Full Belly Files: The return of the wine festivals

On the first weekend of March 2020, as the coronavirus began spreading from Asia across Europe and knocking harder and harder on American doors, the World of Pinot Noir (WOPN) took over the Ritz- Carlton Bacara in Goleta, as he had done every year for years. . As usual, I was part of the festivities, leading a panel or two, attending dinners, and mixing it up with my friends and fellow wine professionals from all over California and the world.

We knew about the virus, but it still felt like a joke, as we laughed and bumped elbows. We had no idea what was coming and no idea we were dodging a serious bullet by attending indoor tastings where nearly 1,000 people were sipping and spitting wine, unwittingly spraying our potentially COVID-19 germs everywhere.

Fortunately, nothing happened. As far as I know, no one has gotten sick from COVID – and I’ve written and spoken about this many times without anyone telling me otherwise – and the word “super-spreader” hasn’t become associated with WOPN. (I’m also a member of the Santa Barbara Dining Experience Advisory Board, and we had to completely cancel our entire inaugural event the following weekend as the virus progressed so rapidly.)

After a few months of collective panic in all industries, many food and wine events have returned in virtual form. As silly as it might sound to taste together in front of a laptop – and it often did – wineries were able to use the format to speak directly to their fans near and far, and there was a lot of value in that. extract from these countless sessions. (I’ve been involved in about 100 of them, usually as a moderator but sometimes as a viewer.)

It’s been two years now, but if the list of current and upcoming events is any indication, that era of virtual events is coming to an end – or at least undergoing an evolution. As you read this, the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium is wrapping up in Sacramento. It’s one of the largest wine gatherings in the world, with exhibitions, panels, etc., all going according to plan except for the main tasting events. They canceled those earlier in the week due to virus concerns.

Passionate about wine, where I am the editor in charge of Central Coast and Southern California, is also hosting its annual Wine Star Awards in Miami on February 7th. I usually attend to present an award, but did not receive the invite this year due to reduced COVID protocols. I was bummed, because Wine Region of the Year is my own backyard in Santa Barbara County – a well-deserved award I’ve lobbied for over the years – but also a little relieved that I didn’t have traveling across the country right now.

Festival Garagiste: Southern Exposure is coming to Solvang on February 25 and 26. | Credit: Courtesy

Also upcoming is Festival Garagiste: Southern Exposure, which lands in Solvang on February 25 and 26. The festival, which I’ve written about countless times since its debut in 2011 and even spoken about before, is a great place to meet small and up-and-coming producers. Organizers held a COVID-safe ride and sold out in Paso Robles last November, and they’re confident they can do it at Solvang’s Veterans Memorial Hall as well. They ditched the VIP seminar to give more space to the main room and are spreading the tables according to their COVID protocols.

The event will feature over 150 wines split between the rare/reserve event on Friday evening and the grand tasting on Saturday. Other producers to check out this year – at least based on the wines I tasted – include Ann Albert, Camins 2 Dreams, Cavaletti, Dusty Nabor, El Lugar, MCV and Sweetzer Cellars. Buy your tickets here.

And then it’s the return of the Mondial du Pinot Noir au Bacara, from March 3 to 5. It will also mark my own return to in-person wine events, when I attend Adam Lee’s luncheon on Friday, host a Gary’s Vineyard panel on Saturday morning, and then host an SLO Coast dinner on Saturday. There remains a slight anxiety among some producers – particularly around the larger tasting events, which will take place outdoors this year, weather permitting – but everything is going full steam ahead. Ticket sales are said to be booming and have seen the recent surges.

This contrast is basically where I find myself: excited and eager to look back on these events, with underlying concerns to stay as safe as possible. The reality is that COVID is slipping into the endemic zone, and the hope – seemingly backed by science – is that these latest variants are less dangerous than earlier versions. We must live on, a large part of my brain says, while a significant part of my mind remains a little nervous about diving into full power.

Which means you’ll see me at the World of Pinot Noir, but my KN95 mask probably won’t be too far from the big smile on my face.


This edition of Full Belly Files was originally emailed to subscribers on January 28, 2022. To get Matt Kettmann’s food newsletter delivered to your inbox, sign up at Independent.com/newsletters.


