Virtual Gourmet

  MAY 19,   2024                                                                                                NEWSLETTER


Founded in 1996 


Mickey's Dining Car, St. Paul, Minnesota




By John Mariani


By John Mariani


By John Mariani


By John Mariani



By John Mariani


         It would not seem easy to make the tomato into a prized ingredient, but, after decades of promotion in the food media, the tomatoes of San Marzano in southern Italy have taken on a gastronomic status as having no equal anywhere when it comes to intensity of flavor, natural sweetness and a balance of acid.
         Ironically, for a foreign food like the tomato (botanically classified as a fruit) that was only transplanted from the Americas in the 16th century, first to Naples where it grew well in the hot humid climate, it became the iconic symbol of Italian cookery—even though no recipe for a tomato sauce appeared in Italy until 1705 and the first mention of spaghetti with tomato sauce was in 1839 as typical of Naples. Back then, most Italians north of Rome never used tomatoes in their cooking.
         Canning made all the difference by the end of the 19th century, so that tomatoes could be preserved and shipped anywhere and used when convenient. When the tomato made its way back to America with the Italian immigrants, it became an Italian-America staple.
        It was only inevitable that the tomatoes from certain regions would outshine those of others, and in the last thirty years San Marzano’s have been judged to be the gold standard. That inevitably led American food importers and producers to appropriate the words “San Marzano” on their labels in the same way they used “Champagne,” “Chianti,” “caviar” and “Cheddar” for foods not from their native countries.
         A recent case filed by a California woman named Andrea Valiente against Simpson Imports, a Pennsylvania tomato seller, maintained that Simpson’s label had used “highly misleading tomato packaging to trick consumers into believing that they are purchasing genuine San Marzano tomatoes, at San Marzano prices.” The company used “San Marzano” on its label years before but switched to calling its contents “San Merican” tomatoes, “a proprietary blend,” on a very similar label.
         Whatever happens with the case,  American companies use whatever names they like for canned tomatoes, including “San Marzano,” with an estimated 10,000 tons of mis-labeled tomatoes sold around the U.S. This goes against the European Union’s “designation of protected origins” (D.O.P.), overseen by the Consorzio di Tutela del Pomodoro San Marzano,” whose mission is to defend the San Marzano tomato from “attempts at commercial counterfeiting . . . checking its authenticity through Quality Boards.” Only the designated San Marzano 2, KIROS variety can receive the D.O.P., which sets the requirements for everything from its shape, length, axis ratio, color and Ph.
         The consortium also grants appellations only to the provinces of Salerno, Avellino and Napoli and recognizes only nine processing companies as allowed to put the real thing into cans.
         Yet there are some tomato connoisseurs who insist those appellations allow for a far greater area of production than it should, citing the fact that the commune and town of San Marzano sul Sarno is only two square miles in area, and that the real and authentic San Marzano tomatoes only come from there.
         Whether or not the consortium bureaucrats agree with that statement, I had one experience in the region south of Mount Vesuvius that made me think the contention that the region around San Marzano sul Sarno does make the very best tomatoes. I had booked a reservation to visit a 30-acre hillside winery, founded in 1949, named Cantina del Vesuvio (above), where Maurizio Russo Esther Grosso (above) and his family produce excellent wines and run a little trattoria serving some of the best, simple, local food in the area.
Maurizio was in the vineyards digging, planting, trellising, and pruning, but stopped to show us to a small patio and dining area where chef Ester places bottles of Lacryma Christi bianco, rosato, and rosso wines, pitchers of water and a lavish antipasto platter of provolone and salami with bruschetta country bread with a full bowl of deep red sauce made with the local heirloom Piennolo del Vesuvio DOP tomatoes. I dipped the bruschetta into the sauce and reeled back: it was a magnificent burst of flavor. Then came  a platter of spaghetti tossed with a deep red tomato sauce of such intensity that, unless you have dined elsewhere in Campania, you will never have tasted anything like it.
(A guided tour of the vineyards with a tasting of five wines and three-course lunch is 45 euros; four courses for 55 euros.)
         Having had thousands of tomato sauce dishes in my lifetime, I experienced a true epiphany at Cantina del Vesuvio of a kind I’ve only had at the dinner table three  times before: once, it was my first meal in Paris at the train station where I’d just arrived and was astounded at how delicious the blanquette de veau was; second, eating the seafood of Harry’s Bar in Venice; and third, crouching down with Basque cowboys chowing down pancakes and lamb chops at daybreak next to a hanging lake in Colorado.
If I never have another moment of such riveting, sensual education as these, I’ll consider myself blessed and want the world to know that the best of the best really does exist, and when it comes to tomatoes, they are coming out of the rich volcanic soil south of Vesuvius.





