California: The Flavors of Fall

Posted By Don Sumner on Sep 22, 2014 |

In California, late September and early October can be a study in contrasts. It can rain early in the morning (Oh no! We were planning a barbecue!), by noon it can be sunny and warm (relieved sighs) and the evenings are cool – perfect for dancing.

During this time of year, the general mood in our area is usually one of rest after the rush of harvest. The vineyards are empty of grapes. The aromas of fermentation are wafting from the winery and the sunlight is softening to a mellow amber in the afternoons. Soon we’ll finally be able to get together with friends, get reacquainted with their spouses, and get our fingernails clean…an altogether satisfactory time of year!

This is when we begin to get a hint of the coming winter on the ranch. Cool mornings make outdoor work pleasant, and afternoons can be warm enough for shorts, but evenings cool down again, unlike during the height of summer. This makes twilight a perfect opportunity to fire up the grill, light the outdoor fire pit, throw on a sweater and curl up with a glass of wine. Add good food and friends, and you’ve got the recipe for a delightful fall evening.

The wine we’d recommend for this kind of evening is Sumner Vineyards’ Pinot Gris. The wine is a soft autumnal gold, with enticing aromas of spicy stone fruits, hints of honey, and smoke. The fresh and earthy minerality underscores intense, rich apricot and guava flavors and complements the long, spicy finish. This wine’s style makes it wonderful with mildly spiced dishes. Speaking of which, here’s a menu filled with just that. The recipe for the corn chowder is below, the rub of Moroccan spices for the fish can be made up of a mixture of dried mustard, curry, ginger, garlic, salt and paprika and the combination of fresh figs and coffee ice cream is inspired – try it!

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Sumner Vineyards Pinot Gris
Fall corn chowder with chilies & cilantro
Charcoal-grilled rockfish with Moroccan spices
Fresh figs & coffee ice cream


Fall Corn Chowder With Chilies & Cilantro

Serves 4-6

1 onion, diced
3 1/2 cups milk
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
8 peppercorns
2 Anaheim chilies, chopped
16-ounce can tomatillos
Kernels from 4 ears of corn
1 cup water
2 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces cheddar, in small cubes
Cilantro leaves, chopped, for garnish

Sauté onion. Heat milk and add herbs and peppercorns. Before the milk boils, add sautéed onions, turn off heat and cover.

In a food processor, puree peppers, tomatillos and two thirds of the corn kernels.

Add pureed mixture and remaining corn kernels to herbed milk. Cook over very low heat 1/2 an hour. Taste for salt.

Pour soup into individual bowls over cubes of cheddar. Garnish with cilantro. Serve with fresh, warm crusty bread.