- PHOTO COURTESY OF BARRY GOYETTE
- BAD-ASS : The Crush-Tones will rock the SLO Vintners Association annual harvest celebration, taking place Nov. 5 to 7.
The very popular winemaker dinners vary, with some taking place in local restaurants: Ancient Peaks at Novo; Claiborne & Churchill at Et Voila; Kynsi at Ciopinot; Niven Family Wines presenting their five labels—Baileyana, Tangent, Trenza, Cadre, and Zocker—at SLO Buona Tavola; and Saucelito Canyon at the Neon Carrot. But don’t call the restaurants; contact the wineries to make your reservations.
Most Friday night dinners, however, take place at the wineries: The new Center of Effort promises an “ultra-secret” location where you’ll get rockstar treatment, Cerro Caliente promises a culinary feast, Chamisal has chef Ian McPhee at the grill, Edna Valley Vineyard has Two Cooks Catering re-creating foods served with their wines at the White House over the past three decades, Per Bacco Cellars repeats their popular Fiesta Mexicana, Pithy Little Wine Company offers Vinopalooza, a rock and wine reception; Salisbury Vineyards has the Tipsy Gypsies band and Vraja’s Kitchen; and Tolosa has chef Michael Reyes, who apprenticed at the renowned French Laundry, preparing a French feast.
Rockin’ Harvest features many amazing attractions before and during the grand tasting on Saturday. A first this year is the winemakers’ seminar, a one-hour wine tasting tour of wines that express the unique characteristics of their growing sites and winemaking insights provided by the artists who made them. There’s a live concert by local star, Inga Swearingen, performing her hometown folk, soulful jazz, and bossa nova groove with folk interpretations. A new rock and roll group, the Crush-Tones, will perform in their first public showing. Made up of Central Coast vintners, the band includes Larry Brooks, winemaker at Tolosa; Bob Kerwin, a home winemaker and associate member of the SLO Vintners Association; Jeff Fink, winemaker for Tantara; and Clint Grubbs and his vintner father Jean-Pierre Wolff of Wolff Vineyards.
The grand event features 27 wineries and 23 restaurants and specialty food purveyors. Among the wine newcomers this year are Center of Effort, Cadre, and Zocker. In Edna Valley, Center of Effort, owned by SLO locals Rob Rossi and Bill Swanson, offers ultra-premium Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that exhibit a recognizable style. The estate vineyard (formerly Corbett Canyon) is farmed by Talley Vineyards, chosen for their “unequalled track record in growing Burgundian varietals.” The wines are handcrafted by Mike Sinor and Nathan Carlson, both of whom have worked long, highly successful careers in Edna Valley wine country. According to Carlson: “We also make another label, named Effort, offering affordable Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in a clean style, priced at only $20 each. We invite guests to come to our [Center of Effort] show and get a backstage pass, which will provide you a V.I.P. tour behind the scenes. You’ll get to see how we make the wines, who’s involved, and how we see the place.”
Cadre and Zocker are new labels by Niven Family Wines. Cadre is a Pinot Noir blend from four historic South Central Coast vineyards: Bien Nacido, La Encantada, Laetitia, and Firepeak, which is owned by Niven Family Wines. Their winemaker, Christian Roguenant, born in France’s Burgundy appellation, has been making wine in South County since 1986. He explained the reason for creating the new brand: “We chose these exemplary vineyards from four Central Coast appellations because they were planted by true visionaries. They were the architects, if you will, of South Central Coast Pinot Noir. We had the idea while discussing how far New World Pinot has come, and with further discussion came up with the name Cadre.”
Zocker is devoted to Austria’s highly respected white varieties, Gruner Veltliner, and Riesling. These grapes are grown in the Niven’s Paragon Vineyard in Edna Valley. Zocker, the Austrian word for gambler, is what the Nivens call their riskiest venture yet, because Gruner Veltliner isn’t a conventional varietal in America.
“It’s a crisp, dry varietal that’s closer to a Sauvignon Blanc or Albarino in its acidity and minerality,” Roguenant added.
On Sunday, the wine, food, music, and good times continue out along the wine trails in Avila, Edna, and Arroyo Grande valleys. The Dentures band will rock on at Cerro Caliente. Edna Valley Vineyard has a chili cook-off among local chefs, and you’ll get to judge whose is best. Kynsi has chef Maegen Loring of the Neon Carrot. Laetitia offers rides through the vineyard, bubbly tasting, and bocce ball. Salisbury has its annual hair of the dawg pancake breakfast, a great way to start the day. Tolosa has Le Ciel Crepes and live music. Wolff offers Burgundian stew with its old world wines. And don’t forget Ancient Peaks in Santa Margarita, voted the best value wines by Wine Spectator’s critics and steal of the year by Sunset magazine; you’ll enjoy valuable lessons in wine and food pairing here.
At first glance, $75 per ticket may seem pricy for this event, but it’s not. In fact, it’s a great value. Your ticket to Saturday’s grand auction and tasting is also your pass to enjoy any of the vintners’ open house parties on Sunday without paying the entry fee. Most wineries will offer discounts on wine purchases to those holding a grand tasting ticket.
Contact New Times’ Cuisine columnist, Kathy Marcks Hardesty, at email@example.com.