Spend some time in Dry Creek Valley

A few nights ago, I went out for After Hours at the Ravenous Restaurant here in Healdsburg. That is, I went just to hang out and get a bit of conversation and meet some interesting people before I turned in myself. Ravenous is a local restaurant in an old house on Center Street. The entire backyard is the backyard patio and bar. It’s a pretty cool atmosphere. I like showing up later–you meet more locals (everybody who’s getting off of their shifts from somewhere else).

I ended up talking to two out-of-town gentlemen who’d met one another at law school in London, England. One was living in Hong Kong now, the other–still in London. They were both here on holiday getting a bit of the California sun.

You couldn’t ask for a better outdoor evening than that night. It was warm enough to sit outside in sleeveless tops. (And I know you’re thinking: “Well it is California after all!”), but we often get fog here late at night, and it cools everything off and adds some humidity to the air–so bare arms are often chilly late at night. But, that night was a perfectly warm summer evening.

I said hello to KC Mosso, the bartender, and talked to him about sending me the listings for his events he books over there. And once I’m seated at the bar, I turned around and started talking to these two gentlemen.

They’d made it to Healdsburg after a few days in San Francisco. They were a bit tired, but they did ask where I could recommend they should go visit the next day. I asked KC for a piece of paper and a pen. He handed me an extra menu from behind the bar and took a pen from his pocket. Thanks KC!

They were only planning half a day or so in the area before they headed over to Carneros. I gave them a full day itinerary–just in case. There really is a lot to see here and it’s better to enjoy an entire day than just rush in and out. Anyway, I thought I would write up the route I gave them and post it here. It’s pretty useful information if you don’t really have much time to spend in the area and it’s got a bit of variety.


Start early. It’s important to have breakfast. There’s a number of places you can have breakfast in town, it all depends on what you’d like to eat. If you’re on a time line, like these guys were, you probably want to grab a breakfast sandwich (or something). I know that the Costeaux Bakery Cafe and the Palette-Art Cafe both offer breakfast sandwiches. You can usually just ask for a recommendation at the counter. The servers really do know best.

Take your breakfast to go and head on up to Lake Sonoma. Lake Sonoma’s about 20 minutes from the town of Healdsburg (at the top end of Dry Creek Road) and you don’t want your breakfast to get cold.

Find the lookout and enjoy your breakfast in the fresh air. Depending on how much time you have, you can hike around up there or just take goofy pictures of you and your friends.


On the way back down, you can visit any winery that’s open along the way. Here’s a link to an interactive map. But, there are a few I like to note from my own preference and experiences. My friend Shana Ray, who helped promote the Day-in-the-Life event last month and also contributes articles to this magazine works at Kokomo on Fridays. You could always stop in and say hello to her. If you twitter, let her know you are coming: @ShaRayRay.

One day this winter, I had the fortune to try Papapietro Perry’s 2005 Pinot Noir and it made and impression on me. I don’t know much about wine, but I do know what I like. And I liked their 2005 Pinot enough for me to recommend trying their other tastings.

There are a few other wineries clustered in and about Kokomo and Papapietro Perry: Amphora, Collier Falls, Forth, and Peterson. I’ve never tried any of these wines (but I’m sure I will–eventually). You could always try them and comment below. That would be great.

A bit further south and across the road from this cluster is a vineyard and tasting room called UNTI. They weren’t even on my radar until one day I started talking to Mick Unti himself (at an After Hours at the Ravenous). He was full of opinions about life, the universe, and everything. And it’s just refreshing to meet somebody local who has a few interesting things to say.

Also, I like the back label on the 2006 UNTI rose. It’s not listed on their website, so I guess you can’t get it anymore, but it was a story–about rose. I like stories. I like to connect with people over stories. That’s just the way I am. Actually, I like the rose too. So there. I guess I tried the 2007 though. It’s refreshing on a hot summer afternoon. Mick is going to admonish me for publishing all this, if he ever finds out. But–whatever, what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. You can just go in and try the wines yourself and see if you like them. That’s the best way.


