Dining Around with Gene BurnsGene Burns interviews Jane St. Clarie, SavorCalifornia.com
On location at the Chronicle Tasting, Fort Mason, San Francisco
KGO Newstalk AM 810
February 28, 2009
GENE BURNS: Hello again. Welcome to hour number two of Dining Around with Gene Burns. 11:08 and we are live at the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason Center. It’s the scene, 2 – 5 this afternoon, of the ninth annual San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Grand Public Tasting. It is sold out for the third year in a row. Thousands of people will gather here this afternoon to taste over a thousand medal winning wines representing three hundred wineries who’ll be pouring those wines. And these are the medal winning wines of the annual competition held in January. This year, 4,763 wines entered. It is now the largest competition in the world, and it is dominated by American wines. It really is quite remarkable, actually, and very interesting. The sweepstakes winning sparkling wine entry comes from Long Island, New York. There was a tie for sweepstakes red wine winners. One of those winners comes from Paso Robles; the other from New Mexico, interestingly enough. We’re going to talk with both of those wineries later on in the broadcast.
Of course, when you do such a large tasting of wines, you must have food stuffs to go along with the tasting, and we have discovered something which we find really quite remarkable, many of you may have already discovered it: a website called Savor California. It is the brainchild of Jane St. Claire, who joins us here at our broadcast site to talk about it. It is a collection of artisan producers of food products, really a great collection of very passionate people. These are small, in many cases family owned businesses, each of which is making something very special. And in a very competitive world, it’s very difficult to market products when you’re a small artisanal producer. But this idea of the Savor California site is a great way for many of these companies to market their products. And Jane St Claire joins us to talk about it, and then we’re going to meet some of the people who participate in the Savor California site. Jane, welcome to Dining Around.
JANE ST. CLAIRE: Thank you, Gene.
GB: Where’d this idea come from?
JANE: Well, I had been in the wine business for years, and I did a tasting here at Fort Mason, like all of the big wine organizations do, and I invited food producers to come and showcase their products at this tasting. And I discovered that I thought that they did fabulous products and they were very good at that, but they weren’t so good at marketing, as you said. And I thought well, that’s where I can come in, because that was the role that I played in the wine business. So I came up with the idea of Savor California because the web was becoming the venue for people to do this sort of thing, to get information, and it’s grown over the last five and a half years.
GB: So that was five and a half years ago?
GB: And that’s when you started the website, Savor California?
JANE: That’s correct.
GB: How many businesses did you start with?
JANE: I started with a handful from Sonoma County, because I live in Healdsburg and I knew a lot of those people, and it started to grow really fast. Then it went to Santa Cruz, and then pretty soon it was all over the state. So now I have people from Arcata to LA – San Diego, actually.
GB: You were saying earlier over a hundred now?
JANE: Over a hundred companies.
GB: So someone can actually go to this site, which is www.savorcalifornia.com ?
GB: And find all of these companies.
JANE: That’s correct. And we link to their websites. They each have an individual page, so you can find out all about them, and we link to their websites so you can go through and buy.
GB: So, do all of them have websites?
JANE: All of them do now. That was a gradual process for some of these small companies to get their own website but all of them do now.
GB: Right. So Savor California represents the portal.
JANE: Correct. Exactly.
GB: Through which people can go. And then once you learn on a specific page about a specific company or product then you can click through to their website.
GB: And do most of them have product sales on their websites?
JANE: A great many of them do. Some of the really perishable things don’t, but also on the page you can find out if they have a physical location. Some of them like bakeries have a physical location where you can buy…
JANE: But they don’t sell them necessarily on line or not all their products on line.
JANE: So it’s kind of a mixture of things. But most of them do now sell on the internet.
GB: Now these days, is this a case of you hearing about new products, or new products hearing about you?
JANE: At this point, Savor California has a reputation that has drawn people to it.
GB: Right. And you have people who, I would think, you’re the person who really makes their business a success.
JANE: I hope I contribute to it.
GB: You’re laboring away in your little corner of the world making the very best of whatever, but if nobody knows about it…
JANE: That’s right!
GB: You know, so you really put them on the map!
JANE: Exactly. And by our participation in shows like this, and big trade shows like the Fancy Foods Show, we bring attention to Savor California as a whole, as a resource for people like you in the press and also for people in the trade like restaurants and retailers, so they are more and more using the site as a resource.
