Food & Wine Harvest Farm-to-Table Fest 2009
By Kerry Winslow
This new event that was based on the Tomato Fest has taken things to a new level with great seminars from top chefs and even a Riedel glassware class that showed class and commitment to excellence. A big kudos goes out to Dave Bernahl and Robert Weakly, the same duo behind the Pebble Beach Food & Wine, as they worked tirelessly to put this show on. This year they had Tomatoes yes, but they also tied the farms themselves and wine growers into the mix with some great chefs and restaurants from the central coast and beyond. I had worried about parking and traffic, which in the past had been horrible here at the Quail Lodge in Carmel Valley, but these guys nailed it, and it was a breeze with super managed care. Once inside, you get the warmth of a country fair, though there was some lounge areas to unwind as well, in fact they even had a special Champagne and Hip Hop area that while not really my thing was entertaining the thongs non the less. Being the same time of year as the famed Munich Oktoberfest, they had thought of having a good-sized beer hall tent as well, now that got a lot of play too. There was a good sized crowd when I was there and I can only see things getting better for this event, especially when it gets out how many great wineries were pouring and the talented chefs that had some amazing bites on offer, all in all it was a perfect day.
With chefs galore and a glorious day the Food & Wine Harvest has proven a success to me, even before getting some tasty wine in me! The roll call of cooking talents included and vast selection of stars local and not so local, but all put on some great stuff. There was a select group that I enjoyed best, even though I missed the headliner of the main event Tyler Florence, they included; Cal Stamenov of Marinus, and who had my favorite bite of the day, the baby octopus over a zesty puree, Craig Von Foerster, Sierra Mar, Christophe Grosjean, Aubergine, Jason Balestreri, Cantinetta Luca, Christopher Kostow, Meadowood Napa Valley, Keiko Takahashi, El Paseo Restaurant and Phillip Wojtowicz of the Big Sur Bakery. Please forgive me, as I have left off mention of some stunningly talented people and couldn’t begin to try everything at this awesome event, so I hope people come back next year and that anyone who reads this comes too!
Then it was on the taste the wines being poured at the Food & Wine Harvest, which was something that I’m much more qualified to report on anyway! As I was really doing this even for my own enjoyment and mainly as a social thing, I didn’t get down to note taking or geeking out too much, but I can say there was lots of beautiful wines being served and some rare and much sought after bottles here, very unique for an outdoor free flowing show! More power to these guys, it is not often you see bottles of cult wine or top producers pour big glasses of their best stuff, but here they did, I even saw Joseph Phelps Insignia being filled up on more than one pass by. Plus if you looked hard enough you could find some really special wines, and I did, a few that stood out were; L’Aventure Estate Cuvee, Donum Estate Chardonnay, Morlet (Luc Morlet, formally of Peter Michael) Chardonnay and Vision Cellars Pinot Noir from the Rosella’s Vineyard. These four wines seemed to show best for me on this day, but all are fantastic wines, and no question would all rank high on anyone’s list. That said there was lots of super wines to be tried here and others that made me stop and take mental notes were wines by; Tudor, Tantara, Figge, Parsonage, Maia-Lynn and Chock Rock, though like the foodie side, I could not begin to taste all the wines at the Harvest and I’m sure I missed plenty of outstanding wines.
I really hope the Food & Wine Harvest Farm-to-Table Fest continues for many years to come, it was a wonder event that was a huge boost for the whole community and I must say that it also raised awareness of good local and international charities. There was one organization I found very appealing and one that I did drop some cash with as well, and it was Freedom Fields USA. (www.ffusa.org) Freedom Fields continues the late Princess Diana’s main cause of removing landmines. Right now Freedom Fields is digging up thousands of explosives in Cambodia. They say there about a million landmines buried in border region between Thailand and Cambodia, and they only serve to kill innocents, mostly women and children. It is estimated that there are 60 million landmines abandoned and waiting to cause harm to animals, farmers, mothers and kids around the world, in fact 5,000 to 10, 000 people are killed or injured each year and these are overwhelmingly in countries in which there is no current war going on. This is a very sobering issue and I hope that a few people will see this and help them out making people safe around the world.
Moving around the booths at the Harvest, I found many friends and characters, most of which poured great wine to me! In my photos, I have included a few familiar faces that have made some excellent wine.
Thomas Perez, a local sommelier at the famed Aubergine in Carmel, and a classically trained winemaker that learned his trade in Rioja, Spain, has released his first series of wines under his Maia-Lynn label. With the help of Jeff Fink and Tantara Winery Thomas got some great fruit from top vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills region and he put out his 2006 wines this last spring. This weekend I retried some of his premier vintage Pinot, with the 2006 Maia-Lynn Pinot Noir “Rio Vista Vineyard” Ste. Rita Hills showing very nice on the day. Thomas only made a few hundred cases total and they are selling well, which is great news as Thomas is a really good guy that makes everyone around him feel special and providing lots a smiles along the way.
I was happy to see Mac from Vision Cellars as well, and though he was very popular and I wasn’t able to interact with him personally this time, I was able to savor his very pretty 2006 Vision Cellars Pinot Noir “Rosella’s Vineyard” Santa Lucia Highlands which is really becoming an attractive and interesting wine with good depth and balance. Vision Cellars has been getting good reviews for many years and looks to keep getting positive press for a long time to come. Mac in his trademark overalls and farmer’s hat is charming and very talented; it was a pleasure to watch him work the crowd.
A surprise find at the Harvest was Donum Estate, Anna Moller-Racke’s tiny vineyard estate in Carneros, that is one of the hottest Pinot Noir houses in the state. I was very impressed with the new Pinot Noirs and was blown away with the estate Chardonnay that comes from almost 30 year old vines that are old Wente clone of which only a tiny amount is made. I want to thank Dorothe Moller-Racke, second generation, in the US, wine grower for pouring me the 2007 Donum Estate Chardonnay Carneros. Dorothe took the time to give me all the details and explain the winemaking on this remarkable white and I hope Chardonnay lovers take note, as this wine was in a superior league, making it in my mind on par with some Grand Cru Burgundies. I would put it up there with my very favorite Chardonnay wines, including some fine Corton-Charlemagne!
Carmel Valley, California is a perfect place for this kind of event and enjoys all the terroir and history for foodies and wine lovers as well as organic farmers. With beautiful fall weather Carmel Valley has proven itself as the perfect host venue for the Harvest Fest and I look forward to this event next year all ready!