Meet the Maker: Hello Cello Limoncello di Sonoma

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We’re always looking for local purveyors that will enhance our restaurants and promote the region, whether they’re winemakers, farmers, or artisans. So, when we met Fred and Amy Groth, our neighbors and founders of HelloCello, a certified organic limoncello made in Sonoma, we were intrigued.

Limoncello, a lemon liqueur originally from Italy, is a difficult spirit because, outside of Italy, it’s often too sweet and syrupy. Fred and Amy’s Limoncello di Sonoma tastes light and fresh—like it actually comes from real lemons (which it does!). It was the perfect fit for ESTATE, where we serve it as a digestivo, or after-dinner drink, and have incorporated it into cocktails.

The story behind HelloCello is a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit that seems to flourish in Sonoma. Fred and Amy moved to Sonoma from Colorado in 2008 after visiting Sonoma and basically falling in love with the town. “We wanted to do something fun and different and wanted a lifestyle change,” recalls Fred. “Sonoma was perfect because it has a European feel to it and there are so many artisan products here, like cheese and wine.” The Groths packed up their three kids and moved to Sonoma. They had always loved limoncello and made it as a hobby, but they realized there was no one in the U.S. making artisan limoncello. “The limoncello here in the U.S. is pasteurized and shelf stabilized,” says Fred. “We wanted to make a smallbatch, artisan product.”

Fred went to Italy for a month to learn the techniques of making limoncello. They built a distilled spirits plant in Sonoma, and one year later they started production with 80 cases. Production is now 100 to 150 cases made four to five times a year. “We want it really fresh,” says Fred. Everything is done by hand and the only full-time employees are Fred and Amy. “My wife and I do everything,” says Fred. “We make it, bottle it, and deliver it.”

What makes HelloCello Limoncello di Sonoma different from mass-market limoncello are the ingredients and the freshness. They start with organic Eureka and Sorrento lemons, which grow year-round in California. The Sorrento lemon, grown in the town of Sorrento, Italy, is the original lemon used in Italian limoncello. Instead of cane sugar Fred and Amy decided to use agave, for both taste and health reasons; it gives the limoncello a deeper flavor and doesn’t spike blood glucose levels like other sweeteners do. Instead of a high-proof grain alcohol, HelloCello is made with distilled grapes, or brandy. (Fred and Amy found someone to make brandy to their specifications.) “Everything except for the agave is from within 60 to 80 miles of our plant,” notes Fred. All of the ingredients are 100 percent certified organic.

The Groths use the traditional limoncello process and the most important ingredient is the lemon peel. Each batch requires the peels of 4,000 lemons, though the recipe only uses the yellow peel, not the pith or juice. The Groths turned the time-consuming chore of peeling lemons into a festive occasion by throwing lemon-peeling parties. “Our friends come over, we’ll get a keg or and have wine, and everyone sits at a big table and peels and zests,” says Fred, laughing. There are no machines that could peel the lemons because when working with organic citrus there are imperfections that a machine couldn’t work around, notes Fred. The lemon peels then go into a tank with the brandy, where the liquid is filtered, simple syrup is added, and the limoncello is bottled. The whole process takes about one month from start to finish. “It’s fresh to market,” says Fred. We were so impressed with their product that we asked them to make us a fig liqueur. They agreed and started researching recipes and techniques.

“It was an interesting and fun process,” says Fred. “We made 30 samples with various botanical and flavor elements (such as orange peel, tarragon, and star anise) to decide which would go well with fig and alcohol.” We had an informal tasting panel, and we chose the flavors that worked the best. Production had to start almost immediately to take advantage of the second fig season that was just beginning. Fred and Amy (and their kids!) wild-harvested 400 pounds of fresh figs from around Sonoma Valley. “We chopped them up and threw them in with the alcohol and herbs, let it sit for a month, and then filtered it and added sugar,” Fred remarks. Voilà—our fig liqueur! Fred and Amy produced 55 cases and we serve it in the restaurants. It was so delicious that they plan to make it a seasonal product.

