“A Taste of Ojai” with Chef Robin Goldstein and Topa Mountain Wines #WinePW

To visit the Ojai Valley in Ventura County, California, whether you take the 33 from the Pacific north or south from the Los Padres National Forest or the 150 from Santa Paula west through Ojai or east from Carpinteria, you will slowly wind your way 15 miles or so among the chaparral and the orchards, with much of the hillsides still showing how it burned in the 2017 Thomas Fire.

Unroll your windows and let the scent of citrus blossoms fill the air. Smell the sage in the chaparral or the dampness of the sycamores along the creeks or Ventura River.

At the end of the day, watch the sun paint the Topa Topa Mountains with splashes of color in a display famously known as “The Pink Moment.”

The Topa Mountain Rose of Grenache shows Ojai’s famous “Pink Moment”

While my Aussie version of Siri pronounces it Oh-JI, it’s actually pronounced “Oh- Hi!” and that’s what it feels like in this small town of about 8,000– everywhere you go, you’ll be saying “oh, hi!” The word Ojai, however, comes from the Chumash: ‘Awha’y means moon, and the area is spectacular by moonlight.
By bright moonlight or abundant sunlight, Ojai Valley inspires and invites artistic expression — whether the medium is paint, pastels, words, or music with the Ojai Music Festival continuing to go strong since 1947. Artist Beatrice Woods, the Mama of Dada, famously shocked herself while living here until she died in her 90s in the 90s, attributing her long life to beauty (in men especially!) and chocolate.

No surprise then that the culinary arts are important in Ojai.  Southern California wine pioneer Adam Tolmach settled in the area to make his wine here, but before that, Alan Hooker’s The Ranch House changed the way people eat forever by growing his own herbs to serve with a cuisine that emphasized fresh and seasonal, and he published his recipes with illustrations by his buddy, Beatrice Wood. Read more about living in Ojai in this article from the NY Times.

Maps of Ojai and Ventura County from the New York Times. INSET: black dot on inset is city of Ventura, where I live, in Ventura County and red dot is Ojai. Darker brown area is the City of Los Angeles.  In the larger image, the three black squares are Ojai Valley Inn (bottom), Topa Mountain Winery (middle), Bart’s Books (upper right) with the dotted line the bike trail that connects Ventura with Ojai. Sue lives just east of Ojai’s eastern border.

Working in the same vein today as Alan Hooker did years ago is cookbook author Chef Robin Goldstein. She came to California after graduating culinary school when she was 20– and never left! She is inspired by cuisines of the world, especially Greece as well as the wonderful fresh ingredients we have available here in the Ojai Valley and Ventura County. Her cookbooks are full of beautifully staged photographs.
As March is Women’s History Month, and with the Wine Pairing weekend prompt this month focused on recipes from cookbooks paired with California wines, we wanted to showcase a cookbook by a woman author with local wines so we contacted Chef Robin about getting together for a meal paired with wines from Ojai’s Topa Mountain Winery where she sells her books and develops recipes to pair with their wines.
DISCLOSURE: Topa generously provided four wines as samples which Sue picked up, plus Sue bought one. Sue and I paid $150 for the food that Chef Robin purchased and prepared for us at no charge.  I did not receive any other payment and opinions are my own unless one of the fellow tasters is identified.
  • Sespe Creek Sparkling Wine SRP $35
  • 2018 Rose of Grenache SRP $28
  • 2016 Blend 33 White Rhone Blend SRP $34
  • 2016 Mourvedre SRP $45
  • 2015 Suenos De Montana Dessert Wine SRP $30 (375 ml)
Since Robin’s mom Julie was visiting from the east coast, Sue invited her mom Kay and I invited my “chosen” mom Jane, a dear friend who has a daughter my age which everyone thinks is my sister. This made for an evening gathering of three moms and three daughters, with the daughters all with teens at home too.
Developed and prepared by Private Chef Robin Goldstein
using her book, A Taste of Ojai;
 she used herbs from her garden and purchased ingredients which cost $150 to feed 6 people.  
  • Phyllo parcels with feta cheese and pistachio with thyme honey
  • Ojai Pixie tangerines with canned crab salad with citrus-thyme vinaigrette on salad greens
  • Fig and Olive Citrus Chicken with baked grains
  • Almond olive oil cake with Vanilla orange honey syrup


Robin develops recipes that are easy and healthy for busy families to be able to prepare without too much trouble. Chef Robin did all of the prep and cooking, save for the appetizer which the moms assembled under her direction. While Sue could have easily prepared the recipes in the cookbook, for once Sue sat at the laptop at the dining room table taking notes and enjoying the wine and the meal instead of cooking in the kitchen!


2018 Rose of Grenache – 13.5% alcohol SRP $28
Sue purchased this wine with a club member 

Color: Amber, coral, very pale; light reflects gold sparkles off the wine.

It’s “The Pink Moment” of wines!

Nose: Rose, carnation, apricot, orange blossom, pixie tangerine oils.