I cut myself on Messermeister

Credit: Matt Kettman

I wrote this article about Ojai-based Messermeister knives in December, then received my first two knives from the company last week: an eight-inch Kawashima and the Oliva chef’s knife. They are tall and handsome, and a bit intimidating.

I whipped an onion to give the Kawashima a swirl, and immediately nicked my knuckle with its elegantly curved tip. It didn’t hurt at all and the blood took a long time to flow. But it was fine, as if I had correctly brought a special tool into my house by spilling blood.

Then I let my neighbor borrow them both as he was thinking of buying a few. Yeah, he sliced ​​himself too while making salsa, but so superficially he didn’t even draw blood. Suffice it to say: they are sharp.

Wines to find

Credit: Courtesy

Allan Hancock College Vineyard: Every journalist has a list of stories they’ve reported on but never written, for one reason or another. Among other untold stories, mine involves an investigation into elder abuse some 20 years ago, a detailed dive into the people of the Cuyama Valley that I spent days reporting nearly 20 years ago. a decade, and an article about Allan Hancock College Winery, where I spent a few hours in 2018 touring the winery and vineyard located in the heart of the town of Santa Maria.

The benefit of this visit was that the college started submitting wines for the blind tasting reviews that I do for Passionate about wine, so I was able to follow their progress at each vintage. And they kill him.

Allan Hancock’s wines repeatedly exceed their price category, are often the best wines on a flight across the Central Coast, and promise a bright future for people who graduate from this program. I recently tasted their latest batch, mostly from the 2020s, and found the pinot noir, syrah, and albarino to be particularly interesting. They also do a lot of other cool stuff, including torrontés. Best of all, most of them are under $20, some under $15. One day I will write this story, I swear. Buy them here.

Credit: Courtesy

Kings Carey wines: As part of his day job, James Sparks makes delicious chardonnay, pinot noir, rosé and more for Liquid Farm. For his own project, he produces a range of eclectic, small-batch, brilliantly labeled wines called Kings Carey.

I just sampled his next release: a tangy, peppery Cabernet Franc from Mike “Lo-Fi” Roth’s Clos Mullet Vineyard near Los Alamos ($34); a lean, lemony chardonnay from the historic Eden Rift estate in the Cienega Valley, south of Hollister ($38); and a fresh, earthy fruit mugwort mourvèdre from organically grown Dogged Vine in the Los Olivos district ($34). The labels, by Philadelphia-based artist Hawk Krall, are as cheerful and colorful as ever, and the juice inside only gets finer with each vintage. Pre-order here.

Sicilian Syrah from the Rapitilà estate: It’s not often that I write about wines from beyond California, although I’m inundated with press releases and offers to send samples. But I’m a big fan of syrah – one of my latent book ideas is about the world’s producers of syrah and peppercorns, as the two share the chemical compound called rotundone. So when an offer of syrah from Sicily arrived in my inbox, I jumped. I had no idea Syrah was even grown on the Italian island, and thought its coastal setting might imbue the wine with those peppery, cool-climate qualities that I appreciate.

Credit: Courtesy

What came was Tenuta Rapitilà’s 2017 ‘Nadir’ syrah, grown on the mountainsides southwest of Palermo. The wine featured some of the dried meat and dark berry flavors common to Syrah, as well as some of the oak toast that is usually associated with winemaking. This last part is interesting because the wine was fermented in oak but aged in steel, so the toasty note must be an inherent quality.

The wine was fine, and not particularly unique, but it taught some interesting lessons. Perhaps most fascinating is that the estate’s name, Rapitalà, relates to the Arabic ‘Rabidh-Allah’, for ‘River of Allah’, which refers to a stream that flows through the vineyards. The region uses this as proof of the ancient nature of their vines. And the property name “Nadir” also references the Arabic word “nazir,” which means deep, rare, and/or precious, depending on the winery.

From our table

Credit: Matt Kettman

This week I wrote about the Los Angeles adventure I took with my family right after Christmas. We visited classic restaurants and museums while staying at the Hollywood Roosevelt. See all my photos here.


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