California Heartland Episode 922 Transcript

California heartland is made possible by the James G. Boswell foundation, committed to sharing the stories and successes of California growers.  Bank of America, bank of opportunity.  Funding provided in part by, the California Farm Bureau Federation, proud publishers of “California Country” magazine.  More information is available at  And, by the Almond Board of California; California almonds, loved around the world, grown in California’s heartland. 

Coming up on California Heartland-

I've never had a premonition that strong or never had one like that since… 

How one man’s vision led the Benzinger family to a life of red, white and now green! The winemaking dynasty is going biodynamic to help the environment—and your glass of wine!


It does seem strange that we started out knowing nothing and now we’re farmers for the French Laundry.

What’s it like to grow designer veggies for one of the world’s most renowned restaurants?  Learn how these farmers are growing five star cuisine for The French Laundry!


Is there any trick to that?

Hold it straight and they come right off…

It’s crab season in Monterey Bay, time to get crackin’ and hit the road for a seaside aqua-culture adventure! 

It’s all next on California Heartland!

Chris Burrous: From your backyard, to the back country, in a field, or on your family table, it’s all about what keeps California moving and growing, this is California heartland.

Jennifer Harrison: It’s dawn and the last day of harvest at Benziger family winery.  Mike Benziger is out here, as he usually is, connecting to the land he loves.

Mike Benziger: Coming over a little rise and seeing this incredible valley here and I had this unbelievable premonition that this was going to be the place where our family would be happy.  I’ve never had a premonition that strong or had one like that ever since. 

Jennifer Harrison: Born and raised in New York, Mike had never been west of Pennsylvania—but he and his girlfriend wanted to ski and surf and the golden state was calling their name.

Mike Benziger: The day that we graduated from college, that day I got my diploma at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and at six o’clock we were driving west to California.

Jennifer Harrison: Skiing and surfing never happened, but fate did, needing money Mike got a job at a wine store, fell in love with the business.  He and now wife Mary discovered this property and wanted mom, dad and mike’s six younger siblings to head out west.

Mike Benziger: When this idea came to move to California, people thought it was a joke in our family.  People said there's no way I'm moving to kooky California but I'll tell you once they came out here and they saw this piece of property and they felt the energy that was here, they couldn’t get here fast enough.

Jennifer Harrison: That was 30 years ago.  Still owned and operated by the family, Benzinger has grown into an industry leader, growing grapes and now going green by farming holistically with something called biodynamics.

Mike Benziger: You could say that biodynamic is one of the most advanced forms of organic farming so instead of using chemicals and fertilizers we replace those with plants and animals.

Jennifer Harrison: So you brought your family out here from New York and you are doing the traditional farming and wine making.  And then you throw in, we're going to go biodynamic—

Mike Benziger: I see where you are going, yeah my family is pretty conservative and so when some of us came up with the idea of going biodynamic it didn't really cut the mustard as you would say okay.  But we all realized that we needed to revive this property because it was going down.

Jennifer Harrison: To keep that from happening, fourteen family members trekked all the way to Europe where biodynamic methods are more common. Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner developed the method in the 1920s.  Here’s how it works: using no artificial pesticides or chemicals, it treats a farm as an independent sustainable ecosystem that protects property.

Colby Eierman: This is where we have planted plants that will attract beneficial insects the good bugs that will go out into the vineyard that will predate of the pest insects that could be…bring down the grapevines out there.

Jennifer Harrison: Animals graze for weed control, water is recycled onsite, growing and harvesting is sometimes done on the lunar calendar and nature rules supreme.  The earth, not the winemaker puts a flavor stamp on the wine.

Rodrigo Soto: Having a rich soil is going to produce a better vine and that vine is going be more independent and is going to bring up better flavors for the grapes and were going to be able to make better wine.

Jennifer Harrison: Benziger was the first vineyard in Napa or Sonoma County to earn the strict certification for biodynamic practices.  Winemaker Rodrigo Soto helped start the process.

Jennifer Harrison: Now when you say we knew we were going to get a few raisins, how did you know that?  Because of the weather this season or…

Rodrigo Soto: We are pushing the limits in terms of ripeness, we want these grapes to be very ripe so that they taste delicious so that the wine tastes delicious as well of course going through the vineyard every individual plant is different and some are better suited for weather over here and some are not.

Andrea Card: The ability to be able to come here and look at this piece of property and be able to taste it in the actual glass is an amazing attribute to the wine.  I love to know the fact of where my food came from and where the beverages I'm drinking came from.

