The Big Sur Food and Wine Party
Big Sur: definitely different. The dramatic landscape, of course, sets apart this California region in the northern Central Coast from tamer stretches of Pacific beach, rock, and earth. From the state’s earliest days, the grand land to the south of Monterey and Carmel invited large description if only a few early explorers to its steep slopes and deep canyons. While not as difficult to reach as it once was, enjoying the route to and through Big Sur requires a peaceful spirit, attentive driving skills, and an openness to zero cell signal. It’s as if the redwoods help to shush and quiet the busy, stressed mind by limiting our digital intake. “Have some trees and fog,” says nature, “with a side of ocean, rock and sky. And put away that cell phone.” Once here, be here.
The people who love living in this beautiful, remote part of the Pacific coast seem cut from a more independent style of cloth than their more urban neighbors. “Why don’t you have any farmers markets in Big Sur?” I asked a young woman from the Big Sur Bakery offering flavorful bread samples to Cooking for Solutions gala guests. I had been surprised to find no mention of a farmers market while researching this index for CCFoodie. Matter-of-factly she replied, “Oh, we all just grow our own produce.” The fierce independents who over the years lived and loved Big Sur would be proud.
Another quality that sets Big Sur apart from the norm? Their Big Sur Food & Wine Festival, held each November, is the only tasting event we’ve attended that evolved into a full-on party with music, dancing, and lots of pig. Their “Wine and Swine” concept infuses this festival qua party with flavor and fun: at the start of the weekend, chefs at the foodie stations along Big Sur’s Highway 1 each receive a whole pig that they will roast, cook and grill in their own ways for the enjoyment of all. Uniqueness and difference are welcomed in this community where chefs blaze their own culinary path through the blank canvas of swine.
In 2011, Pig Wizard Jonathan Roveto masterfully butchered an entire pig on stage before the musicians took over and got the whole tent swinging. Because the Big Sur Food and Wine Festival functions not only as a showcase for local deliciousness but also as a fund raising effort to support the Big Sur community, the rousing auction of this beautifully butchered meat helped raise the energy at the Henry Miller Memorial Library and primed us all for dancing. Generous auction participants including winner Frank Ostini ran up the price for the pig and other biddable items because all the proceeds from the weekend’s silent and swine auctions support Big Sur schools as well as local residents who dream of reaching for a culinary career.
Freedom Through Wine
At the Big Sur Food and Wine Party, we enjoyed running into some of our favorite Central Coast winemakers and tasting their wines throughout the 2011 weekend. Gary Pisoni, Paul Lato, Wes Hagen, Mark Cummins and others poured their delicious Pinot Noirs at the Pinot Walkabout—like World of Pinot Noir with winemakers pouring their own wares but without the crowds! We also had our first chance to taste Perception Wines from Sonoma County and Rhône-style blends and varietals from Alban Vineyards. Other festival attendees headed out for Hiking with Stemware adventures that married landscape appreciation with culinary drama for an experience that integrated so much wonderful about this area and its foodie scape.
In one of the wine seminars, Stephan Asseo of L’Aventure Winery in Paso Robles presented a rare and exquisite vertical tasting of seven L’Aventure wines from his first ten bottled vintages. We could all appreciate the age-ability and restrained power of these wines produced from Paso fruit and designed by this Bordeaux native to celebrate with food. He described his process of discovering a quality, affordable “piece of dirt” where he could make wine free of the French appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) rules guarding wine typicity. After tasting some unusual blends during his wine region travels beyond Gallic borders, “The idea of more freedom,” said Stephan “began to grow in my mind.” How fitting that he brought his stunning blends of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Petite Verdot to share with the wine and food enthusiasts at Big Sur’s fall foodie festival.
As we listened to Stephan discuss his lovely wines, I noticed that the clock on the wall had stopped. When we’d arrived at the seminar space and picked up a glass of L’Aventure rosé for breakfast, the festival staff invited us to take a small mesh bag containing dried herbs from the mountains that organizers had gathered and prepared to share with festival guests. Visiting Big Sur at any time of year is a true gift to those who are ready for the slower pace of this special place. Visiting during their thoughtfully planned and joyfully executed festival-party offers even more gifts to the freedom-minded foodie.
See you next year!
photos without captions: Jeremy Ball for Bottle Branding