Tri Cities Col Solare.jpg

The Master of Wine is Bob Betz, and the vineyard is the crown jewel of Washington wine country, Col Solare.

Let's start with Betz. Forty years ago, he stood on a country lane in Burgundy overlooking a hillside covered with grape vines that over the centuries had produced wines of astonishing quality. The parcel had even been given a name by medieval monks: Clos de Bèze. Bèze, Betz, the similarity struck home. He turned to his wife, Cathy: "Some day, one of my own wines will be called Clos de Betz."

Betz, a Seattle native and UW graduate, was working at the time for Chateau Ste. Michelle. But 30 years later his prediction came true: first he earned the prestigious Master of Wine certification and then, after nearly 30 years at Ste. Michelle, started his own winery, Betz Family Cellars; Clos de Betz was indeed one of its top labels.

And now, like a lobbyist returning to the government he had once served, Betz is rejoining Ste. Michelle as a consultant on its most ambitious domestic project: Col Solare.

Red Mountain rises like a shallow loaf at the east end of the Yakima Valley that has, in the first decades as land for grapes, shown exceptional promise as a vineyard. The Col Solare project is a joint venture between Ste. Michelle and Italy's prominent Marchese Antinori wine family.

And how does Betz feel about returning to the fold? "I'm thrilled," he said. He knows the grapes well; he;s been guying Red Mountain cabernet for 20 years. "It's a very special place."

In a news release, Ted Baseler, the CEO of Ste. Michelle, said, "We are so proud that, for his first project outside of Betz Family, Bob decided to come home to Ste. Michelle and Col Solare. He has a long history with our team and our culture."

And what is Betz's role going to be? Well, he sold his own winery to Steve and Bridgit Griessel six years ago, and has finished up his duties as a consultant to the new owners. On to new adventures, right ?

"I'm bringing my perspective as a 'small winery' winemaker," Betz told me this weekend. "What I've learned about vineyards, grapes, process, blending." Typical Betz modesty, and yet. Who else in this state has had a 28-year career at a mega-wine producer like Ste. Michelle (finishing as VP Enology and Research), a Master of Wine degree, and a 15-year-run with his own micro-winery? Who else has that range of experience? You'd hire that guy, too. "I'll try to earn my keep," Betz said.

This post has been updated since its original publicaton on March 23rd.

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Starbucks announced at its annual meeting today that it will test a new lunchtime menu of Mediterranean-inspired grab-n-go salads and sandwiches in Chicago next month. It's the latest attempt by the Seattle-based coffee company to crack the fast-casual and quick-serve markets dominated by chains like Chipotle and coffee-shop rival Dunkin Donuts.

Food currently accounts for about 20% of Starbucks revenues of roughly $20 billion, and the company said last December it hoped to double that figure in the next four years by concentrating on improved breakfast and lunch offerings. In the meantime, it will cut back its evening wine and beer programs in all but the high-end Roasteries.

The new lunch menu, dubbed Mercato (the Italian word for market), will launch in 100 Starbucks stores in downtown Chicago. Yesterday the company announced it would add more gluten-free items to its breakfast menus, starting in Seattle. Earlier this year it launched $4.45 Egg Bites, sous-vide eggs flavored with bacon, cheese and spinach.

Luigi Bonini ponders.JPGLeading the menu development team for Mercato was Luigi Bonini, Starbucks senior VP for global product innovation whose previous projects include the Chestnut Praline Latte, the Toasted Graham Latte, and the S'mores Frappuccino as well as Starbucks Bistro Boxes.

At the heart of the Mercato concept are full-meal salads like za'atar chicken, seared steak and mango, and turkey with roasted corn. Sandwich options include an almond butter with strawberries on rye that tastes like a supercharged PB&J, an herbed chicken with fig spread on a ficelle, and a cubano on a toasted roll.

Sandwiches will run between $5 and $8, full salads $8 to $9. Side salads like cauliflower tabbouleh will run $4.75 to $5.75.

The food will be prepared fresh daily at a central commissary in Chicago; any food left over at the end of the day will be donated to food bank programs.

Starbucks had earlier announced an agreement with Princi, a prestigious bakery in Milan, to serve freshly prepared Italian specialties in its Roasteries.

