This story begins last summer when Georgeanne Brennan asked me if I had any fig leaves to spare.
Have I got? When I bought my house in Napa a few years ago, she gave me a seedling of her Black Mission fig tree from a noble line, Turkish I believe. It is now a tall tree with a distinctly arrogant attitude. (“You want figs? But have you earned them? Really?”) We named him Figaro.
Brennan is an award-winning food journalist, an extraordinary cook and an exemplary gardener. and in addition to the fig trees, we share an affinity for France, which is to say that we are both fortunately desperate Francophiles. Every time I talk to her, she’s embarked on a new and exciting project, whether it’s planting a vegetable garden or write a mystery novel set in Provence where she has had a home since her first visit to France in the 1970s.
Of course, it could have Figaro leaves. I filled a box with them and, leaving the startled bare tree behind me, led them to Brennan’s farm in Winters.
A year later, she invited me to see what had become of them. After months of research and experimentation, a collaboration of three women in Winters had created a new line of aperitif wines and a tasting room to try them.
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The Three Aperitif
“Aperitif” comes from the Latin, apere, to open, said Brennan; thus an aperitif is a drink to “open the appetite”. These can be homemade wine-based drinks, low in alcohol, lightly fortified and flavored with fruit or herbs. The word is also often abbreviated as “the aperitif”.
“But it also refers to a moment in time,” Brennan added. “That after-work break before heading home for the rest of your day.” This moment to seize to slow down, share a drink and an aperitif with friends or family and savor life. It’s happy hour steeped in French finesse.
This is explained on the menu of L’Apéro les Trois, a comfortable setting for their aperitifs, which combine French farming tradition, local agricultural products and wines from Berryessa Gap Vineyards.
The trio — the three –– are Corinne Martinez, owner of Berryessa Gap Vineyards, Nicole Salengo, their winemaker; and Brennan. Additionally, Caroline Gibbs of Caroline Gibbs Design in Sonoma designed the clever labels.
Their research had sought out the best combinations of wines infused with fruit from Winters’ bountiful orchards and fortified with local brandy, a clear, colorless fruit brandy.
“It’s all from Winters,” Brennan explained. With a Parisian touch.
What wine went with the vine leaves? And the quince? California Meyer lemons? What about the much sought after Blenheim apricots? For their green walnut experiment, they hired help peeling pounds and pounds of nuts.
When they found the winning matches, Salengo created small lots and Martinez contributed a building she owned on Main Street in Winters across from the Berryessa Gap Vineyards tasting room.
Here, Brennan has added elements that recreate the atmosphere you might find late afternoon in Paris, or even better, in the French countryside. Outside are the typical French bistro chairs and tables, inside are deep, comfy chairs and tables or, if you prefer, you can choose reclined seating under a wall filled with colorful mural which grounds the project: it is the countryside of winters, filled with farms and crops, vines and trees, a clear reminder that here you will find the best of both worlds.
There is also a selection of cookbooks, cutlery and vintage glassware to peruse. Brennan’s James Beard award sits on an elegant counter. Behind a curtain is a small kitchen for preparing aperitifs.
And the final touch: a mechanical piano.
Make yourself comfortable because you have a difficult choice to face: Which aperitif do you want? They offer six, ranging in style from light and fresh to honeyed and caramelized to deeply woody and mysterious.
— A dry rosé infused with ripe, green Blenheim apricots.
— Sauvignon Blanc with fresh Meyer lemons and a touch of vanilla.
— Chardonnay with farm-fresh quince.
— Dry rosé infused with navel oranges and rosemary.
— Zinfandel with fresh and dried figs, fig leaves and fresh thyme (including Figaro leaves).
— Primitivo infused for six months with immature green walnuts, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla.
Can’t make up your mind? Fortunately, you can also choose to taste small portions of the six for $10, or choose a larger taste of three for $16.
A glass of an appetizer is $10. A bottle costs $40.
You can also add sparkling Perrier ($1) or Berryessa Gap Vineyards sparkling brut rosé ($2). Yet the style is simple and inviting, a taste change from complicated high-alcohol cocktails.
The drinks are also complemented by appetizers:
Skyhill Napa Farms goat cheese drizzled with Bondolio olive oil and Provencal herbs with Cowgirl Creamery crackers, $10.
Black olive tapenade with Cowgirl Creamery crackers, $7.
Rêve Bistro Gougères (8 cheese puff pastries), $8.
Mini Baked Mt. Tam Triple Cream Cheese Casserole with Cowgirl Creamery Crackers and Pickles for two, $14.
Homemade mix of almonds, pistachios, walnuts and black olives, roasted in SeKa Hills olive oil and seasoned with La Vie rustic Provencal herbs, city chili and sea salt from Brittany, $6.
And in no hurry at L’Apéro les Trois; it’s your moment in time. It’s a touch of Paris in winters, the style of France infused with the bounty of Northern California.
I can’t think of a better use for Figaro leaves.
The Apéro les Trois Tasting Lounge is at 22 Main St., is open Thursday through Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Monday through Wednesday by appointment. Call 530-402-1172 or email [email protected] Aperitif wines are also available at the Berryessa Gap Vineyards tasting room and can be ordered online at laperolestrois.com.