Eating The Globe
Cornucopia Cafe offers a world of organic eats and drinks. They're still searching for the right kind of wine.
Thursday, October 28, 1999
If you caught the opening of Cornucopia Cafe last Wednesday (see Chef Profile), you may have already taken your palate on a world tour, without having to leave town. I started at the coffee bar, badly in need of a jolt. Promptly approached by a sharp-looking staff member in a starched chef''s coat, I got way more than I''d bargained for. Which seems to be the operative philosophy at this highly idealistic, cutting-edge cafe au naturel.
For starters, you''ve got some options to exercise. "What kind of coffee are you interested in?" was the polite query. "Uhhh," what? I hadn''t really thought about it. "Whaddya got?" After being introduced to several all-organic varietals, I settled on a cup of light-bodied Peruvian, black, despite the offering of all-organic soy milk, milk-milk, and cream. This was getting interesting. (Not to mention the fact that all the crisp-appearing waitstaff seemed, uhh, happy. Where am I again?)
Soon, it became apparent how mother, wife and chef, Ana Machado zipped her way through 14 months of layout and design, from the ground up: Wheat grass. The juice bar tour was next, where you can mastermind your own mixture of all-organic carrot, beet, celery, parsley, cucumber, lettuce spinach, kale and garlic. Ana insisted on hard-core, straight-up wheatgrass, an extraction executed on the state-of-the-art Wheetena, and another of the coffee guy''s proficiencies. I sidled up to the bar and threw back a section about the size of the 17th tee at Spyglass, or the equivalent of about 2 ounces. Whoa. "It''s as close as you''re going to get molecularly to human hemoglobin," she offers. I suddenly experienced a new appreciation for the miracle of my circulatory system, and promised to be better to it.
Next stop, the state-of-the-art Oranfresh machine, a wondrous thing of beauty. With your nose pressed to the observation window, you may look on as the organic oranges drop from a hopper and roll right into a blade that smartly halves them, so that they may then be squeezed and released of their vital liquids, leaving the archaic Minute Maid forever behind in the dust. If all of this excitement has gotten to be too much, you''re likely ready to proceed to a glass of organic wine, while availing yourself of the eats. (As a side note, the seitan meat(less)loaf with spinach, tomatoes and field-roasted corn makes for a handy next-day power breakfast).
They''re still putting together their list of wines at Cornucopia Cafe, part of a wine program geared toward a selection that''s organic and price-friendly as well. Prices by the glass top out at about $4.75. If you start asking questions about organic wine, what you come to find out is that there aren''t that many wineries around that make certified organic wine, and none in Monterey County. Amanda Robinson, executive director of Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association--a nonprofit group that works to promote the area as a fine wine-producing area--pointed me in the right direction to discover why.
Carmel Valley''s Durney Vineyards produces some of the featured wines at Cornucopia Cafe. Winery Operations Manager Rene Schober explained the distinction between organic and certified organic. "The grapes we use are all certified organically, grown without pesticides," he offers. "Certified organic wines, however, don''t contain sulfites. The reason we use sulfites is to stabilize the wine, so that it doesn''t deteriorate. But, if you compare the amount of sulfites in a bottle of wine to the amount used in a can of peas, or other green vegetable, you''ll find 50 to 100 times more than in the wine."
Greenfield''s Jekel Vineyards is owned by parent company, Brown Forman, which also owns Bonterra Vineyards in Mendocino. Bonterra is one of the certified organic wines you''ll find at Cornucopia. "We''re learning a lot from the practices that the produce industry has adopted in making the move toward organics," says Rick Boyer, winemaker at Jekel. Much the same as Durney, grapes on one of Jekel''s ranches are also organically grown. "Every seventh row we plant beneficial insect attractant crops. We plant winter and summer cover crops that supress nematodes, a tiny microscopic worm that debilitates the vines. I looked for two years, and finally found a type of marigold seed that works."
What the industry is still studying is how to age wines without the use of sulfites, so far without much luck. Fine wines demand aging. And the climactic changes that wines experience in shipping and handling require the added stability that sulfites lend. "We''ve learned a lot just in the last couple of years," Boyer adds. "And we try to be as sustainable as possible within the auspices of what we''re still learning." Until they get it all figured out, there''s always wheatgrass
More of the 411 on wine... Cool stuff happens at A Taste of Monterey, the tasting room up above and to the back of Sly McFly''s on Cannery Row. Every second Friday of the month, in conjunction with the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association, operations manager Ken Rauh invites the public to come on in and Wine Down. Light appetizers and local wines are highlighted, with food and wine gurus on hand to share their stuff. And, if you''re a member of ATOM''s Club Taste, a wine-of-the-month club that sends you two premium MoCo wines a month, your Wine Down only puts you back five bucks. (It''s $15 for non-members.) Wanna meet new people? The food, the wine, and the big bay view continue to draw bigger and better crowds. 646-5446 for more info.