Grapery Vineyard

I have often wondered, “How can one company produce enough grapes to ship them across the entire country? Our country is huge!” As someone with a modest garden, I couldn’t even supply a single grocery store with anything worth their time. It’s hard to visualize in my mind. There had been a disconnect for me as I imagine there is a disconnect for mny of us. We just head into the grocery stor, pick a bag of grapes or any other type of fruit and go on our merry way. Lucky for me, I got a golden opportunity to connect the dots. Grapery owner Jack Pandol invited me to take a tour of the beautiful vineyards around Bakersfield, California.

Grapery Vineyard

I came into Bakersfield from the south. I had to pass through the beautiful Tehachapi mountains. As you reach the peak on the highway of over 4,000 feet, you begin to descend into the San Joaquin Valley. As I rolled by signs indicating where the next runaway truck ramp was, I came into a beautiful valley, full of green, full of life. It was one of those take-your-breath-away moments. It was then I started to get an idea of how large of an area this was. Once I got out to the actual vineyards of the Grapery and saw vine after vine after vine that seemed to just go on forever. I could finally wrap my brain around how vast the vineyard was and how they can ship grapes across the country – and they are by no means the largest grape producer in California.

Grapery Vineyard

The first section Jack brought me to featured the famous Cotton Candy grapes. This was the first vineyard I have ever step foot in. As this was late March, all I could do was imagine the flavor. Getting an up close view of the beginning of a growing season was well worth it. At this point leaf growth was well underway and you can see tiny cute bunches that would eventually grow up to be those uniquely flavored grapes.

Grapery Vineyard

To produce such outstanding flavored grapes it all has to begin with the soil. You need soil that is alive and rich. Great grapes start with great compost. Jack pulled back the soil and showed me first hand how rich their soil was. It evened smelled like good earth.

Grapery Vineyard

Grapery uses a unique trellis system to grow their grapes. It is a Y-shaped trellis, that brings the grapes higher off the ground. This system does several things. It allows air to circulate better between the bunches. It provides more shade to the bunches and the workers who are picking the grapes in temperatures that can soar over 100 degrees.

Grapery Y-Shaped Trellis 2

The trellis is fully adjustable – very ingenuous design. They can move wires to different positions to help train the grapes where they want them to go. It is a labor intensive process. Growing great grapes doesn’t come without some hard work. Their willingness to go the extra mile is what separates them from every other grape grower who is just in it to make a buck.

Grapery Vineyard

I learned a ton on this tour. If you didn’t know this about grapes yet, they only produce fruit on new growth. The growth sprouts from the year old wood. In the photo above you can see the new growth beginning from last year’s wood.

Grapery Vineyard

Grapery Vineyard

In these two photos you can see close up of bunches of grapes forming from the new growth. Can you imagine that from those little bumps, big juicy grapes will form!?

Grapery Vineyard

One of the varieties that is sure to become a hit is Moon Drops. These are an elongated grape with a blunt end. It was featured in their Witch Finger line last season, but this year has been given it’s own name. What you see in the photo directly above is some Moon Drops vines after one year of growth. In the 2nd year they will train the vines just like the ones the mature ones you have seen in other photos. The 3rd year you can begin harvesting from them. In the next couple of years we will see Moon Drop production skyrocket. It is an easy to grow variety, that is unique, and very flavorful.

Grapery Vineyard

Even after hitting a home run with Cotton Candy grapes, Grapery is not a company who rests on the laurels. They are always looking for ways to do things better. This year they are experimenting with covering some of their grapes with shade cloth. The cloth allows 80% of the sunlight to get through. High temperatures can impede the ability of the leaves to produce photosynthates. Photosynthates are the products of photosynthesis – in the grape leaves that would be sugars. The shade cloth lowers the temperature of the leaves allowing them to be more efficient at producing sugars for the fruit. This method has been shown to be successful in hot climates like the Jordan Valley of Israel as well as proven successful in more moderate climates such as the Eastern Mediterranean area of Spain. The cloth should also reduce the amount of water needed, which is critical at this time in California.

Grapery Cooling Center

One of the most exciting things happening at Grapery that the consumers won’t directly see is their new cooling center. This is where my tour wrapped up. I got a chance to see this center as it was still under construction (I got to wear a hard hat!). This center is being built to meet their needs now and for expansion in the future. Until this season they had been renting a facility, which they have outgrown. The importance of this cooling center is cool the grapes down as fast and efficiently as possible. It’s hot out in those fields, you need to get that heat out as quick as possible to give the grapes a good shelf life. The center also serves as the storage places for the grapes until they are ready to be shipped off. They will be using solar energy when they open up to completely meet their energy needs.