    Remembering Jasper White, Godfather of New England Cuisine   

                                                                                        By John Mariani

Jasper White, who was among those who pioneered “New New England Cuisine” in the 1980s, died May 11 after suffering a brain aneurysm. He was 69 years old.
         Along with a slew of young colleagues who included Lydia Shire (below), Gordon Hamersley, Barbara Lynch, Jim Haller, Jody Adams, Roger Berkowitz and Stan Frankenthaler, White used the lessons of France’s la nouvelle cuisine that stressed freshness, creativity and local product to create a cuisine based on the seasonal provender and seafood of New England, from springtime fiddlehead ferns and shad roe to maple syrup and cornmeal.
      His menus teemed with both tradition and novelty in dishes like lobster sausage with cabbage; squab with oysters; raw Cape Cod scallops with lemon, onion and capers; Indian summer chowder with smoked chicken; brown bread waffles; and maple walnut ice cream.
         White was good friends with French chef Madeleine Kamman and Julia Child (below), when she lived in Cambridge, and won the James Beard Award as Best Chef in the Northeast in 1991.
         Born in New Jersey on May 28, 1954, he learned early on to hunt and fish, and his earliest food memories were gleaned from his Italian great grandfather, who had been a chef in Rome (his mother’s side was Irish), and his first job in a kitchen was butchering and washing dishes in his father’s inn in Pennsylvania. Of then he said, “What I learned was the connection between the land and the food and how one adapts to a new environment. I also learned an uncompromising attitude that disdains anything but the very best.”

      Already an accomplished cook, White attended the Culinary Institute of America and after graduation in 1976 cooked his way around America in traditional kitchens—“country club jobs,” he called them. He then settled in Boston, where he and Lydia Shire worked together at the Biltmore Plaza in Providence and various Boston hotel restaurants, including the Copley Plaza, the Parker House Hotel and the Bostonian Hotel, where he and Shire focused on New England ingredients.
      As expected, White wanted to have his own restaurant: “I had to go to the bank and borrow all this money so I could make a roast chicken.  Food is love and giving, and I remembered chicken dinners my Italian grandmother would make in New Jersey that no head of food-and- beverage [in the hotels] would ever let me make.”

         He proudly called his new place Restaurant Jasper in 1983, and while it was a fine dining experience, White wanted it to be more casual, less stodgy and to shy away from Boston’s provincial reputation.  Sadly, White shuttered his restaurant in 1995 because the never-ending construction of Boston’s “Big Ditch” made downtown business impossible.
      He then was a consultant for Roger Berkowitz’s Legal Seafood chain and wrote his first (of four) cookbooks, Jasper White’s Cooking from New England (1989) before returning to the stoves in 2000 to launch a delightfully casual Jasper White’s Summer Shack seafood eatery in Cambridge, where he cooked up lobster rolls and cod cakes. He sold that concept to the Lyons Group in 2017.      
There were some health scares along the way after White gained a good deal of weight, but he worked hard to get back into shape, and in his fifties was trim again.
         His Boston friend and chef Michael Schlow posted in Facebook upon hearing the news of White’s death that he was “Devastated.
Jasper was an icon, a  ‘chefs chef’ and an inspiration to an entire generation. More importantly, he was good, decent, trustworthy friend.. It  didn't matter how long in between visits, Jasper always made you feel special. No one could cut through the BS like Jasper. He was modest, humble, and honest.”
         I first met Jasper when he was the chef at the Bostonian Hotel at Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall, across from the very traditional Durgin Park Café, which had opened in 1827. Jasper’s menus were highly innovative and his pan-roasted lobster became one of the iconic dishes of the developing New American Cuisine. I recall vividly how the same flavors and simple dishes one could have across the street at Durgin Park, served by surly waitresses, were transformed by White into sumptuous, impeccably updated versions served in a refined dining room on the hotel’s top floor.
      White was a gentle giant of a man, excited by so many possibilities tied to the seasons: to cull the bay scallops from Nantucket, the mussels from Little Compton, Rhode Island, and the baby lamb from Martha’s Vineyard.
         Back in 1987 I was hosting a PBS  TV series on American regional food and restaurants, and I called Jasper to do a spot for the Boston segment. Instead of inviting me to his restaurant and kitchen to cook, he said, “Can you meet me in Little Compton? We do clam bakes on the beach on Sundays.”        

    It was one of my most memorable food experiences, not only because White’s deft cooking of cherrystone and little neck clams, ears of freshly picked corn, potatoes, mussels, crabs and 24 lobsters steamed for hours in a pit layered with seaweed was deeply delicious, but also suffused with the long history of similar seaside dinners that the Massachusetts Indians and European settlers had made over centuries.
         It was a cool autumn day, everyone in sweaters, children digging up clams in the wet gray sand and the white-capped waves rolling in and out with a gentle lapping. Sitting on blankets with our plates with the food dumped onto newspaper, we drank cold Connecticut wines and Sam Adams beer.
      Serving up the bounty,  Jasper White was wholly in his element, one he had absorbed from generations of New England cooks and played out on a cloudy, windswept beach.  I’ve rarely seen anyone quite so happy as Jasper White on that cold Sunday afternoon.





