The Place to “B” in Napa

November 6, 2013

I have written previously of the many health benefits associated with moderate wine consumption. For the most recent article in Luxuria Lifestyles (follow this link;  But for all the discussion of the personal benefits, we have yet to chat about some of the wonderful experiences to be had in those magical places where grapes grow up to become wine.

Around the globe, Napa Valley and its surrounding areas are recognized as some of the world’s finest viticultural terriors.  The many different soils, terrain and micro-climes lend themselves for the full expression of the grape varietal and the region from whence it comes.  Give these raw ingredients to the many artisanal winemakers that call the region home and you have the makings of a wine lover’s paradise.

The beauty found in the appellations’ wines is matched in the majesty of the scenery.  Many lovely estates, unique boutiques, charming towns and incredible restaurants dot the magnificent countryside.  This northern area of California, just ninety minutes or so north of San Francisco, is the epitome of the health conscious California lifestyle.  The food is fresh and in many instances locally sourced and organically raised.  Local sustainable seafood and humanely raised, pasture fed meat and poultry are the norm.  It is a place where the food standards match the high bar set by the world class vino.

With so many choices, and so little time, how do you decide where to go?  Is there a place with succulent red and crisp white wine, a Michelin star worthy plate to sample, perhaps even a decadent nibble of chocolate dessert to bring the red wine experience home?  There are many such places in Napa, Sonoma and the surrounding locales, but there is really only one place to ‘B’ when you stop on through the valley.  That, of course, is B Cellars.

The B Cellars name and logo stand for a commitment to excellence.  The letter ‘B’ and the degree symbol º refer to BRIX.  This term defines the optimal sugar/alcohol content in grape juice that indicates the potential for greatness.  B Cellars was conceived in the spring of 2002 by Jim Borsack and his partner Duffy Keys at a Fourth of July barbecue.  By 2003 it was a reality and they are in the process of celebrating their tenth year in business.  It is a viticultural love affair based on two core principles. First, to produce exceptional artisanal wines, season after season; by employing a multi-vineyard strategy.  Second, to develop distinctive flavors by blending wines from mutually complementary varietals.  It is not unlike the historical and current négociant-éleveur practice of France.  However, while the grapes are sourced, all the wine is produced in house.

To achieve this vision, B Cellars brought in Kirk Venge.  He was named “One of the Top 20 New Winemakers in the World” by Food & Wine Magazine in October of 2005. Kirk brought with him a 37 year winemaking legacy via his father, Nils, and a keen understanding of the Napa appellation.  “With Kirk’s passion for great wine, first-hand knowledge and commitment to excellence, it quickly became apparent that he was the ideal winemaker for B Cellars,” said Jim. The faith was well founded and has been borne out by consistently excellent reviews and rankings by such heavyweights as Wine Spectator magazine and Robert Parker.

What makes B cellars unique among vineyards is that their quest does not stop with just the wine.  To achieve a culinary experience to match their wines, they recruited Chef Christina Machamer. Chef Machamer began her culinary career by serving an apprenticeship with world renowned chef Larry Forgione at An American Place.  She subsequently enrolled at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York.  Part way through her final semester she was chosen to compete in the fourth season of Hell’s Kitchen, the fiery reality show hosted by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.  After taking the Hell’s Kitchen “Season Four Grand Prize,” Chef Machamer finished her degree at the CIA and then moved directly into a position as sous chef at the Gordon Ramsay restaurant in West Hollywood.  She also served on the opening team at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro in Beverly Hills, California.  Expanding her impressive credentials, she then studied wine and viticulture at the CIA Greystone located in Napa Valley. She afterwards passed the extremely rigorous certified sommelier exam with The Court of Master Sommeliers, based in London.

“B Cellars was keen to attract a person with solid culinary credentials who could help us convey to winery visitors the reasons for our ‘food-centric’ reputation in the culinary community,” said Duffy Keys.  “We were impressed with Chef Machamer’s qualifications and culinary work experience at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro and with Gordon Ramsay at The London Hotel in Los Angeles – not to mention her incredible personality.”

But of course, there is simply no epicurean enlightenment without a chocolate finish.  For this B Cellars brought in the heavy artillery. Kai Kronfield.  He brings not only hand crafted quality chocolate, but he brings home the bacon as well; in fact, quite literally.  Kai supplies premium bacon-this ain’t your mama’s Oscar Meyer- to start with. I hear you now; “Doc, bacon?!”  Yes, bacon.  Without getting too technical and lost in the weeds, let us simply recognize that when the ingredient list includes heritage breeds and properly and humanely raised animals, the health benefits move to the forefront.  Fresh real butter (with healthful fats and vitamins A, D, E and K) lend their weight to high cacao chocolate to produce a sensual bite, which along with the wine in moderation; can be a healthful addition on any palate.  And Kai provides us moderation in each small, well-proportioned piece; each bit a deep explosion of texture and taste, sweet sultry dark chocolate, salty crispy bacon, all tightly clad in caramel undertones.

The current location is small and adequate to the experience with a staff wonderfully attentive, friendly and accommodating.  But according to Chef Machamer, the new facility slated to open February 2014 will unleash new possibilities.  It will be located at 701 Oakville Cross Road, Oakville, California (in Napa).  It will feature not only a tasting room and event center, but a fully interactive large kitchen display area.  The new facility will clearly be the heart of the Napa food and wine experience for years to come.

So on your next trip to Napa and Sonoma wine country make sure you get to ‘B’ seen at B Cellars.  They are currently located at 400 Silverado Trail, Calistoga, California, 94515.

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