Sacramento food photographer Marita Madeloni brings her talent to 26 Brix – and we couldn't be more excited to be working with her. We've teamed up to offer a new photography service specifically for restaurants.

Marita's talent is capturing and conveying the essence of a story through images. Although she photographs a wide array of subjects, Marita says that food photography is one of her passions, which she indulges in her blog, Food Love & Tradition. Her beautiful images can also be seen on her website.

To help people discover and learn more about our photography service for restaurants, we've also launched a new website:

Herb Rub, Photo by Marita Madeloni

Monday, April 11, 2014, Sacramento, Calif. – 26 Brix, an online marketing agency focused exclusively on restaurants and wineries, today announced completion of a new website for Liquid Sky Vineyards. The new website is an important element in the winery’s marketing strategy and is expected to increase its direct-to-consumer wine sales.

Liquid Sky Vineyards Website

Prior to engaging 26 Brix, Liquid Sky Vineyards (LSV) relied on a website built on outdated web technology and e-commerce software, which had become an obstacle to ordering for LSV’s customers according to Dave Labuda, the winery’s owner. The ordering tool was difficult to use, had limited shipping functionality, and required customers to create a new account prior to purchasing. Labuda felt that the account-setup requirement discouraged consumers from ordering, and he wanted to remove this hurdle in the new site.

The new website was completely redesigned from the ground up. It’s built on a custom WordPress theme with a seamless integration to VineSpring’s winery-specific e-commerce platform and MailChimp’s email marketing platform. It’s also mobile friendly with a completely responsive design.

In addition to designing and developing the new website, 26 Brix also provided a set of recommendations for LSV’s marketing strategy, including social media recommendations and pricing strategy. The new website was the first step in implementing the marketing strategy developed by 26 Brix.

“We’re thrilled to work with Liquid Sky Vineyards on this important project, and we expect to assist LSV with other tactical marketing projects,” said John Hyde, owner of 26 Brix. “We’re confident that this is the beginning of great things for this little-known winery, which produces world-class Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. LSV is a hidden gem that deserves much more recognition.”

About Liquid Sky Vineyards

Resting on a ridge high above Sonoma Valley, Liquid Sky Vineyard produces limited quantities of estate-grown, single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and Rhone varieties. The vineyard’s ideal location and climate produce low yields of intensely flavored grapes, perfect for creating wines of depth, character, and elegance. Visit Liquid Sky Vineyards at

Can the farm-to-table movement save the US economy? Brian Shaad thinks so. Shaad is the energetic and visionary owner of Feeding Crane Farms, a small but fast-growing organic farm on the north side of Sacramento.

Okay, if saving the US economy sounds a bit ambitious, perhaps it is. But Shaad definitely believes in the possibilities of small family farms to help fix not just what ails our economy. He’s see the role of small family farms as vital to our culture, and he believes that the decline of small agriculture is a symptom of a bigger cultural malaise. With Feeding Crane Farms, he’s on a mission to prove the viability of urban farms and the importance of small ag to a healthy, productive economy.

Feeding Crane Farms* Photo courtesy of Feeding Crane Farms.

Growing Like a Weed

Feeding Crane Farms was born in the fall of 2011 on property owned by Shaad's grandparents. The land is on the edge of Sacramento, but technically it’s within city limits, making Feeding Crane a true urban farm. Shaad and his team started on 3.5 acres, and during peak season the farm already supports “upwards of 25 restaurants, Corti Brothers, Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op, and three farmers markets,” says Shannin Stein, the general manager of Feeding Crane. All of this production comes from less than 4 acres of class 3 soil – less than ideal for raising vegetables. “I sometimes think our farmers are more magicians than farmers,” says Stein.

And it’s only the beginning. When I met Brian Shaad and Shannin Stein back in September, Feeding Crane Farms was putting the final touches on a contract to provide fresh organic vegetables to a few select Raley’s and Bel Air stores, one of largest grocery chains in Northern California. That’s quite a coup d'état for a small farm, especially one that sits on “marginal” hardpan soil that for 50 years was essentially fallow, nothing more than pastureland for horses and cattle. “We managed to prove that this land is productive,” Shaad notes with pride.