You’ll probably be hungry so stop for lunch out at the Dry Creek General Store (at the turn off for Lambert Bridge Road). Since Dry Creek Road and the Skaggs Springs Road are two of the most popular roads in the county for motorcycling, you’ll often see a gaggle of bikers stopped there too. Or–a gaggle of cyclists. And–most probably, a gaggle of other wine tasters. Stop and compare notes. It’s all about you experience. After lunch you can head across Lambert Bridge Road to West Dry Creek.

It’s probably best if you go on up to the north end of the road. You can wind your way back through any of the wineries. Everybody has an experience. Everybody has an opinion. You decide which ones you like.

Although, if you are out in Dry Creek, and it is a Friday afternoon, stop by Michel Schlumberger Winery or or Wilson Winery. They have a series of live music on Fridays. On Sunday afternoons, C. Donatiello Winery has music too. It’s nice just to hang out in the gardens and enjoy the afternoon. (Check the What’s Happening Healdsburg calendar for more details).

When you finally make your way back into Healdsburg and ask a local where they’d recommend you for dinner. AND don’t forget to ask what they like on the menu. There is a reason we live here. And we know what we like. And we’re definitely full of opinions!

Mateo Granados: Fresh, Local, Fabulous

I hear about Mateo Granados from a few people before I actually get to talk to him myself. David and Ondine mention him when they find out I’m looking for interesting perspectives. And I crosscheck the reference with Julie, my winemaker-foodie friend. She nods her head. Yes. Definitely.

And when I’m talking to Evie at the Tierra Vegetables Farm Stand, she says: “Oh. You HAVE to talk to Mateo.” And she calls him right there and leaves a message with my phone number.

Mateo calls me the next day. I’m driving home and don’t really get a chance to explain myself, but we agree to meet the following Wednesday, at 9:00 am at the Palette Art Café.

I arrive early to sort myself out before he arrives. He rushes in a few minutes late, dripping and sheepish. He’s been at his kitchen making tamales since 6:00 am. He wanted to shower and clean up before he met me. We order coffee and sit down to chat.

He’s animated. He’s not only explaining himself with words. He uses his face, his hands. He gestures. He just starts explaining.

“What I’m doing,” he says, “Is reproducing the food I grew up eating—but with the bounty of Sonoma County growers.” He smiles and nods his head, “Modern Yucatan Cuisine.”

He explains a bit about the Nuevo Latino cuisine movement and states: “But we’re taking it further. We’re making it regional: Flavors of the Yucatan—with Sonoma County flair.”

“I grew up in the breadbasket of Mexico. My father was a butcher and my mother—an artist. This is what I know. This is what I love. This”—he motions to the table in front of us as if there were a grandiose spread right there, “This is just what I do.”

I ask him to explain more of his past. How did he come to Sonoma County? Believe it or not, he came to the US as a professional soccer player. It wasn’t long though, before he injured himself too much to continue to play. “My housemate at the time was Michael Bonaccorsi. We would spend all of our time together tasting. Tasting food. Tasting wine. And expressing ourselves. That is how I learned English: talking about food and wine with Michael Bonaccorsi.”

Michael went on to become one of the first twenty master sommeliers in the United States. Mateo went on to work his way up through some of the Bay Area’s top restaurants and is now a pedigree chef. He’s held positions such as Executive Sous Chef at Masa’s in San Francisco and Executive chef at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen here in Healdsburg.


Now, Mateo’s goal is to start his own fine dining experience. He aims to bring his refined Mayan recipes to the same level as respected French, Italian, and Spanish cuisine.

He started small. In fact, he went back to square one. In 2004 he started selling his handmade tamales in the Farmer’s Markets all over Sonoma County. His philosophy: “Grow local. Know local. Buy local.”

His commitment to his customers is 100% locally grown and produced. He buys his ingredients from over 30 growers in Sonoma County. “If you love what you do, you have to do it right.” He’s a passionate proponent of not only knowing where his food comes from, but knowing the grower and how it was grown. The Local Harvest website defines community supported agriculture as “putting the farmers’ face on food.”

Mateo certainly puts a face on every ingredient he uses. He describes every dish with a list of identities. It wasn’t just queso fresco. It was Bodega Bay Queso Fresco. Black Sheep bacon. Pug’s Leap Goat Cheese. Black Beans from Tierra Vegetables. And so many more. I couldn’t keep track.

“You can’t beat it. The flavors. The smells. The textures. I get vegetables from Tierra—there’s still earth on them. And roots!” He cups his hands as if he’s holding a bulb of garlic or something and brings them towards his face. I can tell he can smell the earth.

The idea of fresh, local produce is to keep it alive until you use it to cook. He tells me: “Enjoy it while you can. Because the fresher it is, the more alive it is on your plate. The more flavor explodes in your mouth.”

Another part of Mateo’s philosophy is: Respect. Respect the land. Respect the food. Respect the growers. Respect the producers. He knows how much energy, time, and labor it takes to grow a tomato, an onion, a carrot, a pig. Because he knows his suppliers, he doesn’t waste. He creates his signature dishes around what’s available in the season and finds a use for everything. Everything. He doesn’t waste anything because he doesn’t want anything to go to waste. He’s very aware of what he’s throwing away.

He tells me all of this and I take notes. Finally, he takes a moment to sip his coffee and looks at me expectantly: “Do you have any questions?”

“Well,” I say thoughtfully, “Is it possible to have an experience?” He looks at me and thinks for a second and says: “Ok. You want an experience? Let’s go to my kitchen.”


We drive to the kitchen where he prepares his tamales. As we get out of his car, he points to two big trucks and adds with a grin: “Those. Those are complete mobile kitchens. I am so committed to local ingredients and the idea of fresh. I bring everything to your site and prepare it right there.”

Mateo Granados : Flavors of the Yucatan : Local Food : Healdsburg Magazine

He shows me around the kitchen and introduces me to his workers who are preparing tamales for his Farmer’s Markets. He makes me taste some of his garnishes: olives from Lou Preston, beets and cabbage cured with bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, and cloves.

I realize what he means by keeping the produce alive until it’s on your plate (or in this case—in my mouth). (A few weeks later as I’m writing this article and thinking about his cured beets and cabbage, I’m still salivating from the memory).

“OK,” he pulls a cast iron fry pan from the cupboard, “Let’s make a quesadilla.” He asks his helper to clean some cactus.

“Come over here,” he motions and makes me smell the olive oil. “Can you beat that?” He pours a dollop to the fry pan and turns up the heat. He adds the cactus pads for a few seconds on each side then removes them to a cutting board. Then, he goes into the other room to get out his knives and comes back sharpening one: “To make good food, you have to have good knives.” He’s cheeky.

He slices some onion and crystallizes it in the pan. Then dices the cactus pads, slices a bit of Pug’s Leap Cambremer goat cheese, and layers it all together on a soft tortilla. All of which, he now puts it back in the fry pan, fast. Both sides. Just enough to grill the tortilla and soften the cheese.

He whisks it out onto a cutting board, quarters the quesadilla and decorates the top with tomatilla salsa and his cured cabbage condiments. He tops it all off with a handful of sliced green onion. All the while, he’s lecturing about not wasting anything in his kitchen.

How can you beat that? 10 minutes or less. Fresh. Fast. Fabulous.

He smiles:“Pair it with a crisp Rose and you have yourself a succulent, fine-dining, regional experience.”


Mateo Granados Catering Flickr photo stream for this article
Interested in attending a Missing Link diner?

PS: You can taste more than his tamales at the Healdsburg Farmer’s Markets on Tuesdays and Saturdays. You can also find a Mateo Granados menu at the Santa Rosa Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and in Sebastopol on Sundays.

Dan the Tomato Man: Soda Rock Farm

Dan Magnuson : Soda Rock Tomatoes: Healdsburg, CAAfter I interviewed Mateo Granados last June, I always stop by his tamale stand at the Farmer’s Market to say hello. He’s always happy and chatty and talking to someone or another. One day, I was just hanging out and Dan Magnuson of Soda Rock Farm comes over to drop off a few boxes of his tomatoes. Mateo immediately says to me: “Here’s one guy you have to talk to. His tomatoes, mmmmuah… ” He kisses his fingers and releases them into the air, in a typical chef-sort-of-way. And he introduces us.

I talk to Dan a bit, and talk to him a few times before we actually make a time to meet. But we meet one morning at the Costeaux Bakery Cafe. He sits down and says: “So. What do you want to talk about?”

