Musings by Leah Jorgensen

R. Stuart’s Winter Supper with Aviary

Photo courtesy of Courtney Harris

In the heart of the Willamette Valley, winter usually promises more rain than snow, but, there’s still a longing for comfort food, gathering with good friends, the warm glow of candle light, and a sense of winding down in the appropriate hibernation style.  We’re cave dwelling.  And, we’re eating what’s in season, or what’s been saved from the previous bounty of summer and fall – pickled, canned, dried, however preserved.  Once the winter solstice has passed, the days begin to lengthen like a newborn colt stretching out its feeble legs.  I love midwinter.  And, I love any excuse to get cozy and enjoy a well made meal with other cave dwellers.

One of my favorite winter feasts is the R. Stuart & Co. Winter Supper series in McMinnville.  I attended one of the dinners in last year’s inaugural series featuring Chef Pascal Chureau of Allium Restaurant, and, on that magical night, big, billowing feather-like tufts of snow began to fall and illuminate under street lamps.  It changed the mood from delight to complete enchantment.  This little event, in my opinion, is the very best Oregon has to offer for winter culinary delights.  I was lucky enough to get a seat in the sold-out second year.

The visiting chef was Jasper Shen of the trio of artists who started Aviary Restaurant in NE Portland.  His partners, Sarah Pliner and Kat Whitehead, were not at the supper, but all three contributed to what was an amazing menu beautifully paired with a wonderful array of R. Stuart & Co. wines.

to start:  gougeres smoked artichokes with radishes and grapes served with NV Rose d’Or bubbly

amuse bouche:  fried pig snout with egg and mustard creme fraiche

first:  truffled egg toast, baby leeks and beets in barigoule with 2011 Big Fire Pinot Gris and 2009 Big Fire Pinot Noir

second:  four cup chickens, taro root, apricots, wood ear mushrooms with 2008 Ana Pinot Noir and 2007 Temperance Hill Vin Tardive

to end:  almond cake, black sesame, raspberries and toasted coconut ice cream with NV Klipsun Vineyard “UnPort”





Social Media ReTweet @ Raptor Ridge

From the time I began consulting in 2009, it had taken me awhile to figure out where I could bring the most value to my clients.  One of my best ideas has been my “Social Media ReTweets”, where I work with a winery client and a local restaurant to showcase the natural matching abilities of food and wine in a light, fun, casual setting.  I invite an intimate gathering of 8-10 local writers, who specialize in social media, on a culinary retreat, and while the food and wine pairings get served, they take photos and post Tweets and Facebook comments in real time.  And, they get to engage directly with the winery owners/winemaker alongside the restaurant chef.

My latest Social Media Retweet involved Raptor Ridge Winery in Newberg and The Bent Brick restaurant in Portland.  I worked closely with Raptor Ridge Proprietor, Annie Shull, along with Tom Champine, who works for the winery in distribution sales and market development.

The ReTweet started with a meet up at The Bent Brick (1639 NW Marshall Street, Portland), the second restaurant belonging to acclaimed Chef Scott Dolich of Park Kitchen.  Scott hired Executive Chef Will Preisch to lead the helm in the kitchen.  Creative snacks and small plates dominate the menu, with a couple of “roasts and braises” offered, and even an option to “eat the whole menu”, followed by a few smart desserts.

Tom and I greeted our media guests, joined by The Bent Brick’s GM, Anna Josephson, who gave us a grand tour of the restaurant and kitchen.  Neat facts – everything served at TBB is domestic, and all of the wine glass pours served come from kegs – in order to offer young, ready-to-drink wines (all local).  As far as the space is concerned, it’s a lovely modern dining room and bar with an open kitchen inside a 1920’s brick house, with an impressive upstairs private dining area, and the popular “Jenga Lounge”, a casual area centered around a fun  Jenga-like wood sculpture with log stools and built-in seating to hang out, sip on one of Adam Robinson’s glorious cocktails and nibble on some snacks.

Chefs prepping at The Bent Brick

We boarded a van and headed out to Raptor Ridge Winery (18700 SW Hillsboro Hwy., Newberg).  Transportation was provided by A Great Oregon Wine Tour.   Tom opened up the 2010 Pinot Gris and served it (he’s a sommelier, too!) while we drove through farm land on Hwy 219.