Mike Benziger: When we first started this people thought we were crazy, but when they saw that the practices that we were doing made a lot of sense and they were reviving the land and our wines were getting better, then they became very interested in what we were doing.

Jennifer Harrison: And what they were doing was suddenly bringing life back to their land—bringing back butterflies and bees and a buzz of a different kind.

Rodrigo Soto: I think the biodynamic wines that I have tasted are very special they're very different, it's not supermodel, and they are never.  But they are beautiful and they taste unique.

Colby Eierman: It's interesting to think about the concept of wine going green.  It's a natural agricultural product, it’s kind of amazing for me to think that we ever try to go against that so I mean once you start working with plants you start to look for solutions that come from the natural world.

Jennifer Harrison: A world that- for the New York Benziger family means wine making in the west and preserving the precious property that started it all.

Mike Benziger: I pinch myself everyday that this is where I get to come and play and this is where I get to come to get to work to spend times with my friends and family.  We’re pretty fortunate!

Jack Franklin: Hi, I’m Jack Franklin.

Dorothy Franklin: Hi, I’m Dorothy Franklin and this is Honey Bear Ranch.

Jack Franklin: And, this is our California Heartland.

Jack Franklin: We’re in Apple Hill in Camino California.  We have 10 acres of apples and blackberries.  The ranch was built in 1978 with the 1273 apple trees we currently have.  We’ve since then planted 200 blackberry bushes, thorn-less blackberry bushes.  Five years ago, we went organic.

Dorothy Franklin: We have a fudge kitchen; we make our own fudge here.  We do caramel apples, we do lots of preserves, we do apple pies, several different varieties of apple pies, there’s just a peace about this place.  Getting your hands in the earth and being one with nature, growing things is important me and I really enjoy that.  I like to work, and this place has a lot of opportunity for a lot of hard work. 

