Cookbook sheds light on female food, wine entrepreneurs in Sonoma County


Book Release: Celebrate the official release of “Wine Country Women of Sonoma County” at 5 p.m. Sunday, March 15, at the Wine Spectator Learning Center at Sonoma State University, 1801 East Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park. The evening includes a panel discussion with four women from the book moderated by Michelle Mandro, wine and appetizers. Tickets are $85 to $165 (VIP ticket with book).

Sip & Signing: Mandro and four women from “Wine Country Women of Sonoma County” will serve wine and bites from the book at 5 p.m. Saturday, March 14, at the CIA at Copia, 500 First St., Napa. Tickets are $10 general, $70 with book.

Tickets and book orders:

Cost: $60 for book, or $100 for limited edition (with artwork on cover and signed by artist and author).

When Michelle Mandro of St. Helena set out to research and write “Wine Country Women of Sonoma County,” she figured it would take her about a year.

That was how long it took her, from start to release date, to produce “Wine Country Women of Napa Valley,” a similar coffee-table book that hit shelves in October 2017.

Then Armageddon struck in Sonoma County, and one year stretched into three.

“We had two fires, flooding and one of the women passed away (chef Evelyn Cheatham),” she said. “Finally, about a year ago, I decided I had to get this book out. This can’t go on and on and on.”

So Mandro had to be content with showcasing 46 women - she had hoped for a round number of 50 - culled from the vibrant food, wine, spirits, agriculture, art and hospitality worlds of Sonoma County who would inspire others.

“We are so long overdue for recognition,” she said. “This allows us to cast a spotlight not only on Sonoma County but some incredible women who are making a difference.”

The large-format book, being released this month, includes captivating portraits of the women along with family recipes paired with wine, beer or spirits. It’s a unique snapshot of Sonoma County and a go-to guide for both casual and elegant entertaining for readers.

“I like to think that I’m providing a look at Sonoma County through the eyes of an incredible group of women,” Mandro said.

Now that she has documented two of California’s finest wine regions, Mandro has moved on to the third and final region in her trilogy: the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

“I believe those are the three best wine regions our country has to offer,” said Mandro, who moved to the Napa Valley in 2004 to become executive director of the American Institute of Wine and Food, founded by Robert Mondavi and Julia Child in the 1980s.

”Gastronomy was a word they loved a lot,” she said. “They wanted to make food and wine more approachable with social gatherings, and there were chapters across the country.”

The job cemented Mandro’s enthusiasm for wine, and she worked for several family-owned wineries in the Napa Valley before getting a crash course in publishing with her own business, Wine Country Women.

“I love all wine. I truly am a wine woman,” she said. “That position really helped me develop greater appreciation for wine and food.”

For all the books, Mandro takes a deep dive into the region - researching newspaper and magazine articles, following up on referrals and existing contacts - to come up with a dynamic group of women, diverse in their occupations and geographic areas of the wine region.

Some of the accomplished women who made the Sonoma County cut include Katina Connaughton of SingleThread Farm in Healdsburg, Kate MacMurray of MacMurray Ranch in Healdsburg, Alanna Hanson of Hanson Distillery in Sonoma, Erinn Benziger Weiswasser of The Glen Ellen Star in Glen Ellen, Lauren Patz of Spirit Works Distillery in Sebastopol and artist Sandra Speidel of Petaluma, who served as the cover artist for the limited-edition version of the book.

“I look for the women who have interesting stories that resonate with me,” Mandro said. “And I hope a reader would find them fascinating to read about, too.”

The photo portraits of the women are fun, whimsical and spirited - Chris Hanna, president of Hanna Winery, serene in a yoga pose or Karen Warnelius-Miller of Garden Creek Winery, at the coast with her wetsuit and kitesurf board. Each photo shows a unique aspect of their lives.

“I didn’t want any of the women photographed in the vineyard or barrel room,” Mandro said. “What is something else about the woman that tells us who she is?”

For spring entertaining needs, we chose seasonal recipes from four women in the book that together make a spring menu of wine-and-food pairings, from appetizer to dessert.