                                                                                     101 West 57th Street


                                                                                  By John Mariani



         The arrival of the spacious Acadia at the corner of Sixth Avenue and West 57th Street, once home to Wolf’s Deli, has been greeted with the kind of popularity a place gets when it has legitimate buzz. In Acadia’s case, its size and tall ceilings lend the space a nicely lighted conviviality, and its décor, with an open kitchen hung with greenery, lively bar up front, wooden walls and ceilings, semi-abstract landscapes, roomy leather booths and well-separated wooden tables set with green glassware, hit the right note of serious food with casual ease.
        All its hard surfaces can create a very high-decibel sound level, added to by unidentifiable music, but the less loud tables seem to be close to the open kitchen.
         This is the fifteenth restaurant to be opened by Simon Oren’s Chef Driven Hospitality, whose holdings include Barbounia, Monterey, Marseille, Nice Matin and Dagon. His partner in Acadia is chef Ari Bokovza, who is part Israeli and Tunisian.       
    I applaud the wine and spirits list, compiled by Aviram Turgeman, featuring wines that you don’t expect in a restaurant of this kind, with ample selections from Europe and the New World as well as wines from the Dalmatian coast, Israel and Lebanon.
     Acadia takes its name from the ancient Mesopotamia empire dating back to the 24th century BC, now known by the general term Levant, so the menu ranges over the region from Israel to Arabia.
         There is a selection of mezze that includes hummus, spicy feta, labneh and eggplant confit (three for $29, six for $49), as well as more substantial appetizers like “Agu’s Tunisian Cigar” ($17), which does look like a cigar and contains very good salted cod, tahini and amba mango pickle. The charred eggplant ($23) was not particularly pliant and the bottarga a bit strong against the tuna and bresaola.
         The must-have starter is kubaneh ($16), a big, buttery-slathered pull-apart bread from Jewish-Yemeni food culture served with za’atar and tangy feta. Some say it was the inspiration for French croissants.
        Yellow tuna crudo ($25) was dressed with lime-arak vinaigrette, cucumber, avocado and coriander, while beets came with a horseradish yogurt and herbs ($12). Cauliflower with arugula and pine-nut aioli are scented with turmeric ($12) while asparagus are roasted and served with a delicious frothy parmesan and polenta sauce tinged with sumac ($12). All of these would make vegetarians quite happy.
         Entrée portions are generous indeed, as with the lamb kofta in a terra cotta casserole with spicy tomato sauce, tahini and Levantine vegetables, covered with a dome of bread to seal in the juices and aromas ( $37). Marinated black cod ($35) was glazed with citrus and turnips, colorful turmeric vinaigrette, while a rotisserie chicken ($35) was exceptionally juicy, but with a crisp skin, served with equally crisp za’atar potatoes, arugula salad and hot harissa barbecue. The best main course I tried was a perfectly chewy, well-charred hanger steak ($36) with koji rice and the spicy Yemeni green sauce called schug.   
Among desserts ($14) I loved a dish called silan, a menage of date honey, caramel rice crisps, pistachios, almonds, tahini mousse, atop vanilla sponge cake with vanilla ice cream and silan date honey. Also worth trying are the Meyer lemon semifreddo with tarragon shortbread, orange caramel sauce and huckleberry granita, and a rich, dark chocolate hazelnut mousse cake like Nutella, with an espresso whipped ganache and coffee gelato.
         Prices at Acadia are reasonably moderate for their largess and you’ll want to share plates. If you’re going to Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center or the theater, it’s an easy place to get in and out of with a fine, quick meal. It’s a good idea to go with friends and to become part of the liveliness of this big, welcoming new restaurant.


Open for dinner nightly; for breakfast and lunch Mon.-Fri.



By  John Mariani


         Inspector Max Finger arranged to meet David at the Garda’s Kevin Street police station, identified by a bright blue lamp inside the high walls and iron gates. Once the official residence of Dublin’s archbishops, it had been a 12th century palace, taken over by the Garda in the late eighteenth century. Though an historical landmark, the place looked even more decrepit than the New York precinct houses David had served in. Its stone walls had been covered over with pebbledash concrete, large patches of which had fallen off over decades.
         David entered the front office, noting the ceilings had been covered with plasterboard and the floors with linoleum, neither replaced in a long while.
         “Can I help you, sir?” asked a policeman behind a front desk.

“Yes, please. My name is David Greco and I have an appointment with Inspector Max Finger.”