I’m prepared: “Tomatoes”, I say.

He smiles: “Well. That’s a pretty big subject.”

I narrow it down: “Your tomatoes? Tell me about your tomatoes.”

That doesn’t do much good. I guess it’s just too big of topic. I ask him some more rhetorical questions.

“When did you start growing tomaotes?” and “Why tomaotes?”

He says he started growing tomatoes about 10 years ago out on his property in Alexander Valley. He’d taken a class at the Santa Rosa Junior college in agriculture. He just liked tomatoes. And I also find out he’s a tennis pro. During the winter months, he teaches tennis athletes at the Charlie Schultz indoor tennis courts.

Tennis and tomatoes. That’s our man. He’s an expert at both.

He started out with an acre out on Alexander Valley and about 3000 plants. He now farms both his property and four to five acres in Dry Creek Valley. Today’s stats are approximately 20,000 tomato plants, 15,000 basil plants, and 1000 lemon cucumber plants.

Soda Rock Tomatoes : Ready for market

I ask him how many tomatoes does 20,000 tomato plants produce (I was looking for tonnage or something–I don’t know how you measure tomatoes). He blinked and looked back at me: “A lot.”

He grows between 35 and 40 different varietals, but his mainstay is red beefsteak.

“Do you have any secrets to growing tomatoes.? His eyes are smiling as he tells me — “Trial and error.” He’s been doing it for 10 years, he just figured out what worked and what didn’t. He knows that’s not what I asked and follows up by saying: “Would you give your secrets away?” But he does explain a bit further.

“I grow in Dry Creek Valley. What’s good for the grapes is good for my tomatoes.” Which turns out to be sandy loam soil and sunlight. He also tells me it’s important to plant at the right time, and pick at the right time (which I guess isn’t really anything new.) He plants in April and May (depending on the weather) and the harvest is ready by mid-July through October.

He tells me about staking the plants so they grow up-not out. He tells me about watering them until they’re ripe, then stopping the water before the skins split. He tells me about figuring out how to do things right and making those things repeatable year after year.

He also says that he only grows the tomato varietals he likes. He tried others once, but the fruit could tell he didn’t really like that variety. His customers could tell he didn’t really like that variety–so he just decided he’d never do that again.

I ask him if there is such a thing as a tomato competition. He laughs and said certainly. One year he won awards in five categories from the Kendall Jackson Tomato Festival: aroma, all other colors, orange & yellow, red, and cherry.

He started by selling his tomatoes to high-end restaurants. Bistro Ralph here in Healdsburg was his first. Over the years, Underwood Bar and Bistro and Willow Wood Market Cafe in Gratton sell his tomaotes, Syrah and Willi’s Wine Bar in Santa Rosa. His latest account is Cyrus Restaurant here in Healdsburg. He also does most Farmer’s Markets in the area. I’ll have to check specifically. His tomatoes are also in some produce markets. I noticed them in Big John’s the other day and out at the JimTown Store. And, he tells me later–the Pacific Market in Santa Rosa.

If you’d like to try his tomatoes in more of a social setting, Bovolo Restaurant featuring his tomatoes in one of their BIG NIGHT dinners on Sunday, 14 September 2008. Here’s the menu:

black pig bacon BLT PANZANELLA
rosemary rubbed PRIME RIB / tomatoes / white corn / fingerling potatoes / salsa verde,
TOMATO + WATERMELON SORBETTO / candied mint + basil / cornmeal shortbread

Let me know if you go. And let me know what you think about it. Minimally, let Dan know what you think of his tomatoes–leave a comment.

Tierra Vegetables Farm Stand

I emailed Evie of Tierra Vegetables a few weeks ago to ask if I could write a feature article on their Farm Stand. I wasn’t sure if she’d remember me–because I’d met her through a friend. But of course she remembers and sure I can write an article. She tells me a good time to catch her (or anybody at Tierra Vegetables) is on Tuesdays or Thursday mornings–when they’re packing up the CSA boxes. “It’s pretty hectic and you’d have to be patient but you could get some good pictures and info.” I wonder what the CSA boxes are, but believe I’ll find out soon enough.