Upon arrival, the writers were greeted by Raptor Ridge Winery owners Scott and Annie Shull.  Raptor Ridge’s new winery was designed by Laurence Ferar & Associates Architecture, with a gorgeous balance between agriculture land and commercial utility.  The Shulls didn’t want a tasting room out of scale, with only one-third dedicated to consumer activity and the rest for production.

“The first thing people do when they get here is get out of their cars, take photos, then get to business with tasting,” said Annie.  The winery and surrounding vineyard offers a simple, elegant respite.  Glassed garage doors in the studio-like tasting room offer a spectacular view rolling hillsides with Ponzi’s winery in the distance and views of the Cascade’s peaks.

After a warm welcome, guests were seated with Scott and Annie at each end of the table.  Rather than do a formal food and wine pairing, Chef Scott Dolich came out and expressed his interest in great food and great wine, and how he’d prefer the group to experience that – simply.

“These are not formal pairings – everyone’s palate is different, and I’d rather the discussion be an interaction versus didacticism.” Dolich said.  Dolich’s food is always acid-friendly and Raptor Ridge wines are naturally great food wines – he added, “these wines beg to have an interaction with food.”

With some guidance, the 2007 Pinot Noir Reserve was poured alongside the 2009 Pinot Noir Reserve.  The two wines were tasted with two snacks – Mussels on the Half Shell with Tabasco Mignonette and Beet, Farro, Cream Cheese, Seeds Vinaigrette.

Scott Shull chimed in, “the wine changes for the better with good food.”

Round two included the 2009 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley and the 2010 Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard with Country Pork Rilletes with Green Tomato Mustard and Quinoa and Kale Fritters with Carrot Cream.

Raptor Ridge is a small boutique winery with vineyard designate cuvees, distributed in twenty-six states and the Virgin Islands.  They have a wine club called the Raptor Ridge Flight Club, which includes four  shipments per year (once per quarter) of their award-winning wines at 15% off retail prices. Shipments are a range of pre-release wines, flights or cellar selections.  Members get 15% off bottles and 20% off case purchases, among other membership benefits.  The tasting room is open according to the following seasonal schedule:  mid January to mid March / Saturday-Sunday 11am to 4pm; mid March to mid December / Thursday-Monday 11am to 4pm; mid December to mid January / by appointment. Groups larger than 8 need an appointment – call 503.628.8463.

Also, Raptor Ridge announces it’s THIRD THURSDAY program.  On the third Thursday of each month, visitors are invited to come out to the winery to taste wines paired with bites prepared by a guest chef.  Attendees will take home the recipe and a bit of wine pairing wisdom.  Third Thursdays are from 5 to 8 p.m.

Scott Dolich, Annie & Scott Shull

Pizza Senza Glutino

Photo courtesy of Pizzicato

When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease back in 2007 it was hopeless.  I had to accept that I would never go out for pizza again.  And, living in a town like Portland, Oregon, where there are so many wonderful pizza joints – Ken’s Artisan Pizza, Apizza Scholls, Dove Vivi, Nostrana, Hot Lips, Pizzicato – I wanted to die.

Living a gluten-free life means making sacrifices – many good, some kind of sad.  To be honest, I don’t miss a lot of the glutenous foods from my pre-celiac life.  It was already my mantra to shop the “outside aisles” of grocery stores and markets.  Sweets – I can find what I need to feed the cravings.  Bread?  Not so much.  There are plenty of decent substitutes to take care of what I need.  But, pizza?  Hell no!

Doesn’t help that my mother’s family is from the Campania region of Italy – home of real pizza pie.  And, that’s what I miss the most – the thin, bubbly, chewy crust with very little adornment.  The best cooking – Italian – means simple ingredients.  So, I have mourned over and over again for my authentic margherita pizza pie days, and have often wondered if I’d ever get to go out and enjoy a good pizza ever again.

Luckily, because I live in a progressive food town like Portland, the answer is Si, Si, Si!

I am still in search of the perfect gluten-free version of real Italian pizza, but, in the meantime, I am happy to report that I can at least go out and enjoy a really good pizza without getting sick.

