Vino La Fiesta

Fiesta activities for 2007 kicked off from a wine perspective with the Second Annual Old Spanish Days Wine Tasting at the Santa Barbara Courthouse Sunken Gardens. Hosted again by Elements Restaurant, the popular Santa Barbara restaurant that overlooks the Sunken Gardens, the event featured over 30 top local wineries pouring over 100 wines, while guests enjoyed live jazz and specially paired hors d’oeuvres made by Elements’ chef and co-owner Paul Becking.

This year, Elements added an additional event, a rare/reserve VIP tasting at the restaurant from 2:30 pm to 4 pm, that featured ten of the top local boutique wineries with foods paired to the reserve wines from Ampelos, Brander, Carr, Fiddlehead, Justin, Flying Goat, Beckmen, Foxen, Dierberg, Ken Brown, Longoria, and Whitcraft.

Norm Yost (Flying Goat) and Drake and Chris Whitcraft (Whitcraft Wine) welcomed attendees on the patio pouring their respective 100% Pinot Noir sparkling wines. As I sampled the 2000 Whitcraft Hirsch Vineyard Sonoma Coast Sparking Wine (they would later pour the 2005 Bien Nacido and Melville 2005 Pinots, Lagrien 2002 French Camp at the Sunken Gardens) I asked Chris why he chose to participate and donate the costly ($120/bottle) sparkling wine to this event? “Elements is one of the top restaurants in Santa Barbara,” he answered, adding that, “the new menu is to die for, especially Kobe beef two ways – as flank steak and ground beef on the same plate.” Just then one of the Elements’ wait staff offered us the miniature waffles with duck confit and 100% maple syrup and we both toasted chef Becking’s culinary creativity.

At the Ampelos Wines table we enjoyed the just released 2004 “Rho” Pinot Noir, Ampelos Vineyard, Santa Rita Hills, poured by owners Rebecca and Peter Work. The “Rho” represents the Greek letter referencing the radius in a system of spherical polar coordinates. (I just had to include that to impress those of my seventh-grade Santa Barbara Middle School math students who live in Montecito that I know a little more than algebra). As to the Rho in this wine, it connects the complex number in mathematics to its multiple layers of complexity.

Lindsay’s reason for both participating and advising about the event was that “Elements was the first restaurant in Santa Barbara to serve our wines. Paul’s cooking and our loyalty keep us dedicated supporters.”

Two winners were poured by winemaker Ken Brown and his wife and business manager, (and my classmate from Vassar, Class of 1971), Deborah Kenly Brown. Ken was well known as winemaker for Byron Vineyards, but now has scaled down to handcraft his own babies. The 2005 Nielson Vineyard 100% Chardonnay comes from Santa Barbara’s oldest commercial vineyard, and grapes from the 40-year-old vines express themselves elegantly, thanks to Ken’s minimalist approach.

Before walking across the street to enjoy the Sunken Gardens Tasting, I caught up with Fred Brander pouring his Muscato Di Fredi on the patio. This Muscat made from grapes from what had been the original Joe Carrari vineyard will remind you of all the nectars of summer on even the coldest winter night. And, yes, his childhood pals called him Fredi.

Another new feature to this year’s wine tasting at the Sunken Gardens was the opportunity for guests to purchase the wines in half case and case allotments.

From 4 pm to 7 pm, several dozen local wineries joined the reserve tasting wineries to pour their wines at the Sunken Gardens across the way from Elements including Alma Rosa, Arcadian, Au Bon Climat, Babcock, Beckmen, Cargasacchi, Carhartt, Consilience, Demetria, Ethan, Jaffurs, Kunin, Melville, Palmina, Qupé, Rusack, Star Lane, Stolpman, Summerland, Sunstone, Westerly, and Zaca Mesa.

The excellent weather attracted just the right attendance (enough to increase the coffers through the portion of the tasting ticket sales benefiting Santa Barbara’s Old Spanish Days) but not too many people to cause the frustrating lines for food and wine sampling.

The Elements food, music, and the opportunity for the attendees to purchase those hard-to-find wines by the case made this my official “Vino La Fiesta” event.