Knowing where your food comes from has become a familiar directive to anyone paying even the slightest attention to health and lifestyle news. At the Culinary Round Table dinners at Robert Sinskey Vineyards in the Napa Valley, knowing from whom your food comes allows consumers to explore more intimately why organically grown and locally sourced foods makes sense. At the latest Culinary Round Table dinner, Deborah and Jim Durst shared their passion for organic produce, opening up a dialogue among the small group of diverse guests and providing inspiration to all. The relaxing ambiance in the trellised courtyard of Robert Sinskey Vineyards overlooking Stags’ Leap, over a five-course dinner with wines, created a comfortable environment for everyone to share their thoughts and experiences.
Jim Durst, a farmer’s son, first became interested in organics in the 1960’s after reading Robert Rodale, and became fully organic in the early 1980’s. They currently farm over 500 acres of vegetables, fruit and grain which are distributed to retailers such as Whole Foods and the Raley’s family of stores under the labels Hungry Hollow and Durst Organic Growers. For the Dursts, organic farming is not just about being “free of pesticides,” its about producing food that has flavor, freshness and nutrition. Flavor because if it doesn’t taste good, people – and certainly kids – won’t eat it. The Dursts grow only what performs best in the climate and soils and grow what they like to eat, such as watermelons. Jim said growers should always plant what they like – that way, if they can’t sell the product, they can always eat it! Jim spoke about how beneficial bacteria in the plant’s root zone helps it absorb nutrients in the soil and how, according to UC Davis studies, Dursts’ farm has extensive activity of these bacteria compared to conventional farms and even other organic farms. He also informed us how humic acids in the organic soils improve the availability of mineral nutrients in the plants and how this vitality is captured in one’s body when eating organically grown foods. Deborah said that in living organically, there is a change in one’s chemistry that literally connects you to the earth. Deborah, who spends a lot of her time in the office, can be found occasionally in the fields, laying on the ground looking at the sky.
The Dursts believe that everyone should have access to good, nutritious food and support the cause through educational tours of their farm. Everyone at the table agreed that nutritious eating begins young with positive food experiences inspiring one guest, social worker Beth Southorn, to plan a tour of the farm for a large group of underprivileged children from the Sacramento area. The Dursts’ belief in ‘food justice’ also includes contributing to the local food bank in Yolo County. Last year, they donated 240,000 lbs of food.
The Dursts’ produce was featured in many of the dishes that evening including the roasted cherry tomatoes with thick-cut braised bacon and avocado – pairing beautifully with vibrancy of the Robert Sinskey Pinot Noir Carneros Four Vineyards 2007 – and the taleggio cheese-filled crispy zucchini blossoms and summer squash salad which complemented the fresh elegance of the Robert Sinskey Pinot Gris Carneros 2008. The wood-fired squab breast with tender green beans, braised leg hash and natural jus was absolutely delicious, made even more sumptuous with the intensity of the Robert Sinskey Pinot Noir Carneros Vandal Vineyard 2007.
Durst Organic Growers is located in Yolo County, on the way to UC Davis and Sacramento but connecting to the 505 due North, about an hour from the town of Napa. They welcome group visits.
The Culinary Round Table dinners at Robert Sinskey Vineyards generally take place monthly between May and October. The dinners are deliberately small to give guests the opportunity to really get to know where there food comes from. The dinners are not widely publicized but can be found through a tiny link on their website or call 707.944.9090 or 800.869.2030. Robert Sinskey Vineyards is located at 6320 Silverado Trail in the Stags’ Leap district.