At Spirited, we love a good book. And if it involves food, wine, booze, and beer, we’re all in,—especially if the book is by a woman and is all about women. Because we’re generous and we like to share, we wanted you to know about two first class lifestyle books that are meant both for your coffee table (if you still have one, and can find it) as well as for your kitchen counter. The same caveats apply. I know I can’t find either one of said surfaces in my house these days, but these two books are easy for me to find, as they’re right on top of whatever lies beneath them at the moment.
Wine Country Women of Sonoma County and Wine Country Women of Napa Valley are both produced by Michelle Mandro, founder and president of Wine Country Women LLC, a luxury lifestyle and entertainment brand.
Mandro, who hails from Kentucky, worked in television news at the CBS and NBC affiliates in Louisville before getting into the wine industry. In 2004, she accepted a position as the executive director of the American Institute of Wine & Food in Napa, a national association started by Robert Mondavi and Julia Child. Following this, she worked with numerous family-owned wineries in California over the past 15 years.
With her background in broadcast news and her experiences in wine country, Mandro came up with the idea of a lifestyle TV show that would appeal to people who fantasize about “living the dream” in wine country. While the show never quite materialized, she turned her thoughts to creating a series of books based on the same principle.
“I envisioned a moment in the TV show where the women would all come together around a table, talking about food and wine,” she says. “The books were always going to be cookbooks, centered around recipes and pairings, but also sharing their personal stories, their interests, and their hobbies.”
They’re a melding of cookbook and biography, each telling the stories of women involved in the wine industry or, more broadly, the hospitality business. Each woman shares her favorite recipe, along with a suggested beverage pairing. The recipes are arranged from appetizers to desserts, and you’re sure to find something in each category to whet your appetite.
Says Mandro, “What I like most about our concept is consumers can select a recipe from each category and have an instant wine dinner! Each featured recipe comes with a pairing suggestion and the woman’s explanation why they think it works so well. It’s also great for progressive dinners.”
Each book is available in a special limited edition with an art cover, numbered and signed by the author and the cover artist, both of which can be ordered from Mandro’s website. The more widely available trade versions, which are also exquisite, can be found on Amazon and other sites, as well as winecountrywomen.com.
The Napa limited edition showcases a cover piece by Kelleen Sullivan, called “Woman in Red.” Sullivan’s fine art is collected worldwide. Her father, Jim Sullivan, owns Sullivan Estate.
The Sonoma book features a cover by Sandra Speidel, whose painting, “Visions,” lures you in. Speidel, who studied at the San Francisco Academy of Art, has illustrated several of Maria Shriver’s books.
“The books are designed to provide a glimpse into the lives of a diverse group of women who live the wine country life. I wanted to educate the reader and provide a snapshot of the area, introducing them not just to winemakers and winery owners, but to other people working in wine country as well. Having a broad age distribution was also important, as it helps satisfy the curiosity of anyone who dreams of doing the same,” says Mandro.
The first book, Wine Country Women of Napa Valley, published in 2017, went very smoothly, as she had many first-hand connections. “I got spoiled, actually! That one came together very quickly because I personally knew so many of them.”
Amanda Harlan of the famed Harlan family, wrote the foreword, in which she quotes Margrit Mondavi: “Wherever winegrapes are grown, it is beautiful” We can add to that, “Wherever winegrapes are grown, there will be women, and they will be beautiful.” Goodness knows, they will be even more beautiful with wine.
Among the women Mandro interviewed for the Napa book include Violet Grgich, who today manages the estate made famous by her father, Miljenko “Mike” Grgich. He immigrated to the United States with a beret, a suitcase, and $32 sewn into his shoe, then went on to produce one of the most famous wines in all of winedom, the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, which won the 1975 Judgment of Paris. She’s into baroque music.
Molly Hill, winemaker at Sequoia Grove, hails from a beach town near Santa Barbara, and when enrolling at UC Davis, wanted to be a veterinarian. That plan went to the dogs when viticulture and enology called to her instead. After stints at Beringer and Sea Smoke, Hill came to Sequoia Grove in 2003 and never left. Taking care of wine in barrels and working in the vineyards has proved eminently satisfying—wait until you taste her outstanding Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon blends. She lives in Calistoga with her Swedish-born husband, Lars Bjorkman, who is the winemaker at Saddleback Cellars. The couple has their own brand, GRO.
Ryan MacDonnell of Round Pond Estate, and her brother, Mike, are the second generation to run the place that her parents, Jan and Bob purchased in the 1980s. Although she pursued a career in finance and achieved a JD from Stanford Law School, along with an economics degree from UC Berkeley, Ryan’s happy to be in the wine business and provides her recipe for candied salmon. Yum.
Giana Chiarello, daughter of the famed chef Michael, attended the CIA in Hyde Park and runs her own catering company with her mother in St. Helena. She aspires to have her own café some day. She gives up her Nonna’s minestrone recipe, and suggests pairing it with a Chiarello Family Zinfandel.
Shannon Kuleto tells of moving from Tennessee’s Blue Ridge Mountains to Napa Valley, only to lose her home and ranch in the Sierra foothills to a forest fire. Turning an 800-acre ranch into a vineyard in Rutherford forged a different spirit: one that lets her pursue her passions for community improvements, expansion of the arts, and preservation of local history. And she has a fantastic recipe for spring pea and smoked duck breast salad along the way.
