If you’re anything like me, you live for the amazing fruits and veggies that come around during summer, but still, the quarantine hasn’t been great for your summer bod. Not being able to go to the gym and being stuck at home with a stocked fridge and an overflowing wine closet has physically put me more in a winter state than a summer one. Because of this, I’ve included some alternatives to certain ingredients and some optional steps, as to offer healthier versions of this scrumptious summertime supper. This cheesy summer squash casserole has become a go-to recipe for my family because it’s so easy to make!
1-2 cups shredded cheese blend (medium cheddar, Jarlsberg, and even a lite blend are fine), separated
1-1 1/2 cups grated parmesan, separated
3/4-1 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs, separated
Optional: 1/4 cup butter, melted
2 (6 oz.) packages of macaroni and cheese (I used Annie’s organic mac and cheese with 12g protein for a healthier alternative to regular Kraft)
Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees F.
Heat olive oil on medium-low in a large skillet. Add minced garlic and chopped onions and cook until soft and browned.
Add sliced zucchini and squash. Season with pepper to taste. Cook thoroughly, until soft.
In a large casserole tray (I used a 9″x13″ tray), break up your steamed cauliflower and broccoli into 1″ chunks. Sprinkle with pepper, cooked corn kernels, 3/4 cup shredded cheese blend (optional), 1/2 cup parmesan (optional), 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (optional), and melted butter (optional).
Evenly spread cooked zucchini and squash on top. Sprinkle 1/2 cup shredded cheese blend and 1/2 cup grated parmesan on top.
Prepare your macaroni and cheese as directed on package.
Evenly spread your prepared macaroni and cheese over the casserole pan. Sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cup cheese blend, 1/2 cup parmesan, and 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs. Add pepper to taste.
Bake in oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until the casserole is bubbling inside and the top is crispy and browned.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed the shelter-in-place has increased the need for hobbies and has brought out the best of the population’s creativity and resourcefulness, especially when it comes to culinary and mixology creations. I’m pretty sure I’ve spent more time preparing food and beverages in the past three weeks than I did for the entirety of 2019. With it becoming more dangerous to leave the house and to even go to the grocery store, I’ve got to be innovative with what I already have at home. Still, I know how important it is to support locally owned restaurants and I have been getting take out as much as my budget will permit. With a restricted budget that unfortunately won’t allow me to drink takeaway negronis and eat ahi nachos and rib eye for every meal, I’ve been making do with what I’ve got in my garden, my wine closet, and my pantry.
During my time as a Wine Business Strategies student at Sonoma State University, I was required to participate in a mixology project, in which students designed recipes for wine cocktails that would make the wine seem less stuffy and more sexy. Aside from this being a requirement for my Intro to Wine Business course, the projects would be entered into a competition amongst all course students at both Sonoma State and Texas Tech, judged by several Masters of Wine and other impressive wine industry professionals. For this project, my partner and I agreed on a lavender lemon mimosa cocktail, which was feminine, fragrant, and refreshing. With this recipe, our project was voted into the top three cocktails in our class, but went on to win first place in the competition between all Intro to Wine Business students at SSU and Texas Tech! While the recognition and the $250 cash award were exciting, the best part of this experience for me was learning about mixology. Since doing this project, I have been intrigued by the way wine interacts with other ingredients and how the combination of certain flavors can result in an absolute masterpiece or a total dud.
With lots of time at home and few ingredients to work with, I’ve come up with some completely innovative, yet chic cocktails, incorporating one of my favorite McGrail wines at the moment–the Gracie Sparkling Brut. Using fresh flowers, fruit, and herbs from my garden, a few ingredients from my pantry, and the adult beverages from my liquor cabinet, I’ve found a few delightful ways to complement my favorite bubbles.
Don’t worry if you don’t have any McGrail Gracie Sparkling Brut at home at the moment. We have several ways to get you these bubbles! We are currently offering:
Local home delivery at no additional cost for new orders
One cent shipping to anywhere in California for new orders
Drive-up service at the winery (receive wine without leaving your car)
Through my mixology research, I’ve discovered one of the ingredients that can be found in a vast assortment of cocktails is simple syrup. Made using equal parts water and sugar, it really is simple. Although sometimes simple is best, simple usually isn’t flavorful or interesting, which is why I decided to make some herb and floral-infused simple syrups with what I have at home and base each cocktail around these flavors.
Before you turn around and decide you don’t want to make these cocktails because the simple syrups are too much work, let me tell you, they’re NOT. It took me less than ten minutes to make each simple syrup. Every one of these recipes can easily be doubled or tripled to produce more and these tasty syrups are so versatile, they can also be used in coffee, tea, lemonade, and really any other beverage, not just cocktails.
If you don’t have all the ingredients to make them right now, ask your neighbors! I would be honored to give up some of my ginormous rosemary plant to someone who just needed a delicious cocktail to get through another day of shelter-in-place.