      The attendant checked his log and acknowledged David’s appointment, saying, “Let me just call Inspector Finger up and he’ll be out in what I think you call a ‘New York minute?’”
            David smiled and nodded, and before a minute had elapsed a plainclothesman arrived, his hand outstretched.
         “David, Max Finger,” he said, with a light Irish brogue. Somehow David thought there might be a Jewish-New York sound to his voice but it was pure Dublin Irish. “You’ve come on a very busy day, what with the newest murder of a nun, but I know that’s why you’re here.”
         Finger was fairly short and stocky, dark-eyed, in his mid-forties, going bald and with an unkempt beard. He wore dark trousers, tan shirt and a plain black tie. To David he didn’t look particularly Jewish but not very Irish either.
         David said he was helping Katie on her story about the Magdalene Laundries but that the murders had added a grisly new dimension.
         “I’m sure you believe the two are tied together,” said Finger, “but come into my office and we’ll sit and talk. You can expect we’ll be interrupted. A case like this hasn’t occurred in Dublin for as long as I’ve been on the force. We’re not rich in serial killers.”
         Finger led David through hallways that showed much of the wear and tear of a building never intended to be police offices, with jumbles of cardboard cartons and files lining the corridor and water-stained walls and ceilings.
         “Don’t mind the mess,” said Finger. “A woman comes in once a decade to do some cleanin’.”
         Finger shared a modest-sized room with two other police officers, whom he introduced to David.

         “This is Sergeant Tom Scanlon, and that’s Sergeant Michael Horan.”
         Both were busy on the phone and merely waved their hands at the American, barely looking up. Finger grabbed a chair and said, “Sit down, sit down. Tea, coffee?”
         David declined, seeing two used teacups with spent teabags on a side table that also held a Mr. Coffee maker whose Pyrex pot was visibly stained.
         “So, my New York friend Jack Keaton says you’re one of the best cops he’s ever worked with,” said Finger. “And he himself is a damn fine one. Says you were busy cleanin’ up the Eye-talian mobs while he was dealin’ with the Westies.”
       “We had some crossover,” said David.
         Finger slapped his palms on his desk. “So, here we are, goin’ after some serial murderer with a gory revenge streak. I think we can probably ignore the mob havin' anythin’ to do with it, unless the nuns stopped payin’ protection money.”
         David wasn’t sure if Finger were serious or not.
         “I don’t mean that literally,” said the Irish cop, “but the Sisters of bloody Charity have been well protected for centuries by all kinds of groups—the Church, the parish priests and the politicians in this city. We’ve had to deal with some abuse cases lodged against the good sisters and priests, but those are almost never prosecuted.”
         “Same in New York,” said David. “Accusations are made, a city attorney turns it over to the police, some questions are asked around town, but even if strong evidence shows up, nothing ever happens. As I’m sure you know, the Irish are very strong in New York in the Church, the police department and City Hall.”
        "So here we are then, David, an Italian and a Jew lookin’ into the dirty Irish laundry of the Sisters of bloody Charity. The Irish like to say, ‘May you never forget what is worth rememberin’ or remember what is best forgotten.’  The Jews say, ‘What you don’t see with your eyes, don’t invent with your mouth.’ What do the Eye-talians say, David?”
         “Basically, ‘It’s none of your fuckin’ business.’”
         “Pretty universal sentiment.”
         David wanted very much to learn why a Jew had joined the Dublin police but thought he’d save the question for lunch, if there was to be one.      
Finger said, “Obviously, David, I’m trustin’ you as an ex-cop to keep what I tell you in confidence. But, to tell the truth, I wouldn’t mind gettin’ your input on this. Serial murders are not my specialty.”
         “Most of the ones I’ve investigated were when one mob family went to war with another.”
         “We get that here, too. More in the past than now, but as I’m sure you can guess, this latest may or may not be the last, and my job is to catch the bastard before there’s another one.”
         Finger then explained that, since the first murder, the Garda had spoken with a wide range of people who might have had a deep-seated grudge against the Sisters of Charity, especially former inmates of the Magdalene Laundries. 
“The records on these women are far from complete,” he said, “and you can imagine, as with all abuse cases, most of the time the people who suffered in their youth don’t want to speak about it. Only in the last few years, especially after they found the graves at Drumcondra—you know about that, I suppose—a few women have come forth, and there are some good people tryin’ to ferret them out and make a bigger case out of what went on at the Laundries. Now, with three murders in one week, we have to dig in deep and we have to assume it’s a local. All three of the nuns, all of them quite old, are, or were, livin’ in Dublin. A lot of scabs will be comin’ off, and those poor women in the graveyard may get some justice yet.”
         “You think it’s possible, Max, the murderer could be a nun herself, killing off her colleagues out of remorse for her own, well, her own sins?”
    I expect we’ll be hearin’ from her soon enough. The guilt will drive her to us. Killin’ people is what you Catholics call a ‛mortal sin’ that’ll put you up the devil’s ass forever, right? The thing is, these nuns are all elderly.  I don’t think a renegade nun of their group would have the strength to strangle one, jam a pointer through another’s heart and beat the bloody life out of a third.”
        “What about a man? Or an accomplice? Maybe did it to avenge what happened to his wife.”
         “Or daughter. That’s a strong possibility ‘cause of the sheer meanness of the way they were killed. Would’a been much easier just to shoot them or maybe poison their porridge or whatever nuns eat. We could trace the bullets or the poison, but how do you trace rosary beads and classroom pointers? Right now we have no good suspects. The motive seems clear, but the fact that this is now a serial killer makes it all the more extraordinary.”
d that from what he knew of serial killers in the U.S., they were clearly insane but some were also very smart, their capture often taking years, even decades, and then it was often by accident. Cops joked about praying to find a burned-out tail light, referring to incidents where the murderers were picked up on a routine traffic violation.
      Max Finger grabbed his coat and said, “You up for visitin’ the crime scenes?”
        David enthusiastically assented, and the two detectives got in a squad car—a white, blue-and-yellow-striped Toyota Corolla with police lights.
         “Not much of a police car, is it?” said Finger. “They just take off-the-line family cars and do nothin’ to the engines. Not great when you’re tryin’ to chase the bad guys. No power at all. What did you drive in New York?”
      David didn’t want to rub it in about how NYPD always had powerful cars with plenty of improvements. “A lotta different ones over the years,” he said. “In the ‘90s we drove Chevy Caprices. Three-speed automatic, 350 cubic inch V. Pretty fast car, though I didn’t do much chasing the bad guys on highways. The Caprice was  also big enough and solid enough to block off streets, which came in handy.”     
“Well, I doubt we’ll have much need of that chasin’ nun killers.”

