Taste, Sip and Enjoy | Food, Wine and Travel

Sta. Rita Hills Meets Texas

Sta. Rita Hills Meets Texas

The Texas Cultural Trust is an organization with the mission of “inspiring, integrating, and illuminating” the arts of Texas.  From this organization, a group of twenty six ladies, Texas Women for the Arts, were coming to the Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore in Santa Barbara.  They were going to enjoy the highlights of our city, visit the wine country and, of course, do a little shopping.  I was asked to put together a wine dinner.  My first thought was to introduce them to some of my favorite wines from the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.

The five wineries selected were: Clos Pepe Estate, Flying Goat Cellars, Kesslar-Haak Vineyard and Wines, LaMontagne Winery and Sanford Winery and Vineyard.  Three of the winemakers were able help plan the menu when we all met with Executive Chef, Alessandro Cartumini, and Executive Sous Chef, Grant Macdonald, for the reverse pairing session.   All five wineries were represented as we tasted bubbly, rose, red and white.



Creative ideas flew back and forth across the table as a wide range of pairings were discussed.  In addition, much intense thinking was also taking place.  At times, both Alessandro and Grant were very contemplative during planning.  After they sipped, it seemed I could see the flavors of local produce, seafood, herbs and spices swirling before their eyes.


Both Alessandro and Grant were extremely receptive to input from winemakers. They also kept everyone from flying away on, sometimes difficult to repress, tangents. The final menu and details of the evening finally came together.   Since it was so spectacular, I want to share the result.  The outcome was not only due to our exceptional chefs, but also to the superlative wines.

The ladies flew in from various cities in Texas throughout the day.  At six in the evening the winemakers gathered in the Palmera Garden, awaiting their arrival with the chilled bottles of bubbly.


Surrounded by palm trees and flowers, it was the perfect setting for a welcome reception.



In place was the Kessler-Haak, Brut 2012……..


…..along with 2012 Goat Bubbles Blanc de Noirs, Clos Pepe Vineyard and Kessler-Haak, Sparkling Rose 2012.


Norm Yost, winemaker and owner of Flying Goat Cellars, provided the “Goat Bubbles.”   He is on the right below, with the charming smile.  Far left is Jennifer Ransom Rice, Executive Director of the Texas Cultural Trust, headquartered in Austin.


As the ladies chatted and greeted friends, they found assorted charcuterie, cheese, jams and crostini…….


…….along with a grilled vegetable olive salad.


From Morro Bay, one hundred miles to the north, oysters with a dry cranberry mignonette delighted the group.


King crab with raspberries and a nori sesame seed aioli was served in tiny jars and kept everyone busy reaching for another as a new tray was brought into the garden. Winemakers, Steve Fennell, Sanford Winery, and Dan Kessler, Kessler-Haak, were thrilled with the combination.



Dinner brought us to La Salita where a feasting table was exquisitely set…….


……and the  wines were waiting to be poured.


The first course was a light and beautifully presented Santa Barbara abalone with avocado, finger lime, seagrass and lime tortilla salt.


The side by side pairing was the Clos Pepe Chardonnay ‘Homage to Chablis’ 2012 and the Kessler-Haak Chardonnay 2013.  Wes Hagen, winemaker at Clos Pepe, educated and entertained the ladies.  His table companions were attempting to interest him in visiting their stomping grounds of Fredricksburg with his wines.  I am still not sure if he agreed to make the journey.


Alessandro’s risotto is always a gigantic hit.  Tonight was no exception!  The chanterelle mushroom risotto with English peas, pea tendrils and soba was outstanding!  The only debate was about the preferred pairing.  The choice was the Clos Pepe Pinot Noir 2012 or the Kessler-Haak Rose 2013.   It seemed there was an even divide, as I listened to those around me.


Two Pinot Noir wines were paired with the whole roasted rack of lamb.  It was served over braised cannellini beans with mint pesto.


The first paired wine was the Sanford, Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, Block 5 Pinot Noir 2012.  Kimberly Smith, owner and winemaker at LaMontagne Winery, discussed the second with her table mate.  Her Pinot Noir was from the Kessler-Haak Vineyard 2012.  It was interesting for the group to see how winemakers purchase the grapes from a nearby winemaker friend to make their own varietal.


Drake farms goat cheese with kumquat jam and an herb de Provence brioche provided the opportunity to again sip Chardonnay.


The Sanford La Rinconada Chardonnay 2012 was poured beside the LaMontagne Winery Chardonnay, Huber Vineyard 2013.  Steve Fennell, from Sanford answered questions and gave a brief history of the historic winery.


Two very different varietals were paired with our dessert.  The 2010 Flying Goat Cellars Pinot Noir, Rio Vista Vineyard 2A stood side by side with a Sanford, Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, Viognier 2012.


The warm pistachio cake was served as another duo.  Strawberries and a white chocolate crema were paired with grapefruite zabaglione.   Our ladies eyes were opened with what wide ranging possibilities exist with wine.


The  ladies had been exposed to thirteen different bubblies and wines.  They had their first taste of the five star cuisine of the Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore.  We hope it was a great introduction to Santa Barbara hospitality.  In the future, if any return to our area, we hope they will plan a visit to the Sta. Rita Hills and the actual wineries and tasting rooms that graciously donated the wines for the evening.  This time it was only a five day safari into Santa Barbara County.  There is still much left to taste, sip and enjoy.






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