Lavender-Infused and Rosemary-Infused Simple Syrups
I first became acquainted with lavender simple syrup during my wine cocktail project at SSU and I fell in love immediately. I know floral flavors aren’t for everyone, but OMG, this stuff is special. Not only is lavender revered for its healing and medicinal properties, it also combats anxiety, depression, and insomnia. I think everyone could use a little bit of some relaxing lavender in their lives right now. I was excited to find my French and English lavender in bloom this past week, so I decided to dry a bunch of it. If you’ve never dried a bunch of lavender before, here‘s a quick how-to from HGTV. If you don’t have French or English lavender at home, dried buds can be purchased online through Amazon or Cost Plus World Market.
Another herb I tend to have a ton of in my garden is rosemary. I love the way it smells and tastes, especially when it’s fresh. Although it’s normally used in savory foods, it’s pretty versatile and can also be used in sweet drinks.
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. dried lavender buds or 1/4 to 1/3 cup fresh rosemary leaves
In a small saucepan, heat water, sugar, and lavender buds or rosemary leaves over medium, stirring frequently. Allow syrup to boil for two minutes, then remove from heat.
Once cool, use a mesh strainer to strain away any excess debris from the syrup. Pour syrup into a container (I used mason jars) to store and place in the refrigerator.
Enjoy in your Gracie Sparkling Brut cocktails or in coffee or tea. Store in the refrigerator and discard if not used within 30 days.
Rose Petal-Infused and Mint-Infused Simple Syrups
Though it isn’t really the season for roses to be in bloom, I was happy to find one of my rose bushes blooming this past week. Since this variety of rose is quite fragrant, I thought I could use some to make a simple syrup. I also chose to use some fresh mint to infuse into another simple syrup because it’s always plentiful in my garden. Since the rose petals and mint leaves aren’t as potent as the other herbs and flowers I used, these simple syrups were made a bit differently.
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/3 to 1/2 cup rose petals of a fragrant variety or fresh mint leaves, packed
In a small saucepan, heat water, sugar, and rose petals or mint leaves over medium, stirring frequently. Allow syrup to boil for two minutes, then remove from heat.
Once cool, pour syrup into a container (I used mason jars) to store and place in the refrigerator. Allow the rose petals or mint leaves to sit in the syrup for 12 to 24 hours, in order to maximize the flavor extraction.
Once the rose petals or mint leaves have sat in the syrup for long enough, use a mesh strainer to strain away any excess debris from the syrup.
Enjoy in your Gracie Sparkling Brut cocktails or in coffee or tea. Store in the refrigerator and discard if not used within 30 days.
Gracie Sparkling Brut Cocktails
Now for the fun part–the cocktails! I’ve based four cocktails around each of the aforementioned simple syrups I made. Albeit each cocktail is unique and interesting, all contain one very important ingredient: McGrail’s Gracie Sparkling Brut. This wine was made from a combination of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, using methode champenoise. It is dry, bubbly, and delicious, and with a lower percentage of alcohol than our other wines, it is great to use in cocktails!
Blueberry Lavender French 75
Okay, so obviously I have a thing for lavender-lemon drinks. I really loved the lavender-lemon wine cocktail I had created before, but I also want to change it up a bit for the sake of Gracie Sparkling. French 75s are one of my favorite cocktails, as they typically contain lemon, sugar, gin, and champagne–all tasty things. I’ve combined the lavender-lemon idea and the French 75, added some blueberries, and decided on botanical gin to coincide with the floral flavors of lavender. I love this drink.
About 15 organic blueberries
1 oz. lavender simple syrup
1 oz. botanical gin (I used St. George Botanivore, but I’ve heard Sidewinder Spirits has a killer botanical gin, too. Both distilleries are local.)
In a shaker, muddle blueberries. Add lavender simple syrup, gin, lemon juice, and ice. Shake well.
Over a small-to-medium-sized cocktail glass, use a mesh strainer to sift out blueberry pulp and ice.
Fill the rest of the glass with Gracie Sparkling Brut and garnish with a sprig of lavender. Enjoy!
Rosemary Grapefruit Mimosa
This one was tough. Fresh rosemary can be so potent it overpowers almost anything else you pair it with. At first, I tested out pear puree with the rosemary simple syrup and they tasted nice together, but the rosemary overtook the pear. Fresh grapefruit juice seemed to be pungent enough to match the rosemary simple syrup and the combination of the two is lovely. The rosemary makes this drink unlike any other.
In a shaker, combine rosemary simple syrup, vodka, grapefruit juice, and ice. Shake well.
Remove top of shaker and pour into a champagne flute or a small cocktail glass. Fill the rest of the glass with Gracie Sparkling Brut and garnish with a sprig of rosemary. Cheers!
Blackberry Ginger Sparkling Mojito
What’s not to love about a mojito? They’re cool and thirst-quenching, but the same ol’ drink can get tiresome. I added spicy ginger, yummy blackberry, and sparkling wine components to this classic bevvy. YUM.
Slice of fresh or candied ginger and/or a sprig of fresh mint for a garnish
In a shaker, muddle blackberries. Add mint simple syrup, rum, lime juice, and ice. Shake well.
