Not many people, other than wine geeks, realize that our local wine production has a long, rich history that began with the California missions. Led by Father Junipero Serra, his friars planted Mission grapevines at Mission San Miguel soon after it was built in 1797. Actually named Mission grapes, they were the original black grape variety planted for sacramental purposes by Franciscan missionaries in Mexico and California in the 17th and 18th centuries, according to the Oxford Companion to Wine. Of course, it did explain the Spanish origins of the Mission variety; “the wine made from the Mission is not particularly distinguished but the variety has enormous historical significance.”
- PHOTOS COURTESY MISSION SAN MIGUEL
- MISSION POSSIBLE : Mission San Miguel has played an interesting role in the county’s history, and now’s the time to celebrate.
Like that beautiful, historic monument in San Miguel, old grapevines still grow in the sacred garden in front of the arcade section of the mission church. Each year the padres harvest the grapes (with grapes grown at another vineyard nearby) to make their wines at the mission, which is an independent winery. The finished wines are bottled at Locatelli Winery in San Miguel, whose winemaker consults for the friars. In fact, the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon with a label of St. Francis of Assisi was so popular the first bottling of 200 cases quickly sold out. The monks bottled another 140 cases, according to Adrian Heryford, Wine Experiencia 2011 chair, and they only have 20 cases left. As collectible as they are drinkable, undoubtedly, there won’t be any left after the upcoming fundraiser for the mission.
The Wine Experiencia was created to help cover the uber-expensive cost of retrofitting Mission San Miguel after it suffered severe damage during the San Simeon earthquake in 2003. Many wineries have come forward to help the Mission San Miguel, like Locatelli and Vina Robles, as well as restaurants like 10th Street Basque in San Miguel. But for this second year of the Experiencia, it’s bigger and better than ever. Nearly 30 wineries will be there, including: Carmody McKnight, Cass, Christian Lazo, Heart Ranch Winery, J. Lohr, Maloy O’Neill, Pretty-Smith, Robert Hall, Tarrica Wine Cellars, and many more. The friars will be offering their next proprietary wine, the St. Claire 2010 Sauvignon Blanc.
There will be gourmet foods provided, including olive oil tasting by four local farms: Dubost Vineyards, Kiler Ridge Olives, Olivas de Oro Olive Co., and Wine Country Olives. The restaurants include popular eateries such as F. McLintocks, Hoover’s Beef Palace, Linn’s Bakery, Odyssey World Café, and more. As the mission advocates say about everyone who participates, “You will help save the irreplaceable.”
The Wine Experiencia: Saturday, May 5, 2 to 6 p.m.
What better way to spend a lovely spring day than in the sacred gardens at Old Mission San Miguel where you’ll taste wine with the padres, or drink Firestone Walker brews for beer lovers, while nibbling treats from 13-top notch chefs and caterers? And while you’re enjoying the festivities you’ll be helping a great cause: raising money for restoration of the historic mission. This event also features artisan olive oil producers, 12 local artists, and a silent auction of collectible wines and lifestyle lots. There will be live entertainment and docent tours of the mission. Tickets are really cheap, only $45 each at the gate, or pay $40 each in advance which you can order at the Mission San Miguel gift shop by calling 467-3256. Tickets are also available at the Paso Robles and Atascadero chambers of commerce, Locatelli Winery, and Le Vigne Winery. Please bid generously at the silent auction; all proceeds benefit the seismic retrofit and continued preservation of the beautiful old Mission San Miguel. Check out the great photos of the Mission San Miguel over the years at missionsanmiguel.org, and learn of other ways of helping the good friars.
The Santa Barbara County 30th Annual Vintners’ Festival at the Carranza, Los Olivos: Friday through Monday, April 20-23
It’s not too late to enjoy the grand tasting on Saturday, April 21 from 1 to 4 p.m. with an array of excellent Santa Barbara County wineries and restaurants, or the open house parties at most wineries throughout the long weekend event. Popular among wine lovers, this year they’re moving the festival out of Lompoc which will make it much closer for those of us in SLO County. Held just outside the quaint town of Los Olivos on Zaca Station Road, it’s surrounded by lush vineyards in Santa Ynez Valley. The festival features more than 100 wineries, and you’ll usually find the winemaker there pouring his or her wines. They bring in the best local chefs and caterers, as witnessed by the amazing lines of people waiting for dishes like steak and fries at Hitching Post II, among other delights from restaurants, including: Bacara Resort, Brothers Restaurant, Far Western, Root 246, Trattoria Grappolo, and the Willows, among other excellent caterers.
Jim Fiolek, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association, explained that they change the venue every few years so guests can experience the many microclimates that support the diverse assortment of winegrape varieties grown in Santa Barbara County. “Great wines, superb food, and friendly people, it doesn’t get any better than that,” Fiolek said enthusiastically. “What better way to start off the spring season and the new vintage. Join us!”
The festival features a silent auction of collectible wines and lifestyle lots, which benefit local charities. Live music includes the songstress, the Marie Nelson Experience, and Burning James & the Funky Flames. Tickets are priced accordingly: $25 for designated driver which gets you food, entertainment, and coffee, sodas, or water; $85 each for full access including wine; and bus reservations cost $25 each for a round trip from Santa Barbara, Solvang, or Santa Maria. Reservations are required. For full details and to buy tickets visit sbcountywines.com or call 688-0881.
Contact New Times’ Cuisine columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org.