Jack & Dorothy Franklin: Thanks for watching our California Heartland.
Chris Burrous: Smoked beef brisket! Hands down, the most popular beef cut of them all! And California’s grill guru, JR Rothenberger is tops for the chops! His special recipe and rub are a tender and delicious masterpiece at JR’s Texas Bar-b-que. Food and Lifestyle Expert, Laura McIntosh is brining it home.
Laura McIntosh: We are going to start barbequing!  A couple of things before we start though, you can notice I have and probably hear- some gloves on and JR you have yours on as well.  Cross-contamination is a no no.  So, we’re starting off barbequing nice and safe?
JR Rothenberger: Exactly!
Laura McIntosh: Alright, now I heard about this rub.  Let’s hear-
JR Rothenberger: When you’re doing a brisket, you dry rub it.  And whatever combination I have in there, makes a hot dog taste great! You know, even thought we’re having these, but it’s unbelievable. 
Laura McIntosh: Good! Now, you just said we’re going to dry rub and we are.  And we’re going to dry rub with your special dry rub.
JR Rothenberger: Yea, we’re going to take this right here and we’re gonna’ just put this right here.  And you just rub this whole thing right here.  Ok, now would you like to turn that over for me?
Laura McIntosh: Yep, and it’s important to do both sides?
JR Rothenberger: Very important!  Now, you noticed before I did that- and I forgot to tell you that, did you see the fat on the other side?
Laura McIntosh: I did. 
JR Rothenberger: That’s the side that you put up when you’re barbequing. 
Laura McIntosh: Ok, now when you say put up, I’m putting that down on the fire.
JR Rothenberger: No, no it’s gotta’ stay up- I’m going to turn this over again.  This is the way you do it.  See, but you notice there was no fat on this side. 
Laura McIntosh: No, there wasn’t at all.
JR Rothenberger: Now, you’re going to turn that back over. 
Laura McIntosh: Aw, look at that! 
JR Rothenberger: Now, that’s the fat side.  And that’s the side you want to keep it because the moisture stays like that.  If you do the other side, the cooking process will suck the moisture right out.
Laura McIntosh: Sure, and this is where the moisture is?
JR Rothenberger: This keeps it in.
Laura McIntosh: So, this is good?
JR Rothenberger: And we’re going to put that on the-
Laura McIntosh: Let’s do it, you guys ready to follow me?  We’re going to go out on the grill.
JR Rothenberger: So this is our little mini Weber.
Laura McIntosh: Yeah, this is our mini Weber, I don’t know where I’d put this in my backyard!
Laura McIntosh: And there we go!
JR Rothenberger: Alright, right in there.  And you notice that we have brisket in here already.  You put beef over beef, pork over pork, and chicken over chicken.
Laura McIntosh: Ok, now we’re going to do the pork. 
JR Rothenberger: And I gotta’ take the gloves off here. 
Laura McIntosh: And you’re the pro, you have them layered. 
JR Rothenberger: This is my little rub right here, and you do the same thing here.  And that might be a little bit- but it’s to your taste.  Everybody has their own.  Just a little bit back here. 
Laura McIntosh: I’m feeling the bones underneath, the bones go down- ok here we go! Alright!
JR Rothenberger: There we go; we’re going to set that right over there.  Wow!
Laura McIntosh: Ok, lock and load, let’s get this thing started.
JR Rothenberger: We ready to go?  Ok, we’re going to do the same thing.  This is chicken; you don’t put so much, now it’s to your taste.  You can put this on here and I mean, it’ll be hotter than a pistol. 
Laura McIntosh: JR, this is boneless skinless? 
JR Rothenberger: Exactly, I do some with skin but this one right here, I wanted to show you this it’s unbelievable what this spice- JR’s spice…we call it smoke n’ rub.
Laura McIntosh: Ok we’re ready?
JR Rothenberger: We’re ready to put that in there. 
Laura McIntosh: Now, it’s boneless skinless so does it matter what side I put it on there?
JR Rothenberger: That one it doesn’t matter, but I try to keep the top side up, because the other one came right off the bone area.
Laura McIntosh: I see, alright.
JR Rothenberger: Now, this is 16-18 hours.  It’s not burnt- that’s my dry rub.  It’s barbeque!
Laura McIntosh: Alright, we have our brisket, we have our pork and we have our chicken.  Now, this isn’t what we just dry rubbed.  This has been cooking for how long?
JR Rothenberger: 16-18 hours….6 to 8 hours…and 4 to 5 hours.
Laura McIntosh: Alright!  Brisket we told you earlier, it’s the hardest meat.  A lot of people stay away from it because they can’t cook it right.  But, when you do it melts in your mouth.  Ok, let’s see it.
JR Rothenberger: Now, right here…oh my word!  You see the dry, nice smoke line.  You always cut across the grain, oh it’s so tough, I think I’ll cut it with the back side of the knife.  Would you like a sample?
Laura McIntosh: Absolutely!  I told them I’m their eyes and ears and taste buds today.
JR Rothenberger: Uh oh look at this here. 
Laura McIntosh: Now, do I dip?
JR Rothenberger: You actually need to taste it first; you need to taste the brisket first because you do not need anything on it.
Laura McIntosh: Mm, delicious oh my goodness- this is terrific!
Chris Burrous: Nestled in the middle of Napa Valley, lies the town of Yountville.  Picturesque and quaint like many towns in the wine country, what’s unique about Yountville is how with less than 2-square miles it’s influencing our food and how that food’s grown.
Farmer: Smaller but they should be sweet!
Chris Burrous: It begins here—a garden set on an acre-and-a-half.  But not just any garden, a garden belonging to the French Laundry, widely touted as the best restaurant in the United States. Everything picked here will eventually wind up on plates there—and most likely on the same day.
Tucker Taylor: I in general give the chefs monthly forecasts which are somewhat flexible.  But more importantly, I forecast every night so when they write the menu each night, they know what is available for the next day’s harvest.
Chris Burrous: Tucker Taylor is the culinary gardener for the French Laundry. He oversees everything that’s grown here, collaborating with the chef’s along the way.
Tucker Taylor: I will give the chefs seed catalogues at the beginning of the season and they will look through and tell me what they really want and also what they don’t want so I have an idea of what to plant and how much to plant.
Chris Burrous: Even before the garden was here, French Laundry chef and owner Thomas Keller was a champion of fresh locally grown ingredients, forging relationships with neighborhood growers.
Peter Jacobsen: I want these things to be so amazing that even the chefs go, “whoa, do you see that? Look at these things. We’ve never seen a product like that.” At least that’s what I envision happens.

Chris Burrous: Peter and Gwen Jacobsen stumbled into farming when they bought this land in Yountville covered with fruit trees 25-years ago.  Not wanting to see the fruit go to waste, they began peddling it to local restaurants, including the French Laundry, where their figs were an instant hit. Today, everything grown on their property—120 fruit trees and rows of vegetables and herbs are exclusively contracted to the French Laundry.