John Mariani, 2018



By John Mariani



         The winery Three Sticks does not owe its name to vines stuck in the soil of Sonoma but to its founder, Bill Price III, whose surfer buddies called him “Three Sticks.
        Born in Los Angeles, he got his love of wine via his French father. After achieving success as a lawyer, he joined GE Capital to work for CEO Jack Welch, as well as co-founding Texas Pacific Group, a private equity firm, which in 1995 purchased Beringer Vineyards and invested in Chateau St. Jean, whose Durrell Vineyards Price bought in 1996 and launched Three Sticks in 2002.
“I realized I’d made all the money I needed to make in my career,” Bill says, “and I longed to return to something that brought me back in touch with the natural world on a more regular basis. Now we own six beautiful Sonoma Coast vineyards.”
        Today, with his daughter Natalie (below), who is in charge of marketing,  his Price Family Vineyards & Estates includes ownership of Three Sticks, Gap’s Crown, Walala, Alana, One Sky, and William James Vineyard. And ownership of  Kistler Vineyards, Gary Farrell Winery, and Head High.
        Three Sticks makes only Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines (plus a small number of Rhȏne varietals), now overseen by Prema Kerollis as co-founder and general manager, who had worked with Price at TPG. In 2012, she oversaw the preservation and design of the Vallejo Casteñada Adobe, now home to the Three Sticks tasting salon in downtown Sonoma.
an Prichard joined the winemaking team at Three Sticks in 2015 and in 2023 was promoted to the position of Director of Winemaking. I recently had a chance to interview them while they were on a trip to New York.


There’s a saying that if you want to make a small fortune in the California wine business you have to start with a large fortune. It seems that Bill Price III and you, Prema (right), had more than ample funds to buy land and invest in wineries. Was that at a time when vineyard land was soaring in price?


Prema: Bill has been in the vineyard business for 30 years. He purchased Durell Vineyard from Ed Durell in 1996 and Gap’s Crown in 2012.  Bill has been very careful and discerning about his decisions, which have everything to do with the unique aspects of the vineyards for quality fruit and increased value over time. Certainly, over the course of 30 years California land prices have soared.  


But you also say that now the prices have gone down. What has caused that?

Prema: Prices are leveling but not dropping, yet.


Is there cheap land available in Sonoma right now and do you plan further investments?

Prema: Currently we have no plans for further investments. We have six beautiful estate vineyards in Sonoma County, which supply Three Sticks Wines with amazing fruit and all that we need at our size. 

Ryan, you put a lot of effort into specific terroirs and micro-climates in Sonoma.  What do you look for?

Ryan (below):  With our focus on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, we are looking for sites that are cooler, or have weather characteristics that tend to slow the grapevines' growth.  We can get this via proximity to the Pacific Ocean or areas that have more direct access to it.  Areas such as the Petaluma Gap, Sebastopol Hills and Russian River all fit into this rubric.  We can also get this via sites with higher elevations.  Next, we are looking for sites that have good air movement to keep disease pressure at bay.  Finally, and crucially, is the soil.  We are looking for soils that are well drained and not too heavy or have the traditional firepower that other agricultural crops thrive in.  The grapevine struggle is what makes it great.


Three Sticks makes only two varietals—Chardonnay and Pinot Noir— plus Rhȏne varietals for your Casteñada Red and Rosé, this, at a time when so many California wineries are making six, seven or more varietals. Why not branch out?

