Wine & Food Weekend Wrap Up

Kapalua 2009: Where the Northwest Vintners and Gen X Winemakers Came to Shine

Wine & Food Weekend Wrap Up

We’ve finally come down from the high that was the 28th Annual Kapalua Wine & Food Festival. This event has truly evolved over the 5 years we’ve attended: Where the focus used to be on the master sommeliers and their wealth of knowledge, it has come to be a showplace for the incredibly diverse (and also evolving) class of winemakers located eastward across the Pacific.

Fred Dame—host in residence for the festival, who also has a huge part in the organization and choosing of the attendees—is masterful in pairing celebrated chefs with complementary winemakers. This year, there were two obvious trends that came through loud and clear, as orchestrated by Dame: First, it seems that it is truly the hour of the Generation X as the U.S.’s most innovative winemakers, and second, that Washington State is a wine region not to be scoffed at.

Let’s start with the first: Last year, All-star winemakers (i.e., Greg Brewer) from Paso Robles stole the Kapalua spotlight from their Sonoma-Napa brethren. This year, the coveted “Walla Walla and Cheese” seminar (moderated by the “guru of cheese”—and Punahou graduate—Kent Torrey) featured five vineyard who hail from Washington State’s Walla Walla Valley. The were: Gramercy Cellars (Cabernet + Syrah), Leonetti (Cabernet + Sangiovese), Pepper Bridge (Cabernet + Merlot), Va Piano (Cabernet + Syrah) and Waters (Syrah + blend).

It’s been over a decade that Oregon’s Willamette and Columbia valleys have proven their prowess with Pinot Noir, Syrah, even Rieslings; now the long summer daylight hours and cooler nights in the northern climes of Walla Walla are churning out some robust vintages.

Among the standouts were Greg Harrington’s “John Lewis” Syrah (Harrington left a cushy job as a director at New York City’s B.R. Guest Restaurants to farm his own grapes in the Pacific Northwest); the Leonetti Sangiovese (you’d never guess this wasn’t harvested in Northern Italy—except for the bonus of more grassy notes); and Jamie Brown’s Waters “Forgotten Hills” Syrah (Brown cites his former career as a musician as the reason he was able to bottle a 100% syrah with so many complex "notes").

Of course, it didn’t hurt that Torrey blessed the seminar participants with hearty portions of imported fromage that included a soft, Belgian Chimay; a Scottish Isle of Mull Cheddar; and a Chevre from Washington’s own recluse, Sally Jackson, just to name a few.

On to the Gen X’ers who really shined at the event… Master Sommelier and winemaker Greg Harrington was certainly a vocal presence with a lot of insight to share. His urban sensibility (he told a great story about the ribbing he got his first year in Washington, after farming in his Seven Jeans and black t-shirt—his “New York costume”) with his wine savvy.

Another star was Andy Peay of Peay Vineyards. Peay purchased true Sonoma acreage a decade ago with his brother Nick, with the goal of harvesting elegant wine like the Old World vintages the pair had grown to love. His wine’s presence at the “Psycho Pinots” seminar on Friday made a huge impact on attendees. One of the most drinkable wines we tasted all weekend, it was smooth as silk, heavy on the jammy fruit, yet it finished elegantly and clean. He also brought a chardonnay and a syrah, which had people flocking to his bottles at both the Grand Tasting and the Seafood Festival.
Master sommelier, festival organizer and wine director of The Farmhouse Inn in the Russian River Valley, Geoff Kruth, moderated a number of panels. Despite his youth, it was clear he could “hang” with big boys like Dame and Aspen-based Master Sommelier Jay Fletcher.

Another stand-out star representing the Gen X contingency was Google executive chef Scott Giambastiani, who gave a lunch demonstration on Friday. A proponent of sustainability and the perpetual use of local produce, Giambastiani may have one of the most coveted chef positions in the country; yet it didn’t come easy. Google’s Mountainview headquarters boasts 18 different cafes, each of which serve 3 meals per day to hungry techies (and their families). Giambastiani said that on a give day his team can churn out 5,000 meals—each of which has to be made-to-order. Clearly, this guy has been earning his stock options.

Finally, it’s hard not to spotlight the Ritz-Carlton and the Kapalua Resort, which is far more than a mere backdrop for this festival. There’s a magic to Kapalua: Perhaps the towering Cook pine trees that line the avenues that dissect the property. Others say it’s the unique weather patterns that keep a steady breeze blowing through. It certainly could be the excitement over the resort’s new, spacious spa set near the recently opened Ritz-Carlton Residences, which overlook pristine Kapalua Bay. A sneak preview showed us that Kapalua is very near the grandeur we have been seeing in models and renderings for the past 3 years.

As we ended the weekend by sipping fine wine (Edmeades Piffero Vineyard 2005 Zinfandel, if you must know) at the Ritz’s Banyan Tree restaurant, imbibing in chef Ryan Urig’s plump sea scallops with shaved truffle, the sun sliped behind Moloka`i in the not so distant vista. A breeze stirred the linens that dressed the tables. All seemed right in West Maui.

"A proponent of sustainability and the perpetual use of local produce, Giambastiani may have one of the most coveted chef positions in the country; this guy has been earning his stock options."