Obviously the words “wine” and “Santa Barbara” end up nice and neighborly in sentences more often than not. Given their close connection, how does a group grab what would seem to be the coveted title of Santa Barbara Wine Festival? They get there first. That’s what the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (SBMNH) did back in 1983, and it’s why it can celebrate the 22nd Annual Santa Barbara Wine Festival-there were a few hiatus years-on Saturday, June 27.
Chef Michael Hutchings, who’s been serving at the festival since its inception and this year will dish up a “Frenchified version of carnitas,” said, “I think the enthusiasm for our local wines has grown in proportion to the number of great wines and number of wineries. It has always been a popular event and the participants have a great time. Oftentimes, I get to see fellow chefs only at this event.” Indeed, the trails outside the museum will be populated not just with festival-goers but with winemakers and hometown chefs. “I go with two employees so we can all take a little tour,” explained Renaud Gonthier of Renaud’s Patisserie, who will be serving up jellied candy, raspberry Charlotte, macaroons, and other delights. “It’s a good way to meet other people in our business.”
But it’s not just insider baseball that draws more than 70 wineries and numerous food purveyors. “I think it is becoming the benchmark event of its kind in California,” explained Hutchings. “Meridith [Moore, the museum’s events manager] does a great job organizing and supporting the chefs and wineries. The setting remains as it has been-a quintessential Santa Barbara event.” Jason Haas, general manager at Paso Robles’ Tablas Creek Vineyard, agreed, elaborating, “One of the most compelling reasons is because of its setting, in the trees along the creek. The paths meandering from table to table are so different from the typical ‘everyone sets up in a big open city park’ feel of most outdoor festivals, and the sounds of the creek running and the birds chirping away make a much nicer backdrop than is possible to get inside.”
The festival doesn’t just survive from year to year; it aims to maintain the Earth itself. “Did you know it is a sustainable event?” proud organizer Moore said. “No plastic bottles; water stations where guests may fill their wine glasses with iced or room temp still water to keep hydrated. No plastic forks; two-pronged bamboo toothpicks to eat with. Paper plates made from 100 percent recycled product. Souffle cups made from potatoes, for the pinot noir gelato and champagne granita.”
That gelato and granita will be provided by The Berry Man, the S.B. reps for Ciao Bella frozen desserts. But The Berry Man will do more than that, providing the nuts, berries, and cheese attendees can munch at each booth. That is, if people can keep from filling up at the food booths themselves, provided for by such esteemed purveyors as the Melting Pot, Hollister Brewing Company, Arnoldi’s Cafe, Events by Philippe, Pierre La Fond Bistro, Bella Dolce, Simply Pies, and D’Angelo Bread.
Everyone has a buzz about the event, such as first-timer Theo Stephan of Global Gardens in Los Olivos, who’s looking forward to it. “It’s a natural,” said Stephan. “Gourmet food flavors actually bring out the nuances hiding in great wines. There are so many wines that, by themselves, might taste too fruity or have a high tannin finish. But when you pair them with the right foods, they open up and become synergistic with the food.” As just one example, she feels both Au Bon Climat and Alma Rosa chardonnays pair with his Organic Indian Curry Mustard, which she will be serving at the festival, since “the fruitiness up front balances and cools the curry, and the crisp finish is almost exact to that of the mustard.”
The Santa Barbara Wine Festival happens Saturday, June 27, from 2-5 p.m., at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History (2559 Puesta del Sol). Call 682-4711 x443 or see sbnature.org.