Tag Archives: Napa

Pebble Beach: The Ripple Effect


In the realm of prominent Food & Wine festivals, few have the cache of Pebble Beach—and it isn’t hard to see why. Take the muscle of American Express Publishing—Food&Wine magazine, Departures, Executive Travel ($$$) and combine it with the captive audience of one of the richest private developments in the country ($$$$) and, well, you do the math (and after you do, add a few more zeros). Lexus, the event’s major sponsor, certainly did.


PBFW has such a remarkable list of participating chefs that the event program feels like a yearbook. No wonder everyone’s getting them autographed as I entered the Grand Tasting tent(s) on April 30. I had originally wanted to attend more of the four-day event, but considering how overwhelming this turned out to be, it’s probably best that my introduction to the festival focused on the one afternoon.

There are famous chefs, and working chefs (sometimes both) in every direction you turn, doling out small elegant bites of every savory and sweet description. For a foodie, this is something like nirvana.


Relative proximity to Napa and Sonoma wine countries also amps up the winery participation. While wine tends to be an also-ran at most “Food and Wine” fests—usually corporate-heavy,  typically poured without context—here there are big brands (Trefethen) next to cherished favorites (Perrin et Fils) next to semicults (Paul Hobbs, Paradigm) emerging regions (Ribera del Duero) next to intriguing upstarts (Sonoma’s Scribe, Willamette’s Antica Terra). Driscoll’s berries—based nearby—are one of the largest food brands represented  (Kerrygold butter, AndyBoy produce are two others) with a huge display of their gorgeous fruit, also being handed out cocktail-style by some appetizing servers.


Serving chefs included Akira Back, Andre Bienvenu, Clark Frasier & Mark Gaier, Stephen Pyles, Michael Schwartz,  Michael Symon, Sherry Yard and literally dozens more. Others like Michel Richard and David Myers, who helmed larger events, were checking out colleagues.


Still, many stands had irksome lines, some ran out of food, and so like many attendees I expect, I found myself editing by whim. The proliferation of similar events around the country, and world, has probably resulted in ennui for more than a few of these chefs, thus some bites were more impressive than others.


What I will remember most: Tim Love’s rabbit and rattlesnake tamales; Michael Ginor’s lovely plating of two foie gras (from his renowned Hudson Valley company) and charcuterie; Kent Torrey’s endlessly remarkable table of uncommon cheeses from his shop in Carmel; and Shawn McClain’s just-because Absinthe Taffy.


Also, Highland Park’s Martin Daraz has to be the world’s greatest ambassador of Scotch Whisky. He makes you want to just bathe in the stuff.


Afterward, I was able to sneak in a few more events: Got to see Jacques Pepin and his daughter Claudine perform their comedy routine—I mean, prepare some lovely egg dishes. Considering the lack of true personalities on Food TV these days, I found myself wishing they would have a show together. They are truly hilarious to watch.


I also snuck over to the Inn to take in the Marcassin wine tasting. But as Helen Marcassin herself was a no-show (pretty sure that was the drawing card for the event), instead I joined the blind tasting of cabs led by Rajat Parr (Mina Group restaurants) with fellow somms Damon Ornowski, Dustin Wilson, Emily Wines and SF Chronicle’s Jon Bonne (and Laura Maniec MS chiming in from the audience). The seven selections offered a wide variety of expression—2006 Silver Oak and ’05 Chateau Palmer Alter Ego were among them—but to me the most interesting turned out to be a citrusy, fresh Greg Norman. Go figure! Almost none of the wines were accurately identified by the way, indicating what a variety of expression in terroir and winemaking exists today.


Then I realized the real scene was the Inn’s patio bar, where F&B rainmaker Lee Schrager and TV Chef Guy “Badboy” Fieri were holding court amid a wonderland of chef whites. Fieri apparently didn’t get the dress code memo, but I suppose it was nice of him to make sure that nobody, but nobody, would ever mistake him for, say, Charlie Trotter or Thomas Keller. Which I guess makes sense, since I can’t imagine anyone ever mistook his former restaurant Johnny Garlic’s for the French Laundry.


Look for other blogs on the festival from:

Al Mancini

Rona Lewis

Table Hopper SF


Kamran, the 18-year-old “Sophisticated Gourmet”

Blessed by a HaLo

Trefethen 2005 HaLo Cab, 2007 Estate Late Harvest Riesling

Trefethen 2005 HaLo Cab, 2007 Estate Late Harvest Riesling

I’m not one to be starstruck–often–but there’s always something cool about meeting the namesake of a wine, and Hailey Trefethen can claim that twice. Not only is she a daughter of the well-known Trefethen wine family (the scions of the Oak Knoll A.V.A.) but their single vineyard reserve HaLo was named after Hailey and brother Loren.

I was going to say I've never hugged a wine before...but then I realized...

I was going to say I've never hugged a wine before...but then I realized...

So sharing a tasting of Trefethen’s new releases with Hailey last week was even more fun than it would’ve been already: it also happened to be at Julian Serrano, one of my favorite restaurants on the Las Vegas Strip (in Aria, City Center), and with two of my favorite sommeliers, Desmond Ecchavarrie, A.S. (currently at Julian Serrano) and his mentor, Robert Smith, M.S. (of Serrano’s fine dining establishment, Picasso in Bellagio).

Trefethen 2009 Dry Riesling, 2008 Estate Chard

Trefethen 2009 Dry Riesling, 2008 Estate Chard

Proudly but without arrogance, Hailey reminded us that Trefethen has always used only the grapes they grown themselves, from vineyards that are all Certified Napa Green, and using 100% sustainable farming practices, such as a host of cover crops, and owl and bat boxes for natural pest control.

Jamon Serrano... what else? ;)

The wines were pared–loosely–with a selection of Serrano’s signature modern tapas (only some of which I photographed–it was a feast). Here are some quick tasting notes:

09 Oak Knoll Estate Dry Riesling: green apple, guava, peach, ripe grapefruit, lime and a little slate. Moderate acid. Bright but not blaring.

08 Estate Chard celebrates the 35th bottling of the wine which triumphed in the ’79 World Wine Olympics. Eight months in French oak (18% new), no malo. Harvest and tropical fruits, great mouth feel.

Isn't this exactly the perfect woman to be serving your paella? The Estate Merlot paired well with this...

Isn't this exactly the perfect woman to be serving your paella? The Estate Merlot paired well with this...

07 Estate Merlot: Notes of plum, grape tomato, black cherry, with a little toasted anise and chocolate in the finale. 95% merlot, 2% cab, 2% malbec, 1% petit verdot. Smooth and balanced.

07 Estate Cab: Plum, blackberry and pepper. Not complex, but pleasing. 94% cab, 2% Cab franc, 2% malbec, 1% merlot, 1% petit verdot

2005 HaLo: Blackberry dominates, with chocolate, black cherry and ripe plum, a little bay leaf and pepper spice, finishing with dying embers, earth and a wisp of tobacco. Balanced, complex, and rewarding. Firm but not overbearing. The winery’s 508-case premier bottling, 94% Cab with 4% petit verdot and 2% malbec, all grown in the Trefethen’s Hillspring vineyard, rocky volcanic foothills where Hailey and Loren played as kids. Aged 29 months in French Oak, then bottled for two years prior to release.

We finished with the 07 Estate Late Harvest Riesling, which was a nice, light, pleasantly sweet wine but not cloying.

Rob Smith, Desi Ecchavarie. These guys are the real giants.

Rob Smith, Desi Ecchavarie. These guys are the real giants.

Thanks, Kazia.