CarrotsFeeding Crane Farms' carrots at Bel Air grocery store.

Within 12 months of starting Feeding Crane – and demonstrating the viability of this business model – Shaad had already contracted with a neighboring family that opened up 57 acres of its land to allow Feeding Crane to expand production and variety.

That’s enormous growth in such a short space of time, but is there a market in Sacramento to support a small farm of this size, growing and delivering organic produce primarily to restaurants and local retailers? “We haven’t even begun to serve our market,” Shaad immediately replied. “The community demand for local produce is definitely there,” Stein continued. “The problem is that the communication and infrastructure between retail stores / restaurants and small farms is still developing. We’re all still learning how to work together. The local farms which are already supplying area retailers cannot bear the weight of the entire demand.”

We like to think that we buy locally, but the reality, says Shaad, is that even in a rich agricultural area like Sacramento the vast majority of produce is trucked in. And that comes at a cost. Transporting fresh produce across the country requires an extensive “cold chain” – a series of cold storage units that can hold produce sometimes for weeks while it’s transferred from farm to packing shed to warehouse, from warehouse to walk-in to the produce aisle to your home refrigerator. That journey favors varieties with longer shelf life, at the cost of ripeness and flavor.

The result is greater homogeneity, a kind of Ozzie & Harriet blandness that locovores, people in the Slow Food movement, and others are trying so hard to change. To support a transformation from industrial ag to small ag, many more small farms like Feeding Crane will need to sprout and take root.

Lettuce StartsLettuce "starts" at Feeding Crane Farms.

You See Farmers, I See Job Creators

An economist by education and training, Brian Shaad is from Sacramento, a fourth-generation local who had dreamed of starting a farm for many years. After college, his work took him to faraway places like India and Nigeria where he worked on rural economic development. For more than 15 years he worked on overseas projects, but one day planned to return to realize his dreams and invest 20 years’ worth of savings to start this business.

“I’ve been out of this country for about 16 years,” Shaad told me. During that time, he says, “I’ve had a lot of inspiration to see how other cultures and other economies treat agriculture. America has completely abused it. We don’t support it any longer. But yet it’s critical to European cultures, European economies. It’s critical to Africa. It’s critical to India. But somewhere in America we lost interest in agriculture.”

So Feeding Crane Farms is more than just a financial investment to Shaad. It’s the result of a single-minded determination to revitalize small family farms and, in a real sense, prove the importance of this kind of agriculture in the American economy. Farm land, he says, can be used to create permanent jobs – if it’s not paved over. “We now have a real burgeoning food scene in Sacramento,” Shaad says, drawing parallels to European farming communities like Piemonte in northern Italy, where the slow food movement began. “The way I see it,” he says, “we could create this beautiful, vibrant farming economy north of Sacramento…and people will come here, they’ll come to spend time on farms, to see the farms, and then you go into town and you eat at really good restaurants and have the food that’s grown right here in Sacramento!”

Vegetable Starts* Photo courtesy of Feeding Crane Farms.

The economic benefits of this farm-to-table approach are what truly inspire Shaad, who sees his home town as a food destination creating jobs to support this new food tourism: “People are saying no jobs are being created in the economy? I just created six…A year ago there were no jobs on this farm. Today there are as many as six full-time jobs here during our peak season.”

These days, politicians like to talk about putting people back to work and reducing unemployment as key to a full economic recovery. Can small agriculture play an important role in bringing new life to the economy? With Feeding Crane Farms, Brian Shaad is making an emphatic statement: Indeed it can!


At $600 per pound, kopi luwak is the most expensive coffee in the world (according to Wikipedia). By comparison, pure Jamaica Blue Mountain, widely considered one of the priciest coffees, is typically $30 to $50 per pound. You would pay that much for an ounce of kopi luwak beans.


