Food Pairings

Match Makers: Climate right for Alaska restaurateurs in Washington Wine Country

Chef John David Crow sprinkles salt on a hanger steak.
Chef John David Crow sprinkles salt on a hanger steak.

When looking online for Fat Olives Restaurant in the Columbia Valley, the town of Homer, Alaska, will pop up, too.

There’s good reason for that, points out fourth-generation restaurateur JD Nolan, sitting down and swirling a glass of his family’s 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Mountain.

“We are from Alaska, and that’s where we started,” he said. “I grew up in Homer, and Fat Olives was started in 2001. We opened here in 2010.”

A decade later, his parents continue to oversee Fat Olives up in the 49th State while JD and his wife, Erika, raise their two teen-aged daughters in Richland, Wash.

“We consider both restaurants as a neighborhood bistro, and my parents are very much involved in both,” he said. “We like to cater to everybody. Sitting at this table could be a couple of blue-collared workers who just got off work enjoying a happy dinner with their families, while at this table a couple of white-collars might be having a business meeting. And everyone will feel just as comfortable. Mom and dad can have a nice dinner. The kids can order a pizza, and everybody is happy.”

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There’s a strong chance those parents will be enjoying a great glass of wine because JD’s parents — Tiny and Lisa — first looked at Walla Walla before the Hedges family sold them on Richland.

-Main Photo Chef Portrait
John David Crow, Fat Olives executive chef, attended culinary school in the Bay Area and returned home, spending much of his career in some of Seattle’s most famous kitchens, including Ray’s Boathouse, Tom Douglas, Daniel’s Broiler and the Space Needle, which he managed. Richard Duval

“My dad was at a specialty trade show in Anchorage, and we’ve always had Hedges wines on our wine list, so he goes to the Hedges table, and there’s Pete Hedges pouring,” Nolan said. “They had never met, but my dad tells him, ‘I’d love to come down and work a crush some time.’ I guess Pete said, ‘Come on down!’ Now, everybody says they want to work crush, but nobody follows through to do it.”

Two months later, Pete picked up Tiny at the airport to work the 2008 harvest. And when Tiny told the Hedges family that he’d bought a house in Walla Walla and was going to open a restaurant there, the Red Mountain vintners convinced him that winemakers around the Tri-Cities needed Fat Olives more than Walla Walla did. So the Nolans found a former drive-in near the historic Uptown Shopping Center in downtown Richland, began the transformation and quickly made friends.

“I’m highly biased because they have put on a lot of really good winemaker dinners over the years,” said Amy Johnson, co-owner of Purple Star Winery and Muret-Gaston Wines. “JD has been a great business partner of ours, and he’s been very supportive of the local wine industry. I can’t say anything but great things.”

In the past few years, more wineries and groups such as the Auction of Washington Wines have come to rely on Fat Olives for catering. Among Nolan’s most prized clients is Ste. Michelle jewel Col Solare.

The work of executive chef John David Crow has Fat Olives in more demand than ever, and for Baby Boomer football fans, he’s got an iconic name.

“John David Crow was my father’s favorite college football player,” Crow said. “And my mom liked the name, too. He was from Texas A&M and won the Heisman, but my parents were from Oklahoma.”

Crow’s connection to the Columbia Valley stems from the 1950s when his father became a homebuilder in the Tri-Cities. “My mom and dad both went to Kennewick High, and I was born here in 1964.”

A graduate of Ballard High in Seattle, Crow ended up going to culinary school in the Bay Area and returned home, spending much of his career in some of Seattle’s most famous kitchens, including Ray’s Boathouse, Tom Douglas, Daniel’s Broiler and the Space Needle, which he managed. There were also stints at the Microsoft Conference Center, Nashville and the Florida Keys.

“The Space Needle was a $14.5 million operation,” Crow said. “I focused on fine dining under the pressure of high volume — and massive catering. I did a lot of catering.”

In fall of 2018, Crow returned to his birthplace and fell in Nolan’s lap, following another talented Match Maker alumni in Mike Davis.

“I wanted to bring balance back to my life, and this is wine country,” Crow said. “Seattle is having some serious struggles right now. I moved here and found a waterfront view because that’s what I’m used to being from the Pacific Northwest. I have a 10-minute commute, and rush hour traffic in Richland is like 2 o’clock on a Sunday morning in Seattle.”

