Taste, Sip and Enjoy | Food, Wine and Travel

Vintners Festival Shines Through the Rain

Vintners Festival Shines Through the Rain

Living with California’s drought conditions, the last thing we expected to hear the morning of April 25th was the sound of rain on our window sill.   Any other day would have brought unbridled happiness, but today was the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Wine & Food Festival Grand Tasting.  My weather app indicated rain until 1:00.  We had a 12:00 entry.  What was happening at River View Park in Buellton?  A tweet from the Vintners said to wear a raincoat and bring an umbrella.  It was going to be a wet safari!

Upon arrival we were pleased to see the precipitation had not dampened the spirits of many wine and food lovers.  A heavy drizzle was falling upon a long line awaiting the opening countdown.


My guess is that the Polo ponies at Piocho Ranch, in the eastern end of the Santa Ynez Valley, were enjoying a break from the dry conditions.  Here the Barrack family combines their “passion for the game of polo with the art of making wine.”  It seems the Happy Canyon Vineyard, Bordeaux varietal wines, are achieving the goal of excellence through the teamwork of Sean Pitts, Executive Manager and Winemaker, along with Doug Margerum, who has been making their wines since the beginning. Some of the wines are under the Barrack brand.  Another is Piocho, a Native American Indian word which means, “Where two rivers meet and go to heaven,” named after the ranch.  A third label is Chukker, again, related to the ranch.  In a polo game there are six timed periods, each defined as a chukker.  When in Santa Barbara treat yourself by visiting their tasting room at 30 El Paseo and sipping the wines.


We next were greeted by the smiling face of winemaker, Adrienne St. John, bundled in her jacket as a protection again the cool breeze.  As she poured the Rideau Vineyard varietals, my favorite was the 2012 Chateau Duplantier Cuvee.  This Rhone-style blend of 54% Syrah, 21% Mourvedre, 17% Grenache, and 8% Petite Sirah has a harmonious balance.  I would love this with a spicy meal!  So many of the wines of New Orleans native, Iris Rideau, reflect her desire to have them pair well with her Creole dishes.


I had just tasted a seasonal curry and green chutney on a papadum from Nimita’s Cuisine.   The residual taste of the chutney lingered and was the perfect pairing with the Chateau Duplantier Cuvee.    Nimita makes Ayurvedic, vegetarian food.


I brought home a container of the chutney and mixed it, one to one, with mayonnaise.  It was then added it to a ham sandwich with tomatoes and arugula.  It was not vegetarian, but gave the sandwich a piquant flavor in place of the usual mustard.  Soon I need to stop at Rideau for my wine pairing before I use more of my chutney with an Indian entrée.


Also, enjoying the warmth of his jacket was Pat Ferguson, viticulturist, of Ferguson Crest Wine.  Pat is the owner of this small production winery, with his daughter, Fergie, female vocalist with the Black Eyed Peas .  A superb 2011 Syrah and 2013 Viognier were being poured, but again, I found another exciting blend.   The 2011 Fergalicious has 56% Syrah, 25% Merlot, 13% Grenache, and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon which mingle together to create an extraordinary bottle of wine.  Winemaker, Joey Tensley, has received innumerable accolades for his wines and I certainly agree with the 92 points this received from the Wine Enthusiasts.  Matt Kettmann, with the Enthusiasts, said it is “worth sitting on until at least 2019.”  It is definitely a wine to add to your cellar or, if you can’t wait, drink it now and buy another bottle to cellar!


Refugio Ranch Vineyard had some very interesting offerings:


The 2012 Petite Sirah was a stand out!   Close behind was the 2011 Barbareno Syrah, a blend of 73% Syrah and 27% Sirah.  We will certainly follow-up with a visit to their tasting room in Los Olivos.


We were very happy to run into our friend, Rossell Studer, Director of Crumbs, at Crazy Good Bread in Santa Barbara.