It’s amazing that two Americans could travel to Italy, fall in love with a beverage, and recreate it here in Sonoma. “We’re small producers filling a niche in specialty spirits,” says Fred. They are devoted to making the perfect organic limoncello and in our mind they’ve succeeded.


Find HelloCello (along with their other delicious offerings) at their new craft distillery and tasting room located at Cornerstone, Sonoma.

Open daily: Cornerstone 23570 Arnold Drive

(This article originally published in Plats du Jour: the girl & the fig’s Journey through the Seasons in Wine Country)

Wine Wednesday: Daniel, 2012 Soberanes Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands

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As you may know, since the very beginning the girl & the fig has boasted an exclusively Rhône-alone” wine list.

We’ve always loved that featuring unique Rhône wines gives us an opportunity to begin a conversation with our guests, perhaps introduce them to something new, as well as to present talented and innovative producers we believe in.


In honor of “Wine Wednesday,” a little about one of our beloved Rhône producers –

This week: Daniel, 2012 Soberanes Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands

About the winemaker: Daniel Fitgerald

Brack Mountain’s founding Winemaker, Dan Fitzgerald is committed to making elegant, age-worthy wines that reflect the specific site, season and source of their origin. Dan’s deep appreciation for fine craftsmanship and attention to detail, coupled with a life-long love of open spaces, are the root of his attraction to both vineyard and cellar. An artist by nature, Dan’s innate curiosity drives his passion for winemaking, which is fueled by his fierce work ethic.

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Tasting Notes:

DANIEL Fitzgerald is the name, strong and spicy Syrah is his game. Fruit’s from the sunny, windy, moderate climate Santa Lucia Highlands region, where Syrah comes out deep and “wild.” Smell and taste blueberry liqueur, black pepper, espresso, smoked NY strip steak, black currants, cocoa, black olive.

Pairings:

At the girl & the fig we’d recommend pairing Daniel, 2012 Soberanes Syrah, with steak frites (6-ounce flat iron steak, frites, roasted garlic & herb butter), Sonoma mountain beef burger (grilled onions, house-made pickles, frites), soft cheeses.

At home try it with smoked prime rib, whipped potatoes with gravy, and sauteed green beans.

Cheers!


(Thirsty? Shop Daniel, 2012 Soberanes Syrah, here, or book your next reservation at the girl & the fig!)

Wine Wednesday: Flanagan Wines 2013 Syrah, Bennett Valley

winewednesday

As you may know, since the very beginning the girl & the fig has boasted an exclusively Rhône-alone” wine list.

We’ve always loved that featuring unique Rhône wines gives us an opportunity to begin a conversation with our guests, perhaps introduce them to something new, as well as to present talented and innovative producers we believe in.


In honor of “Wine Wednesday,” a little about one of our beloved Rhône producers –

This week: Flanagan Wines 2013 Syrah, Bennett Valley

About the winemaker: Cabell Coursey

Cabell describes his philosophy:

Winemaking is the culmination of a vast number of decisions. Starting with the site, the farming practice, the response to weather conditions, the picking date, the tank and barrel programs, ferment protocols, and continuing through blending and bottling.  It is the daily decisions, actions, and sometimes lack of action that unlocks a vineyard’s highest potential.  This quest to reveal each vineyards unique personality, while dealing with the challenges inherent in farming, is what makes winemaking challenging, interesting, and highly rewarding. My goal is always the same, to deliver each vineyard’s best expression in each vintage and to make a wine where the last glass is better than the first.

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Tasting Notes:

The nose is an intriguing mix of dark red fruits and more savory notes like bay leaf. The palate has
a classic Rhone profile with fruit components, bacon fat, and hint of white pepper, briar and earth notes. 

Pairings:

At the girl & the fig we’d recommend pairing Flanagan Wines 2013 Syrah, with steak frites (6-ounce flat iron steak, frites, roasted garlic & herb butter)grass-fed steak tartare (traditional with raw egg, caperberries, lavendar sea salt, toast), hard cheeses.

At home try it with pot roast with horseradish whipped potatoes, beef with mole sauce, Wagyu beef with simple salt & pepper.

Cheers!


(Thirsty? Shop Flanagan Wines 2013, Syrah, here, or book your next reservation at the girl & the fig!)

