Developing the food pairings for our new release, Volume IX: Seduced by Syrah, was very special. Not only does this collection represent the first time I was able to (finally!) sample the wines that Emily and Jody Towe produce right here in San Diego for their j. brix label, but I was fortunate enough to sit down with them myself to also enjoy rest of the wines that I selected for this edition.
Their minuscule production for j. brix sells out in a matter of days (hours?), yet Emily and Jody are quietly gaining a national reputation for true terroir-driven winemaking in California. As we discussed the wines from Volume IX, it was a real pleasure to learn more about their personal journey as well.
Check back here next week for the food and wine pairings, and let us know if you’d like to try the wines yourself! This collection ships next week and inventory is limited as usual, so act fast.
Aaron Epstein, Curator
AE: Tell me about that pivotal moment when you decided to dedicate your life to wine. (Come on, we’ve all got one…)
ET & JT: California dreamers, we are. In 2007, we happened to taste a Pinot Noir made with fruit from the Bien Nacido Vineyard, and while we didn’t know anything about the vineyard at the time, we instantly connected with the incredible sense of place that radiated from the wine. It set us on a quest to find out where on earth it had come from. We knew we had to go there, though we didn’t know why. By 2008, we had become friends with the winemakers; volunteered for long, sticky, exhausting days as often as possible during harvest; and fallen completely in love with the work of winemaking. That year at Thanksgiving, we hosted the winery’s harvest interns at our house, and, for the first time, spoke aloud the words that have shaped our lives since: “Let’s make wine.”
AE: What food(s) did you find most comforting as a child?
JT: Pork chops and sauerkraut. My grandmother always made that meal for me when I would visit her in Michigan. My mom cooked it regularly. My best friend’s mom seemed to be serving it every time I came over for dinner. She jokes now that it must have been the only thing I thought she knew how to cook, but I was happy to eat it anytime. Our 14-year-old daughter recently gifted Emily with a handmade fermentation crock (after all, something really needs to be fermenting at all times around here), and now our first batch of homemade sauerkraut is in the works.
ET: Well, this is embarrassing, but I’ve been an acidhound since I was a wee girl sneaking spoonfuls of Tang out of the container in the kitchen cabinet. Pixy Stix, SweeTarts, lemon drops … the higher the enamel-erosion level, the more I liked it. Wait, is this a Riesling portent?
AE: And what does “comfort food” mean to you today?
ET: Simple meals, prepared with love. Most often, they’re home-cooked, but it’s so heartening when you have that experience in a restaurant. This happened for us most recently at La Ciccia in San Francisco, where we had our minds blown by course after course of beautiful Sardinian food. The flavors in each dish were incredible, but love was the unifying ingredient that lifted the entire meal from delicious to transcendent. In wine and in food, I truly believe you can taste it. On our label, we list it: Only Love.
JT: Also, it’s hard to beat a perfect everything bagel with cream cheese, capers, and cured wild salmon.
AE: Do you have a go-to “house wine” that you always have stocked at home?
ET & JT: We try to always have bubbles about! Right now, the 2009 Laetitia Brut Rosé from San Luis Obispo is one of our favorites. Laetitia’s been making delicious méthode champenoise in the Central Coast for more than 30 years. We pick up a case of bubbles whenever we’re in the area visiting vineyards. Bright, complex and lovely, it’s the most versatile wine we know. Brunch, lunch, dinner – it just works.
AE: When you’re planning a meal, do you generally develop it around the food, or the wine?
ET & JT: It usually goes 50-50. Sometimes we’ll have a bottle that we want to plan a menu to match, and other times we have particular flavors and ingredients we’d like to incorporate into a meal, so we’ll choose the wine once the menu’s set. We spent about a year preparing and blogging semi-monthly about what we called “Double-Double-Blind” pairings, where one of us would plan and cook a secret meal and the other one would choose a secret wine to open along with it. We found many unexpectedly wonderful pairings – and a few fairly spectacular duds. They were all fun to taste and write about!
AE: Is there a dish that you’re famous for among your friends?
ET & JT: Well, we have had middle-of-the-night requests from former houseguests for the recipe for our slow-braised pork shoulder. We always get the biggest one we can, and then it finds its way into a number of different meals. One of the favorites is an Asian-spiced pulled-pork-and-coleslaw sandwich served on Emily’s homemade brioche buns. The pork cures in a salt and sugar rub overnight; then slow-cooks all day; then gets pulled and seasoned the next day. The bun-baking is an all-day affair, as well, so it takes plenty of advance plotting to pull the meal together. It’s entirely worth it, though.
AE: How do you decide where to eat when you’re traveling?
ET & JT: Between friends’ suggestions and the places our wines have landed – which we always like to visit – we have no shortage of trusted recommendations. The trick is squeezing it all in!
AE: What is your favorite place to shop for food?
ET & JT: The Saturday Santa Barbara Farmers’ Market is amazing. We’ve discovered house mainstays like La Nogalera walnut oil, made from local orchards – we’re never without a bottle in the fridge; one of the best ways to enjoy it is to pour it on burrata. We wait all year for summer to come so we can scoop up flats of heirloom Seascape strawberries (they have an absolutely perfect sweetness/acid balance). We’ve learned the ins and outs of the Rocoto pepper, a squat, orange, black-seeded South American variety that cleared out the entire house with airborne spiciness when we attempted to sauté it (now we pickle it). We found fresh flageolet beans in September, and the resulting cassoulet was the best we’ve ever made.
AE: Imagine yourself as a culinary ingredient or grape variety. What would you be, and why?
ET: I asked our 10-year-old son to answer this question for me. Here, verbatim and without hesitation, is what he said:
“Riesling. Because you kind of act like a riesling grape tastes.” I leave that without editorial comment.
AE: Would you consider your approach to food & wine pairing to be more scientific or intuitive?
ET & JT: Intuition is what led us to winemaking; it continues to guide us in the sensory realm. Cooking is something you can talk about with almost anyone, and it seems most are divided into two camps: those who find great satisfaction in the results that come from following recipes, and those who enjoy off-the-grid experimenting. As usual, we occupy the grey area. We like to look at recipes as a launching pad for experimentation. What will happen? This is the question we started with when we were moved to make wine. It is the question that continues to drive us. Everyone reading this (friends, all!) are invited, always, to taste the experiments and the results.