Kopi luwak is a truly unique product. It begins when the bright red coffee berries that contain the seed (or bean) from which all coffee is made, are eaten by a wild civet, a small mammal that lives in tropical Asia and Africa. Luckily for coffee connoisseurs, civets are able to digest the red fleshy pulp that surrounds the seed but they can't digest the seeds themselves. So after the seeds pass through the civet's digestive tract, tribesmen gather the scat, clean it, roast the beans, and create this very unusual "civet coffee," or kopi luwak. The civet’s stomach enzymes apparently reduce acidity and bitterness while contributing a distinctive taste and aroma to the coffee beans. Aficionados claim that the result is a smoother, more complex flavor in the brewed coffee.


I originally learned about kopi luwak in the Wine Spectator, of all places. In addition to covering wine, WS also publishes stories about other beverages, including coffee. Mark Pendergrast is their go-to guy on this topic, a logical choice considering the fact that Pendergrast literally wrote the book on coffee: Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World. For the November 30 issue of Wine Spectator, Pendergrast wrote an article about Doi Chaang Coffee, a small but growing coffee cooperative in northern Thailand. Their coffee beans, writes Pendergrast, “are comparable to the best Kona beans.” One of the products that Doi Chaang sells is civet coffee.

If you haven’t heard of Doi Chaang, or even tried coffee from Thailand, that’s understandable. The company itself is not very old, and Thailand hasn’t yet gained the reputation of major coffee-exporting countries like Ethiopia or Columbia. According to Pendergrast, coffee farming in the region where Doi Chaang has its plantation was only introduced in the 1980s. Prior to that time, the area was dominated by opium producers – thugs and criminals who forced the local tribes to work for them in the production of opium. This began to change in 1983, when the king of Thailand ordered the introduction of coffee to the hill tribes in an effort to stem the opium trade and replace the poppy crop with a viable alternative.

Overall, the switch from poppy to coffee was positive for the hill tribes in this region of Thailand. However, it wasn’t until they began working together in cooperatives like Doi Chaang that the tribes gained a measure of control over the marketing and sales of their coffee. Initially, as individual farmers they were at the mercy of coffee brokers, who paid much less than the coffee was worth and then blended the high-quality mountain-grown coffee with inferior beans.

The Doi Chaang coffee cooperative itself began in 2001 when a charismatic Thai man named Wicha Promyong suggested the idea to the Akha tribe, one of the groups of people who had been growing coffee in northern Thailand.

Wicha Promyong

In the beginning, the cooperative farmed 200 acres and sold its coffee to dealers for roughly 25 cents per pound. Today, Doi Chaang farms 8,000 acres and sells coffee beans for as much as $4 or $5 per pound. That’s made a remarkable difference for the Akha tribe. Pendergrast tells the story of their transformation:

From their profits, Akha have created a Coffee Academy to teach farmers proper cultivation and processes, along with financial and environmental essentials … The village now has running water, a sewage system, electricity, a medical clinic and improved roads. Adults who had to leave as children to earn a living are returning. The Doi Chaang Coffee Foundation is building a school for 400 children and wants to help other hill tribes, whose estimated 1.2 million people each earn less than $1 a day. (Wine Spectator, November 30, 2012)

In addition to Promyong, there is one other person who has played an important role in helping to establish the Doi Chaang brand. John Darch is a Canadian business man who invested in Doi Chaang after meeting Promyong several years ago. Darch’s involvement has been instrumental in helping the cooperative grow beyond the domestic Thai market and reach consumers in North America and Europe. And the international sales have in turn helped the Akha tribe achieve some of the improvements Pendergrast describes. Prior to Doi Chaang, the Akha “maintained only a marginal existence,” according to Pendergrast. He calls them “a proud people” who for many years were looked down upon “as ignorant, superstitious peasants.”

Akha Mother & Daughter

And that’s what appeals most to me about Doi Chaang. I’m sure their coffee is quite good; it’s certainly received high marks from coffee reviewers and experts, including Pendergrast. No, what I like most is the story of the people and their transformation – their hard work and eventual success.

In this video, Darch, Promyong, and others talk about how the importance of Doi Chaang to the community of Akha. You can’t help but to be impressed by the resourcefulness, determination, and creativity of these people, especially Promyong. He saw how the hard-working Akha tribe could use a business opportunity to dramatically improve their condition and bring dignity to this deserving group of people. It’s really a wonderful story.