GB: Yeah. It’s really remarkable. SavorCalifornia.com, that’s s- a- v- o- r- California dot com. And we’ll continue our conversation with Jane St Claire. She is the originator of this idea, Savor California, over a hundred artisanal producers from around California now on her site and we’ll talk with some of them later on today, all of them involved in producing high quality food items right here in California.
Stay tuned. We’re live at the site of the ninth annual San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Grand Tasting at the Festival Pavilion. The Tasting does not begin until 2 o’clock this afternoon. We decided to do the program here anyway because we wanted to take advantage of the availability of winemakers and guests like Jane who are here for today’s event so that we could talk with them about food, wine and travel, which is what we do every Saturday at this time.
You’re listening to KGO Radio.
GB: KGO time right now is 11:17, Dining Around with Gene Burns. We are live at the Festival Pavilion at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. This is the site of the ninth annual San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Public Tasting this afternoon from 2 to 5. The good news is the bad news; it’s sold out, which is great for the people who benefit. Santa Rosa Junior College benefits from the proceeds of today’s tasting, but if you don’t have a ticket, you’re not going to be able to taste over a thousand medal-winning wines from over three hundred wineries represented at today’s tasting. But I can tell you this, you can go to this website, winejudging.com , wine judging dot com, and you will find a list of the medal winning wines there. If you want to follow up on any of those, you certainly can.
And of course, when you’re pouring that many wines, you need foodstuffs to sample along with the wines, and that is being done by Jane St Claire, who is the founder of Savor California, a wonderful portal website. I hope some of you have already checked it out while we’re talking. It’s SavorCalifornia.com, s-a-v-o-r California dot com. Over a hundred artisan food makers, food purveyors of all kinds there, and we are talking about how the website came to be and its growth and development. I assume, Jane, you’re growing by leaps and bounds.
JANE: Yes sir, and that’s the good news for me and for the producers.
GB: Yeah, and the whole phenomenon of artisan producers of anything in California has just exploded.
JANE: It has, and it’s been an interesting phenomenon in the recession, because people are deciding sometimes that they want to fix a special dinner at home rather than perhaps going out, and they’re willing to spend a little more money on the ingredients and the things they would use to do that.
JANE: So we’re finding that the market for these products has not dropped off.
GB: What is the – this is an impossible question, but what is the range of products that are covered in the over one hundred participants in the site? I mean, that’s really almost an impossible question to answer…
JANE: There’s a classic answer, soup to nuts.
GB: [Laughs] Right, yes.
JANE: Because there literally are soup mix makers and there are nut companies and we have beverages, breads, cheeses, sauces, condiments, desserts, seafood, meats and poultry, you name it. Olive oils, vinegars, so it’s pretty widespread. Dried fruit, and there’s actually at this tasting quite an interesting representational sampling of that.
GB: How many of the companies are here today?
GB: So thirty-four separate companies?
GB: With various types of products.
JANE: Yes. Wildly varying.
GB: And all compatible with wine, obviously.
JANE: Yes. Of course.
GB: When companies affiliate with Savor California, are these companies that have been in business for a long time? Or companies that are just getting started.
JANE: There’s a mixture. There are some companies that you always have known for a long time: McEvoy olive oil or Cowgirl Creamery or Bellwether Farms. Those are a little bit larger companies, and they’ve been in business for a while. But then there are really new companies that are just starting out, and there’s a lot of informal marketing advice that comes along with their membership so they can get started and hopefully avoid some of the mistakes that they might otherwise make.
GB: Well, let’s talk about that. That’s a very good point. So in addition to giving them exposure on the portal site, Savor California, you, with your background in marketing for the wine business, try to assist them in getting product design, packaging, those kinds of things to kind of put them in the most favorable light?
JANE: Exactly. And advice, partly because I’ve been in business in the food business now for five and a half years, I’ve heard a lot of the mistakes that people say, “Oh, I wish I hadn’t done that.” So I’ve learned a lot of the specifics to the food business and can help people avoid those.
GB: And what about that? Sort of the magic question, when you started, just a moment ago, to talk about the people willing to pay a little more for ingredients in this economy, when you mentioned the economy, I thought you were going to talk about people deciding that it’s time now to put grandma’s fruitcake recipe to good use, and start a business. What about people who think they’ve got a particular product or particular skill that can be converted into an artisan opportunity? How do they proceed? What’s your advice for them?
