When Bill and I first entered Silver Moon Cottage, our airbnb rental home for our month-long stay in Kenwood, CA, we could tell its owner, Monique Risch, has a deep love for food and wine.
First of all was the location itself. Situated on a quiet street in the northern end of the famed Sonoma Valley, the house is within walking distance of several of the region’s renowned wineries and restaurants. Walking paths meander along the nearby vineyards lush with grapes.
Keen on enabling her renters to enjoy in-home dining experiences commensurate with the local bounty and artisan food and wine culture, Monique offers a gourmet kitchen (ample pots, pans, plates, and even an immersion blender!) meant for full-fledged meal preparation and entertaining.
We’ve rented multiple homes during our travels, and this kitchen is by far the best equipped. As much as we enjoy the opportunity during our extended stays to explore a variety of restaurants, we’ve realized that the ability to cook while living in our rentals is important to help us feel we are indeed “home.” Further cementing the kitchen’s number one status was a welcoming bottle of wine courtesy of our host.
Even the home’s décor reflects Monique’s intent for her guests. One wall of the kitchen is accented with neatly aligned rows of antique cooking utensils – essentially a culinary art installation. On the walls in the living room are collections of intriguing food, wine, and travel books shelved in such a way as to appear as if they are floating. Empty wine bottles with interesting names and graphics are on prominent display as art objects. I spent hours thumbing through her back issues of Sunset, Saveur, Food & Wine, and, new to me, Donna Hay, a glossy magazine by Australia’s leading food editor and cookbook author.
Outdoors, her property is equally conducive to the good life. We ate and entertained at the table beneath a vine-covered trellis intertwined with white lights. We picked succulent plums and apples from her fruit trees. Sweet Meyer lemons were in the midst of ripening. We converted the tomatoes and herbs from her garden into our salads and salsas. My daily ritual was running my hands through the lavender bushes to capture the distinctive fragrance on my skin.
Then there is Monique herself. During the rental negotiations, Bill learned that she was formerly an art director and is now a designer specializing in branding for the food and wine industries through her firm, Tasty Designs, developing names, logos, labels, packaging, advertising, websites, in-store pieces, and other materials. It was clear that her passion for food and wine informed both her professional and personal lives.
We became friends with Monique and her partner, Glenn, as we went to wine tastings, restaurants, and concerts together. Early in our stay, they invited us to their home for a coq au vin dinner. Monique seasoned the conversation with insider tips and insights about her experiences with the local food and wine scene – chefs, foodstuffs, purveyors, wineries, and gastronomic groups.
Bill and I were just temporary residents of California’s original wine county, and the inevitable conclusion of our trip would come all too soon. I was intrigued – and, frankly, envious — that Monique could both ply her professional skills and indulge her passions full time in this ultimate food and wine setting.
One afternoon, Monique and I sat in Silver Moon’s kitchen and she dished details about her life here.
The Roads Traveled: How do you brand wine?
Monique Risch: Creating a brand is creating a creature – what it’s called, its name, the look, who you’re talking to. You’re creating a living thing, whether it’s wine or a cookbook. You have to create how it’s going to manifest itself, and design longevity into it. A wine label, for instance, has to go from vintage to vintage and year to year.
Often, we’re creating a wine brand before the wine even goes into the bottles. You can’t know what the wine tastes like, but we have the vision of the winemaker. Branding is the last thing people think about, but it has to happen simultaneously – the grapes are being grown, and I’m designing the label as they’re being picked and put into barrels. The label is being printed just before the wine goes into bottles and is distributed. Everything meets at the bottling line, and we all have to be in the same place at the same time.
Once people hold a wine bottle in their hand, it’s the finish of the process and a big accomplishment. It’s a tangible part of the producers’ business and passion, and it’s fun to help give them that.
TRT: Describe some wine labels you’ve designed and what your thinking was behind them.
MR: Ironside wanted to produce a big cabernet sauvignon for men. The name has a sense of history, of place – the old ship that’s meaningful to Boston. I thought the look of white paper was elegant, male, and simple. I dialed it up for the reserve with the metallic etching at the top of the label.
The Archivist is a market wine sold in Whole Foods, and was meant to attract women. My client came up with the name and I executed it. I wanted a handcrafted look to it, and a different collection for each year to go with the name Archivist, This year the collection is butterflies. To help it jump off the shelf, I thought it needed foils and die cuts to attract attention. It helped that the craftsmanship of wine label printing has become elevated to a fine art.
Vino Cluster was started by a wine maker with no money, but a love of grapes. He got people together to pay for it. Cluster refers to a conglomerate of people, and the art on the label is a montage of people with grapes pouring into their heads.
TRT: Where do you take visitors?
MR: It’s a different attitude here, to best enjoy what the land has to offer. Organics and biodynamics are important – no sprays, putting in good bugs to take care of bad bugs, working with and not fighting nature. I love working with chefs, farmers, and wine makers, and doing something connected with agriculture. You meet people in the industry with the same passions, like being aware of what they eat. I’m a firm believer that the consumer is the ultimate decision maker and a powerful tool in messaging to companies how you want your food produced. I love that I’m on the side of promoting a healthier planet in terms of the food we eat.
I’ve slowed down my life to what I define as meaningful and simple. I love the creative, tactile process of cooking. I love to garden and grow my own produce. When you have too many cucumbers and you have to pickle them all of a sudden, that’s a good problem to have.
TRT: I’ll drink to all that.