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Lobsterfest at Chamisal Vineyards

Lobsterfest at Chamisal Vineyards


Ever heard of a Lobster Safari?  Ken and I were on one!  It was mid-afternoon and we began our journey driving the busy highway north along the sparkling sea.  Our exit at Arroyo Grande led us unto Branch Street and into a village complete with a swinging bridge and “hoosegow.”   The scene brought to mind an era when life was simpler and we vowed to return for an in depth look.  We merged onto a winding, two lane road, with vineyards on the right and left as far as we could see.  We were heading for the historic CHAMISAL VINEYARDS, the first planted in Edna Valley in 1973 and just five miles from the Pacific Ocean.   It was difficult to get our minds around where our Safari had taken us, but it was the Central Coast of California and we were about to eat Maine lobster!   To be more specific it was LOBSTERFEST 2012.

The sun sank below a light cloud cover and warmth enveloped us as we were greeted with smiling faces, a wine glass and apron.  As the disc jockey and his tunes raised the festive quotient we assumed donning the appropriate attire was the prerequisite to tasting and sipping.



At our first stop we found hors d’oeuvres by Two Cooks Catering from San Luis Obispo.  They were being served with Chamisal 2011 Stainless Chardonnay.  It was refreshing and, having not touched oak,  the glow of the fruit came through.  It would be pleasing  just standing alone.   As we walked the length of the huge outdoor patio a variety of handpassed treats, from empanadas to heirloom tomato bruschetta tickled our tastebuds.  I quickly found many would pair with my 2008 Encantado Red.  This lush wine had cool climate acidity and aromas of  ripe black plum and raspberry.



At the far end of the patio we found Events by Philippe.  Owner Philippe Sautot, born and raised in France, appeared to know all the elements necessary for a Maine lobster dinner.   He certainly had all the essential equipment!



His knowledgeable staff was pausing before the bustle of the evening.  They shared the procedure followed to prepare the bubbling mirepoix of onions, carrots, celery and herbs in which vegetables and  lobsters were to be cooked.  As the lid to the huge cauldron was removed the aroma floated up and made our mouths water.



Once time had progressed closer to the dinner hour the stock would be ready for the vegetables to be added.



Lobsters, shrimp and sausage would not join the vegetables until the last minute.  Twenty four hours earlier our lobsters had been swimming in the Atlantic Ocean.  Once retrieved from the cold waters they were flown overnight to Santa Barbara.  They were now about to become the main event on the menu.

Our next discovery was Morro Bay Oyster Company and its owner Neal Malony.   Tomales  Bay Oyster Company, 50 miles north of San Francisco, hired Neal to manage their branch in Morro Bay in 2004.  With a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Oregon in Marine Biology and studies at Oregon’s Marine Biology Institute in Coos Bay and at Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, Guaymas, México, he had the necessary foundation for the business.  When the owner of  Tomales retired in 2008 Neal  was able to start his own venture, Morro Bay Oyster Company.



At one o’clock that afternoon our Pacific Gold Oysters, Crassostrea gigas, were taken from the Pacific Ocean  just a few miles away. Various minerals, nutrients, species of plankton, and the changing salinities in Morro Bay give the oysters their unique flavor.  We learned that just as wines have their flavors and finishes, the Pacific Gold oysters have a fresh splash of ocean saltiness with a melon finish similar to that of a green melon rind.  In late spring and summer months the melon finish is replaced by a smooth briny flavor.  For Neal and his partner there was not a minute to waste opening the shells since a long line of eager guests was forming.



Each eager person rapidly snatched from the trays of ice the beautiful, protective shells filled with the cold, juicy meat of Pacific Gold.



The the noise level was rising and the high spirited crowd grew to 250.  (The dinner was repeated on Saturday evening with 300 in attendance.)



We could see bright red aprons coming and going…….



Tiny legs were even revealed hiding behind some aprons….



Trays of rolls caught our attention beside what we thought were carafes filled with coffee.  We were so wrong!   Drawn butter, an essential accompaniment to lobster, was warm and ready to go to the tables!



Steam was beginning to appear and we had the feeling  it was drawing very close to curtain time for the “Maine” event.



The giant doors were pushed open and we entered a huge room with five very long rows of table.  We were given  assigned seats and our lobster dinner adventure was about to begin!



We met our delightful table partners, some “noobies” like us and others who had returned for a repeat performance.  Once seated, Chamisal winemaker, Fintan du Fresne, climbed a platform high above the hungry faces.  A native a New Zealand, Fintan, with his beautiful accent,  welcomed everyone.  He began as a viticulturist,  therefore, at home spending a lot of time in the vineyard.  His goal is to capture in the wine what the vineyard has given him, but now he is now ready share the fruits of his harvests with us.    And, we were ready to begin pairing his wines with the fresh seafood and vegetables.