JANE: Well, there are a number of really good resources. University of California at Davis has a weekend on specialty food that they offer periodically, and there’s a really great book, Steven Hall’s Selling Your Specialty Food, that I always recommend that people start by reading that. And then I can put them in touch with people that have similar experiences to theirs, and I can connect members of Savor California with each other that can also provide resources, and then I can provide them with information.
GB: Now the information on the UC Davis weekends where they talk about specialty food or the book you mentioned, is that information on the website, Savor California?
JANE: It is not, and it should be, I’m just realizing that.
JANE: [chuckles] Absolutely.
GB: Well, it’s not as if you weren’t busy doing other things!
JANE: We’re about to make a change.
GB: But what else is on the site? Because I know you have other things on the site as well.
JANE: The other components – we have a newsletter that goes out by email and people can sign up for that on the site, and that’s a way to find out new products, it’s a way to find out events we’re going to be at and that sort of thing.
JANE: We also have a recipe section, which has just recently been launched, and that’s growing. And that shows recipes using the products on the site, which is very exciting. And then we’ve just started doing videos, and the videos are where I take a combination of products from different producers and put them together and make a recipe out of them.
GB: Oh, really?
JANE: It’s kind of fun.
GB: And those are available on the site now as well.
GB: We were also talking off the air, you were saying that you were developing also an internal search facility on the site as well.
JANE: Correct. We’re expanding that so that people will be able to be specific about their search, for instance they just want to search in the newsletters.
JANE: Or they just want to search in recipes, or they can be general in their search and search the whole site for any mentions.
GB: Until you get to a point where the information we were talking about is on the website, can people email you at the website?
GB: Okay, so if someone heard you mention that book or the weekends at Davis or whatever, if they’re interested they can send you an email at that site.
JANE: I’d be happy to answer them.
GB: And that’s very valuable information, particularly now. I mean, given the state of the economy, people may find themselves with time on their hands, and they may want to start doing what they’ve dreamed of doing.
JANE: Well, and you’re so right that often the genesis of it is a family recipe or it’s something that their Aunt Sue used to do at Christmastime.
JANE: And people raved about it, and they’ve all of a sudden realized that, well, there might be a market for that.
JANE: And they decide to make it themselves.
GB: Right. And of course, people dreaming of that, and it’s great to dream, but you want to understand that it’s a little more complicated than it sounds. You just can’t do a hundred times Aunt Susie’s recipe and get a good result. Scaling has to occur, formulas have to be made…
JANE: And you can’t do it in your own kitchen and sell it commercially.
GB: No, no.
JANE: There are rules about that.
GB: It’d be illegal, exactly. I mean, you may be able to hand it over the back fence, but if you get much bigger than that, you may find yourself with someone knocking on the door.
JANE: You’ll be busted.
GB: Exactly. Jane St Claire our guest. She’s the founder of Savor California. If you have not checked it out, check it out. Over a hundred artisanal producers of wonderful food products and food related products that are covered there along with recipes, videos and other features. If you’re interested in the book that Jane mentioned about starting a specialty food business, or in the weekends that the University of California Davis puts together, you can email her at the website and she will follow up with you then on that. And we’ll continue our conversation with Jane just ahead.
It’s 11:25, we’re live at the Festival Pavilion at the ninth annual San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition public tasting this afternoon from two to five here at Fort Mason.
Kendra Kolling, Nana Mae’s Organics
Greg Warwick, Fentimans
Tim McCarthy, San Angel Mole
GB: And Jane, thank you for giving us a lead on all these great food producers.
JANE: It’s my pleasure.
GB: And we only scratched the surface! You’ve got over a hundred of these on your website.
JANE: That’s correct.
GB: At Savor California. As you add them, you’ll have to come back and see us. We’ll talk more.
JANE: I’d be delighted. We could have a tasting on the air.
GB: Yeah, we could, actually. Absolutely.
JANE: That’d be fun.
GB: Thanks a lot for joining us.
JANE: My pleasure.
GB: Jane St Claire of Savor California, Tim McCarthy of San Angel Mole, and they’re on the Savor California website as well.
Michael Bauer, executive editor of the San Francisco Chronicle is our next guest, and we’ll talk with Michael about what he sees in food trends, and what he sees given the state of the economy as well. 12:13, you’re listening to Dining Around with Gene Burns on KGO.
Follow us on