Akiko Freeman, co-founder and winemaker of Freeman Winery in Sebastopol, is the first Japanese woman winemaker in the U.S., to Mandro’s best knowledge.

“That alone made her fascinating,” Mandro said. “In her story, we reflected on a childhood memory, when she used the wrong wine for cooking a favorite recipe, and it tasted bad.”

The lesson for Akiko is that the quality of the ingredients - whether in wine or in food - is crucial.

“This is such a spring food, and I try making it every spring when sweet peas and fennel are in season,” Freeman said of the soup. “I make it for our lunch often. It’s very light but satisfying.”

Sweet Pea and Fennel Soup

Makes 8 servings

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 fennel bulbs, roughly chopped

1 onion, roughly chopped


Book Release: Celebrate the official release of “Wine Country Women of Sonoma County” at 5 p.m. Sunday, March 15, at the Wine Spectator Learning Center at Sonoma State University, 1801 East Cotati Ave., Rohnert Park. The evening includes a panel discussion with four women from the book moderated by Michelle Mandro, wine and appetizers. Tickets are $85 to $165 (VIP ticket with book).

Sip & Signing: Mandro and four women from “Wine Country Women of Sonoma County” will serve wine and bites from the book at 5 p.m. Saturday, March 14, at the CIA at Copia, 500 First St., Napa. Tickets are $10 general, $70 with book.

Tickets and book orders:

Cost: $60 for book, or $100 for limited edition (with artwork on cover and signed by artist and author).

- Salt and pepper, to taste

5 cups chicken stock

1¼ pounds sweet peas, fresh or defrosted frozen

¼ cup heavy cream (optional)

- Diced tomato, to garnish

- Minced fresh chives, to garnish

Heat the butter and oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. When the butter is melted, add the fennel and onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 15 minutes.

Add the stock and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the peas and decrease the heat to medium-low. Simmer, partially covered, until heated through, about 5 minutes.

Cool the soup then purée in batches in a blender or food processor until completely smooth.

Add cream, if desired. Taste and adjust the seasoning. If you are serving the soup cold, cover and chill well in refrigerator, at least 6 hours. If the soup becomes too thick, add more stock as needed.

Serve warm or cold, garnished with tomatoes or chives, as desired.


In the book, chef Crista Luedtke is photographed in the Russian River with her rescue dog, Boon, who inspired her to leave the corporate world and join Guerneville’s up-and-coming food and hospitality scene. (Boon passed away in December.)

“Guerneville has such a rich history as a destination. It’s been such a sweet haven for vacationers since the 1950s and before,” she said. “I knew back then that this place would again be that, with some new life breathed in.”

Luedtke is a serial entrepreneur who has created several businesses in Guerneville: boon hotel + spa, boon eat + drink, El Barrio cocktail lounge and most recently, BROT restaurant, inspired by the German restaurant her parents ran in her Wisconsin hometown.

Luedtke chose this flavorful carrot appetizer/side dish she said can “transport you to another place.”

“You can’t not love them,” she said of the recipe. “They make carrots sexy and more grown up.”

Moroccan-spiced Carrots with Smoked Yogurt and Toasted Seeds

Serves 6 to 8

For Moroccan sauce:

2 dry guajillo chilies, deseeded and roughly chopped

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1 tablespoon yellow curry powder

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon cayenne

¼ cup packed brown sugar

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard

5½ tablespoons cider vinegar

¾ tablespoon salt, more to taste

1 scant cup olive oil

For smoked yogurt:

1 pint whole-milk Greek yogurt

1½ teaspoons kosher salt, more to taste

- Smoking gun with hose and wood chips, loaded per device instructions

For carrots and toasted seeds garnish:

2 bunches (about 12-16) heirloom baby carrots, cleaned or peeled and tops trimmed to ¾-inch

