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Let's eat.

From Big Sur's killer cliff-clinging eateries to Salinas' unparalleled produce, this blog aims to sniff out all things Monterey County can stomach, via picture and prose, curiosity and appetite, hand and mouth.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Big Sur Food & Wine: The Glory Is Almost Here

I had to travel to the bottom of the world to realize how powerful Big Sur's beautiful bounty really is.

It was there in Tierra Del Fuego, surrounded by the soaring rock towers, the giant-chandelier glaciers, the swooping Southern Lights and the four-hour sunsets—which collectively had me thinking blinking is just a bad idea—that I didn't know how I'd be able to return home. I mean, how could I leave that?

Then it hit me. I always had Big Sur. If I ever felt like I needed world-class wonder, Highway 1 could shuttle me there in minutes.

Then the seemingly unthinkable happened. Big Sur, though already perched atop the list of Bestest Places in the World, got even better.

For those locals who just emerged from the marine canyon, the South Coast hosted an utterly absurd sequence of bands this summer and early fall: Arcade Fire, Band of Horses, Colin Oberst (playing with the Felice Brothers), Al Jardine and Cat Power among them. The best music we had going in Patagonia was some whiskey-fueled freestyling.

And now here comes something that ups the natural Big Sur appeal even further: Big Sur Food & Wine, act deux. (The food in Tierra Del Fuego: surprisingly tantalizing instant mash potatoes and garlic chopped on a Frisbee.)

The festival represents the most sumptuous symptom of the foodification of Big Sur. Few restaurants can hang with Big Sur Bakery's oven-fired steaks, or Deetjen's eggs Benedict or Ventana's view (and scallops). This weekend those unparalleled hubs for the hungry and their Big Sur brethren come together with, oh, nearly 60 hand-picked wineries like ROAR, Roederer and Alma Rosa. They gather in greatest quantities for Thursday's "gateway" opening at Hyatt Carmel Highlands ($100) and Saturday's grand tasting at Henry Miller Library ($60/general; $40/resident). A complete list of participating wineries appears below:

Au Bon Climat L'Aventure Talbott
Ridge Continuum Paul Lato
Pisoni Clos Pepe ROAR
Siduri HdV Testarossa
Patz n Hall Drew Chappellet
Breggo Alma Rosa Kunin
Bernardus Roederer Margerum
Wind Gap Hitching Post Lioco
Adelaida Ramey Tobin James
Arcadian Miura Heller
Justin Galante Bonny Doon
Qupe Demuth Cold Heaven
Kristi-Lynn Tablas Creek Windy Oaks
Perception MacPhail Wrath
B Kosuge Morgan Brewer Clifton
Saxum Thomas Fogarty Morgan
Alban McIntyre Poppy
Madeleine Torbreck J.Lohr
Hahn Estates

Along with waves of wine dinners, super-savvy panels arranged by wine director Matt Peterson and a big closer at Ventana on Saturday—learn more at the Big Sur Food & Wine website—that's a nice backbone.

But maybe my favorite thing about the nascent festival might be the unfakeable friendships it's founded upon. The main organizers are more than double identity talents—Vice Pres Aengus Wagner, for instance, is a world champion Ultimate Frisbee hustler, volunteer coordinator Alicia Hahn and VIP liason Rosalia Moon Byrne are gifted fire dancers and exec expediter Peggy Giles is a skilled synchronized swimmer—they are pals.

The Dinner With Friends is no false title: The bonds they enjoy with one another, their fellow hospitality pros in Big Sur and the visiting winemakers is for real.

So is the potential for this to go long and strong into the future. As Justin Baldwin of Justin Winery—who has seen his fair share of food-and-wine soirees—wrote event president Toby Rowland Jones after year one in '09:


Congratulations on the most successful first time event in which I have ever participated.

You hit a home run and deserve the appreciation and gratitude of all.

Thank you for allowing JUSTIN to be a charter participant.

Get some well earned rest.


The assembled will include other wine stars like Paul Draper (above right), John Alban, pioneer of Rhone varietals in the Golden State, Pax Mahle of Windgap, Tim Mondavi, Justin Smith, of sought-after small production Saxum Vineyards, Gary Pisoni, Au Bon Climat's Jim Clendenen; and Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm.

The standout chefs will also be numerous. Chefs Craig von Foerster (Sierra Mar), Cal Stamenov (Marinus), Matt Bolton (Pacific’s Edge), Kent Torrey (The Cheese Shop), Domingo Santamaria (Deetjens), Michael Woods (Treebones), Cy Yontz (Rio Grill) and Michael Jones (Cachagua General Store) anchor the opening event.

Amid the mirth, though, there will be some very heavy hearts, particularly within the close and cohesive Big Sur community. On Sunday night, local star photographer, Apple Pie Ridge resident and all-around sweetheart Rachel Short, fresh off a beautiful photography opening in Carmel next to Mundaka, was critically injured in a car crash and is in serious condition. Sadly, it looks like paralysis is the likely outcome.

Hundreds of hearts are with her, certainly, as is a wider plead for mindful Highway 1 driving during events like this. And if I might be so bold as to remind folks that maybe the most awe-inspiring elements of Rachel Short's spirit has always been her eyes—what they show, what they know and what they capture in ways the rest of us only wish we could. May they remain fiery forever.