.”
I surveyed the tiny crew then handed over the bunch of parsley. Soon, little fingers were deftly plucking the leaves from the stems and there was a busy, contented feeling in the kitchen.
Not much has changed over the last 25 years.
When they are around, I still look up to find Carissa, Carlo, Chiara, Dante and Dominic, Tim’s children, in the kitchen when I am cooking at Continuum. Still curious, still asking questions and still wanting to help. I will hand over a pile of fava beans to be shelled, bunches of basil to be picked or a loaf of bread to be sliced and grilled for bruschetta. Everyone’s taller now, some of them tower over me, but that love of food is alive and well in this family and at Continuum in its pleasurable and very serious pursuit of bringing wine and food together.

This past year at Continuum brought a variety of roast beasts, wild and foraged foods and the bounty of our Napa Valley food producers and farmers to the table. My co-author, Connie Green, and I were generously and enthusiastically supported by Continuum in the launch of our cookbook The Wild Table. It led to a year of exploring the various properties in new ways. Connie brought a small troop of us, including Tim, Marcia and Carissa, into the woods next to Tim’s house one drizzly day, baskets and mushroom knives in hand. We emerged an hour or so later with candy cap mushrooms, miner’s lettuce and chickweed. These became ingredients for a later meal featuring spit-roasted wild boar, malfatti with wild greens and candy cap mushroom crème brulee. The boar was hunted and prepared by fabled hunter/forager Angelo Garro aided by his trusty sous chef, author Michael Pollan. It was an omnivore’s wild feast and the weaving together of wine and food not only in a literal way, but philosophically as well. Terroir, Sustainable, Natural and Local. These words took on a new, delicious meaning that night.

Not only were wild mushrooms and foraged foods on the menu often this past year, but roasted goat became a new favorite. We cooked several locally raised goats, one occasion being the Continuum 2007 vintage release pick up party and later in the fall for a group of Michelin-starred Japanese Chefs visiting for the World of Flavors Conference at the Culinary Institute at Greystone in St. Helena. Roasted slowly over seasoned oak, basted with rosemary and sage from Tim’s garden, the rich, deeply flavored meat was delicious with all the vintages of Continuum. I had picked up a variety of ancient grains on a trip to New York’s Green Market and made a side dish of kamut, spelt, farro and amaranth to go with the goat, along with some roasted wild mushrooms. Dessert was a pistachio tart with Tim’s home-grown, hand harvested pears. The chefs lingered a long while that day, nourished by the wine, the food and that well-seasoned Continuum hospitality.

We look forward to more delicious events and meals in 2011. We will continue to enjoy the variety of locally sourced beef, lamb, duck, guinea hen, artisan cheeses and charcuterie that pair so well with the wine. Wild mushrooms, elderberries, fennel and juniper have proven to be delicious complementary flavors and we will be heading off the beaten track to forage for them in their seasons. Soon it will be time to fire up the grill, to set the table, uncork the wine. We’ll gather together once again with old and new friends, savoring the good life which is alive and well at Continuum Estate.
Happy New Year,


Sarah Patterson Scott, Chef, Writer and Continuum Estate Culinary Consultant, served as Executive Chef at Robert Mondavi Winery for 14 years, overseeing and developing the Culinary and Wine and Food Programs at the Oakville winery. She has travelled extensively, participating in wine and food programs globally. Sarah’s culinary business provides wine and food experiences, consulting and recipes for wineries, restaurants and private clients in the Napa Valley. She produced her first cookbook in 2010, The Wild Table, with wild foods expert Connie Green of Wine Forest Wild Mushrooms, published by Viking Press.

November 30, 2010

Happy Holidays from Continuum Estate!

Filed under: News — burke @ 6:28 pm
Winter at Continuum Estate with Olives, 2009

Winter at Continuum Estate with Olives

The 2010 harvest is winding down and our new wines are being pressed and put into barrels. The beautiful golden vineyards have now lost their leaves and the bare vines are glistening with frost in the mornings. The time to reflect and take stock is upon us.

2010 brought exciting changes to Continuum. We planted 19 acres of new vines to a combination of Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and a little Cabernet Sauvignon and grafted over 2 more acres to Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot; when these reach maturity in a few years time we will be much closer to our goal of being 100% estate grown.

We are very thankful to our loyal supporters who have purchased Continuum. 2007 was acknowledged as an exceptional year and we were fortunate to sell all of our Spring Release in 3 months and our Fall magnum release in 6 hours. Wow!

2010 also brought us fantastic accolades from the Wine Spectator, Food & Wine, Sunset, the San Francisco Chronicle and many others. We are thrilled that wine and food journalists are as excited about Continuum as we are!

Thanks also to our many visitors who have come to visit us. We feel that out home on Pritchard Hill is not only exceptionally beautiful but also the perfect place for growing exceptional wine. Carissa and Lindsey had a great year driving guests around the vineyards in our Polaris ATV. You all are great sports to take this rough and tumble tour in stride.