Over a medium-to-large-sized cocktail glass, use a mesh strainer to sift out blackberry pulp and ice.
Add the ginger beer, fill the rest of the glass with Gracie Sparkling Brut, and garnish with a sprig of mint. Enjoy!
OPTIONAL: If you are able to get your hands on fresh ginger, I recommend fresh-squeezing that ginger over this cocktail for a bit of an added health benefit and extra heat.
Rose Petal Raspberry Sparkler
Last, but certainly not least, the rose petal raspberry sparkler is probably the prettiest of all the cocktails, but also the simplest. The color is gorgeous and the flavor combo is both fruity and floral. The sparkling wine adds just the right amount of yeast and the end result is incredible.
A rose petal and/or an organic raspberry for a garnish
In a shaker, muddle raspberries. Add rose simple syrup, vodka, and ice. Shake well.
Over a small-to-medium-sized cocktail glass, use a mesh strainer to sift out raspberry pulp and ice.
Fill the rest of the glass with Gracie Sparkling Brut and garnish with a rose petal or an organic raspberry. Cheers!
I know you’re probably ready for a cocktail at this point, but the last thing I wanted to share with you is a playlist of bubbly tunes that never fail to make me feel happy! Enjoy.
I hope I’ve inspired you to take advantage of what you have at home during these difficult times and I hope you enjoy these cocktails! Please let us know if you make any of these cocktails and if you have any feedback. We’d love to hear from you!
Feeling bummed out because your months of planning a fabulous trip abroad, across the country, or even in-state were proved unavailing due to the shelter-in-place order? If you’re currently sheltered-in-place, it probably seems like you have a lot of time on your hands. That time doesn’t have to be spent sulking at home. Take a trip without leaving your couch! There are so many great international and national films available with just the push of a button through streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video.
I’m a huge believer in the idea that wine can be paired with anything. Grab some popcorn, a cozy blanket, and a bottle of McGrail wine, because we’re about to take a (virtual) trip, while drinking delicious wine!
Don’t worry if you don’t have any of these wines at home at the moment. We have several ways to get you some tasty McGrail wine to enjoy with these fantastic flicks! We are currently offering:
Local home delivery at no additional cost for new orders
One cent shipping to anywhere in California for new orders
Drive-up service at the winery (receive wine without leaving your car)
International Movie & Wine Pairings
New Zealand – What We Do in the Shadows (2015) and 2016 A Jó Élet, “the Good Life,” Cabernet Sauvignon
This vampire mockumentary was directed by and stars New Zealand’s two most well-known movie actors and directors–Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement. You might know Waititi as both the guy who plays Hitler in Jojo Rabbit and the director of the satirical film, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2020. He’s also directed and acted in a few more notable movies and series, including Disney Plus’s The Mandalorian, Thor: Ragnarok, and another great New Zealand-based movie, Hunt for the Wilderpeople. You might recognize Jermaine Clement from the Grammy award-winning comedy duo, Flight of the Conchords, but he also has an extensive brag sheet of voice acting, writing, directing, and producing. Together, these guys created a comedy dream (or rather, nightmare) that is as spooky as it is hilarious. Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics gave this comedic flick a 96% rating and said it is “smarter, fresher, and funnier than a modern vampire movie has any right to be,” and called it “bloody good fun.” FX recently released a show with the same title name, based on this film, because it was that good!
Ireland – Waking Ned Devine (1999) and 2017 Sláinte Red Blend
When old pals Michael and Jackie discover someone in their teeny Irish village has won the lottery, they embark on a mission to find that person and get a share of their winnings. Upon uncovering the winner, a lad called Ned Devine, has passed from the shock of having won the lottery, they contact the lottery authorities and devise a plan to convince them that Mr. Devine is alive and able to collect his winnings. Rotten Tomatoes said, “A heartwarming comedy with a delightfully light touch, Waking Ned Devine finds feel-good humor in some unexpected — and unexpectedly effective — places.”
To get the full Irish experience, open a bottle of our 2017 Sláinte Red Blend and a bag of Irish crisps (potato chips to us Americans), preferably Tayto’s Cheese and Onion, to enjoy with this wine. American potato chips work fine, too.
Catch Waking Ned Devine on Amazon Prime Video for $3.99 to rent or $14.99 to buy.
Australia – Muriel’s Wedding (1994) and 2018 Peyton Paige Sauvignon Blanc
Social outcast Muriel, played by a young Toni Collette, is obsessed with marriage, fitting in, and being accepted, not only by her peers, but also by her local politician father. This was Collette’s fourth-ever acting credit, for which she gained a whole 40 pounds in just seven weeks, in order to truly embody Muriel. The movie has its fair share of both good-humored and tragic moments, as well as feathered 90’s hair and funky 90’s garb, and is an Australian classic. Rotten Tomatoes said, “heartfelt and quirky, though at times broad, Muriel’s Wedding mixes awkward comedy, oddball Australian characters, and a nostalgia-heavy soundtrack.” If you’ve never seen this movie and are in the mood for trying something wistful and new, watch this.
