Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Girl Grape Power

You know you're at the right event when you overhear other folks discussing compound butters. That's just one small way to suggest what a big event--part of an even bigger event--can embody. For the 2024 Women Winemakers and Culinarians Celebration that just occurred March 6-10, with a Grand Tasting on March 9 at boutique vineyard event space 27 Vines in Santa Ynez, was, as usual, an incredible community treasure. International Women's Day has no better home than Santa Barbara. 

Winemaker for Seagrape Karen Steinwachs (in the middle of the photo above, with chef Brooke Stockwell on the left and County Supervisor Joan Hartmann on the right--of the photo, that is), one of the events founders and organizers, let on, "There are 250 guests but 70 of us winemakers and culinarians." That's a 3.57 "faculty-student" ratio that you'd be amazed to find at even the toniest of prep schools. But in this case the "faculty" makes much of the best wine and food Santa Barbara County has to offer. There's a belief that SB has the highest ratio of women winemakers, one of those stats that makes sense when you look at photos like the one that leads this post, but is hard to prove definitively (like, if Cole Ranch, which is an AVA that's a single vineyard, was owned by a woman, that would be 100%...). Most importantly, the fest exists to give back to the community, and this year's beneficiary was She Raised Her Hand, which provides opportunities for 2 million women veterans to find community, purpose, and strength.

One of the tricky things writing about this event is that it's spectacular annually, so coming up with witty insights about it gets harder and harder. Last year I thrilled to find two of our county's best winemakers, period, Angela Osborne of A Tribute to Grace and Jessica Gasca of Story of Soil sharing a table--well, look at that photo above from this year. Once again both poured stunning wines--Osborne offering brand new releases from large format bottles--we all need to be talking about her Grenache Blanc more, you know--while Gasca's just disgorged 2023 Pet Nat made from Gruner was a perfect working-on-being-spring afternoon quencher. Hooray for brand new releases that confirm our region's deliciousness.

Speaking of deliciousness, there was plenty, like the scarfable ahi poke lettuce wraps from Erica Velasquez at Ramen Kotori. Heck, Joy Reinhardt from Ellie's Tap & Vine made me like bread pudding (usually not my favorite texture), by making sure the edges were crisped and crunchy. Brooke Stockwell from Los Olivos Cafe spoiled us with the unctuousness of butternut uni crostini. Jane Darrah from Good Witch Farm (what a perfect name for the event, no?) showered a chicken liver mousse crostini with gorgeous, delicious micro greens and edible flowers. 

While I didn't get enough photos of the food as I don't want to show pictures of me contentedly chewing, here's one of the view. The site was something, with plenty of space so things never felt crowded. We got to have lots of lovely conversations, which is part of the point of such an event. In particular a long chat with Sonja Magdevski--while tasting wonderful pours like her concrete egg-aged Roussanne and a wine cider that's 2/3 Mourvèdre Rosé and 1/3 pippin apples--is slowly phasing out the Casa Dumetz name so all her wines will be Clementine Carter. A scoop, of sorts.

In the news to me, you decide if it's a scoop to you category--SBC is truly rocking Gamay right now. The carbonic one above from Dreamcôte was beautiful, made whole cluster from Donnachadh Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hill's grapes that only winemaker Brit Zotovich, Ernst Storm, and the vineyard owners got to play with. Another Gamay winner comes from The Joy Fantastic, from Amy Christine and Peter Hunken's own SRH vineyard. I'd love to crack open bottles of each to taste side-by-side someday and drown in pomegranate and mineral goodness.

As for out and out new winery finds, I was most excited by another pair of table neighbors. I nicked the label image from the deeply pleasing Grenache from Cote of Paint to make clear they've got senses of both humor and marketing. Couple Kristin Harris Luis and Nick Luis both have connections with the ever-impressive Dragonette, so have learned from the best. Their creation story joke is, “We don’t want to change how wine is made, we just want to throw on a coat of paint,” but they paint deliciously. And they don't even fussily mess with the diacritical mark on the o in cote, which is mighty kind. Next to them was Amber Rose Wine, and Amber also honors a terrific mentor, in this case Pinot legend Ken Brown. Her 2018 Riverbench Vineyard SMV Pinot Noir is elegant yet speaks of the Santa Maria Valley with its salinity. Although a small operation, Amber Rose also insists on every employee being a woman in her business. Hard to beat that as a way to qualify for the occasion. 

And I wanted to end here, as it encapsulates the joy of the day. I'd laugh a lot, too, if I were as talented as Jessica Foster, who came up with the brilliant, sweet-salty bite: s'mores pecan bananas foster. Beyond the Foster/foster joke, I could have stood at this table all afternoon, gulping them down. Between lots of laughs.

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