SIP CERTIFIED: Amy Freeman, who was the winemaker for Saucelito Canyon—a label certified for sustainable production practices—graced the Earth Day Food & Wine Festival last year.
Two wonderful wine-and-food festivals will take place in mid-April: The first is the Earth Day Food & Wine Festival, which supports farmers who grow grapes and/or produce wine in ways that nurture a healthy environment. The other important event is the Cal Poly Wine Festival Weekend, which supports nearly 280 Wine and Viticulture majors who will become future winemakers and vineyard managers. Cal Poly now has the largest Wine and Viticulture program in the United States, but I’d bet many wine lovers thought U.C. Davis is larger.
The Earth Day Food and Wine Festival, celebrating environmentally conscious farming, is in only its fourth year but has been greatly expanded. Last year, the event planners asked festival attendees what they wanted to see added to the one-day affair and the majority clamored, “More events.” Now they’re offering three days of cooking demonstrations, vineyard tours, and barrel tastings besides the main tasting event with live music at the Santa Margarita Ranch.
PHOTO COURTESY CENTRAL COAST VINEYARD TEAM
“This year the event is almost one to one, wine and food; we have over 200 purveyors of sustainably produced food and wine,” explained Kris O’Connor, Executive Director of the Central Coast Vineyard Team, who created the Earth Day celebration dedicated to green farmers. “This is not your carrot sticks and ranch-dressing food. It’s serious food from people like chef Chris Kobayashi of Artisan who will be cooking with Bill and Barbara Spencer’s produce grown at their Windrose Farm. “This event’s minimal footprint is impressive: last year there were only two garbage bags, everything else was recycled or composted. “This year we’re pushing so there’s only one bag!”
THE EARTH DAY FOOD & WINE FESTIVAL: Saturday, April 17
The main event takes place at the beautiful Santa Margarita de Cortona Asistencia in Santa Margarita Ranch, a historic property north of the Cuesta Grade. Julie and the Bad Dogs will provide live music while you feast on treats from more than 200 specialists in sustainable wine and food. There’s also a live and a silent auction of collectible wines. Pair all of that with nature, art, and an affordable price, and there’s no better way to celebrate Earth Day.
It will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. and the admission price is $75. If you want to get in at 1p.m. and beat the crowd through the gate, the premiere admission is $100. Tickets can only be purchased pre-sale; advance reservations are highly recommended for this popular event. Visit Earthdayfoodandwine.com for details and reservations.
THE CAL POLY WINE FESTIVAL WEEKEND: Saturday, April 24
This popular festival, which sells out annually, takes place at the Santa Margarita Vineyard, a few miles outside the small town. It features 100 wineries from Napa and Sonoma to Monterey, SLO, and Santa Barbara counties and will be open from 1 to 4 p.m. Each of the participating winemakers is a Cal Poly alumnus who comes back annually to visit professors and former classmates. The fesitval includes 20 restaurants and purveyors serving food, such as Splash Café and Apple Farm.
A new event has been added that offers guests wine and food in a more relaxed atmosphere. You can sit down to dine with the attending winemakers at the 2010 Wine Festival Winemaker Dinner, which kicks off the weekend festival with a barbecue by the Vines to Wines Club in the Leaning Pine Arboretum in the Cal Poly Horticulture Unit at the university. Participating wineries include: Ancient Peaks, Cass, Eberle, Graveyard Vineyards, Hall, Plata Wine Partners, Stacked Stone Cellars, Treana/Liberty School and Twin Poms.
All tickets must be purchased in advance online at CalPolyWineFestival.com. The winemaker dinner is $50. Wine festival tickets are $45 for students, staff and faculty; $50 for general admission. Tickets for designated drivers or anyone under 21 are $15 per person. There is a V.I.P. ticket for $65 that gets you in at noon for the first opportunity to sample the wines and foods, and an earlier bus to get you there.
I spoke with John C. Peterson, Cal Poly’s Director of the Wine and Viticulture Program, and Department Head and Professor of the Horticulture and Crop Science Department, about the Cal Poly event. “The wine festival is really a wonderful component of the education of our students. It’s part of our “Learn by Doing” program where students get involved; they are 90-percent responsible for making this event happen. It gives them management skills at a major event, and the opportunity to get the experience of working together in a team environment,” Peterson noted. Wineries from Napa Valley and Sonoma, most of them Cal Poly alumnus, attend the event annually. “It’s an opportunity for students to interface and interact with winemakers from the Central Coast as well as other significant wine regions in California. The students also get the experience of tasting really good wines—and those that aren’t,” he chuckled.
Peterson leads a project to design a new “Wine & Vit Education Center” as part of the Horticulture and Crop Science Department. Twenty years ago at Cal Poly, students studying viticulture and winemaking attended interdepartmental programs. Now, he is working with the faculty, staff, students, and the wine industry to develop this new facility that will bring these departments together:
“The students went to the Horticulture and Crop Science Department who are the vineyard experts; then they went to the Food Science and Nutrition Department for the wine experts; and to Agriculture Business for the wine business experts. Now they’ll have a collaborative faculty from three different departments at the new facility, which will be the hub for all three departments,” Peterson explained. The Cal Poly Wine Festival not only funds the students’ Vines to Wines Club, but the major education system at large.
These celebrations provide great entertainment, and fabulous food and wines. All you have to do is enjoy yourself.
You can reach New Times’ Cuisine columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org