• Baking loaf of bread

From Our Kitchen to Yours: Life in a Cabernet Kitchen

Like a great wine, great food has a sense of place.

For Winery Chef Dominic Orsini, the combination of all three – wine, food and place – is the central theme of his kitchen.

In our recently released Silver Oak Cookbook: Life in a Cabernet Kitchen Dominic treats wine as the star of each meal, accentuating its flavors with fresh, seasonally inspired cuisine. The results are delicious to eat, enhance wine’s enjoyment and feature right-from-the-garden (or right-from-the-vineyard, as it may be) ingredients.

Chef Dominic Orsini at work in the kitchen at Silver Oak Silver Oak winery chef Dominic Orsini

There is no more literal example of this than the starter Dominic uses for the bread served to winery dinner guests. The story begins with an old Cabernet vineyard that was up for replanting. Dominic harvested a few grapes, put them into a mixture of flour and water and waited to see what would happen. After a few days, the wild yeast cells on the grape skins started converting sugars into carbon dioxide and alcohol. With gradual additions of flour and water, the mixture bubbled and percolated for ten days - eventually creating the bread starter that Dominic and his team of chefs use to this day.

There is a beauty in the simplicity of harnessing wild yeast (a practice often used in winemaking) to make bread that echoes the vineyard – an approach that is both pioneering and elegant. The same can be said of Life in a Cabernet Kitchen in its entirety. Dominic’s recipes, though simple in regards to both technique and ingredients, reflect a completely fresh way of cooking - one where wine and the land’s bounty intersect to heighten the food and wine experience.

For those inspired to create their own 7-day bread starter – either from grapes or any local fresh fruit – we share the recipe below. Those seeking more immediate enjoyment will enjoy the following crostinis from chef Dominic, the perfect accompaniment to Silver Oak & Twomey wines.


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7-day Bread Starter

  • 1 bunch (about 8 ounces) organic grapes, any color
  • 4 cups warm (80°F) non-chlorinated water
  • 3 cups unbleached bread flour


Grape StarterDay 1:

Cut a piece of cheesecloth large enough to hold the grapes. Place the grapes on the cheesecloth, bring the corners together, and tie with kitchen string to create a sack.

Mix the water and flour together in a large bowl (the mixture should be wet and soupy). Place the sack of grapes in the bowl and squeeze the grapes to crush them and release their juice. Stir the sack around in the mixture until it is fully submerged and coated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm location (ideally 70°F to 75°F) and leave undisturbed for 72 hours.

Days 2 and 3:

Check the mixture every 24 hours during this period. You will notice a few tiny bubbles starting to form. Smell the starter. It should have a fruity fermented aroma.

Day 4:

1 cup warm (80°F) non-chlorinated water
1 cup unbleached bread flour

By this time, the aroma may have changed from fruity and yeasty to sour and alcoholic. If this has happened, do not worry. This is to be expected, and it means it is time to refresh and feed the starter. Transfer the mixture to a clean bowl and pour in the water. Squeeze and stir the bag of grapes and then mix in the flour. Wipe away any flour mixture that collected on the side of the bowl when you were mixing. (The cleanliness of the sides of the bowl will be a future indicator of activity of the starter.) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for another 2 days.

Days 5 to 7:

Check the starter every 12 hours. If you see any mold collecting on the starter, promptly remove it and transfer the starter to a new bowl. If you see staining from the flour mixture on the cleaned sides of the bowl, it means the mixture inflated and deflated and you need to repeat the Day 4 steps. If there is no staining, leave the starter undisturbed.

Day 7:

1 cup unbleached bread flour
1⁄2 cup warm (80°F) non-chlorinated water

Remove the bag of grapes from the bowl, squeeze all the liquid from the bag into the flour mixture, and stir to mix. Remove 1/2 cup of the flour mixture and place it in a clean bowl. Add the bread flour and water to the 1/2 cup flour mixture and mix until a dough forms. Transfer the starter to a 1-quart plastic container with a lid and let stand at room temperature for 12 hours. At the end of the 12 hours, the dough will have increased in size by half. Transfer the starter to the refrigerator and refrigerate until ready to use. Discard the starter mixture left over in the large bowl, share it with a friend, or experiment with it to make a batch of bread.

Feed the starter:
In commercial bakeries, the starter is left at room temperature and fed daily, sometimes a few times a day. This is not convenient for most home bakers, so the starter can be refrigerated and fed every 7 to 14 days.

1⁄2 cup bread starter, remainder discarded
1 cup unbleached bread flour
1⁄2 cup warm (80°F) non-chlorinated water

Mix the starter, flour, and water in a bowl and transfer to a clean container with a lid. Let stand at room temperature for 8 hours, then refrigerate until the next feeding.

Activate the starter:
2 tablespoons bread starter
1⁄2 cup unbleached bread flour
1⁄4 cup warm (80°F) non-chlorinated water

Mix the starter, flour, and water in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature until bubbling, 8 to 12 hours.

To make bread with the starter:
Activate the starter in the morning, make the bread dough in the evening, and bake the bread the next day.

To make pizza dough with the starter:
Activate the starter the night before and make the pizza dough the next day.

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