From Hawai’i To Sonoma, With Love

Food & Drink

Chef Thomas Bellec is from Brittany, the coastal region in France known for its exquisite seafood. When he joined Four Seasons Resort Hualalai on the Big Island as Executive Chef in 2017, he launched one of the most innovative local food programs in Hawai’i, from farming his own oysters and shrimp to sourcing more than three-quarters of all products used at the hotel from 160 Big Island farms. One of the best days of my family’s many visits to the island was spent harvesting salt with Bellec out on the volcanic rocks adjacent to the property.

Now, Bellec has landed in Sonoma — Windsor, to be precise — as In-House Executive Chef at Bricoleur Vineyards, one of the most exciting projects in recent wine country history. Founded in 2017, the inviting Bricoleur tasting room opened at the Healdsburg-adjacent vineyard site in 2020, and it was clear from the outset that the founders, Mark and Beth Wall Hanson (her grandfather was Pietro Carlo Rossi, the original oenologist for Sonoma County’s historic Italian Swiss Colony) and daughter Sarah Hanson Citron, had ambitious plans. The property’s wines (primarily Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) are all made from sustainably farmed grapes grown on the property (and on Kick Ranch), where only half of the land is planted with vines, and owls, bees, olive trees, vegetables and herbs diversify the whole.

Bellec says, “My Brittany roots are connected to California are connected by the seafood. And Bricoleur has three mature gardens where we raise organically and sustainably-farmed fruits, vegetables, and herbs. I plan to work closely with the team and our full-time farmer (Mikey de Paolo) to enhance the selection of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. We are also going to strengthen the livestock production, increase the number of chickens on property, and some local heritage pork. We are going to build an even stronger connection with local farmers and artisanal producers. Bricoleur has 350 olive trees on property, so I plan to use the estate olive oil quite a lot!”

I visited Bricoleur to reconnect with Bellec, one of my very favorite chefs since our first encounter, and experienced his execution of consulting chefs Charlie Palmer and Nate Appleman’s “Rooted” pairing, which is quite an elaborate menu. Highlights were the goat cheese panna cotta with pistachio crumble, pink peppercorns, and estate olive oil, paired with the 2020 Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir, and the interesting experiment that contrasted the two Chardonnays: the 2019 Estate Chardonnay, which sees 40% new French oak and 60% neutral French oak for 10 months, side-by-side with the 2020 Estate Unoaked Chardonnay. The food pairings — seared scallop with vichyssoise foam and grilled jerk-marinated carrot, respectively, provided a window into the sensory care that goes into the Rooted menus, with elements of both parallel and perpendicular approaches. It’s paradoxically cerebral and embodied, a wonderful combination.

Winemaker Cary Gott and Assistant Winemaker Tom Pierson both have a minimalist approach, letting the grapes lead the way. And these wines are among the most affordable in the region (the unoaked Chardonnay is just $32).

Bellec also has a la carte selections planned, including a daily pizza from the wood-fired oven.

Sonoma is lucky to have this brilliant chef joining the devoted Bricoleur team, and I can’t wait to see what unfolds as the partnership evolves.

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