She was anxious to have us try her new pretzel crisps which I would find an, “I bet you can’t eat just one,” addicting snack.  Also, on hand, were her demi baguettes, lavender country, rosemary olive, and the soft pretzel a.k.a. trouble breads.


We need to introduce Rossells’ breads to Neighbor Tim and his pit smoked BBQ. Some of his pulled pork, on her bread, would be getting close to heaven.  His pork, drizzled with sauce, was tender, moist and full of flavor.  Be sure and check out his website if you need a party catered.  Tim is delightful, along with his food!


Another item which would be great on Rossell’s bread is Cowboy Ike’s Wine Jelly. Ike Porter loves to cook and began making jelly with his Porter Ranch grapes. Winning Best of Show in local fairs he expanded from using Cabernet Sauvignon to Syrah, Grenache and now even has a “Spicy Chardonnay Jalapeno” and a “Spicy Cabernet Sauvignon.”


Isabella Gourmet Foods is a boutique artisan grocery in downtown Santa Barbara which features handcrafted foods from the Central Coast.  In addition to donuts………..


……..and pickled brussel sprouts………


……..the Sandra Neuman’s Blueberry Jam, from Forbidden Fruit Orchards, can also be found in the store.  Also, upstairs there is a tasting room in which one can sip Sandra’s Cebada Wines.  While there, you are in for a treat if you try her blueberry dessert wine.  I’ve been told it even makes a tasty drink when drizzled down the sides of a glass of orange juice.


Ken missed chatting with Vickie and Bob Baehner, but still sampled their Baehner Fournier wine.  They were on their own safari today hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain.  We look forward to hearing tales of their adventure and the Spanish wines they enjoyed on their journey.


Demetria’s winemaker, Harry Waye,  appeared to be very fashion forward since it seemed he had coordinated his shirt color with the wine labels. Harry came from Adelaide, Australia, in 2007 and worked his way up to become head winemaker in 2011.  Do not miss sipping his wine.  He has learned the craft well!  By the way, he denied having any fashion sense, but relies on his wife’s opinions.


When attending festivals and winery events, be on the lookout for the bright green mobile oven if you are yearning for pizza.  Once spotted, you have found Autostrada.


Based in Santa Ynez, they bake a wide variety of pizzas at 900 degrees, using locally sourced ingredients.   It would be worth having them cater for you just to taste this terrific mushroom pizza!


If you have not visited Terravant Winery Restaurant, now is the time!  In addition to a wide selection of beer and wine, they offer complete meals made with fresh ingredients.  Most are locally sourced from a 30 mile radius.  For your next party, try to duplicate the recipe for the hors d oeuvres they were serving.   They began with parmesan and polenta crisps(there are a number of recipes on the web).  Next came an arugula and almond pesto.  This was topped with house dried tomatoes with garlic and thyme.  They will be a hit if you can pull the recipe together.  Or, maybe they will share their recipe with us.


The food did not seem to end.  We went from the Thai style pork curry from the Ballard Inn……..


……..to the Rockfish Ceviche by the Shellfish Catering Company in Santa Barbara……..


……..and on to the Korean inspired pork belly tacos served with tiny tubs of house-made kimchi.  This was the result of the creativity of Chef de cuisine, James Owens, of the Hadsen House in Solvang .


Even though we thought we could not eat another bite, we are always excited to see Chef Rick!  Today he was serving his “Ultimately Fine Creole Chicken & Andouille Smoked Sausage Jambalaya Pasta.”


I was happy to see he was giving nourishment to Morgen McLaughlin, Executive Director of the Santa Barbara Vintners Association.  She needed good food after all the hours she and her team must have spent preparing this spectacular event.  There are new additions which make it bigger and better every year!

The Connoisseurs Club level of entry enabled those with the Connoisseur wrist band access to their own tent.


Here they had comfortable seating on which to relax………


……..with special food and library wines scheduled throughout the day.


Here is a plate of offerings from Industrial Eats.  Looks good!