Peter Jacobsen: It does seem strange that we started out knowing nothing and now we’re farmers for the French Laundry, the most elegant restaurant in the United States and perhaps the world.  The learning curve has been amazing.

Chris Burrous: But they learned from the best.  Thomas Keller’s philosophy of always striving for perfection is evident throughout his restaurant- the only one in California with a 3-star Michelin rating, most recently earned by chef de cuisine Corey Lee.

Corey Lee: The impact that California has had on my cooking and my approach to cooking is really about the produce.  Seeing Tucker and seeing Peter and seeing how much energy and work goes into producing that vegetable makes you treat the vegetables with a little more respect.

Chris Burrous: The relationship between kitchen and garden has evolved into chefs picking crops from Peter’s land daily, and Tucker interacting regularly with Chef Corey.  

Corey Lee: We’re almost reliant on the garden for many things and now I just can’t imagine French Laundry without that garden across the street.

Chris Burrous: Although Chef Corey may get the accolades for the amazing food he creates, he’s the first to admit that it’s collaboration.

Corey Lee: Another place where Tucker and Peter are hugely valuable is that their understanding and their repertoire of the different vegetables and fruit they can grow is beyond my understanding.  Peter has a dozen kinds of radishes. I can’t even name a dozen kinds of radishes but it’s that kind of interaction that is very important. 

Chris Burrous: This vested interest also allows peter and tucker to research unique and interesting new varieties to plant.

Tucker Taylor: I have some freedom to grow things that I want and sometimes they’re real excited about them and sometimes they’re not too into it, but that’s okay.

Chris Burrous: Peter has persuaded the French Laundry to utilize his snails- the only ones in this country to be certified organic free-range!

Corey Lee: For a chef finding a new ingredient is an amazing thing- seeing something new that you haven’t seen before opens up so many doors.

Chris Burrous: Having influence over what produce is grown and how it’s grown gives Chef Corey the ability to work with varieties that might otherwise be impossible to obtain…like these petite zucchini.

Tucker Taylor: Generally the smaller the vegetable the shorter the shelf life…so to speak.  So, it’s pretty amazing that we can harvest and have something in the kitchen and on the plate for service within an hour.

Chris Burrous: Tucker’s garden and the Jacobsen’s orchard are shaping the vision of what “farming” can become in the future. In fact, it’s already happening here in Yountville.  Several of Peter’s neighbors have turned portions of their yards into gardens, growing food for nearby restaurants and markets.

Peter Jacobsen: It’s actually fascinating to reflect on what’s happening in this area because we think we’re growing vegetables for the French Laundry.  But I realize the French Laundry is growing farmers.

Corey Lee: It’s really the impact at home that’s important. It’s when you go shopping to make dinner for your family, the kind of produce that you buy or even taking that step and deciding to make dinner for you family. The greatest impact that I hope it will have is the day to day eating that Americans choose when they’re dining at home.

Chris Burrous: Pack your bags and grab your boots.  It’s time to hit the road with the Ag Traveler.

Melanie Kim: People come to Monterey County from all over the world to enjoy its beautiful coastline but also its agriculture—and aquaculture.  And a great place to sample both is at Phil’s Fish Market in Moss Landing.

Melanie Kim: What kinds of fish do you guys get back here from the Monterey Bay?

Phil DiGirolamo: You know it's seasonal.  We have albacore tuna and they migrate right by us.  Sometimes they go too fast and we can't catch em and then we get some of the exotics which will be sword fish.

Melanie Kim: Phil is known for offering a mouth watering variety of seafood dishes…but at the top of the list, his world famous cioppino.

Melanie Kim: So what goes into cioppino?

Phil DiGirolamo: We start off with clams and mussels and we steam them open.  And then we layer we add the sauce and the rest of the fish, calamari, there's cracked crab, there is fresh white fish, shrimp and scallops.

Melanie Kim: Crab is a key ingredient of Phil’s cioppino.  And since Monterey Bay is full of them they also serve up their share of everyone’s favorite messy meal!

Melanie Kim: We’ve cleaned up our crab.

Worker: Let's pull the legs off.

Melanie Kim: Is there any trick to that?

Worker: Hold it straight and they come right off.

Melanie Kim: Just bend it down…

Worker: That's right!

Melanie Kim: Oh yeah that's so easy.

Melanie Kim: Phil gets his Dungeness crab from fishermen docked in Moss Landing’s marina.

