Originating in Angwin California, the heart of the Napa Valley, Sparrow Lane Vinegars were born from European ancient methods using only the finest wines available from the local world class growing regions of Napa and Sonoma.
Sparrow Lane Vinegars are hand crafted and aged in oak barrels using the traditional Orleans method. Offering complex flavor profiles with delightful subtle nuances, Sparrow Lane Vinegars literally have the ability to take a good entree and make it a masterpiece.
Over past decade Sparrow Lane’s quality crafted vinegars have become known throughout the country by a loyal customer base of professional chefs and great home cooks alike. With the demands of a growing portfolio and increasing production Sparrow Lane’s production and bottling is now achieved in the heart of the central valley.
CW Magazine had the good fortune of interviewing Sparrow Lane’s very own Chef Jesse who provides interesting perspectives on the transition from Executive Chef and Restauranteur to Purveyor and Marketing Director and shines light the passion for perfectionism that is the torture and triumph of talented chefs.
How did you find the transition from chef and restauranteur to purveyor and marketing director for Sparrow Lane?
Difficult at first. I really missed the hustle and bustle. It was hard to reacclimatize. The world on the outside is different. Not working weekends, or worrying about the dish washer not showing up, or inventory being late, keeping the shine in your restaurant. When this goes away, it’s pretty dramatic. It changes us as individuals. We learn, about ourselves. I used be yeller. I don’t yell anymore.
On the positive side?
Both types of work are about the same kind of passion, attention detail and sourcing. Same quality I look for in the kitchen, making sure I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to achieve the desired results. The driving force with both is passion.
Why Sparrow Lane?
It is the secret the single ingredient that brings everything together. It’s not the center cut of meat, but Sparrow Lane Vinegars offer that difference in the finality of a dish. It defines the difference between being a chef from and being a cook. Any body can cook, but to understand that how to make people’s eyes sparkle with excitement for the dish you have offered them, this is what we look for.
How did the opportunity arise?
I had been using Sparrow Lane as a chef for a long time. As always, I asked where the product was from. When I found it was being produced locally, I went for a visit. Met the Nicolau family, saw the process. I loved the family aspect of it. (* Check out Nicolau Farms Artisan Cheeses @http://nicolaufarms.com/family-history/) Turns out they were looking for someone to replace their lead sales person at the same time that I was looking to make a change. The fact that I am a chef with a background in marketing seemed to be the right fit at the right time.
Who originated Sparrow Lane Vinegars?
A vineyard owner in Napa back in the early 90’s was experimenting with making artisinal vinegars as a small side business. A huge fire burnt down his entire vineyard and all he had left was the vinegars. Which, fortunately were outstanding.
Being a native of the Napa region, how have you seen things change?
The whole region has gone through major transitions over the years. We’ve had our great chefs like Thomas Keller drive the name of Napa. Now younger innovative chefs are coming up. Back in the day, around here, it was a very European-country way of life. With growth you use up some of that. But Napa is one of those places that still maintains a charm true to its roots. You don’t have to go too far for open pastures of goats and cows. Napa is still from the earth, the sourcing still holds so true.
Interesting duality, the conundrum of success potentially compromising the integrity of great local ingredients. Anything to say about this?
It’s pretty simple with vinegar. It is hard to maintain, what true barrel aging is but you’er not going cheap out. Your’e going stick. Stay true to your form. We can bring to this new generation of chefs, doing amazing things. Coming back, full circle combining the traditional with their new flares and nuances. But the main part, the crucial sourcing of quality ingredients never changes.
What was your biggest challenge as a Chef?
That day to day, six day a week grind. Staying true to the form within that. I never gave in to trends. Staying true. That is what I believe. Having to shut down restaurants, and tell the staff they have to go, is a huge blow to the ego. These people are your family. Or running a special on your menu, putting your heart into and the people are like ‘What is this?’ Can be so painful. Then after some very difficult personal crisis, I started to see a higher purpose in regards to my family. Chefs are driven towards perfection in all aspects of life. This is both a blessing and a curse.
Why is the ancient Orleans Method so important to the production of Sparrow Lane Vinegars? Is it just the length of time they age?
It’s a combination. When you think about starting with wine, age is important. Bringing the fullness of the fruit forward. Maintaining the grape, the age, the flavor from the barrel. All of this begins to create a mellowness. It is an acid but not astringent. The old distilled vinegars with all their astringency, this is what people don’t like about vinegar. They don’t complete the umami in your mouth. However Sparrow Lane Vinegars, because of the aging process and balance, offer a a true acid. This brings out flavor, imparts flavor, and broadens the flavor profile on the tongue and heightens the senses.
Cooking is a passion. Food is creativity. Its a touch, its a feel, its a taste, its a smell. When the ingredients, (like Sparrow Lane) bring out the flavor, its these subtleties, this simple touch, that takes a dish into the stratosphere.