Grapery Vineyard

A major “thank-you” to Jack Pandol for taking time out of his schedule to give me a tour so I could provide you with a virtual tour. He was a pleasure getting to know and chat with. His passion for bringing the consumer flavorful grapes comes through in every word he spoke. Flavor is not just a buzzword they use on their packaging, it’s a constant driving force that compels Grapery to continue to strive to deliver on the promises they make.

Grapery Vineyard

I am looking to return to Bakersfield in the summer of 2016. After this experience, I really want to be there when the grapes are ripe for the picking. In the meantime countdown is on for this season – under 5 months from now until the next explosion of flavor from Grapery hits my tongue.

What to Buy at Sprouts Farmers Market

in Tips Where I Buy Food

What to Buy at Sprouts Farmers Market

I am such a foodie that whenever I go on vacation one of the things I look forward to the most is visiting different grocery stores. Heading to Orange County, California meant that I would have plenty of stores to check out. The one store that I was most looking forward to visiting was Sprouts Farmers Market. The last time I was in California, 4 years ago I visited a Henry’s Farmers Market store in Mission Viejo. I enjoyed the store. During my 4 year absence Henry’s merged with Sprouts and took on the Sprouts name. I was curious to see how the store would change or not change during that time. The interesting thing is that both stores were started by the same family. They sold the Henry’s brand and eventually started up Sprouts. Years later they re-acquired the Henry’s brand and merged the two together. I was delighted the store I enjoyed 4 year previously was still a great place to shop. I visited a Sprouts, 3 times during my 2 week stay in California.

What to Buy at Sprouts

So what did I buy at Sprouts? Here is a photo from my first shopping trip of all the good stuff I got.

What to Buy at Sprouts

I also did my first ever grocery haul to give you a little more detail into what I bought.

What to Buy at Sprouts

What to Buy at Sprouts Farmers Market

What to Buy at Sprouts

1. Produce

The number one reason to go to Sprouts is the produce. I mean if you are going used the word “Farmers Market” in your name you better deliver the goods. And they do. I got some amazing deals on some quality produce (asparagus for .88/lb, broccoli crowns for .98/lb, Brussels sprouts for $1.99/lb.). This alone would be enough to bring me into the store each and every week. For me to have an outstanding produce department you have to have something unique – you must have items that not every grocery store carries. I knew already that Sprouts is a big supporter of the country’s premier grape growers – the Grapery, the ones who brought Cotton Candy grapes to the world. I saw first hand when I spotted the Kiwi berries. These are small kiwis that are completely edible, skin and all. You just pop them in your mouth like a kumquat. So not only do they have great sales on quality produce, they have special items to add some excitement to your cart.

What to Buy at Sprouts

2. Organic Produce
If you are looking for organic produce, you can find all your stables here from apples to kale to swiss chard. The every day prices are cheaper than what you find at Whole Foods.

Sprouts Yogurt

3. Premium Yogurt
If you are a yogurt consseiur who would rather starve than eat cheap store brand yogurt, then Sprouts is a good place for you. They have a good selection of some of the nation’s top premium yogurts including Greek Gods, Brown Cow, and Noosa (they even sell the large containers which is a better value). They had many flavors that I had not seen before. Sales were offered as well.

What to Buy at Sprouts

4. Super Cheap Cheese Sales
$1.99 a pound for mild cheddar! You can’t get any better than that. My kids love their cheese and mild cheddar is definitely the cheese of choice. The way my kids go through a block of cheese this is a really big savings. I would have stocked up on more if I wasn’t on vacation. By the way, the cheddar is pretty good, it doesn’t reflect it’s deeply discounted price (normally it goes for $5.99/lb). I also picked up some Kerrygold cheeses for the family St. Patrick’s Day feast.

What to Buy at Sprouts

5. Bulk Section
I love a good bulk section. I like being able to purchase the amount I want to buy. It saves money and you can try new things you normally would not. Their bulk section has all the nuts, seed, dried fruit and yogurt pretzels you will ever need. I love the look of the barrels that some of the items are in.

What to Buy at Sprouts

6. Bulk Spices
The only good way to buy spices is in bulk. They are usually fresher than jars that usually are overpriced and contain more than you’ll use before they lose their potency. The section wasn’t a huge one, but they had all the basics that you would use on a regularly basis. Back when this store was Henry’s, I bought a bunch of spices and dried herbs to include a gift basket for my sister-in-law’s wedding.