Ryan:  One of the great things about California, and more specifically Sonoma County, is our wide variety of climates within very short distances.  There are world-class Pinot Noirs being made only a handful of miles from world-class Cabernets.  Some wineries have chosen to showcase these numerous varieties and terroirs by making many different varieties from one or many sites.  What Three Sticks has consciously decided to do is to hyper focus on Burgundian varieties, specifically Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and showcase how our six estate vineyards and their differing sites impact the expression of these varieties.  We have come a long way in understanding these varieties in our section of the world, but we have centuries of more work ahead of us!

So, there are terroirs that do not lend themselves to growing, say, Zinfandel, Barbera or Merlot?

Ryan:  There are fantastic terroirs in Sonoma County that lend themselves to varieties such as Zinfandel, Barbera and Merlot.  And there are producers out there who are diving in and showcasing those wines beautifully.  As our goal is to showcase Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, we have selected sites that are better suited for these cooler climate varieties.

What are the differences between your Pinot Noir and Chardonnay’s vineyards—Monopole, Gap’s Crown and Walala—which are  not all close to one another?

Ryan: Three Sticks has six estate vineyards: Durell, Gap’s Crown, Walala, Alana, William James and One Sky.  Three of these, Durell, Gap’s Crown and Walala, we call our “Heritage” vineyards since we purchased these vineyards already planted and with great track records of wines being made from them prior to our purchase.  We make wines from these vineyards and continue to sell grapes to other wineries from these properties.
     The other three vineyards, Alana, William James and One Sky, we call our “Monopole” vineyards.  These are vineyards that we purchased bare land, planted, and developed the vineyards ourselves, and all the grapes that are produced on these sites are made into wine by Three Sticks.
     These vineyards have many differences as they are spread out across Sonoma County.  Our farthest distance between vineyards are over 90 miles away from each other (Durell and Walala), so we can see vast differences in the wines that are produced from these sites.  Our vineyards all share a commonality as well; they sit in areas that have weather characteristics that slow ripening via cooler temperatures, wind, and elevation.
        Here is a quick summary of each vineyard:


Durell Vineyard—Sits at the confluence of many different forces.  It lies in three different AVA’s—Sonoma Coast, Carneros and Sonoma Valley—and gets cooling influence from the San Francisco Bay as well as the Pacific Ocean via the Petaluma Gap.  It is a slightly warmer site and sees impacts from strong afternoon winds to help slow ripening.  Finally, the site has extreme diversification of soil, with some areas having ancient riverbeds and their large, rounded stones, while other areas have volcanic loamy soils and finally others that have lighter, sandier soil profiles.  These different soils display different characteristics in each of the grapes planted, and allow for the wines from this site to be extremely complex and layered.  Chardonnays are intensely flavored with a tight, precise core.  Pinot Noirs develop into wines that showcase dark fruit and spice notes with well-integrated and fine texture.

Gap’s Crown Vineyard—This site is influenced mostly from the near constant winds coming in through the break in the coastal mountains, the Petaluma Gap.  This gap allows cold wind and fog to pour through from the Pacific Ocean and acts as a main corridor for cool air to flow into Sonoma County.  The Chardonnay at Gap’s Crown is all Dijon clone, which is better suited to the cool climate.  Wines from these clones showcase great citrus and minerality notes.  The varied Pinot Noir clones planted are also mostly Dijon clones and are extremely consistent from year to year, showcasing dense and firm tannins with chewy blueberry and mint notes.

Walala Vineyard—Lies at the far northwestern edge of Sonoma County, just a couple miles from the Pacific Ocean.  It is in the newly formed AVA of West Sonoma Coast.  This vineyard is surrounded by redwoods and sits at the top of one of the coastal mountains.  Being so close to the ocean, it is exposed to the wildly varying weather patterns that comes with the territory.  One minute it can be 55 degrees, blustery and shrouded in fog and the next the weather can break, and you are in full sunshine.  This is farming at the extreme.  Only planted to Pinot Noir, this site’s wines showcase the extremes of the vintage and have a signature of dark spice and peppercorn notes.

William James Vineyard—Located in Sebastopol in the Green Valley of the Russian River AVA, this vineyard is in the heart of an area that was historically apple orchards.  Located in the rolling hills of “West County,” it sees cooling from the vast hills and valleys that funnel cool air from the Pacific Ocean.  Strong afternoon cool winds keep this site one of the coolest of all our properties.  This site also has the famous Goldridge soils, a fine, almost moon-dust soil that drains exceptionally well and adds a fine texture to the wines.  Only planted to Pinot Noir, the site’s wines have a red brambly note laced with a dried herb quality.