I find the Farm Stand off Highway 101 at the Fulton/Airport Boulevard exit and arrive on Tuesday morning around 9h30. Evie’s not there yet so I introduce myself and have a look around to get myself oriented. I offer to help get things ready for the CSA boxes.

Lee sets me up with a few bushels of garlic. She’s very efficient: “I need one hundred bulbs that weigh 3.2 ounces each.” Roxie shows me how to clean them and weigh them.

I start preparing the bulbs of garlic. Roxie is preparing chard and lettuce for the boxes. We start to chat. We talk about what Tierra Vegetables is doing with the Farm Stand and the CSA boxes. She says: “Well, for example, we grow everything that we sell. Or almost everything. If we don’t grow it, we know who does.”

She points to the field behind the Farm Stand: “Those are the strawberries that we’re selling today. We pick what’s ready and sell them as soon as they come in from the field.” Then she motions to the tractor that’s appeared behind me. “Those are the carrots that are going in the CSA boxes.” I grab my camera and take an action shot.

Tierra Vegetables : Fresh Carrots!

As I’m trying to finish prepping the garlic, a van rolls up and somebody shouts, “It’s the group from Santa Rosa.” Then, there’s hustle and bustle everywhere because the arrival signals the start of everybody else arriving to pick up their boxes.

Tierra Vegetables grows, harvests, and preps the produce. But you actually have to assemble your own box when you come to pick it up. Also, you provide your own “box”. It can be a paper bag, a cloth bag, a basket–whatever you want it to be. As long as you reuse it every week. Two guys get out of the van and start their assembly line.

I wait until it gets organized before I ask a fellow: “Where are you from?”

“Winzler and Kelly,” he replies.

“What’s that?”

“An engineering firm in Santa Rosa.”

“How come you have so many bags?” There seems to be about twenty different bags they need to fill.

“Well,” he explains. “There’s a group of us at work. Every Tuesday, somebody different has pick-up duty. We come out and fill up everybody’s bag and bring it back to the office.”

They’re on a timeline and by now, more and more people are arriving to pick up their CSA boxes. I wander out to the front of the Farm Stand to get out of the way and see what’s going on there. Evie’s chatting to everybody as she rings them up–she knows everybody’s names.

It finally occurs to me to ask: “What does CSA stand for?” As it comes out of my mouth, I remember reading about it on their website: “Community Supported Agriculture”.


Tierra Vegetables : CSA Boxes

Evie explains that the idea of CSA is to connect the local community with local farmers. It’s about creating a relationship between the consumers of the food and the farmers growing the food and about knowing about how the food is grown.

I ask Evie, “How long have you been selling these boxes?

She thinks for a minute. “I think our CSA program started in 1992. We started with about 10 families. We’ve grown some every year and last year we topped around 200.”

A customer comes round front from assembly line out behind the Farm Stand. Evie introduces us, “Denise, meet Jennifer. She’s writing an article for a Healdsburg Magazine. Jennifer, why don’t you talk to Denise?”

I start talking to her. She’s been part of the Tierra Vegetables CSA program for over three years. “What do you like about it?” I ask.

“Well,” she ponders. “I really like that it’s fresh. I like that it’s fixed. I mean. I just arrive and my vegetables are already chosen for me.” She pauses, “I guess I like that I don’t really have to think about what I’m going to be eating this week. They’ve done it already.”

What do you mean? “, I prompt her to explain more.

“Not only is the produce grown and picked for me, Evie also emails recipes for what’s in the box that week. It just makes my life easier. And,” she perks up, “I never would have some of the vegetables if they hadn’t been in the box–like cactus!”

I nod my head. I know what she means. Having somebody else think about planning my meals every week would definitely make my life easier.

I ask Evie how to sign up for their CSA program? She tells me there is a waiting list of about 25 or so right now. But all the information is on their website: TierraVegetables.com. Or just email, call, or stop by the Farm Stand. She repeats with a laugh, “You can always just stop by the Farm Stand.”


Wayne James : Tierra Vegetables : Fresh : Sustainable : Produce

I talk to Wayne as he finishes preparing the bushels of garlic. He’s set himself up in the shade and he stands with one leg up resting on the bench. I notice he doesn’t wear shoes. And I remember somebody telling me once that he never wears shoes. He’s always barefoot in the fields. I make a mental note to ask him about it.