What to Buy at Sprouts

7. Honey
The bees are the only ones who love honey more than me. I don’t dream of touching overprocessed clover honeys that most grocery stores throw out there. Sprouts had enough selection to keep me entertained. The best thing I found was their selection of Sola Bee honey. So many intriguing options – I choose the wild blackberry – it has a berry flavor that you swear they add blackberry flavoring to it. They also sell the most excellent Ambrosia Honey company honey from Colorado that comes in a easy to depense bottle.

8. Deli Meat
I hit up Sprouts right before heading out to the beach for a picnic lunch and tide pool exploration. I picked up several small packs of deli meat, that were already pre-wrapped for easy grab & go. Good price and good quality. I also got a bottle of Dietz & Watson Cranberry Honey Mustard to go on our sandwiches.

What to Buy at Sprouts

All I kept thinking when I was in Sprouts is I wish there was one close to me. It’s the kind of store that I would be in, week in and week out. If it was the only store in the area, I could get by and I don’t say that about most stores. From the fabulous produce deals to the bulk selection to the special treats in the yogurt and honey aisles, Sprouts is the place to shop in Southern California.

Shopping Tip
Go there on Wednesday! They have double ad Wednesday, which makes it’s the last day of one week’s day and the first day of the next week’s ad. You get to shop off two ads on the same day. There will be more on sale and more ways to save. Plus Wednesday is the slowest grocery day of the week, so you can likely get through the checkout much quicker than if you went on a weekend.

Orange County Great Park Certified Farmer’s Market Review

in Where I Buy Food

Great Park Irvine Farmers Market Orange County

Oh farmer’s markets, how I missed you. It’s been several long months, since I visited my favorite type of retail establishment. Yes we have them in Michigan all winter long, but once the harvest ends it’s the same thing week in and week out. Plus with subzero temperature last month, it wasn’t something I was about to do. Now I am here in sunny Southern California and on my first day in town, I had to get to a farmer’s market as soon as it was humanly possible. The first market I checked out was the market at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California. Here are some of the highlights:

Orange County Great Park Farmers Market

Sunny Cal Farms | Check out their facebook page
The stand that had the best marketing I thought was the Sunny Cal Farms stand. They had someone standing out front handing out samples with great enthusiasm. They had overflowing baskets of blood oranges, Cara Caras, Golden Nugget mandarins, Page mandarins, apples, pears, avocados, etc. Their signs were vibrinat and easy to read. Everything was priced the same, so you could just fill up a bag.

Great Park Irvine Farmers Market Orange County

I came to California hoping to find some different varieties of avocado and I was not disappointed when I saw their bacon avocado. Sorry it doesn’t taste like bacon. It is said to be more flavorful and creamier than the popular Hass that is pretty much all you ever see in the grocery store (another reason to shop your local farmer’s market).

Great Park Irvine Farmers Market Orange County

The most exciting thing from this vendor was their dried fruit selection. With samples galore and types of dried fruit I have never seen before this was my highlight at the market. Some of the things they have include Santa Rose Plums, O’Henry Peaches, White Nectarines, Figs, Apricots, and what I purchased Rainier cherries!

Great Park Irvine Farmers Market Orange County

Nature’s Tasty Treasures | Check out their facebook page
I first fell in love with varietal honey when I came to California, four years ago. I got to sample a few of their raw honeys – eucalyptus, cactus, and mixed berry. First time having a cactus honey. It had a bit of a granular texture, but yummy. The Mixed berry is the flavor I decided on. My taste buds did detect a berry flavor and I am not just saying that because it’s called mixed berry. There are certain honeys that do have nuisances of their floral source and some that do not. Berry sources usually do have a berry-like flavor, even if mild. This vendor also sold fresh roasted peanuts.

Great Park Irvine Farmers Market Orange County

Cherimoya
Don’t recall the name of the vendor who was selling cherimoya. This is a large, almost diamond shaped fruit, with a scaly green skin. When ripe, they have a delicious, creamy like texture, kind of like a banana with tropical undertones. I didn’t buy any because they are a more expensive fruit ($6 per pound) however it was just fun to see them at a farmer’s market.