This film is best paired with our 2018 Peyton Paige Sauvignon Blanc, as it’s quite lovely, but has a bit of a bite to it (from the acidity), kind of like Muriel does. Enjoy with a side of Fairy Bread (white bread with margarine and sprinkles, or hundreds-and-thousands as they’re called in Oz), a disgustingly popular Australian snack in the 1990’s.
Find Muriel’s Wedding on Amazon Prime Video for $3.99 to rent or just $5.99 to buy.
China – The Farewell (2019) and Gracie Sparkling Brut
Billi, a 30-year-old Chinese-American, and her adorably sweet grandmother, whom she refers to as Nai Nai, have always had a close relationship, despite the fact Nai Nai lives in China. When visiting her parents, Billi is told Nai Nai, her father’s mother, is dying of lung cancer and has just three months left to live. Given the news, Billi’s father’s family plans to gather from all over the world to see Nai Nai one last time, under the pretense that Billi’s cousin is getting married, as no one, including Nai Nai’s doctors, has told her she’s dying. Rotten Tomatoes’ critics gave the movie a 98% rating and said it “deftly captures complicated family dynamics with a poignant, well-acted drama that marries cultural specificity with universally relatable themes.” This film demonstrates what it truly means to be a family, but it doesn’t end the way you think it might. With a perfect balance of both tragedy and comedy, The Farewell will make you laugh out loud, but it will also make you weep.
Enjoy a bottle of our Gracie Sparkling Brut and take out dim sum from your favorite Chinese restaurant or grocery store as you watch this heartfelt film. That’s what Nai Nai would want you to do.
England – About Time (2013) and 2017 Austin James Cabernet Sauvignon
This movie, starring Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson, follows the romance between Tim and Mary, who first meet on a blind date through a pitch black dining experience in London. Though this sounds like the most genuinely interesting way to meet someone, this isn’t the most intriguing thing about the couple, as Tim has a huge secret: he can travel back in time. This romantic comedy was not at all what I expected it to be, as it twists and turns, unapologetically touching on heartache and true, unconditional love. Nevertheless, the English screenwriter of this film is Richard Curtis, who also did rom-com classics Love Actually, Notting Hill, and the later mentioned Four Weddings and a Funeral. You are guaranteed to fall in love with both the relationship between McAdams’s and Gleeson’s characters and the relationship between Tim and his father (played by Bill Nighy). You are also guaranteed a good, healthy cry. Rotten Tomatoes said “Beautifully filmed and unabashedly sincere, About Time finds director Richard Curtis at his most sentimental.”
Enjoy this film with our 2017 Austin James Cabernet, a robust, but a velvety and romantic wine and something slightly dark, slightly sweet, but satisfying (akin to this film), like dark chocolate peanut butter cups with sea salt.
South Korea – Parasite (2019) and 2016 James Vincent Cabernet Sauvignon
If you haven’t seen this film yet, you’re missing out. Korean director Bong Joon-ho nearly swept the 2020 Academy Awards with Parasite and it won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. Parasite follows an impoverished, but resourceful Kim family through their means of infiltrating the home and the lives of the wealthy Park family. Due to it being classified as both a comedy and a thriller, and because of its truly alluring aesthetics, you won’t be able to stop watching this film. Rotten Tomatoes’ critics gave Parasite a rating of 99% and said “An urgent, brilliantly layered look at timely social themes, Parasite finds writer-director Bong Joon Ho in near-total command of his craft.”
It is only fitting to enjoy Parasite with a bottle of our 2016 James Vincent Cabernet, a dark and mysterious wine, but also our top-of-the-line, award-winning Cabernet. Cook up a bowl of hot ram-don, this film’s most noteworthy dish, to enjoy, as well.
Rent this film for $5.99 on Amazon Prime Video or buy it for $14.99.
Solvang and Central Coast, California – Sideways (2004) and 2016 McGrail Merlot, Picazo Vineyard
An essential watch for wine lovers, Sideways captures the essence of the true California wine snob. Published writer Miles is kind of a depressed mess, but one that possesses a deep enthusiasm and respect for wine. With just days remaining before the wedding of his friend Jack, Miles takes his soon-to-be-wed pal on a last fling trip through Solvang and the Central Coast wine country of California. Along the way, they meet beautiful lady friends, Stephanie and Maya, both of whom are blissfully unaware that Jack is only a few days away from being a married man. The trip quickly turns sour when Miles lets Jack’s secret slip to Maya. Sideways flaunts a talented cast, consisting of Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Sandra Oh, and Virginia Madsen. Rotten Tomatoes gave this film a score of 97% and said “Charming, thoughtful, and often funny, Sideways is a decidedly mature road trip comedy full of excellent performances.”
You can’t watch Sideways without a glass of wine, but due to the way this film influenced wine drinkers’ perception of the varietal, you have to watch it with Merlot in your glass. Because we are a Cab house, our Merlot is built like a Cab, but still has Merlot’s classic characteristics, which is why we think even Paul Giamatti’s character would be happy to drink our take on this ill-famed varietal. Pair this film with our 2016 McGrail Merlot from Picazo Vineyard and a classic wine country charcuterie plate with the works–olives, salami, grapes, nuts, carrot or bell pepper sticks, a baguette, and wedges of stinky cheese.
