Wine and Mushroooms

Wine and Mushrooms: Going Wild
Wine Notes by Heidi Cusick Dickerson


As is true in other places of the world where wine and food grow together, Mendocino’s wine goes really well with local ingredients. That affinity includes wild mushrooms, something that the early Italian immigrants figured out pretty quickly.
“When I was six or seven years old, I went with my father to pick wild mushrooms all through the season,” says Charlie Barra, who at 83 is Mendocino’s dean of grape growing. “All the Italians around Calpella and Redwood Valley had their favorite (and secret) mushroom spots.”
Barra likes Pinot Noir with the first of the season “boleta” which is also known as porcini in Italy and gamboni only on the Mendocino coast. Gamboni is Italian for “big leg” and refers to the fat stem on the sponged mushroom scientifically named “boletus.” Barra says Pinot is a perfect complement with thick slices of boleta coated with pureed garlic, parsley and olive oil and roasted until the edges are crispy. One of his favorite winter meals is venison and wild mushroom stew with a full-bodied older vintage Petite Sirah.
Denny Lopiano, chef-owner at the North Fork Café in Covelo, is another avid mushroomer. I stopped by his restaurant last week and he was making cream of chanterelle soup with some of the dozens of golden chanterelles he had just foraged. A Ukiah wine distributor was also in the kitchen sharing samples as Lopiano stirred a flour roux to thicken the soup.
As we tasted we agreed that the rich mouthful of creamy soup loaded with chopped golden chanterelles was complemented by the mellow crispness of a Mendocino Pinot Grigio (also known as Pinot Gris) Lopiano serves by the glass in his restaurant.
Since Mendocino County is home to a myriad of wild mushrooms as well as dozens of grape varietals it was only natural that the Mendocino Wine & Mushroom Fest was created. It pays homage to the tradition of living close to the land while celebrating our wild as well as our cultivated bounty. The tenth annual ten-day Mendocino Wine & Mushroom Fest takes place throughout the county from November 5 through November 14. It’s grown to be one of the six top food festivals in the United States according to O, the Oprah Magazine.
A beautiful brochure detailing all the Mendocino Wine and Mushroom Fest dinners, wine pairings, guided walks, art shows, educational exhibits, musical events, discounted lodging rates and more is available at Visit Mendocino in Ukiah and Fort Bragg as well as at tasting rooms, chambers of commerce, stores and restaurants around the county.
One event that has it all is the Wine and Mushroom Train on Saturday, November 6. This fundraiser for the new hospital in Willits is sponsored by the Howard Hospital Foundation which is partnering with the Mendocino Winegrape and Wine Commission and local chefs. This food, wine and activity filled extravaganza begins with coffee and pastries by Kemmy’s Catering and Pies in Willits and Laurel Street Deli in Ft. Bragg at 10 am at the Skunk Train Depots in both Willits and Fort Bragg
After a scenic ride through the redwoods, everyone on board will step into the winter wonderland at Camp Mendocino with its spacious grounds, dining hall with stone fireplace and an afternoon of activities.
Local restaurants, caterers and a service club including Mendo Bistro, Adam Celya, Kilkenny’s Kitchen, Raven’s at the Stanford Inn and the Willits Rotary Club will prepare and serve dishes to go with Mendocino wines. And they will compete in a mushroom dish cookoff for the people’s choice as well as professionally judged awards. I am thrilled to be one of the judges.
Participating wineries include Barra of Mendocino, Chance Creek, Cesar Toxqui, Handley Cellars, Lula Cellars, Parducci Cellars and Weibel Family Vineyard.
An optional guided mushroom walk will be led by horticulturist Larry Desmond and botanist Marisela De Santa Ana. A featured highlight of the day is the dazzling display of wild mushrooms and talk by Eric Schramm of Mendocino Mushrooms. He ships wild mushrooms from Mendocino to restaurants and vendors throughout the world.
Which brings me to a caveat about all those gorgeous mushrooms that are sprouting in the forests as I write this. “I’ve been picking wild mushrooms for 78 years,” says Barra, continuing, “I always tell two things to people who want to go foraging--all mushrooms are edible…..at least once! There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.”
While only five or six of the several thousand species of fungi are deadly, many wild mushrooms can make you sick. Some that resemble edible ones are very toxic and some wild mushrooms can kill you. Only pick mushrooms to eat if you are with a trained wild mushroom expert. Otherwise stick to farmers’ and other food markets which offer wild chanterelles, porcini, hedgehogs, oysters and black trumpets in season. In addition to strictly wild mushrooms, some mushrooms like shiitake, oyster, and portobello (an overgrown button mushroom) are cultivated from spores and found in produce sections year-round.
If you are so fortunate as to have some wild mushrooms to cook Lopiano’s advice is to cook them for at least 20 minutes. It makes them more digestible and concentrates their incredible flavors.
As someone who helped create this festival I look forward to the smorgasbord of opportunities the 2010 Mendocino Wine and Mushroom Fest offers, whether to a seasoned mushroomer, someone who wants to learn more about mushrooms and wine, or an enthusiast for all things local.

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