The addition of Chef Tom Stafford to the Vine Cliff Tasting Room team has given the Vine Cliff St. Helena Tasting Room an enhanced food & wine tasting program that brings together light fresh food selections to the overall wine tasting experience. Chef Tom has been working closely with Vine Cliff Proprietress Nell Sweeney to establish a uniquely enjoyable Napa Valley food and wine pairing program, as well as coordinating culinary events at the Estate. His vision for Vine Cliff is to create a premier culinary experience which complements the wines and builds a showcase for local and international ingredients.

Originally from Atlanta Georgia, Tom is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. He has worked in stellar kitchens such as Alinea in Chicago under famed Chef Grant Achatz, and also at Craft Restaurant in Atlanta under “Top Chef” Head Judge Tom Colicchio.  Tom has worked and studied extensively through France, Spain, Peru, Chile, and even the Middle East for the sole purpose of learning more about food and wine. He has completed Level 1 of the Court of Master Sommelier’s course and has a goal to attain his Level 2.

In addition to the current menu for the wine tastings, Tom has been pickling a wide assortment of vegetables as accompaniments for the cheese and charcuterie offering. Pickling is part of Tom’s Southern culinary heritage and he is taking advantage of the wide choice of California grown produce to fill his pickle jars.

Now he and Nell are joining forces to grow more fresh produce in the Vine Cliff Silverado Estate gardens for the seasonal salad menu at the Vine Cliff St. Helena Tasting Room as well as to make jams and preserves from the wonderful fruit trees found on the Vine Cliff estate. Look for fig jam, apricot preserve and other homemade items on your next visit to the Vine Cliff Tasting Room.

Tom has created an array of delicious eats featuring fresh seasonal ingredients.



Pickling is becoming more and more popular throughout the U.S. but it has always been a big part of my culture in the South since I was a kid. Our growing season was so short that we had to preserve everything we could at its peak so that we had fresh flavors for the rest of the year. But as the modern day consumer wants peaches, ramps, persimmons, and cranberries all year long, it’s up to all chefs and even home cooks to have an arsenal of pickled and preserved fruits and vegetables ready to go.

There is an art to it though. Water, vinegar, and sugar is the base, but the types of vinegars, sugars, seasonings, spices, etc that goes into the jar is where pickling/preserving really becomes complex and delicious. Now that I live in California, I have access to fresh produce most of the year, but I still Pickle everything in sight like there is no tomorrow.

Summer Therapy


Summer is definitely upon us in the Napa Valley. While our grapes are loving the heat as they approach veraison, it is crucial to pay attention to the hydration of the fruits and veggies in Nell’s Garden. The Squash and Zucchini are growing like crazy, as are the blue lake beans, perfect for some of our salads at the Tasting Room in Saint Helena.

Tomatoes are taking their time, but it won’t be long before they will be in full effect and I will be harvesting them like crazy. Lots of tomato sauce, and lots of oven roasted tomatoes coming soon.

Strawberries are looking really good and are so sweet because of the heat. They will be perfect for strawberry jam that will go with some of our new courses coming into our late summer menu.

We also are seeing a lot of flowers on our pepper plants which will result in a lot of different fermented hot sauces once I pick them. Cauliflower is growing slow but I see the small heads coming in which is good. I’m thinking wood fire roasted cauliflower steaks!

Now I’ve got to start thinking about Fall veggies to put in the ground. I came across a funny quote recently that said “Gardening is cheaper than therapy….and you get tomatoes!!!” Care to join me and Nell in our therapy sessions?

Till the Fall,

Chef Tom

Lettuce in the Garden


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