At times, writing and teaching about wine can be a solitary experience. That's why I was happy to engage in some human to human contact at the recent Wine Tourism Conference held in the welcoming wine country town of Paso Robles, California.
As with most events of this kind, there was an often dizzying array of seminars to choose from, people to meet and re-connect with, and information to absorb.
Here is a quick and dirty rundown of what I considered to be the main take-aways, many of which were repeated over the course of the conference.
The recipe seems simple: take 2 award winning chefs and one acclaimed restaurateur. Blend with high quality sustainable ingredients, sprinkle liberally with lots of creativity and serve with class.
The result: Pizzeria Mozza!
A Southern California favorite since they opened the original Los Angeles restaurant in 2006, it seemed only fitting than when owners Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich were seeking a location for their new San Diego incarnation, they selected a slice of local social history – the “Headquarters” at Pacific Coast Highway and Harbor Blvd.
From 1939 to 1987 this was the original home the San Diego Police Department. And a stylish complex it was, with a typically SoCal mix of architectural styles, ranging from Spanish Colonial and Pueblo to Classical. The buildings have been beautifully restored, befitting it’s stature on the National Register of Historic Places, with fountains and shaded courtyards mingled with commercial spaces.
Pizzeria Mozza, with its respect for history and tradition - enhanced by a modern twist- is a perfect fit for the location.
There are four Pizzeria Mozza locations: Los Angeles, Newport Beach, the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore and now San Diego. Each restaurant shares the same philosophy summed up in this quote from Nancy Silverton : “ Simple, all natural ingredients lead to artful nutrition”.
This location is green certified and procures its products from green oriented suppliers. Even the sparkling water is produced ‘in house’.
There’s a spacious outdoor patio (great for people watching on Sunday’s during the Certified Farmer’s Market!) and an inviting interior dining area.
Several months ago I was invited to a Press Lunch for the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association. We had a chance to not only sample some of the classic dishes from Pizzeria Mozza but also to meet many of the people who make it all happen
The menu also features a host of local San Diego draft and bottled beers and a creative wine list focusing on, not surprisingly, Italian vino. Many are from organic, smaller wineries that you won’t see on your average wine list. All have been chosen with the menu in mind and we can thank Sommelier LaMont Schroeder for that!
Each incarnation of Pizzeria Mozza shows a bit of it’s own personality, especially San Diego. With ever changing menu items to suit the season and the chef’s creative streak you could come back time and again and always find something new.
There are, however, some classic staples and we were thrilled to sample them all.
We began with a selection of Bruschetta -White Beans alla Toscana with Saba and Chicken livers, capers, parsley and pancetta. The bread was perfect – toasty but not so crisp as to shatter into a hundred pieces when you bit into it! The texture of the white beans was amazing and the savory liver was brightened by a hint of lemon and fresh parsley.
Chef John Stenbakken explained that the Bruschetta are a menu tradition, but the toppings are rotated on a regular basis. Everything is made in house – an important element in maintaining consistent quality.
John has been with the company for may years and plans on adding more pasta dishes and grilled items to the menu.
Our next course was a huge plate of gorgeous Pane Bianco, dripping with high end olive oil and garlic – the perfect compliment to probably the most beautifully presented Mozza Caprese I have ever seen!
The small ‘on-the-vine’ tomatoes were roasted for about 2 – 21/2 hours to concentrate their sweet flavors and worked really well with the ultra creamy Burrata and fresh pesto.
To cleanse our palates, a colorful Insalata Rosso was served. Crisp radicchio dressed with a simple lemon vinaigrette, delightfully ‘chewy’ Wisconsin applewood bacon, freshly shredded Peccarino Romano and softly cooked egg. I could have made a meal of this with some of that wonderful Pane Bianco!
But we couldn’t stop without trying some pizza! The ‘signature’ pizza, unique to San Diego, is the Kale Pizza. Beautifully balanced toppings of fresh baby kale, savory red onion, ricotta cheese, mozzarella and spicy coppa adorned the light, crispy, crust. Delicious.
We were introduced to pastry chef Juli Sinning, keeper of the secret dough recipe! Julie started with Pizzeria Mozza four years ago in their Singapore location and was brought out to San Diego to open the new restaurant.
Although she could not be bribed to divulge all the secrets of this fantastic pizza crust, she did explain that they make all the dough by hand, twice a day – once in the morning and again in the afternoon. The dough will sit overnight which aids in developing the texture and flavors.
Wood fired ovens at incredibly high temperatures bake the pizzas in a matter of moments and give them that distinctive deep color.
Julie is also in charge of the terrific dessert selection. She makes all the Gelato from scratch using a special machine imported from Italy and they even squeeze their own fresh fruit juices to go into the house prepared sorbets.