Kopi Luwak and Doi Chaang Wild Civet Coffee

One of the more remarkable aspects of Doi Chaang is how even as the company has built its coffee business, it has refused to rest on its success. The cooperative has expanded into secondary products like honey, soap, and tea that are built around the core business while using the resources available to the coffee farmers.

But the most interesting item Doi Chaang sells is undoubtedly its Wild Civet Coffee which goes for nearly $500 per pound. Is it good? Opinions vary on the subject of kopi luwak. In his Wine Spectator article, Pendergrast described Doi Chaang's Wild Civet Coffee as "even smoother than regular Doi Chaang, with dark chocolate notes, a tart acidity, and lingering sweetness."

Others have been less generous about kopi luwak. According to Wikipedia, "Some critics claim...that kopi luwak is simply bad coffee, purchased for novelty rather than taste." Needless to say, I’ve never tried it. But if you’re curious, you can decide for yourself whether it's worth the money. $55 plus shipping will get you 50 grams, enough to make about 3 cups.

These two wines could hardly be more different. One is a chenin blanc from Navarro Vineyards in Mendocino on the north coast of California, the other a chenin blanc from Domaine Pichot in the Vouvray appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) in the Loire Valley in France. Same grape. Very different wines.

Two Chenin Blancs

It’s popular to talk about a wine’s terroir these days, and one might be tempted to say that the difference between these two wines is due to that somewhat vague concept. In my opinion, however, terroir has little or nothing to do with why these wines are so different.

Let’s back up for a moment and recall the definition of terroir. Here’s what Wikipedia says: “Terroir is the set of special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place, interacting with the plant's genetics, express in agricultural products such as wine…Terroir can be very loosely translated as ‘a sense of place,’ which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of the product.”

In brief, the idea here is that grapes from different regions will produce different kinds of wines because of the environment in which they grow. And I think that’s what most people have in mind when they say “terroir.” Some people prefer to extend the definition of terroir to encompass all aspects of winemaking, which would then include regional winemaking styles and perhaps even an individual winemaker’s technique. To broaden the definition like that, though, is to deprive the word terroir of any meaningful distinction.

Now back to the wines. Both are made from chenin blanc grapes. Both are from cool wine-growing regions. Both are from the 2011 vintage. Both were approximately $12 to $13 for a 750 ml bottle.

And yet, so different.

2011 Domaine Pichot Vouvray Domaine Le Peu de la Moriette

Vouvray, FranceThe Domaine Pichot Vouvray is an extrovert. It’s a demi-sec (or slightly sweet), which is not that uncommon for Vouvray. It has good acidity, but is not bracing in its acidity, suggesting that this wine will not cellar as long as some more expensive, higher-quality Vouvrays (which are known for aging potential). It has a round, rich texture – due partly to the residual sugar and partly, I suspect, to barrel aging, and maybe even sur lie aging (which, again, is common for Vouvray). The nose is distinctly yeasty, which suggests sur lie aging and/or natural yeast fermentation. The color is golden, which makes me think it’s aged or fermented in oak barrels. There may have been some malolactic, or secondary fermentation. The flavors tend to honey, not unlike a lot of California chardonnays. There’s a very subtle petroleum character, like you find in good German rieslings. In short, it’s a delicious wine that is tasty all by itself. However, to my palate a bit cloying. Alcohol: 12%.

2011 Navarro Vineyards Chenin Blanc

Navarro VineyardsBy comparison, the Navarro chenin blanc is an introvert. It’s much more “steely” with flavors of green apple and lime, tart and tight. The nose is more reserved: it is not nearly as aromatic or revealing as the Domaine Pichot. The green apple and absence of toasty/yeasty flavors makes me think that this was fermented and aged in stainless steel, and I would guess that this wine never saw anything resembling oak. Unlike the Domaine Pichot, it’s quite dry, with 13% alcohol. The flavors, besides being citrusy, are delicate and minerally; like riesling, one may think of wet stones – or key lime pie. The color is much lighter than the Pichot, like straw rather than honey. The wine is not as effusive or showy as the Vouvray, but I believe it would be better (in general) as a food wine. Drinking it, one feels less satiated. I could imagine the Navarro chenin blanc paired with butter or cream sauces, where it balance the richness of the dish. (We ended up drinking it for dinner with Dungeness crab and artichokes, butter and mayonnaise. It was perfect.)