1-2 tablespoons kosher salt, divided

1 tablespoon white sesame seeds, toasted

1 tablespoon black sesame seeds, toasted

2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds, toasted

2 tablespoons sunflower seeds, toasted

1-2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

½ cup cilantro leaves, for garnish

To make the Moroccan sauce: In a dry pan over medium-high heat, toast deseeded chilies until aromatic, stirring constantly, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and add cumin and coriander seeds to pan, also toasting until aromatic, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and combine with chilies and all other sauce ingredients except olive oil in a blender or food processor. Pulse dry ingredients a few times to chop, then drizzle in olive oil while blender or processor is running on medium to low speed. When combined and blended to a smooth consistency, remove sauce to an airtight container. Sauce can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, or in the freezer for up to 2 months. Makes approximately 2 cups.

To make the yogurt: In a 4-cup stainless-steel mixing bowl, blend the yogurt with approximately 1½ teaspoons of salt, or to taste. It should have a nice flavor and be a little less tart. Place yogurt in a stainless-steel mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Tuck the hose of smoking gun under the plastic wrap and light the wood chips, per your device’s instructions. Once smoke has filled the bowl, turn off gun and let sit for about 10 minutes. Leaving the bowl covered, repeat the smoking process for an additional 10 minutes; this should infuse a nice smoky flavor. This process can be done in advance. If you have time, drain the yogurt in a strainer lined with cheesecloth over a bowl in the refrigerator overnight. This will thicken the yogurt and result in a more luxurious texture.

To prepare the carrots: Blanch the cleaned or peeled carrots in salted boiling water for approximately 5 minutes, just until al dente. You can also start carrots in cold water with a generous amount of salt, and as soon as the carrots begin the boil they should be done. Shock the carrots by placing them in an ice bath directly from the boiling water; this will prevent overcooking. Remove from ice water when cool and pat dry or store in the refrigerator if you are prepping them ahead.

To make toasted seed garnish: In a food processor or spice grinder, gently pulse toasted seeds once or twice to roughly chop them. If you do not have a processor, put into a resealable bag and smash with a meat tenderizer. Place the toasted seeds in a small bowl and mix in a scant tablespoon of olive oil and a generous sprinkling of salt. Set aside until ready to use.

To assemble the dish: Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet or cast-iron pan over medium heat. Add the carrots and sear until you get a bit of color on them, then add a few tablespoons of the Moroccan sauce and stir to coat all carrots. Add more sauce and salt to taste, turn off pan and set aside.

Using a large spoon, spread a generous amount of your smoked yogurt on a serving platter or on individual plates for a first course. Arrange carrots on the platter or plates on top of yogurt sauce, garnish with toasted seeds and cilantro leaves. Serve immediately.


Amy Chenoweth, winemaker for Chenoweth Wines in Sebastopol, is a self-described “river rat” who grew up in the west county and started the winery with her husband, Charlie, whose family has roots in Green Valley agriculture dating back to the 1800s.

“She’s rustic and down-to-earth,” Mandro said. “Just a cool woman to hang out with.”

In the book, Chenoweth is pictured with a ’72 Chevy pickup from the ranch that Charlie inherited from his dad which is still used to haul stock feed, grapes and animals. This blond mother of two boys, 24 and 22, enjoys her life on the farm and, like the truck, is in it for the long run.

“I grew up with a mom who had a good sense of healthy foods,” she said. “Good food and wine have always been a part of my life.”

For her entree, Chenoweth resurrected a childhood favorite she used to make with her brother - refrigerator grilled cheese, stuffed with anything in the fridge. She gave it a Wine Country twist with some crunchy prosciutto and fresh asparagus smothered in Brie.

She hopes the book will bring Sonoma County and its diverse wines and women to the forefront.

“The fact that these 40 women are trailblazers in their fields is amazing to me,” she said. “I hope readers will read this book and think, ‘Those are some badass women.’”

Asparagus, Crispy ?Prosciutto, and ?Brie Grilled Cheese

Makes 4 servings

8 slices rustic bread, ½-inch thick

¼ cup olive oil

1-2 cloves garlic

8 slices prosciutto

16 spears asparagus, tough ends trimmed

- Kosher salt

8 ounces Brie cheese (or some other soft, melty cheese)

Heat a grill or grill pan to medium heat.

