Vinavanti Urban Winery Brings Locally Sourced, Craft Wine to San Diego

Vinavanti Urban Winery, San Diego

In a San Diego market overflowing with craft breweries, craft wine could be considered the black sheep (or bottle) of the bunch. Until you try it, that is. Then you just might become a dedicated convert like we are at Slow Food Urban San Diego.

What is craft wine anyway?

According to Eric Van Drunen, winemaker and owner of Vinavanti Urban Winery, “Craft wine is the punk music of the wine world.”

Most makers today have their wines down to a science, adding yeast, sulfites and other flavors to fit a specific “classical” or “pop” flavor profile. Van Drunen, however, takes a truly minimalist approach to winemaking where he adds nothing more than San Diego County grown grapes (they have a great map in the tasting room that shows all the local farms they source from!) and lets nature do its thing. Unique and surprising wines with subtle flavors representative of the grapes and farms where they are grown are the result.

Vinavanti Urban Winery, San Diego

Van Drunen’s Vinavanti label and tasting room evolved out of many hours drinking wine and eating good food with friends. He started buying and blending wines in 2007 to develop flavors that paired well with food and that he could sell at an accessible price. In 2010 he made his own wine for the first time using conventional methods. It turned out so-so. Bored of the limited flavor profiles of traditional wines, in 2011 he made his first natural wine and hasn’t looked back. From there, he continued to refine his process, focusing on doing as little as possible (or nothing at all) beyond sourcing local, organically grown grapes and letting nature and wild yeast do the work in the fermentation process. He bottles his wines unfiltered, highlighting the terroir through distinct colors, textures, and tastes.

Now, five years later, Vinavanti has more than 11 wines on their always evolving tasting menu, ranging from a sparkling Ladona Muscat grown in Pauma Valley that tastes something like a cross between a sour beer and kombucha to their most popular GSM, a rich and smoky blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre grown in Temecula Valley.

So what can you expect when stopping by the only certified organic winery in San Diego?

“We aim to create an environment where you can enjoy a unique tasting experience in an inviting space,” say Van Drunen.

Van Drunen himself is often pouring glasses at the bar and loves to chat about natural winemaking, his background in physics and many topics in between. Community tables make for great social gathering spaces, and romantic two-tops are perfect for quieter date nights. 

Vinavanti is located at 1477 University Ave in Hillcrest, and as Slow Food Urban San Diego’s newest Member Benefits Partner, they offer a 10% discount on wines to card-carrying Slow Food members. Be sure to check them out for weekly specials and events including cellar tours (they ferment most of their wines right in the urban winery) and movie nights, and ask them about their membership program and wines on tap.

Vinavanti Urban Winery, San Diego

How the New Pacific to Plate Bill is Bringing Good, Clean and Fair Fish to San Diegans

Pacific to Plate Bill San Diego

By Kathryn Rogers and Sarah Shoffler, Slow Food Urban San Diego Board Members

Slow Food Urban San Diego (SFUSD) joined the San Diego Food System Alliance (SDFSA), local fishermen, scientists, government leaders and community partners this week in celebration of local fisheries.

On December 7, 2015, more than 100 fish-loving friends gathered together at the waterfront Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego for inspiring speeches, a lively panel discussion and delicious local seafood served in honor of the recent passage of the “Pacific to Plate” bill AB226. The new bill, sponsored by Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and signed into law in October by Governor Jerry Brown, allows fishermen’s markets to operate as food facilities, vendors to clean their fish for direct sale, and multiple fishermen to organize a market under a single permit. Put simply, the bill makes it easier for fishermen to sell directly to the public, much like farmers can.

Chef Graham Kent, of SoCal Fish, and his staff prep uni shooters for attendees to try

Chef Graham Kent, of SoCal Fish, and his staff prep uni shooters for attendees to try

The process to develop the bill sprung from the early success of Tuna Harbor Dockside Market (THDM), which opened to the public in August 2014 and averaged more than 350 customers and 1.1 tons of seafood sold each week in its first months of operation. Recognizing the potential of a longer-term, direct-to-consumer market (the original operated under a temporary permit), County Supervisor Greg Cox, the County’s Department of Environmental Health, Port Commissioner Bob Nelson, the Unified Port of San Diego, California Sea Grant, NOAA, California Restaurant Association, The Maritime Alliance, California Coastal Conservancy, the local media, fishermen, researchers and supporters collaborated to draft a bill that met the desires of local fishermen and consumers. It received unanimous support in the California Assembly and Senate.

How does the new bill align with Slow Food’s mission of Good, Clean and Fair Food for All?

Good: The bill makes it easier for local fishermen to sell directly to consumers, and eliminates added transit time and processing/freezing compared to seafood imported from other countries or regions. The fish sold at THDM is caught by San Diego fishermen in local waters, most of it coming out of our oceans no more than a couple of days before it ends up in consumers’ kitchens. If you’ve ever tasted fresh caught sea urchin (a San Diego local favorite), you can tell the difference – big time. If you haven’t, get yourself down to THDM for an uni scramble or shooter. Your taste buds may never be the same.

