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Wine Country Times Ten

For serious lovers of food and wine, it doesn’t get any better than this …



Courtesy of Ramekins Culinary School, Events, and Inn

Just when you think cooking instructor Pierre Lagourgue might swat you with a spoon, he chuckles under his breath and glides over to another disaster waiting to happen. It’s a wonder to watch how this star of the Culinary Retreats at Ramekins manages to keep a class of variously prepared students entertained, as they help him prepare a four-course lunch in about two hours. “Don’t worry, I’m not mad at you,” he insists, as he tips his head to the side and smiles at your quirky, home-chef technique. The menu is impressive enough: smoked trout gougères; duck breast with pearl onions, salsify, and peas served with Madeira sauce; goat cheese soufflé; and crème brûlée. Throw in a lesson in butchering a whole duck—including making confit with the legs and stock with the remaining bones, plus enough general cooking tips to make cooks out of even the most clueless beginners—and it’s amazing the lunch ever makes it to the table.

But it does, and it’s just part of the four days of fun, luxury, and deliciousness designed by Ramekins Culinary School, Events, and Inn. Ramekins began its multiday culinary retreats in 2012, offering a mix of cooking instruction, farm tours, wine tasting, a winemaker dinner, and a wine-paired meal at the famous French Laundry. For 2013, Ramekins has another series of retreats planned, with details available on its website, ramekins.com.
 


 

You go deeper into Wine Country on one of these retreats than you would on a standard vacation, learning about and experiencing the farms, wineries, and restaurants that give the region its character and appeal. In fact, the retreats are almost like living in Wine Country, only much, much better.

As soon as you arrive at the cozy Inn at Ramekins, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief. Your wine and cheese welcome—which might include a fruity J sparkling wine; tangy, dry parmesan; aged Manchego with a fresh pure orange marmalade; and honey that transports you to a fragrant garden—will help you apply the brakes on your everyday life. Once in your room, you’ll melt into relaxing Mediterranean colors amid interesting pieces of furniture and accessories gathered by inn owner Sarah Anderson, also owner of French antiques shop Chateau Sonoma.
 


 

The days to come are full of such foodie fantasy activities as a visit to the picture-perfect Fifth Street Farms vegetable garden that provides much of the fresh produce served at Ramekins; a couple of hours spent at the bucolic ghost vineyards reincarnated as rustic and hip Scribe Winery; a fascinating visit to family-run Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, including a tour with owner-farmer Bob Giacomini, who is as genuine a guy as you’d ever meet; and a winemaker dinner with Hanzell Vineyards, maker of exceptional Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Of course, the flashy ticket that comes with most of the retreat itineraries is dinner at the French Laundry. Limited to 10 diners, the meal is hosted in a small private dining room, and no service flourish is spared, as six-plus courses of the legendary Thomas Keller’s dishes appear with carefully paired wines. On a food lover’s pilgrimage, this is the Holy Land.
 


 

Satisfying, restful, entertaining, Ramekins’ retreats open up Sonoma and Napa to you in a whole new way. And who knows: You may even attempt to cook that duck breast again—and experience a bit of Wine Country at home. 

 

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