Melanie Kim: The quaint little fishing town is just north of Monterey on Highway 1, and yet… off the beaten path.

Melanie Kim: If you’re like me, you probably will not want to leave.  So check out, or in this case, check in to the Captain’s Inn.

Melanie Gideon: We’re right at the beach, right on the wetlands.  We can see all kinds of wildlife from here: seals, sea otters, birds, herons, egrets.  We can watch the tide come and go and you can do that without leaving your bed without leaving your bathtub.

Melanie Kim: This bed and breakfast salutes its historic past life as a shipping office with nautical accents throughout, all cleverly crafted by inn keeper Melanie Gideon.

Melanie Gideon: We have two buildings.  This boat house which has beautiful waterfront views but associated with it and where we have our breakfast is in the Pacific Coast Steamship Company building originally built in 1906, following the 1906 earthquake.

Melanie Kim: Wondering if Gideon’s got a first mate of her own? Aye aye captain- meet her husband Yohn.

Melanie Kim: Melanie runs a tight ship, especially when it comes to her galley.  She loves using the freshest locally grown produce for her guests’ breakfast.

Melanie Gideon: Here we go this morning we're having California grown mangos, locally grown kiwis, right from a mile or two inland from Prunedale and the strawberries are right here from Watsonville.

Vince Gizdich: We grow beautiful berries and apples here in our valley which is known as Pajaro Valley here in Santa Cruz County.

Melanie Kim: Not far from Moss Landing is the family owned Gizdich Ranch.  At 60 acres this is quite an operation and a place where you can pick and eat your own meal.

Melanie Kim: So what kind of apples do we have here Vince?

Vince Gizdich: Oh this is a Fuji.

Melanie Kim: Growing, marketing and selling more than a dozen varieties of apples and 5 types of berries, making apple juice year round and let’s not forget their fresh baked pies.

Melanie Kim: Is this a favorite of the customers?

Pie Maker: Yeah right now.

Melanie Kim: Beautiful and what kind of apples are they?

Pie Maker: Ah pippin.

Melanie Kim: The Gizdich family seems to have the recipe that keeps customers coming back year after year.

Carmelita Coleman: It's fresh and you’re out there and kind of pretend like you’re on a farm.  You know we live in the city and so it's just a fun thing to do.

Melanie Kim: Vince gave me a couple pointers on proper apple picking techniques.

Vince Gizdich: You don't want to damage the bud because that's going to produce an apple next year.

Melanie Kim: Okay.

Vince Gizdich: So the idea is to bend the apple backwards and to pull and that way you'll get the stem and not the bud wood.

Melanie Kim: A little handiwork has a big pay off…apples at their peak.

Melanie Kim: What do you like about coming here and actually knowing that these just came off the trees?

Larry Haimowitz: What's not to like about that right?  You know they're just fresh crisp.

Melanie Kim: So take a bite out of Monterey County, a California jewel where you can experience both earth and ocean on the same plate.

Jasmine Krakover: My name is Jasmine Krakover; I’m 17 and ½ years old.  I go to East Union High School and serve as the East Union Chapter president.  Today what we’re doing is Ag-Venture.  This is the Manteca Unified School District Farm; there are about 4,000 kids, third graders.  And they are doing numerous activities, there are presentations, different fruits and vegetables, there are animals they can look at and there’s a corn maze.  I feel it’s really important to get it out there as young as possible so the kids really understand what’s going on. 

Kid: We’re learning about all the animals.

Kid: They eat hay and eat apples.

Kid: Horses can jump 6 feet.

Kid: When they cut off the sheep, it’s usually because they’re pregnant.

Jasmine Krakover: The kids love coming here, they love the corn maze, they love the animals.  Without ag we wouldn’t have the clothes we buy or wear, we wouldn’t have the food that we eat- it’s what keeps communities and cities in the world going.  I’m really passionate about the FFA, just being here watching the kids learn about the farm and what we do and how you can get involved in ag really excites me.

Chris Burrous: That’s California Heartland, for more information on any of these stories go to I’m Chris Burrous see you next time.

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California Heartland is made possible by The James G. Boswell Foundation, committed to sharing the stories and successes of California growers.  Bank of America, bank of opportunity.  Funding provided in part by, The California Farm Bureau Federation, proud publishers of “California Country” magazine.  More information is available at .  And, by the Almond Board of California; California Almonds, loved around the world, grown in California’s Heartland.