Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Journey to a Prestigious Gold Award by One Small El Dorado Winery

A chef and a chemist went to San Francisco….
That’s the beginning of the deeper story about how Marty and Eileen Blair, owners of Mais Fica Winery in Placerville, El Dorado county, won a Gold Medal at the SF Chronicle Competition for their Rhone Blend – the Mais Fica 2008 Festa (Mourvedre/Grenache blend), in the category of under $19.99-per-bottle wines. 
Eileen loves to cook.  That’s one of the reasons they chose to plant Rhone varietals on their 2 ½ acres in Placerville.  “We chose Rhone varietals because they are so food friendly,” she said.”They can be paired with almost any food.  We just think, personally, that because zins and cabs are more heavy bodied, they are harder to pair with most foods.  We also knew that Rhone varietals do very well in our area and some of our winery neighbors were having great success with their Rhone plantings.
Today Mais Fica produces only 400 cases per year.  They do not have a tasting room, nor does the winery have standard visiting hours.  But if you call Eileen at 530-344-0725, she’ll be happy to set up a private tour and tasting.   If you can’t wait to taste the award-winning 2008 Festa, then get a ticket to the San Francisco Chronicle Public Wine Tasting  at Fort Mason on February 18 and enjoy a taste there.
The Blair family got into the winery business through “a hobby run amok”, said Eileen.  Marty, a chemist, was a  home winemaker for 10 years, making wine in their basement in Redwood City.  Marty was always interested in the chemistry of winemaking, and he decided that he wanted more control over the whole process.  After a while, buying grapes was not sufficient anymore.
“It took us 10 years to find the land.  And when we did, in 2005 it was just a bare piece of land,” said Eileen.  "We  started from scratch--  clearing it, and then putting the vineyard in.”  They planted Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah grapes in the Pleasant Valley district of Placerville, at 2500 feet elevation.  “Our focus is to produce the highest quality fruit possible to ensure the finest wine at a reasonable price.“
They had some helpful advice from nearby winemakers, and in particular talked to Josh and Carrie at Holly’s Hill, Chaim and Elisheva at C.G. DiArie, and John MacCready at Sierra Vista.  
This is the fourth year that Mais Fica has released its wines.  Only 165 cases of the award-winning 2008 Festa were made, but Eileen assures me that some is still available to buy:  $15.00 per bottle. The wine can be ordered directly from their website or from select wine shops and restaurants in California; the website has more information.  
Eileen shared a recipe she’s developed that pairs well with this wine:

Mais Fica Winery’s Osso Buco Recipe

This is a great winter recipe.  Enjoy it with our 2008 Festa (Rhone Blend)

4-6 veal shanks (have butcher cut into short lengths)
Salt and fresh pepper, to taste
¼ - ½ cup flour, for dredging meat before browning
Olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2-3 carrots, peeled and diced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ cups red wine (2008 Festa)
3 cups beef or veal stock
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 fresh rosemary sprig
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 tsp. dried)
Gremolata (for sprinkling over veal before serving):   In small bowl, stir together ½ cup minced parsley, finely grated zest of 1 lemon and 2 crushed and minced garlic cloves

Preheat oven to 325°F

Season the veal with salt and pepper and dredge in flour.  In heavy dutch oven over medium high heat, brown veal in olive oil until browned on all sides (5-10 minutes).   Transfer to a plate and keep warm.  Add the onions, carrots, and garlic to the dutch oven and saute for 5-10 minutes until onions are translucent and vegetables begin to brown.  Add wine, stock, tomatoes, rosemary and thyme and bring to a boil.  Add veal, cover, and put in oven to cook until meat is tender, about 1 ½ to 2 hours.  Check pan occasionally and add more stock if necessary to keep level about half way up the side of the shanks.

Transfer veal to bowl and discard rosemary.  Use immersion blender to roughly puree liquid in dutch oven keeping some of the vegetables intact.  Add back veal and warm until heated through.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over polenta or risotto and sprinkle with the gremolata.

About the winery name, a note from the website:   "Mais Fica means "more for me" in Portuguese and was a favorite expression of Marty's grandmother, Margaret Azevedo. She used it most frequently when her many grandkids did not eat all the food she lovingly served them. "
Mais Fica Winery is located at 3395 Kincade Drive, Placerville, CA  95667. 530-344-0725

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