Reserve 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and drizzle the rest over the bread, oiling both sides of each piece.

Grill the bread on both sides until toasted, then set aside. Rub each slice of bread on both sides with a raw garlic clove, which will turn into a thin layer of garlic paste on the surface of the bread.

In a large, heavy skillet, fry the prosciutto over medium-high heat until all of the fat has rendered and the prosciutto is crispy. Set aside.

Cook the asparagus in the same pan with the prosciutto fat, cooking for a total of about 3-4 minutes until a little crisped but still al dente, then remove and sprinkle with salt.

Spread about an ounce of cheese on each slice of bread and put 4 of them in same pan for about 1 minute or until the cheese starts to melt.

Pile 4 pieces of asparagus on top of each of the 4 slices of bread, then put 2 slices of prosciutto on top. Close up the sandwiches with another piece of cheesy bread on top, and flip sandwich to melt the cheese on that side. (Alternatively, to serve open-faced, simply put 2 asparagus spears and 1 piece of prosciutto on top of each piece of bread.) Serve sandwiches hot, sliced in half if desired.


Daisy Damskey dressed in a fireman’s coat and hat for her portrait because some proceeds from the book will go to the Sonoma County Community Foundation’s resilience fund, founded to help with long-term fire relief from the 2017 fires.

“This is my not-so-subtle nod to the heroes that saved our home as well as many other properties on the steep hills above Geyserville,” she said. “The sheep are one of the methods we are using to clear brush.”

This mocha cake from her Grandmamma, a Southern belle from Virginia, blends coffee and chocolate flavors that pair well with the Palmeri Cabernet Sauvignon Dark and Brooding made by her husband, Kerry Damsky, and son.

“This was the family birthday cake,” she said. “If it is your birthday and you are a member of the George family, this is what Grandmamma would bake.”

Grandmamma George’s ?Perfect Mocha Cake

Makes 8 servings

For cake:

2 cups cake flour, sifted

¼ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

¼ teaspoon ground clove

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ cup Crisco

1? cups sugar

2 eggs

1¼ cups milk

For icing:

1 stick butter

2 tablespoons vanilla

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

¼ cup extra-strong coffee

1¼ cups powdered sugar

- Sugared violets and espresso beans, for garnish

For the cake: Preheat oven to 375 degrees and adjust a rack in the middle of the oven. Use butter, Crisco or cooking spray to coat 2 (two) 8-inch round cake pans. Flour or add parchment to the bottom of the pan if sticking is a concern.

Sift dry ingredients, except for the sugar, into a medium-sized bowl. In another larger bowl with a hand mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat Crisco with sugar until smooth. Add eggs and beat until incorporated, scraping the bottom of the bowl to ensure everything is thoroughly mixed.

Next, add half of the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, beat for 1 minute, then add half of the milk, beating again until mixed well. Repeat with remaining dry ingredients and milk, then beat finally for about 1 minute more with mixer. Total mixing time should be about 4 minutes.

Split cake batter between the two prepared pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean. Let cakes cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and return to rack to cool fully.

For the frosting: Cream butter with other ingredients to make smooth, spreading consistency. When the cakes have fully cooled, spread frosting between the layers of cake, then over the top and sides of the cake.

Decorate with sugared violets and espresso beans. These can be made ahead by brushing flowers and beans with egg white, sprinkling with sugar and leaving them on a parchment-lined sheet pan to dry in a cool place.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or On Twitter @dianepete56.

Diane Peterson

Features, The Press Democrat

I’m interested in the home kitchen, from sheet-pan suppers to the latest food trends. Food encompasses the world, its many cultures, languages and history. It is both essential and sensual. I also have my fingers on the pulse of classical music in Sonoma County, from student mariachi bands to jazz crossover and symphonic sounds. It’s all a rich gumbo, redolent of the many cultures that make up our country and the world.

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