Napa Valley has marketed itself as a food and wine pairing destination, but behind the carefully-curated plates and perfectly-positioned fruits, veggies and herbs are not only the chefs, but also the culinary gardeners keeping these farm-to-table offerings afloat.
Spending their days plucking microgreens, snipping flowers and watering vegetable beds, these farmers grow produce like leafy greens, fancy herbs and more to supply fresh and local ingredients to their teams of chefs, eventually landing in the mouths of visitors.
You won’t find any grapevines in these gardens — there are enough of those in the surrounding areas anyways — and now that spring has sprung, a lot of change is happening in the Napa Valley’s edible estates.
“Right now is sort of a transitional time,” said Tessa Henry, manager of the Clif Family Farm up on Howell Mountain. “We have spring plants growing, but then we have hot days where it doesn’t feel like spring anymore, so the lettuces and the spinach might not be so happy, but we are also preparing peppers and harvesting fava beans, green garlic, tatsoi and parsley.”
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Clif Family has one of Napa County’s approved culinary garden programs, and since Henry took over as farm manager after working as a gardener for Frog’s Leap Winery, she has been able to experiment with growing fruits, vegetables and flowers on the hillside property.
“Every season has been trial and error with what we can grow and what the kitchen likes and the amounts, because they like pretty much everything we give them, but they also want to make sure that there is room for it on the menu,” she said.
When miscalculations do happen, though, the chef team can get creative.
Once, Henry and her fellow gardeners harvested far more sunchokes than expected, resulting in some innovation and an added soup item on the menu.
“When it becomes available, the kitchen team figures out what to do with it, and they always turn it into something really delicious,” she said.
Additionally, since Clif Family manages a food truck and sells food retail items