Many remember the movie and/or book, “The Three Faces of Eve.”  It seems we had a delightful musical version called, “The Three Faces of Adam.”   We first heard Adam Phillips serenade us with Brian Mann on the accordion.


Next, he was part of the Mission Creek Trio.  We now heard classical merge with Celtic and Americana as he played the mandolin, acoustic guitar and banjo.  He was joined by Grace Harvey on cello and Gentry Hill on viola.  We were so enchanted with the music, Ken only slipped away for a few seconds to retrieve a couple other wines to sip while we listened.


In conclusion, the Adam Philips Band made their appearance.  Ray Pannell joined Adam in what they define as a “powerhouse acoustic band.” Whichever “Face” of Adam you encounter it will be a totally pleasing experience.  Other than three diverse musical groups there is absolutely no comparison with Eve.  Follow him on Facebook and find where you might next enjoy a performance.


It was a terrific idea having the music interspersed with winemakers and chefs who represented the Edible Santa Barbara Wine & Food Pavilion. They were introduced by Krista Harris, publisher of Edible Santa Barbara Magazine.


Jim Clendenen, the extraordinary winemaker of Au Bon Climat showed the winter, 2013, edition of Edible Santa Barbara where Hilary Dole Klein wrote, “The Vintner as Chef.”  Today he covered a wide range of topics from Japan, where they love his wine, to his homemade vinegars.  He was engaging, inspiring and fascinating with his expansive knowledge of the food world!  He seems far too busy to write a cookbook himself, but someone needs to sit down with him and put one together!


Pascale Beale, food writer and owner of Pascale’s Kitchen, spoke next on the topic, “Salade: a Dish for All Seasons.”  Her articles and recipes have appeared in many Edible editions.  See “Strawberry Delight” in the current spring 2015.  She described her early life, growing up in France and England, and the importance of her grandmother teaching her to cook.  We learned the basic vinaigrette, which should be made in the bottom of the salad bowl you intend to use, and countless other tips which, I am sure, can be found in her latest cookbook, “Salade.”


Our final class was, “BBQ Bootcamp: An Introduction to West Coast BBQ.”  The instructor was the bbq master of the Santa Ynez Valley and beyond, Frank Ostini, owner and Executive Chef at Hitching Post II.  He knows everything about the Santa Maria Barbecue,  cuts of meat and all items on the grill, from vegetables to quesadillas.  He managed to keep barbecuing and talking through gales of wind and then cut up everything to sample.



We had earlier visited his booth where his partner, Gray Hartley, pouring the Hitching Posts wine, gave us samples……..


………while the Hitching Post staff production line prepared sliders and french fries.



The clouds hovered over the Artist Pavilion and,…..


……….even though they seemed very dark at times,……..


…….the rain subsided and the day ended with the sun shining on a remarkable, well planned and executed event.


Again, we cheer on Morgen McLaughlin and her team who will probably not let much time elapse before full-time planning of the next events.  Put them on your calendar:

Key to Wine Country: May 29 to 31, 2015  and December 11 to 13, 2015

Celebration of Harvest:  Fall Weekend     October 9 to 12, 2015

Hope to see you there!

Check the following links for further information on all the exciting people and businesses associated with the post:

Au Bon ClimatAutostradaAdam Phillips; Baehner Fournier Vineyards; Ballard Inn; Chef Rick; Cowboy Ike; Crazy Good BreadDemetria Winery; Edible Santa Barbara; Ferguson Crest; Fergie; Hadsen House; Happy Canyon VineyardHitching Post II;  Isabella Gourmet FoodsNeighbor Tims BBQ; Nimita Cuisine; Pascale Beale; Refugio Ranch Vineyards; Rideau Vineyard; Santa Barbara Vintners Association; Shellfish Catering Company; Terravant Winery Restaurant



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One Comment

  1. The food was awesome at the Wine Fest this year. Every one kicked it up a notch or two. Wine was good too. I liked the cooler weather, good for drinking reds. Sorry we missed seeing you there. Cheers, KP

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