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Harvest is in, and the wines are snug in barrel and tucked into the cellar.
There is a tactile quality to November. It is a month for the senses: the afternoon slant of the sun and its play of light, the heady scent of grapes fermenting, the chill of dawn on my face, the rumble of a distant tractor, and the spice notes of my first sip of morning tea.
It is a time for introspection and gratitude. November is equal parts color and texture. It is best approached with attention to detail and a photographer’s eye. It is my month of voluntary simplicity before the bustle and tinsel of December. It is the welcome lull before the fast pace of year’s end.
In this issue, I share things I am thankful for: a much anticipated open house, a sense of wonder, and a soup that really is a chilly season meal.
If you enjoy these harvest thoughts, interviews, and recipes, express your literary appreciation by subscribing to Field Notes below.
Vintner, Cook, Thankful
With the busyness of harvest behind us, we find time to pause. Jeff has retired from his tour of duty at the shaker table, sorting fruit that is now 2023 wine in barrel.
With a bevy of volunteers, he additionally hosted the Yountville Community Thanksgiving last Thursday, serving over 140 community members in the afternoon with a feast of turkey and all the trimmings. After, we hosted sixteen close friends and family at our cozy Yountville home. We can use a pause.
This pause allows me to see the full range of the post-harvest, post-holiday experience, to explore it with curiosity and openness. It gives me a moment to reflect on what I am thankful for:
Above all, I am thankful for the Gentleman Farmer family allowing Jeff and me to spend time doing what we enjoy most. Thank you.
We are pleased as holiday punch with the opening of The Bungalow. Jeff and I have started a bit of pre-hosting, getting to know the kitchen, its quirks, challenges, blessings, and workarounds.
Adding to the excitement is our Open House on both December 8 and 9. All are welcome to join, share, explore, and witness the official ribbon cutting.
Even better, our doors are now open for you, dear reader, to have a seat at our tasteful table. Inquire about a reservation for wine-soaked breakfasts (think soufflé, tarts, bacon-wrapped items, and French berry desserts), Gentleman Farmer vintner lunches, wine dinners, and lively events. Wine club members have special pricing, access, and privileges.
Under consideration is a 5k run along the Riverfront and through Downtown Napa in the mornings before wine-with-breakfast with Jeff. If a brisk, early run is not your thing, I may suggest clearing your head with me and morning meditation in The Bungalow while the others are out getting their steps in. These are just some ideas of what is to come. Let us know your thoughts.
Jeff and I met Jak a couple of years ago. He was recommended by a friend when we were looking for a photographer to help with a small photo shoot. He is an impressive artist of warmth and positivity that comes through in his work.
Jak Wonderly is an award-winning photographer. His photographs are an exploration of everyday moments and the movement of natural light.
He has been showcased in numerous national and international magazines including National Geographic, Smithsonian, New York Times Magazine, and LIFE, as well as been a featured exhibit in several museums. The National Geographic Society has presented his work in more than 25 books, including the cover.
His work with the Snow Leopard Conservancy brought him to the Himalayas, leading the photographic expedition. His work there is featured in the book Searching for the Snow Leopard.
Joey Wolosz: I came to know you through your work with wines and wineries, although your portfolio is so much more than that. Tell me about your initial connection to photography.
Jak Wonderly: I took photography as an elective in college but didn’t get serious until I was in my thirties. In hindsight, however, it seems fated. When I was a teenager, a sports injury resulted in a detached retina in my left eye. After three surgeries and a plastic band around my eye, I still have very poor vision on that side. I wore an eye patch for part of high school, so the kids called me “Eyeball.” My first corporate job was for a company called Opticore; their logo was an abstracted eyeball. Now, every day, I look through the viewfinder with my one good eye.
Early on, I focused on animal photography, and after a few years, National Geographic first published my work. Things grew from there.
Joey Wolosz: Was there an evolution that led you to wine and food?
