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Cocktail Hour: In Napa, Bartenders Skip the Wine

Cal Norske Flip cocktail

Cal Norske Flip cocktail

Wine may reign supreme in California’s Napa Valley, but there’s also a surprising talent pool of mixologists, who come out for the annual Wine Country Cocktail Competition.

“We are seeing an unprecedented growth in Napa Valley cocktail competitions as bar programs continue to grow and develop in wine country,” said Ashley Teplin, a partner at local public relations firm, who attended the event. “Napa Valley is now home to some serious world-class bartenders at Goose & Gander, French Blue, The Thomas at Fagianni’s, Meadowood, La Condesa, Bouchon and Terra, to name a few.”

Iron Chef” style, some of the region’s world-class bartenders faced off in the summer competition to outdo each other in creating the best cocktail. Each received an arsenal of base products plus a surprise ingredient: seasonal berries.

The contestants had to start with Perfect Purée’s frozen fruit purees, concentrates and zests; and Charbay’s artisanal fresh fruit vodkas, rums, whiskeys and tequila. They also had fresh fruit, garnishes, herbs, edible flowers, mixers and bitters at their disposal.

The winning cocktail was the Sage Canyon Flip, from Michael Jack Pazdon of Goose & Gander in St. Helena. It was the second year in a row that Pazdon had won. Pazdon originally made the drink when he was at Solbar at Solage Resort in Calistoga.

“It stood out for its unique use of ingredients both sweet and savory, the use of sage and Doppelt Kümmel Extra, which is the most amazing stuff ever,” said one of the judges, radio personality Ziggy Eschliman.

Teplin was struck by how well-balanced the competing cocktails were.

“They were complex with great structure and overall acidity,” she said. “Napa Valley is definitely starting to make name for itself in the cocktail world.”

Second prize went to Kelly Dallas of Solbar for the Gravitas Garantum Flip, a drink made with pomegranate vodka, pear purée and a rosemary-infused simple syrup. Third went to Cappy Sorentino of Spoon Bar in Healdsburg, who made a roasted red pepper cocktail.

“What struck me most about Michael Jack Pazdon, Kelly Dallas and Cappy Sorentino’s cocktails — the top three cocktails — were the depth of flavors, complexity and balance,” noted Brian Kropf, editor in chief of Mutineer Magazine and a judge at the competition. “They were all somewhat similar in style, but each had a different and unique presentation and back story.”

Gravitas Garantum Flip

Created by Kelly Dallas of Solbar at Solage Resort

Serves 1


1½ ounces pomegranate vodka

1 ounce pear purée

1 strawberry

¾ ounce lemon juice

¾ ounce rosemary-infused simple syrup

3-4 mint leaves

½ ounce egg white

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Sprig of rosemary and edible flowers to garnish.


1. Shake all ingredients and serve over ice.

2. Garnish with rosemary and flower petals.


Cal Norske Flip

Created by Michael Jack Pazdon of Goose & Gander

Serves 1


Two handfuls of cranberries

¾ ounce vodka

¾ ounce lemon vodka

Angostura bitters

3 sage leaves

¾ ounce lemon juice

½ ounce simple syrup

¼ ounce Kümmel (a liqueur made from caraway seed, cumin and fennel)

1 ounce pear purée

½ ounce egg white


1. Gently crush a handful of cranberries in a mixing glass.

2. Transfer to an iSi whip charger and fill charger half full with a mixture of 1:1 regular and Meyer lemon vodkas. Cap charger and charge with nitrogen dioxide (NO2); set aside.

3. Separately, crush another handful of cranberries in a sealable container and cover with angostura bitters. Cap and shake vigorously, set aside.

4. After a few moments, uncap the vodka and bitters and strain both. Transfer the bitters to an eyedropper.

5. To build the drink, muddle three sage leaves in the bottom of a mixing glass. Add lemon, simple syrup, Kümmel, pear purée, egg white and 1 ½ ounces of strained infused vodka.

6. Dry shake, add ice and shake vigorously.

7. Double strain into a rocks glass over a glace ice sphere. Drop bitters on top of foam and drag a toothpick through them to make a design.

Photo: Cal Norske Flip cocktail created by Michael Jack Pazdon of Goose & Gander.        Credit: Ashley Teplin

Zester Daily contributor Virginie Boone is a Sonoma Valley-based wine writer. She has reported on the Northern California wine scene for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and its affiliate food and wine magazine, Savor, and is a contributing reviewer of California wines for Wine Enthusiast.