Clean: Local sourcing means a smaller carbon footprint – no added fuel costs for fish flown or trucked to our markets from other states and countries. And US fisheries are among the most stringently regulated the world, meaning that if there’s a problem – either we’re fishing them too fast, there are too few or we’re catching protected species, we are mandated to do something about it. Our fishermen are required to stop fishing, slow fishing, or change fishing practices in some way to ensure we’re fishing sustainably.

Fair: One of the greatest benefits of a true fishermen’s market is that it promotes collaboration among local fishermen. Take it from fisherman Pete Halmay, a member of the Fishermen’s Market Working Group and longtime sea urchin diver:

“One of the best things I’ve seen with this direct market is that every Saturday 10 to 12 fishermen sit down together, work together, to maximize the benefits to the population. They are bringing in a wider variety of fish so each fisherman can generate more sales and bring more diverse options to consumers.”

San Diego’s seafood is wide-ranging indeed. We don’t have just tuna and shrimp (two of the most commonly eaten seafood products in the US) in our waters. Our harbors and oceans are full of rockfish (dozens of species!), crab, lobster and snails, among other smaller fish like sardines, sand dabs, and mackerel.

Manchester Grand Hyatt Executive Chef Sutti Sripolpa and Scripps Mercy Chef Cindy Quinonez admire the wide variety of rockfish available at Tuna Harbor Dockside Market

Manchester Grand Hyatt Executive Chef Sutti Sripolpa and Scripps Mercy Chef Cindy Quinonez admire the wide variety of rockfish available at Tuna Harbor Dockside Market

For All: The direct-to-consumer market allows fishermen to run specials when they catch a big run of fish, passing the abundance onto consumers in the form of lower prices.

The passage of the Pacific to Plate bill is a major milestone in bringing good, clean and fair seafood to all San Diegans. So what’s next?

During Monday’s event, Dr. Theresa Sinicrope Talley, Coastal Specialist for the California Sea Grant Extension at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego moderated an expert panel that raised some important questions about where we can go from here to create an even more sustainable seafood system. Barriers to getting seafood from dock to dish still remain, including:

  1. Lack of infrastructure for San Diego fishermen to offload their catch at local docks.
  2. Logistical constraints including limited market hours (currently Tuna Harbor Dockside Market is only open Saturdays from 8 a.m. until around 1 p.m.) that make it hard from some consumers and chefs to get there.
  3. Limited awareness among locals and visitors that the market exists, where else they can buy local seafood, and how they can prepare the less well known seafood produced locally.

Stay tuned for local efforts to address these issues. In the meantime, SFUSD is seeking local chefs and community partners interested in collaborating on these efforts. Contact us to learn more.

And, be sure to pay a visit to THDM to see these fish tales come to life. While you’re there, make sure to ask your local fishermen for their favorite seafood preparations!

Tuna Harbor Dockside Market

Local Habit’s Chef Jimmy Tessier Sweetens Up This Month’s Honey-Themed Slow Sips

Local Habit

Our host for this month’s Slow Sips networking event featuring honeybee experts plus mead and honey tastings from San Diego-based producers is Local Habit: a vibrant Cali-Creole restaurant in San Diego’s lively urban community of Hillcrest. Local Habit specializes in local ingredients, craft beer and New Orleans-inspired cocktails. Local Habit recently welcomed a new executive chef, Emeril protégée Jimmy Tessier, who brings 25 years of experience to each plate he serves. Chef Jimmy is excited to use his fusion style of blending unique flavors to bring new and imaginative dishes to Local Habit.

Local Habit Chef Jimmy Tessier

Native to Fall River, Massachusetts and a 1995 graduate of Johnson & Wales University, Tessier has a long history of working across the country with some of the top chefs in the industry. In 1994, Tessier was taken under the wing of famed celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse. He worked with Emeril in Las Vegas to open two of his hotspot restaurants, Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House and Delmonico Steakhouse. During his 18 years in Las Vegas, Tessier honed his skills in a variety of different cuisines including French, Mediterranean and Italian.

Having worked with numerous high profile chefs including Chef Carla Pellegrino of Top Chef fame and Chef Sammy DeMarco of Travel Channel’s “Chow Masters,” Tessier brings an accumulation of learned talent from the best mentors in the business. This talent paired with his gritty and ambitious energy earned him a spot on Food Network’s hit show Chopped in 2012.

Tessier decided to make San Diego his home in 2014 when he helped open Union Kitchen and Tap as Executive Sous Chef. Now with feet planted at Local Habit, Tessier is excited to showcase his wealth of knowledge of different cuisines.

“I want guests to know that Local Habit isn’t just about gumbo,” said Tessier. “Because I was trained by such a variety of chefs, I am not pigeonholed into one type of food. I love putting spins on classic New Orleans-style plates.”

Tessier is excited to host this month’s honey-themed Slow Sips event at Local Habit, especially because of his love of using honey as an ingredient.

“Honey is amazing to cook with because it’s in its purest form and you can create the guiltiest pleasures,” said Tessier.

Tessier will be serving Honey Mustard Lamb Chops with Truffled Cauliflower Puree along with Smoked Honey Bread Pudding with Candied Walnuts and Ginger Honey Ice Cream for the honey-themed Slow Sips event.

Want to use honey in your cooking at home? Here’s the recipe for Chef Tessier’s Honey Mustard Lamb Chops:

Local Habit Honey Mustard Lamb Chops Recipe