Mandro told us her personal favorite recipes from Wine Country Women of Napa Valley are:
Appetizer: Little Corn Cakes with Smoked Salmon and Crème Fraiche by Sarah Scott, paired with Knights Bridge Chardonnay
Soup/Salad: Roasted Beet & Fennel Salad with Roquefort Dressing, by Pauline Lhote, paired with Chandon Blanc de Noirs
Entrée: Pork Shoulder Ragu, by Jennifer Williams, paired with Zeitgeist Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon
Dessert : Cajun-Country Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce & Soft Cream, by Clarice Turner, pared with Ceja “Dulce Beso” Late Harvest white wine
In the next valley over
Embarking on the Sonoma project proved more challenging, due in part to its timing. The 2017 wildfires impacted many of the more than 45 women featured in the book; then came the floods and a second round of fires in 2019. The county’s large footprint and diverse geography also added an element of complexity. “I wanted to do justice to the area, so it was important to include people from Geyserville, Sebastopol, Petaluma, Guerneville, and Healdsburg, as well as Sonoma, to comprehensively capture a real range of businesses and interests,” Mandro told me.
In Wine Country Women of Sonoma County, you’ll meet winemakers, distillers, winery owners, farmers, ranchers, goatherds, and cheesemakers. These women do it all.
You’ll get a glimpse into the lives and personalities of Food Network regulars, Duskie Estes, who owned Zazu kitchen in Sebastopol and competed on The Next Iron Chef, as well as Crista Luedtke, who owns several hospitality businesses in Guerneville, including boon eat + drink and El Barrio (she’s got you covered if you like Moroccan spiced carrots with smoked yogurt).
Distiller Alanna Hanson, of Hanson of Sonoma Distilling, shares a scallop crudo recipe to accompany a cilantro cucumber cocktail made with Hanson cucumber vodka. Her personal favorite, though, is the Hanson habanero vodka, which she shakes up with grapefruit juice and Meyer lemon to make a very spicy Greyhound.
Kate MacMurry of MacMurray Ranch, whose father, Fred MacMurray, starred in the 1970s hit TV series “My Three Sons,” shares a recipe for Pinot Noir Beef Bourguignon, made with MacMurry Ranch pinot.
Meet the charming Karin Warnelius-Miller, who immigrated to the United States with her family from Sweden in the 1970s. She and husband Justin have a charming little winery, Garden Creek, in Alexander Valley, where they make chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. She pairs her special paté and fennel jam with their ultra silky, feminine and alluring, “Tesserae” cabernet blend.
Katie Bundschu, from the oldest family-owned winery in California, dating back to 1853, loves making grilled duck to serve with a Rhone style blend from her own brand, Abbot’s Passage, called Points Unknown. Katie lost her home in the 2017 Sonoma wildfires, salvaging a single teacup given her by her great grandmother. It sits on her dresser, a daily reminder of the power of resilience in the face of adversity.
The desserts are the photographic stars, especially Grandmamma George’s Perfect Mocha Cake, shared by Daisy Damskey, who grew up on a walnut farm in Rutherford (Napa Valley), and co-owns Palmeri Wines with winemaker husband, Kerry.
Mandro’s favorite recipes from Wine Country Women of Sonoma County include:
Appetizer: Smoked Salmon and Dill Crème Fraiche on Cucumber, by Nicole Hitchcock (J Vineyards winemaker), paired with J Brut Rosé
Soup/Salad: Wild Rice Salad by Prema Behan, paired with Three Sticks Castenada Rosé
Entrée: Nonna Maria Julia’s Ravioli and Gravy, by Mia Sangiacomo Pucci, paired with Sangiacomo ViMaria Pinot Noir
Dessert: S’more-in-a-Jar by Duskie Estes, paired with bourbon-spiked affogato or Davis Family Vineyards’ Late Harvest Viognier
Mandro says her plan was to do a trilogy of cookbooks, with the Williamette Valley of Oregon being the third. She’s already identified 400 trailblazers and heritage families for potential interviews, hoping to select 60 women to include in the final version, which was due out in March 2021. Then COVID-19 hit, putting an end to travel and, most likely, delaying the book’s completion. It also put on hold the 25 lifestyle wine and food events she had planned with Williams-Sonoma and Rolex.
Immediately after the Shelter In Place order, Mandro began working on an endeavor called Quilt of Hope. The goal is to salute and inspire hope in wine country communities around the world by sharing inspirational images of wine women along with a descriptive caption that succinctly capture this moment in time. Several of the women featured in the cookbooks have shared their inspirational images, including Alanna Hanson (Hanson of Sonoma Distilling), Nicole Hitchcock (J Vineyards & Winery) and Lusine Hartunian (Napa Valley Distilling). If you have an image to share, send a photo and descriptive caption to:
firstname.lastname@example.org Please include your name, title, business, and wine region. All images will be considered.
The two different versions of both cookbooks can be ordered from Mandro’s website, where you can also check out her 60+ podcast episodes, featuring intimate interviews with the women of Napa and Sonoma, who are profiled in the cookbooks.
Cheers to the wine country life!