Perfect Pairing: Wine & Truffles by Ancient Oak and Sonoma Chocolatiers
I’m Jordan Wardlaw, the newest member of the team at Ancient Oak Cellars. I’ll be bringing our readers updates about our activities in the tasting room, vineyards and cellars as well as telling your more about the people in our extended family.
This week I had the pleasure of getting to know our friend and partner David Gambill, owner and founder of Sebastopol’s Sonoma Chocolatiers. Ancient Oak’s collaboration with David is sure to be one of our highlights this year as we offer our Valentine’s Wine and Chocolate Pairings February 9-16. We are delighted to be able to offer what is truly Sonoma County’s finest artisan chocolate, handcrafted by a small family business that takes pride in its commitment to sustainability and immaculate quality. Sonoma Chocolatiers in just a few years of existence has already built a sterling reputation and achieved fame in the North Bay Area for their renowned truffles and caramels.
I caught David during a frantic week of preparation for Valentine’s Day, when orders are filled at a daunting rate. Nevertheless, David was generous with his time and we discussed the history of his thriving chocolate company and its partnership with Ancient Oak Cellars.
Jordan: How did Sonoma Chocolatiers come about and what kinds of products are you known for?
David: It all started immediately after my family left Washington D.C. several years ago. My background is in environmental policy and planning, and my wife is a psychotherapist. I had lived in Sonoma County many years ago and always felt that it was an ideal place for living. We didn’t want to put my daughter in school in Washington, so we made the move. I had been making my chocolates as a hobby for 20 years, and was encouraged by friends to begin making them professionally. I bought the Infusions Tea House in the Sebastopol downtown plaza which has been home to Sonoma Chocolatiers ever since. We were almost immediately successful and were voted Best Chocolatier by North Bay Bohemian every year since 2010.
We are probably best-known for our carmels which have been immensely popular. Our most popular truffles are the Fig Cardamon, Rose Heart and the Aztec Aphrodisiac. The Aztec is a very popular seasonal offering (available mid February through Mother’s Day) that uses what the Aztecs considered the two strongest aphrodisiacs- chocolate and an herb called damiana. We also include cinnamon and vanilla.
We don’t wholesale our truffles. They have a shelf life of about 7-10 days, so we sell them direct to customers and to local retailers. We use Scharffen Berger exclusively in all of our truffles.
J: Where can customers find these delectable treats?
D: We sell in about 50 shops in the North Bay such as Duncan Mills General Store, The Tides at Bodega Bay, Oliver’s, Pacific Market, Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco and various Sonoma wineries. We are pleased to announce that we will be selling our chocolates at the newly-opened Scharffen Berger flagship shop in the San Francisco Ferry Building.
J: Could you talk briefly about the experience of running a family business?
D: In our case, I run most areas of our business in both the Chocolatiers and the Tea House. But my wife does a number of things behind the scenes including bookkeeping. Our 8-year-old daughter, depending on her mood, will perform basic chores like cleaning and busing tables.
J: I had heard you mention recently that you wanted to raise your daughter in a “healthier” environment. Could you say more about that and what exactly you mean?
D: When I lived here in Sonoma previously I had worked as a geologist in the geysers. I knew Sonoma was a beautiful, healthy place and I found the pace of life was conducive to a more community and family oriented life. I could spend more time with family. I worked in alternative energy development for 30 years, so sustainable business models were important to me. For example, we chose to work with Scharffen Berger because of their ethics. Infusions and the Chocolatiers is also the first retail business in downtown Sebastopol to use all LED lights. We are proud of that and take our commitment quite seriously.
J: As you know, Ancient Oak also maintains a steadfast commitment to sustainable business and agricultural practices. Could you talk Sonoma Chocolatiers’ use of organic and local ingredients?
D: Nearly every ingredient in our products is locally produced and organic. We let the chocolate speak for itself and use no added sugar. You can get less expensive chocolates, but they aren’t as rich or meticulously crafted. Scharffen Berger because the chocolate has a particularly long-lasting quality.
J: How did the partnership with Ancient Oak Cellars and Sonoma Chocolatiers come about?
D: Keven Brown at Corrick’s had been carrying our chocolates for a few years and he talked to Melissa and Ken and we started doing some business. It was a great fit from the start. It was easy to pair good chocolates with just about any of your wines. The Valentine’s wine and truffle pairing seemed like a natural direction to go in.
J: What should wine drinkers know about your chocolates?
D: They should know that ours are designed so that first flavor they taste is chocolate, and the last flavor they taste is chocolate. Of course there is the dark chocolate outer layer, and the ganache in the center is a rich burst of chocolate flavor that is a great foil for the many herbs, fruits and savory flavors that are infused into the center, creating the in-between layer. Some of our favorite examples are the Lemon Thyme Brie and the Fig Cardamon.
J: Tell us about how wine taste profiles interact with your truffles, for example if I wanted to pair something with our 2010 Russian River Pagnano Vineyard Zinfandel.
D: When it comes to wine, you really can’t go wrong with any of our basic 62-70% dark chocolate truffles. The Lemon Thyme Brie, for example, will accentuate the fruitiness of the Zinfandel without masking or offsetting it. If you wanted to really bring out the fruit of the wine you could pair it with our Blood Orange truffle. Chardonnay also pairs beautifully with darker chocolates, I recommend an 82% truffle and encourage the taster to drink the wine first.
J: What is a great gift idea for Valentine’s or other occasions?
D: Nice gift ideas are truffles that stand on their own, a selection that go with wine but ones that could be enjoyed over time. Our seasonal holiday special truffles include the Rose Heart, Lavender Love & Lust, Aztec Aphrodisiac and Holiday Spice.
J: Finally, could you tell us what’s next for Sonoma Chocolatiers? Any upcoming new products or big events?
D: Watch for our Tulsi Truffles (holy basil) which are coming back very soon. Tulsi is a wonderful Indian herb with an earthiness that pairs well with red wines. We’re also introducing our Peanut Butter & Heaven and Orange Peanut & Heaven truffles which will be available soon.
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