Orange County Great Park Farmers Market

The Sweet Potato vendor
I am excited to see sweet potatoes varieties getting more attention. Whole Foods Market has been carrying up 5 varieties at a time lately. A vendor at this market had a wonderful selection including some varieties I never heard of. Some sweet potatoes are better for roasting and some are more starchy thus better for fries or hash (check out my post on different type of sweet potatoes). They have the fascinating Okinawan Sweet Potato, that is white on the outside and bright purple on the inside!

Great Park Irvine Farmers Market Orange County

Raw Sugar Cane Juice
I have seen sugar cane at Whole Foods and stores with a strong international emphasis. I never tried the stuff. That is until I got a sample of sugar cane juice from this cute stand. They had several different flavors to mix into the sugar cane even if didn’t want to go straight up. I went with the kumquat sugar cane juice. The kumquat flavor was pronounced, which excited me to no end. It was really sweet while being thirst quenching. It was a rich juice with a caramel like flavor. So fresh tasting. Never had anything quite like it.

It was beautiful day, with a nice gentle breeze. Perfect for market. With it’s amble parking and plenty of vendors to choose from, I recommend this market to anyone living in this area. The unique things at this market that I have not had at other markets (the sugarcane juice, dried fruit, sweet potato varieties), is what really makes it stand out.

Differences Between Trader Joe’s Honey

in Honey Products I Like

Guide to Buying Honey at Trader Joe's

Oh honey, how much I love you. I use this saying in reference to my wife, but also in reference to that sweet nectar that the bees oh so kindly provide for our enjoyment. I love sampling different varieties of honey. Ever since my trip out to California, 4 years ago, when I first discovered orange blossom and avocado honey, I have been trying as many new varieties as I could. You have to search them out. Most of the big chain stores don’t offer a good selection. However one of the exceptions is Trader Joe’s. In the last year, the selection has even gotten better. They have three honeys that are available for a reasonable price and are easy to find. Which one should you select? I brought home 3 of their finest so that I could help make your decision of which to buy that much easier – ok, mainly because I wanted to taste them side by side, but I am using my blog as an excuse, which bloggers are allowed to do!

Trader Joe Honeys

For years Trader Joe’s has sold their 100% Desert Mesquite Honey. More recently their Mostly Mesquite Honey showed up. I originally thought it was replacing the Desert Mesquite because I only saw the new one on the shelf, but eventually it came back. They also then added Tukish Honey. Let me share with the differences between these 3 different honeys.

TJ Desert Mesquite Honey

100% Desert Mesquite Honey
Origin: Desert of Northern Mexico
What is Mesquite? It’s a type of plant that actually falls into the legume family. It grows like a tree. You can find it in northern Mexico to the southwestern United States, even as far north as southern Kansas. It’s wood is used for smoking food, particularly in Texas and southwestern BBQ. When the tree blossoms it makes a great nectar source for bees. The honey that make from it is a light to medium amber color. It has a mild, yet distinctive taste. More flavor than just a clover honey. It would be great used in homemade BBQ sauce especially with some added mesquite liquid smoke.

TJ Mostly Mesquite Honey

Mostly Mesquite Honey
Origin: Argentina
The bottle says “Collected from bees whose primary forage source is the nectar of the Mesquite Tree’s blossom. This one is not 100% mesquite. The bees are getting their nectar from other sources as well, although the bottle doesn’t indicated those sources. The color is pretty much the exact same. The taste is similar, but I dedicate a hint of spice and it’s a little bit sweeter. They are similar that they can be used interchangeable, but different enough where it’s fun to have both on hand.

TJ Turkish Honey

Turkish Honey
Origin: Turkey
The bottle says “Produced by bees foraging nectar from primarily Rock Rose, Citrus, Wildflowers, and Turkish Pines”.
This honey is vastly different than the two above. It’s flavor is the sweetest. It has a very unique hard candy like flavor that I have never had in a honey. It tastes just like I was sucking some kind of hard candy. It’s color is darker than the other two honeys as well. It has several floral sources. Rock Rose is a shrub found in temperate areas of Europe and the Mediterranean. When it blooms the shrub is just covered in flowers. Lots of nectar opportunities for the bees. The Turkish Pine is a pine that is native to Turkey and some of the surrounding areas. An aphid sucks sap out of the tree and then secretes sugar that the bees collect for honey. Yes I mean the bees are collecting aphid poop. Try not to think about that one too much.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea to pick up all 3 of these honeys. Great to have when guests are over and they can taste the differences. For $5.99 for a 24 ounce bottle that is a wonderful deal on some good honey. Unless another store has a sale these are my go to honeys to have on hand for everyday use.

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