We were lucky enough to sample some of these cool, creamy confections: a hazelnut gelato and the pineapple/coconut sorbet. Refreshing, vibrant and true flavors shone through.
These contrasted with the other signature dessert – the Butterscotch Budino – a decadently creamy pudding topped with burnt sugar, softly whipped cream, and Maldon sea salt. Sinful. The accompanying pine nut and rosemary biscuit was a savory addition to the sweet and salt of the pudding. Wow.
Whether you visit Pizzeria Mozza for a quick ‘slice’ and a beer or spend several hours sipping your wine and savoring multiple courses, you are sure to leave this terrific location knowing you celebrated “La Dolce Vita”.
Pizzeria Mozza is located in the “Headquarters at Seaport District”, 789 West Harbor Blvd, San Diego 92101 (609) 376-4353
Parking: There are two lots at Seaport Village, across the street, Valet Parking at the Headquarters and metered parking on surrounding streets.
Today is the one month anniversary of my becoming a CSW and the response of:
“Well, that’s great. Congratulations and what the heck is a CSW?” is the most frequent comment I’ve encountered and rightfully so.
It seems that we all get so wrapped up in our own professions that we forget that, what we think is common knowledge is really ‘Greek’ to everyone else. This is especially true in the wine world.
To clarify, CSW stands for “Certified Specialist of Wine” and is a post-nominal earned through the Society of Wine Educators.
Based in Washington DC, the SWE is “a non-profit educational organization whose mission is to advance wine education through professional development and certification” and the “Society's goal is to foster and promote the professional education and development of the individual in particular, and the professional education and development of the wine industry as a whole.”*
The test is multiple choice, 100 questions and based on the 250 page CSW Study Guide. Sounds simple enough. That was until I booked my exam date, December 6th.
Let’s just say that this little project consumed my life for about 9 weeks.
Besides the official book there were online quizzes, courtesy of the wonderful Jane Nickles (www.bubblyprofessor.com) and lots of flashcards! My IPhone voice memo app still has my dulcet tones reading the regions of Burgundy from north to south plus other tidbits of sleep depriving wine trivia. And did I mention the flashcards?
And maps- maps from the Guild of Sommelier, maps from Google, maps from - well, I’m sure you get the picture.
A few days before the exam I took some time off to attend a Guild of Sommelier Bordeaux tasting. I was speaking to one of the attendees (a “Somm” in a rather upscale San Diego restaurant) and noticed her CSW pin proudly displayed on her lapel. I mentioned that I was taking the test in two days. “You’ll be fine” she said then proceeded to tell me that she had to take the test twice as the first attempt yielded her a grade of 73, two points shy of the needed 75. Wow, great, thanks a lot!
Less than fourtyeight hours later, the deed was done. And a week after that, on December 14th, my test results were online.
Was it worth the angst and time? Most definitely. Would I do it again? In a heart beat. I ordered the workbook for the CWE the very next day!
* courtesy of the Society of Wine Educators website: www.societyofwineeducators.org
For me, one of the best things I do as a Wine Educator, is to work with Tasting room staff.
Often referred to as “servers” or ”pourers”, these important members of a winery’s front line are so much more.
Yes, one of the main parts of the job is to pour wine samples for visitors and be pleasant and hospitable, but when a team member loves and excels in their position they are part Host/Ambassador/Educator/Entertainer/Phycologist and Salesperson.
Welcoming every person who comes through the door and making them feel at home is common sense. Unfortunately, some establishments go only this far and then drop the ball.
An ‘Ambassador’ can tell you what’s going on in the area; where to eat; who has the best picnic spots; talk about other things to do while you visit their part of the world. Yes, there is apparently more to do out there besides visit wineries!
Wine ‘education’ is so important, and I know I’m biased in this department, but how can you expect your team to sell your product if they don’t know anything about it? The person who takes your order at Starbuck’s is well versed in coffee and your staff should be schooled in the basics of wine so they can be confident to answer any and all questions that come their way.
And with that confidence will come the freedom to ‘entertain’ your guests with stories and humor making each visitor feel special.
The ‘phycologist’ will know just the right questions to ask as well as have the patience to listen to your customers in order to ‘feel out’ their preferences and experience with wine. By doing so, the tasting can be tailored to their needs and your staff can suggest the right products. This makes them better ‘salespeople’ without having to badger customers with endless suggestions that don’t interest or appeal to them. Finding the right service, like a Wine Club membership or free shipping, shows that you listened to the individual needs of your guest.
So next time you’re swirling your sample at the tasting room bar, don’t forget to take a moment and smile at your ‘server’.
Wine lover, educator and writer.