Catch Sideways on Hulu or Amazon Prime Video ($3.99 to rent or $14.99 to buy).
Surprisingly, a movie that was meant to be set in Nazi Germany, was actually filmed in Prague. Like most WWII films, Jojo Rabbit has its painfully solemn scenes, but being a satire, this movie is mostly laughs. With it taking place at the end of the war, you get to see the Nazis defeated, which makes it that much better. The cast is composed of mainly A-list actors and with Taika Waititi as the director, you won’t be disappointed. Rotten Tomatoes said “Jojo Rabbit‘s blend of irreverent humor and serious ideas definitely won’t be to everyone’s taste — but either way, this anti-hate satire is audacious to a fault.” Buy it for $19.99 or rent it for $5.99 on Amazon Prime Video.
England – Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
Four Weddings and a Funeral is a brilliantly dark-humored English film, starring several A-list actors of the 1990’s, including Andie McDowell and Hugh Grant. The movie was directed by seasoned English Director Mike Newell, who also directed several other well-known films, like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Mona Lisa Smile. Rotten Tomatoes’ critics gave this comedy a 96% rating. Rent this movie for $2.99 or buy it for $14.99 on Amazon Prime Video.
France – La Vie en Rose (2007)
This French film was the first movie in which an Academy Award for Best Actress was awarded for a French-language role. Marion Cotillard portrays brothel-born, charismatic entertainer Edith Piaf in this visually stunning biopic, which puts Piaf’s addictions, relationships, and losses under a microscope. Rotten Tomatoes said “the set design and cinematography are impressive, but the real achievement of La Vie en Rose is Marion Cotillard’s mesmerizing, wholly convincing performance as Edith Piaf.” Rent La Vie en Rose on Amazon Prime Video for $3.99 or buy for $7.99.
Germany – Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Like Jojo Rabbit, this movie can be categorized as both a comedy and a war film. Director Quentin Tarantino knows how to create excitement organically and make an audience laugh through suspense and gore. He uses an ensemble cast to depict Germany’s occupation of France (even though this was mostly filmed in Potsdam, Germany), as Brad Pitt’s character gathers an army of Jewish soldiers to employ vicious tactics against the Nazis. Rotten Tomatoes said, “a classic Tarantino genre-blending thrill ride, Inglourious Basterds is violent, unrestrained, and thoroughly entertaining.” Watch Inglourious Basterds on Netflix.
Germany – The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Yep, the movie containing “Budapest” in the title wasn’t actually filmed in Hungary at all, but rather in Dresden, Germany. The film boasts an amazingly talented cast, with names like Bill Murray, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Saoirse Ronan, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Jason Schwartzman, and more! Don’t let me tell you how grand this movie is. If you haven’t seen this quirky Wes Anderson film, do yourself a favor and rent it for just $3.99 on Amazon Prime Video. Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics gave it a 91% rating.
India – Lion (2016)
Based on a true story, Lion follows the life of Saroo, a five-year-old boy from a poor Indian family who one day falls asleep on the train and wakes to find he has traveled thousands of miles across India, away from his family. He learns to survive on his own in Kolkata, but is eventually adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty-five years later, Saroo leaves to find his family, using Google Earth to help him find his way home. Rotten Tomatoes said “Lion‘s undeniably uplifting story and talented cast make it a moving journey that transcends the typical cliches of its genre.” Rent Lion on Amazon Prime Video for $3.99 or buy it for just $4.99.
Ireland – P.S. I Love You (2007)
I almost never have the guts to turn this movie on when I see it playing on TV, because it never fails to make me cry. If you’ve ever been to Ireland, you know it’s an incredible country. This mostly melancholy romantic comedy does a really excellent job of showing off all of Ireland’s most stunning aspects. You can find this tear-jerker on Netflix.
Italy – Murder Mystery (2019)
As is to be expected of any Adam Sandler movie, Murder Mystery is slightly hokey, but he and Jennifer Aniston make a great pair. Still, this movie effectively builds up the whodunnit mystery throughout the film and does so in a manner that isn’t blatantly obvious. It also really shows off some of the most magnificent parts of Italy and other European destinations. I am excited to say I was actually staying on Lake Como in the same village, at the same time the last few scenes were being filmed. I even caught a glimpse of Sandler’s stunt double! Find this movie on Netflix.
Italy – Life Is Beautiful (1997)
A charming Jewish-Italian man romances a beautiful, but engaged school teacher, who eventually falls in love with and marries her new suitor. The couple have a son, whom they clearly adore more than anything. When Nazis invade Italy, the father and son are taken to a concentration camp and heartbreak follows. The father does all he can to keep his son from realizing the true horrors of WWII by providing comedic relief. Though it is somewhat predictable, the movie uses comedy to be as lovely, but as realistic, as any war film can be. Rotten Tomatoes said Life Is Beautiful “offers the possibility of hope in the face of unflinching horror.” Rent it on Amazon Prime Video for $3.99 or buy for $7.99.