The Myth of Terroir

Are the differences between these two wines due to the environment? Not possible. The winemaker in each case made numerous decisions about when and how ripe to pick the grapes, whether to use natural or commercial yeast, how much oak to use (if any), whether to age sur lie, whether to ferment all the way or leave residual sugar, whether to put the wines through malolactic fermentation, etc. In my opinion, these decision had much more effect on the final product than the region or “terroir.”

In a way, this particular blog post is the outcome of a discussion I had with Darrell Corti a couple of months ago. It was he who said to me, “terroir is bullshit.” He said this in reference, interestingly enough, to chenin blanc. We both happened to be at a tasting where all the wines were from chenin blanc grown in the Clarksburg AVA, a wine-growing region in the Sacramento Delta. Several of the wines in fact came from the same vineyard. And yet, no two wines were the same. Why not?

Wikipedia: chenin blanc grapes

Chenin blanc grapes, courtesy of Wikipedia

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Michael Pollan's Edible Education

Posted on December 10, 2012

This past fall (2012), UC Berkeley offered a class titled “Edible Education 103: Telling Stories About Food and Agriculture,” taught on campus by Michael Pollan. Pollan is the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and other books, and he's a professor in the Graduate School of Journalism at UCB. The class began on August 28, 2012 and ended on December 4.

Why should you care about a class that happened in the past? Because all of the lectures were videotaped and are currently available onlineand for free! And they're wonderful. If the two I started watching are any indication, they are fascinating, informative, and entertaining.

Here’s the opening session.

If you’re interested in food politics or food trends, I’d recommend checking out the series. I intend to work my way through them – but make no mistake: it is definitely a time commitment. Each video appears to be about 90 minutes and there are at least 17 of them. In addition, Pollon sometimes refers to outside reading which, if you choose to check out those sources, adds to the commitment.

If you do watch any of them, let me know what you think.

Rachel Sprinkle-Strong, owner and “chief peddler” of POPcycle Creamery in Sacramento, cheerfully describers herself as an “ice cream snob.” But she’s not the kind of person you’d call arrogant. With her sunny disposition, warm smile, and perennial optimism, Rachel is as charming and friendly as the ice cream she serves.

Rachel Sprinkle-Strong

Still, this is ice cream like no other ice cream you’ve tasted. Flavors like fleur de sel oreo, pumpkin donut 5 spice, strawberry balsamic, and vanilla bean-cardamom showcase Rachel’s ability to combine common and unusual ingredients to create extraordinary ice cream flavors. They seem to explode on your palate. Her ice creams insist that you pay attention to them: stop whatever you’re doing and take notice. You’ve never had ice cream like this.

POPcycle Menu

But it’s not just the flavors that make POPcycle Creamery unique.

First of all, the packaging and presentation are genius. POPcycle Creamery is sold not as scoops in a cone or in small cups like gelato, but as pushup ice cream pops that are thoroughly modern yet familiar and even a bit nostalgic. They’ll evoke your earliest memories of missiles, 50/50 bars, and pushups, which you lined up to buy from the local ice cream truck as it drove down your street on a warm summer afternoon. You know what I’m talking about.

Secondly, Rachel hawks her goods from a custom-made bicycle (or technically, a tricycle) that’s front-loaded with a freezer and umbrella. It’s an unusual delivery system that, again, is both modern and old-fashioned – and easy on the environment.

The POPcycle Delivery System

“The first job I ever had was actually in an old-fashioned ice cream shop in the Midwest that has been making all of its own ice cream for over 60 years,” Rachel told me when I interviewed her at the GOOD street food + design market in early November. Ever since then, Rachel has had smoldering passion for ice cream and has sought out the best shops wherever she’s gone. “Whenever I travel, I always like to check out the hometown ice cream,” she says.