Alana Vineyard—In the redwood, pine, and fog-covered hillsides outside of the town of Occidental, the Alana vineyard is a wonderful blend of aspects of the cool Sonoma Coast and the Russian River Valley.  On a steep hillside, this vineyard produces smaller vines with small clusters.  This vineyard is also on the fine Goldridge soils, so that imparts a great texture the wines.  The Chardonnay from Alana has a cool purity of fruit and acid tension while the Pinot Noirs tend to have a dark juiciness with nice, rounded edges.

One Sky Vineyard—High atop Sonoma Mountain sits the One Sky Vineyard.  At 1,400 feet, this is the highest vineyard in the Sonoma Mountain AVA, which is defined by elevation above the Sonoma Valley floor.  This vineyard is our steepest slope of any of our vineyards and the dark red, volcanic, iron-rich soils provide the grapevines just enough horsepower to ripen in this challenging terrain.  The Chardonnays from this site tend to have great density and expression, while the Pinot Noirs have a mountain profile of tannins along with dusty dark red fruit profile.


Many of California’s finest wines are made from grapes not grown on their estate’s property but instead purchased from others. Why have you been so adamant that 100% of your grapes come from your own vineyards?

Prema: The thought behind 100% estate fruit is that we can, and we absolutely should, since we have the ability to control our farming decisions, crucial timing decisions, and fruit from start to finish each vintage. Quality is our obsession and mantra. Studying our vineyards and having control over every single grape that enters the winery gives us many advantages. Being 100% estate is extremely rare in our world, which we know because we sell grapes to a broad selection of esteemed producers. We also get to pick what we believe to be the best vineyard blocks for our wines. There are risks to this model as well. When yields are down, we cannot turn to our neighbors to help supplement production. That is a risk we are willing to take to make the very best wines we can, year after year.

Ryan: By farming 100% of our vineyards, we can ensure that every aspect of growing our grapes and making the wines are in our direct control.  No vine is pruned, no leaf is pulled, or grape is picked unless we have decided that it would be best for the wines that we want to make. This gives us a level of control that is difficult to achieve when sharing vineyards and outsourcing farming done by someone other than ourselves. 

How do you see global warming affecting Sonoma in the next ten years?

Ryan: Climate change is affecting us in many different ways in Sonoma County.  We are having more extreme weather events—be that fires, floods, extreme heat, unseasonable rains, etc.  If any of these things happen at the wrong time of the year, it can be catastrophic for the development of our grapes, and ultimately, the wine.  If we were looking to the future and thinking about new vineyard locations, we would find ourselves looking at cooler and cooler sites, some of which would have been unthinkable to plant grapes in just 20 years ago. In some areas, temperatures are increasing to the point that people are moving to grape varieties that can handle warmer seasons. It is something that is happening gradually, but not stopping.

How do you price your wines? How much is sold at your estate and through mail order?

Prema: Several factors go into pricing our wine, including costs such as meticulous farming, our extensive barrel program, amazing production team, our competitive set, the cost of sales and of course scarcity. Seventy-five percent 75% of our wine is sold direct to consumers, including 22% sold through our Adobe Tasting Room just off the Sonoma town square, where we welcome guests by appointment for tastings and seasonal food pairings.


Are your wines allocated to restaurants?

Prema: Yes, we have a small but robust wholesale business that is based on fabulous relationships. We look for great wine shops and restaurant partners that can tell our story. We have successfully built great relationships in California, Texas, Florida, New York, Georgia, Hawaii among other great states. We export a tiny amount of our wines overseas to avid Three Sticks collectors abroad.

What do you foresee for Three Sticks in the next five years, including the price of land?

Prema: We are focused on delivering great wine, growing our following and customer retention. Our collection of Sonoma estate vineyards have allowed us to grow with the demand for our wines and that is what we plan to continue doing--to grow with our customers.


Do the immigrant problems at the border affect your ability to hire workers, especially at harvest?

Prema: Our VP of Vineyards has been farming our estate vineyards for more than 15 years. We have a full-time crew of farmers dedicated to our Monopole vineyards and work with farm labor contractors when we need additional labor, which is typical throughout California wine regions. All of our Sonoma estate vineyards are hand-farmed and picked and we appreciate these terrific skilled workers. We couldn’t do what we do without them.



“One question I often find myself mulling over while dining out is: When did the water glasses get so tiny? That gives way to other thoughts. Am I just uncontrollably, and perhaps worryingly, thirsty? Is the guidance that I drink eight glasses a day indeed bogus? Am I not supposed to drink this much water with a meal?” By Bettina Makalintal, “Why Are Restaurant Water Glasses So Small?,” (4/4/2024)


 Any of John Mariani's books below may be ordered from

   The Hound in Heaven (21st Century Lion Books) is a  novella, and for anyone who loves dogs, Christmas, romance, inspiration, even the supernatural, I hope you'll find this to be a treasured  favorite. The  story concerns how, after a New England teacher, his wife and their two daughters adopt a stray puppy found in their barn in northern Maine, their lives seem full of promise. But when tragedy strikes, their wonderful dog Lazarus and the spirit of Christmas are the only things that may bring his master back from the edge of despair. 