These days, Crow’s kitchen is between the Columbia River and wine country, with the Nolans proud to be co-sponsors of the Red Mountain AVA Alliance, just 20 minutes away.

Secondary photo Manager portrait
JD Nolan, Fat Olives owner/manager enjoys a glass of his family’s Schooler Nolan Caberrnet Sauvignon. The family label is one of several available on the Fat Olive’s wine list that has earned Wine Spectator magazine’s Award of Excellence three years running. Richard Duval

The past three years, Wine Spectator magazine has given its Award of Excellence to Nolan’s list. While heavy on local wines, it shows some savvy with placement of the Colene Clemens Dopp Creek Pinot Noir, one of the Willamette Valley’s most nicely priced bottlings despite routinely receiving recognition by Wine Spectator, including a ranking of No. 8 in the world in 2018.

“I love California Zins,” Nolan said. “We have some 100-point wines on our list, and I have the Colene Clemens by the glass so that people can explore and try a wine like that. Some of those like the Penfolds Grange and Spottswoode will rarely move in this market. Now if I had this list in Walla Walla or Seattle, it would be a whole different story, but we have fun with that side of it.”

While their first commercial vintage of Schooler Nolan was 2008, JD and Tiny didn’t begin to grow the brand until 2013, the same year their catering business started to take off.

“Just last week, we did a prime rib dinner in Walla Walla for 500 guys,” Nolan said. “We did a company picnic last summer for 2,500 people. There’s such a large catering market in the Tri-Cities between Hanford and the wineries. During the holiday season, we can have eight to nine events on some days, and we’re still a small to medium size as a caterer in town compared to some of the others.”

And while their labels offer a folksy and photographic look at their family’s history, the Schooler Nolan program at 1,000 cases is a serious, thoughtful, sensible and approachable for diners and other customers.

There are stand-alone bottlings of Cab, Syrah and Malbec from Red Mountain — all produced with Hedges Family Estates fruit, crafted by Sarah Hedges Goedhart. Each retails for $25. And there’s a Petit Verdot ($25), Red Wine ($19) and Cabernet Sauvignon ($15) from the Horse Heaven Hills and made in Prosser by Jeremy Santo of Mercer Estates. A photograph of his folks serves as the label for the Malbec.

“We’ve been really fortunate to have the relationships with both of them, and we’ve done some catering for the Mercer family for quite a while,” Nolan said.

Two years ago, the 2015 Red Mountain Cab earned a double gold medal at the Cascadia International Wine Competition. Last year, the 2016 HHH Cab was best-of-class at the Cascadia, while the 2016 Horse Heaven Hills Red Wine — a straight-forward blend of Petit Verdot and Malbec — received a best-of-class award at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and gold at the Cascadia.

Each winter, Nolan will pick a night and play host to a Hospitality Industry Night with prices kind to those in the industry. On March 1, Fat Olives staged a five-course winemaker dinner with five winemakers from Red Mountain. This spring, Schooler Nolan’s Spring Release Dinner at Fat Olives will feature six reds on Sunday, April 26.

For their Match Maker assignment, the food-and-wine pairings by the two JDs reflected a local approach and came off the seasonal menu. It began with the Crab Cannelloni with a Sherry Cream Sauce married to the Muret-Gaston Wines 2018 French Creek Vineyard Chardonnay in the Yakima Valley. The sweetness of the crabmeat, combined with this rich, decadent and delicious texture to the sauce is handled beautifully by the crisp, lemony and elegant Chardonnay.

Technically, the red wine also came from the Yakima Valley because the Red Mountain is a nested within that American Viticultural Area. Nolan showcased that award-winning Schooler Nolan 2015 Cab alongside Crow’s Grilled Hanger Steak with Brandy-Peppercorn Demi-Glace on a plate including puréed potatoes and roasted vegetables.

“Steak and potatoes and Red Mountain Cab — it’s straightforward, but what’s better than that?” Nolan said.

And fortunately for the Tri-Cities, both the Nolans and Crow seem to be into Fat Olives for the long haul.