Several of the local pizza joints mentioned above have dedicated a part of their kitchens to make gluten-free pizza, or they have very clear disclaimers regarding cross-contamination.  And, a few newer establishments have come along to provide for the steadily growing gluten intolerant consumer base.

Here’s a list of Portland’s best gluten-free pizza pies.

Dove Vivi

Cornmeal crust, eh?  Dove Vivi makes crust that is prepared by hand using organic cornmeal sourced from Southeast Oregon and Northeast California that is stone ground at Bob’s Red Mill here in Portland.  As for the other ingredients – they use 100% pure olive oil, all toppings are prepared in-house daily using fresh, locally sourced produce whenever possible, and all dressings, marinades, and brines are made from scratch to celebrate the loot of our locale.  The sausage is made from all natural Carlton Farms pork, the chefs here cure their own pancetta, Tasso ham, Canadian bacon, maple bacon, and corned beef, and case their andouille, chorizo, bratwurst and chicken sausages to ensure quality and distinction.  Dove Vivi is consistently ranked as one of the best pizza joints in Portland.  For more information: / Blog / Facebook

Mississippi Pizza Pub
Mississippi Pizza Pub has been making good gluten-free pizza for quite some time.  They offer a nice guide on their website about ingredients, buying their gluten-free crust to go (and how to bake it), etc.  Any of the pizzas from their menu can be made gluten-free, unless otherwise noted.  Plus, they also have a couple of gluten-free beers available, which is great.  For more information: / Facebook

New Cascadia Traditional Bakery & Cafe
Oddly enough, you can’t find the pizza on their website.  Don’t let that deter you!  New Cascadia offers good, thin pizza crust that you can purchase to take home, or, you can order one of their seasonally prepared pizzas for take-out or to eat in the cafe.  I like the smaller portion of this pizza.  It’s perfect for lunch or dinner.  I recently had the Mexitalian pizza – with a pesto sauce, black olives, tomato, cheese and simple deliciousness.  For more information: / Facebook

This just might be my favorite gluten-free pizza.  Their crust is the best.  You can fold it (yeah, it’s an east coast thing).  And, the toppings are incredible.  They use fresh ingredients and you can taste the difference.  I recently had the “Provencal” – with zucchini, yellow squash, caramelized onion with fresh mozzarella and tomato sauce – and thought I must have died and gone to pizza heaven.  They carefully list all of the ingredients that are safe for gluten intolerant diets.   For more information: / Blog / Facebook

Sellwood Pizza Kitchen
Sellwood Pizza Kitchen is a small family owned pizza place with a dedicated gluten-free menu.  Their gluten-free crust is thicker and denser than many of the other gluten-free pizzas around.  I have asked the owner if I could purchase the crust on a few occasions to make at-home skillet pizza.  They have a nice assortment of toppings and this pizza is actually really, really good.  They also have a gluten-free beer by the bottle (Red Bridge).  For more information: / Blog / Facebook

Other gluten-free pizza around Portland:

Bellagio’s Pizza (multiple locations)
Extreme Pizza (Hillsboro)
Flying Pie Pizzaria (warnings: incidents of cross-contamination)
Garlic Jim’s (multiple locations)
Hotlips Pizza (multiple locations)
Oasis Cafe
Pizza A Go Go
Red Hills Market (Dundee)
Rocco’s Pizza

“North Meets South” Preview Spirits Dinner

March 23

Northwest Palate Magazine hosted a spirits focused dinner at Aquariva on Tuesday night to kick off the first annual North Meets South Food & Drink Jubilee, taking place at the Benson Hotel this weekend, Friday, March 25 – Sunday, March 27.

Northwest Palate Co-Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Cole Danehower launched the dinner with a wonderful introduction about the celebrated food and wine appreciation of the region, and how the culmination of food, wine, beer and spirits are all important contributors to Oregon’s gastronomic culture.

While most dinners in Portland are shared with the region’s top beers and wines, this dinner featured exciting local and imported spirits mixed in cocktails that paired exceptionally well with five inventive courses prepared by Aquariva Executive Chef Andy Arndt and his team.

