Friday, October 30, 2009

A Week at Custom Cakes in Savannah!

In early October, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Minette Rushing, of Custom Cakes in Savannah, Georgia. When I was at Custom Cakes last March for the class with Ron Ben-Israel, I was overwhelmed by Minette's gracious hospitality and her genuine encouragement and support of me building my cake design business. Since that class, Minette has become a wonderful business mentor, and a very dear friend.

Minette graciously offered to host me during one of their busiest weeks of the wedding season, to allow me to gain a better understanding of how a custom cake business is run...including daily operations, production schedules, staffing, consultations and working with customers, supplies, deliveries, marketing and networking! It was an amazing opportunity, and an absolutely invaluable week of learning for me.

I was also happily included in the preparation of some of the decorations for a few of the wedding cakes that week. I "helped" by working on sugarpaste flowers, leaves, petals and bow loops as best I could...although I really I spent most of my time asking questions and standing around in awe of the talent in the shop!

Ashlee's amazing groom's cakes:

Some of Kerry's beautiful cake details:

My workspace:

Rose petal cake topper:

Phalaenopsis orchids drying:

At the end of the week, Minette and I drove out to the beautiful Ford Plantation to deliver one of the wedding cakes. The parts of the huge property (1800 acres!) we drove through were stunning, and it was a wonderful treat to be there!

The Ford Plantation Main House:

The view from the back of the Main House...look at the weather rolling in! :

The gorgeous trees filled with moss:

The wedding cake we delivered:

The week passed by too quickly, and once all of the cakes were delivered, it was time for me to head back home! My many, many thanks to all of Minette's staff for allowing me to take part in their busy week and for (I'm sure) disrupting their streamlined production schedule.

And my heartfelt gratitude to Minette (and Jim!) for taking such wonderful care of me, and for sharing so much time and information with me.

Minette, I can't thank you enough for the fabulous week and the positive impact it had on me while I was there, and the tremendous impact it will have on my business!


Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Harvest Intern

Last month, I had an amazing opportunity to travel to the Napa Valley, and serve as the harvest intern for El Molino Winery. El Molino is a small and wonderful family-operated winery in St. Helena that produces fabulous Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. My lovely friend (and owner and winemaker) Lily Oliver Berlin, and her husband Jon Berlin (also a winemaker),welcomed me to their gorgeous home and farm, and proceeded to create a two week (working) vacation for me that I will never forget!

I arrived on a very warm day in mid-September, just after the first crop of Pinot grapes were harvested, but in time to participate in the picking of the Chardonnay grapes. Early mornings were spent working with the crews in the vineyards, and then transporting the huge bins of grapes to the winery to be weighed, pressed into juice, and barreled for fermentation.

Breakfast Napa style:

Bins of Chardonnay grapes:

The Chardonnay press:

The tasting area:

Once the Chardonnay grape juice was siphoned into the barrels for fermentation, and the appropriate yeasts added, I was assigned the responsibility of monitoring the sugar levels in each barrel. Using a hydrometer, I took samples daily from each of the barrels so we could determine when the sugars had been converted to alcohol. While a bit daunting at first, I really liked the precision and analytical skill this job required.

And....I have to admit, I really loved my temporary "office":

In addition to the exciting and interesting (for me!) work required at El Molino, Lily took me to numerous wineries in the valley, and introduced me to so many wonderful and talented people in the industry. I also had the enviable opportunity to make some wonderful purchases for my own wine cellar under Lily's professional tutelage. One of the places we visited was the main house for the boutique winery Spotswood. The house and grounds were beautiful:

A VERY special treat for me was the opportunity to follow Whitney Fisher, winemaker at Fisher Vineyards, for the day. My wonderful day included walking with Whitney through all of their beautiful vineyards to taste grapes (to determine picking dates), touring their facility, preparing labels for giant processing tanks, helping to unpack 50 new wine barrels, and enjoying a delicious lunch under a stunning canopy of trees. Whitney was a wonderful and gracious host, and it was an amazing day of learning for me. Thank you, Whitney!

Main building at Fisher Vineyards:

Some of the vineyards at Fisher on the rolling hills of Spring Mountain:

Our lunch spot:

I would be remiss if I did not include photos of some adorable winery dogs, so here they are...

And my dear favorites...the boys at El Molino...Moses, Inky and Spot:

Really...just look at that face:

For those of you hoping to see sweets and sugarpaste flowers, I didn't want to leave out our trip to Yountville to visit a dear friend. Lily made a great suggestion in Le Bouchon Bakery, and it did not disappoint. Adorable location, beautiful bakery and a delicious little side trip for us:

So...imagine beautiful warm days, gorgeous Napa Valley scenery, frequent and abundant wine tasting (I am an absolute lightweight!), delicious home-cooked meals, farm chores (well, they were fun for me!), daily visits to wonderful wineries, wandering around the charming little town of St. Helena, Sunday morning coffee and pastries in Calistoga, lounging, swimming and socializing at the pool, and working at El Molino...and you will have a good idea about just how blessed I feel to have had this opportunity.

My heartfelt thanks to Lily and her family for the amazing adventure and experience (it was just what I needed!), and for their warm, gracious and generous hospitality. I'm already thinking about next year's harvest...cheers!