Monday, July 17, 2023

CA Shindig at the Shore

What could get more California Wine Festival, Santa Barbara edition, held this past weekend, than this view? How much could anyone argue with that?

True enough, there's so much going on--vendor booths hawking clothes, cakes, candles and more, a "Best Tri-Tip in the 805" competition, live Caribbean music from the band Upstream, booths offering beer--its emphasis is almost more on fest than wine. But wine ultimately is all about good times, making memories, enjoying. So the Festival had that down.

Not to downplay the wineries present. The event really does span the state, from Navarro Vineyards in Anderson Valley all the way to a host of wineries from Temecula with a stop at the Tri-Valleys tasting table (that's Livermore, btw), so you could taste all sorts of varietals. It does provide a kind of odd portrait if you hope to make some more conclusive opinions about the vinous state of our state, but there was plenty delicious to be had, from old faves like Navarro and Napa's Cuvaison and Paso's Austin Hope to newer discoveries (at least for me) like Mizel Estate, in the Malibu AVA, or Goldschmidt Vineyards, pouring elegant, built for aging Bordeaux varietals from Alexander Valley and Oakville.

Call me a homer, but of course some of the best showing pours came from right here in Santa Barbara, and I could have happily camped at the Santa Rta. Hills Wine Alliance table, which kept bringing out different wonderful gems as the afternoon went on, from Loubud sparkling to Pinot Noir from Dragonette, Brewer-Clifton, and Montemar. When I wind up turning one down as it's just an SRH and not a Radian Vineyard, well, we are pretty lucky, you know?

The main section of the fest certainly offered plenty for carnivores, what with all the samples for the tri-tip contest right inside the gate (each festival-goer got a vote). Other food was dotted throughout the spaciously laid out area in Chase Palm Park, giving people plenty of room (even if there's always somebody who parks himself--yes, it's generally a dude--at the front of the wine sample line to chat and drink through, folks behind him be-damned). Some you could buy--those cakes at SiSi Cakes sure looked delicious--and some you could sample, as they lured you into a purchase, like the super tasty crackers at Savory Bites

We were lucky enough to score VIP tickets, and that section of the festival offered even more upscale eats, even better, more from Santa Barbara, too. (OK, I really am a homer.) From Blue Owl's fried rice to Finch & Fork's wheat blini with Santa Barbara Smokehouse salmon, green olive, agro dolce, and bachelor button, many a taste tempted. Special credit to Finch & Fork for making something you could just pop in your mouth--people don't think through the ease of eating issues for festivals enough. Sure, it's great be generous, but if half the bigger bite you prepared ends up on my shirt, I won't think super kindly of you, restaurateur.  

That's not to say other food didn't also impress--the faux nigiri offered by Fysh Food was not just scrumptious, but also sustainable (please tell me our oceans won't be empty of fish by 2048), and Rosalynn Supper Club, which I'm probably not hip enough to eat at in LA itself, had two flavor bombs, a scallop with cilantro roasted scallion chimichurri, green Szechuan peppercorn, aged soy, and red chili oil, and a "flank steak" that was actually pork, seared and served with a mix of passion fruit herb sauce, Nam Jim, fish sauce, This chili, mint, Thai basil, and cilantro. Just the full listing of the items should make it clear how wild and rich these offerings were.

To be honest, throughout the festival, the vibe was a bit more LA than SB, with lots of folks so well-dressed and prettified that I joked many were likely to be the next victim on a season of White Lotus. But that's just me being provincial. A fun time was had been a lot of folk. I just assume many of them wound there way to the nearby train station and went south afterward.

A lucky few of us also had the opportunity to continue the party at an after event at nearby winery Skyenna. All thanks to sponsors Sommsation, who helped set up the wine and food pairings at the after-party (as that's what they do), and Hexclad, who also helped sponsor the VIP section and gave the cooks there some beautiful pots and pans to cook with.

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