The Supper Club Series at Franciscan Estate Winery

By Chef Cocoy Ventura
Photography by Pierre Gussman

Fearing the traffic to Napa Valley coming from San Francisco on a Friday afternoon, which is the stuff of legend, I made a point to head out hours early to try to beat the rush. As it turns out the traffic was no big deal that afternoon, and my photographer and I arrived an hour early for our scheduled visit. The early arrival allowed us some decompression time, as well as afforded us incredibly dramatic afternoon lighting condition for photo shoots of the grounds and the vineyard. Upon checking in, we were welcomed in the well-appointed tasting room and were offered two flights of white wine tastings, just the right thirst quencher for that particularly toasty afternoon. As we lingered around the property furthermore, the change of season was punctuated with pumpkins, squash and a variety of gourds artfully arranged by the fountain and by the courtyard. Then a slender, tall gentleman in a white coat emerged, calling us to come over. It was Chef Cory Strike. From there on, a supremely memorable evening at the Franciscan Estate unfolded.

Meeting Chef Strike was like meeting an old friend. With an air of familiarity, Chef Strike’s personality was very likable, relaxed, with an aura of confidence and security. Armed with a bottle of Mt. Veeder wine, we drank and talked like old colleagues—more concerned about securing the best ingredient sources in Napa Valley and to create the freshest dishes, rather than discussing the heated and polarized national political scene. His passion for adventure dominated our conversation. From his time in the Middle East feeding our troops, his off-the-beaten-track four-wheeling in the deserts of the Middle East and motorcycling in the Napa Valley mountains, to his preferences for the famed grass vodka of Poland, the usage of Angostura bitters and the bourbons of the Midwest and the South, among many others. Cory is also very close to the earth, as he also tends his own garden and would only source goods from local farmers he worked with for many years. When I asked him about his ‘cooking style’ he insisted on being an old-fashioned chef. His Polish wife, Dominika, is his driving force and would always inspire him that “less is more”. Driven by the unmistakable love and inspiration of Dominika along with his present post as Executive Chef of Franciscan Estate and everything remarkable about the Wine Country, all of this was distilled into a very special, scrumptious, four-course dinner showcasing the freshest ingredients he could find that very same day.

Before dinner, we were treated to a special wine-blending session in one of Franciscan’s private rooms with Steve Hosmer, Director of Wine Education and PR representative, Karli Warner. The rooms were very well-appointed and the woodwork and cabinetry exuded fine craftsmanship. Magnificat in various vintages and formats were handsomely displayed. As a chef, my appreciation of crisp, starched white linens is elevated and needless to say the tables were dressed impeccably in such a manner, with fresh cut flowers and shiny wine glasses. I was truly delighted.

Mr. Hosmer provided us with pipettes, 100% wine varietals of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. There was also a glass of a finished Magnificat to serve as reference. Steve explained a little bit of history of the Meritage and also of how winemakers blended wines. Then, we created two wine blends: we discussed, we tasted the new creations and we compared. After feeding our curiosity and enthusiasm with the vitals of wine blending, and fulfilling the winemaker’s duty for a few minutes, a pristine dining room awaited us.

The dining room was very comfortable and rivaled any of the Michelin-star restaurants in the area. The *clink* of the crystals signaled the start of our four-course dinner with wine pairing per course. From the crab cakes, burrata and beets, Berkshire pork loins, to the berry cobbler finish, phasing was well-executed. Each course was complimentary to the various estate wines. The dishes were amply seasoned, showcasing the natural flavor of the dishes’ components—a testament to Chef Strike’s honest cuisine. Each entrée was different, refreshing and outstanding. Regrettably, time fairly flew by that evening. The entire experience was truly unforgettable and I can’t wait to return again.

For more information about blending sessions and dining at the winery, please contact Franciscan visitor center at 707.967.3993 or Special thanks to Chef Cory Strike, Steve Hosmer and Katie Warner for a remarkable experience.

Based in the Peninsula, Cocoy is the owner and operator Cocoy Ventura Culinary Services (CVCS), a hybridized field with respect to restaurant consulting, accounting, personnel training and specialized in-home and corporate catering services. With 10 years of food service experience under his belt, he has trained and worked among the who’s who of the California wine country and in Las Vegas. Cocoy is instrumental in the Philippine cuisine movement in mainstream America as he works side by side with his fellow Filipino chefs and gourmands in the promotion of their native cuisine. He presently serve as the estate chef of Dado & Maria Banatao.