“Few of us in this business have stayed at one place for 20 years,” Crow said. “This is my last step. I’ve already talked to JD and his father. The reason I took this job is I saw a lot of future growth, and I told them that I can build a catering business that will rival anyone in town.”

The family recently bought the vacant lot between Fat Olives and a five-story office building that’s being transformed into loft-style apartments, so more customers are on the way.

“We’re going to do something with that land, and it’s going to be tied in with the wine company and the restaurant,” JD said. “Having a tasting room in the next two to three years is a big goal of ours. I know a lot of people aren’t aware of Schooler Nolan.”

ERIC DEGERMAN is co-founder and CEO of Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at GreatNorthwestWine.com.

Fat Olives Restaurant and Catering

255 Williams Blvd., Richland, WA 99354

FatOlivesRichland.com

(509) 946-6404

Bottle shots

Wine:

Schooler Nolan Winery 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain, $25

— 336 cases, 13.5% alc.

The Nolan family was so excited to become part of the Washington wine industry that they worked on their first bottling before they opened Fat Olives Restaurant in 2010 near the historic Uptown in Richland.

“In fact, our first wine was a 2008 Red Mountain Cab,” said JD Nolan. “It happened to be from Obelisco Vineyard. The Hedges family was managing that vineyard at the time.”

The Schooler Nolan program is directed by JD and his father, Tiny. It is rooted in Tiny’s friendship with Pete Hedges, and the Red Mountain portion of Schooler Nolan now is in the hands of Hedges’ niece — winemaker Sarah Hedges Goedhart. The Nolans also work with the Mercer Estates team in Prosser for wines from the Horse Heaven Hills.

This award-winning 2015 Cab is not merely an example of Red Mountain, but also a cross section of Hedges Family Estate. The Cabernet Sauvignon (75%) is off Jolet, a 17-acre plot first planted in 2008, with support from Cabernet Franc (20%) from Bel'Villa, established in 1997, and Merlot (5%) from the Hedges Family Estate's Demeter certified-Biodynamic. Those roots stretch back to 1990.

“We’ll start with those vineyards, and my dad and myself will sit down with Sarah, and tweak the blend a little bit,” JD said. “But it’s always had a little bit of Cab Franc and a little bit of Merlot in it.”

Tiny’s father-in-law was Weldon Schooler, and it is an image of him, taken on the steps of Texas Tech University, on the label of Schooler Nolan’s flagship wine — the Red Mountain Cab. Described as the son of a dirt-poor West Texas rancher, Weldon took his wife to Alaska and died a Hawaii coffee miller.

“Thanks for bringing that red-headed daughter of yours to Alaska,” is the evergreen note of gratitude from Tiny that’s on the back of every bottle.

When it comes to a Cab from Red Mountain, this is nicely priced and easy drinking. And it comes from a program with a pedigree. In 2014, it earned a gold medal at the 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

At the Cascadia International Wine Competition a year later, it captured a double gold medal. That means each judge on that tasting panel voted to award that Cab a gold medal.

Prominent aromas and flavors of cherry and sage meld with barrel notes of vanilla and espresso. Gentle tannins work in the background of perfectly ripened black cherry and black currant as the finish of chocolate provides a great addition to this crowd-pleaser. Its modest alcohol is also a plus.

“We feel the quality of our wine exceeds the price,” JD says. “My dad will always get the final say on the blend, but we have a similar palate and there’s never been a time where we said, ‘That’s not going to work.’ ”

At this point, Schooler Nolan does not bottle a white wine, although Nolan floated an idea about working with winemaker Kyle Johnson on a Chardonnay for on-premise only.

All of the Schooler Nolan lineup is available at Fat Olives and can either be enjoyed in the restaurant or sold by the bottle to go. There is limited distribution in Seattle, and they also are sold in Alaska at the original Fat Olives as well as a few shops around Homer. Tiny is working with an agent to land placements at Portland restaurants.

“We’ve got to start somewhere, and we’ll go from there,” JD said.

Schooler Nolan Winery/Fat Olives Restaurant & Catering, 255 Williams Blvd, Richland, WA 99354, SchoolerNolan.com (509) 845-0051.