Palate: Light, crisp, refreshing, bright acidity, apricots, apricot kernels, granny smith apples, nice rich finish, rosewater, tart. The group found the wine to be refreshing. Janie liked it after the first few sips as her palate adjusted to the wine. The acidity is on the front of the palate, the acidity drops off on the finish becoming minerals, clay.

Pairing: The crab salad was a perfect pairing with this wine. While we did not plan on pairing the salad with this wine, it just worked so well. The wine and the food elevate each other which is always out goal.


NV Sespe Creek Sparkling Wine – SRP $35
13.5% alcohol

Sample for my review consideration 

They have this wine produced for them in Sonoma.

Color: Pale daffodil, large bubbles that dissipate fairly quickly.

Nose: Brioche, lees, almond croissant, marzipan, honeycrisp apple.

Janie liked the flavor over the aroma

Palate: Julie felt there was a sweetness to it. It was very drinkable. A nice opening wine, it is a universal pleaser and ideal as a wedding wine.

Pairing: With our phyllo feta pockets, it was very nice. The sweetness of the wine was tamed down with the savory cheese and the honey. Fantastic with the pixie crab salad. The sparkling smooths out the pepper in the arugula and the dressing. The sparkling wine also went beautifully with the orange fig chicken, making it a wine to accompany a meal from start to finish with the right menu. The dessert was also very nice with the sparkling further convincing us that the wine was perfect from beginning to end.

The bubbles tame the heat of the meal, and because it is a feta in the pocket, it is great with the brioche in the wine.

2016 Blend 33 (White Rhone Blend) SRP $34
Sample for my review consideration
58% Marsanne, 42% viognier

11 months on neutral oak, Grapes come from Bien Nacido and Camp 4 Vineyards – 280 Cases produced.

The name “Blend 33” riffs off of highway 33 which starts at the Pacific ocean and gently climbs north and east to Ojai, then steeply climbs north out of the Ojai Valley. It eventual crosses the Central Valley and ends near Tracy and I5. The LA Times recently wrote about this transect here.

Color: Rich buttercup, beautiful legs.

Nose: Caramel apple, butterscotch, nice acidity, great richness, honeysuckle.

Palate: Smooth and viscous, the butterscotch comes through on the palate, crisp apple, lots of acidity at the front of the palate on the tip of the tongue, but it is not super acidic, honeysuckle.

Pairing: With the pixie crab salad, there is a very fun mouth play that goes between the wine and the dish. The wine went beautifully with the orange fig chicken especially when you are having a bite with the orange with the rind as suggested by Chef Robin in the video on twitter above. Sue and I felt that it brought out a nice richness in the meal. Because the dessert was not too sweet, it went well with the Blend 33 as well.

2016 Mourvedre Camp 4 Vineyard Santa Barbara County SRP $45
14.8% alcohol
Sample for my review consideration 

Mouvedre is generally used as a blending grape, but this vintage was so good, they decided to bottle it as a single varietal after being barrel aged 11 months in 33% new French oak.

Color: Raspberry, maroon, with a pale pink rim, Mom found berries, Janie

Nose: Cranberry, plum, carnation, baking spices, mulberry, forest floor, violets, wild musky, husky, but mostly fruit.

Palate: Raspberry up front, blueberry plum, lots of fruit, bit of a bitter finish, acidity and minerals on the finish. cocoa nibs. This is a juicy wine

Pairing: Chicken, fig, and orange, what a fantastic pairing, especially the pixies and the wine. The pixies are thin skinned and easily roasted and integrated into the dish. The rosemary dances so nicely with the wine. The spices in the cake went perfectly with the Mouvrdre also as long as you avoid the yogurt sauce and just enjoy the spices and the cake.

2015 Suenos De Montana Dessert Wine SRP $30 (375 ml)
20% alcohol
Sample for my review consideration 

This is the third release of their dessert wine comprised of 70% Viognier and 30% Malvasia which is fortified with wine brandy. The grapes come from Santa Barbara’s Camp 4 and French Camp Vineyards

Color: Pale gold

Nose: The brandy comes through on the nose as well as orange blossom, pear, as well. Some at the table felt it had a bit of a “whisky” nose.

Palate: Smooth, apricot, apricot, bitter almond, grass, olive oil grassiness.

Pairing: The tanginess of the yogurt went so well with the wine. The orange was a perfect compliment.

This was a wonderful WOW pairing of the evening.

Wonderful conversations after the meal revolving around camping and the wilderness, and all of our experiences  and travels throughout the years. We left the remainder of the wines with Robin to enjoy with the leftover food.

Upcoming Ojai events with Chef Robin include a Pop-Up Dinner featuring Pixie Tangerines Thurs. April 2 and a cooking class March 22.

Robin offers food and wine tours in Greece in the town of Crete, that includes visits to three wineries and olive oil tasting too. Her tours are usually very intimate with only four to six people. In 2020, she has two trips planned in May and September, but the May trip will likely be cancelled considering the circumstances around COVID-19. Check the website for the latest!

Check out articles by other wine bloggers to learn about other cookbooks and pairings with California wines. We have a twitter chat at 8am the second Saturday; see what we discussed by looking for #winepw.

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