Clif Notes

Winter in the Vineyard

Originally Posted by Efrain Barragan on Thursday, January 21, 2016

Blog Post Written By Laura Barrett

The winter months in the vineyard are quiet and peaceful. The leaves have fallen off the vines, leaving them bare, and dormancy sets in. This gives the crew some time off, Mother Nature an opportunity to saturate the ground, and Winemakers time to plan for the coming season. Here is what is happening at the Clif Family Vineyards this winter….

On Howell Mountain we are welcoming the 20+ inches of rain (and even some snow!) that has already fallen this season. The cover crops that were planted in the fall are thriving in this wet ground. We are doing some off season projects, such as maintaining the fence line and installing additional irrigation line so we can water weak sections of the vineyard separately. We are also thinning shrub in the forest area between our two blocks of Cabernet at Croquet Vineyard. During the growing season, this will improve air flow and reduce mildew pressure. And, at Cold Springs we are preparing to receive two new frost fans that will help protect our precious vines come April. Pruning will begin in just few weeks. In an effort to improve uniformity, we will retrain the vines at Cold Springs from cane pruning to cordon.

As we button up all these winter projects, the 2016 growing season is just around the corner. This is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the 2015 vintage, taste the newly made wines, and set vineyard goals for our next vintage.

Vegetable Couscous Salad

Originally Posted by Efrain Barragan on Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Recipe by Executive Chef John McConnell

2 cups couscous
½ cup raisins
1 1/3 vegetable stock
1/3 Clif Family Kitchen Extra Virgin Oil
1-4 ounce package Clif Family Kitchen Lemon Ginger Almonds, coarsely chopped
1 small onion, minced
2 medium zucchini, small dice
1 large red bell pepper, small dice
6 scallions cut into ½ inch pieces
2 tsp salt
4-5 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp cumin

Bring all the vegetable stock to a boil. Place the couscous, raisins and one tablespoon of Clif Family Kitchen Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a bowl. Pour the boiling stock over the couscous, stir with a fork and let stand covered with plastic wrap for 5 minutes.

Heat the remaining oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped Clif Family Kitchen Lemon Ginger Almonds and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Remove the nuts with a slotted spoon and drain over a paper towel lined plate.

Add the minced onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Increase the heat to high and add the chopped zucchini and bell pepper. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and add scallions and salt.

Add the vegetable mixture to the couscous. Stir in toasted Clif Family Kitchen Lemon Ginger Almonds, lemon juice and cumin. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

5 Steps to Finishing White Wine

Originally Posted by Efrain Barragan on Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Blog Post Written By Laura Barrett

Winter months in the winery bring many different types of projects, such as restarting this year’s stuck fermentations, racking last year’s wines out of barrel, deep cleaning crush equipment or preparing wines for bottling. For me, this winter marks an exciting time as I prepare to bottle my very first wines that I made for Clif Family from grape to bottle - the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc and the 2015 Rose of Grenache. In preparation for this process, the white wines will be carefully finished in this step by step process:

1. Evaluation – At this stage, I look at each lot of wine, grouped into its individual components, such as neutral French oaks barrels, stainless steel barrels, and the press fraction. This is an opportunity to declassify any barrels that do not meet our quality standards.

2. Blending – Once I know the base group of barrels that I am working with, the blending process begins. How will these wines best fit together? It’s quite random at the start, with many trial tastes, but quickly becomes more focused and strategic. At this point, I will call in other tasters for blind evaluations and feedback.

3. Adjustments – Once I land on a final base blend, I look for any adjustments that the wine may need. I might do an acid trial where I taste the wine with slightly varied acidity. Or, I may do a color trial where I slightly adjust the pink tone of the Rose. Most often, the decision is made to do nothing at all.

4. Stabilize – Clarity in white wine can be an important factor to winemakers. Many consumers are accustomed to a clear glass of white wine, free of any solid matter or haze. Prior to bottling, wines are typically stable in their environment, which is a constant cellar temperature of 58 degrees. When the wine temperature varies much above or below that, the wine will precipitate solids. In the consumer world, this can be simply leaving the wine in your refrigerator for a week or in a hot car on a summer day. Though a highly debatable topic amongst winemakers, many will prepare the wine for these unfortunate circumstances. At Clif Family, careful fining trials are used to determine the most minimal process needed for stabilization.

5. Filter and Bottle – Final filtration prior to bottling insures clarity and stability in the bottle.

So, with the cold weather settling in, many are enjoying their big red wines with winters stews or roasts. Me, I’m working on these fine white wines, so that when the warm sun peeks through in February and we all have spring fever, the 2015 Clif Family Rose will be ready and waiting.

Pork Spare Ribs with Porcini Spice Rub

Originally Posted by Efrain Barragan on Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Recipe by Executive Chef John McConnell

1 (3 pound) rack of pork spare ribs, fresh or thawed
1 (2.5 ounce) jar Clif Family Kitchen Porcini Spice Rub

Preheat oven to 450F. Lightly season pork ribs with kosher salt and let stand for five minutes. Next, over a sheet pan or baking dish lined with aluminum foil, rub a ¼ cup of rub on the meat side and 2 tablespoons on the rack side. Season meat side of ribs once again with salt and place ribs on the sheet pan meat side up. Bake for 25-28 minutes, rotating ribs every 10 minutes, basting with juices and checking to ensure that they are caramelizing without burning the spice rub. Once ribs are golden brown and you begin to smell the aromas of the rub, remove ribs from oven. Lower temp of your oven to 250F. Take the rack of ribs and wrap securely in foil to create an aluminum pouch. By trapping the steam during cooking, the ribs will tenderize in their own juices and fall-off-the-bone. Cooking time depends on size and meatiness your ribs and requires patience and constant checking. I recommend one hour of cooking per every two pounds of ribs i.e 1.5 hours for this recipe. Once the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender, remove ribs from the oven and open foil pouch to allow the ribs to rest for ten minutes. Serve as is or with some delicious Peachy BBQ Sauce.