Hanger steak

Recipe:

Grilled Hanger Steak with Brandy-Peppercorn Demi-Glace

Serves 2

Ingredients

Two eight-ounce hanger steaks, cleaned

Salt and pepper to taste

Method

Season and rub hanger steak with salt and pepper, sear in pan with one tablespoon of olive oil.

For the demi:

Ingredients

1 cup of brandy

1 teaspoon black peppercorns, cracked

1 cup of your favorite demi-glace mix

Method

Heat and reduce brandy in a saucepan to 1 ounce

Add in demi-glaze mix.

Add cracked black peppercorns to taste.

Wine:

Muret-Gaston Wines 2018 French Creek Vineyard Chardonnay, Yakima Valley, $30

— 150 cases, 14.2% alc.

Early in his career, Kyle Johnson dreamed of owning French Creek Vineyard, one of Washington state’s oldest sites for Chardonnay.

The agriculture side of the wine industry fascinated Johnson, who grew up in the Tri-Cities and graduated from Washington State University with a degree in horticulture because the Pullman school had not yet launched its viticulture and enology program.

Fortunately for wine lovers, Johnson soon landed a job as an enologist at Chateau Ste. Michelle and embarked on a career as a winemaker — and one of the state’s best.

Two decades after first admiring French Creek Vineyard, Johnson and his wife, Amy, another WSU grad, are predictably producing stunning Chardonnay from that planting near Prosser and a short drive from the headquarters of the late Walter Clore, WSU’s famed researcher. It’s home to the historic Wente clone from California’s Livermore Valley and was planted at this site just north of the Horse Heaven Hills in 1980.

“This has given Kyle the chance to work with Damon LaLonde, who he is pretty tight with,” Amy said.

For many reasons, including LaLonde’s regional reputation as a viticulturist, Chardonnay from French Creek has been in demand among producers such as Co Dinn, Dusted Valley, Forgeron, Maison Bleue and Va Piano in Walla Walla, Panther Creek Cellars in Oregon’s Willamette Valley and Telaya near Boise. As a result, the cost for these grapes prices them beyond the Johnsons’ flagship brand, Purple Star Wines.

However, it’s also an ideal fit for the Johnsons’ young Muret-Gaston brand. After learning their two families lived near each other 15 generations ago in southern France, they decided to name this reserve-style brand for the maiden names of their mothers, Amy and Kyle, respectively. The signatures on the label were replicated from war-time letters sent home to their families.

In the scope of the program at their winery in Benton City, this Chardonnay represents a small lot that warrants special attention. The berries were whole-cluster pressed, fermented with an ambient rather than commercial yeast, and aged on the lees in a program divided between a concrete egg (77%) and new French oak barrels (23%). As a result, it can be described as nearly the opposite of a California butterbomb — a bright and crunchy expression of Chardonnay. That makes it remarkably food friendly and a delight for chefs to work with. Suggested pairings include Mexican fare such as posole, and the winemaker also enjoys it with tarragon-poached steelhead.

“It’s one of my favorite drinking wines right now, and it’s one of our most popular wines, too,” Amy said. “I wish we could make more of it.”

Muret-Gaston Wines, 56504 N E. Roza Road, Benton City, WA 99320, Muret-Gaston.com, (509) 628-7799.

Crab Cannelloni

Recipe:

Crab Cannelloni with a Sherry Cream Sauce

Serves 2

Ingredients

8 cannelloni shells, cooked to al dente

1 cup sherry cream sauce

Sherry Cream Sauce

Ingredients

1 cup sherry

1 quart cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Method

In a saucepan, reduce the sherry to about 2 ounces of liquid.

Add cream and continue to reduce mixture by half

Season to taste, keep warm and set aside.

Fill a large pot with water. Salt the water, bring to a boil and cook the shells until chewy. about 6 to 7 minutes. Drain and cool.

Ingredients for crab mix

8 ounces cherry tomatoes

1 cup spinach

1 pound red crab meat

1/2 lemon, juiced

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Blend crab mix ingredients together and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Fill each pasta shell with about 2 ounces of crab mixture.

Grease baking tray or oven-proof bowl.

Lay cannellonis down and top with sherry cream sauce.

Bake for about 12 minutes.

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