It was the 25th and final annual meeting chaired by the charismatic Howard Schultz, who has led the company since its early days. A $1,000 investment in Starbucks stock at the IPO 25 years ago would be worth $180,000 today. And SBUX is the third-most-admired American company (after Apple and Amazon) according to Fortune.

Relieved of day-to-day operations, he's going to concentrate (he says) on special projects, especially launching the new high-end Roastery concept around the world. But he's a natural politician and is being actively recruited by Democrats to take a more prominent role in national politics.

Schultz & Johnson.JPGWhen a shareholder questioned the Starbucks policy of hiring refugees, criticized Schultz for speaking out against President Trump's travel ban, and revived the debunked notion that there had been a six-month "Muslim ban" under President Obama, Schultz smoothly turned the question around. "What will it take to build a great America?" he asked. "The very qualities Starbucks sees in its partners [a workforce of 330,000 in 75 countries]: empathy, generosity, humanity."

Starbucks today reaffirmed its intention to hire 10,000 refugees, mostly overseas, and has already hired 10,000 veterans domestically. It also plans to hire a total of 25,000 vets and military spouses by 2025 and to double-down on its hiring of "opportunity youth" from inner cities from the previously announced 40,000 to 100,000 by 2020.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz (left) turns over the key to the company's Pike Place Store to his successor, Kevin Johnson. Photo provided by Starbucks

The Face of Sockeye Salmon

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Sockeye salmon fillets.JPG

The sockeye salmon fillets glistened on the serving line, an almost impossibly luscious persimmon, dusted with blood orange powder; they were the standout dish in a lineup of hand-nurtured, bottle-raised, artisanal grains and heritage stews. They'd been delivered flash-frozen to Lisa Dupar's catering operation in Redmond; the salmon fillets had been seasoned with nothing mroe than salt by executive chef Dan Kiley, then slow-baked for 25 minutes in a 190-degree oven. This was lunch for a tough crowd, a daylong conference of local food professionals called FORKS (Fields Oceans Ranches Kitchens Stewards), on the campus of Bastyr University.

The texture and flavor were jaw-dropping. This is the salmon that Canlis serves. This is the salmon that you should seek out and serve at your next buffet. Do not attempt fancy techniques; they will be wasted on this fish.

Fishers Michael & Nelly Hand.JPGThis particular sockeye was brought to Seattle by two young fishers who spend the off-season in a house on Guemes Island, just across the channel from Anacortes: Michael and Nelly Hand. He's from Maine, she's from Alaska; they grew up in "fishing families" and met one summer when their boats were tied up in Cordova. Now they're married and have their own boat, a relatively tiny, 31-footer called the Pelican. And they fish the Copper River estuary with shallow gill nets a couple of times a week for a day or two at a time (depending on the strict regulations promulgated by Alaska Fish & Game). Tight quarters but cozy. They'll drop the nets for half an hour, then pull in between 500 and 1,500 pounds of salmon, which must be quickly bled and iced before the boat returns to the processing facility in Cordova. "That's the key," Michael says, "bleeding the fish." Just as important, adds Nelly, is handling each fish like a baby. The Hands are pioneers in person-to-person marketing of seafood in the same way that farmers sell produce as "Community Supported Agriculture," except that this is "Community Supported Fishery." You pay half up-front, at the beginning of the season, which supports the upfront costs of fishing and harvesting; your share of fish (individually quick-frozen and cryovac'd) is delivered after the season closes.

For her part, Chef Dupar grew up in Atlanta, started cooking at home because her mother wasn't interested. She entered an apprenticeship at the Peachtree Plaza hotel after high school, made her way to Zurich and cooked in European hotels, and, in 1984, landed in Seattle at the Palm Court, the first female chef at a Westin Hotel property.

She left the hotel biz to open her own place, Southern Accents, as well as a catering company to provide stylish, high-quality food for private events in the growing market on Seattle's eastside. (She really was there before Microsoft took over Redmond.) She and her husband, Jonathan Zimmer, opened Pomegranate Bistro in Redmond, an intimate spot adjacent to the spacious catering kitchen and have never looked back. Her current exec chef, Dan Kiley, moved west from Rhode Island; he'd done a professional externship at the Salish Lodge while studying at Johnson & Wales University.

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Exec chef Dan Kiley of Lisa Dupar Catering; Lisa Dupar; poster for Farmer-Fisher-Chef Connection

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