Now, I ask about his history with farming and with farmer’s markets.

“We’ve been farming most of our lives. In the 70s, I was running a produce farm up in Potter Valley. Farming has been our way of life for over 25 years. CSA is only part of it.”

“Part of what?” I ask.

“Sustainability.” He states the obvious. “Everything we do here is environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable. It has to be all three.”

I email him later to ask him to elaborate on this explanation. He sends me his own words:

Sustainability is economically, socially, and environmentally friendly practices. To make it work, you have to have all three parts and all three parts must be as equal as possible.

  • Economically means that the farm can support not only the farmers and the farmers families but also all the farm workers and their families.
  • Socially means that it needs to support the local community and be part of the local community by supporting the local businesses, supporting the local residents (don’t spray, don’t disrupt the farm’s neighbors, etc, paying our workers living wages, and supporting them how we can).
  • Environmentally means that we use practices that least impact the environment, from not using plastic for coverings in the beds, to not using pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, etc.

This is the balance we strive to achieve and it means keeping our money in the community. It’s very complex, and we have a long way to go. But every day, we are working towards this definition of sustainability.


Lee James, Wayne James, Evie Truxaw, Megan O' Laughlin, Jennifer Watson. Front: Brian with dog Gordon and Roxie Nall

I ask Wayne about selling the produce. Do they only have this Farm Stand? Or do they sell at other Farmer’s Markets?

He sort of sighs and says, “We used to do Farmer’s Markets everyday around the Bay Area. At one point, we were travelling to Farmer’s Markets as far away as Danville.”

“But really, with the cost of everything–time and transport–it was soon not becoming worth it. When this land became available, I knew it was where we needed to set up and start the Farm Stand. “

“Now, our transportation costs consist of bringing the food from the field (he waves his hand behind him)—to the Farm Stand. And, we use those (he motions to the huge wheelbarrows) as transportation.”

Tierra Vegetables leases 17 acres of farmland from the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. And a few more acres out by their own home. Everything they sell they grow on the land they farm.

If they don’t sell it, it goes back to their licensed kitchen to become part of their prepared food offerings. If it doesn’t sell or get prepared in the kitchen, it’ll go back into the land or fed to the animals. They have chickens, sheep, and sometimes pigs at home on their farm.

I ask him if he knows how many people buy from Tierra Vegetables and he works out the figures right there.

“We have about 500 families who buy from the Farm Stand in peak season.

“We have about 200 families subscribing to the CSA program.”

“And Lee sells to about 100 different customers on Saturdays in San Fran (because they continue to sell at the Farmer’s Market at the Ferry Plaza on Saturdays). So—I guess roughly, that’s about 800 families who we supply from our land.” He looks satisfied as he realizes the numbers.

I say to Wayne: “Roxie said that you built everything here at the Farm Stand from recycled materials.” And I ask him to explain.

He laughs and says: “How do you want me to explain? What do you want me to explain?”

I think. “For example, where did you get the materials to build the stand?”

He shrugs and points to the wood framed boxes that display the produce. “That wood came from the old Frizelle-Enos feed store out in Sebastopol when they tore down the old building.”

He points his shears at the structure where he’s shucking garlic. “This wood is from when the fence out there (and he motions to the field) blew down and we had to replace it.”

“Those pipes (that hold the shade tarp over the actual stand itself), those pipes are from our old well out on the farm.”

“The shade tarp is actually an old billboard that you see out on the highway.” He smiles, “One of my friends got it for me.”

“And that’s an old shipping container.”

I get the idea. Everything. Everything to do with Tierra Vegetables –quite literally from soup to nuts—is either grown from seed, recycled, or re-used. They support their family, their worker’s families, and (in peak season) up to 800 other families.

And how can you not support that?


Before you go somewhere else on the internet, have a look at the photo album of this day on Flickr.
Visit the Tierra Vegetables Farm Stand (directions)
Open 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday (Wednesday when tomato season starts)


Tierra Vegetables CSA program
Tierra Vegetables website
Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District
More on CSA in general