Peachy BBQ Sauce
(yields 3 cups)

1 TBSP Clif Family Kitchen Estate Extra Virgin Olive oil
1 TBSP fresh garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Pinch of chili powder, New Mexican preferably
½ cup yellow onion, minced
1 TBSP yellow mustard
1 ½ cups ketchup
1 10 oz. jar Clif Family Kitchen O’Henry Peach Preserve
1-2 TBSP Clif Family Kitchen Red Wine Vinegar (to taste), add more for Carolina style BBQ
3-4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
2-3 dashes hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco
*optional: 6 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped

Place olive oil, garlic and pepper flakes in a stainless steel, non-reactive pot. On medium heat, caramelize garlic to a light golden brown. Add onion and sweat until tender and translucent. Add remaining ingredients, except for basil, and whisk sauce to incorporate. Once sauce has come to a simmer, remove from heat and stir in basil. Season to taste and keep warm on stove top.

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts

Originally Posted by Efrain Barragan on Friday, November 13, 2015

Recipe by Chef John McConnell

With Thanksgiving around the corner, we are busy planning our dinner menus. Chef John has created some delicious side dishes using our Clif Family Kitchen preserves, spice blends and savory nut mixes. One of our favorites is his take on Brussels Sprouts using our Roasted Pistachio & Almonds. It is just the right amount of sweet and savory and if you are not careful, it may steal the show on the dinner table.

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Sugared Roasted Pistachio and Almonds


1-4 ounce package Clif Family Kitchen Roasted Pistachio and Almonds

1 egg white, beaten well by hand with whisk

1/4 cup sugar

1 pinch cayenne pepper

1 pound brussels sprouts, cleaned and cut in half

2 Tbsp butter, small dice

2 Tbsp. Clif Family Kitchen Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Sea Salt, to taste

1 fresh orange, zest only


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. In a small bowl, toss Clif Family Kitchen Roasted Pistachio & Almonds in the beaten egg whites. Transfer nuts to the sheet pan, discarding any excess egg whites. Mix sugar with cayenne pepper and sprinkle nuts with sugar/pepper mixture, tossing until completely coated. Bake 15-20 minutes, stirring mixture halfway during baking time. Remove from oven, allow to cool completely.

While nuts are cooling. Place oil and diced butter in a large skillet, do not turn on heat. Into cold skillet add brussels sprouts atop the oil and butter cut side down into the pan. Turn heat to medium high and cook the brussels spouts until cut side is golden brown, about 6-8 minutes. Turn each brussels sprout over and continue cooking to desired tenderness about 2-3 minutes. Coarsely chop a portion of the cooled nuts. Transfer to serving dish and toss with nuts. Season with flake sea salt and orange zest.

Wine Pairing: Clif Family Kit’s Killer Cab Howell Mountain Cabernet


The Chardonnay Challenge

Originally Posted by Efrain Barragan on Friday, November 6, 2015

Blog Post Written By Laura Barrett

The Clif Family Winery Chardonnay program has been very successful. With many boutique bottlings from the Oak Knoll AVA, Clif has created a great following for this Napa Valley benchmark varietal. When I came onboard one year ago as Winemaker, I had some big shoes to fill. How was I going to accomplish this, given that the previous grape source was no longer available?!

My first task was to start tasting. As a group, we looked at a vertical comparison of Clif Family Winery Chardonnay and determined that we loved our style, described as fruit forward, food friendly and not overly masked by butter or oak. Then we tasted a comparative set of local wines to unveil what our neighbors were doing.

My second, and greatest task, was to source the grapes. This was easier than I ever imagined, perhaps just downright lucky. In prior years, we had been sourcing from the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley and given that the goal was to maintain style, we decided to aim for that same AVA. After a few phone calls to old friends and colleagues, I landed a grape contract with Steve Matthiasson, who leases, and organically farms, a small Chardonnay vineyard on Orchard Ave in Napa. Not only is this a very popular Chardonnay neighborhood within the Oak Knoll District, but Steve is considered one of Napa Valley’s top viticultural minds with a commitment to organic farming. This was a perfect match.

My final challenge was to establish the winemaking plan. I needed to consider how ripe to pick the grapes, the percentage of new oak and which cooperages to use, and the amount of malolactic fermentation to encourage (this is the secondary fermentation that converts malic acid to lactic acid, creating the “buttery” character in Chardonnay.) Again, I needed to maintain style and quality, but what if I could improve it? The only way to find out is with experimentation.

So, after a successful first harvest from our new Chardonnay source in 2015, I now have a palette of wines to use in making the final blend. I have new oak barrels from 4 difference cooperages. I have some barrels going through malolactic fermentation and some that will not. I have some barrels being lees stirred and some not. I have oak barrels and stainless steel barrels. All of these tools will help me determine our best approach moving forward.

With the upcoming release of our 2014 Chardonnay and Thanksgiving right around the corner, I encourage you to stop into Velo Vino and grab a few bottles. Then, next year, you’ll be able to compare the 2014 and 2015 vintages and tell me…. did I succeed?

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