Get Thee to a Winery…and Get There Fast!

Last Saturday I saw a brilliant movie called “An Education” with my friend Zena. When we were walking back from the film we began talking about the plot of the movie and if we have ever felt like we have been detoured from our wants by a man. I never have but I started talking about The Baron, a guy that I spent some time with a few months ago, and how whenever I’d see him I’d forget all that I had to do. One hour would turn into a weekend and he would make his own parking spots for me all over the city. Zena and I had earlier polished off a bottle of wine together and she recommend that I call him since we hadn’t talked in a while. He lives in a hotel close to my house but is always out of town. I called him at 12:01A and he returned my call in a few minutes and invited us to the hotel bar for a drink. His foot was on ice when we arrived, apparently he twisted his ankle earlier that day. We drank, chatted, ordered sushi, and then out of the blue I asked the Baron when his birthday was. He smiled and said February 7th. It was a few hours into that date. He said he was shocked when I called him exactly on his birthday and had it not been for his ankle injury he would have been in a Hollywood club. It was one of those mystical nights. He then was in Vegas and I was on Jury Duty, so we decided to have lunch on Wednesday to catch up. He called me around 11AM to confirm and then asked if I wanted to go the winery. Of course, I said yes. Let me back up for a second, I call him The Baron because he comes from 8 generations of wine makers and one of his relatives had baron status from the emperor of Slovakia. The family history is a rich one that involves hiding from the Nazis, immigrating to the United States with nothing, and then completely rebuilding the family wine business. We drove one hour to the Herzog Wine Cellar in Oxnard for lunch, wine, and a tour. As soon as you walk in the wine store and bar are on the left and just past that is the restaurant Tierra Sur Restaurant. It is a kosher restaurant that serves all the finest local produce from a few miles away and great quality meat…even, get ready….LAMB BACON!

We were starving so as soon as we sat down we ordered platillos from the lunch menu. It was a great deal you get a trio of 3 for only $8. The restaurant has strong Mediterranean and Mexican influences. We got chili rellenos, Mediterranean eggplant caponata, and tabbouleh. I am neither a fan of eggplant nor chilis but I devoured both; they were absolutely excellent.

For the main course I ordered the special handmade pasta with porcini mushrooms and pesto The Baron had the steak. He was hungry but a rabbi came in looking for him to be the 10th in the minyan, so he had to step outside for prayer. I made a big faux pas by asking if I could have a side of parmesan when my pasta arrived. I stupidly grasped my mouth afterward, of course I couldn’t, it is a kosher restaurant and there is no dairy if meat is served. While I sat alone with the food the restaurant and events manager, Hugo Ham, came up and spoke with me. I imagine you can guess by his name that he is not Kosher and yet we had a great talk about how flavorful all of the food is still and how I really didn’t feel at all that my meal was lacking. Later the Chef, Todd Aaron, came out and I said that all the produce was great and he explained that everything is grown only 3 miles away. He said all of this stuff makes it down to the Santa Monica Farmer Market but he gets first pick. Chef Todd came from New York and used to work at one of my favorite SF restaurants, Zuni Cafe.

The Baron went on and on about their homemade churros and he was right they were fabulous. Dairy actually kills my stomach so I appreciated the dairy free meal. The chef was even kind enough to send out strawberry sorbet.

How can I be at a winery and forget to mention the wine? I got Sauvingnon Blanc and he had the Cabernet. One thing I loved about the wines is that they come in a large variety of prices but they are all premium wines and reasonably priced. After lunch, we walked upstairs and I got a tour of the factory. The vats, the barrels, and then the pouring, labeling and boxing. It was so cool. I have been to a ton of breweries and vineyards but I have never seen wine being produced.

The whole process was so cool. The staff was great, I especially liked Debbie at the front desk who the Baron referred to as his non-Jewish Jewish mother. I loved that her name was Debbie and thought of that old joke: Have you seen the new Jewish-American Princess Horror movie? It’s called “Debbie Does Dishes.” There is also a joke that says that Jews don’t drink because it gets in the way of their suffering. Trust me, anyone (Jewish or gentile) will love Herzog wine. They dominate 80% of the kosher wine market and the winery visitors are only maybe 20% Jewish. It is good food and wine for all and it is fascinating to learn what constitutes a kosher wine. I have already written about my very personal relationship with this area and I truly believe that the area between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara is one of the most beautiful places in California.

I jokingly tweeted that I now have a new standard that I will only go out with people with wineries. I kid, sort of. Let me just say that holding up a water glass to 8 generations of wine makers and a beautiful winery kind of makes me want to roll my eyes.

SPECIAL PROMOTION: If you are going to be one of the thousands at LA Street Food Fest tomorrow, Josie and I will be working the cash box from 2-5 and I have 25 chips that will get you a wine flight at Herzog Wine Cellars for, get this…one quarter…25 cents. Find me and drink cheaply.

Herzog Wine Cellars
3201 Camino Del Sol
Oxnard, CA 93030
(805) 983-1560

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