From that first job in Columbus, Ohio to opening her own ice cream business in Sacramento, Calif., Rachel’s journey has been anything but a straight line. “I went to college and did the corporate thing for about 20 years,” Rachel says. But two years ago she was laid off by the large telecom provider where she had been working in communications and quality assurance. Like many Americans who were affected by the recession, Rachel used that “opportunity” to try something new – to follow a passion and see where it would take her.

Following the Path of Mobile Food Trucks

“I decided to start my business off of a bicycle because I wanted to do something that I could start really small and something that could eventually expand. It gives me more control, it makes me very mobile, and of course it’s green, and I love bicycling.”

In many ways, POPcycle Creamery is a product of our times. Small businesses often emerge during recessions, but I believe that a business like POPcycle Creamery would have been much more difficult to launch even a few years ago. Today, social media and online marketing make it possible to promote new businesses less expensively. In addition, our national obsession with food has created an environment where unique, high-quality products like Rachel’s can begin, find an audience, and thrive. And lastly, I would credit the explosion of mobile food trucks for offering a new model for talented people like Rachel who want to create a food business.

What new mobile food trucks have done is to use the Internet and online marketing to connect directly to their customers. Social media tools like Twitter enable them to announce lunch and dinner locations as well as specials and changing menus, keeping their customers informed and engaged in real time. These vendors have also shifted consumers’ perceptions of mobile food trucks, casting themselves as high-quality alternatives to brick-and-mortar restaurants.

While POPcycle creamery is clearly not a mobile food truck, it does share some of their attributes, particularly the use of social media to promote the business. “Everything I’ve gotten publicity-wise has been free so far,” says Rachel who promotes her business on Twitter and Facebook as well as her own website. She’s also benefited from good local press in publications like Sacramento Press and Good Day Sacramento. “I’ve done no formal advertising,” she says, noting that her network, word of mouth, and free promotions have enabled her to establish a presence in the Sacramento food scene.

Like food trucks, POPcycle Creamery also demonstrates the idea that great food can be “mobile.” That is, it can come to you. Delivery is one of qualities that makes POPcycle Creamery truly unique among ice cream shops. Rather than setting up shop (so to speak) on a street corner in downtown Sacramento, Rachel focuses on special orders and deliveries, and on corporate events and private parties.

Finally, this analogy is appropriate for at least one other reason: Rachel's original plan was to start a mobile food truck. She was working on a concept with a business partner but eventually decided to begin on her own, in part because of the upfront cost of purchasing a food truck. POPcycle Creamery gives Rachel greater control and allowed her to launch the business without taking on debt. Still, I think it's fair to say that food trucks helped pave the way.

For POPcycle Creamery, the Journey Has Just Begun

So now that the wheels are spinning for POPcycle Creamery, what’s next? “This summer I would love to focus on the wedding business, bridal showers, and everything that goes along with weddings,” Rachel says. Like corporate events, weddings offer an opportunity to grow her business more profitably and on a larger scale.

Long term, however, opening a storefront is Rachel's ultimate goal. Someday she’d like to have the kind of ice cream parlor like the one she worked at in her first job. A place that focuses on quality ingredients and exciting flavors. Where she can serve people like her who simply love good, handmade ice cream. POPcycle Creamery is one stop on a life-long journey for Rachel Sprinkle-Strong, and I have a good feeling she’ll reach her destination.

Rachel Sprinkle-Strong


What’s Your Story? We’d Like to Share it.

Do you run a small business in food and wine – or know someone who does? At 26 Brix, we’re always on the lookout for good stories to tell in our blog. We like to promote people and businesses who are doing original, creative work, who have a great story to tell. Through our website and social media (especially Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook), we’re building an audience of people who also appreciate food and wine and like to support local businesses.

Can we help you tell your story? We don’t charge for this work; it’s our way of supporting and participating in the restaurant and winery community. Please contact us if you’re interested in having a story written about your business.