If there’s anything I’ve learned in a decade or so of dabbling in foodie-minded journalism, it’s that when you’re invited to dinner at the Biltmore, you’d best say yes.
Other than that bit of wisdom, I wasn’t quite sure why I was at Montecito’s Four Seasons resort a few weeks ago. The invitation was to preview the latest in a series of “Unforgettable Events” from June 7-9 at the Four Seasons Maui, where I certainly wasn’t going; the chef was from Maui, too, so it was a one-off experience with no relevance for Santa Barbara readers; two of the four featured winemakers were from Santa Barbara County, so I could always reach them later in a more intimate way; and I didn’t really foresee how I could publish much about what was to unfold.
But then — after introductory sips of chardonnay and pinot noir from Brewer-Clifton, Costa de Oro, Patz & Hall, and Anthill Farms paired with Chef Roger Stettler’s first course of salmon trout confit with parsley oil and roe — I was introduced to the most heartwarming project coming out of Santa Barbara’s wine country: Kimberly’s Vineyard, a small, butterfly-shaped block of pinot noir vines on the Melville family’s Sta. Rita Hills property whose grapes are made into two barrels of wine each year by Brewer-Clifton Winery and sold to benefit the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center, which serves the Santa Maria and Lompoc areas.
As we ventured into the chef’s endive-asparagus salad with a poached egg and pancetta dressing followed by the sous vide filet mignon with parsnip puree and lobster foam, we learned of the vineyard’s background from Steve Clifton, whose partner in Brewer-Clifton is Greg Brewer, also the winemaker at Melville. Clifton told of listening to the news reports in November 1995 about a 26-year-old woman named Kimberly who’d been raped and killed in Philadelphia after trying to break up a car burglary-in-progress while on a jog.
“Within a week, I found out that the person was the first cousin of my new business partner,” said Clifton, referring to Brewer, who’d grown close to Kimberly over the years through extensive letter-writing. “It was obviously something that affected him and his family very deeply.”
To Clifton, her murder was the personalization of all the bad news you hear every day, explaining to the Bilmore crowd as tears welled in his eyes and his voice began to waver, “Kimberly was the girl that could have been anyone’s daughter.” But instead of wallowing in grief, Clifton explained that Brewer decided to turn “something horrifically negative into something positive.”
With the gracious support of the Melville family, the vineyard was planted in the late 1990s, upon which the labor crew, in their own contribution, erected a simple white cross. Special oak barrels were crafted bearing Kimberly’s name, and in 2001, the first harvest was celebrated, with about two barrels of wine set aside to age until 2005, when they were released on the 10th anniversary of her death. All of the money from sales went straight to the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center — Clifton proudly stated that many of the distributors and restaurants that purchased the wine also made additional donations as well — and the process has continued every year since, flying far beneath the collective radar of Santa Barbara’s wine lovers.
Toward the end of his emotional explanation, Clifton summed it up: “I just feel really blessed to be part of it.”
This summer, that ante goes up considerably when the Four Seasons Resort Maui introduces this program to its guests, alongside the wines from Brewer-Clifton, Costa de Oro, Patz & Hall, and Anthill Farms. But if you can’t make it to Maui for the June 7-9 weekend — which will feature winemaker talks, tastings, seminars, and ridiculously tasty food — try to get your hands on a bottle of Kimberly’s pinot, and know you’re toasting a good cause. Better yet, send your support straight to the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center in Kimberly’s name.
For more on the Four Season Resort Maui’s “Unforgettable Events” series and the June 7-9 winemaker weekend, see fourseasons.com/maui.
For more on Brewer-Clifton, see brewerclifton.com.
For more on the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center, see sbcountyrapecrisis.org.