After the Fires: Napa Comfort Cooking and Pairing Inspired by Ceja Pinot Noir

Following the wine country wildfires, returning to the keyboard has been hard. What to write that would feel comforting, pay tribute to the incredible work of firefighters and first responders, and celebrate the spirit of community and hospitality that is bringing wine country back so fast? Then it hit me: wine country comfort food, and the pairing we do so well, can bring us all back together and you back to wine country via your kitchen (for now that is, until you have a chance to come see us!). My recipe in the first of what will be several installments, is a sort of firehouse-fare-meets-wine country recipe: turkey and pinot noir chile from vintner Amelia Ceja.

Although the crisp fall weather makes a warming chile con carne the perfect comfort pairing, it was total happenstance that Amelia had this bubbling on her stove when I called to ask about helping with a fire recovery fund-raiser they are planning. The fires had ripped through the Napa and Sonoma sides of Amelia’s home AVA, Los Carneros, but miraculously left their vineyard estate and Sonoma tasting room untouched. Still it is impossible to celebrate with so many neighbors not as lucky, and we mused wistfully over the long road ahead and the ways we can hopefully help.

Then I shared my idea about comfort cooking and asked if she’d contribute a recipe, sparking reminiscences over how we first met. I was shooting my TV show Simply Wine – an episode entitled Mexican-American wine. My crew showed up to profile Amelia and her family and wines (she started working in the vineyards as a child, never dreaming she would one day own a wine estate), and Amelia was cooking–roasting chile peppers over a fire and turning out the most feather-light, earthy-chewy homemade tortillas stuffed with long-cooked beans and of course, more chiles. Her culinary maven-hood made for amazing eating and great food TV–you’ll want to subscribe to their Youtube channel for great Mexican-American recipe and pairing ideas.

And so back to the recipe – fortuitously, Amelia’s newest creation, Chile de Guajalote or turkey chile, was about ready to be served, with homemade cornbread muffins (warmed corn tortillas, hopefully from a Latin market, would be a delicious substitute if you don’t want to bake). She talked me through the recipe, emailed a few follow-up tips and I was ready to start cooking and pairing like a Ceja.

On the subject of pairing, you might, as my Pinot-obsessed sommelier brain did, question the pairing of chiles with the subtlety of a Pinot Noir. However, it was an amazing match because this recipe, while spicy from the chiles, takes not heat from the pasilla and chipotle chiles, but rather smokiness and depth. Pinot-perfect, right?

Try it for yourself and see. And as you raise a glass to wine country know that the smoke has cleared, and we are ready to share our hospitality with you in person. In the meantime, you can make a reservation at the Ceja tasting room here, and you can buy their Pinot Noir here:

Amelia Ceja’s Turkey-Pinot Noir Chile – My Amelia-approved variations on her recipe include using store-bought turkey breast (hers was wild), swapping out for her home-grown fire-roasted jalapenos some canned chipotle chiles (still smoky-flavored), and using good quality canned cannellini beans instead of her home-cooked flor de mayo beans. You can do the same!


4 T olive oil ~ 2 lb fresh turkey breast, diced  ~  6 cloves garlic, minced  ~  kosher salt and black pepper  ~  2 sweet onions, diced  ~  1 red bell pepper, diced ~ 6 large cremini mushrooms, diced ~ 1 large dried pasilla chile (stem and seeds removed) ~ 1/2 c chicken stock, plus extra if needed  ~  4 tbsp (approx) canned chipotle chiles in adobo, finely minced ~ 1/4 bottle Ceja Pinot Noir (drink the rest with dinner) ~ 1 15 oz can best-quality cannellini beans ~ 1 T tomato paste (optional) ~ cilantro leaves and lime wedges for garnish

Procedure – In a large skillet or dutch oven, heat 2 T olive oil on medium-high. Add turkey, garlic, salt and pepper to taste and sear, stirring occasionally, until turkey is cooked through, about 10 mins. Remove meat to a plate and set aside. In the same skillet, add 2 T olive oil and the onions, pepper mushrooms and Pinot Noir and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft. Meanwhile, bring the chicken stock and pasilla chile to a boil. Remove from heat and let the chile soak until softened, about 10 minutes. Liquefy the mixture in a blender.  Return the meat to the pan with the vegetables and add the pasilla mixture and chipotles, mixing well. Add tomato paste and additional stock, if desired, and taste for seasoning. Serve garnished with lime wedges and cilantro leaves, accompanied by warm cornbread or tortillas.