Snapshots of a Grand Tasting

Last month, Cavallo Point in Sausalito hosted the Second Annual Lexus Culinary Classic – a three day celebration of food and wine that culminated with a Grand Tasting on a Sunday afternoon,  featuring 13 chefs from acclaimed resorts across the country as well as wines from 20 premier California vintners. This year’s event was as wonderful and intimate as last year’s – sumptuous foods served by friendly, famous chefs, fabulous wines poured by winemakers.

Rubbing shoulders and chatting with chefs, sipping with winemakers in a casual and convivial setting made for a totally delightful afternoon. There is something about executive chefs at high caliber resorts – they are an amiable bunch and proud of their empires and culinary scope which involves far more than running just one dining room/restaurant.

The event is sponsored by Lexus with its hotel partners and the Napa Valley Vintners. A Lexus hotel partner means that Lexus is the official car/transport vehicle on site at the resort.  If you check-in at Cavallo, you ditch your car with the valet and the staff will tuck you into a Lexus SUV and trundle you and your luggage up the hill to your room; they’ll drive you into Sausalito to shop or catch the ferry in a Lexus, or they’ll shuttle you to the Cavallo Wellness Center and Spa.

2016 Highlights

Anton Tymoshenko (Gardener & Mushroom Grower Extraordinaire: The Chef’s Garden at Post Ranch Inn, Big Sur) created a remarkable mushroom landscape, a sculpture of fresh mushrooms featuring  different varieties  grown at the Post Ranch Inn.  Bear Head, Shitake, Trumpet, Oyster mushrooms – to name just a few – created an edible canvas with micro arugula and cilantro also from the resort’s seaside garden.  Anton was on site as was John Cox executive chef at Post Ranch Inn.

Well-known (Ram’s Gate, ZD) and lesser known wineries were pouring fine wines and sharing little known factoids about their properties that always make winetasting more of a journey:

Round Pound Estate in Rutherford – owned and operated by the MacDonnell family and named after a pond of the same name in West Point, New York. (Who’d have known?)  Best known for their Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc, the family also operates an olive mill on the property, produce artisan, gourmet food products and offer farm-to-table dining experiences from their 5-acres of organic gardens. The signature entry to the estate is lined with palm trees; Mrs. MacDonnell likes palms.

Schweiger Vineyards in St. Helena – a jovial Andrew Schweiger, the winemaker, was pouring his current favorite releases. His dad started growing the grapes in 1982 and after earning his stripes with stints at ZD, Joseph Phelps, Chateau St. Jean and Trefethen, Andrew came back to work in the family business where they  produce 5,000 cases a year – 2,500 of which are consumed by wine club members. (Lest you thought wine club programs weren’t lucrative!)

I am not a wine connoisseur by any means, but growing up an hour from the California wine country, I have had a lot of wine to drink in my lifetime. Two of my perennial favorites were represented at the Cavallo event:

Blackbird Vineyards in Napa – Merlot is French patois for “little blackbird” and in fact most of the wines in Blackbird’s portfolio involve Merlot. This small winery has been producing luscious red wines since 2003. I was especially fond of the Contrarian they were pouring – for many reasons.

And our own Marin County Skywalker Vineyards – 20 acres of vines on the George Lucas property of film fame; wonderful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from winemaker Scott McCloud former Director of Winemaking at Coppola.  Skywalker wines are some of my favorite gifts for out-of-state friends because they are so iconic –so California and so Marin.

Be on the lookout for next year’s Grand Tasting event at Cavallo; it’s well worth it.