Japan – Isle of Dogs (2018)
Being Wes Anderson’s second animated film, Isle of Dogs does a wonderful job of using incredibly detailed stop motion animation to convey sound, movement, texture, depth, and emotion. When Mayor Kobayashi declares all dogs are to be quarantined on Trash Island, one Japanese boy sets out to retrieve his lost dog “Spots” and Trash Island’s residents, both stray and previously owned, assemble to help him. Isle of Dogs is quirky and adorable. Rotten Tomatoes’ critics gave this film a 90% score. Watch it on Amazon Prime Video–$3.99 to rent or $14.99 to buy.
Mexico – Roma (2018)
Roma takes place in Mexico City in the 1970’s and follows young caretaker Cleo. Cleo, who cares for four children, is stunned when she finds out the children’s father has run away with his mistress and that Cleo, herself is pregnant. Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics gave it a 95% rating and said “Roma finds writer-director Alfonso Cuarón in complete, enthralling command of his visual craft – and telling the most powerfully personal story of his career.” Watch Roma on Netflix.
New Zealand – Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
When rebellious Ricky Baker is taken to his most recent foster home, he and his new mum quickly form a bond, though his new dad is not so quick to latch on. Tragedy strikes Ricky’s new family and he runs away into the New Zealand wilderness, only to soon be accompanied by his foster father. Ricky and his new dad become the subjects of a manhunt after getting lost. Rotten Tomatoes’ critics gave Hunt for the Wilderpeople, directed by Taika Waititi, a 96% rating and said it “unites a solid cast, a talented filmmaker, and a poignant, funny, deeply affecting message.” Rent it for $2.99 or buy it for only $6.99 on Amazon Prime Video.
Northern Ireland – Derry Girls (2018-2019)
Though it’s not a movie, Derry Girls, a brilliant British comedy series, is definitely worth mentioning. Set in Londonderry, Northern Ireland in the 1990’s, this show follows the lives of a group of mischievous, misfit Catholic school girls. It offers historical accuracy in touching on the bloody sectarian conflict between the unionists and nationalists, but keeps you laughing through it all. Rotten Tomatoes’ critics gave it a score of 98% and said it “makes frenetic light of teen life” in its setting. Watch Derry Girls on Netflix, but don’t forget to turn on the captions, as Derry accents are hardly intelligible to the American ear.
Sweden – The 101-Year-Old Man Who Skipped Out on the Bill and Disappeared (2016)
Notorious and widely-disliked Allan Karlsson has lived a long, remarkable life. On his 101st birthday, Allan is reminded of his time working as a spy, during which he had stolen a soda recipe from the Russian government to give to American President Richard Nixon. He remembers he still has the formula for this highly revered Folksoda hidden somewhere in the world and he, his pet monkey, his dimwit caretaker, and his best pal embark on a journey to find it. Hilarity and frenzy ensue, as details of Karlsson’s wild life emerge through old memories during his new adventures. This movie is most certainly silly, but it also has its sweet and sentimental moments. I don’t know how better to describe it than being like a Swedish, geriatric version of The Hangover. Watch it on Netflix.
Notable American Destination Films
Hollywood, California – Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood (2019)
Amazon Prime – $9.99 to rent or $19.99 to buy
Napa Valley, California – Bottle Shock (2008)
Free on Amazon Prime Video
Napa Valley, California – Wine Country (2019)
Available on Netflix
New York, New York – The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Amazon Prime Video – $2.99 to rent, $9.99 to buy
New York, New York – You’ve Got Mail (1998)
Amazon Prime Video – $3.99 to rent, $9.99 to buy
Rhode Island and East Coast, United States – Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Amazon Prime Video – $3.99 to rent, $11.99 to buy
Seattle, Washington – Sleepless In Seattle (1993)
Amazon Prime Video – $2.99 to rent, $12.99 to buy)
What did you think of these wine and movie pairings? Did you try any? We’d love to hear your feedback!
By Laina Carter and Mark Clarin of McGrail Vineyards
February was an incredibly busy month in the vineyards, but unseasonably so, as our vines are currently dormant and February tends to be a pretty uneventful month for our vineyards. There are countless facets to grape growing and external factors affecting grapevines that no year and no season are ever the same.
Dormancy & Pruning
Grapevines, like most perennials, undergo a dormancy stage, which is essentially a hibernation period for these plants. The vines have stored all of their nutrients in their roots, leaving the once vivacious, fruitful shoots dry and void of leaves and fruit. Dormancy allows grapevines to tolerate winter weather and gives them time to prepare for budbreak in the spring. Like hibernating animals, the vines are waiting for warmer temperatures before once again using the energy they have stored up to become active and begin growing again.
The most critical vineyard practice that occurs during dormancy is pruning. For us, pruning usually happens around February, when the vines are completely bare and nearing the end of their dormancy. This year, we began pruning our estate vines at the end of January and continued with our Lucky 8 Vineyard through the beginning of February.