Over the course of 4 generations our family has learned that every year is different and unique in what it brings. The 2010 vintage has been quite cool and at times challenging: amazingly it also brought us fruit of exceptional character. We believe our quality this year comes not only from our site but from our exceptional team. Knowing the vineyard, respecting the land, walking the ground-this is the real secret to our success this year and every year. We are passionate about great wine.

Wishing you all a merry holiday and prosperous New Year,

Marcia Mondavi Borger
and the Continuum Team

October 31, 2010

Tim’s 2010 Harvest Update

Filed under: News — burke @ 7:18 pm
Harvest 2010 Cement fermentation tank Cabernet Sauvignon 3BTOP Block

Harvest 2010: Cabernet Sauvignon 3B-Top Block, Cement fermentation tank

All vintages in Napa Valley have their own personality. 2010 has given us challenges reminiscent of the late 1960’s and early 70’s with a much later beginning to the year and a later harvest. What began as a mild and fairly moist spring turned into a cool and at times cold summer with the rare day cracking 90* here on Pritchard Hill. Rainfall was plentiful in January and February and continued through the spring bringing an end to our water worries with 2 inches in June. The real surprise for us was the steadily cool temperatures which have been a constant this year throughout the region. These low temperature days pushed out budbreak and bloom to late April and May respectively and had us a bit concerned when veraison did not take place until mid-August! Certainly this is the coldest vintage in decades in the normally warm to quite warm Napa Valley; it has kept things interesting. Our new 22 acre vineyard plantings responded very well to the cooler temperatures and steady sunny days but the established vines, those that we depend upon to produce excellent fruit in 2010, were a bit shy and slow to develop up until late August when a burst of heat sped up the ripening process.
The greater amount of rain we had in 2010 was a relief after three years of drought; it also allowed our normally small vines to develop a larger canopy which was a real blessing during the brief but powerful heat spikes we experienced in late August. A fuller, leafy canopy crowned the vine rows and, combined with Continuum Estate’s high elevation, protected the still developing fruit from the sun’s scorching rays. The benefit of higher elevation vineyards has been more evident to me since coming to Pritchard Hill. Situated at 1325 to 1500 feet above the Napa Valley, Continuum’s vineyards are less prone to fog, frost and heat fluctuations than on the valley floor where lower elevation sites can trap the cold, fog and even heat at various times during the growing season. As each season passes, I better understand and appreciate this fabulous mountain estate. By studying the weather, aspect and soils on Pritchard Hill we continue to fine-tune our growing and winemaking choices.
The actual start of harvest began on September 30th with a small quantity of estate Merlot, near the proposed site of our winery. We then began the Cabernet harvest with the shyest portions of the upper blocks on October 12th. The remaining entirety of the estate was harvested from October 18th thru the 21st finishing with Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot. This last portion of harvest began after a light rain the night of Sunday the 17th and was carried out with great care and great speed as heavy rains were due to fall from October 22nd thru the 24th. Ryan Gerhardt and his vineyard team did a heroic job harvesting all week, carefully picking each block, beginning at sunrise, before bringing the cool morning fruit to the winery. I am quite pleased with our estate fruit this year. The long, cool, late season has rewarded us with excellent flavors showing a balanced combination of ripe fruit and tannins, crisp acidity, vibrant color with character developement at lower potential alcohols.
At the winery Kurt Niznik and our cellar crew sorted each vineyard block separately, carefully selecting twice so that only the best grapes went into our oak or cement tanks for fermentation. 2010’s cooler growing season did reduce the amount of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot we received so these precious lots are undergoing fermentation in small ¼ ton bins and new oak barrels as well as in the smaller oak tanks.
Fruit at reception often was quite cool and fermentations began well and quickly. We encouraged warmer ferments earlier than normal because of the cooler, later season. Slowly we are discovering the unique flavors of that each block of vines brings to the blend. All the new wines are showing well so far with 3BTOP being the current star. It will be very interesting to evaluate maturity comparisons over time with our other star, block M. This really is a fabulous estate!

Have a happy and joyous Thanksgiving!


August 26, 2010

Stu’s view from the road

Filed under: News — burke @ 1:37 pm
Continuum Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Continuum Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Bucking the trend
It’s not news to anyone. It’s a challenging time in the fine wine business today. The upper tier, even here in Napa Valley, is under considerable pressure.

There are exceptions, of course. I’m delighted to report that Continuum is one of those. In markets like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, Continuum sold out of available wine this year in less than a month. One factor certainly is that our production is still very small. As strange as it may sound, our production in our first three vintages was restrained by our ability to source grapes of the quality we require. Our production was also held back by the very rigorous selection process we use in making our final blends. Using the 2007 vintage as an example, over 30% of everything we made was ultimately eliminated from the final blend. It did wonders for the distinctiveness of that wine. There are times, however, when I wish we could have made more!

There are a number of other reasons why Continuum continues to flourish in these difficult economic times. The first, no doubt, has to do with the quality of the wine itself. The 35 years that Tim Mondavi devoted to making wine at the highest level (in Napa and around the world) has been a huge benefit. In addition, there seems to exist at every level the unspoken notion that the Mondavi’s family’s legacy and reputation are riding on the success of their new project. There has been a ‘spare-no-expense’ philosophy in creating Continuum’s first proprietary blends that I have not witnessed in my 35 years in the wine business. The response to our first wines, as a result, has been encouraging. At the base of Continuum’s early success, therefore, has been the quality of the wine itself.

There is another major factor impacting Continuum’s early success. The fact is that Continuum Estate ushers-in the long awaited return of the Mondavi family to great California wine. As one individual put it… “This is the return to the fine wine business… and of the family who put that business on the map!” Ever since Continuum emerged onto the scene in 2008 (with the release of the 2005 vintage) there has been an outpouring of this kind of support. It’s come from writers, restaurateurs and consumers alike. This “welcome back” has impacted greatly what we’ve been able to achieve in a relatively short period of time.

Stu Harrison

August 3, 2010

Dante’s cellar notes

Filed under: News — burke @ 2:56 pm
Dante Mondavi, Continuum Estate, Napa Valley, 2009

Dante Mondavi in an oak fermenter, Continuum Estate, 2009

Greeting from the Continuum Cellar!

                Working in the family business has taught me a lot and given me great respect for all the hard work of the preceding generations.  I have come to know that we are Mondavi’s and that wine is in our blood!

                I am extremely excited about our 2008 Continuum.  Working the last 4 vintages has given me the chance to witness the magical evolution of our wine from ripe grapes arriving at the cellar doors, thru fermentation, and finally to bottling; the 2008 is undoubtedly our brightest star yet.  The key factor in this evolution is the fact that the blend is now 70% Pritchard Hill grown.  Resting 1300-1600 feet in elevation above the valley floor, Continuum Estate has very rocky red volcanic soil with spectacular views.  The combination of the altitude, steep slopes and our intensive farming practices means we tend to have very low yields at two tons per acre.  These low yields are due both to the site and to our fruit thinning practices. The goal is to achieve greater uniform ripening and encourage more free hanging grape clusters. More filtered, less direct sunlight gives us more control in the vineyard and avoids over exposed or over shaded fruit.

                Our 2008 is very elegant yet powerful.  My grandfather‘s classic description fits the new vintage, “A sign of a great red wine is an iron fist in a velvet glove.”  In other words, a great wine should be soft and approachable today yet have the structure to age and stand the test of time. This is true of our 2008; it has real depth of richness and an amazing structure.  The final blend is 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petite Verdot and a small amount of Merlot to complete the wine. Bottling is still two months away but I can’t wait to share this new vintage with everyone!

                Our cellar team works hard and is very dedicated to creating a single wine to stand among the world’s finest.  Our winegrowing team is made up of my father TIm Mondavi who over sees all aspects of Continuum especially the cellar as he is director of winemaking, Kurt Niznik, our winemaker and Carrie Findleton, our cellar master.  I enjoy working with this fantastically talented group of people very much.      

                Let me take you on a little cellar tour to present a glimpse of what crush is like at the winery. The morning starts at about 6 am (it is a long day; if we’re lucky we leave by 8pm) with pumpovers, punch downs and barrel ferment rotations.  This aids the fermentations, keeps the tank healthy, keeps the yeast active and extracts color and tannin. All of our fruit is handpicked early in the morning and arrives at the cellar in small gray picking boxes. We have two sorting tables, the first of which our team uses to pick out any grape clusters which may be flawed.  We also match the grapes we are crushing whether Cabernet Sauvignon, or Cabernet Franc or Petite Verdot, for a consistent berry size with our de-stemming cage to ensure a clean de-stemming.  It’s pretty key to have the grapes come out one side and the stems the other.  It also keeps the boss happy, which was my first big lesson in 2007! 

               We then sort out any raisins or jacks (stems which may be attached to the berries) on the second sorting table.  Now comes the time to gently crush the berries (without crushing the seeds) and gravity feed the fruit into one of our fermenters.  We typically cold soak the first couple days before we begin fermentation. The cold soak period brings out the fruit flavor and color in the must without heat. Continuum has eight open top French oak fermenters, two cement fermenters and 15 barrel fermenters.  The oak fermenters tend to give the new wine a softer texture while the cement fermenters bring more mineral characteristics to the wine. Each of these different vats or barrels is stirred regularly to mix the lees (spent yeast cells) into the fermenting must and extract more flavor and texture as well as protect the new wine from oxidation. 

                 After 30 or more days of fermentation and maceration, we drain the new wine to 100% new French oak and basket press the pomace (leftover skins) into barrel as well.  The basket press slowly squeezes the pomace together until nearly all the wine is released.  Pressed wine has much, much more color, tannin, lees and a sweetness which only comes out when we squeeze the ity bity remaining raisins. I like to call it flavor country.  The large oak fermentor tanks hold a single 5 ton lot of wine; this new wine will fill 11 barrels in total, 8 of which are free run and 3 of which are pressed wine. All our vineyard lots are kept separate until blending and maloactic fermentations take place in barrel.   More or less at the end of the day I d have to agree with this famous quote

 “Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” – Galileo Galilei

Hope to see everyone at Continuum Cellar or at Continuum Estate soon!


Dante Mondavi

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