In addition to Fintan’s brief history of Lobsterfest, his all important role was to convey the ground rules for the dinner.  We would have no plates or utensils.  He would call out the number of each long table that was about to be served.  Guests on both sides of the table were to move themselves, and their chairs, as far back as possible, making way for the servers.

Two servers appeared with the huge baskets of vegetables and sausage.  With one server on each side of the designated table, the team effort enabled the vegetables to cascade  along the white paper cloth.  The  “oo’s” and other exclamations of excitement surrounded us.  Many heard a sausage calling their name and were quick to pop the spicy morsel in their mouth.




Once we were back in our seats, huge shrimp in the shell and the large red stars of the evening were placed in front of each of us…..



With the meal we were able to enjoy the 2010 Estate Chardonnay.  A blend of the seven clones grown on the property, it exhibits the  unique terroir and signature flavor of citrus and spice with some fennel. Wine bottles to the right and left on the table  enabled us to pair with the intense 2010 Estate Pinot Noir.  Nine of the ten clones planted at Chamisal Vineyard are used in this complex wine which has notes of tangerine and savory spice.



If,  for any reason, there was a moment of  hesitation, with an empty glass in our hand, it was rapidly filled.  We could not have asked for a more accommodating staff.



The sun was setting, our stomachs were full and the steaming towels arrived.  Between the superior service and wonderful food and wine Chamisal had thought of everything!



The tables were covered with the remains of our glorious meal, but without the accoutrements of an elegant setting i.e. dirty plates and silverware.    Given these conditions an easy clean-up  involved rolling up the table cloths.  Maybe we could take a hint from this to file away for hot, lazy days at home.



But, the evening was far from over.  Back outside we found trays of cupcakes by Enjoy Cupcakes.   Established in 2009 Enjoy is owned by Amber Joy Vander Vliet, the baker, and Kevin Vander Vliet, Chief Executive Taster.  Amber, inspired by local produce and wine, makes her luscious mouthfulls for many special events.  If you are near Los Olivos her cupcakes can be found inside Saarloos and Sons tasting room.  Call ahead and Amber will have your favorite flavors ready when you arrive.  Tonight we were were able to pair the Chocolate Berry Cabernet…..



and Citrus Chardonnay…….



with Chamisal’s 2010 Califa Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Califa is a Modoc Indian term which means ” the prettiest one.”  In the  rich and intense Chardonnay two to three of the best clones were combined with new French Oak to produce a deep and concentrated wine. The Pinot had a big, rich nose of boysenberry, raspberry and blackberry with a hints of citrus, cedar and floral notes.   It was certainly a wine to buy this evening and keep in our cellars.

As a special treat we could also sample the 2010 Floreale Late Harvest Pinot Gries adding just a little more sweetness to our day.  Beautiful aromas of ripe peach and honey came from the glass of this delectable dessert wine. It was well balanced between the residual sugar and bright acidity and very true to its Pinot Gris origins.

We had yet one pairing to complete.  How about wine and gelato?  Leo Leo Gelato is owned by Niccolo Lekai, Master Gelatier.  Interest in gelato began as he visited family in Italy as a toddler.  The gelato is made in small batches with high quality natural ingredients.  Now,  from Paso Robles he brought his traveling cart and, from behind the protective cover, was dishing up a wide array of flavors.  Of all the decadent flavors my favorite was the sea salt caramel.    Keep alert San Luis Obispo residents!   I understand pints will soon be available  in your area.



Many exuberant guests, attempting to work off some calories, kicked up their heels and savored  the remaining minutes of a exceptional evening.



We have unending praise for everyone at Chamisal for producing such a spectacular event!  Over two nights they served 550 guests in an extremely well organized fashion.  It seemed there were no details they had not considered and prepared for, from the coordinated parking attendants to tasty, hot coffee at our departure. We left with not only new information about our Central Coast, but also new friends.  One gal had even traveled from Fort Wayne, Indiana, for this food and wine experience and said she was not at all disappointed in her safari west.  Ken and I hope to make this a yearly trek to the Edna Valley.

We headed to the car appreciative of the fact we could enjoy a Maine lobster festival in our own backyard.  Certainly, the added feature of pairing with Chamisal wine, at the winery, made a unique Central Coast event.  As soon as  I receive the dates for Lobsterfest 2013 I will let everyone know so it can be put on your summer schedule.  It is well worth a journey up or down the coast–or even from Indiana!

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  1. Great write up. Very descriptive and wish I had been there! Always next year to look forward to.

  2. I can taste how wonderful an event, great post. Left coast really does have it all! I’m looking forward to visiting Chamisal Vineyards and exploring their wines!

  3. Great recap of a great event! I am looking for photos of Lobsterfest to include in a brochure for the City of SLO http://www.slocity.org/events. Would you be willing to let me use on of the photos you took for our publication? We’d be happy to give photo credit. Thanks!

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