Each year, we prune last year’s growth back to the cordon. Our vineyards are currently pruned to two bud spur positions. These positions are kept approximately a fist apart along the cordon in order to keep the new shoot growth separated for later when the fruit sets.
Pruning is important because it gives us the ability to determine the number and position of shoots on the vine, and will therefore determine cluster count and quality of wine. The reason we prune back is to control consistency in production and to make sure we can still walk down the rows and properly manage the vineyard. There are many tasks throughout the growing season that require hand manipulation. Since grapevines are vines, they seem to have a mind of their own and want to grow in wild directions. Our trellis allows us to control the vines so that we can manage yields and quality.
Our estate vineyard was originally planted in 1999 and is now at the end of its ideal productive life. We have sixteen and a half acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and it has, and still continues, to serve us well. At some point, the need to replant is fast-approaching, so we are taking out a section of approximately three acres this year to be replanted again in 2022. Since we have our new Lucky 8 vineyard coming into full production, it affords us the opportunity to re-develop our estate vineyard.
It takes about three years for new plantings to come into full production. It’s about a five-year process when you have to remove a vineyard, because you want to leave the ground fallow for a year. If we have to remove all 16.7 acres at once, we would lose production for five years. By doing it in small quantities, we will still be able to produce our cherished Patriot, James Vincent, A Jó Élet “the Good Life,” and Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon through the re-development phase. This February we began our vineyard re-development by removing about three acres of Cabernet vines at the front of our estate property. It will take up to ten years for us to replant the whole vineyard and up to twenty years to get back into full production.
We are currently at the beginning of March, 2020 and we haven’t seen significant rainfall since early January, which is quite a bit different from what the last few winters we’ve experienced. December was fairly wet and we were on course to having a “normal” winter when the new year decided to change all that. We tried a little irrigating this past week to trick the vines into thinking it’s still winter. The windy weather has really dried things out and the hills are turning brown, which is very unusual for this time of year. We’re hoping this month brings rain again and more importantly, a decent snow-pack in the Sierra mountains, but time will tell. Until then, we will continue to irrigate as needed.
Unseasonably Warm Temperatures
On February 26th in 2018, there was snow on Mt. Diablo and snow on Mt. Hamilton, which is wildly different from the weather we experienced on the same day this year, with sunshine and a high of 76˚F.
Although we have had some warm late winters in years past, these temperatures can be of concern for grape growers. Air temperatures of 50°F are the threshold of below which grapevines refuse to grow. This means that enough days with a mean air temperature of 50°F or above could cause budbreak in the vineyards. Since an earlier budbreak during a warm late winter hasn’t really happened for us before, we aren’t too worried; however, an early budbreak could result in damage to the vines if spring frost occurs. We are keeping our fingers crossed that our vines don’t come out of dormancy this week!
Grape growing is definitely not for the faint of heart.
Just like the Super Bowl, the Oscars are another pompous American display of money and image, but a slightly more polished one we all so excitedly buzz about in the months leading up to the one-night awards show. If you’ve never watched the Oscars, they are quite a production. All of Hollywood’s hottest actors, producers, directors, screenwriters, and editors are gathered in one place to pat one another on the back for making movies just marginally different or better than those released the previous year. Everyone is dressed in gowns and suits costing thousands of dollars, only to be scrutinized on the pages of People magazine, landing on the “worst dressed” list if they weren’t able to snag an Alexander McQueen gown. Some are snubbed for the Best Actor award year after year *cough cough* Leonardo DiCaprio *cough*, while others are first-time Oscar goers and take home the award for Best Supporting Actress. At its worst, the event is one giant, hoity toity celeb get-together with its fair share of letdowns and surprises. At the end of the day, the Oscars are a beloved, fundamental component of American culture.
I know I sound cynical, but I love the Oscars, really. There’s laughter, tears, and everything in between. Plus, it’s all so unbelievably glamorous and beautiful, it’s hard not to watch. Although I’m still bitter Greta Gerwig was passed up for Best Director for Little Women, I can’t wait to see what wacky remarks Taika Waititi will make on the red carpet and what Saoirse Ronan and Emma Watson will wear. Hopefully Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood wins Best Film, but just like the 49ers losing the Super Bowl, anything is possible. With so much uncertainty as to what will happen, the Oscars are exciting to say the least.
Like most nationally televised events, the Academy Awards are best enjoyed with drinks and snacks. Really though, if Scar-Jo wins Best Actress for her less-than-stellar performance in Marriage Story, I’m going to need a big glass of wine. I’ve produced and self-awarded some truly chic wine and appetizer pairings (with recipes) to enjoy when Tom Hanks makes a heart-warming speech and to comfort you when Leo is once again snubbed for Best Actor.
BEST APPETIZER IN A LEADING ROLE:
2019 Kylie Ryan Rosé with Shrimp and Citrus Ceviche in Endive Spears
Makes about 16 servings, with 2 endive spears per serving.