Jak Wonderly: Horses and cowgirls/cowboys were other early favorite subjects, which led to shooting ad campaigns for American AgCredit on farms around the western United States. Farm subjects are great; there’s an underlying ethos of hard work, and I get to play in the dirt. Those projects landed referrals to winemakers, and it’s just been a good fit. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the best winemakers in California, if not the world. Being around that level of expertise is always a rich experience.
I’ve drawn parallels between great photography and great wines. A great image starts with a remarkable subject, has beautiful light and atmosphere, and the photographer brings deep technical skill and artistry to the image. Great wine starts with excellent vines and terroir, has a perfect growing season/weather, and a terrifically skilled winemaker at the helm to bring it all to fruition.
Joey Wolosz: Other than photography, what are some of your creative outlets?
Jak Wonderly: My degree is in product design, and I maintain a deep interest in things like wristwatches and furniture, although now it’s more intellectual connoisseurship than active design work.
When I’m not photographing for clients, I shoot film on vintage cameras, and experiment with writing and painting on and around the images. I’m fascinated by symbolism and metaphor, fully expressing the underlying meaning.
Joey Wolosz: Friends and family excluded, who are two people you’d like to share a long lingering meal with?
Jak Wonderly: I’ve long been a cinema enthusiast, and do an increasing amount of video for my clients. I’d love to sit down with filmmaker Terrence Malick and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Their visionary skills are more than just technically jaw-dropping; they touch my soul.
Joey Wolosz: What would you serve?
Jak Wonderly: I’m not known for my culinary skills, but I like to put a twist on simple meals. One of my favorites is strawberry, mushroom, and chicken burgers. You can easily find recipes for strawberry ketchup on a chicken and mushroom burger, but I also like the strawberries right in the patty. Add a side of maple-glazed carrots or simple roasted sweet potatoes. I live closer to the coast, and the pinot noir grown here results in remarkable wine; that’s my go-to.
Joey Wolosz: What is your spirit animal, and why?
Jak Wonderly: Those closest to me would say I’m one of the large cats. I admire their stealthiness and power. I’ve taken pictures of all the big cats in the wild: lion, cheetah, leopard, tiger, mountain lion, jaguar, and snow leopard. Each was an adventure, but the last one took ten days in the Himalayas, sleeping in a tent at -20 degrees F, but it was oh so worth it. I was moved just to glimpse the “grey ghost.” (That trip was sponsored by and to benefit the Snow Leopard Conservancy, and I wrote about it in Searching for the Snow Leopard: Guardian of the High Mountains.)
But day to day, I’m probably a lot like a bear: lumbering around, curious, playful at times, I love a good nap, and if you leave peanut butter in your car, I will rip the door off to get to it.
Joey Wolosz: What is your motto?
Jak Wonderly: Live Wide Open
“Wide open” in photography means using the widest aperture on a lens, which lets as much light as possible into the camera. It also creates a shallow depth of field with painterly backgrounds. It reminds me to move through the world with an open mind and heart. Focus on what’s important, let the light in, and blur out the rest.
What could be better on a cold winter’s day than a warm bowl of onion soup? A French-style onion soup, gratinéed with croutons, topped with blistered, stringy Compté cheese. It is soul satisfying, a bowl of comfort and warmth.
With such few ingredients, it is essential to tease out the best of each. The onions should be cooked very low and slow so as to carmelize their sugars from the inside out. You don’t want to brown them, which would make the soup taste bitter. You want to coax out the depth and the natural sweetness of the onions. This is your soup base.
A good, homemade beef broth adds an earthy dimension. The croutons add texture, and the cheese brings salt, fat, and string-like fun.
This is a complete winter bistro meal on its own. Although soups are a bit more challenging to pair with wine, mainly because it is a liquid paired with another liquid, this soup has enough texture and components to pair well with our 2019 Napa Valley Red Wine or 2021 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.