“What a huge surprise turn this story took! I was completely stunned! I truly enjoyed this book and its message.” – Actress Ali MacGraw

“He had me at Page One. The amount of heart, human insight, soul searching, and deft literary strength that John Mariani pours into this airtight novella is vertigo-inducing. Perhaps ‘wow’ would be the best comment.” – James Dalessandro, author of Bohemian Heart and 1906.

“John Mariani’s Hound in Heaven starts with a well-painted portrayal of an American family, along with the requisite dog. A surprise event flips the action of the novel and captures us for a voyage leading to a hopeful and heart-warming message. A page turning, one sitting read, it’s the perfect antidote for the winter and promotion of holiday celebration.” – Ann Pearlman, author of The Christmas Cookie Club and A Gift for my Sister.

“John Mariani’s concise, achingly beautiful novella pulls a literary rabbit out of a hat – a mash-up of the cosmic and the intimate, the tragic and the heart-warming – a Christmas tale for all ages, and all faiths. Read it to your children, read it to yourself… but read it. Early and often. Highly recommended.” – Jay Bonansinga, New York Times bestselling author of Pinkerton’s War, The Sinking of The Eastland, and The Walking Dead: The Road To Woodbury.

“Amazing things happen when you open your heart to an animal. The Hound in Heaven delivers a powerful story of healing that is forged in the spiritual relationship between a man and his best friend. The book brings a message of hope that can enrich our images of family, love, and loss.” – Dr. Barbara Royal, author of The Royal Treatment.


The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink by John F. Mariani (Bloomsbury USA, $35)

Modesty forbids me to praise my own new book, but let me proudly say that it is an extensive revision of the 4th edition that appeared more than a decade ago, before locavores, molecular cuisine, modernist cuisine, the Food Network and so much more, now included. Word origins have been completely updated, as have per capita consumption and production stats. Most important, for the first time since publication in the 1980s, the book includes more than 100 biographies of Americans who have changed the way we cook, eat and drink -- from Fannie Farmer and Julia Child to Robert Mondavi and Thomas Keller.

"This book is amazing! It has entries for everything from `abalone' to `zwieback,' plus more than 500 recipes for classic American dishes and drinks."--Devra First, The Boston Globe.

"Much needed in any kitchen library."--Bon Appetit.

Now in Paperback, too--How Italian Food Conquered the World (Palgrave Macmillan)  has won top prize  from the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.  It is a rollicking history of the food culture of Italy and its ravenous embrace in the 21st century by the entire world. From ancient Rome to la dolce vita of post-war Italy, from Italian immigrant cooks to celebrity chefs, from pizzerias to high-class ristoranti, this chronicle of a culinary diaspora is as much about the world's changing tastes, prejudices,  and dietary fads as about our obsessions with culinary fashion and style.--John Mariani

"Eating Italian will never be the same after reading John Mariani's entertaining and savory gastronomical history of the cuisine of Italy and how it won over appetites worldwide. . . . This book is such a tasteful narrative that it will literally make you hungry for Italian food and arouse your appetite for gastronomical history."--Don Oldenburg, USA Today. 

"Italian restaurants--some good, some glitzy--far outnumber their French rivals.  Many of these establishments are zestfully described in How Italian Food Conquered the World, an entertaining and fact-filled chronicle by food-and-wine correspondent John F. Mariani."--Aram Bakshian Jr., Wall Street Journal.

"Mariani admirably dishes out the story of Italy’s remarkable global ascent to virtual culinary hegemony....Like a chef gladly divulging a cherished family recipe, Mariani’s book reveals the secret sauce about how Italy’s cuisine put gusto in gusto!"--David Lincoln Ross,

"Equal parts history, sociology, gastronomy, and just plain fun, How Italian Food Conquered the World tells the captivating and delicious story of the (let's face it) everybody's favorite cuisine with clarity, verve and more than one surprise."--Colman Andrews, editorial director of The Daily

"A fantastic and fascinating read, covering everything from the influence of Venice's spice trade to the impact of Italian immigrants in America and the evolution of alta cucina. This book will serve as a terrific resource to anyone interested in the real story of Italian food."--Mary Ann Esposito, host of PBS-TV's Ciao Italia.

"John Mariani has written the definitive history of how Italians won their way into our hearts, minds, and stomachs.  It's a story of pleasure over pomp and taste over technique."--Danny Meyer, owner of NYC restaurants Union Square Cafe,  The Modern, and Maialino.



MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly.  Publisher: John Mariani. Editor: Walter Bagley. Contributing Writers: Christopher Mariani,  Misha Mariani, John A. Curtas, Gerry Dawes, Geoff Kalish. Contributing Photographer: Galina Dargery. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.


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