Not only is ceviche downright delicious and unquestionably refreshing, it can also be a gorgeous dish if you use the right ingredients. I love fresh shrimp, avocado, and grapefruit and any combination of the three is always a win for me. A little jalapeño always adds a nice kick to anything and it goes without saying, garlic and onion make everything just a little tastier. Not only does the endive look great holding the ceviche, the endive leaf makes the perfect one-bite edible vessel for this sophisticated shrimp cocktail. Throw a fabulous Rosé into the mix and the result is delightful. The citrus notes in the wine complement the grapefruit and mandarin orange remarkably well, while the heat from the jalapeño is softened by the slight creaminess on the palate.
This appetizer and wine pairing has so much grace and beauty, but is also satisfying, self-contained, unexpected, balanced, and simply delicious. To me, this pairing is more than deserving of the “Best Appetizer in a Leading Role” award. It really just steals the show.
Nibble on this refined refreshment when Saoirse Ronan receives the award for Best Actress.
2 large grapefruits
2 large satsuma mandarin oranges
½ jalapeño, seeds and ribs removed, minced
¼ cup yellow onion, minced
¼ cup chopped cilantro
½ tsp. minced garlic
1 lb. cooked shrimp, deveined, peeled, chopped into ½” pieces
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. lime juice
cracked rainbow peppercorn
pink Himalayan sea salt
6 endive bulbs, leaves separated
2 large hass avocados, thinly sliced
4 green onion stems, chopped thinly
fresh kale for a garnish
Peel and remove seeds and skins from grapefruits and mandarin oranges. Break apart into 1/2″ pieces.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine grapefruit, mandarin oranges, jalapeño, onion, cilantro, garlic, shrimp, olive oil, and lime juice. Toss gently. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Place a small spoonful of the ceviche into each endive spear. Add a small slice of avocado into endive spear and sprinkle green onion on top.
The endive spears might have a bit of trouble sitting up once filled with ceviche, so use a bed of fresh kale as a garnish and to prop up the endive leaves if you need to.
2018 Charlie Rae Chardonnay and d’Anjou Pear White Balsamic and Butter Popcorn
Serves about 9, with 1.5 cups of popcorn per serving.
Picture this: it’s the evening on Sunday, February 9th (AKA Academy Awards night), and you’ve just come home from McGrail’s Quarterly Wine Club Release Party. You indulged in some incredible Smokin’ Hot Meats and Treats nachos, so you’re not feeling all that hungry, but you’d like something to snack on while you catch the Oscars. We’ve all been in a Smokin’-Hot-Meats-nacho coma, so there’s no need to feel alone. If you’re finding yourself in this situation, I’ve got the perfect lightweight and simple, Oscar-worthy hors d’oeuvre for you! This popcorn isn’t super sweet or over-the-top buttery, but it is just the right amount of tangy and salty. With the pear balsamic and just a bit of butter, it pairs so well with our Charlie Rae Chardonnay.
Whether you’re enjoying this hors d’oeuvre on the couch by your lonesome or at an Academy Awards party, this pairing is sure to become a classic! Because of its unexpected, but simple brilliance, we have awarded this tangy treat “Best Original Hors d’oeuvre.”
Munch on this during Taika Waititi’s red carpet interview.
12 cups unsalted air-popped or store-bought pre-popped popcorn, sans butter
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
¼ cup d’anjou pear white balsamic (I used Gourmet Blends’ version, but Amazon has some highly rated alternatives)
pink Himalayan sea salt
Air pop the popcorn if you’re not using pre-popped popcorn.
Melt the butter in a small bowl or measuring cup.
In a large bowl, drizzle the butter over the popcorn. Gently mix the popcorn so it is evenly coated with butter. Drizzle the white balsamic over the popcorn. Again, gently mix the popcorn so it is evenly coated with the white balsamic.
2016 Shamus Patrick and Prosciutto Apple Balsamic Flatbread
Serves about 16, with 1/4 flatbread per serving.
Have you ever had fresh garlic naan? If not, you’re missing out. If you have, imagine all things that taste good with wine on top of that mouthwatering naan. Then imagine that with a glass of the most delicious Red Blend you’ve ever had. That’s what I’m about to throw at you. This appetizer is flat-out delectable and paired with our Shamus, it’s even better. The Shamus Patrick Red Blend is fruit-forward with beautifully balanced acidity, which makes this sweet, nutty, and savory balsamic-prosciutto-Honeycrisp-pecan combo such a suitable pairing.
While I feel like the whole prosciutto, balsamic, arugula flatbread thing is done maybe a little too frequently, I’m not about to overlook it. I believe it’s a tried-and-true staple of the American palate and it tastes so good with our Bordeaux-style Red Blend. Because I know you can’t have appetizers paired with wine without some sort of yummy carbs, I’ve awarded this one “Best Supporting Snack.”
Snack on this when Tom Hanks receives only his third Academy Award.
4 pieces or about 12 oz. of Tandoori garlic naan (I used Trader Joe’s brand)