Live Sustainably: Support Your Neighbors

Hero, service puppy

Confused about what “sustainability” means? Don’t be: it’s simple. Sustainability links three efforts: 1) enhancing environmental health, 2) promoting economic viability, and 3) ensuring social justice. Our website helps Central Coast residents and visitors identify those food and drink producers who actively pursue and make sustainable choices. The mission of to promote those who make genuine efforts toward sustainability in their production and distribution of exceptional food and drink, whether by growing lettuces outside a restaurant kitchen, installing a functional bike rack by a cafe, or organizing a foodie event that benefits local wildlife groups.

smelling deeply

This spring, it was our pleasure to attend a special wine event in the Santa Rita Hills that educationally and entertainingly integrated wine education with supporting one’s neighbors. Clos Pepe Vineyard winemaker and professional wine educator Wes Hagen enlisted the charitable support and enological interest of about thirty-five wine enthusiasts in a wine education seminar and gourmet light lunch. All the proceeds from this event supported the purchase of a service puppy for an Air Force veteran whose previous service dog had recently retired. It seemed fitting that event participants sniffed and sipped wine philanthropically to provide this vet with the perfect animal who uses every sense, especially smell, to help keep him safe. Tegan and I had a great time learning by smelling, eating freshly baked pizza, sipping a range of tasty wines, and meeting Matt and Hero, the vet and puppy in question, as well as Chef Bradley Ogden of Solvang’s Root 246.

identification list for aromas

But first, wine school where Wes and his team had set up an elaborate enological olfactory exercise. Before we began, he set the stage: “When I did this seminar at Davis 12 years ago, it changed the way I smell wine dramatically. We have approximately 50 organic esters samples in real wine, a defects table including TCA and Brett, and reference sets for tasting residual sugar and pH/acid in a range of wines.” On one table were glasses featuring desirable aromas: each glass held a single aroma that participants sniffed out and tried to identify. Using simple base wines in red and white, they added real coffee, ripe pear, fresh mint, and a genuine Cuban cigar among approximately 50 other organic esters commonly sensed in the noses of wines. On another table lurked an array of defects. Some of the defects were just awful while others, like oxidation, smelled like many a cheap white wine I’ve consumed in my day. Now my nose should know better when I next encounter this stale aroma in a glass of white wine.

Chanda with Oliver and Matt with Hero

At the end of the experience of smelling so many discrete aromatic compounds and flaws common to wine, I felt like my nose had just finished a graduate seminar with a grade of A-. Both Tegan and I correctly guessed enough aromas on the list that we each won a bottle of Pinot. Wine win-win! Flush with our Pinot victories, we walked over to greet Hero the golden retriever and his handler Matt after asking for permission to do so. Hero’s impeccable breeding and openness to training will help him assist Matt throughout the day. As a cat person, I’m a little embarrassed by how much I liked this adorable dog. As a proud yet skeptical US citizen, I also appreciated the opportunity to contribute in a small way to helping him get the support he needs.

More advice on interacting with service dogs:

Usually there will be a patch on the dog’s vest to indicate if you can or cannot pet the dog. Always ask first even if there is a patch saying that you can. This gives the handler time to get the dog ready (having it sit or lie down first). It is best to approach these dogs from the front and being sure to pet them under the chin or shoulder. Petting a service dog from behind or on top of the head can be startling or perceived as a threat.
By law, you cannot ask why the person has the dog or for the dog to demonstrate its special tasks. I personally don’t mind showing off my doggie’s special skills but I don’t have to. I think that if you are having a conversation with someone about their dog, generally they will be happy to talk about their companion. These service dogs become our best friends.
Watch out for paws and tails when you see them in the store. We do our best to keep them out of the way, but sometimes they like to spread out.
— Service dog owner

Chef Bradley Ogden performs pizzas

Yes you can

After wine school let out, Chef Bradley Ogden of Root 246 arrived to cap off the day with pizza school. Choosing from a wide range of cheeses and toppings, he discussed how he approaches making fresh, unique combinations with locally foraged ingredients and gourmet supplies. I discovered that the chef also grew up in the midwest: he was more fortunate in his Michigan foodie childhood than I was in Ohio because he had easy access to fresh trout streams and wild mushrooms. I also learned about the grave importance of seemingly small details, such as flour type and quality. After watching winery owner Steve Pepe coo about the fantastic feel of the dough fashioned from superfine Italian semolina flour, I made a note to secure some during my next visit to the Los Olivos Grocery, one of the few suppliers of this product in the Central Coast.

While we don’t all of us have a fancy outdoor oven, nothing should impede one’s culinary creativity if we think about food more as an experience and not simply a type of fuel: pizzas provide the perfect blank canvas for exerting one’s foodie muscles and creativity. We left this event with a fuller awareness of sensory details in wine and food as well as the gift of supporting our neighbors and seeing the Hagen’s model for how working together can really work.

Wes Hagen

Thanks to Wes and Chanda Hagen, Steve and Cathy Pepe, Chef Bradley Ogden, and Jeremy Ball whose fantastic photos captured the elegant fun of this meaningful event.

More info:

Clos Pepe Vineyard

Root 246

photos: Jeremy Ball of Bottle Branding

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