With the announcement of yet another winemakers’ dinner, you may be thinking it’s the same old thing; sometimes I do, too, but I discovered this time that I had to think again. The winemakers in Edna Valley, who have to show up at way too many dog and pony shows, thought beyond the norm when it came to planning their upcoming winemakers’ dinners on Friday, June 21, during Roll Out the Barrels (ROTB). Winemaker Larry Brooks of Tolosa put it succinctly when he said: “This is our fifth year doing a progressive dinner. Our dinners are always a huge success, not a success in that it always sells out. It’s about whether everyone has fun, especially me.” That’s motivation enough for him to make sure the evening is as interesting as it is fun. When the vintners came to me to help spread the word about ROTB, I told them I would have to be given a scoop my regular readers would be privy to, and the winemakers gladly obliged. That’s what happens when a writer has spent nearly two decades working with winemakers.
This year’s winemakers’ dinners are sure to make the ROTB weekend event memorable. First, there’s the fact that two historic vineyards in Edna Valley—Chamisal and Paragon—are celebrating their 40th anniversaries. Planted within weeks of each other (unbeknownst to pioneers Norman Goss and Jack Niven, respectively, at the time), these two vineyards produce outstanding winegrapes each vintage.
At Chamisal, winemaker Fintan du Fresne produced a limited-edition chardonnay from a vineyard block devoted to that varietal. Starting with the original clone, appropriately named the Chamisal clone, du Fresne used native yeast and bottled the chardonnay as a tribute to the vineyard’s 40th anniversary.
“I emulated the style of leaner, lower alcohol wines typical of back in the day,” du Fresne explained. “And we found some old labels that we recreated for this 2012 limited release chardonnay.”
He’ll be pouring that wine during his winemaker’s dinner at the winery as an aperitif before the dinner of library pinots paired with gourmet sliders. Du Fresne will also be featuring this limited chardonnay on July 15 during a 40th anniversary party on the renovated patio at the tasting room.
Christian Roguenant is providing five brands he makes for Niven Family Wines during his dinner at Ciopinot in SLO. The big surprise will be the introduction of a new brand. Although he was loath to name it (he did respectfully ask that it not be named here), I will tell you that chardonnay aficionados won’t want to miss this unforgettable dinner that celebrates Paragon’s 40-year history in Edna Valley.
“All of the wines were tasted by Leonard [Cohen, owner of Ciopinot], who created the menu for our winemaker’s dinner, some of which came from our vault,” said Roguenant, who’s providing library wines and new releases.
Another rock solid winemaker, Mike Sinor of Sinor-LaVallee and Ancient Peaks, admitted he’s enthusiastic about this year’s dinner: “We will be featuring library wines that can’t be bought at any wine retailer. We’re picking wines from our private cellars that are sold out to the last set! Only served at special events, we want to provide rare wines for the people that support us.”
Sinor worked with chef Maegen Loring, who handles Lido’s catered affairs, to provide a menu that will also feature both Sinor-LaVallee and Ancient Peaks. Sinor is planning on providing his Sinor-LaVallee Anniversary cuvée, which may be the 2004 or 2005 vintage depending on which is drinking best at the time. A rare and special blend, Sinor doesn’t produce it every vintage.
“I’m so excited about doing this with at least six wines,” he said. “I love interfacing with Maegen Loring because she has so much knowledge and has such a creative palate for creating menus.”
There’s been an exciting addition to Sextant’s tasting room in Old Edna: Chef Jesse Rivas, a fellow California Culinary Academy (CCA) alumnus who worked at Boulevard and Hawthorne Lane in San Francisco. Rivas and Sextant owner Craig Stoller met many years ago and planned to attend CCA together. Instead, Stoller became a vintner while Rivas followed the dream. Now, they’re back together again with Rivas running Sextant’s deli in Edna Valley.
“Craig gave me the theme for ROTB, and I came up with the paella menu of classic Valencia style and vegetarian versions,” Rivas recalled. “Paella is a festive meal, and I love seeing people sipping wine while watching me cook paella.”
Tolosa winemaker Larry Brooks said of their progressive dinner: “It’s something I did frequently in San Francisco in my early years. It’s a lot of fun enjoying a variety of different cuisines. There’s also the possibility of redoing seating arrangements between each place. It’s easy to get jaded with the same dinner, but I work with the chefs in matching our small production lots and reserve wines.”
No matter which winery dinner or event you choose, you can count on an unforgettable experience.
Contact Cuisine Columnist Kathy Marcks Hardesty at email@example.com.