Nestled in the rolling hills between San Francisco and Los Angeles is 350 miles of sparkling ocean waters, quaint wine country towns, and breathtaking mountains, that all make up California's Central Coast. Famous for it's wineries and delectable foods, Paso Robles is California's fastest growing wine region, which was showcased at an exhilarating and impressive event, the second annual Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast event. SAVOR offered wine tastings from over one hundred wineries, delicious culinary creations, and fresh and organic samples from local farmers and producers. The two day event also included various forms of entertainment such as a goat milking demonstration, wine and cheese pairings, live music, cooking demonstrations, and even a chef off.
Held at the Rancho Santa Margarita, a 13,900 acre ranch in Santa Margarita, the event space consisted of a main hall with booths for information about the many towns that comprise the central coast, wine tastings from the nominees and winners of the 2011 Wine Awards, and food samples from top restaurants who use locally grown products for their meals. Just outside of the main hall was a vibrant display of organic greens and herbs grown at local farms, several chicken coops, and a goat pen with several goats waiting for their turn for a milking demonstration. Continuing past the greens was the four long rows of booths set up with tastings with two wineries per booth, offering sips from their top varieties and some with cheese or chocolate pairings. For the husbands and boyfriends who aren't wine lovers was the Vons Music and Tasting Beer Garden set up in an enchanting area with lush grass, picnic tables, a large stage under a whimsical oak tree, and of course several samplings from local breweries, and neighboring with the Farmer's Market. Encircling the entire event space was train tracks and an authentic coal-fueled train driven by conductors dressed the part.
After getting our complimentary, and much appreciated large wine glass, we headed over the the main hall first to begin our day of food, wine, and good old fashioned fun. The finalists of the Sunset Western Wine Awards held the night before, proudly served us tastings and information about their prized products. Favoring whites, I came back for a second taste of Bergstrom Wine's "Sigrid", a 2009 Chardonnay from Willamette Valley, a finalist in the $61 and over - White category. Preferring a crisp, light, and fruity chilled white wine, other notable finalists included; Clahouse's 2010 "Adobe Pink" from the central coast, finalist in the $15 and under - White category, Chateau Saint Michelle's 2009 "Eroica" Reisling from Columbia Valley, finalist in the $16-25 - White category, and Saucci Carciere's 2008 Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay from Russian River Vally, finalist in the $41-$60 - White Category. Impressive reds that were mild and smooth decidedly were Gramercy's 2009 "John Lewis" Syrah from Walla Walla Valley, and Rubicon's 2007 Cabernet Blend from Rutherford, Napa Valley, both finalists in the $61 and over - Reds category.
Complimenting the top wine selections were delicious and fresh samples of favorite menu items from select restaurants. Sauvignon blanc poured by Sunset Magazine Wine Club was suggested to be accompanied by white fish cevice from Root 64, followed by a sweet shiraz to be mingled with a dulce de leche custard which is prepared fresh in all of their restaurants, not even using freezers to store ingredients not used that day. Grilled abalone with fried pork belly on a piece of pumpernickel was prepared and served by head chef Brian Collins of Lido restaurant, with a serving of vanilla custard topped with warm apple reduction to tickle your sweet taste buds after the burst of savory flavors. Displaying hundreds of shucked oyster shells in the bed of a 1950's Chevy, and an enormous ice block with freshly shucked and prepared oysters, shucking demonstrations, and various wines, was the Morro Bay exhibit. Neal Maloney, owner of the Morro Bay Oyster Company whom provides oysters for most of the local restaurants and also major restaurants and grocery stores, gave the oyster shucking demonstration, showing us how to crack the hinge of the shell with a shucker at a forty five degree angle, and then using it to prop the shells open from the side, cutting the oyster away from the shell, and cleaning out any sharp pieces of shell.
Bursting with electric colors, the Green Market located just outside of the main hall offered appealing fresh samples of locally grown greens and herbs. Kara Wood from Bloom Micro Greens explained to me her adventure of turning a hobby into her career. Starting in her own garage, Kara began growing organic microgreens that quickly became popular, and soon she expanded her venture and now delivers her products to restaurants, grocery stores, and local farmers, and has 1200 square feet of green house. She delicately sniped a sample of her “popcorn shutes”, and informed me that the reason why they are yellow is because they are grown in the dark so that they don’t contain any chlorophyll. They are also a local favorite and were actually used as an ingredient in some of the food samples at the event. Kara also excitedly told me about a recent recipe marketing sweepstakes she entered on Facebook that was looking for a sustainable and organic food company, and won, awarding her $5,000 to use towards new packaging for her produce and also a professionally designed label. She said the packaging is 100% recycled, and that along with the new logo design, has helped boost her business.
Overwhelmed with excitement upon first sight of the extensive rows and rows of delicious wines to sample, we made our way to ones that stood out the most, since attempting to try every single one would probably end in disaster.For those who enjoy a crisp and bubbly chilled white wine, Buty Winery’s Reisling is highly recommended (www.butywinery.com). Ancient Peaks Winery’s very own wine maker poured us a fantastic 2010 sauvignon blanc, and informed us that their winery is 14 acres and located on the property (www.ancientpeaks.com).
Approaching Le Vigne Winery’s booth, I was offered a rinse for my wine glass, and informed by owner Peggy Keller that a wine glass should always be rinsed with wine and never water when doing a tasting in order to keep the acidity. She then explained to me the magnificence of pairing wine and cheese and poured me a sample of their cabernet which her husband and other owner, Scott Keller paired with a Monterey Jack cheese cube. The insightful explanation opened up an incredible new sense phenomenon of balancing sweet, salty, and acidic. Le Vigne Winery offers cheese and wine and chocolate and wine pairings almost every day at their winery (www.levignewinery.com).
Resembling a scene from a fairy tale, the beer garden sponsored by Vons offered a plethora of entertainment. The area is equipped with a built in sound stage, which various types of bands and musicians performed on while guests enjoyed their beers and food samples on wooden picnic tables or on the stone wall that arced around the front of the stage. Firestone Brewing Company, a locally made, and local favorite brew, had two of it's finest selections on tap. Tim Miller, Firestone's event and media manager stated that the brewery has more handles than any other mid sized brewery, and Firestone has gotten many awards including Beer of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival.
Across the gravel path was the Farmer's Market, which showcased the many different products grown and produced by local farmers and known for their excellence in quality, taste, and sustainability. Rutiz Family Farms owned by Jerry Rutiz and Maureen Reilly, showcased vibrantly colored vegetables grown at their farm in Arroyo Grande, California (www.RutizFarms.com). Jack Creek Farms displayed wheat from their family owned farm in Templeton, California, which is entirely operated by members of the Barlogio family (www.jackcreekfarms.com). Gorgeous looking and smelling pink lilies along with various other charming flowers were bursting from a flower cart from Skyline Flower Growers. Joe Goldberg, the president of the company, grows flowers to be sold in farmers markets all over Los Angeles, and ships them to anywhere in the United States.
With a loud toot-toot from its old fashioned horn, the ranch's steam train pulled up just in time to load us on for a ride around the entire ranch. We were able to see the entire grounds of the property including cattle grazing areas, the winery, and finally car track where Infiniti, one of the event sponsors, offered test drives of some of their vehicles. Pulling back up to the train stop, we took one last look at the amazing event and left satisfied, educated, and happy. Anyone who enjoys wine, food, and fun should certainly attend next years third annual Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast.