Event gathers local winemakers, chefs
–Fragrant aromas of saffron and spice wafted through Templeton City Park as the 13th Annual Pinot and Paella Festival got under way June 5 on a warm but breezy afternoon.
A gathering of 16 chefs from restaurants and catering companies whipped up creations to pair with pinot noir wines from 22 local wineries. All participants donated their product and services for this popular fund-raiser. In its 13-year history, the festival has raised over $370,000, noted Heather Goodman, general manager of Windward Vineyard.
Funds raised benefit the Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation (PRYAF) and other local charities. PRYAF, a non-profit arts academy, offers an after-school program of 60 free visual and performing arts classes to 400 students per week.
The festival started as a grass roots effort by Marc Goldberg and Maggie D’Ambrosia at their Windward Vineyard location to promote the region’s pinot noir wine. “We had room for 100 people only and turned away 125 people,” recalled Marc Goldberg of the first event. “We thought it was too good so we formed a loose organization called Paso Pinot Producers.”
That small organization of pinot producers has grown in its popularity as was evident from this year’s sold-out event that drew a crowd of over 700 people. “Last year we gave $40,000 to the Paso Robles Youth Arts Foundation,” said Goldberg.
Commenting on the cool climate grape from the Paso wine region, Goldberg mused, “Everyone says “Paso pinot? It’s too hot here!” But pinot noir is a varietal of place, he says. “Most of it is grown on the westside because of the calcareous soil and high degree of minerals and earthiness.”
Renowned for its Rhone varietals, zinfandel and cabernet sauvignon, Paso Robles is placing pinot noir on its acclaimed list of local wines.
This year the festival added a new event on Saturday June 4 at Castoro Cellars. A 90-minute panel session explored Paso’s sub-appellations representing pinot noir wines from six districts: Goldberg’s Windward from Templeton Gap, Steve Felten’s Felten Cellars from Adelaida District, Mark Stern of Pomar Junction from El Pomar, Jason Joyce of Calcareous from York Mountain, Luke Udsen of Castoro Cellars from Estrella District and Karl Wicka (Turley’s winemaker) presented his label, The Missing Leg, from the Willow Creek appellation.
And there was plenty of this elegant, sensual wine at the Sunday afternoon festival in the park swinging with the Spanish-beat of musical guests Incendio. From Dunning, Asuncion Ridge and Carmody McKnight Estates to Cayucos Cellars, RN Estates and Jack Creek Cellars, most winery representatives offered their 2012/’13/’14 vintages while Le Cuvier poured a non-vintage Kruse Vineyard pinot noir. Derby Estates’ 2007 sparkling Brut Rose was a popular wine on the warm afternoon.
A newcomer to the pinot noir brigade was Tablas Creek, a Rhone-style house. Appropriately named Full Circle, the 2013 vintage was a testament to the pinot passion of Robert Haas, co-founder of Tables Creek Vineyards. Haas, a renowned importer of fine European wines, began his East coast-based business with wines from Burgundy. The wine’s first vintage of 2010 was produced from a 2.5-acre vineyard in Templeton. The pinot noir production will join the Tablas Creek portfolio of wines, according to Jason Haas.
To pair with the fine pinots, Paso Robles chefs got creative on the Paella bandwagon, using local coastal bounty as well as farm and field produce.
The one-dish meal was originally designed to be an outdoor farm and field meal, said chef Tom Fundaro serving his brunch-style paella of Spanish chorizo, bacon and chicken topped with farm fresh eggs. “You brought your dish and veggies and flavored with meat. Seafood came later,” said Fundaro, co-owner of Open Range Catering.
There was the usual selection of traditional seafood/chicken/chorizo assembled paella, then there were non-traditional variations such as meat lover’s paella from Alex Martin of Crush catering and Luna Red’s chef Shaun Behrens’ “snout to tail” whole pig paella.
Ryan Swarthout of Paso Robles Inn’s Steakhouse prepared a duck confit topped with apricot paella and Alegretto Resort’s traditional paella was served accented with Brie and Granny Smith apple wedge.
Fest-attendees voted their favorite chef. The winner was Jeffrey Weisinger of Jeffrey’s Catering for his seafood and duck paella. Alex Martin of Crush catering came in third runner up for his meat-lover’s paella. A Party For Your Palate Catering’s Bruce Finch came in second runner-up for his earthy seven-mushroom/truffle oil creation while Troy Avitia of Bomba Paella finished first runner-up with his chorizo and duck variation.
While all participating chefs received some wine from Paso Pinot Producers, the winners got additional bottles.
Emceed by Casey Biggs, aka The Paso Wine Man, the festival ended with a tribute to Marc Goldberg presented by Michelle Conrad, president of PRYAF. “Marc and Maggie have generously donated “$350,000 to our cause, and you thought it was all about food and wine,” Conrad proclaimed.
Conrad had a surprise for Marc Goldberg, who recently retired as a PRYAF board member. “We have elevated his status from board member to emeritus board member,” said Conrad. “He has certainly earned this highest honor.”
For touching the lives of children in the community, Marc Goldberg and Maggie D’Ambrosia received another surprise, an artwork created by students of PRYAF.
“As much as we’d like to have the credit, credit goes to all the chefs and winemakers,” said Marc Goldberg, the force behind Paso Pinot Producers.
Mira Advani Honeycutt