I'm currently looking out at the adobes of Santa Fe, on a beautiful fall day. I'm in town for the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta, an annual celebration of the culinary traditions of one of the best food towns in America. This is one event that we come to every year, even this year when we're cutting back on our event participation to conserve wine and save money while we weather our three low production vintages of 2007, 2008 and 2009. I was thinking a little about what made this event different from the dozens (hundreds?) of wine festivals in cities and towns across the country, and decided that it was the way that this event integrates the restaurants in the area with the big wine tastings. It's not just a wine festival. It's not a food show. It's a great place to come to learn, to share, and to celebrate great wine, great food, and the synergy that they create when they come together.
With that in mind, here are my choices for five great annual events for food and wine lovers. These are the ones that we do every year, that I look forward to personally, and that I'd recommend unconditionally to anyone considering going. I've put them in the order in which they occur on the calendar.
Texas Hill Country Food & Wine Festival
When: early April
Where: Austin, TX
Why it's great: You're in Texas's hill country in April, which is almost always a beautiful time of year. Austin has an amazing culinary scene, less well known than its amazing music scene but just as cool, offbeat and appreciated. There are seminars, tastings, lunches and dinners, and the grand tasting attracts several thousand enthusiasts to a field a half-hour outside town.
One cool, unique thing: Come a week early and enjoy South by Southwest, one of the country's top independent music festivals that takes place in Austin in late March.
Learn more: www.texaswineandfood.org or 512.249.6300
Hospice du Rhone
When: early May
Where: Paso Robles, CA
Why it's great: It manages to be both intensely academic and lighthearted, serious about wine without being serious about itself. Producers of Rhone varieties from around the world (think France, Australia, Spain, South Africa, California and Washington, at a start) convene in Paso Robles in early May. The seminar topics are always interesting and explored in depth, and the fact that nearly everyone has to travel to get there means that the attendees become a community by the end of the event. My favorite portion of the event are the lunches, where because of the open seating you can find yourself at a table with the wine editor from Wine & Spirits, two distributor managers from New York, a restaurateur from Scottsdale, two winemakers from Priorat and three fanatical consumers from Chicago.
One cool, unique thing: It has to be the Rhone and Bowl, where you get to see teams of winemakers and enthusiasts from around the world compete at the uniquely American pastime of bowling, lubricated by too many bottles of unreal Rhones.
Learn more: www.hospicedurhone.org or 805.784.9543
Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta
When: late September
Where: Santa Fe, NM
Why it's great: More than any festival I do, it gets full buy-in from nearly all the great restaurants in its back yard. The many great restaurants of Santa Fe all participate in wine dinners and lunches during the four-day event, and each of them has a booth at the grand tasting where they vie with each other to make truly memorable dishes. Anyone who leaves the grand tasting unimpressed by the culinary vitality of the town of Santa Fe needs to be checked for a pulse.
One cool, unique thing: Each Wine & Chile, the presenting wineries, chefs and sponsors are invited to the governor's mansion, where we get to mingle with Bill Richardson and look down over the town.
Learn more: www.santafewineandchile.org or 505.438.8060
Celebrate the Craft
When: Late October/Early November (this year: October 30, 2010)
Where: Lodge at Torrey Pines, Del Mar, CA
Why it's great: The creation of the Lodge at Torrey Pines' executive chef Jeff Jackson, it's a thank you from him to the many farmers and winemakers he works with each year. We have been fortunate to be one of only a dozen wineries invited each of the last five years, and the afternoon that we spend on the grass outside the Lodge, surrounded by some of the best artisan organic farmers in California and watching golfers make their way around one of the country's most revered golf courses, is always memorable. The event is open to the public but rarely crowded, and the people who come get an amazing opportunity to speak with the people who make some of the best foods and wines in California.
One cool, unique thing: The Lodge puts on a suppliers-only dinner, family-style, that evening, where winemakers and farmers are interspersed at long tables on their patio and enjoying food and wines that other participants have provided.
Learn more: www.celebratethecraft.com or 858.777.6635
Yosemite Vintners Holidays
When: November-early December (our session this year: November 16-18, 2010)
Where: Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite, CA
Why it's great: The Vintners Holidays, hosted at Yosemite Park's historic Ahwahnee Hotel, are now in their 29th year. The program consists of eight different three-days sessions throughout November and early December. Four wineries are invited to each session, and each winery presents a seminar and participates in a meet-the-winemakers reception and a four-course grand dinner in the Ahwahnee's amazing dining room where each winery pairs a wine with one course. The sessions attract upwards of 200 participants to each, and attendees get a chance to spend some concentrated time with the producers and (likely) their families in a way no other event allows.
One cool, unique thing: Who wouldn't want to be in Yosemite in November, when no one else is there and you have the trails to yourself? The food and wine (which is always terrific) is just an added bonus.
Learn more: www.yosemitepark.com/vintners or 801.559.4884