Wine With a Twist

Janice Kleinschmidt. Restaurants 0 Comments

A historic asistencia (mission without a resident priest), a pier, a castle, an abalone farm, an estuary — together they make what Sunset magazine calls a food and wine festival.

Actually, Sunset calls its event “Savor the Central Coast,” because it extends far beyond a food and wine festival. The second annual celebration, Sept. 29-Oct. 2, explores the riches of San Luis Obispo County in conjunction with its wine country setting. 

According to Wine Editor Sara Schneider, the magazine started talking a few years ago about presenting a food and wine weekend like those in Aspen or Pebble Beach “except a lot more hands-on that would be Sunset style.” Napa and Sonoma wine country was too exposed (and, in the former case, a bit too formal) for Sunset’s focus.

“We were looking for a place that was still ‘becoming’ — that we could bring people to make some real discoveries beyond food and wine,” Schneider says. California’s Central Coast had been on their radar for artisan cheeses, olive oil, and abalone, as well as wine. “We get people out into the area instead of just holding an event in one spot,” Schneider notes.

The inaugural Savor the Central Coast in 2010 attracted about 7,500 people for the main tasting alone. About 10,000 are expected this year, and some of the auxiliary events and tours are already sold out. That includes Thursday night’s Spanish wine-and-tapas reception for 500 at Hearst Castle. Guests will watch the sun set from the coastal hilltop where statues and colonnades surround the Roman-styled Neptune pool.

“We wanted a festive setting for our kickoff party and something that would set a bit of an elegant tone to the event,” Schneider says.

Ticket holders to Friday evening’s Sunset Western Wine Awards will enjoy another unusual festival venue: a clear tent on Pismo Beach Pier. “This is the first time Pismo Beach has let anybody do an event on the pier,” Schneider says. Dinner guests will have an opportunity to taste the 32 finalist wines and chef creations made with locally grown ingredients.
Friday is also a day full of adventure tours. Traditional wine country festivals encompass winery tours and lunches (as did the 2010 Savor the Central Coast). This year, Sunset caters to its core readership. “They are physically very active people,” Schneider says. “A lot of our travel stories combine wine travel with bicycling or whatever outdoor activity is available in the area. It’s very much in the spirit of our content to combine a kayak trip with good wine tasting.” In addition to taking a kayak/paddleboard tour, people can visit an abalone, oyster, or goat farm; take a behind-the-scenes tour of Hearst Castle; hike along the coastline; tour a 120-year-old lighthouse (arrive by hiking or on an Old World trolley); or float above the coast in a hot-air balloon. Tours include lunch with wines.

The cornerstone location (for the main tasting events on Saturday and Sunday) is Santa Margarita Ranch, in the late 1700s/early 1800s an asistencia/rancho that at one time grew grapes for mission wine and now operates as a 14,000-acre ranch and conservation land. Guests will have an opportunity to taste wines from Monterey, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura counties (as well as from the guest wine region, Washington state); talk with winemakers and Central Coast growers; sit in on a variety of food and wine seminars; watch chefs’ demonstrations; and catch a San Francisco vs. Los Angeles “cocktail smackdown” between mixologists.

Sunset also has planted a two-acre garden for anyone wanting tips on making their own back yard bountiful. Guests will find chickens and goats and experts discussing such topics as poultry breeding, beekeeping, making goat cheese, and, of course, gardening. A beer-and-food garden will feature live music.

“Over all, I would say this is one of the most layered food and wine events that I know. It’s far more than just a tasting, and I think people will be surprised at the layers and contents and fun ideas. We are even having a barrel-toasting demonstration,” Schneider says. “There’s something around every corner.”

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