Monday, August 13, 2012

Pulling Out the Stolps

They call it Magic Hour for a reason, the last hour of sunlight each day allows. Contrast flattens, it seems less possible to hide in shadow, land and sky meet easily in an in-between glow. Terrence Malick figured this out when he shot one of the most gorgeous films ever, Days of Heaven, and you can see a bit of it and hear from its camera operator John Bailey here. Or you can go have your own day of heaven by attending an event like Dinner in the Vineyard at the Stolpman Vineyards back on August 4.

Part of the fun was a hayride about the property with either Tom or Peter Stolpman as your guide. Incomparable views greeted you from every hilltop--especially when you didn't have to get out on too steep a hill so the truck could putter the rest of the way up with less weight. It's fun to see where what has to be the best white wine in the region right now--L'Avion Roussanne--grows in the very level spot where barnstorming fliers once touched down (hence the name). But you also learn that this place is so dedicated to organic farming and to dry-farming that it's slowly converting its vines to own-stock. They bank on the phylloxera not being able to get across the dry soils, and therefore, there's no need for grafting onto resistant rootstock. And then there's Ruben's Block, the grapes growing in tight little upside-down V's on a quickly-dropping crest, meaning everything must be done by hand. Welcome to the U.S. doing its best Cote Rotie impersonation.

Of course, festivals do not exist on tours alone, so there was also plenty of good live music (wish I caught the band's name), fine wine (of course, it was all Stolpman, and winemaker Sashi Moorman is a master), and a buffet provided by J.R.'s Gourmet Catering beyond what was needed given everything else was so great. It kicked off with a salad that could have been a meal on many nights, not just greens but very ripe pear slices, blackberries, goat cheese. It didn't feature tomatoes, though, for they got their own special plate, with basil and a note from summer saying it was happy to be invited. And when I say plate I need to clarify--the tomatoes were brought out on a platter carved out of wine barrel staves--very fitting, very large, very lovely. Then there was one of those platters brimming with roasted vegetables--this was very much a BBQ under the graceful old oaks--and then some salmon, some roasted potatoes crisp on the outside and creamy inside, and tri-tip too, with horseradish waiting to give it a bit of a whipping. A feast, all done to perfection.

And can't forget the bread from New Vineland Bakery--another Sashi Moorman project, along with his wife Melissa Sorongon and Kate Heller and Peter Pastan. They're growing their own wheat so they can sell it at Farmers' Markets. (You might need to read that sentence again.) And the bread has got a richness and depth and soul you'd expect from someone who makes L'Avion and Hilltops Syrah and the people he'd choose to hang with.

So here's hoping that Ballard Canyon AVA goes through to further cinch the special nature of this spot so close to Los Olivos but so far away even from that mostly sleepy town. The Stolpmans (and Larners and Beckmens and Jonata) are all on to something back there--even at times when the sun isn't perfecting a slow set, setting the evening gorgeously aglow.

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