SuperFly Vodka Champagne Cocktail with Rosemary


Passed Appetizer:
Scallop Stuffed Date, Thyme Cracker
SuperFly Vodka with Champagne, Rosemary

First Course:
Crab and Cucumber Stuffed Pillow, Lemon Basil Emulsion
El Zacatecano Mezcal, Cilantro, Agave, Lime

Crab and Cucumber Pillow, Lemon Basil Emulsion

Second Course:
Smoked Pork Belly, Caramelized Yams, Black Pepper
House Spirits White Dog Rhubarb Old Fashioned

House Spirits White Dog Rhubarb Old Fashioned

Third Course:
Coffee Smoked Short Rib, Onion Rings, Tomato
Cofia Liquor, Mexican Espressotini

Frozen Chocolate, Brown Butter, Candied Zest
Novo Fogo Cachaca Kiwi Caipirinha

There were a few stand-out highlights of the evening, including the SuperFly Vodka Champagne cocktail with Rosemary, a perfect spring sipper; the Crab and Cucumber Pillow – an exquisite presentation with thin cucumber slices artfully wrapping the crab like a woven basket; the House Spirits White Dog Rhubarb Old Fashioned topped with a blood orange; and, the best pairing of the night – the Coffee Smoked Short Rib, Onion Rings, Tomato with the creamy Cofia Liquor Mexican Espressotini, which reminded me of an upscale version of the American classic – burger, fries and milkshake.

This dinner certainly whet the appetite for what’s ahead in this weekend’s North Meets South Food & Drink Jubilee.  Tickets are still available.  Also, visit North Meets South on Facebook and Twitter.

ArborBrook Social Media ReTweet @ Metrovino

Monday, March 14

Members of the media Tweet and Facebook on
smartphones and i-Pads

What a perfect way to start the week – meeting up with a handful of influential food and wine writers and videographers to taste, Tweet and then upload inventive food and wine pairings featuring the wines of ArborBrook Vineyards and haute cuisine of Metrovino.

Once seated, the media guests pulled out their smartphones and i-Pads and set up on Tweet decks @metrovino and @Abcowgirl to begin the live dialog in real time.

Metrovino owner Todd Steele and ArborBrook Vineyards proprietor Dave Hansen sat down with the group and participated in the engaging and intimate fête de Facebook a.k.a. food and wine ReTweet.

Executive Chef Gregory Denton surprised and delighted guests with delectible tastes that paired beautifully with select ArborBrook Vineyards wines.

House-smoked trout and cucumber salad with
ArborBrook Vineyards 2009 Guadalupe Vineyard Pinot Gris

Chef Denton presented the following menu:

An amuse-bouche cream soup with chip then….

avocado, blood orange and shiso

green apple, maple-braised pork belly, celery and shallot vinaigrette
ArborBrook Vineyards 2009 Guadalupe Vineyard Pinot Gris

with oyster mushroom “stroganoff”
ArborBrook Vineyards 2009 “Heritage Cuvee” Chehalem Mountains Pinot Noir

spinach, butternut squash and alby’s gold potato, lentil and leek vinaigrette
ArborBrook Vineyards 2009 “Estate 777 Block” Chehalem Mountains Pinot Noir

local honey, poached bosc pear and truffled pistachios
ArborBrook Vineyards 2007 “Sydney” Klipsun Vineyard Semillon

Briar Rose Creamery Chevre with ArborBrook
Vineyards 2007 “Sydney” Semillon

As stand-alones, the wines and food are of exceptional quality.  Chef Denton explained his philosophy on working with local farms whenever possible and serving up what’s in season.  And, ArborBrook Vineyards proprietor shared about his vineyard and the other “grand cru” classe vineyards he sources his fruit from to make his highly acclaimed small lot wines.  Together, Denton’s rich, savory dishes fully brought out the expression of ArborBrooks’s wines, carefully balancing the fruit character, acids, richness and texture.

ArborBrook Vineyards wines are currently served at Metrovino.

Metrovino owner Todd Steele (seated), Chef de Cuisine
Gabrielle Quinonez Denton, Executive Chef Gregory Denton
and ArborBrooks Vineyards Proprietor Dave Hansen

The Making of “Me and My Big Fire”


One of my favorite things about consulting is that I get the distinct pleasure to work with some amazing wineries and wine industry people to collaborate on really smart, fun marketing campaigns.   My business tagline is “helping wine businesses tell their unique stories.”  I’m a writer, after all, and there’s nothing more gratifying than working with a client to help them successfully broadcast their stories through visual and written media, and come to see impactful results.

If I have learned anything about wine marketing and communications over the past couple of years is that, one, not only do new concepts like social media come on like a sudden and powerful storm, but, two, if you don’t pay attention, you’re going to fall quickly behind the times of what people are doing with those concepts.  You have to keep up.

Today, it’s no longer enough to have just a Facebook page for your business.  How you use your social media to engage and keep consumers interested is what will make your social media efforts hugely successful or just a waste of your time.

I have also learned that timing is everything. 

This fall, while I was working harvest, I happened to meet a kind-faced fellow who was stopping by wineries in the region to introduce himself and a brilliant high-tech concept he was developing.   He was working with scan code technology for mobile page marketing.  I took his card and immediately saw all of the possibilities in building smart marketing campaigns around this technology.

By the end of the year, I had a series of creative brainstorming meetings with Maria Stuart and Trish Rogers of R. Stuart & Co. , makers of the Big Fire wines.  They had all kind of great ideas and concepts that they wanted to cultivate, but, like many wineries, they didn’t have the time and resources to put these ideas into action.  I helped them whittle down their options to one great campaign concept – Me and My Big Fire.

Part of what makes Big Fire wines so special is the incredible community built around the shared enjoyment of these high-quality, accessible wines, and, also, the spirit behind the name.   Maria showed me photos that people had sent her or posted on the R. Stuart & Co. Facebook page to proudly show what they were doing with their Big Fire wine.  It was as if Big Fire had been personified into a best friend.  “Me and my Big Fire are going to a clam bake.”  “Me and my Big Fire just celebrated another birthday.”   And, Trish also shared her experience one night when she came home from work, tired after a long day, and sat back in her favorite cozy chair – she said, “it was just me and my Big Fire.”

The Me and My Big Fire campaign was born – a photo and video contest giving customers the forum to share, win prizes and encourage others to chime in.  I then called up that fellow with the scan codes and set up a meeting, and soon the Me and My Big Fire campaign evolved with the integration of a QR code that would launch to a video on a mobile site.

A video concept was needed to launch the campaign.  I came up with a visual of Big Fire at a bonfire over coffee.  From that, I thought of a bonfire on the Oregon coast – the perfect setting for the video.  We all know that humor is what drives video to go viral.  So, on my laptop, and under the influence of just enough caffeine, I pulled up the opening scene of Chariots of Fire, and our video concept was born.

Click above to view the ‘Chariots of Big Fire’ video

A lot of love and hard work went into the following weeks where, in a very short amount of time, we had an official script and a filmmaker signed on to make the video – Ben Garvey, of Ben Garvey Productions, a friend I met a couple of vintages ago when we both worked harvest at Anne Amie Vineyards.  We invited some very talented friends to join us in the coastal town of Seaside, Oregon on a Sunday in January, and, in near perfect weather conditions, we shot our video in just one day, thanks to Ben.

We had R. Stuart & Co.’s unique scan code printed on a whimsical sticker, which will first grace the upcoming release of Big Fire Pinot Gris, available in March, and later the Big Fire Pinot Noir, which will get bottled this spring and released in June. 

Customers can download free scan code reading applications on smartphones to scan the code on the bottle, which goes to a special mobile page with the Chariots of Big Fire video, along with links to the R. Stuart & Co. website and Facebook page, where they can send their mobile photos and videos to enter the contest.

The contest is not limited to mobile phone users.  Customers can access the rules and post their entries online via R. Stuart & Co.’s website,, and Facebook page,

The contest officially opens on Friday, February 18th, following the screening party of the Chariots of Big Fire video at the R. Stuart & Co. Wine Bar (McMinnville), and runs through December 31, 2011.

Winners will be chosen weekly and will receive a Me and My Big Fire prize along with a badge to post on their own Facebook page and one on their winning photo or video on the R. Stuart & Co. website and Facebook page.  It’s all about bragging rights!

For contest guidelines, rules and online entry forms, and to view the Chariots of Big Fire video, please visit

For more information on how to build a social media and mobile marketing campaign using video production and scan code technology, please contact me for a consultation.

