In our previous piece, we talked about using your Summer vacation to discover the “real” California and we listed a whole bunch of useful information on how to get there and what to do once you arrive. One destination you should really try to get to is the annual SAVOR the Central Coast event co-sponsored by Sunset magazine.
The Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast event is actually a series of events running over 4 days at various locations across the region. The purpose is to give you a tour of what the Central Coast has to offer by way of wineries, breweries, local restaurateurs and artisans, musicians, home decor, and fresh regional produce. For the more serious foodie, you can sit in on one of many food and wine public seminars and speak to a range of culinary stars.
The opening night started with “An Enchanting Evening at Hearst Castle” in San Simeon where attendees dressed in their finest to feast on a wide range of tapas-like offerings and taste a dozen or more of the regional wines while strolling the sumptuous grounds of the Hearst Castle, listening to live music and taking in the stunning sunset atop this opulent mountaintop estate. Plan ahead and you can join a tour of the estate and the main house and see some really over-the-top home decor.
On Day 2 we ventured down to Avila Beach to tour the Point San Luis Lighthouse and enjoy a gourmet lunch paired with the wines from the Clairborne & Churchill winery. The winery was founded in 1983 by Clairborne Thompson and Fredericka Churchill, two university professors, who came out to California to pursue a dream to become winemakers. I had some luck running with me that day as I happened to pick a lunch seat right beside none other than Fredericka Churchill herself. What turned out to be a most delicious lunch together with some very fine tastings of the Clairborne & Churchill Riesling and Gewurztraminer was made even better by the story Fredericka told about how and why it all started. The only sad note…. their entire production of some 8000 cases annually is almost all sold in California. Though I suppose you could try to smuggle a few onto the airplane for the ride home.
The evening event on Day 2 was…. get ready for it…. the Sunset International Wine Awards Competition Grand Tasting and Dinner at the Dinosaur Caves Park in Pismo Beach. The night was as large as the name makes it sound. We started with a reception where attendees were the first to taste the medal-winning wines that would be featured in an upcoming issue of Sunset magazine and sample foods prepared by some of Pismo Beach’s best chefs. The main dinner had a team of top chefs pair uniquely crafted dishes with each of these winning wines. Words of wisdom if you plan on attending: take only a few small sips of each wine offering as there were many wines paired with each course and a five course meal…. if you get my drift.
On Day 3 and 4 we made our way out to the Santa Margarita Ranch for the Sunset Savor the Central Coast Main Event. The only way to describe it is to imagine several hundred winemakers, microbreweries, produce farmers, and restaurant owners waiting to show you and have you taste their offerings. Now put on top of that a few thousand attendees and what you have is a foodie cornucopia.
Evening events included Paso Glow: A Culinary Experience at Windfall Farms. Guests were invited to make the trek into the picturesque countryside around Paso Robles to the hilltop Windfall Farms where they sampled the art of the barbecue featuring American Lamb and Harris Ranch Beef together with a bountiful selection of Paso Robles area wines. Some very excellent culinary dishes were created by Chef Tom Fundaro of Villa Creek Restaurant, Chef Chris Kobayashi of Artisan, Mike and Aaron Dean of Dean Brothers Smokehouse, Chef Julie Simon of Thomas Hill Organics, Chef Kevin Hyland of the Paso Robles Inn, and Chef Anthony Hagans of Harris Ranch Beef. There was live entertainment provided by local Grammy Award winner Louie Ortega and Rio Salinas and a fleet of hot air balloons to add color to the evening.
If you planned your daytime schedule wisely, you would have been able to sit in on cooking seminars by such notables as Chef Susan Feniger of Mandalay Bay, Chef Aarti Sequeira from Food Network’s Aarti Party, Chef Rick Moonen, who has distinguished himself by his advocacy for only eating sustainable seafood, and Chef Nathan Lyon, who is the host of Good Food America (Veria Living) and co-host of Growing A Greener World (PBS).
The last day of this food extravaganza also featured some very novel and fun food experiences. Ted Allen, the host of Food Network’s Chopped, and Kitty Morgan, the Editor-in-Chief of Sunset magazine, presented and judged The Battle of the Bay which pitted two of Morro Bay’s finest chefs against each other in a test of their culinary skills. Later in the day, Ted Allen returned to help judge the Lamb Jam Finale which pitted chefs from San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, and Washington DC against each other to create unique dishes with different lamb cuts. If you are a lamb lover like me then get ready to simply circle the room over and over and over ……
Standout Experiences: In a region that is so well known for its abundance of locally grown produce and meats, fresh caught seafood, and its bountiful wineries, it is probably no surprise that some of the standout experiences involved eating and tasting top vintages.
One such occasion was the visit to Mark Tognazzini’s Dockside Restaurant & Fish Market. Mark was born and raised in Morro Bay, and has been an active commercial fisherman for over 30 years. He and his team set out a colorful display of various types of fish they pull from the Pacific under a canopy on the dock and talked about the fishing industry and trends in the market. All of this while serving a very simple but utterly unforgettable cioppino.
The term cioppino has its origins in the Italian language and loosely translated means “to chop”. The story is that at the end of the day fishermen would pile all the remaining fish choppings into a pot with fresh tomatoes, wine, and spices to create a rich fish soup or stew. This they would eat with fresh bread and perhaps a few glasses of wine. Believe me, we did our best to honor that tradition.
What would a cioppino be then without a beautiful wine to accompany the journey. For this, we looked to legendary winemakers Marc Goldberg and Maggie D’Ambrosia, the founders and owners of Windward Vineyard, where for the last 21 years they have been producing and paying homage to Pinot Noir. Marc told us the wonderful story of how they landed in Paso Robles and the work involved to bring their winemaking ideas to fruition. They use only estate grown grapes from their vineyard to give it a true flavour of the land, produce their wines in the Burgundian style, and control all aspects of the wine-making to create one of America’s exceptional Pinot Noir wines.
Mark Tognazzinni’s cioppino on its own would have been great. Marc and Maggie’s Pinot Noir on its own would have been great. Together on that dock with fishing boats landing their catch and pelicans watching carefully for any falling opportunity, they made for a truly standout experience. I only wish I had had more time to pay a visit to the Windward Vineyard where the very next day Marc and Maggie would start bringing in the year’s harvest. Oh the possibilities.
If any of this has your mouth watering the way it did for me then Save the Date and plan your next vacation around the Sunset SAVOR the Central Coast foodie cornucopia.
I too ate at the Dockside restaurant in Morro Bay – literally right on the dock with all the animals around me..Can’t wait to take my dad this Xmas. I did the same drive and spots you mentioned by heading up from LA.