Wine Wednesday: Stags’ Leap Winery 2015 Viognier, Napa Valley

winewednesday

As you may know, since the very beginning the girl & the fig has boasted an exclusively Rhône-alone” wine list.

We’ve always loved that featuring unique Rhône wines gives us an opportunity to begin a conversation with our guests, perhaps introduce them to something new, as well as to present talented and innovative producers we believe in.


In honor of “Wine Wednesday,” a little about one of our beloved Rhône producers –

This week: Stags’ Leap Winery’s 2015 Viognier, Napa Valley

About the winemaker: Christophe Paubert

Winemaking is traditional here, focused on a pure expression of the land. We didn’t invent winemaking; we just work hard at it. Everything is well-informed by experience and classic winemaking technique, but nothing is rote or formulaic. Decisions are made based on the fruit itself, and the conditions of each and every harvest. Our consistent quality of wines comes from this balancing act. Our wines are well made. They’re delicious, showing finesse and integrity.

[Source]

Tasting Notes:

Juicy apricot, nectarine and floral notes abound with a subtle blend of passion fruit and honeysuckle, supported by crisp acidity and freshness.

Pairings:

At the girl & the fig we’d recommend pairing Stags’ Leap Winery’s 2015 Viognier, with the fig & arugula salad (toasted pecans, MANO FORMATE pancetta, laura chenel chèvre, fig & port vinaigrette), wild king salmon (romanesco broccoli, olives, mint, heirloom apple butter), and soft cheeses.

At home, try it as an aperitif, with lemon chicken and roasted potatoes or curried shrimp over rice.

Cheers!


(Thirsty? Shop Stags’ Leap Winery’s 2015 Viognierhere, or book your next reservation at the girl & the fig!)

Wine Wednesday: Idle Cellars’ 2013 Grenache, Kick Ranch Vineyard, Sonoma County

winewednesday

As you may know, since the very beginning the girl & the fig has boasted an exclusively Rhône-alone” wine list.

We’ve always loved that featuring unique Rhône wines gives us an opportunity to begin a conversation with our guests, perhaps introduce them to something new, as well as to present talented and innovative producers we believe in.


In honor of “Wine Wednesday,” a little about one of our beloved Rhône producers –

This week: Idle Cellars’ 2013 Grenache, Kick Ranch Vineyard, Sonoma County

About Idle Cellars:

Idle Cellars is a micro-winery located in Sonoma County, California, founded by Ari Heavner, a Berkeley Native and entrepreneur and Ben Larks, an artist from Los Angeles. Their shared affinity for world travel and adventure led Heavner and Larks to connect in 2006 while working crush in Sonoma.

Idle Cellars was born with their first batch of Cabernet Sauvignon reflecting, as in most harmonious relationships, a balanced yin and yang between city dwelling Heavner and country living Larks.  Striving to produce an elegantly balanced wine as equal in technical mastery as grace of art, their belief is that the essence of winemaking is “getting to know your grapes” and ensuring the best of Sonoma makes it from the vine to the bottle through hands-on craftsmanship.

Working together for 9 years now, Ben and Ari’s winemaking bond is stronger than ever, escalating the Idle movement one glass at a time.

Tasting Notes:

Crisp, even tannins; juicy, bright acidity, and a mineral finish brings the wine a mature elegance. Toned and spicy, with faded exotic spices, dried strawberry, white pepper, and ripe raspberry gives a balanced sensation to an old world wine with a modern twist.

Pairings:

At the girl & the fig we’d recommend pairing Idle Cellars, 2013 Kick Ranch Vineyard with duck confit (creamy corn, braised greens, brandied cherry-duck jus), polenta cake (peperonata, broccolini, fried garlic & chili oil), chocolate & salted fig caramel trifle (Italian meringue, cocoa nibs), and stinky cheeses.

At home, enjoy with pork tendeloin with a mushu sauce, grilled broccolini and sweet potato puree.

Cheers!


(Thirsty? Shop Idle Cellars’ 2013 Grenache, Kick Ranch Vineyard here or book your next reservation at the girl & the fig!)