O Mio Babbino Caro

Banner from the opera Gianni Schicchi

One of my favorite movies of my girlhood was A Room with a View, a beautifully produced Merchant-Ivory film based on the classic by E.M Forrester, one of my favorite authors.

Being a romantic girl, I loved the gorgeous cinematography of Florence and the Italian countryside.  The most romantic kiss in film history, as far as I’m concerned, is passionately and aesthetically presented in this film.

Julian Sands as George Emerson and Helena
Bonham Carter as Lucy Honeychurch

What also struck me was the opening credits that included an ephemeral, graceful opera song, which is one of Puccini’s sweetest arias, O Mio Babbino Caro

Clip from the Merchant-Ivory film A Room with a View

I remembered hearing that song in our kitchen – as my Italian grandmother used to love to play opera records when she’d visit, just as the preparation of a meal would commence.  Usually my mother would play the likes of Mario Lanza, Sergio Franchi, the Great Caruso, and, most especially, Luciano Pavarotti.  Later, when my mother added a compact disk player to her kitchen, we developed a vast collection of opera CDs, many of which were compilations.  I loved it whenever O Mio Babbino Caro came on.  I soon began to sing along.  When my grandmother would praise my performance, I felt like I was on to something.  It made her happy when I sang opera.  So, it made me happy.

My grandmother has since passed on, but, I still get very sentimental about that song.  And, it still makes me really happy when I sing it.

As it came to be, O Mio Babbino Caro has a certain travel history with me.  I have belted out that very song on a number of occasions walking at night under the stars in different cities around the world.  And, often under the influence of some very good wines.

I have “performed” O Mio Babbino Caro in the following places: 

  • In the kitchen at my parents house in Fairfax, Virginia
  • On campus at Sweet Briar College
  • On campus at Hampden-Sydney College, after midnight
  • In the streets of Washington, DC after midnight
  • In the streets of Atlanta, GA after midnight
  • On the walking bridge in Chattanooga, TN under the stars
  • In the streets of New York City at 2:30 a.m.
  • In the streets of Boston at midnight
  • In the streets of Roma, Italia at midnight
  • In the streets of Paris, France at midnight
  • In the streets of San Francisco at 2:00 a.m.
  • In the streets of L. A. (Sunset Blvd – I think), at 2:00 a.m.
  • On the boardwalk in South Beach, Miami just after midnight
  • On a cruise ship, on the deck looking at the stars somewhere in the middle of the Caribbean
  • In the streets of Seattle, WA  just after midnight
  • In the streets of Portland, OR just after midnight
  • In the streets of Ashland, OR
  • On the gondola coming down the mountain restaurant in Telluride, CO (after dinner, stars were out)
  • At the Painted Lady in McMinnville, OR (the restaurant was empty – we were the last guests!)

I think I should start video documenting my travelling performances.  It’s like a travelling gnome thing for me – where’s Leah going to sing O Mio Babbino Caro next?

The song originates from Giacomo Puccini’s comedic opera, Gianni Schicchi, based on an incident mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and was first performed at New York’s Metropolitan Opera on December 14, 1918.

The work is the third and final part of Puccini’s Il trittico—three one-act operas with contrasting themes, written to be presented together. Although it continues to be performed with one or both of the other trittico operas, Gianni Schicchi is now more frequently staged either alone or with short operas by other composers.

O Mio Babbino Caro Italian Lyrics
O mio babbino caro,
mi piace, è bello bello,
vo’andare in Porta Rossa
a comperar l’anello!
Si, si, ci voglio andare!
E se l’amassi indarno,
andrei sul Ponte Vecchio
ma per buttarmi in Arno!
Mi struggo e mi tormento,
O Dio! Vorrei morir!
Babbo, pietà, pietà!
Babbo, pietà, pietà!

O Mio Bambino Caro English Translation
Oh my dear father,
I like him, he is very handsome.
I want to go to Porta Rossa
to buy the ring!
Yes, yes, I want to go there!
And if my love were in vain,
I would go to Ponte Vecchio
and throw myself in the Arno!
I am pining and I am tormented,
Oh God! I would want to die!
Daddy, have mercy, have mercy!
Daddy, have mercy, have mercy!

The song has been made internationally famous by opera and pop-opera singers including Maria Callas, Rene Fleming, and Sarah Brightman.